3 Major Differences Between Consulting and Startup Life

by Vault Careers | January 27, 2016

  • My Vault

Andrew Faircloth and Brent Macon were management consultants for three years (Andrew with Bain & Co., Brent with McKinsey & Co.). They started Primer Sports in August 2015 to help outgoing professionals use sports to connect with people in the workplace and beyond. Both are first-time entrepreneurs. This is the third in a series of posts for Vault in which they discuss some of the issues they have faced so far in their journey from consultants to entrepreneurs, and how their career experiences to date have helped them.

We enjoyed consulting and would recommend it to anyone; it's a dynamic environment to learn from great people and develop at an amazing rate. At the same time, we felt compelled to get some different experience early in our careers. Launching a startup wasn’t always the plan, but we hatched an idea together upon realizing that we were both frustrated with the existing sports media landscape during busy work weeks. The goal became simple:

Step 1 - try to create something that keeps professionals abreast of the 'radar-worthy'happenings in sports, whether that's major news, a crazy play, or an interesting article that you might not otherwise see. 

Step 2 - get tons of feedback, iterate and grow, and turn it into a viable business. 

We're solidly in step 2, and it’s been an interesting journey since launching in August. We anticipated many of the ups and downs of startup life, but there are certainly elements you can't predict until you’re out in the arena trying it. We often get asked to comment on the major differences between management consulting and running Primer. In honor of the consulting framework, here are three major differences (besides the absence of a healthy direct deposit): 

1. Lack of outside structure; a blessing and a curse

A great element of consulting is how much direction and feedback you get, both in the macro and in your day-to-day work. Projects tend to be well-scoped, you know if you're working on the right things, and you know if you're doing a good job. If you come to a place where you feel stuck, it’s usually clear how to get help and push forward. 'Success' is highly correlated with elbow grease.  

There's little outside influence in a startup, especially in the earliest stage before investor and advisor relationships add structure. There's no one to tell you if your strategic priorities make sense to focus on, if you're attacking a problem the right way, or even how to structure your days. You decide when to set the alarm and start the grind, and you're the sole arbiter of how hard to work and what to work on. That feeling of control is empowering, but can also leave room for second-guessing yourself and overthinking things. Ben Horowitz said the most important thing for a CEO to manage is their own psychology, and he nailed it (per usual).  

2. You are responsible for all the little things 

Starting something from scratch with a two-person team, it's important to realize that nothing gets done if one of the two people don’t do it.  There's no back-office support, or help with research and graphic design. And in a world where you're focused on a few big priorities, it can be easy to drop the ball on the many small tasks required to keep a fledgling company up and running. In fact, you have to become comfortable with helpful things being ‘out of scope’ as it's just impossible to get to everything. 

We've found project management tools (Asana and Slack, especially) and maintaining a tight list of priorities to be important to keeping a productive workflow.

3. The highs feel higher and the lows feel lower

Consulting is a team sport, which makes for great camaraderie and lasting relationships. But there’s no denying the emotional investment that comes with pouring everything you've got into a new product or service. Signs of traction are so encouraging, especially positive user feedback. For us, there's no better feeling than a reader saying they love Primer and that it's given them the chance to have great social interactions about sports they wouldn't have had otherwise. The flipside is true also. The startup becomes such a piece of your identity that any feelings like things aren't working can seem like an indictment of your own abilities. Resiliency and keeping your eye on the prize are critical. 

There will constantly be new challenges as we evolve, which is both the fun part and the hard part. One thing we're certain of: the consulting 'toolkit' has set us up well to try and move quickly, test-and-learn to help prioritize what’s important, and constantly solicit feedback that we tie to our strategy. Now it's a matter of elbow grease and making it work.  

Read More:

How to Brainstorm Effectively: Tips from a Former Consultant

Why Sports are Worth Talking About at Work

Filed Under: Consulting | Education | Networking | Salary & Benefits | Workplace Issues

Tags: Consulting | Startups

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