2022 Co-President Interview: PART 2
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
In part 2 of our interview, Ava and Harrison will dive into why startups are an exciting space to be in and also provide their opinions on working in startups vs corporate.
Q5: What makes startups a good space and an exciting space to be in?
The raw drive and ability to dream
There is so much more that goes into a startup that might be lost in a traditional corporate job because a startup is the embryonic stage of what could be a disruptive, world-changing corporation.
I think working at startups is incredibly exciting because you get to see the raw drive of the people up close. If you're working closely with an entrepreneur, or a founder, there's a certain trait that makes them a founder or an entrepreneur and makes them take this huge leap. They could be in a cushy corporate job, but they're risking all that for a dream. And I think being around that intensity is extremely inspiring.
Also, working in the startup field reminds you of your ability to dream. As we transition to adulthood, we grow, we mature, and quite often, we stop dreaming. We stop fantasising about the future where something amazing could happen. But these people hold on to something that other people might say is naive. They full-heartedly believe in something. And that is very, very admirable.
There are a lot of different reasons, but there are probably four main ones.
1. The passion of the people in the startup community
First and foremost, the reason why I am interested in startups and how I got into it, it's just the passion of the people in the community on average. If you talk to the average corporate person, I would say, the majority of the people don't really care about the thing they're working on. I'm not saying they hate it. Their job probably has benefits, and maybe they're earning a nice amount of money. But do they come home at the end of the day and think, wow, look at this amazing thing that I'm contributing to? It’s very, very rare for someone to feel that way. So that's the first thing.
Who would willingly take a pay cut and take a risk of losing a job and a risk of this thing failing? To compensate for that risk, you really have to care about the thing you're working towards. And to me, I think that's something that's really exciting. To really care about a particular mission and trust this particular mission so much that you want to materialise it, that you don't care about the pay being less or your job being not as stable. I think that energy is really infectious. And those are the types of people that are actually going to make dents in the world and those types of people you want to surround yourself with when you're young. So that's the first thing, being the types of people in the community, which is also very tight and supportive.
2. The impact you have and the cause you’re working towards
The second thing is sort of relevant to that. It’s the impact.
When you're at startups, most of the time your team is smaller. So that means the amount of contribution you will make as a proportion of the firm will be larger. But secondarily, that means there are fewer layers in the hierarchy, meaning that you probably have more responsibility than the same entry-level role in a larger firm.
And another thing is in terms of the actual cause you're working towards. Let’s say you go and work at a big investment bank or something like that. You're going to help, two firms merge, or you’re going to help a massive business sell off a large part of its massive business, right? You will develop invaluable skills and meet amazing people, but at the end of the day, it’s hard for you to go home and say, “I'm contributing to improving the quality of other’s people lives”.
So I think the impact that you can have on the particular cause you care about, and specifically the customers or the people your startup is serving, I think that's something that has always been really, really important to me. And I think it’s something that isn't as common, although it is possible, in corporate roles.
3. The dynamism of the startup space
The third thing is, and this is a bit unique, the dynamism of the startup space. So what I mean by that is in Australia, specifically at the macro level, a lot of industries are legacy industries. For example, I think financial services is one of our biggest industries, mining is probably second or third. The amount of innovations that are happening in these legacy industries is significantly slower than movements in tech and startups due to processes, outdated infrastructure and resistance to change.
Australia is at this inflection point, where the innovation of tech and startups is actually starting to overtake these massive legacy industries. So if you want to be in a space that's dynamic, and you want to contribute to this kind of rising wave, you should join startups. If you're doing corporate or working at these big firms, a lot of them aren't really changing how they operate on a day to day basis. It's very process-driven, very slow, it's very bureaucratic. And if you're someone who is really bright, and you like fast-moving things like contributing to big causes, that's not going to fit your personality. So the fourth thing is, the dynamic space that startups in Australia are positioned relatively to legacy industries in Australia.
4. Opportunities for learning
Fourthly, the opportunities for learning at a startup. The number of skills you develop and the variety of skills you develop I think especially. Your role also constantly changes as you recruit and grow as a startup. So I think seeing how a business grows is very valuable; trying a lot of different skills as the business grows is also training you to be adaptable and to have a malleable skillset.
So these are the four things that make startups a good space and an exciting space to be in.
Also, one more quick thing relevant to career trajectories. It's much easier for you to try to go into startups when you're young than to do so when you're older. You will hear this from a lot of different people, but your risk profile will increase the older you get. So that essentially means you will be less likely to want to take a lower-paying job, less likely to take a job that has less job security. This is because as you get older, you start to get more commitments. You get a mortgage, you get married, you get kids, and by every single commitment you add on, it will make it less likely for you to eventually pursue the thing that you're passionate about. So when you're young, and when you're at uni, when you don't have to worry about all these things, and you don't even have debt because it's on HECS, this is the best opportunity and the best your risk profile is going to look for trying something like this out.
