This is the column I wrote for BNET. Usually I keep my best ideas for my blog, but after I posted this on BNET I thought: Hold it! This is a great idea! Everyone should be doing this to make their career great. So here’s the post.

If you want to make yourself stand out as a top candidate for almost any job, try this approach: start a company and then sell it for nothing. This is a lot easier to do than you may realize, especially if you think of entrepreneurship as a career-building tool— instead of a bank-account building tool.

Are you thinking this sell-for-a-dollar thing is a waste of time and effort?

It’s not. Here are five reasons why it's a smart career move:

1. Entrepreneurial types are in very high demand in the workplace.

The most sought-after employees in the recruiting field are self-starters, people with tons of ideas and lots of confidence and people who get a rush from working all the time.

Unfortunately, these are also the people who start their own companies. They don't really want to work for someone else, and they almost never pick up the phone to listen to a recruiter pitch a job. So the entrepreneurial type who is willing to work for someone else is a rare find, and in high demand.

2. Doing wacky things makes you more attractive.

Sometimes start-a-business types are crazy and impossible to get along with. No one can work with them ,and they end up being mad scientists in their basements. Or, they are so nuts that they can't even manage to get anything done. These are not the kind of people you want to be like. Obviously.

But here's a great article in the New York Times that explains why the best entrepreneurs are just a little bit off kilter. They are just on the manageable side of crazy. And, the New York Times describes why these are the people in very high demand.

They are fun to work with but impossible to find.

3. Most entrepreneurs want to quit their companies.

My favorite VC-slash-blogger is James Altucher, and he explainsthat everyone is always trying to sell their company. Which I think is true. Often the entrepreneur has given it his all and he is, simply put, sick of the company. It's not that the company is a failure, per se, but it's that the entrepreneur doesn't want to work on the company anymore. The company is worth something, but not a lot, and there are not really any buyers. This situation happens a lot. So no one will be surprised if it happens to you.

Even if it happens after only six or eight months.

4. Selling your company, even for nothing, will impress people.

To be honest, you still look pretty good, compared to the rest of the world, if you say you started a company and it failed. Because the gumption and intelligence to start a company is flattering to anyone.

But you will look really good if you say you sold the company. Even if you get someone you know to buy it for a very small amount of money.

I have a friend who sold his company to Microsoft for millions. And you know what Microsoft did? Closed down 90% of the company. My friend still walks around bragging about how he sold a company to Microsoft. No one asks him if it was a real sale. What is a real sale, anyway? It's when someone gives money to someone else.

So your sale is when you get money. It can be a very small amount. Maybe a $100.

Google this phrase “sold for an undisclosed amount”. That's BS Silicon Valley speak for “the sale price sucked.” When it's a sale price worth bragging about, someone does. Otherwise, it's simply “undisclosed.” That's what yours will be. You can tell people it's a contractual obligation to not reveal the price. Which is almost always is, anyway.

And there you go: You are an entrepreneurial type who sold a company. Say that to a recruiter and they'll pay attention.

Read the rest at BNET.

54 replies
  1. Karen
    Karen says:

    Wow, this completely re-frames the company I started with my ex-boyfriend and that he now has! You turned it into a win! How cool is that!

    Thank you!!

  2. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    Love it. But one key question is “who” bought it? Your friend? your husband? Or Microsoft? BTW: Want to buy my blog?

  3. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    We play this game at home, where we call money we don’t have but wish we did “Google dollars.” I’ve even got my colleagues using the phrase. Meaning, if Google bought a company we owned for millions, we’d have Google dollars and could buy a Google jet with a king-size bed on it instead of seats. I think even if I created a company and sold it for a dollar, and even in the extreme likelihood that it was not to Google, I’d feel like there was some substance behind the Google dollars claim. Well, Google dollar (singular).

  4. zan
    zan says:

    seems to me this philosophy would also attract potential buyers…i’m not looking to be hired, i’m only interested in building on the independent work i’m already doing…but selling a company or an idea enhances one’s overall “saleability,” yes?

  5. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Man… your blog CONTINUES to be one of my favorites. I wasn’t sure where you were going with this post when I started reading, but by the end, I gotta say those are stellar points! Thanks for all the great posts–past and future.

  6. Maus
    Maus says:

    Uncool. How is this any different than your nemesis, Tim Ferriss, winning his championship martial arts title by gaming the rules? By your logic, I sold my first business when I let the neighbor kid takeover my lemonade stand in exchange for a permanent refill.

    • karelys davis
      karelys davis says:

      that’s a valid point. At the same time, if you actually put together a company and are able to sell it then you are the type of person to be a self starter. Have you tried doing this?

