“If you don’t like your job, quit.” This is part of the manifesto of holstee.com, one my favorite entrepreneurial companies, and is perfect for a conversation I am having with the head of strategy of a large financial services technology firm. We are in his office overlooking Park Avenue in Manhattan. He’s laying out for me some of the challenges faced by a growing number of firms that are trying to inject a more innovative, entrepreneurial spirit into their cultures.
He’s building a SWAT team of entrepreneurs. For example, he’s recruiting an ex-Israeli special operations soldier who built a financial technology company, sold it for a lot of money, then spent some time in management consulting. He’s also recruiting a woman who attended a top school in India and worked for tech startups and then for huge technology bureaucracies.
These people are the strange breed that can flex between small, entrepreneurial environments and large bureaucracies and can thrive in both.
This head of strategy fits the mold well himself. He built and sold a tech company. Then he went to a top consulting firm intending to stay three years, but the creative problem-solving lured him into spending many more, and he became a principal at the company. He then left for a private equity firm, and is now leading the strategy function of a multi-billion-dollar firm.
He and his team of intrapreneurs have several attributes in common:
- They have succeeded inside large organizations AND as Ramen-noodle-eating entrepreneurs operating from cramped one-room apartments.
- They have “adaptive intelligence”: an ability to apply creative problem-solving in both big and small firms.
- They see both external challenges (what core customers should we pursue?) and internal ones (how do I get the finance department to issue my invoice in two days rather than 45?) the same way – as an opportunity to apply their creative problem-solving skills.
- They are driven by a complex mix of wanting to solve problems, impact the world, and make a lot of money.
- And they often think about quitting their jobs.
You see, if you are an intrapreneur, you, practically by definition, live on the border of two worlds and so think often of jumping ship. You wonder, “Why am I putting up with this rigid, slow-moving bureaucracy?” or “Why am I getting this business off the ground when only the company and its shareholder will benefit?” or “If I were doing this on my own, wouldn’t I be keeping the profits and wealth I’m about unlock for my company?”
I asked this head of strategy how he answers such questions, because he hears them often. His answer may help you reach clarity for yourself and for your teammates.
If you were to quit your job, you would have more freedom, you’d be your own boss, you could make decisions more quickly. But there are costs to this freedom:
- While your upside would be higher, you downside would be deeper too. If you fail with this internal venture, you probably won’t lose your job. Would you not still get a pay check? Could you not still afford rent or groceries or clothes for you children? You are building a business that looks like entrepreneurship, but you are also enjoying a safety net. Appreciate it.
- If you did quit, would starting off on your own really be easier? Sure, you would get some things done faster, but how long would it take to get a meeting with a potential client or partner? An entrepreneur may have to hound a prospect for weeks to get a meeting, but when you call from inside your well-known, large corporation, you get that meeting more quickly.
- If you quit, would you enjoy access to the technology and research currently happening inside your company?
- And then there is talent. Today you have colleagues and many of them are pretty capable and smart. Would it be easier to access creative talent if you were on your own, without cash to pay for salaries, without hallways and water coolers around to bump into people?
- Is it really money you want? I know many entrepreneurs who have enjoyed spectacular success and after their second or third exit they wonder, what did they do it all for? The money was just a score that they could measure, an indicator of something more important.
If you sit down and really introspect on these questions you will come out wiser on the other side, clear and ready to make your choice. You will either come to appreciate the unique benefits of building a business inside a company rather than from without. Or, you will be clear it is time to quit your job. In either case you’ll be in action, committed, no longer wavering at the line.
The corollary, I think, of “if you don’t like your job, quit” is this: If you don’t quit, then choose to like your job.