Size and Hustle in the Corporate Beast

This is a repost from my blog. Check it out for more geeky goodness.

About six month’s ago, I left my job as CTO of an 11 person startup (Superfly) and joined Citi in a vaguely defined technical role. I never thought I’d work in Corporate and I’ll talk about why I do another time. Today I want to talk about what I’ve learned so far working in the Corporate beast and discuss what is different, and what is surprisingly similar to working at a startup.

Roughly speaking, I work on high risk internal projects, developing tools that could dramatically help the internals of the business, if they actually work.Like a startup, my work is funded by a VC (one internal to the organization). Like a startup, early indicators of success are variants of traction. But unlike a startup, the end goal is not to generate revenues, rather it’s to help other business units increase theirs.

It’s so big

The Rambam

Obviously one of the biggest differences in going from a startup to Citi is the change in organizational size and everything that entails. To elaborate, let me digress and introduce the handsome gentleman above, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, arguably the greatest Jewish scholar since Moses.

Among his many achievements was the first complete codification of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah. Mishneh Torah is divided into 14 books, the first of which is called roughly “The book of science” ספר המדע. The second chapter of ספר המדע reminds us of two laws, that you must love god and that you must fear god. Maimondes realizes that the average person reads these two laws, to love and to fear, and is like

Maimondes identifies the dissonance and proposes its resolution

It is a mitzvah to love and fear this glorious and awesome God, as [Deuteronomy 6:5] states: “And you shall love God, your Lord” and, as [Deuteronomy 6:13] states: “Fear God, your Lord.”
What is the path [to attain] love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify [Him], yearning with tremendous desire to know [God’s] great name, as David stated: “My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God” [Psalms 42:3].
When he [continues] to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny, lowly, and dark creature, standing with his flimsy, limited, wisdom before He who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated: “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers… [I wonder] what is man that You should recall Him” [Psalms 8:4–5]. source

When I first started understanding the vastness that is Citi with its 240,000 employees this passage kept coming to mind. That something so big exists and that it works is mind boggling. One of the things that amazes me day in day out is our click to call feature, where I can click on anyone in my Outlook and my phone will dial theirs, anywhere in the world. Imagine the amount of engineering that goes into implementing a solution like that, the work involved in keeping it available. Perhaps my soul does not thirst for Citi, but I can’t help but praise and glorify an entity that can bring such functionality at such scale while making it operate so smoothly that it seems trivial.

And indeed, when I do reflect on the complexity of these marvels of operations, I can’t help but feel that I am tiny, that may work is never going to make or break the bank. That is a very big change from being the CTO of an 11 person company, where every day and every decision seems paramount and fate defining. I’m happy to say I don’t feel like lowly and dark creature at Citi, in fact I think working here has infused me with a certain humility and appreciation of all of the things that happen outside of my own field of vision, and I believe that this humility is fundamental for doing big things. Which brings me to my next point

The hustle is the same hustle

A lot of what I do at Citi is more or less inside sales. I have a product and I want as many business units as possible to use it. I have an idea and I need to get my board (or managers), our VC and our clients on board. I wasn’t expecting it at all, but it turns out that the hustling I had to do at a startup is very close to the hustling I need to do at a large corporation.

When I interviewed at Citi one of the concerns that both sides had was my ability to embrace the slower velocity of a large enterprise and deal with the bureaucracy. Having spent a short time here I think that getting shit done is equally hard in startups and corporates and for largely the same reasons, with largely the same frustrations.

Getting shit done means doing it with other people, clients, partners or investors. People are busy, sometimes they don’t reply to emails, sometimes they make you jump through hoops. Most notably, in enterprise and in startups, no one will pay you much attention if they don’t see the value that you can provide. I think overcoming that is “The Hustle” and it really is the same regardless of company size.

The humility I talked about earlier has made me better at the Hustle. I’ve learned to try and understand what is value for the people I am trying to engage with and ask myself if my proposal manifests value in their eye. Put more concretely, a business unit manager that has his resources tied in keeping the business open via regulatory compliance will not see much immediate value in something that will optimize some employees productivity.

The End

I heard Citi’s global head of credit remark once “Confidence and humility are what make a good trader.” Looking inside the Corporate beast, I think that rings true of any place where you want to bring value. I’m learning to have more confidence in the value that I bring and the humility to understand its place in my customers world.

This is a repost from my blog. Check it out for more geeky goodness.