      I think, personally, if I was the right person for the job and wanted to up my chances of getting the position I would do this. Not to pretend being someone I am not or having skills I don’t possess but to increase my chances of landing a job where my skills are put to use.

      If you are not the right candidate and bomb it then you’re fired. If you got the right traits and skills you just saved the employer a hire/fired situation, which costs more money than we employees realize at one time.

      What do you think?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Most successful entrepreneurs I know — serial entrepreneurs, people who have grown large companies, etc — will say that they began as an entrepreneur when they were kids, doing something like what you described in the lemonade stand.

      Entrepreneurship is a mindset. Most people who have it, have it from a young age. Other people who think like that understand that the first sale of a stupid, little, kid-sized company matters.

      Penelope

  7. Varun
    Varun says:

    Penelope, i dig this strategy. A lot. I have several questions though:

    1. What’s stopping this strategy from becoming as ubiquitous as a bachelor’s/master’s degree? (I mean, how easy is it for people to create a company, sell it for cheap/”undisclosed amount”, and say that they’re entrepreneurs? Can this strategy be considered “gaming the system” or am i missing the point?)

    2. If YOU were hiring someone who had this on her/his resume, how would YOU vet them to make sure they were actually an entrepreneurial type and weren’t pulling a quick one on you?

    Cheers,

    V.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Varun,
      Great point about this replacing other types of education. As it should. Starting a business is much better training for work than school is. School is good training for school; work is good training for work.

      In an interview, the person who has this company on their resume will need to talk about what they learned, what they are good at, how they worked, etc. The interviewer can decide based on that if the person will be a good fit at the company.

      Penelope

  8. Mary Lignoul Robinson
    Mary Lignoul Robinson says:

    I’ve been following James Altucher on G+ and decided he was the guy version of you. BTW – are you there on G+? If not, you must join the collective.

  9. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    You know what I love about your posts, P? Your links. The New York Times article about entrepreneurs was intriguing and inspiring, as you are. You push the buttons of raw truth and passion, tapping into our youth where every day is an adventure and not a threat. When hurting really hurts as it pours out of hearts, but changes in a heartbeat into joyous enthusiasm. You touch our souls with spontaneity, for somehow yours remained intact. Your world is turbulent and combustible, yet glued firmly together with honesty. This let’s us know, we’re not alone. Our fights are your fights.

    Take care fragile one. Don’t stop reaching out. We’ll be here for you.

    Irv

  10. Tom
    Tom says:

    If there was a text equivalent for saying ‘WOW!’ for like a minute, this is where I’d use it. I especially like how you encourage even the smallest gains to be framed big. The upside, if someone does this right and well, is that the little gig can turn into a legitimate business.

  11. Deena McClusky
    Deena McClusky says:

    While I often agree with your posts, and always find them interesting, I do take issue with this theory. I have been told by recruiters repeatedly that I should remove the fact that I owned my own company from my resume, or frame it in a manner to make it look like I only managed it. It is their theory that no one wants to hire an entrepreneurial type because they will leave to go out on their own again.

    • Writer Vixen
      Writer Vixen says:

      Deena, I’ve never heard that before, but it strikes me as typically short-sighted “you must conform to succeed” advice. And I suppose it probably WOULD lead to the type of success that comes from being a corporate robot.

      But the catch is that if you HAVE started and run a company of any sort, then the type of company that finds an entrepreneurial mindset troubling isn’t a place where you’re going to thrive and the work certainly won’t create joy in your life.

      The fact is, everybody eventually leaves their jobs — one way or another — so the only question for a company is, “Can this person help us achieve our goals, and if so, can we keep them engaged enough to continue working for us?”

  12. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Here’s an idea, if you know you’re embarking on an entrepreneurship journey as a career-building tool rather than a bank account building tool, why not document and provide social proof of your efforts, learning, etc. by creating a blog comprised of all the steps along the way.

  13. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    HA! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this just might be my all time favorite. Totally got my attention with how I feel about working for other companies vs. working for myself. I get bored easily. Sometimes I want to work with others. Sometimes I don’t. My resume looks like a train wreck. I’ve tried to put a positive spin on this job hopping thing, but truth is, I just get bored and want to move on. Plus, after six months or so, I think I can do it better on my own. So now I’m a business consultant. If I’m going to be honest, I would build a website saying that I’m an unemployed landscape designer willing to share my experiences.

    • Sadya
      Sadya says:

      Kelly , the rest of this blog post should answer your question

      “5. Bonus: It will be easier to start another company.

