Why Established Startups are No Place for Entrepreneurs

So you're entrepreneurial, that's great. Fancy ploughing through five rounds of a painfully corporate recruitment process? How about being a fast-fading voice in a rapidly growing company? Or maybe you're turned on by team-building events, rewards at work, being 'the perfect fit' for a company? No, I didn't think so.

Your heart says to take the leap and start something on your own, change the world for the better and follow your dreams; your dad thinks you should get a proper job after the money he spent 'putting you through university'. So when you come across the likes of Transferwise, Pipedrive and Skype exclaiming that they're looking for entrepreneurial young people with a mind of their own, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this might be the solution for you.

But there's a bit of a trend developing in the world of the established startups, and it's laced with irony. They are all claiming that they have teams of entrepreneurial people, thinkers who are placed firmly outside of that infamous box, people who work hard and play hard; yet their company philosophies have a lot in common with the very ‘dinosaur’ corporates that they claim to be nothing like, and for those that don’t think the same way, it’s no entry.

Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur and investor in Transferwise. Photo: Shutterstock

Transferwise for example, has five interview stages. They say it is so that potential candidates can really get a feel for the company, and candidates even get to meet with the CEO further along in the process; this also happens at Pipedrive. The truth is, that they are incredibly selective. A recent recruitment drive at Transferwise for 50 positions, attracted 20,000 applications, with all those who didn't include a striking cover letter being rejected - that doesnt foster an environment for free thinkers and is nothing new, in fact it’s a tired corporate practice. This and other established ‘startups’ also use their complicated selection process to cherrypick those people who will fit their mould, who won't fight back, to ensure that everyone is in tune with the company’s melody, the same melody as the old corporates, only much, much cooler of course.

When a company with such specific ideals like Transferwise, states that they have a team of entrepreneurs working for them, one can’t help but question the use of the word to describe the kind of people who work there. The very definition of entrepreneur is, ‘a person who organises and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk’, they are often rebellious, creative, free spirited people; not the kind of people who could endure five stages of corporate nonsense, cult-like team building days or patronising work related rewards.

So, I have a message for any budding entrepreneur considering working for a rapidly growing and well established ex-startup, concerning them and their staff: Yes, they have innovative and creative people working for them, because they choose them; yes, said people think outside the box, but certainly not outside the ‘company box’; yes, they share company goals, ideas of company culture and visions for the future, because let's face it, from 20,000 applicants they could find people with any kind of views they wished for. I put it to you that these people are mere sheep, just a very specific and meticulously selected type of sheep; and they are not, in any sense of the word, entrepreneurs.