Corporate to Tech Startup: What I Learned in the Transition from Big Biz to CEO

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After building her career in the corporate world, Kimberly Hurd made the startup leap. This is what she learned. By Kimberly Hurd (CEO, Zomato UK)

Having built a career in the most structured and corporate environments, what made me take my first bite into entrepreneurship in the most challenging of markets?

The right opportunity and most importantly, the right team.

After years of security and well-structured career paths and decisions, I expected an incredibly challenging adjustment. Instead, I found a few truths that resonated with my more corporate past, as well as very welcome opportunities in an entrepreneurial, rapidly growing media and digital services business.

From my own experience in transitioning from the corporate world to working for a startup, these three truths are important and vividly rang true.

1. Focus on the Right Customer -- and the Right Need

I remember vividly an example that Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, gave at a conference. The airline prides itself on fantastic customer experience and thereby creates equally loyal consumer advocates.

In their quest to continuously improve customer experience, Southwest realized the largest pain point for their customers was waiting for their luggage post-flight. No matter how good their purchase, planning and on-board experiences, if a customer had to wait for their bags at the end of a flight, they were unhappy.

To minimize this wait, Southwest revamped their system (by incentivizing baggage handlers) to make sure they had the fastest baggage handling service in the business. Now, Southwest is lauded for incredible customer satisfaction and advocacy scores.

I’m not saying that having a safe flight or friendly flight attendants aren’t important -- they certainly are -- but solving the right customer need and differentiating the service from the rest of the market is a real recipe for success.

It’s also easy for startups to suffer from the poison chalice: the dreaded “AND” when it comes to their value proposition or strategy. “We’re this.. AND this... will do this.. AND ... etc. etc.” It’s important to step back, reevaluate and focus efforts on the core value proposition.

At Zomato, we’ve done this recently. We launched in the UK with a product that worked in all our other countries. But we quickly learned we didn’t have the right service for this market. We took several months to talk to journalists, bloggers, users and friends -- anyone we could wrangle -- to figure out what the real needs of the market were.

We then began developing a product that focused on what our customers needed. We solved the market’s lack of a comprehensive and trusted source for restaurant recommendations. This involved completely revamping our product, which focused on pure-play discovery. Thanks to the feedback we received, we added an additional social layer to allow for network recommendations and shared experiences to make the user’s decision as personal as possible.

2. Ensure You Can Attract and Develop the Right Talent

A well-oiled recruiting team might help accomplish this in a corporate environment, but in a lean startup, it’s important to hire for drive (Do they have the positive, “can do” attitude and immediacy?), determination (Do they intelligently apply themselves to problems outside their comfort zones without giving up?) and team fit (Are their skills and capabilities complementary to the rest of the team?). Your talent acquisition team should know what your values are and what you mean by a team and culture fit.

3. Stop Chasing Work/Life Balance and Focus on Inspiration

If you’re like me, chasing a work/life balance would be a failed pursuit in any environment. But in a rapidly growing startup culture, it’s absolutely impossible.

Instead of berating yourself by reading articles about everything you should be doing, try every day to take distance (even if for a few minutes or an hour) and focus on what keeps you happy and inspired. Keep this time absolutely sacrosanct.

No one can do this for you, and without this energy and passion, it will be impossible to inspire anyone in or outside your team. And if you don’t feel like your startup brings you that happiness, you might want to re-think where you are.

Opportunities Abound: 3 Reasons to Jump into Tech Startups Now

A true merge of product and service: In traditional corporate Financial Services and Consumer Goods industries, roles and functions can be very siloed. That’s not the case with tech startups. Your product and the service are almost -- if not completely -- intertwined. All functions (tech, product marketing) must work completely interlinked to be successful. A near impossibility at large corporations, this merge is an amazing opportunity to drive how business should be run.

Speed is the only mantra to growth and survival: While pundits disagree on the ultimate effectiveness of the Minimum Viable Product, one thing is sure: Changes can be easily and practically tested and rolled out. This also means that a failed product hits you hard and fast. Social makes it impossible to put consumers in silos, and even a beta product can get you bad word of mouth! Which means you cannot afford to lose speed in rolling out, rolling back and rolling out again.

There is so much more to go around: The best innovations in this sector are yet to come. Nothing is too saturated for a good idea and passion to crack it!

Did you move from corporate to startups? What was did you learn along the way?

Kimberly Hurd spoke at the May's London City Meetup.Grab your tickets now for the next London City Meetup on June 5.


About the guest blogger: Kimberly has over 10 years experience in growth strategy and market development and has recently joined Zomato in January to lead Zomato, UK. Prior to joining Zomato, Kimberly was a Director at the World Gold Council, responsible for global product, partner, and market development in the financial services industry and before that, she was a Senior Manager in Accenture’s strategy practice specializing in growth and marketing strategy in the financial services and consumer goods sectors. Prior to joining Accenture, Kimberly worked first as an Investment Banker with UBS, then as a Ratings Analyst with Moody’s Investors Services in the US, and finally as a Manager in Market Development at American Express in London.

She has a MBA from London Business School with concentrations in Marketing, Strategy and Entrepreneurship.