Back in the day, (not too long ago - shout out to the class of 2011!) I was a new college graduate crossing the stage with a guaranteed job.
Months before, I’d secured a position at a top media company in New York City. I should have been ecstatic. But I wasn’t. I was grateful, and recognized how rare it was to graduate with a job but I felt like I let myself down. I felt like I’d already let the real world chip away at my dreams by settling and entering the workforce. I wasn’t the college student applying to dozens of jobs and going on interviews. Instead, I was submitting for grants, applying to accelerators and googling “how to get an investor for your startup.” So when a job offer landed in my lap, I was grateful but also unsure if it was the right decision knowing I wanted to grow the company I’d already started in my college dorm.
I took the job. In hindsight, it was the best thing I could have done for myself as an entrepreneur. It helped me develop the skills, discipline and instincts I continue to use today as the CEO of my own media company. The relationships I made and the credibility I built during my experience as an employee is invaluable.
If you’re a college student with dreams of launching your own company and becoming an entrepreneur, it may seem counterproductive to go into corporate America. But your dream of entrepreneurship doesn’t end because you decide to enter the workforce first. And if you’re in the workforce right now with an eye on becoming an entrepreneur, don’t lose enthusiasm.
For further insight on this topic, I asked four successful entrepreneurs for their thoughts. Below they each share their perspectives on whether or not they regret going into the workforce after college and how they ultimately made the transition from employee to entrepreneur.
Do you regret not going right into entrepreneurship after college?
Mahisha Dellinger, CURLS Founder & CEO (Previous occupation Marketing Manager,Intel): I actually do not regret not going into entrepreneurship right out of college. I had a host of lessons to learn, life experiences to enlighten me and tough times that strengthen my endurance.
Susan McPherson, Founder & CEO McPherson Strategies, LLC (Previous occupation: Vice President, Corporate Responsibility Services, PR Newswire): Absolutely NOT! My entire career helped me actually learn the tools necessary to run a business (not to mention building a massive network).
Angelina Darrisaw, Founder & CEO, C-Suite Coach (Previous occupation: Senior Manager, Digital Business Development, Viacom): I wish I had the confidence and tolerance for risk then that I do now, but overall no regrets. I needed to learn about different revenue streams, office politics, managing clients, structuring deals, etc to start my business. I'm sure I would have also learned it along the way also, but I think the business experience helped me avoid some potentially costly mistakes.
Lindsey Day, President & Editor in Chief, CRWN Magazine (Previous occupation: Finance at Universal Music Group, Marketing & Biz Dev at Intern Queen): Not at all. My time in the corporate world actually provided tremendous motivation for me to run my own business. I started my very first company while I worked full-time at the largest record label in the world — during a major recession. I saw the pros and cons of working in that type of environment, and in a lot of ways realized that the corporate world wasn't necessarily as "secure" as it may have seemed.
Working on those projects — and for other startups — provided invaluable lessons and insight into what I want my life's work to be. From understanding the accounts payable process in a large organization, to managing marketing campaigns in a bootstrapped startup, to knowing how to get the right person in an organization on the phone; I couldn't be as effective in my role in CRWN Magazine if I didn't have this other experience first.
What is the biggest lesson you learned as an employee that you continue to utilize now as an entrepreneur?
Mahisha Dellinger, CURLS Founder & CEO: The corporate climate at Intel Corporation was extremely competitive…being ranked against your peers, not the job description, prepared me for the intensely competitive hair care industry. I learned that it takes a lot more than just being “good” you must be GREAT to succeed and thrive.
Susan McPherson, Founder & CEO McPherson Strategies, LLC: Treat everyone with kindness and respect! Your customers, your vendors, your janitors, your delivery people and your number one concern, your employees!
Angelina Darrisaw, Founder & CEO, C-Suite Coach: I learned how to network and maintain relationships and how to establish priorities when a lot is coming at you. Being in a big company/industry almost forces you to be an active networker if you want to stand out and do well. That's great practice for entrepreneurship.
And when my responsibilities grew, I had to work a lot on managing competing deadlines and managing bandwidth when there is a lot to do and limited time. That's a skill that will never get old.
Lindsey Day, President & Editor in Chief, CRWN Magazine: You're only as valuable as you prove yourself to be. Anyone can sit in a seat and collect a paycheck, but everyone will not provide value. Value comes from your relationships, your hustle, your ability to read between the lines and think ahead , your ability to make processes more effective, your ability to pull the best out of those around you. Otherwise, you're just a salary or a role to be cut in the next round of layoffs.
As an entrepreneur, it's not an option to just "show up" to the job. You're responsible for driving revenue, paying people, delivering on promises to customers and clients — it takes a certain level of self-determination and even maturity. As the owner of the company, if something fails there's no one to blame but yourself. I venture to guess that our corporations would be in a much better place if they trained their employees to think more like owners.
How did you prepare to transition to entrepreneurship?
Mahisha Dellinger, CURLS Founder & CEO: I prepared the smart way…I transitioned out of my 9-5 Intel desk job into a flexible sales position with Pfizer. Working as a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep enabled me to earn a living to provide for my family, while working a flexible schedule. I was able to launch CURLS Beauty Brands while I was working at Pfizer. Was it a busy time? Absolutely! However, I never worried about money and I was able to grow the business and properly scale. Every dollar CURLS brought in was reinvested into the business, and I lived off my sales salary.
Susan McPherson, Founder & CEO McPherson Strategies, LLC: I didn't! Left my job on a Friday and started three days later on a Monday
Angelina Darrisaw, Founder & CEO, C-Suite Coach: I started telling people I was going to. My friends, my network, even some of my colleagues... I wanted the accountability, but also the support of a network for when I made the full transition. This also gave me answers to questions I didn't even know how to ask. People began to share their expertise and allowed me to leverage their insights when I was in planning mode. I began to educate myself on what new relationships and resources I'd need access to. I also saved a lot of money and started to change my lifestyle to accommodate the investment I'd need to make to get going.
Lindsey Day, President & Editor in Chief, CRWN Magazine: I've dabbled in entrepreneurship my whole career. But prior to taking the full plunge, I was working for a startup and planned to quit to consult full-time in marketing and digital strategy. I didn't have clients yet, so I started putting feelers out and even consulting for free in the beginning. Around that time, an old colleague was in town and we came up with an idea for a print publication about natural hair. After sketching out about fourteen different business models, I decided to partner with him (Nkrumah Farrar) and — worst case scenario — use our learnings as a case study for my consulting.
Six months later, I quit my job and picked up a few marketing clients while simultaneously working on CRWN Magazine's MVP — a folded zine. Three months after that, we debuted our first zine at a music festival in Brooklyn. Three months after that, we had driven enough meaningful revenue to justify my working on CRWN full time and we haven't looked back since.