A Nigerian mechanical designer student called Ty from Aalto University (name changed here) saved our family from a snow blizzard with his Uber ride. Ty is looking for a job and is pondering whether to stay in Finland or move to Norway. I asked how about the startup companies (building new business with strong tech focus and high growth potential), has he checked that out. He said he tried it and it was disappointing; all the hard work and no salary in the end.
Ty has a point there. Startup life is a privileged rollercoaster that only a few can ride. According to the Startup Genome Report in 2012, the failure rate of startups is 92%. Getting the right team, finding the right partners, perfecting the product, securing smart investors is a mixture of hard work, spot-on timing and a bit of luck. To create a new business from zero with a zero salary for 6-12 months is a risk that requires personal savings or sponsorship of some kind.
The alluring thrill of startup lies with “the high risk - high reward” mentality. Even bigger thrill is the opportunity of being right, having your idea come true.
Many decide to ride this rollercoaster when they are studying, when there is no mortgage and no spouse tagging along. For instance, the university student-led Aalto Entrepreneurship Society is doing a great job in offering their students the startup experience via events like the biggest Nordic match-making conference Slush and the new team recruitment gathering TeamUp. When these students enter the corporate life, they will be a new breed of employees who have tasted the forbidden fruit. At first regular salary and vacation time will feel luxurious, but deep down some will crave for the madness and freedom to create.
From the corporate perspective, it presents new challenge to keep these restless workers motivated. Forget team building through skydiving or booking a team trip to Barcelona. Companies are copying the startup scene by organizing their own internal accelerator and venture programs. Or they send their staff as a team to industry hackathons, events where new software is created by programmers during an intense time period.
Take hackathons. They are strangely similar to sports events, where teams battle and test their skills. Instead of knee and head injuries, the participants will have sweat, bloodshot eyes and jitters from energy drinks. These industry hackathons differ from the ones of student years; participants will sleep comfortably in the hotel bed instead of a sleeping bag, and if the menu has pizza, it will be gourmet. End result? The team will return back to work buzzed and united, with the latest insights on what’s up-and-coming.
For Ty and the rest of the Aaltoes generation, this is a ride they can always embark on. Their first ride, taken as a student, will be adrenaline-packed and bittersweet. The next ride, ticket paid by the employer, will be comfortable with a hint of nostalgia. And I hope they will take the last ride 10 – 15 years from now, because it will be the best ride. By then this generation will have a solid sense of self, loads of industry experience and strong personal networks of great talents. The odds of success will be better than 8%.