Category: Entrepreneurship

Career options in the 21st century

I completed my A-Levels in 2007, almost a decade ago. It’s fair to say that:

A) There were a whole host of career options which I had no clue about at that time (which I now do – and only really have gained a proper appreciation for in these last 12-18 months)
B) In the last decade these “other” options have become increasingly typical, as others have woken up to them and transitioned careers to reflect what they care about, and the sort of lifestyle they want to live

In fact, according to the folks at Escape The City, a “21st century career” looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.25.30

At my grammar school in southwest London, as someone who had been reasonably “academic” at school with my grades being pretty decent (and also with the 2 hard-working generations whom had come before me), I had narrowed my career options to the following:

– Medicine
– Dentistry
– Law
– Banking

And that was pretty much it. In other words, something reasonably prestigious which I envisioned would be a safe and steady option and would lead to a well-paid career.

One major downside to “careers advice” and “career options” in 2016 is that we still live in outdated times where options seemed to be very fixed — e.g. “lawyer”, “doctor”, “builder”, “butcher” and stuck in the times when a job used to be a job for life, which is now not the case. In the last 40 years, we have gone from “a job/employer for life” to “several jobs in a lifetime (across different industries)”, and we are now moving towards “several jobs at any one time” with the “freelance economy” on the horizon. (Hence the conformity which school encourages is only becoming increasingly inappropriate & detrimental).

Careers/jobs are simply not fixed like this any more — here’s what’s possible in today’s world:

1. These traditional “identities” can now manifest themselves in a number of different ways

If you want to be a “writer” — you can be a blogger, you can write content for a company, you can be a journalist, and so on. If you want to be a “doctor” — yes, you can go down the traditional GP/consultant route, yet you can also work for a healthcare startup, you can find a way to scale your medical knowledge to reach a wider audience over the internet.

2. The portfolio career

As mentioned, there is now no need to “choose” between one career or another. Have multiple interests? You can now go for a “slash” career comprised of 2 or 3 (or more) parts. You can be a coach/speaker, you can be a writer/teacher, you can even be a lawyer/teacher.

Indeed, many of us are not specialists by design, and have a whole host of interests. (This TED Talk by Emilie Wapnick — “Why some of us don’t have one true calling” is eye-opening).

Recommended reading:
Refuse to Choose! by Barbara Sher
And what do you do? 10 steps to creating a portfolio career by Barrie Hopson & Kate Ledger

3. Solopreneurship

It is now possible to carve out your own skillset in whichever field / based on whichever interest(s) you may have, and then either build your own online audience from it, or work for yourself and take on your own clients. You don’t have to build a huge company, you don’t even have to have a business partner or any employees. Many people disillusioned with working in the corporate sector and choosing to transition in this direction.

Credit: Unsplash (via Pixabay)

Recommended reading:
The $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau
Screw Work, Let’s Play by John Williams
Escape from Cubicle Nation, by Pamela Slim
The Escape Manifesto by Escape The City

4. Entrepreneurship

I had no idea it was possible to pursue business at a young age, having been under the impression it was for “older people” who had experience under their belt and then magically went on to build successful businesses. With the rise of startup/accelerator programmes, enterprise schemes at school (e.g. Young Enterprise), entrepreneurship courses at universities, as well as programmes/funding for entrepreneurial students at university, in addition to programmes like NEF (New Entrepreneurs Foundation) — entrepreneurship, though not for everyone, is now accessible to graduates and young people in general.

Note of caution: there is a certain amount of glamour attached to entrepreneurship and startups. It’s really important to know the pros and cons and understand the bigger picture, before jumping into either one of them.

5. Working for a startup

If I had known that startups/small businesses was “a thing”/a genuine option, that may well have been the option I had chosen coming out of school. Being a small business, you get to learn a lot, work closely with some amazing individuals and really feel close to the mission of whichever business you are joining.

