Jim Duffy: Take a chance on a business start-up and cash in

Scotland's start-up community is fuelled by innovators and financed by investors but there is also a place for professionals who can bring their business experience to the table. Picture: John Devlin
Scotland's start-up community is fuelled by innovators and financed by investors but there is also a place for professionals who can bring their business experience to the table. Picture: John Devlin
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It’s not just investors and entrepreneurs who can cash in on the innovation revolution, writes Jim Duffy

So, you’re sitting on the train between Edinburgh and Glasgow reading my newspaper – The Scotsman. Maybe, you’re working at Standard Life or some other big financial institution. Or, you’re working at Scottish Enterprise, Police Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service or you’re building your career at one of the big four professional services companies. You maybe all at sea working on subsea services in Aberdeen. Ultimately, you’re most likely a good slug of our readership….but how happy are you? Do you have purpose?

Let’s say you’ve completed five-ten years with the same organisation. You know how it functions and how you function within it. You’re on a career path and doing OK. Decent base salary, raging from £40,000 to £70,000, and you have cash going into your pension for old age when you visit the hospital a lot more and go on cruises with other wrinklies – telling your fellow passengers how well your son or daughter is doing – while popping pills for your diabetes or raised blood pressure. You get the picture. But, is this life? The one you are in right now? The one you really want? Is it what you truly aspire to? Has your career choice been chosen for you by default because your mum and dad wanted it or because of the school you went to? Be honest. Put down the paper or iPad and think…

Back with me? If I told you that 30 to 40 per cent of you are dissatisfied with your careers, but are a bit trapped because of the money, that may not surprise you. Nonetheless, what could you do about it? How can you aspire to something else and jump off – if that was achievable? Well, it is. How about working in a start-up?

There are literally thousands of exciting new ventures being created each year throughout the UK. From new healthy juices to pH balanced waters to new crowdfunding investment platforms to new technology ventures that change the way we eat, shop, date and schedule our time. There is a whole raft of new entrepreneurs out there creating brilliant start-ups. Some are innovating, others are imitating. They are out raising funding, pitching to angel syndicates and hustling to create their dream and fulfil their vision – whatever that is. But, one thing is missing… you.

The skillsets, experience and aptitudes that corporate folks have is like gold dust to a start-up. You are an economics graduate or have an accountancy background. You have a solid operations background with six sigma training. You have a strong digital marketing or branding pedigree. These are all skillsets that are absolutely vital to new start and growing businesses, but they cannot find you because you are invisible. And, crucially, they cannot afford you because you are being paid big bucks. But, never say never and anything is achievable.

Let me tell you how you could switch careers from the corporate, and generally unfulfilling (not to mention a bit precarious over the next decade) to the start-up. There is no such thing as a job for life any more. Imagine a start-up entrepreneur, perhaps working at the Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery in Edinburgh. She has a great idea and has pitched it to investors. She wants a seed round (first early stage investment) of £150,000. The entrepreneur needs a strong number two who has an operations background and who is financially literate. She can’t pay you £70,000 pa. But the start-up has the potential to hit £1m investment in 12 months if she meets her targets and milestones. She knows what she needs, but a team of two is essential to get cracking… and quickly. And this is where it gets difficult. Investors are looking for brilliant teams of, say, three to five who they believe will excel. Unfortunately, great talent (like you!) is not sitting around – but is vital.

So how do you leave that secure job with a monthly pay cheque and five weeks paid holidays and join a start-up? Well, remember, the entrepreneur is all in with skin in the game. She is probably living on credit cards and her personal finances will be tight. She has a mindset of persistence, resilience, a #GoDo attitude and is geared to growth and success. She has convinced an investor to part with cash to invest in the business. That is inspiring… so, the first thing you need to consider is your mindset. Are you willing to jump into an exciting world of chaos, ambiguity and volatility? The second thing is your compensation. What can you cut out of your life that you do not really need to pay for? Cars, Sky TV, health club subscriptions? Then, you have a number you could work for – a breadline number. This keeps you keen and shoulder-to-shoulder with the entrepreneur.

Then you negotiate with the entrepreneur. You can work for six months for X, but the value you will create will be huge. So, you want a bigger salary after the next round of investment. She will probably be up for that… if it’s reasonable. Then you want some shares, some “skin in the game”. She will have a share option pool and you could get, say, 5 per cent. This could be worth £2m in five to seven years if it goes well.

So, it’s really up to you. We can always find money for that luxury car we want even though the monthly payments are crippling. So, if you really want to, you could re-calibrate things to work in a start-up. You are vital in growing great investable startups.

Have a think about it…

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is soon to be Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark