Only a couple of years ago, most ambitious graduates would opt for a prestigious career in banking, law or consulting. I know this because I was one of those people. I left university and became a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. It was a well-trodden path and a position in a respected company.
However, I always knew that I wanted to build a startup. I believed it would give me the satisfaction of creating something from scratch and help me realise my potential. Yet instead of following this vision of starting my own company, I looked for a job.
I got an offer from Google to join their London office but I wasn’t excited by the position. It felt risky to leave a prestigious company; having a ‘steady’ job gave me social approval from my peers, family and potential employers. But I knew it would only get harder to build a startup as I got older and more risk-adverse. I had to take the leap. So I left McKinsey, turned down Google and set up Entrepreneur First with my co-founder and friend Matt Clifford.
At Entrepreneur First, we see this decision-making process every day – whether it’s a PhD student wondering if they should turn down their own ‘insert-big-tech-co’ offer or a developer wondering if it’s foolish to turn down that big promotion. If you ask anyone who works at a big tech company what’s great about their job, they’re likely to say a number of ‘cool’ things: office space, sleep pods, free food, ping pong tables. However, the fact is that these are peripheral benefits: things that stop employees from being dissatisfied but that don’t actively deliver job satisfaction.
Things are changing though. Today’s technical graduates are realising they are uniquely placed to run successful companies. They can apply their technical skills to build products that few would be able to and solve tough problems that we face everyday in original, defensible ways. All this whilst continuously challenging themselves and quickly becoming experts in supplementary areas like marketing, sales, accounting and legal documents.
Being a founder is a continuous and steep learning curve. You won’t get an annual review and promotion but you will have a deep sense of fulfilment from what you are achieving. You have the responsibility of knowing that the buck stops with you. You’re ultimately responsible for your team, your investors and your customers. You get the opportunity to do something meaningful and to solve hard problems. Put simply, as a founder, you are central to the organisation and how it functions. And that’s why UK grads are rejecting Google, Facebook and Goldman Sachs: to forge a more meaningful career path.