Startups, Corporate America, and Authenticity
Most people in the startup community want greater involvement from Corporate America. It’s an important and missing link not only in the chain of success for an entrepreneurial ecosystem but also for an economy.
Part of the issue is that big companies and their managers don’t see the upside of doing business with startups and entrepreneurs. This is something our community must take greater responsibility for articulating, like Jeff Carter of Hyde Park Angels did in this post. But another reason is that many corporate managers just don’t get entrepreneurs.
I believe it’s because there’s an authenticity gap.
I’ve come across this dozens of times in my experience, whether it’s meeting with executives who want a more entrepreneurial culture, making small talk with muckety-mucks at banquets, or simply observing the interaction between a corporate manager and an entrepreneur. There’s this gulf between the two sides that is hard to bridge. In general, each group has its own way of thinking, speaking, and prioritizing…a result of their respective roles in the “food chain” and their ability to be authentic in the workplace.
With entrepreneurs, what you see is what you get. They literally represent themselves, so therefore, they can be themselves. There’s little posturing, faking of personalities, and b.s.’ing. Some are outspoken to others’ dismay, some are overly friendly with employees and can’t fire anyone, and even others don’t know where to draw the line between work and play (see ping pong tables, t-shirts, beer fridges, and pets). That’s because all those behaviors are a reflection of who they are, not who others want them to be.
Some people love this, others don’t. I’ve heard quite a few corporate managers over the years comment on how “cute” the idiosyncrasies of entrepreneurs and startups are, point out their “lack of professionalism”, and even question whether entrepreneurs “take business seriously”. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective, right?
I, of course, am very biased towards the authentic nature of entrepreneurs for two reasons. First, I was drawn to the community 17 years ago because I felt a lot more comfortable being authentic than not. And second, it was because I discovered that by cutting through all the posturing, faking, and b.s., people actually accomplished a lot more.
At some point, the corporate and startup communities will indeed work together more closely. But like all meaningful relationships, that will happen only when there is rapport, respect, and camaraderie…not for who we want the others to be but for who the others already are.