For almost a decade, we’ve been helping people become founders at Entrepreneur First, and have created 170+ seed-funded companies in that time.
As we recruit for the next generation of founders to join the programme, we’ve found that many promising candidates don’t feel they have enough experience to found their own company.
In reality, many of our most successful founders joined EF when they were very early on in their careers, or straight after finishing a degree.
Zeena Qureshi (co-founder, Sonantic) joined EF with 4 years of work experience, Alex Reeber (co-founder, Core Biogenesis) joined us with a year of industry experience and a stint at Cambridge as a Research Assistant, and Sasha Haco (co-founder, Unitary) joined us after finishing her PhD.
You don’t need to spend several years in corporate jobs or academia before you’re ready to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
Our best founders have one trait in common: they’re impatient. They don’t want to wait around working their way up the corporate ladder if they can achieve their big ambitions now. Even so, that leap can be pretty daunting at first.
Danesh is now CEO and co-founder of Transcelestial. They’re building a space laser network to deliver high-speed internet connectivity, and this year they raised a $10M Series A. He has far more control over his life, and is able to make an impact.
His decision to turn down Cambridge might have seemed brave at the time, but it’s paid off.
For those who want to make an impact with their life, maintaining the status quo is, paradoxically, the most risky option.
In a corporate job or academia, you may well be able to achieve impressive things, but you’re also replaceable. If you quit your job, it’ll likely be taken by someone else who will be able to create roughly the same impact as you.
At EF, you found a company based around your competitive advantage, and that of your co-founder, so you’re building something that very few people in the world can.
“You’re capable of more than you think”
When Dr. Rimjhim Agrawal joined our programme in Bangalore, she was still finishing her PhD in Machine Learning in Psychiatry. In her application and during her interview, she had very specific insights about her domain, but was looking for someone to help her on the management side, which is what Laina, her co-founder brought to the table when they met at EF.
“When I joined Entrepreneur First, I expected to be matched with different people, but I didn’t realise how delicate and intentional the process would be,” Laina says “It blows my mind sometimes to think how complementary Rimjhim and I are.” Laina and Rimjhim co-founded the first company to bring MRI-based diagnostics to psychiatry.
Laina said she felt overwhelmed when joining the programme, “I remember thinking this is not for me, and how on earth will I find a match in this really disparate set of people, and how do I put myself out there. But most people are capable of so much more than they think, and now I run my own company with a co-founder who I wouldn’t have even met if it weren’t for EF.”
“EF is life acceleration”
One of our most successful co-founders, Alex Dalyac, applied to EF as an undergraduate, but missed out on a place. Instead of giving up, he did a conversion course in Computer Science at Imperial. He then applied a year later and got in. It wasn’t that he needed to get 5, 10 years of industry experience, he just needed to be able to demonstrate his passion for technology. That sense of urgency is something we see a lot in successful founders.
Even for those who don’t end up founding a company, EF is a transformative experience. As one of our alumni put it, “EF is life acceleration”.
Daniel Homola joined our 12th London cohort last year, where he began a healthcare AI startup with a co-founder he met through our programme. While ultimately the company didn’t work out, Daniel says, “I probably learned more about myself and the world in those six months than in the preceding 2.5 years in my typical 9 to 5 corporate data-science job…Being surrounded by motivated, ambitious, highly educated and driven people who chose to veer off the traditional corporate track is amazing.”
Joanne Kanaan, who co-founded Omini, another of our most successful companies, felt similarly, “In less than two months, I feel I’ve reached out and I’ve done something much faster than what I’ve done in all my academic years”.
At the time, Joanne was also considering positions in academia, but told us that EF’s proposition (helping you meet a co-founder) made her see entrepreneurship as a viable option. Her academic background set her up for success, but didn’t give her the freedom to leave her mark on the world.
Joanne joined EF straight after doing her PhD in Biochemistry. In her interview it was clear to us that she’s incredibly smart, but she also demonstrated a lot of drive. Those are the sorts of behaviours that we look for when speaking with applicants.
If you’re telling yourself that one day you’ll start a company, the chances are, you’re ready now.
We have almost a decade of evidence that tells us people can successfully found companies straight after graduating, during a PhD, or with just a few years of work experience. And, so far, there’s nothing to suggest that staying in your role just a few more years makes you a better founder. You already have everything you need to become a founder and scale your impact.