What you need to know before pursuing a career in tech
Thinking about a career in the tech space post-MBA? But wondering where to start within the entrepreneurial ecosystem? Jack Huang (MBA 2009) reflects on the three archetypes within the space to help figure out which fits you best.
More and more MBAs are considering a career in the tech space post-MBA. And by ‘tech space’, I loosely mean start-ups, venture capital and the overall technology ecosystem. But before you take a plunge, have a think about how you will fit into the ecosystem best and whether you need to start out in a different archetype to reach another. Always remember: play to your strengths and be true to who you are.
So far I have observed three archetypes in the tech space; advisors, operators and investors. They are equally important and work symbiotically to make the ecosystem work. This split isn’t just found in tech, but in most other industry verticals as well. Now you may not necessarily be one of these archetypes when you start out but the MBA is an opportunity to spend some time to figure this out.
These tend to be people with specific market or functional knowledge. For instance, tech freelancers, marketing consultants, lawyers, accountants, etc. They have spent years perfecting, as Liam Neeson would say, ' a particular set of skills'. And they offer their services to start-ups and investors.
"they are good at using their pattern recognition to troubleshoot problems and propose actions / solutions"
A good advisor is someone who has accumulated a deep pattern recognition of how something works. Whether that's dynamics in the luxury industry, search engine optimisation or B2B sales. And they are good at using their pattern recognition to troubleshoot problems and propose actions / solutions.
Most advise, some execute, but they will move from project to project. Because in order for them to develop their pattern recognition, they need to work across a wide range of projects and problems specific to their stream.
Are you an advisor? Just ask yourself, do you have an obsession with learning, problem solving and get genuine satisfaction out of helping others succeed?
These are the worker bees, the dreamers, the company builders. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and put in the hours to create something new. These may be founders or the operatives within a company. But they do what they do because they believe in what they do.
"...good operators often work with minimal or no resources and have a deep sense of focus, discipline and execution"
More often than not, these are optimistic, but cautious types. Good operators often work with minimal or no resources and have a deep sense of focus, discipline and execution. What drives them is their sense of accomplishment and waking up to a new challenge every day. And they are born with strong stomachs in preparation for rough waters ahead.
Are you an operator? Just ask yourself if you have an obsession with building things? When presented with a problem, is your first instinct to come up with a solution?
This is by far the smallest group by count compared to the other two and probably why the most popular amongst the MBA’s. Investors develop pattern recognition by looking through large volumes of deals and companies, scouring for those that will generate them the greatest returns.
"The best investors not only know how to pick them, but also know how to coach founders to grow companies"
By circumstance, investors must be equipped with keen, analytical and sceptical minds (i.e., often curious, cynical types). In order to generate 10x+ returns, they must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most investors invest in less than 1% of the companies they see (can be as low as 0.2%).
The best investors not only know how to pick them, but also know how to coach founders to grow companies. Because often times, the original manifestation of a company isn’t what actually makes it succeed in the end (e.g., Norton, Paypal, Pinterest, AirBnB, etc). And lastly, they have the relationships in place to help exit the companies so they can harvest their returns.
Are you an investor? Just ask yourself if you get a kick out finding companies that no one’s ever heard of? Do you have a knack for coming up with differentiating insights? Are you comfortable telling people no?
In summary, figure out which archetype best suits you - advisor, operator or investor. There is no right or wrong answer. And there are plenty of overlaps – as an operator you could be investing or as an investor you could be providing advice. But the earlier you figure it out the happier and more fulfilled you will be.
As a corollary, my own personal experiences have put me squarely into the operator category. Having given advice as a management consultant and worked as an analyst in a venture fund, I realised that my passion lies in building things and making things happen. I was horrible at telling people ‘no’ and I didn’t thrive on the project to project lifestyle. But it did take me a little while to figure that out. Whichever path your life takes you, I wish you the very best of luck and urge you to think about how you can best align your strengths while making your career choices.
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