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Would a rockstar employee in Corporate America deliver the same value at a startup?

In the process of putting together a senior management team but not sure if I should stick with startups or perhaps take a look at the folks I know working at larger companies. Some of them are very solid but have concerns on how they will perform when they are put in a completely

8 Replies

Louis P. Solomon
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Louis P. Solomon Entrepreneur
President and Founder of SAFE
My own experience is the following: (1) Define the problem(s) you are going to address. (2) select experts (proven by their success) in the areas on which you need advice. The position of the expert(s) is not relevant. Cordially,
Venkat Rangamani
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Venkat Rangamani Entrepreneur
Creative software technologist looking for the next leadership opportunity in a game changing company
On the technology side, a number of senior executives in big companies have spent a lot of their time and energy in management of large teams, budgeting, vendor management and the like. Even the tech leads in some cases are over specailized. These skills are not always useful in an early stage startup. You need generalists.

On the business development and sales side, senior people in big companies have big rolodexes and also understand the enterprise sales process. Product managers also have a broader understanding of the industry landscape in big companies but they may all miss the many rungs of the corporate ladder and the support structure and being realistic in setting expectations is needed.
Tom Cunniff
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Tom Cunniff Entrepreneur • Advisor
Founder at Cunniff Consulting, B2B Brand Consultancy
A lot depends on how quickly you think you can scale. A major part of what makes Rock Stars succeed at big companies is their ability to build teams that multiply their effectiveness. If you think you're more than 2 years away from that kind of growth you might be better served by someone who knows how to push ahead without resources.
K. Alan Robbins
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K. Alan Robbins Entrepreneur
Head Moose at Moose WorldWide Digital
While there are exceptions most of the people I have hired out of big corporations have a hard time in very small companies as they are not used to wearing the hat of the day - or, as Tom said, they don't know how to make things happen on a small budget.


Sam McAfee
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Sam McAfee Advisor
Building Popup Incubators for Corporate Innovation Programs
Good answers above. I'd say no, 90% of the time. It does depend on how far along you are.

From an engineering or product perspective, I highly doubt anyone from a large company would be useful. The teams are used to long roadmaps, command and control, and large scale technical problems. Not exactly what you're dealing with in a startup. It's not just that you need generalists; you need people who are customer focused, iterate insanely quickly, and are unafraid to cut certain corners at the right time. Not a lot of corporate folks are like that.

From the sales side, as Venkatsaid above, the BD benefits can be great. However, good sales people are rather pricey, another thing you likely cannot deal with in a startup. If there are senior folks, and you can get them for mostly equity, make sure they have the contact list you need to do really solid BD. Then it might work. They still have to get used to the (lack of) systems/support and looser culture of a startup.

In short, it's a rough transition. Seen it many, many times. Rarely pays off.
Neil Gordon
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Neil Gordon Advisor
Board Member, Corporate Finance Advisor and Strategy Consultant
As others have suggested, be careful. Some corporate rock stars have been successful largely through their own talents, but others got there on the efforts of talented staff. If their skill is managing teams, but not actually having native talent otherwise, you might be disappointed.

Worse are the corporate executives who can't exist without corporate trappings, e.g., administrative staff, expense accounts, and the like. They have a hard time existing in a bare bones environment where they need to get their hands dirty.

Worst of the worst, and totally toxic, are those who achieved corporate success through playing politics, often at the expense of others. Check references thoroughly.
Sheeba Duleep
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Sheeba Duleep Entrepreneur
Managing Partner
I had hired a couple of corporate rock stars in the past and my experience is the same as most of the participants commented. They wanted to know the career plan, the roles and responsibilities and could not operate without the systems and processes they were used to - they were more process driven than taking initiative and doing things. We are a small company where people wear multiple hats and carve out their own roles/niche. Maybe you should look at someone who has worked in a start-up, moved on to corporates and waiting to come back to a start-up, for more hands-on work and a greater sense of ownership. I know of people, who, as soon as the start-up grows beyond a certain size, move on to new start-ups.
Brandi Suttles
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Brandi Suttles Entrepreneur • Advisor
Strategic Partnerships & Fundraising I Culture Builder & People Operations I Proven Executer- I Get Things Done
I have worked with some rockstars from big companies, but they have served in the role of advisors. This way you can avoid some of the issues others have mentioned such as the daily reality of a startup (limited budgets, no support staff) and you can figure out the depth of their knowledge. However, I think many of us in the space see it as rare space no one else can fit in and that's not always the case.
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