Working as a scientist in a laboratory, I have spent more than a decade in the academic environment. In 2014, I decided to enter the startup world and launch Karmagenes with the help of a great and diverse team. I was recently invited in University of Lausanne (where I obtained my PhD) to share my experiences in the academic world and how i made the transistion to the startup world. Thus, I thought it would be great to further elucidate my views on this transition.
Let’s start with a simple question. When do you become your own boss in academia ? It’s probably when you finally get a professorship position. In contrast, when you launch a startup you are the boss from day 1. That comes with some pros and cons. Firstly, if you decide to get involved in the creation of a startup, you need to make and execute quick decisions (right or wrong….) and regardless of the outcome you have to deal with the consequences of these decisions and move on. In academia, you may work for a single experiment for more than a year, you cannot really decide to leave it or not and you probably complain all the time about how and why it’s not working 🙂
Show me the money! While establishing a startup you might dream of billions- especially if you plan to engage with serious Venture Capitals early on- however you will not see any real money for at least 2-3 years. In academia, whether you’re a PhD, Postdoc, or general researcher you are still able to pay your bills on time whereas as an entrepreneur you may struggle financially. However, on the flip side, you get to meet a diverse group of successful people who started from the bottom who encourage you to keep going. These people/executives listen to you and as they have been through similar situations, you learn quickly. In Academia, it takes a while to earn the respect of professors and talk freely with them. Till then, you may work in the same envirnoment for a long time but you never really talk to them! Academics generally tend to be more reserved although should be the opposite!
Another major difference is that academic ‘’revenue’’ is counted in research and published papers while in the startup world, revenue is counted in product development and market applications.
One thing that I love about academia is that you are aware of new trends, viral videos and new argot/slang since you hang out with very young people and students. Your mind stays fresh and relaxed. As a young startup person you have to be aware of all new technologies that exist right now or will in the next years. Your mind needs to work 24/7 since the competition is very high and you have to deal with very demanding senior people, professionally speaking.
My favorite part! If you ask a ‘’stupid’’ question in an academic environment I used to get the feeling that people would think I am ‘’stupid’’. Academics can be pompous sometimes. On the other hand, asking a stupid question in the startup world might make you a multibillionaire. A good example is the website Airbnb who started out by asking the question ‘we’ve run out of money, can we rent out our air matresses?’.
As an overall conclusion, you have to ask yourself: Do you prefer spending the rest of your life with a 3kb protein (meaning a very specific topic) in a ‘’stable’’ environment or deal with sales, marketing, negotiations, IPO, shareholder agreements and uncertainty on a daily basis ? That’s the million dollar question! 🙂
What are the most striking differences between Academia and Startup world according to you?
ps: there is never a winner or a loser. You choose which path to follow based on what you prefer!