Shaking the Career Pull of Big Brand Institutions

September 14, 2014

in Education, Ownership, Starting Up

An alternative title for this post could have been, “Doing Startups > Doing Google, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Harvard MBA, Grad School, Academia.”

I spoke with an aspiring entrepreneur today who is currently pursuing a PhD at Georgia Tech. The conversation with him reminded me of my own progression towards becoming an entrepreneur.

I love what I do so much now that it is funny to me to think that I ever envisioned doing something different. At different points in my 20s, I had different aspirations about what my ultimate career would look like. Here is how those aspirations progressed over time:

  • First 3 years of undergrad: Work as an engineer for a few years then get an MBA
  • Senior year of undergrad: Go straight from BYU engineering undergrad to a Harvard MBA without work experience. I had a friend who did that successfully, but he had big connections that made it work since he knew Clayton Christensen and Kim Clark. My Harvard MBA application was rejected, and I was told to go get work experience first.
  • First 3 years of grad school: Work for McKinsey, Bain, or BCG after my PhD. The majority of graduates from my PhD lab followed that course. Several good friends of mine from church also worked in those firms. That was my plan until I started a company.
  • Last year of grad school: Flip my startup into a modest sized acquisition and reapply to the Harvard MBA.
  • Ever since I finally got out of school: Work on building great companies. Forget about more schooling. What a waste!

Looking back, it is interesting to me to see how strong the pull of those big brand institutions was on my thinking. I had no close role model of someone entrepreneurial. I burnt most of my 20s shaking the pull of those big brand institutions.

There is nothing wrong with big brand institutions. But after having some modest startup success, it is amazing how quickly the pull of those organizations fades away. Entrepreneurs at some point realize they can do much more for themselves than other paths can provide.

That does not mean that at some point I won’t become associated with a BigCo. I may. But it will be a choice for a particular purpose. Not because of the brand pull.

The main reason the pull exists in the first place is because people crave instant validation by others that they are awesome. Entrepreneurs buck the craving of validation by association. They want validation by achievement.

A nice related post about this topic is here.

What are your thoughts on rejecting the pull of big brand institutions?

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