The joy of start-ups: a non-exec perspective

In my non-executive career, which had its fledgling roots in 2008 alongside my executive career, and has since broadened out considerably in the UK and internationally, I have found myself increasingly drawn towards start-up companies, and I thought that it was worth spending a few moments sharing why this is the case, in the hope of encouraging others to take the same path. Start-ups need really good non-execs if they are to navigate the first few tricky years of their existence and flourish into amazing companies. Why, though, should any budding non-exec consider taking on a role in a start-up?


Start-ups are fresh and exciting

The start-up world is fast-moving and has a pace which is rarely matched in other company contexts. Initial ideas can evolve rapidly and dramatically depending on market conditions, results of beta-testing and sometimes access to funding. Running with the flow and responding to fresh approaches – as well as suggesting some yourself; these are often really attractive prospects for potential non-execs. Moreover, until required to have a board by next-stage investors, start-ups often rely on advisors; for a non-exec, the opportunity to help create an effective, relevant and responsive board structure from scratch can be really motivating.

Start-ups will enable you to put your experience and networks to good use

Leading a start-up is all-consuming; start-up founders often run themselves ragged trying to bring a new product to life. There is rarely enough time in the start-up founder’s day to do everything that needs to be done, especially when it comes to wider industry connections and developing their networks. They need sympathetic, interested, enthusiastic and experienced people to walk alongside them and help make things happen for them, from advice to access to networks. If you can make a simple connection with one of your contacts, this could make a huge difference for a start-up seeking to extend its reach.

Start-ups need diversity on their boards

Actually, every type of organisation needs diversity on their boards, in order to provide better – 360 degree – oversight, as well as deeper insights, into the work of the organisation, but start-ups really, really need people who will challenge them to think differently. Start-up founders are invariably passionate about what they are doing, and can become entirely immersed in their products; non-execs who have alternative perspectives, and who think differently from the founder, can sometimes be an invaluable help in clarifying strategy and placing activity in a wider context, thus helping the company avoid unnecessary pitfalls.

Start-ups are rarely able to pay their non-execs anywhere near what they might receive in a different company, but stick with them and – if you have judged them right – you will be able to grow with them as the company grows. Besides, the reward comes in helping others make a difference in the world, and who can put a price on that? Enjoy!




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