Liminal Space, Permanent Beta & Entrepreneurship of All Kinds
The end of the academic year is a powerful time of year. Without fail, listening to your words, as you reflect upon your challenges and successes, is inspiring. For the past two weeks, three of your stories have stayed with me – rattling around in my head, and eventually weaving themselves into this blog post.
As a Class Marshall at Babson’s Graduation, I had near-front-row seats as I absorbed the words of Cheska Mauban ’15, Commencement Student Speaker, describing her thoughts on decision making (in her words the “privilege and burden of choice”), and the idea of “liminal space.” Kevin Colleran ’03, Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient, put his own spin on decision making and how it has shaped his definition of entrepreneurship. And, just prior to graduation, Ryan Narod ’16, shared his thoughts on decision making, the idea of “permanent beta,” and his own morphing view of an entrpreneurial career in his guest blog below.
Each spoke about particularly challenging decisions they faced. For Cheska, who is headed to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the decision of whether to study abroad during her college years was challenging. While some may view this as an easy or fortunate choice to have, Cheska was “scared”. In many ways, she viewed studying abroad as a “sunk cost” — valuable time which could be spent building her business expertise and connections through a “real” internship. She described decision making as a “liminal space” – a place where you are “neither in, nor out,” where you are “in between”, and “where opportunities are endless because they are not defined.” While she felt scared by the “burden of choice,” she was empowered by the privilege to not only have a choice, but to have the skills and judgement to make good choices.
Kevin told the Class of 2015 that he was in their seats just 13 years ago with important decisions to make about next steps: “I was sure I could be successful, but I didn’t know how, and that scared the crap out of me.” In his decision to join Facebook as its sixth hire, he felt he had turned his back on entrepreneurship because of his decision to work for “someone else.” He soon learned that “You do not need to work for yourself and start your own business to be an entrepreneur.” At Facebook, the reality was that he controlled his schedule, owned his client relationships, built his sales materials, and his level of commitment directly impacted his commissions . . . “in fact, I was my own boss.”
For Ryan, with two startups under his belt and more startup plans for the future, he was torn between running his business this summer, launching a new one, or pursuing a “real” internship. It wasn’t fear or a lack of confidence that prevented him from taking the startup route, but a state of “permanent beta” – an understanding that he is a work in progress, eager to learn and develop, and tackle new challenges, whether they lie inside or outside a startup. Bottom line, he sought entrepreneurial opportunity, which landed him at AlphaSights this summer. Yes, that’s right, he found entrepreneurship this summer, not through his own business, but through “someone else’s” business. Read his story below.
Entrepreneurship of Another Kind by Ryan Narod
I recently read a book called “The Start-up of You” written by Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn. As a lifelong entrepreneur, several lessons from this book resonated with me. In my junior year of college, I found myself at a crossroads… I attend the #1 school for entrepreneurship in the world, I started two relatively successful startups, but something inside me said I’m not ready to take the plunge just yet. The reason for this doubt is not a lack of confidence on my part, but the self-awareness that I am in permanent beta.
Applying a startup mindset to all facets of life
One of the most important lessons I garnered from the book is that you must apply a startup mindset to everything you do. You must be adaptable and vigilant, always considering yourself in permanent beta, a work in progress, eager to learn and develop. In his book, Hoffman described 20 years of experience as “one year of experience repeated 20 times.” Someone in permanent beta will find that each year will be full of new challenges and developments.
Finding a company that will embrace your permanent beta
Back to the crossroads… in January of this year, I had some decisions to make. I could either continue running my business over the summer, start a new business, take an internship at a large company, or intern at a startup. If I continued running my business, I knew that I could only achieve linear growth due the nature of the business, and I wanted to participate in exponential growth, making impactful decisions while learning the intricacies of working with diverse colleagues.
When I heard about the internships my peers were getting at large companies, I knew that greater growth can come from a company that would embrace my permanent beta state. When I came across AlphaSights, I read a job description that mentioned “You’ll gain the experience needed if you one day want to create your own business built around a software product or act as a Product/User Experience lead.” I thought to myself, “this is the kind of company I’m looking for, a company that embraces today’s macroeconomic climate and accepts the fact that millennials are seeking a non-lateral career path, often opting to start their own companies at some point.” During my interview, it was refreshing to openly talk about future ambitions with my interviewers, who also plan to start their own businesses one day.
It’s called Intrapreneurship
It turns out that there’s actually a term for this kind of work environment. Babson College preaches its trademarked phrase “Entrepreneurship of all Kinds” but it took me until now to figure out what this really means. The sad reality is that 90% of startups fail, but luckily entrepreneurship doesn’t always mean launching your own startup and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the next few years.
When I read the latest post on AlphaSights’ blog, I knew it was the perfect company for me. One of the Lead Analysts, Shaun Ritchey, wrote that the basic premise of Intrapreneurship is that “employees are given the autonomy and ability to apply basic principles of entrepreneurship (ability to innovate, ownership of ideas and initiatives, resources to bring ideas to fruition, etc.) to their roles.” In the post, he talked about various examples of employees taking initiative to improve the business based on imminent needs. For example, an associate who recognized an imminent need for a larger office was give the autonomy to identify new spaces, sign a lease, and design the office, and is now their VP of Operations. This is the kind of entrepreneurship I’m excited about.
Calling all Intrapreneurs!
Despite the staggering percentage of failing startups, entrepreneurship is still a great career choice. However, it takes on many forms. Launching another startup is likely in my cards, just not right now. For now, my plan is to be entrepreneurial within an organization that embraces initiative and ambition.
Ultimately, any internship I would have taken would have provided some sort of learning, but most companies that embrace Intrapreneurship are startups (or companies that maintain a startup culture). As a Brand Manager for TechGen, I connect Babson students to internships at Boston-area startups. If you haven’t applied yet and are looking for an internship, check out TechGen. If you’re already set with an internship this summer, think about how you can be in a state of permanent beta and act as an Intrapreneur within the context of your organization.
I’m really excited for all that this summer has in store for me and I can’t wait to start my internship as a Product Analyst at AlphaSights!