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  • Writer's pictureKian Milani

From Corporate to Startups: How to crack the code for a soaring professional career.

Early last week, we at BusinessOne welcomed three industry professionals for an online webinar entitled ‘From Corporate to Startups’.

As the name suggests, the hour-long panel discussion and Q&A delved into what is an imposing conundrum for many students, graduates and professionals alike; whether to commit their careers to big, bureaucratic organisations, or rather, take the leap and get involved with new, innovative enterprises and help spearhead the augmentation of their novel business models in the marketplace.

For this event, we were lucky enough to host three inspiring and distinguished guests, including James Clements of Canva, Sabrina Peng of Uber, and Tessa Ramanlal of DoorDash and Anika Legal.

For Career Driven Students… where should you aim to work?

As a student, it’s likely that you’ve been indoctrinated to accept the philosophy ‘that the way of the herd is the way to go’. Whether it’s the ‘big-four’ to aspiring accountants, ‘MBB’ to career consultants, or the ‘bulge bracket’ for future bankers – it’s probable that your planned vocational trajectory has its own ‘vanilla avenue’.

But is the path most travelled necessarily the path to take?

Thankfully, we had our expert panel who’ve seen the best of both worlds to help settle this query with us.

James Clements, who is a University of Melbourne alumnus and an ex-MBB consultant, had some valuable insight into this very dilemma. As a decorated commerce student and having interned at two big-four firms, James set out on his corporate career at an organisation at the centre stage of worldwide management consulting. Now, after many years of experience in that arena, James works at the forefront of Australia’s growing tech industry as an Analyst for Canva.

So – what does James think of it all? Well, without a doubt, the bright tech-consultant emanates a contagious sense of enthusiasm regarding his work with Canva. Having seen the regimented and royal-blue mechanisms of the established corporate world, he proclaims that Canva manages to strike a perfect balance in his experience as an Analyst, and that despite his extended time with ‘big-four’ and ‘MBB’ firms, it is the ambience and environment of Canva that most exhilarate his ambitious and creative mind. He expresses that since his time ‘testing the waters’, Canva does seem like a firm at which he’d be happy to settle.

As a graduate, should you jump straight into the Start-up sphere…

or should you ‘gain some experience’ first?

This dilemma seems to be the typical counterargument to any notion of joining a firm that isn’t embellished by bluestone and century-old oil paintings of its founders at every corner.

Sabrina Peng, a Senior Strategy and Operation Manager at Uber, has a perceptive take on this very sentiment.

Having gained years of experience in both ‘bulge-bracket’ investment banking and top-tier global strategy consulting, Sabrina enters her role at the multifaceted tech Start-up with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to ‘seeing how the corporate world truly works’. In discussion with keen BusinessOne members, the senior professional explained that whilst gaining experience in established organisations does bring great benefits to a growing employee, the realm of independence and self-sufficiency that work in Start-up companies requires simply can’t be readily found within the former.

Metaphorically contextualising this view, Sabrina and the other panellists light-heartedly discussed how whilst emergence by a consolidated organisation into a new market would likely require a ‘200-page report, extensive due-diligence process and ample executive interjection’, a Start-up would often take a far less ‘official’ approach to such a venture. Essentially, they contended that those who hope to work in an organisation that takes business decisions as such without the overarching imposition of lengthy, systematic processes, should at least be of the mind to acquire such a skill set that can flourish with such flexibility. And thus, necessarily, such a skillset is not solely attainable via the entry-level experience at a large corporation that a typical tertiary graduate would otherwise base their careers upon. A Start-up can be the ideal starting point for a go-getter’s professional career.

Is working at a Start-up for everyone? Would any Start-up do?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably pretty serious about the idea of launching your career via the avenue of modern and rising companies.

But the big question remains: should you?

In terms of this query, Tessa Ramanlal’s testimony arguably best serves its examination.

A decorated lawyer with enviable experience at a top international law firm, Tessa now works as an Enterprise Partnerships Associate for DoorDash and as a co-founder of pro-bono startup ‘Anika Legal’. In doing so, Tessa explains that her insatiable hunger for diverse and dynamic work experience is better served than ever before. But the self-starting legal specialist doesn’t shy away from explaining that her first few years in the Start-up world weren’t as idyllic as you may have been led to believe, namely considering her current status.

Tessa explains that taking the leap out of the consolidated corporate world does place you in entirely new waters, and that it is often quite difficult to anticipate how drastically your lifestyle will shift after such a transition.

As a rising star in legal technology, ascending quickly through the ranks of a multinational law firm, she explains that some of the responsibilities she was left with in her early days at DoorDash were, let’s just say, rather unseemly for such a high-functioning employee. Nonetheless, there isn’t a particle of regret in Tessa’s voice as she describes the growth trajectory that ensued during her time at the online food ordering enterprise thereafter, and in fact, she appears quite proud of the diversity in responsibility that this new venture has demanded of her. Without it, she says -- had he stuck to the repetitive and bureaucratic duties of being a legal cog in a ginormous global machine -- she’d have been an entirely different person than that which she is today.

In saying so, Tessa emphasises the importance of sentiments like connection and belonging, which she felt so pertinently when undergoing this growth process at DoorDash. She maintains that the beauty of involving yourself in a new and rising enterprise is the malleability and openness of the working environment you operate within. In stark contrast with the cemented and officious constructs of large organisations, Tessa relishes the fact that she is now able to work in a firm that is flexible to her unique visions and convictions as an employee, and one which she believes she can duly align her own aspirations with that of the novel company. Hence, she highly encourages those who seek to step into the world of Start-up work do so by immersing themselves in organisations & causes that seamlessly align with and cultivate the innermost convictions they hold as inspired and aspirational professionals entering the workforce.

In the end, whilst it is fair to say that our panel of three expressed a keen enthusiasm and advocacy for the Start-up sphere, they retain a sense of acknowledgment for the vast experience which their big-company tenures afforded them each. With that said, however, the general consensus found between the trio was that if you trust and prioritise your self-starting, innovative and adaptable acumen, and believe that you have the drive and passion to make a difference in an up-and-coming enterprise, that entering the arena of contemporary ventures might well be the best way to go for your career. For them, this undoubtedly turned out to be the case. But for you, with all this mind, only you can truly know -- from corporate to startups -- which domain will enrich and enable your vocational ambitions most duly.

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