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Jan 21

Big Company Blues? It’s A Great Time To Make The Jump to A Start-Up

Posted by: Mark Solon        

Imagine you’re a successful 10+ year veteran at HP, Micron, Oracle or some other behemoth technology company and one day John, a co-worker approaches you and says “ Hey Dave, Mary and I are meeting for a couple of beers tonight, we’ve got a great idea for a start-up, care to join us?” Would you go?

Many tech workers at big companies I know these days would jump at that opportunity. For some technology workers, after a long career at a large technology company, the lure of innovation has morphed into the drudgery of squeezing another nickel of margin from the stone and it just doesn’t make their heart beat fast anymore. They built careers in technology because of the thrill of innovation, not the grind of manufacturing.


So what should you focus on when you meet John and friends? I’d suggest you question them about the market opportunity, intellectual property, financing strategy and other things that you’ve probably already thought of. But I’d urge you to put most of your time and effort into evaluating your potential co-workers.

Why? Because good ideas and capital are commodities that are relatively easy to find. What’s really rare are exceptional people. After almost fifteen years of funding start-ups, I am quite sure that biggest challenge in starting a business is putting together an exceptional team. Even more importantly, a great team begins with a great leader because when things go badly (and they most assuredly will), who is going to lead the team through the adversity that every start-up faces, time and time again?


A great CEO is always selling. They are selling their vision to attract the best employees to work for below market wages, selling the company’s stock to potential investors, and selling the (often flawed) early versions of the company’s products to its customers.

If you can check that box, next ask yourself, “would I want to spend more time with these people than my family for the next five-plus years and how will I work with them under the worst possible conditions?” Why? Bluntly, a start-up tech company is a challenging place to work. The hours are terrible and the pay is worse. There’s no job security, your stress goes through the roof, and it’s generally an unhealthy lifestyle. Honestly, it’s a miracle that tech start-ups ever survive.


But everyday I come to work and meet utterly remarkable people who have left the cocoons of larger companies, taken out second mortgages on their homes, maxed out their credit cards, and begged every breathing soul they know to invest a few pennies in their start-up. I leave work each day in awe of the courage of these entrepreneurs who embrace these risks knowing the odds against them.

So why do people do it? Because words can’t describe the feeling of working with a small group of people towards a common goal in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Being in the office of a start-up when the product works for the first time, or when the company gets its first customer, or lands its first big partnership is probably the closest any of us will get to the feeling of being in the locker room after BSU beats TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.


So if you’re thinking of making the leap to a start-up, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s an experience every tech worker should experience. Bonds are created between employees that transcend typical work environments and once you’ve had a taste of it, it’s really hard to go back to a 9 to 5 job.


11 Responses to “Big Company Blues? It’s A Great Time To Make The Jump to A Start-Up”

  1. Toby Murdock says:

    Great post. I think you accurately capture here the motivation behind start-ups. Interesting too that you didn't mention the opportunity to make a lot of money. While that's part of it too, I think what you mention is almost more of a driving factor.

    Only edit I'd make: how about BSU over Oklahoma instead? I guess that's even further from what we'd experience . . . unless maybe you're Brin / Case / et al.

    • Mark Solon says:

      Thanks Toby. I guess I've found that over my career, the most successful startup people view money as a by-product of what they do. Some make a lot, some don't. But most of them do it for the energy, intellectual stimulation, team atmosphere and general satisfaction.

      As for BSU over Oklahoma, couldn't agree more. Greatest sports moment in Boise history!

  2. David says:

    I'm a programmer. I've worked at startups. I've worked at large companies. By far, the most rewarding work I've ever done, the work of which I'm most proud, has been at the startups (Telemetric and Portsmith).

    At a small company, I have the freedom and responsibility to make my own design decisions. "I want to use XYZ as our revision control system. Done! I want to use ABC as our build system. Done! " At a large company, there is a huge weight that must be moved with every decision.

    • Mark Solon says:


      Being a small part of Telemetric since 2002 and watching the challenges and ultimate success there was a big part of the inspiration of a post like this. I love your comment, it really speaks to why once you've worked in a startup, it gets in your blood and you crave it. Now we need more of them here in Idaho!

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Solon, Kevin Romano. Kevin Romano said: RT @hwy12 Got the big company blues? Great time to join a startup [...]

  4. Mark - Great post. Living this for the past few years… - you are spot on!

  5. Brian King says:

    Great blog post. Love the analogy with BSU Football and the last line is spot-on.

  6. Jessie Fisher says:

    Fantastic post, painted the picture nicely. It is not always rainbows and sunshine, the learning curve sometimes bruises but the experience at a start-up is irreplaceable. The team is the link that is vital.

  7. Mark Solon says:

    Thanks for all your hard work at Balihoo Brian, and thank your dad for me, he took care of my aching back so I can get back to playing on the Balihoo hockey team!

  8. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by squallco: RT @hwy12 Got the big company blues? Great time to join a startup

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