I'm often asked the question in this article’s headline and, with it, a question about timing: “I’m definitely getting out at some point, but is now the right time?”. This is usually followed by: “You know, I’ve just got engaged/pregnant/bought a house.”
Before we go any further, let’s quash this myth. The reasons above are bad excuses for avoiding the dilemma of whether to leave the City for a startup. You’ll always have to spend money, and you’ll find ways to adjust. Yes, it’ll be a sacrifice, but the answer to that problem is simple: spend less.
Here, however, are five important questions you really do need to think through before you make a decision.
Does the startup you plan to join or create excite you as a project, not just as a way to make money?
The startup world will quickly spit you out if you don’t absorb yourself in your new business. Shaping a startup requires superhuman energy and obscene levels of passion. My test is to ask people to imagine how happy they would be getting out of bed knowing a day’s work is ahead. If you’re not running to the shower, stop reading.
Are you ready for a significant step up in responsibility?
Sure, you might trade millions, or work on big deals. But does the success of the whole business depend on how you spend your week? Are you ready to report to shareholders instead of bosses? Your actions have big impacts, and that can be intimidating: do you really want to make all the decisions?
Are you willing to reorganise your finances?
It’s likely that income will be sacrificed in exchange for stock and options. As humans, we place a higher value on things we have now, not later, so you can expect your inner-self to fight against this trade-off. If you’re comfortable or adventurous enough to take a leap like that, you’re more than half way to making the jump.
What’s your ambition?
Are you in this to build or join a billion-pound company, or to improve your quality of life? Both could be yours, but it’s important to know what you want before you start. You’ll have to make tough decisions like who to hire and fire, but knowing how soon you will see the light at the end of the tunnel is critical to motivation. For someone who wants to be part of the “next big thing”, joining a team that has no desire to move forward would be a disaster.
Are you ready for a culture shock?
Are you ready to leave office politics and routine offices behind for a culture and workplace that you define? Or put another way, are you ready to give up the healthcare and benefits, the coffee machine, the clear promotion path, the generous expenses policy? All for the dream of going it alone?
For me, I knew it was time when the meaning of “risk” shifted in my mind. It used to be that I thought of starting a business as taking a risk. Now I think that NOT starting a business is taking a risk. How could I live with myself knowing that I had turned down the chance to make a difference? I loved my time in the corporate environment. I learned a great deal. But I don’t want to tell my children what I could have been; I want to say that I did everything I could to be who I thought I could be.