Startups are emerging not only in London but a number of other UK cities, and across every sector: from the “traditional” sectors of education and healthcare, through to “new” sectors such as Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing.

Recommended reading:
Why young people should seriously consider working for a startup

Though the landscape has changed a lot in the last few years and these other options have since “emerged”, careers are probably the farthest from linear and defined that they have ever been. The 21st century career is all about exploring, experimenting and zigzagging.

2016 is an exciting time for young people, whether coming out of school, college or university.

PS. Despite (hopefully!) being wiser now than I was 10 years ago, it’s been a fun journey :)

I originally wrote this article for the Thriva blog (it also featured on Medium)

Work- and Home-life balance

Whilst I rarely watch or read the news if I can help it, one thing I consciously read every Sunday is Luke Johnson’s article at the back of the Sunday Times’ ‘Business’ pullout.

Today’s feature looked at the business and home lives of entrepreneurs, and was titled “Business is business – but home life must stay personal”. Full of gems as per usual, here are a few of the key extracts:

“In may ways entrepreneurs can be full of contradictions: their strengths are their weaknesses, too. In particular, what can be a positive in business can be destructive in their personal lives.”

“The best chief executives I know are frugal in how they spend money, and know exactly where the cash goes. They believe all purchases are negotiable, and that keeping tight control of expenses is one of the secrets in building a successful company. But often this affects their behaviour at home. They see personal outgoings as “overheads”; they worry that everyone from the plumber to the nanny is ripping them off. They forget to enjoy the lavish Mediterranean holiday because they are obsesses about the extortionate price for the villa, the rental car, the meals out.”

“Denial and graft cannot be the purpose of home life. that is more about consumption – spending the fruits of one’s labours and enjoying the winnings.”

“… in my opinion, an appetite for hard work is a precursor to achievement in business. But this inclination often exhibits itself domestically as workaholism – an overwhelming dedication to a career leading to the impoverishment of family life.”

“We have all read tragic stories of tycoons whose children go off the rails – drugs, self harm, etc – and all too often because they received too many goodies but not enough parental attention.”

“Getting different aspects of one’s life in proportion is easier said than done; an ability to compartmentalise is a great talent but one, it seems, that only a few possess.”

“Unfortunately, the encroachment of digital communications means there is rarely any true escape from the incubus of business. In intrudes in the evening, at weekends, on holiday. Too often I have allowed a rogue email to spoil a Sunday afternoon.”

“On the BBC archive one can find a wonderful documentary called The Solitary Billionaire. It was made in 1963 and features J Paul Getty being interviewed by the comparable Alan Whicker. At the time Getty was the richest man in the world… His private life was a shambles – five marriages and deeply dysfunctional relationships with his children. Getty wrote a bestseller called How to be Rich. It is a useful primer on making money, but not much of a guide to how to live a fulfilling life.”

The full article is available to those with a membership with The Times, here.

Luke Johnson’s article made me think of Walmart founder Sam Walton’s famous proclamation of “I blew it” on his deathbed – a man who apparently “had it all” judging by Walmart’s huge success and the sheer abundance of wealth he had creased, and yet expressed a huge regret about his life right at the end (read more about that here and here).

It’s important to keep perspective and life a balanced life. Whilst building a company is a fantastic journey, and there are many inspiration founders and companies out there, home/personal life are just as important – if not more so. (And probably a defining component of one’s life, helping ground them and keep them at bay when it comes to their business life).

“Going viral” is no replacement for “hustling”

In the fast-paced world we live in today, a world of now, now, now, where any information is accessible from pretty much anywhere within seconds, where celebrities have huge social media followings, where BuzzFeed and DailyMail articles have a shelf-life of minutes, and where stories, videos, Snapchats and Vines can go viral, it is tempting to think that quick-and-easy wins really do exist.

Compare that to our seeing only the tip of the iceberg, and not the months and years of hard work that built up to the outside “success” that we witness, we can easily be fooled into thinking that overnight success is a real thing.