      The best way to get funding is to already have had a company that you exited. You can tell the angel investor "it was a small exit." Angels understand small. They tell themselves your next exit will be bigger.

      And maybe you'll find out that you really are the start-up type. Then you can tell the recruiters to forget it: You're not taking calls, you're building your own empire.”

  14. redrock
    redrock says:

    … well, technically this is not cheating. But one better hopes that the new employer/ supporter/ investor does not check up one you. I doubt that even for an entrepreneur it is a great recommendation to do something different every few months, and actually jump ship that often.

  15. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    Does running a part time venture on the side count? When I worked for big brother I did wedding planning on the side. It was how I came down off that high of planning my own wedding. What I found was a website gave me tons of credit. I never made much money but it was fun to get clients. I never made the company a real one and just closed my website after my last bride’s wedding. Ironically I received more request from people wanting to become wedding planners than those needing a planner.

  16. my honest answer
    my honest answer says:

    So when my blog fails, I can sell it to one of those companies who are always spamming me, and frame it as something positive to potential employers? I love it! Thanks Penelope.

  17. Dannielle
    Dannielle says:

    I think this is a stupid idea but I also think you know what you’re talking about (mostly) when it comes to career advice.

    You also brighten up my day with your posts.

    Thanks for continuing to write. You have the gift, no doubt.

  18. Geralyn
    Geralyn says:

    I’ve never sold a business for a dollar but I once bought a house for $1. I turned around and sold it for $4,000. Not bad ROI!

  19. Mitchell Nickie
    Mitchell Nickie says:

    Starting a company and selling it for nothing (with all your hard work) really sounds ridiculous. Really. But if I will stand out for it and it is proven…WHY NOT! :)

  20. Mark
    Mark says:

    Hmm, not sure about this advice, Penelope. I can see the value in going through the exercise of setting up a company and selling it, even for a small amount, in terms of an initial, “get in the door” discussion with an employer. But, just as with job titles and duties while “workin’ for The Man,” employers will ultimately be only concerned about results. In addition to a piddly sale, few to no goals realized in support of the company mission doesn’t sound to me like an attractive track record to a recruiter, much less the HR director, CEO, or other final decision maker. So I guess I agree with Mitchell…this theory would carry more weight if you do a follow-up post and feature some entrepreneurs who’ve done this and made it work even if not a lot was accomplished at their short-term ventures.

  21. Phakeme Mtheku
    Phakeme Mtheku says:

    Wow, this is such an eye opener. I left my Recruitment consultancy company in February this year and recently got employed as a Talent Manager for one of the biggest HR Firms in the country (South Africa). I thought i would be unemployable because of my entrepreneurial past and nature. Now I get it. I am in demand you see!!! thank you Penelope

    Phakeme. Johannesburg South Africa

  22. michele
    michele says:

    I always thought companies did not want to hire people who are entrepreneurial in nature. They do not fit the “mold” of corporate life. Perhaps they would be unhappy in this environment.

  23. Becky
    Becky says:

    Here’s a topic/question I’d like to read more about.

    I have been self-employed for five years and have done well. However, I often think about going back to a full-time job for the benefit of learning from others. Time and funds for ongoing education & training are limited as a solo practitioner, and I feel like I’m getting behind on learning the latest metrics and methods in my field. (I also sometimes fantasize about having a life again, where I don’t have to think about work every minute of every weekday, plus every night, weekend and holiday — but that’s another issue.)

    Have you written about this or does anyone else have advice? Is it better to remain working for myself and hope that I’ll keep up OR give up my clients now and re-start my business again later, armed with knowledge from a working at a company where they know more than I do?

  24. Recipepper
    Recipepper says:

    Well I have big plans like this :D
    Want to make my own website enterprise then sell it for cheap, and start all over again. Gives us a credibility and allow us to do something new every-time :)

  25. Caroline Evans
    Caroline Evans says:

    Seems to me this is a recipe for disaster.

    It is how to seem like you are competent when you are not.

    This is why so many startups go down the toilet… people who believe their own hype or fall for the hype of others.

    Any company who hired someone based upon specious baloney is doomed anyway since it means they don’t have the judgment to tell the difference between reality and illusion.

    So if you want to spend your life as a failure a con-artist.. forever bipping from failure to failure… with an endless supply of empty excuses memorized.. well then by all means… go on and fake your way through life.

  26. Business Partners
    Business Partners says:

    The title of your post is rather intriguing. However, there are some employers who would be reluctant to hire an entrepreneur, probably thinking that the entrepreneur will walk off at the slightest emergence of a new business idea. 

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