Life is short. Join a startup!

The banking consulting inception

When you’re young, getting into a prestigious university represents an end goal in and of itself. Once you’ve made it to college, grown-ups stop worrying about you and you finally get that freedom to explore your intellectual pursuits and passions. But the next question arises the minute you step into college: what happens after graduation? What is the next ladder to climb?

It would not be surprising if I told you I was not the only confused student at the University of Oxford. Armed with the anxiety of not knowing what to do with my philosophy degree (I could teach in Ancient Greece, but I hear they are not hiring at the moment), I modelled my behaviour according to what other smart, hardworking and confused students were doing at the time — I attended career fairs and networking sessions. After all, when you think you have no skills pointing you to the next obvious steps, why not hear what recruiters have to say about some of the things you could do with your degree?

Turns out, Wall Street and Consulting have long been aware of the confusion experienced by Type A graduates. As a result, they have taken full advantage of this by aggressively marketing their presence in universities. For example, when I was in Oxford, it was quite common for banks or consultancy firms to book the Ashmolean museum and invite students to fanciful private wine events to talk about their future. By positioning themselves as the place where the crème de la crème go after college, these firms do a good job getting the first option on the best and brightest young talent produced by élite institutions; many of my peers might not have joined these industries had it not been for their marketing efforts.

All these marketing dollars create two effects. The first is an overly magnified presence of firms like Goldman Sachs or McKinsey in the minds of students. The second is students coming to believe that only banks and consultancies are career accelerators. Coupled with the fact that these two industries pay some of the highest starting salaries, this explains why banking and consulting have been constantly recruiting up to a third of graduates of the world’s best universities. As a consequence, this process locks out other industries hungry for good talent.

However, this trend is changing. Graduates are now discovering a third option — joining a sexy tech startup.

Why joining a startup is awesome

Business and management studies have recently concluded that people nowadays want more than just a job that ‘makes boatloads of money’. While earning enough money to put food on the table still matters, young people now seem to look for 3 key things in their dream job:

(1) Autonomy

(2) Mastery

(3) Doing something larger than themselves

Many jobs in banking and consulting fail either (1) or (3). In contrast, while startups also have comparably long hours, their flat culture, the promise of autonomy and the potential to change the world is proving too good to resist for millennials.

Bar chart showing MBA students becoming less interested in banking consulting and instead opting to join the tech industry. A similar trend can be seen for other graduates as well.

Furthermore, graduates are now aware that being young means they can afford to take more risk with their careers. After all, when you are young, you have that YOLO courage in you to try new and seemingly crazy things and that is a good thing. When you don’t know any better how things are supposed to work, you have the profound opportunity to challenge and create innovative solutions that might just redefine the future. So rather than work for a bank or a consultancy for $70,000++ a year on a fixed salary, graduates are now thinking “why not work in a sexy fast growing startup, get a 2–4% stock option, and work hard to make the company worth $100m++ in 3–4 years time?” For these reasons, many are taking the leap into the startup world, and rightly so.

Not all startups are created equal, however. The industry you enter is as important as the choice to join a startup itself. This brings me to my next point.

Why you should join a mobile app startup

To borrow Marc Andreessen’s famous phrase, ‘software is eating the world’. The surging growth of mobile app companies like GrabTaxi shouldn’t be dismissed as just another new bubble. Rather, I think it reflects a broader movement to make archaic industries efficient once again. For example, in the case of GrabTaxi, they have successfully disrupted the transportation industry by turning traditional assumptions of its head. As one of the world’s largest taxi company, they neither own any vehicles nor do they rely on call centres to help cabbies secure jobs. Instead, they simply harness the power of location-aware technology and the internet to make the transportation industry more efficient once again.

Similarly, in the startup I am working for, ServisHero, we are trying to disrupt the local services industry here in Southeast Asia. Bourne out of our frustration of finding repairpersons and handymen via flyers on trees advertisements, we imagine a mobile and web-based platform that can now directly connects customers with local service providers via a location-aware technology.

Because our mobile app is really about building a marketplace, working at ServisHero means graduates with a broad interest in business development, marketing and strategy can actually have their cake and eat it too. As country manager of the Singapore office, my job scope is extremely broad. One moment I could be tying up corporate partnerships to giveaway exclusive promo-codes, the next minute I could find myself developing the platform with our tech team or strategising our market entry growth plan or running a video ad-campaign. The nature of my job also means that along the way, I get to meet many amazing people in the Singapore ecosystem. They range from CEOs to managing directors of various startups, accelerators and government agencies. On top of that, I get to work in a collegiate environment surrounded by young and amazing people. The experience so far feels like a hands-on, practical MBA programme.

How to pick a startup suitable for you

So if you are a talented student or graduate and you feel compelled to choose between banking and consulting, my advice is to take a step back and recognise there are other exciting options out there. Check out sites like AngelList, popular for students finding jobs in Silicon Valley. Alternatively, sites like Glints are examples of local platforms that you can use. At the end of the day, you should take up a job that is good for you.Working in banking and consulting can be a wonderful career but it may not be a good fit for everybody. Weigh the pros and cons of all your options carefully and make an effort to compare how each of these options contributes towards your ultimate career goals.

It is becoming less acceptable to take the well-trodden path simply because other people have taken it. As Steve Jobs once said: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown our your inner voice.”

In other words, life is short- join a startup.

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