Unfortunately, though this is a really easy trap to fall into nowadays, this is far from the truth.

When an article or a video goes viral, one witnesses a temporary buzz, and spike in traffic, moments of attention…and then it fades away and it’s back to the real world. And yet it’s tempting to aim for that moment, that celebrity re-tweeting your tweet, that renowned artist for mentioning your week. All these things are great, and are certainly markers in the right direction, but these don’t at all solve all your problems overnight.

There is no replacement for hard work and for hustle. Taking a company like Uber, which has turned into a hugely successful company and continues to expand further across geographies and into new territories. It seemed to appear from nowhere, it seemed just like an overnight success…

And yet I heard a story of one of the Regional Heads in the UK (my source couldn’t remember which) who in Uber’s early days spent hours leading an event and spending time in the room with the attendees – of which there are just 4 or 5.

Below is an excerpt from Smartcuts: How hackers, innovators, and icons accelerate success (by Shane Snow):

“In January 2010, Paul “Bear” Vasquez posted a home video on YouTube. The video idled online for months without attracting any attention, until Jimmy Kimmel discovered the clip in July. He shared it on Twitter and endorsed it as “the funniest video in the world.” It went viral. Today, “Double Rainbow” has over 40 million views.

Around the same time, a 23-year-old Vietnamese American makeup artist named Michelle Phan posted a tutorial on YouTube demonstrating how to apply makeup to re-create Lady Gaga’s look from “Bad Romance.” Buzzfeed picked up the video, and it went viral. Today, it also claims over 40 million views.

Vasquez and Phan took different paths thereafter. Vasquez, who lives just outside of Yosemite National Park in central California, continues to document his life in the mountains, (he has posted over 1,300 clips) but most of his videos only have a few hundred views. Phan is the second-most-watched female YouTuber in the world. She claims nearly 7 million subscribers and has amassed over 1 billion views. Thanks to her makeup tutorials, Phan became the official video makeup artist for Lancôme and created her own line for L’Oreal.”

What was the difference between Vasquez and Phan? Vasquez had a one-off video that went viral; Phan had been spending lots and lots of time producing various video tutorials before one of her videos went viral, and so all of that historic hard work was discovered and propelled her to longer-term success.

There is no replacement for hustling, or hard work.

Why graduates should seriously consider working for a startup

A caveat: there seems to be a narrative these days which goes something like: “startup=good, corporate=bad”. This isn’t a narrative I agree with, as I believe every organisation — startup or corporate, small or large -‎ should be judged on its own merits



For many years, those first jobs that have been the most sought-after have been the ‘prestigious’ graduate schemes. In other words, placements with banks, law firms, and other large corporates.

Today, many talented young people are finding themselves on the notorious “conveyer belt”. But, after dipping their toe into the investment banking world (and suchlike), they are discovering that these places aren’t quite as glamorous as they appeared.

When reflecting upon landing his gig at a prestigious law firm, Peter Thiel is often quoted as saying:

“From the outside, everyone wanted to get in. On the inside, everybody wanted to get out.”

Thiel goes on to say “I really had to rethink what I really wanted to do. What was I really passionate about?” (his full interview is available here).

“But I think if I had to give advice to my younger self, I might still go to Stanford, I might still go to law school. But I would ask far more questions about why was I doing it. Was I doing it just for status and prestige, or was I doing it because I was really substantively interested?”
 — Peter Thiel (Co-founder of Paypal, entrepreneur & investor)

In fact, many employees (especially millennials), are ditching their corporate jobs to work for startups, citing various reasons for doing so. (e.g. see this engineer who quit his Microsoft job).

With 2015 being a record year for startup formation in the UK, there are several reasons why young people should consider joining a startup, rather than following the well-worn, corporate path.

