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  • 9:18 am
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Caught In The Middle

I went to a friend’s birthday get-together tonight and a couple of people asked about my occupation. I vary my description depending on whom I’m speaking with. This particular person didn’t seem like a techie so after a brief pause, I quickly explained that I’m the Product Marketing Manager at an ad network. He nodded, then proceeded to switch the subject. I was initially put off by it and it wasn’t until I walked home that I realized why which led to this blog post.

When I was running 123LinkIt, I had my pitch down cold. I would almost always receive follow-on questions that would lead to discussions about advertising, technology, entrepreneurship, or another subject in the space. I loved being self-employed and describing what I did. I felt like I had a purpose and it showed.

Most of the way things have shifted since the acquisition was expected. However, actually experiencing it first-hand is another matter. What it boils down to is I feel like an average, ordinary Jane. I get up early, go to work, make dinner or go out with friends, go to sleep and get up to do it all over again tomorrow. I’m accustomed to hearing people complain about their work woes and I would secretly pat myself on the back for not being in the same situation. I may have been broke and always hustling, but I felt special and unique as an entrepreneur. The shoe is now on the other foot and I’m not quite sure how to perceive it. It has been seven weeks since I started my new gig and I’m wondering why I haven’t fallen into a routine yet.

It’s not like I have it bad. I’m working on some exciting initiatives and I have autonomy on certain things. My boss and my coworkers are great and our office environment is extremely laid back. I go to work in jeans every day. Facing the tribulations I used to hear people complain about is what adds to the “average Jane” feeling. I have a long commute, I sit ALL DAY (this is the hardest thing for me as I tend to become restless easily), I hit a mental block in the early afternoon and so on. Before I know it the week has flown by, it’s the weekend and it goes by in a blur.

To add to it, I used to associate myself with my Company. We were essentially one “person.” I can’t help feeling lost and stripped of a part of my identity (is this what separation anxiety feels like?). I just went to register for the Women In Tech Summit that I’m helping to organize and I lingered at the “Company” portion.  Do I input 123LinkIt? NetLine?

All in all, this transition has not been as smooth as I initially imagined. I’m left uncertain of how to label myself and I don’t like it. I pause when people ask me what I do because I don’t want to sound like another employee and I miss explaining that I work for myself. I can’t help but wonder if I can still call myself an entrepreneur even though I have a 9 to 5. If it’s simply a matter of patience and getting accustomed to my new role or if it’s a mindset I need to change within myself.

How have others handled this type of career transition? If anyone has ideas or feedback, I would love to hear it.

  • Fajr

    Love your honesty and I think this is much more common than you’d imagine. There are lots of employed people who are entrepreneurs and straddling the fence between what they do and who they are.

    I’m reading Russell Simmons book and when he sold his clothing company he stayed on to run it, so I guess that puts you in the same league as Russell Simmons. :)
    What you feel is valid and I think you should introduce or classify yourself however you want. You started a company so you’ll always be an entrepreneur… and then sold it, so that makes you pretty darn good one. 

    • Anonymous

      Haha, the same league as Russell Simmons? You know how to flatter me! I may ask you about that book next time I see you. 

      I think you’re right. I also can’t help feeling like I’m overanalyzing certain things to a degree. Part of me wants to figure out why and the other wants to convince myself I’m still the same person with a different role. I guess only time (and patience) will tell. 

  • http://twitter.com/gloriabell Gloria Bell

    I know exactly how you feel.  I went from a 25 year career, to working for myself for almost 4 years and now back to working for someone else in an agency.  The transition has not been easy, but like you, I am blessed to be working at a great company with fantastic people and work that I love. 

    The one thing I did discover over the last few months is that being an entrepreneur is as much a mindset as anything else.  The feeling of “my company and I are one” can be molded to fit into your new situation.  Having some autonomy and, more importantly input, lets you still exercise a lot of those entrepreneurial skills. 

    It took me looking at it through a different lens to find the way I felt comfortable talking about what I do. I knew that in my heart and my head, I will always be an entrepreneur. It is in my DNA.  Just like, I know it is in yours.  What I had to do was to take those elevator pitch skills and come up with my pitch for my current position. What I do now may not sound as “sexy” to my own ears as “I own my own company”, but to others, it still sounds pretty cool.  The other thing I found is that now instead of just describing myself by my job, my “pitch” includes so many other aspects of my life – the work I do with local organizations and charities for example.  I have found that the more well-rounded description prompts more conversations with a wider audience than my entrepreneur/business owner pitch ever did. 

