Making the transition from employee to entrepreneur

Getting that job or successfully running a startup both require something in common: experience.

by bret.silverberg, published 04/17/2014
Making the transition from employee to entrepreneur

You’re a few weeks or months away from graduation, and you’ve got a decision to make: Jump into an awesome 9-to-5 job or take that project you’ve been working on for the last two years and turn it into a business. The decision isn’t easy.

Many job seekers in the United States are, in fact, finding new jobs. This is according to the recently-published Kauffman Index of entrepreneurial activity, which reports there were 476,000 new businesses created each month of 2013, down seven percent from 2012.

A 2011 poll showed that if you're a millennial and you're interested in starting your own business, you’re probably not alone: 54 percent of millennials have already launched or plan on launching a startup. But are younger millennials ready to take on this type of challenge and responsibility?

Obviously, this depends on a person’s work experience, ideas, financial backing and work partners — all of which holds a stake in success or failure. But exactly how much experience — and what kind — does someone need before he or she dives headfirst into the entrepreneurial unknown.

For Sandy Stein it was about 30 years. Stein, president of Finders Key Purse, a company that makes an accessory that hooks a keychain to a purse for easy locating and safekeeping, was a flight attendant with Delta Airlines in her previous career.

She says she got her sales and marketing experience during her three decades aboard airplanes, networking and managing staff.

“I would talk to passengers all the time, and I would listen to what kind of businesses they were involved with,” Stein says.

She says she never even intended to run her own businesses, but she was convinced to do so by the people she’d come across. All the while, her time managing a a crew made her realize she was meant to be a leader.

In 2004, Finders Key Purse had 20 sales people. By the end of 2005, she had 2,000 — primarily flight attendants and their friends.

She knew that it wasn’t necessarily her product that would take her to great business heights, or even sustain her fledgling company, but it was the sales, management and marketing tactics she picked up organically over the course of a 30-year career.

“I was never thinking about starting a business,” she said. “I was just being inquisitive.”

Then there are those for which starting a business is in their blood. Samantha Slaven-Bick, owner of Samantha Slaven Publicity based in Los Angeles, launched her company in 2002 at age 31.

But by 31, she’d already put together an impressive 11-year career including stints as a copywriter and content manager at Gap Inc. and Proctor & Gamble, respectively.

“I was 31 and I was ready,” Slaven-Bick says.

Before that, Slaven-Bick cut her teeth as an editor for tourism and travel publication Where magazine, first in Atlanta then Los Angeles where she received daily story pitches. She saw which pitches succeeded and which failed, so she took that experience with her into a career in marketing.

Eventually, she found herself in positions that required her to “create the DNA” of cosmetic lines and other product brands. When she handed her work to Procter & Gamble’s public relations team to pitch, she said she had an “ah ha” moment.

“I felt like I could do that part too,” she said.

Slaven-Bick says she never would have been able to launch her own agency — and sustain it over 12 years — if she had not gotten the training in editorial, public relations and marketing at companies along the way.

“Unless you’re creating a new category, you need the experience,” she says.

Paul Flick, 45, has a similar story, albeit slightly expedited. He worked in several different marketing and sales capacities at The Coca-Cola Company for six years in the early 2000s.

This phase of his career was corporate boot camp, he said. And though he launched 360 Painting, a residential and commercial interior painting franchise based in Alexandria, Va., in 2006, he said if not for his years spent with Coca-Cola, he would not have known where to start.

“I took what I learned from Coca-Cola from a branding standpoint,” he said.

Flick says he’s incorporated some of the streamlined business and marketing practices he saw up close at Coca-Cola and applied them to his business. And though the two operate in completely different sectors, Flick says his product markets to the same middle-upper class clientele.

“Coca-Cola markets and brands itself so consumers buy their products, it’s simply what they’ve done for decades,” he says. “We give our franchises the tools at their local levels to service virtually those same customers.”

360 Painting weathered the storm of the recent recession, and the franchise is going strong in 2014. And though Flick says he ultimately decided at age 37 that it was his turn to be the boss, he knows what initially empowered him to make that choice.

“I learned from one of the best in the world,” he says.

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