For some people, starting a company seems risky and difficult. For me it was an obvious choice.
Entrepreneurship is harder said than done
My journey started in 2009, when I decided to launch my first company right after my Master’s degree, instead of completing the recommended internship part of the curriculum. My associate Faouzi and I started Capseo, a marketplace to find marketing talents, which later became DOZ, ‘the Uber for Marketing’. I was passionate about this project. This company was my draft, my personal testing of my capabilities, and, to the end, the very expression of my entrepreneurship potential. More recently, I enjoyed the short yet exciting journey of Varanida, where my ambitions carried me throughout the world, to the discovery of the outstanding blockchain industry. Overall, my experience as an entrepreneur has been breathtaking, full of crazy and fantastic highs and lows. I travelled to incredible places and met wonderfully competent individuals. While the outcome was both exhausting and energizing, it slowly but surely designed the man and worker I became.
When I first started, I thought the first company would be a moonshot. I thought that a couple years of hard work would be enough to make it -Zuckerberg- style. I was passionate about the Internet, and had a vision for it, for improving it. I saw myself going from one phase to another in a very linear way, starting by making some revenue, raising some funding, growing the team, raising more revenue and, of course, a few years later, achieving an IPO… It obviously did not turn out the way I thought it would. Truth is, we first had to find our product-market fit, which probably took us about three years. Only after, were we able to raise some funding, and then grow the team little by little. Nothing happened like we had imagined in terms of growth. It was, indeed, a fast-paced environment, full of business opportunities, but no overnight innovation triggered our growth, only our hard work did.
Entrepreneurship should not be seen as one simple path. On the other hand, neither should it be seen as climbing Mount Everest. Entrepreneurship is a career, like any other, where one needs to grow from Junior to Senior. Meanwhile, one learns, makes mistakes, fails, wins, and at some point becomes an experienced entrepreneur. Where is that milestone? It depends. Each career is different, and unlike working within a company, no manager is here to give one a promotion. The “Senior” level is achieved once one knows the game and its rules. It therefore depends upon each entrepreneur’s journey, background and aspiration.
Of course, everyone remembers the success of young entrepreneurs like Facebook or Google founders, who starred in their twenties and became billionaires running mastodon companies in a short 10 years… but nobody recalls the thousands of successful entrepreneurs who started dozens of different companies before finding their fit, and becoming successful.
Being an entrepreneur in 2009 was the obvious choice, and at the time, I had no idea I would decide, 10 years later, to become an employee. However, now is time to write a new chapter. For the first time in my life, I’ve decided to join a company rather than “starting” one.
This decision took me some thoughts, some time to analyze the pros and cons. Obviously, if my most recent venture would have meet the success I foresaw, my decision would probably have been different. Yet, I had to consider many other factors, including timing, the need to experience something new, the need for structure, and, most importantly, the will to challenge myself. I know starting a company is, by itself, a considerable challenge; however, for an always aspiring entrepreneur like myself, another challenge was to be part of a bigger organization and help it grow. Therefore, I decided I was willing to move on towards new perspectives and was ready to experience a shift in my career.
How to move from entrepreneurship to employeeship
Once, I had decided that it was the right time, I had to think about what I wanted to do. As a startup founder, especially a non-tech one, I ended up doing hundreds of different things; probably not perfectly well. However, I started getting a sense of what I liked or didn’t like. For the past 10 years, I did financial and accountability work, which were probably what I hated the most; I also had to do business development and pure sales, and although I kind of liked it, it did not excite me as much; I also did a lot of digital marketing, which I loved but it didn’t sound too challenging; and many other things. Yet, the one role I discovered and loved was anything related to building product. The full cycle of thinking about an issue to solve, designing a solution, crafting some mockups, working with engineers, testing, releasing and finally observing the way users actually use (or not!) a feature, a module, an app etc. was pure satisfaction.
