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Richie Etwaru Headshot

Is Your Job a Drug Addiction?

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You know the danger and risks of an addiction, but the feeling is so good or good enough you convince yourself to engage in the danger and the risk to continue taking/using the drug.

In a conversation with a good friend Rakesh Nigam this morning, we were discussing his pivot away from executive role in large enterprises, and into startups.

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Rakesh left his job as a senior Managing Director at an Investment Bank earlier this year and has two entrepreneurial endeavors. He has become a Partner in a niche global consulting firm, Crossbridge whilst also pursuing his dream of a start-up; he co-founded the movie trailer app, which will help you remember the movies you want to watch, recognizing them using sound patented technology. The iOS app comes out this summer.

In discussing his role transition he shared, "The thing about an executive job in a large enterprise is that it is like a drug, it is good enough for you to do it over and over, and not bad enough for you to leave it and go start something of your own."

The reality is if the pay is good (and for many years, it was), the challenges/learnings are good, and the benefits are good it is difficult to leave a "cushy" executive job, and live the life of an entrepreneur.

This calculation cheats many brilliant professionals from the opportunity to go seek their dreams. The calculation sounds like this:

  • I am making a six-figure salary in total today
  • In ten or twenty years I can make a seven-figure salary, and even if I only make that for the last five years of my career I am set
  • I have expenses I need to cover, and I can't take the loss of income for more than two years
  • Plus I go in when I want, I leave when I want, and I am heavily employable
  • Oh, and over 2/3 of startups fail
  • Let me help ...

I am making a six-figure salary in total today - while many times your first startup fails, the second and third startup is where the value is. Your six-figure salary pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions, and in some cases billions (recently) that you can make. The trick is to keep doing the startups; the learning from one to another increases the likelihood that you succeed eventually.

In ten or twenty years I can make a seven-figure salary, and even if I only make that for the last five years of my career I am set - this could not be more of a myth. Most of the "Managing Directors" or "Global Vice Presidents" of companies never really make millions. The reason they are wealthy, is because they invest those high six-figure salaries well. The amount of executives that make seven-figured salaries is a very low percentage; I believe a lower percentage of executives get to seven-figures than the percentage of entrepreneurs that succeed.

I have expenses I need to cover, and I can't take the loss of income for more than two years - the assumption is that when you leave the cushy executive job, and you start a company you earn zero on day one. This is not the case; many folks still consult, speak, write and find "transient" sources of income until the startup begins to drive margins. In addition, you should start your company before you quit, this shortens your runway between quitting and being funded so you can draw a salary!

Plus I go in when I want, I leave when I want, and I am heavily employable - this is the most poignant part of the addiction. There is tremendous freedom in startups. More importantly, no one is ever that employable. You can always find work, but the bet that you can always find good work is as good as betting that you are special and will not get lung cancer from smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Oh, and over 2/3 of startups fail - not completely true, a large amount of startups that consist of folks who have never successfully started a company fail. Buy once you have partners that have BTDT "Been There & Done That" the probability of failure gets lower and lower. If you surround yourself with a management team, board of advisors and board of directors that have BTDT you may find that you have a much higher likelihood of success than you think!

So the question is, are you staying with that job because it is a good decision, or are you addicted to it?

I write as a labor of love, in exchange I ask that you share this writing if you think others may find value.