Here are 12 of the best reasons*:

1. Greater job responsibility

Startup: Even at entry-level, you are given more to do right from the beginning. As the teams are smaller, you have more of a part to play — and are much less the “small cog in a large wheel”. Therefore, you will feel as if what you are doing is genuinely adding value. Yes, the learning curve is steeper, the challenge is often greater, but it is all the more worthwhile and the opportunity for you is huge.

Corporate: At entry-level you are looking at a defined ‘analyst’ job or similar. You might be doing tasks of some value, but you will generally have to ‘earn your stripes’ by carrying out more of the mundane and administrative tasks, before working your way up the corporate ladder and doing the more interesting stuff. This can sometimes take years.

2. More job variety

Startup: Within your specific role, your role probably isn’t so specific! You will be tasked with more responsibilities and your day-to-day work is likely to be more varied. Chances are, say your position is in Marketing, your work will extend beyond the marketing world and cross over to other areas. i.e. In this case, your role might actually be more of a Marketing/Sales/Operations position.

This gives you an opportunity to:

A) Learn more
B) Get more feedback around what you actually enjoy doing and/or are good at.

Corporate: Much less variety in a typically narrow and defined analyst role (or equivalent).

3. More control over your role & career

Startup: It is easier to get close to a part of the business that you are interested in, and to some extent ‘build out a role’ within that space. If you are hard-working and are a good fit for the company, they will want to keep you and utilise you both in the best way possible. This will mean you working in a position where you are happy(-est) doing that role.

Corporate: If you find yourself in a Finance role, for example, it is near-impossible / extremely difficult to:

A) get wider experience in another field and
B) manoeuvre yourself into another role.

This is partly due to the specific nature of your role, and partly due to the sheer size of the firm and the politics and bureaucracy that often comes with it.

4. Less of a hierarchy, more holarchy

Startup: This ties in nicely with the previous points. In startups, like in any organisation, there is a mix of experience within the teams. However, there is generally less of a heirarchy, and everyone tends to be taken seriously and have a say — both in the team itself as well as in the overall direction and mission of the company. Some startups have even actively removed themselves from the hierarchy model, instead implementing holarchy — e.g. Zappos.

Corporate: A rigid corporate hierarchy, with typically at least 2–3 years between each title promotion, and certainly 10–15 years (minimum) before you can reach anywhere near “the top” (e.g. Director, Head of Department, etcetera)

5. Your age matters less

Startup: Generally speaking, and partly due to their more recent emergence in the history of the workplace, a startup workforce has a lower average age (for better or for worse). More crucially, with less of a focus on “seniority”, your age is less relevant and less looked-at-between-the-lines at a startup. In other words, your age is less of a barrier. For this reason, if you join a startup after school or university and ace it, you can find yourself in a pretty significant role (and much faster than would be possible within a corporate). The rules are less defined and there is less bureaucracy — this can go to your advantage and you can find yourself way ahead of your investment-banking peers.

Corporate: As mentioned in point 1, you will most likely have to ‘earn your stripes’. It’ll take 2–3 years of work before you are likely to move upwards to a ‘senior analyst’ position (or equivalent), and even then it might be more of a title change as opposed to anything with more tangible responsibility. Frustratingly, your manager might either be someone a couple of years ahead of you (in age and experience), or someone who got the managerial role simply by ‘doing the time’ and being with the company for so many years, thus ‘earning’ the promotion through tenure.

6. Greater exposure to impressive individuals

Startup: Greater exposure to, and thus greater opportunity to learn from, these individuals. Smaller teams with more responsibility and less hierarchy also means that you get to learn from some really impressive people, both in your team and across the company as a whole. Chances are, the founder(s) will sit near you — possibly even a few desks away — or at worst just one floor away. This also gives greater rise to horizontal variance in your network (as opposed to vertical). Zak Slayback (Top LinkedIn Influencer on Education & Business Development Director at Praxis) talks about this here.

