Being an Entrepreneur within a Large Company

emailIconI received an email recently from a client who had been going and doing some reverse interviews. They were getting in touch to let me know how the process was going, what they were learning, and they asked a few questions. One particular question stuck out in my mind, though, and I wanted to share it here.

What are your thoughts on being an entrepreneur within a large organization?  I have been thinking a lot about that recently and I think there is a need for that type of person too.

As I read this question, I felt they were 100% on target with this idea. In fact, my upcoming book Company of One is centered on this very topic. You see, in my view EVERYONE is an entrepreneur! We all have just forgotten this due to the way our culture thinks about JOBS. But we all make money in return for services provided. The only difference between us and the entrepreneur we typically think of is that we have decided we will take only one job with one customer. (Note – the fact that we have decided is critical!)

Intrapreneur

But I think the point this client was expressing was what we often hear as an INTRAPRENEUR – someone who does a new venture startup within a larger organization.

Lots of companies have entrepreneurs within them. Any time you see companies spinning off new products in a test market you are likely seeing a company within the company -  especially if there is a large effort. For example, AT&T wireless spun out of BellSouth as BellSouth Mobility. Mobility originally had less than 100 people who went it “alone”. However, they had paying jobs and big bankrolls to start with – but everything was an entrepreneurial effort. This situation represents the least personal risk – but the upside is not nearly as good. Believe me – those who founded BellSouth Mobility are not feeling the bank account impact like those who founded Yahoo :)

I want it all

If you have the “entrepreneurial bug” but prefer not to do it all alone, the best thing would be to attach to a company that really loves such efforts. But the problem is that being an entrepreneur in a larger company is hard to do since it can take you years to get in the right position where it is accepted – or you are accepted. But then of course, you could always hire into the right position for entrepreneurship.

Join a startup

Perhaps a more practical approach might be to attach to a company that is a start-up. This approach brings more risk to you if they fail – but in a start-up company, every person is part of the team and part of all the decisions. The experience is exciting and fun – but can be a lot of work!

If you can make it into a company that is well funded and still not too big with someone who is a winner leading the charge– that is the ideal situation for most people who want to be in the environment of the entrepreneur – but are not the ones who start things.

In fact, many people who start companies actually got their start by being around new start-ups ;:)