However, and as everything we do as entrepreneurs, I didn’t get a proper training to product management, and even though I thought thousands of times about any feature we were building at DOZ, I was lacking some of the basics PM jargon or processes. Therefore, I read (a lot), took online classes, and talked to other PMs, to get a true sense of what their work was about. I took the step further to see if I would like to pursue this career, and most importantly, if I felt capable of doing so.
Then, I drafted a resume. This was probably the hardest part: how could I summarize in 4 or 5 bullet points what I had been doing for 8 years, be it very different from recruiting to business development, from fundraising to product management? I had to choose and focus not only on what I did but what I’d like to do next. After 20 to 30 iterations, I finally had a resume I was comfortable with; so I started to send it away to interesting companies and jobs I found online. I probably sent over 150 applications… and didn’t get a single interview. Thankfully, my 10-year experience as an entrepreneur rewarded me with a very wide network of tech people all over the world, which enabled me to get the most interesting discussions going on and test my “candidate” profile in real condition. Nonetheless, the most appealing job offer I received was through Hired, a platform that matches candidates to job, by letting recruiters hunt them. The process is reversed which makes it very interesting, especially when one does not have a traditional background, such as “entrepreneur”.
This is how, last month, I’ve joined NewsCred, an Integrated Marketing software, where I’ll be working as a Director of Product with an amazing team on something tightly close to what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years: help Marketers building better and more efficient Marketing campaigns to ultimately improve the Internet. I’m still convinced that if marketing messages are valuable and crafted with the end-user in mind then we should see less intrusive banners and pop-ups, but more interesting and valuable marketing assets online.
NewsCred has a lot of similarities with DOZ: a birth in 2008/09, an interesting mix of marketplace and SaaS, a crazy vision to make the Web better, a diverse and rich company culture. My discussions with Shafqat Islam, CEO & co-founder, as well as with Tzi-Kei Wong, VP of Product, where we shared our common vision for the future of Marketing, were key elements that convinced me to join this adventure.
I’m looking forward to bring the energy, the optimism and grit I have developed along the years as an entrepreneur; and to help an enterprise software solution reach massive adoption. Let’s see where this journey will take me… as for now, it brought me to New York City, which is already quite a move!
It’s not that hard to jump from being an entrepreneur to being an employee, and vice-versa. Similarly to any change, there is fear in both cases: for some people, being an entrepreneur is risky and too exhausting; for others, being an employee is too boring and they fear being managed. But like everything life, both can be great or bad. Most of the time, it’s a matter of making the right choice, looking for the right opportunity, at the right time and most importantly with the right people.
Both worlds should not be opposed, as at the end of the day entrepreneurs also have “managers” being their investors, board members, or customers. Also, employees play the highest role in an entrepreneur’ success, and I guess it’s harder to be a good manager if one has never been managed.
After a few weeks, I feel like I’ve made the right decision. Of course, it takes some time to get used to new processes, to a new culture, a new product etc. especially when one joins a company with many years of operations, but as long as there is trust in the people and belief in the mission, everything should be fine. I was also worried about “having a boss” and not “being the boss”. My ego was probably the reason I had this in mind, but so far it’s been great and I’ve already learned a lot from her. And even though, I might perform poorly at some point in the future, and, who knows, even get fired, I’ll still be able to look back at this transition and say it was much easier than what I expected.
I have to say that all the credit goes to the team at NewsCred. They made everything so smooth, with such incredible company culture as well as a constant positive energy. The pace and growth are impressive, and we actually announced today that we raised an additional $20M to deliver an even better software and overall service to our enterprise customers. (PS: we are hiring, so I invite you to check opened positions here)
Lately, there has been a huge push for entrepreneurship as a new career path after school or later in life, and stats are showing an impressive increase in numbers of created companies, money raised, and IPO from tech startups; which is great. But ultimately not all companies are going to succeed, and some of these great entrepreneurs will end up transitioning (back) to “employeeship”. At that point, their transition will need to be painless. They should be welcomed in these growing companies where creative minds are not only hired but sought for. In the end, I’m sure entrepreneurs can also become great employees.