Corporate: Most of your interactions will be with your immediate team, which will likely consist of fellow analysts/senior analysts with the manager possibly being a level up from that (see previous point re: age and managers). All of which amounts to less opportunity for network variance (see above).

7. Startups are doing cool and exciting things

Startup: Funding Circle is revolutionising the outdated banking system. Pact Coffee is changing the coffee industry for the better. DrEd is transforming healthcare. This list goes on. Startups are innovative and disruptive, in some way trying to shake up the way things are currently done in their respective industries. The founders risked it all by leaving safe and secure jobs (often corporate jobs!) to put themselves on the line for something they really believed in. Is that not something you’d want to be part of, given the choice?

As a result of which…

8. Your are close to the overall mission of the company

Startup: And you feel it. Not only is your company trying to do something exciting it, but this is often felt in what you are doing every day. They are values- and mission-led in a genuine way (rather than having generic core values just for the sake of it). Your work is more likely to be fun and fulfilling, and you are more likely to see what you are doing as more than just a job, as you can feel that you are tangibly and meaningfully contributing to the lives of others in some way.

Corporate: The ‘company values’ were probably something you were given on induction day, never to be seen again. (Except when you browse the company website every once in a while, perhaps). The overall mission is more difficult to determine — beyond simply “making more money for ourselves, the Board and our shareholders.” Equally, the company founder(s) is probably sat in another office, another timezone or is no longer alive. At best, you might see him/her once a year giving the annual company presentation (possibly via video-conference, bonus marks if you see them from afar, on stage, in person). Even if you do know what the company’s mission is, it probably isn’t felt whilst sat at the bottom of the chain along with the hundreds of other analysts.

9. You get to see the bigger picture

Startup: Do you want to start your own business one day? (If so, you’re not alone — nearly 2/3 of millennials want to start their own business at some point. Also — take a look at some more interesting facts about millennials). Within a startup, you are much closer to Sales, Marketing, Operations, Finance, etcetera. You get to see how the departments interact with one another, and gain insights which could be invaluable for when it comes to starting your own business. This effect is even greater within a smaller startup (e.g. 10–50 people in size). You may even get to join an early-stage startup, and experience it as it grows in size.

Corporate: In your role and team, you might feel removed from the rest of the department let alone the rest of the business. Such a bigger-picture view isn’t possible. Not unless you reach the uppermost echelons after 20–30+ years with the firm (and, even then, you’re pretty far-removed from much of the day-to-day company activities).

10. You get to bring (more of) “yourself” to work

Startup: Many startups tend be more human and accepting of who you really are, and not just focused on “work”. Often, you get to wear normal clothes(!) — not suits — and express who you really are. Take this page for example, introducing the team at BEAR Nibbles. Yes, it is a company, there is work to be done, but this is clearly a group of people who are treated like people, and don’t have to put on as much of a “work façade”, openly expressing your interests and the other sides to you away from the “work you”.

Corporate: Suited-and-booted. “Professional” only and corporate-type-façade. You certainly won’t see employees talking about their love of early-morning raves on the company website…

11. You actually get to know the people in the company

Startup: With a company just 10–100(ish — it varies) in size, you actually get to know who the people are. Need to speak to Jack in Finance? He’s not just a stranger on the phone — you actually saw him at the gym last week… It feels more like a community as a result, even with a family-like feel to it, with a sense of camaraderie.

Corporate: Jack in Finance could well be far away, possibly in another time-zone. In fact, it can feel like you are speaking to people who aren’t working for the same company. Though a close team-bond can be fostered, a community-like feel on a larger, company-wide scale is much more difficult to achieve.

12. Check out some of these awesome benefits…

Startup: Startups have their own unique culture, and their own unique benefits to go with it — from free breakfast, beer, foosball tables and ping pong, through to meditation/yoga and office dogs(!). OK, not the most important thing in the world when considering a job, but hey, it’s the small things that count. (And the perks aren’t always just “small things” either — check out what this tech company did).

