How do you sell your corporate experience to a startup?

I’ve had a few conversations with classmates, prospective MBAs and others looking to get into the startup world lately about making the transition from a big corporation to a small startup.  One of the common questions that comes up is “how did you sell your corporate experience to a startup?"

One of the underlying assumptions here is that corporate experience isn’t particularly valuable in the startup world, but I don’t think that could be farther from the truth.  Here’s a few reasons why your experience at a big company might actually make you more valuable to a startup:

  1. You know how the incumbent works. If you’re looking to join a startup that is disrupting an industry you used to work in, you know what the existing challenges are in that industry.  Long sales cycle? Complicated barriers to entry? Excessive government regulation? User adoption issues? All this stuff is relevant to startups and your experience from the perspective of a big company can be really valuable to a startup.
  2. You know what an idea looks like at scale. While it’s certainly awesome to work for a startup because startups are agile, startups want to be successful. With that success comes scale, and if you’re someone that knows what works and what doesn’t at scale, you can add a ton of value. 
  3. You might be the only one with corporate experience.  A lot of young tech entrepreneurs have been building businesses for their entire professional careers and thus may not have experience in a big company.  Guess what that means? You can think differently and that’s a GOOD thing.

There are probably a bunch of items I’m missing here, but I think the real point is ultimately this:

If you really want to work at a startup and identify with the product and the vision, your experience is only as relevant as you make it.

Any experience is better than no experience, so get out there and do stuff! Then figure out what makes you unique and sell that to the founders.  

What do you think about making the transition from a big company to a startup?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.