Use the entrepreneurship boom to improve your corporate job


The new wave of entrepreneurship is changing the startup landscape for sure. It’s nearly free to start a company online, even teens are having wild success, and young people are flipping web sites like boomers flip houses.

Life as an entrepreneur has never been so fun, but that is very annoying to hear if you are in a corporate job. Fortunately, this trend is so big at this point, that it’s affecting corporate life as well. Here are five ways to use entrepreneurship to make your corporate job better.

1. Think of entrepreneurship as a safety net that allows you to demand more from your job. If you don’t like the job offers you have, you can leave. Start your own company. The history of the organization man is someone who is defined by whatever track the company puts him on. You don’t want to be that.

Today, you have the freedom to figure out who you are and what you want, even in the context of the company, because if you find out that you are not compatible, you can leave.

The freedom to leave gives you the freedom to truly examine who you are.

Chris Britt is chief executive of accounting firm Priviley. He founded the firm after a quick stint doing finance in the hotel industry and finding that he was not well suited for the environment. Britt is an example of the massive wave of young people who are testing big-company waters and then striking out on their own.

2. Think of intrapreneurship as a launching pad for who are waiting for the right idea. Seventy percent of young people say they eventually want to work for themselves. The problem is that only a fraction of those people have an idea for a company—or a friend with an idea for a company. So there are a lot of people in corporate America waiting for their moment, but thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs at heart.

These people are great at taking a project and making it their own. They create a project arena for themselves that have the feel of a small company within a large company, and then take ownership like it’s a start-up. Of course this is incredibly annoying to some old-school managers, but to a young person hellbent on entrepreneurship, starting something small within something big—which is what intrapreneurship is—often is the only way to make big company life palatable.

3. Get in a rotational program to learn a broad range of skills that many entrepreneurs learn as they go. Some of the most popular post-college routes today are management training programs at companies such as General Electric or Procter & Gamble, where superstar candidates get to test out the work in lots of departments in a company. Candidates often see these programs as stepping stones to running their own business, when the time is right, because as an entrepreneur you wear so many different hats.

4. Recognize that with no clear ladder to climb, you’re an entrepreneur even if you never leave corporate life. Even if you don’t want to launch a start-up, you still end up functioning like an entrepreneur in today’s new workplace. There is no long-term stability, so the way you create stability is with your skill set and your connections. You are the product, and you are the sales and marketing team for your product. On average, people today are changing jobs every two to five years, which means you must function like an entrepreneur nearly all of the time if you are going to bring in a steady paycheck.

5. Think of corporate jobs as a way to fund entrepreneurship. It used to be that you were either corporate or an entrepreneur. Today, people move in and out of big companies and start-ups, using the steady paycheck to fund the risky venture. This is what Britt did, using the money he earned from the hotel industry as the seed funding for Priviley. This model gives founders the benefit of not having to divert their attention to raising angel funding.

The self-funding model has spawned a generation of scrappy founders who use virtual tools and low-budget marketing. Priviley, for example, provides services to a wide range of other start-ups, creating a community of entrepreneurs that model these larger trends.

And, of course, the self-funding model also allows founders to reap benefits more quickly because they don’t have to share large pieces of their pie.

Priviley is doing so well, for example, that at this point Britt is able to take an afternoon off to go flying.

28 replies
  1. Kosta Kontos
    Kosta Kontos says:

    “4. Recognize that with no clear ladder to climb, you're an entrepreneurs even if you never leave corporate life.”

    I think is the single most important point of the list above, especially in this day and age. This is the realisation I came to shortly before resigning from my desk-job.

    I once read that starting (and growing) a successful business venture is like steering a ship. You have an overall vision (your destination) and you have to continuously adjust your course to make it there.

    Persist, and you will eventually.

    Or you could stay in your current “organisational” job, and steer someone else’s ship.

  2. Alexandra Levit
    Alexandra Levit says:

    Fab advice, Penelope. Big as the entrepreneurship boom is, the way our society is set up, the fact is that most people still have to work for someone else. These are wonderful ideas for people who are hungry to make their mark but aren’t ready or able to start their own ventures.

    Alexandra Levit

  3. Diana
    Diana says:

    Great post. I can relate to the intra-praneurship and using your corporate job to fund your entrepreneur ideas. You would think more corporations would recognize this push to entrepreneurship and do something like go into business with there employees or offer more benefits like extra personal days. I’m on the opposite end of having an idea and not knowing where to take it – possible future post idea – making your idea a reality. Thanks for the advice.

  4. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    Hmm. Own company doing what? I must admit I am too old to understand this post. Is a sixty-five employee company big? I can not picture the types of things these one person companies would be doing. Commenters help this old fellah out, would you. %-(

  5. Shama Hyder
    Shama Hyder says:


    Coaching and consulting for example are often one-man (or woman) companies. Virtual companies are also gaining popularity-where one person runs the company and has virtual workers around the world. I run my company this way and have a virtual team that lives around the world!

  6. Scott Messinger
    Scott Messinger says:

    With entrepreneurship comes great rewards, but also great risks. A lot of people aren’t ready for that.

    So if you aren’t entrepreneur material, it’s OK to just do your job well and get your fulfillment outside the office.

  7. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    Is it true that only a fraction of would-be entrepreneurs have business ideas?? They should give me a call! I have too many ideas. I can’t find the time to create all of the businesses I want, let alone run them.