Corporate: Ping pong tables? A dog in the office? Err…moving on…

*These 12 points apply to small businesses as well as startups.

So there you have it. Working for a startup has plenty of advantages, and especially so if you are a young person about to embark on a career.

A smart thing to do is to begin by searching for a startup with a mission that is meaningful to you, contributing to the world in some way that you can see eye-to-eye with. (Watch out for a future post here on what startups look for when they hire graduates and school-leavers).

Working for a startup is no easy ride. It is just as much hard work as it is working for a corporate (if not harder), and probably with a lower salary, at the beginning at least. (Though often there is more transparency around salary — an extreme example of that here). There also tends to be more uncertainty; your role might not be so “typical” — every day/week is likely to be different and bring new challenges.

Working for a startup has a whole host of benefits.

Perhaps most of all, you can choose to work for a company with a purpose and mission that you can relate to and are passionate about, and can feel in the work that you are doing.

And for more and more young people out there, that alone counts for a lot.

This article originally appeared here. It also featured on Medium, with a shorter version featuring on NACUE.

Startup founders & their education

When we look around at the world and study those who have created their own businesses, generally these individuals fall into two brackets in terms of their education:

1.     They either didn’t go to university / college, or they dropped out (or, perhaps, “opted out”) – think Steve Jobs and Richard Branson

2.     They did go to university / college, and followed the conventional path of formal education and then on to a high-status corporate job of some sort. In this second instance, they most likely went on to create something special alongside their job, or having quit their job (or both)

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos (credit:
Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos (credit:

“The focus for most seniors, including myself, was trying to get a job lined up before graduation…Many of our other roommates applied for banking or management consulting jobs, both of which were considered the “hot” jobs to get.” – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO (extract from “Delivering Happiness”)

Examples of individuals who fall into category 2, include:

Peter ThielPayPal Co-founder (quit his law firm after 7 months)

Jeff BezosAmazon Founder & CEO (quit his NYC hedge fund job)

Tony HsiehZappos CEO, Link Exchange Co-Founder (quit his “unfulfilling and boring” day job at Oracle soon after joining straight from Harvard)

Mikkel Svane – ZenDesk Co-Founder (wanted more than his dreary consultant job)

“On day 1 of my real job at Oracle, I was shown my desk and told what my ongoing tasks and responsibilities would be. All I had to do was run a couple of tests every day. It took about five minutes to set up a test, and then about three hours for the automated test to run, during which time I would just be sitting around and waiting for the test to finish. So I could only run two or three tests a day at the most. I also realized that nobody was tracking what time I came in or left the office. In fact, I don’t think anyone really even knew who I was.” – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO (extract from “Delivering Happiness”)

The above 4 individuals have all gone on to create huge, high-profile companies. In the world of startup, they are celebrities. However, there is a problem here. Whilst “celebrity” in any form has it’s glamour, these people can be difficult for the average person to relate to.

OK, so let’s look at some other impressive individuals, a bit less celebrity and a bit more relatable:

Rob Symington & Dom Jackman – Escape The City Founders (quit their unfulfilling Big 4 Management Consultancy job)

Gretchen Rubin – Author, Blogger & Speaker, Founder at (Yale graduate, quit her successful law career)

Leo Babauta – Blogger, Journalist & Author, Founder at (quit his day job to become a full-time blogger; impressively, this income supports himself, his wife and his 6 children – all living in San Francisco)

Pippa Murray – Pip & Nut Founder (having taken a change in direction from her career)
These are all real people who all had conventional day jobs, and went on to create extraordinary things – and a more exciting and fulfilling life for themselves in the process.

All of these individuals had an impressive education and got “good grades” – but went on to create a fulfilling life in spite of, rather than due to, their academic education. We are neither defined by our grades nor the university that we went to.

If anything, these people took a step away from the path their formal education had led them onto, in order to step onto a new and more exciting path.

This post originally appeared here.