How to Succeed as a New Executive at a Startup


Integrating into a new role in a tech startup is very different than integrating into a more mature organization. That means that, to be successful, your strategy needs to be a little different, too.

Here’s what to expect if you made the decision to leave a large corporation to put your talents to work in a small startup.

There will be less infrastructure.

A lot less.

You may be used to the mature infrastructure of a corporation that includes robust HR functions, a staff of administrative assistants, a legal team, an internal marketing function, and so on (and on, and on).

That's won't be the case here.

In startup life, you will have fewer internal resources and fewer established processes and procedures to support your work flow. To some extent, you’ll have to make things up as you go.

Resources may be stretched thin.

HR may do the hiring, manage employee relations, develop and enforce policies, perform administration of employee benefits, and be the unofficial ‘complaint department’.

In fact, there may be just one person wearing all of those hats, if you can imagine.

Your trusted advisor, the dedicated (to you) HR business partner?  You won’t have one.

You (likely) won't have an executive assistant.

This means that you’ll have to be more hands on and tactical. You’ll run your own calendar, manage your own time, and do your own menial day-to-day tasks yourself. 

You’ll need to adapt by becoming more self-reliant, scrappy, resourceful, and potentially doing some things you haven’t done in the past. This is what can be most jarring for senior executives, in particular - the simple lack of dedicated resources. But the upside is that there will be fewer policies and less structure, so if bureaucracy bothers you, you may enjoy a renewed sense of freedom and autonomy.

Things will move faster.

The larger and more bureaucratic the corporate structure, the slower everything moves.

This can be a good thing in terms of limiting risk, ensuring business continuity, etc. But for leaders who want to innovate, fail faster, and feel real progress, it’s easier to do all of that in a small start-up where your impact can be much bigger (and faster).

That does come with one more note, though...

The hours will be long - really long.

Be prepared to have to pour a different level of energy into your role. A standard work week (even by executive standards) probably won't cut it. 

The things that won’t be different?

People are people. Politics are politics.

It doesn’t matter how big or small an organization is - your best offense is to build relationship deeply and broadly. Fit into the culture as best you can. Make sure you’re crystal clear on the charter you’ve been given.

At the end of the day, your ability to be (and feel) successful making a difference is what you’re after - and you can find that in a start-up environment. 

Want to make sure your new leader assimilation from a large corporation into a small one is a success? We can help you with that (like we've helped assimilate startup executives before). Executive coaching can be a life raft.

If you're ready for a new approach, let’s chat.