  8. MariaMH
    MariaMH says:

    I agree totally with looking at your career as an entrepreneur even if you never start your own company. When you start a company, you should create a business plan. So, put a plan together for yourself. Not all of it will apply, but look up what goes into a good business plan. Some questions to ask yourself (which Penelope has definitely covered in other blogs) Are you adding skills to your resume? If you can’t do that with your current job, can you volunteer some place and get those skills? Can you move to another department? Are you investing in yourself? Are you improving your technical skills, soft skills, taking classes, reading magazines, reading blogs, etc.? Do you need to be more business savvy? Are you reading articles in the WSJ, Fast Company, etc.? Are you networking? Do you know people outside your department? Are there professional groups you can join to ensure you are up-to-date in your field and making good contacts?

    There are tons of things you can do to invest in “your company” to make sure you can weather any downturns. Some of this won’t even cost any money but it will take some time.

  9. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    All I can say is that I wish that I had this type of info when I was 20. I was pigeon holed into thinking a job is the way to go. This was never on the radar and I think that happened with a lot of people. There were a lot of things that weren’t shown to me, but it’s my fault for not at least trying to find it, even though I wouldn’t have known what I was looking for.

  10. Working Girl
    Working Girl says:

    One thing that’s nice about now, as opposed to then, is that companies seem to understand–even admire–the entrepreneurial impulse. For example, you can step out of corporate America, have your own business for a while, and then step back in. You’re not a traitor, you’re just cool.

    I do think, though, that we’ve always had the freedom (and responsibility) to “figure out who you are and what you want.” Maybe people didn’t take advantage of that freedom. But it was there.

  11. David Theus
    David Theus says:


    I have noticed the stall in traffic since your loss of Yahoo, it’s ok you are standing on your own now and your base will see you through. This post is powerful, there is a strong movement on the web for circulation and if your site can generate it, you win.

    We are currently in the process of building such a network or enterprise. I think the cost threshold to get in is so low, one cannot help but throw an idea against the wall and see if it works.

    The future media giants will be born from these sites that launch now and secure their following as they build. The days of owning multi newspapers and other media sources will be replaced by those of us who can control readership and listenership right here on the web.

    It’s every man for himself, hold on, it’s going to be a fun ride.


  12. John
    John says:

    > The future media giants will be born from
    > these sites that launch now and secure their
    > following as they build. The days of owning
    > multi newspapers and other media sources will
    > be replaced by those of us who can control
    > readership and listenership right here on the
    > web.

    I keep hearing this, but don’t see it. When these web sites become hot enough, conglomerates will buy them. A few independent types will hold off, but most will cash in their chips. Big businesses have resources no “web entrepreneur” in a spare bedroom can match.

    If you look at computer magazine articles just after the home computer debuted in the late 70s-early 80s, they whistled this same tune. Didn’t happen. Or it did briefly, but the small companies grew big and corporate or were swallowed if they refused. No one’s shown me yet why this business cycle will be any different.

  13. Kosta Kontos
    Kosta Kontos says:


    Take a look at the open source database system called PostgreSQL. It is one of the most advanced relational database platforms in use today, and thanks to its flexible licensing, _nobody_ owns it.

    And what nobody owns, nobody else can buy.

    Perhaps this truly open source movement (none of that MySQL GPL nonsense) will be the turning-point. Personally, I’m quite optimistic about this business cycle.

  14. Milena
    Milena says:

    All I can say about Whateverlife is…seriously?
    She lives in my own backyard – Detroit, MI – which is suffering from an economic recession and she’s buying houses and painting her walls pink. Awesome and I’m super-jealous.

    Question. How do you know if you are entrepreneurial material? I’ve never gone out on my own 100%, but I’ve always had side-jobs and I know I work a lot better and more efficiently as a one-woman show. Every job I’ve had with some degree of autonomy has given me a rush and feeling of purpose. The biggest problem is that I have a low threshold for instability – without an idea of income and cash flows I get freaked out.

    * * * * * * *
    Milena, I think you’ve already answered your question yourself. You want a job with autonomy and purpose and steady cash flow. I think you can get that from a good corporate job.


  15. Doug
    Doug says:

    I am entrepreneur, and at least for me, “intraprenuership” is a euphemism for someone who really wants to start their own company, but doesn’t have the bal, I mean guts, to abandon their corporate paycheck.

  16. Dave Atkins
    Dave Atkins says:

    This is helpful to understand ways to tap the entrepreneurial spirit in everyone. It’s not an either/or proposition of wage slave vs. entrepreneur. The reality is that a very small percentage of people truly want to abandon their jobs and become entrepreneurs, but nearly everyone wants autonomy, influence, and a sense of creating something in their work. And of course for many who have families to support, abandoning the corporate paycheck is irresponsible until they can assure some basic safety net. Intrapreneurship can be a bridge across what would otherwise be impractical.

  17. Man
    Man says:

    I like all of your tips, especially the fifth one. Assuming the corporation has a similar feel as the company you want to build, he idea of saving up the money from your current corporate job, can help you stay in that job long enough for you to gain experience. As with out experience, your new venture will be harder than necessary.

  18. Dwyane Jango
    Dwyane Jango says:

    I understand that certain jobs can be a big help in building entrepreneurial skills, however, often companies with rotational programs do not like it if you bring up the fact that you are looking to eventually start a business. They rightly figure that they are making a large investment in you, and would hate to have you leave for something else, at the end of the program, or half way through. I’ve interviewed with many companies, and whenever the interviewer asks about career aspirations and I bring up wanting a business of my own, he scribbles notes down. Sometimes I can detect in the interviewer a little disappointment at my answer. I don’t want to be dishonest with the interviewer, but it seems like few firms will gamble on entrepreneurs.

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