Q6: A common question that students have is whether to work in startups or other corporate roles. What are some of your experiences and opinions?
I would say my opinion, as it stands, is not one or the other. I acknowledge the complexity that comes with career decisions. And it's very much up to personal preference, your risk appetite, sometimes even your cultural background and where your friends go. There are a lot of different factors that influence it.
But I will say the following things. The first is that I think it's really good to try a startup when you're young, which I’ve already said before.
The second thing is that the startup opportunity for you to make a massive financial return is actually a lot higher than corporate. In corporate, you're guaranteed this kind of baseline salary, which will be nowadays not even that much higher than a startup or tech salary. As you slowly rise the ranks, you get incremental additive increases to your wealth. But if that's actually something you care about, startups have a higher risk, because you know, the business could go bankrupt. But the upside for you is so, so much higher. If you join a startup as an early employee, and that startup becomes big, you make millions and millions and millions of dollars. Like, there's no way you're going to be able to make that in corporate unless you become, let's say, the CEO, and you know, how many CEOs are there in Australia?
So unless you think you're good enough, and you have that much hustle to grind out, you know, 20 or 30 years of your life becoming the CEO of a firm, the only way that you’re actually going to get that wealth and those opportunities, is if you take a risk and it pays off. So I think the reward of getting into a successful startup is actually much much much multiplyingly greater than corporate.
The third thing I would say is that I think the people who want to make a dent in the world, the people who are really, really passionate, people who love growth, I think these people are generally the people that are better for startups. If you are really, really risk-averse and you just want a stable job to provide for your family, for example, then yes, probably corporate is a safer bet. But if you're a bright young person who doesn't really have much to lose, and you really care about various things and you’re excited about constantly learning, generally speaking, I think a startup would be a much better fit and you would be a lot happier. So these are my general thoughts.
I would say working at a startup or corprate, it’s not mutually exclusive at this point in your life. If you're young, and you have time in uni, you have the freedom and the flexibility to try new things. And that's what a lot of people have done. A lot of people I know, including myself have, you know, dabbled in startups as one of their first jobs, and then tried some corporate jobs and internships here and there. So I'd say, have a taste of both. You don't know whether you like something unless you try it out. And, you know, you might have a preconceived notion of who you are in your head. But then once you have a real taste of one career or the other, you might gravitate to one thing more than the other, and that's just your personal preference.
I’d say if you're young, and you're starting out, I would recommend joining a startup because there are lower barriers to entry. With startups, they are more open to taking on students with a bit less experience, especially if they're a very young startup with a small team. So if you want to get your foot in the door, and you need something on your resume, I would definitely recommend a startup. Being able to work with a CEO or co-founder, I think that's a great opportunity that you should never pass up.
On the corporate end, it's more of a stable career. And it's more contingent on different stages of your life that you're in. So if you're young, you don't have anything holding you down, then definitely take the more risky route. But you know, when you get older, and when you have debt, children, family, corporate would make more sense. There are advantages to being in corporate and you know, not everyone wants to be in the rat race. So, Harrison said that startups are high risk, but have a high reward. And that's definitely true. But you know, there are failures in startups, which are unfortunate, and you don't hear too many stories of them, but that is something to keep in mind.
Another thing about startups is, you have to be extremely intrinsically motivated. So you have to find out what your motivations are in life. Think about what lifestyle you want and what you value.
Another thing with startups is, instead of working nine to five, you're working 24/7. So if you love something so much, you're never really going to stop thinking about it. You're going to wake up thinking of the startup and you’re going to go to bed at 2am thinking about your startup and your product or your service. But if you're in corporate, you might get more flexibility, depending on what company you work for. But if it was something reasonable, like just nine to five, then you have more time to spend with your family or take care of your kid, go out with your friends for a drink. So yeah, it's what you value. Are you a hustler? On the grind 24/7, no rest days? Or do you want to take life slow and enjoy the nice things while you have it.
So there are good things and bad things on for both of them. And it's just up to you to try them out and see what you gravitate towards.
Yeah, everything Ava said makes sense. One thing I’ll also add is that in the environment that we are in, people often have career opinions based on their parents, and the parents are usually really risk-averse right? So what that means is that they are getting second-hand opinions from people who have a view of the job market that might not be up to date with what the actual best decision is for you nowadays.
So what I'm trying to say is that there's a lot of peer pressure and a lot of echo chambers that push people into particular careers that are generally in corporate due to outdated opinions often from their parents.
I do think startups are risky. But I also think they are a lot less risky, a lot more lucrative and a lot more interesting than what people who have never actually gotten involved in the space think. And I think that's enough of an incentive for people to do what Ava said. To try things out, especially when you’re at uni.
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Interviewer and Editor: Lynne Jiang