There are two divergent schools of thought about whether entrepreneurs should get big company experience before starting a new business. Some feel that learning how to run a department or project is a good training ground for managing a company. The argument is that entrepreneurial lessons are costly and it is better to learn “on someone else’s dime.”
Dave Lavinsky (the founder of Growthink), in an Inc magazine article, did start out with a corporate career, but feels it’s a bad idea:
Sure, you can learn some things from big companies–mainly how to run a big company. You’ll learn the type of corporate structures that are needed and the key departments, etc. But most of that doesn’t help you when you first start a company. For that, you need to think very differently. You need to think and act like an entrepreneur, which is the art and science of accomplishing more with less (less money, less human resources, less time, etc.)
Big companies are not great at accomplishing more with less, nor are they great innovators. So it’s very easy to pick up bad habits that actually make it harder to start your own business.
While the highly creative type can come up with an idea, it is often said that strong technical capabilities don’t necessarily translate to management and leadership abilities, let alone other significant soft skills requisite for successful start-ups. General management/ jack-of-all-trade knowledge usually only comes through experience. This factor prompts delving into how an entrepreneur can find the necessary experience to be successful. Lavinsky says,
One option is to find a slightly older co-founder who has more managerial experience. Another option is to form a Board of Advisors consisting of several experienced entrepreneurs who lend guidance and advise. Another option is to raise funding and use it to hire several seasoned managers to help guide you.
If these options–either separately or pursued in concert with one another–seem daunting in terms of how someone with no prior business experience could feel qualified to identify and select such input, then there are other ways to gain experience besides working for a big company. One is to work for a VC-backed start-up. Another is to work as an independent sales contractor. Regardless of the type company that you may ultimately start, learning how to overcome rejection and meet quotas is going to be very important.
In summary, most successful entrepreneurs feel as though big company experience is incongruent with the skill development necessary to become a good entrepreneur. Yet, either by association with others possessing experience who join your start-up, or by acquiring skills before start-up, every entrepreneur can prepare.