Taking the Leap - From Corporate to Startup - Lucie Jeffers

Corporate. The word seems like a faraway land, disconnected and disassociated from me. A word I would never use to describe myself post-leap. That’s right – I describe my career in pre and post leap: that is corporate and startup.

Pre-Leap

I spent the first seven years of my career climbing the corporate ladder in one of the top staffing companies in North America. I worked hard, very hard. I was the top performing recruiter year after year, and I worked my way to four promotions and a seat on a board. I tried to pour my all of my energy into placing my candidates and training new hires for the company. I tried to change the processes, and I tried to show that there were different ways of doing things. Then one day I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was tired of trying to get approvals and building a business case and really just the red tape that comes along with large organizations. I knew I wanted to make a bigger impact, to move faster, to be challenged differently, to have autonomy and ownership. I craved something bigger than what the corporate world could offer me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking corporate; it gave me so many of the skills that allow me to thrive post-leap – I’m just saying it wasn’t for me anymore. So, I began to ponder my next step, my next move and my next challenge. How could I be a part of building something great?

Post-Leap

I landed at the doors of Exact Media, a startup focusing on disrupting the sampling industry, and, more specifically, reinventing direct mail. The interview process was rigorous: one of them drew on experiences back to high school and lasted over two hours. I admired the fact that the CEO was taking the time out of his day to talk to me, to get to know me, and to make sure I was the right fit for his team. He also answered about 20 questions that I had for him with intelligence, patience and a calmness that had me determined to work at the company. I didn’t have marketing experience or CPG experience or really all of the right answers, but I did have grit – that is resilience, passion, determination, results and forward thinking.  So here I am, over one year post-leap, one promotion and probably the  wearer of 50 more hats, and I’ve never been happier.

Here are the 3 biggest learnings from the past year:

Work Faster, Work Smarter     

Startups are hard, really hard and scary but I encourage you to take a risk and challenge yourself. Remember when I said I didn’t like red tape? Well, sometimes maybe I miss the red tape a tiny little bit, sometimes, but not really. Startups are bootstrapped; you do so much with so little. There is no calling the IT guy or preparing a 3-page document to put a process in place. Startups move fast, and your team is relying on you to keep up the pace. You might not have all the answers but startup means you solve the problem even after your first three ideas failed. It means not throwing in the towel, but figuring out a way to do something better and faster that will add value to this world.

Team & Community

Joining a startup won’t make you rich. Ok, well, let me rephrase that, it may make you rich but it all depends on what your definition of rich is. You are an owner of a piece of company you can directly impact the success of. You will have tremendous professional growth, you will have things thrown at you left, right and center, and you will have to juggle those balls. You will work with a whole new definition of team and community; you are surrounded by people who believe in the same goal as you and will move mountains to achieve. That to me is rich.

Tough Feedback, Big Wins

Startups are the most exhilarating ride of your life. You must be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and make sacrifices to make a big impact on a company that is partially yours. It means sometimes taking tough feedback. It sometimes means long nights and different time zones, but it also means celebrating the small wins and the big wins. It means accountability in good times and bad. Startups are not for the faint of heart; one day you will experience the highest of highs and next day the lowest of lows. It means shaving 10 years off your life one day and gaining 15 the next. It means hackathons, protected culture, and the opportunity to make your mark.

My final thoughts to you on pre and post leap: working at a startup is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding. I have grown more personally and professionally in the last year than I did in the last seven. Like corporate, startups are not for everyone, but if they are for you, you will know you found your home.