From Startups to a Public Company and Back….5 Lessons Learned

by Nathan W. Burke on January 1, 2016

different-870x870Until April of this year, I’d always worked at small companies. After being at 4 startups in a row, I made the leap to join an 18 year-old public company that was bringing a new product to market. Billed as a startup within a mature company, the global marketing team alone had more employees than any other business I’ve worked in.

Next week I am going back to the startup world, joining an early-stage security company that is changing the way businesses handle cybersecurity incident response. Before that, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on the differences I’ve seen as a marketer within B2B startups and at a public company.

  1. There is no better, only different – Working at an early stage startup, it would be easy to say “If I only had the budget and headcount, I’d be able to do so much more.” However, with additional headcount and budget come additional processes and layers of management that can slow progress to a halt. The size of the company doesn’t decide whether there will be marketing challenges, it only determines which set of challenges you’ll have to face.
  2. Clear goals are critical – At a startup the list of things you could be doing is far longer than the time and resources you have. At a larger company, the resources and time can easily be spent on activities that translate to being busy. In both cases, without a disciplined commitment to a clear set of goals, it’s easy to spend 12 hours a day doing things that don’t matter.
  3. Predictability is the answer – Startups can afford to be nimble and experimental, but that can often result in changing focus so often that people don’t know what they’re doing. Frequent changes in direction make people say “why should I work hard on something that will be scrapped in 2 weeks when we change course?”. At a more mature company, it can often take weeks to get a simple campaign off the ground, as coordinating interdepartmental resources is akin to directing air traffic. In both cases, setting reasonable expectations with as much prep time as possible is the only way.
  4. Quality and follow-through beat quick and “one and done” – At a startup with an infinite list of “to do” items, just knocking things off the list can feel like a victory. Similarly, at a larger company with siloed responsibilities and handoffs, doing your own piece can lead to a “I did my part” mentality. While keeping up with the workload is certainly important, losing sight of why you’re doing it and what happens next is just as important.

    Think of any event you’ve ever done. While so much work goes into planning, coordinating, and executing, what happens to the leads after you’ve broken down the booth? Leaving it up to someone is a bad idea.

  5. People want to do great work –  Regardless of company size, people want to do work they can be proud of. Whether that means giving someone the creative freedom to try something bold that may fail or allowing people to specialize in what they’re passionate about, great work is the result of pride. Don’t try to turn people into cookie-cutter, mass production machines. Harness what they love to do, and you’ll get something special out of it.

Although I do believe that startups are a better fit for me personally, I’m thankful for the time I spent at Intralinks. I worked with some truly remarkable people, and learned a lot by being exposed to a larger, global public company.

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