From Corporate to Entrepreneur...and Now What?

Friday, Apr 10, 2020
by Wright Seneres

Even in times without a global pandemic, the prospect of making the leap into entrepreneurship from the stability of a traditional corporate career can be daunting. At Princeton Entrepreneurship Council’s first-ever TigerTalks Digital event, five exceptional black Princeton alumni discussed how their experiences in the corporate world prepared them for their entrepreneurial journey in front of 190 online attendees. The conversation quickly turned to how the combination of their corporate and startup experiences has equipped them to deal with the unfolding crisis and the economic downturn. 

As PEC pivoted this event from an in-person gathering to an online Zoom webinar, this TigerTalks Digital program has been just one of many ways PEC has been leveraging the experience of the Princeton network for the benefit of entrepreneurs in the face of the current pandemic. Flexibility and taking advantage of resources on-hand were deemed essential for these times by the panel, moderated by Laurence Latimer *01 of Princeton Alumni Angels.

Maisha Walker ’94 started her career at Morgan Stanley, then embarked on her own entrepreneurial journey, founding digital marketing agency Message Medium in 1999. Having lived through multiple economic downturns already, her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs with corporate day jobs was to keep that job for a year or two while working on your startup: “You become your own angel investor. You can make really solid, strategic decisions about how you run that business when you're not relying on that business to pay your bills.”

Eric Plummer ’10, currently at venue startup Peerspace and formerly of Under Armour and Capital One, echoed Maisha’s point to have a strong understanding of both personal finances and business costs. He also suggested that from an economic standpoint, the opportunity cost for starting a business is low during times like these. “At the bottom, there are some of the most interesting opportunities. Some of the most innovative companies of our time started during these downturns.”  

For mid-career entrepreneurs, leveraging the network you have built in your career (as well as the Princeton network) will be key in finding innovative, new opportunities in a downturn. Karen Palmer ’84, longtime broadcast news producer, operations consultant, and certified professional coach, also stressed “to think about how we contribute to building that sense of innovation, and also building community between people who may not know what the next point is. I think there really is a tremendous opportunity to shift us into a very different way of thinking that will benefit everybody across all sectors.”

Also adopting new ways of thinking is Ramsey D. Smith ’90, a 21-year veteran of Goldman Sachs. Ramsey left to start digital insurance agency ALEX.fyi in 2016, and said, “one of the reasons that I decided to take this journey is that entrepreneurial skills are going to be much more important for all of us, and all of our kids and grandkids than it was for us. I don't think that corporate America is going to offer the same types of opportunities going forward and the same sort of long careers that existed in the past.”

This flexibility in thinking is important for new entrepreneurs not working in spaces that are natural extensions of their corporate field. Brigitte Anderson ’02, founder of Orange Vista, LLC, a boutique market research consulting firm, advises startup founders to think differently about how decisions are made in a particular market, what cultural forces shape these decisions, and “parsing out what particular market you want to serve and pushing yourself in a way that's going to add value is a good way to help challenge yourself to think about whether you’re being a good entrepreneur.”

Similar themes have weaved through other recent PEC programming, including a webinar entitled “Managing Your Startup Through a Crisis” from late March. The conversation from this program will also be available as a mini-series at our Princeton Spark podcast. Upcoming PEC programming includes a “Building and Maintaining Your Investor Pipeline” webinar in late April, designed to help founders sustain regular contact with funders even during this economic downturn. Two more TigerTalks Digital programs are slated for May: Proptech: Today’s Challenges and Future Opportunities in Real Estate, and Digital Transformations of the Retail Consumer Experience

This event was the second in a series of TigerTalks panel discussions featuring black Princeton alumni entrepreneurs. Read our recap of the first in this series, “TigerTalks in the City: Pathways to Entrepreneurship”.

Watch the webinar recording:

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