    You are right. You are the same person, just with a different role.  Best advice – embrace the change.  You are still an entrepreneur. You are just one who has been lucky, and talented, enough to not only sell your company but be invited to still be a part of running it. 

    As far as what company you use when you have to fill in the blank. My advice, default to the one that fits the situation.  For me, some times that is both.  Company A / Company B.  Talk about a conversation starter!  

    • Anonymous

      Very well said, Gloria. You gave me a lot to think about it. Thank you for that. I’m beginning to see that I identified myself with my Company. No longer having it is triggering this self-doubt. I need to get over that mindset.

  • http://twitter.com/ryanspahn Ryan Spahn

    After having to go back into work force after 1st start-up things didn’t go well.

    I felt as I was in a box just doing web design.  With my 1st start-up I did everything and now there I was designing and then coding designs only.  No marketing, SEO, public speaking, PR, product management and everything else we do as entrepreneurs – I only did one thing – web design. 

    Needless to say I didn’t last long in those gigs and thus I’m back to doing what I enjoy the most!

    • Anonymous

      I bet. I’m sure it depends on the level of autonomy you have and how much you enjoy your new responsiblies. I’m lucky to not have that problem!

      • Tracey

        Just look at this as one phase of your career.  You will learn from this position and take that with you as you move along.  You will look back at some point and say – “wow, working here put me in position to do X, and that put me in position that got me here.”

  • Cristina Greysman

    Yasmine, I went though a very similar experience when I sold my first company. And it was hard! But hang in there. A career builds over a very long time and takes many different twists and turns.

    It’s very easy to place much, if not all, our personal identity in our job and when you go from a big-shot CEO of your own startup to “just” an employee, it can be a bit unnerving at first.

    I used to answer the question… “I’m an entrepreneur currently working at the company that just bought mine.” That typically garners some raised eyebrows and is a good conversation starter. Once you are an entrepreneur you are always one no matter whose logo is on the paycheck. :-)

    As for what company to fill out on your registration… it’s NetLine… just deal with it! 

    • Anonymous

      I like the pitch. I ended up going with 123LinkIt when I filled out my form. Maybe the next time! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/wilreynolds wilreynolds

    Could you have taken the wrong deal??  I have seen friends exit and sell to companies that still give them a LOT of flexibility with hours, running things, etc.  During the “sell” how much leverage did you have is always the biggie, right? If you wicked profitable and are being courted by several interested parties you can probably dictate to some extent a “lab” for you to work on gigs, and autonomy over “hires” for the lab as long as you hit your goals.

    I absolutely love this post b/c there is an honesty here that so many people wouldn’t admit to.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Wil, thanks for the comment and compliment. I’m actually happy with the deal. No matter what leeway I have, it’s not going to be the same as when I ran everything myself you know? I’m working on a lot of different things to help with adjusting. May be another blog entry soon!

  • http://twitter.com/philadev Philadev

    I like all these comments and think Gloria is really astute about entrepreneurial DNA and the ability to bring that DNA to any situation. I’d add that when you get acquired by people who want your talents and skills and ideas — as you were — then you can really OWN that new company too. In fact, I’d argue that that’s actually what the acquirers are looking for. 

    Employees are a dime a doz, but entreprenurial minded drivers — people who really get the business and internalize it and want to grow the shit out of it — that is those who take on the characteristics of owners — are the kind of people who make growth companies grow. Interestingly enough, they are also the ones who usually wind up owning whatever it is that they are doing whether the founded it or were brought in later AND they are also usually the ones who build real products that people want to use and who get paid for the priveledge.

    So I’d say… Flip the script. Act like an owner, be an owner, own your area of responsibility and kill it — just fucking kill it. Employees are boring. =Chris

    • Anonymous

      “Flip the script. Act like an owner, be an owner, own your area of responsibility and kill it — just fucking kill it. Employees are boring.” -> Love this. Duly noted.

  • http://twitter.com/richsedmak Rich Sedmak

    Yasmine, your honesty is great.  If you don’t mind, I’ll be honest right back:

    1) Labels disable.

    2) You should be as honest with your new employer as you are in this post.  Your interests are aligned – both you and them want you to be happy and productive. If it’s not working out, have that conversation sooner rather than later, before resentment builds.

    3) If you wake up too many days / weeks in a row now feeling unfulfilled, no amount of money is worth it.  And regardless of what your buy out agreement said, indentured servitude is illegal and even earn-outs can some times be renegotiated or transferred to consultant contacts.  Go build something that gives you purpose.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Rich, I actually talked to my Boss about this earlier in the week (won’t want this post to come across as a surprise). I’m working on some things to make the adjustments easier. As I said in another comment, it may make it into another blog post!