As I’ve mentioned before, people often think entrepreneurship is a one-idea, one-shot game: you have a great idea and you pursue it until it makes you rich or makes you run back home. That’s a shame because it keeps people from exploring entrepreneurship as a career. It’s like thinking only rock stars can have careers in music. In truth, most entrepreneurs take part in multiple startups before launching their own, and they play many different roles besides the rock star.
Most people begin in product development, sales and marketing, or general gophering. Over time that venture flies or, more likely, craters. But if you’ve proven you can handle difficult and rapidly evolving situations (and there are many opportunities to do that), then when someone you know, or someone they know, is looking to build a new team around a new venture, you’re a proven quantity and they ask you to join them. Each time that happens, you move up another notch until, maybe someday, you feel comfortable being a co-founder of your own venture.
If your career moves like that, in good company. The folks at Funders and Founders put together a great infographic that shows the career paths of some of the entrepreneur-cum-billionaires. Granted these are rock stars, but many other people were involved in each of the companies that made this list.
Contrast this with the alternative — pursuing an entry-level job in some company recruiting out of university career fairs. Get hired, along with several hundred peers. Get trained in the highly specialized skills that are how that particular company does its particular thing. Spend a few years working there before going back to get your MBA. Try to parlay your new found managerial talent and highly specialized skills into a higher-paid job in a nicer company in a nicer city. All the while watching as your industry get overturned by young startups and your peers, or maybe you, get laid off. Now discover that nobody’s very keen on those highly specialized skills you’ve honed over years as a corporate drone.