Back in February I mentioned that I was joining a start-up founded by some ex-colleagues of mine. I was hoping that we’d build a product and spend a few years building up a business that would mean an escape from the evils of the corporate world. To have a direct say in the direction a product takes and potentially a better share of the success of the company. Instead only 8 months after I joined we’ve been bought out by a large American company called RiskMetrics.
I’ve not had a lot of happy times working for American companies before. One closed our office down thinking they could kill our product off (and ironically it’s the now only product that they are able to sell) after a prolonged period of “us against them”. They were a large, slow-moving company with more Vice Presidents than I’ve had hot dinners, everything that’s wrong with corporate America. The second company did pretty much the same thing and made the working environment so miserable that I left after a year and a half. So it was with some feeling of dread that the directors told us that they were thinking of selling out to a big American company.
However following a 2 day trip to New York to meet some of their senior people I was really impressed. This wasn’t the sort of company that had 20 layers of management (and no obsession with Vice President of this and that). Every person we met was not only very intelligent and insightful, but genuinely interested in and passionate about what they do. We had a meal out with them on the first night where we were just ourselves and so were they (although to be fair I’m just myself all the time) – and we had a great time. But the thing that really impressed me was how the people were the next day – the “corporate types” I’ve worked with before would be friendly outside of work but put their business faces on the next day as if the previous night had never happened. This was not the case with these guys. From the 2 short days we had it was clear that these were the sort of people I’d relish the chance to work with and could learn a great deal from.
I do have mixed feelings about joining a new, 1000 employee company. As a regular employee I don’t make any money from the buyout and my long-term hopes for the company will not come to be. But I will get the chance to work with some incredible people on a platform the scale of which I’ve never encountered before. A big reason I joined the start-up was to work in a small company away from a large organisation and that’s exactly what I’m going back to – time will tell what working for this company will be like although all signs so far are good. The work I’ve spent the past few months doing has been pretty frustrating and “bitty” while we were chasing business in the short term (which I guess is unavoidable in a start-up) so having the backup of a larger company will mean we can be more organised and structured and I can get more of a chance to do what I do best.
Ultimately from what I’ve seen so far this may turn out to be a great opportunity that otherwise I’d never have had the chance to take. And so the John Conners career roller-coaster ride continues with more unexpected twists and turns!
I’ve certainly learned a few lessons in this short journey working for a start-up that would make me a lot more wary about doing it in the future. But then again, to coin one of my favourite non-Steven Seagal phrases: nothing ventured, nothing gained!