Running a Start Up vs Working for a Multinational

This week, I had an opportunity to be a speaker at the Nocash event in Bucharest, Romania. I am always grateful for chances like that, – because of the conversations they bring and because the other presenters introduce topics, or certain angles of topics, I did not think about before. (And I like presenting, too, fine). As every respectable event in the Financial Services industry these days, Nocash was largely about the Open API Economy – which ultimately means fintechs. Watching many of them in the room and on the stage, I could not help thinking about my own experience of running a company, and, listening to the Nocash fintechs stories, comparing my past to my current situation: starting a business versus working for a multinational.

Funny enough, most people do these two things in the reverse order: start in large corporations and then switch to their own business. So I thought I would lay out my two experiences, comparing them on a number of parameters that matter to me in a wholeheartedly biased way.

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MBA: Is It Worth It?

Recently, a 6 year old post popped up on my Facebook page.

“…is homeless, looking for a job, is not tied to any country, and somehow it all feels positive and full of potential. And smells like an adventure, of course :))”.

Good thing these Facebook reminding posts: marking our lives with milestones, highlighting the way we have made so far, connecting our present with our past. So six years ago, I was, indeed, homeless in the traditional sense of the word, with my stuff parked across St Petersburg, Helsinki and Istanbul, looking for a job that would allow me to stay in Europe. I was at my parents’ home in South Korea. Vicky and I have just decided to close the company we were running for four years. I was thinking what’s next.

And then I went to INSEAD.

That year costed me a bit less than 100,000 EUR: in housing, some books, lots of coffee, tuition fees and (very moderate, for INSEAD standards) travels. Not to mention the infamous opportunity cost, that mythical unpaid annual salary, which you always include in your calculations after MBA studies. In more than a way, it has catapulted me into the life I am living now. So was it worth it?

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Surviving the Flying

My life is a serious case of wanderlust. I fly for work two weeks out of three, and then when I have a holiday, a few days off, or even a weekend, I fly again: to discover the world. In my head, I try to punctuate all this flying with rest and some basic recovery. In practice, tough, I think about every of these trips separately and every one of them seems productive (for work) or fantastic (for discovery missions). So I sometimes find myself in situations when I have back-to-back flights to Singapore for 4 days, then back to Paris for 5 hours, then directly to Seattle for 3 days and then back to Paris again, still thinking whether I should change my ticket and stop by New York to spend a weekend with my best friend. (True story.)

How do I deal with all this flying and manage to live a relatively normal life and to look relatively ok (I would like to think)? Some of you asked me this and so I am sharing some hard-won wisdom. I literally never write about beauty and health tips, so leave me a sign in comments, even such simple as +, for me to know that you are interested in the topic.

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Relationships, Joint Ventures and Other Investments

Many of my friends are men. It has been like that for all my life and maybe, just maybe, there is a reason for it. (I have a few very close girlfriends as well. But man, you don’t want to mess with these girls.)

Contrary to a popular belief, men like to talk. As a friend, I often become a landing point of their views on life, love and marriage. And everything in between. When I first heard, a very long time ago from a very good friend of mine, that he is seeing people outside of his marriage, I was not sure how to take it. Some good-girl values struggled with reality for a while, but then I figured out (quite selfishly, I admit) that what mattered to me was that he was a great friend and his lose morals were his personal business. I asked why, though. I am a curios person (which often is a cause of many of my life’s problems). He told me that he and his wife had nothing to talk about anymore. He did not think she was interesting as a person. “Yeah, right”, – I thought back then, cross-checking in my mind the photo of his last catch to that of his wife (and you thought men do not share photos?). Whatever.

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Some Personal Q&As: The Sunshine Blogger Award 2.0

Recently I have been living what – I am being kindly reminded about it – is my usual work life, with 2.5 flights a week being an optimistic average and Monday-Friday completely blocked by meetings, emails, business dinners and endless to-do lists. My spring resolutions about keeping the mind aspect of life in balance and regularly setting some time off for my creative hobbies are fading away to allow for sleep, some family time (and weekend trainings – work ones, of course). It’s all fun, games and I love it. But leaves me literally no time for anything else.

And somewhere in the middle of all that I am getting a WordPress notification about being nominated for the The Sunshine Blogger Award 2.0! From, symbolically, Little Sunshine, who herself is one huge leap of inspiration. Her catching enthusiasm has totally bought me, so I am pushing my (work) trainings aside (I am going to discover Berlin this weekend and won’t be able to do them at my usual timeline!) and doing something I don’t normally do: taking some personal Q&As.

For those of you who I am nominating – because I manage to read your blogs even when I work and travel – for The Sunshine Blogger Award 2.0., here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Answer the questions from the person who has nominated you
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award
  4. Write the same amount of questions for the bloggers you have nominated
  5. Notify the bloggers you nominated

Now, to the personal Q&As.

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Quitting Sugar and Other Happiness Hacks

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It was a fantastic summer. Parents visited for almost a month, and I took them to the coldest place in France I could find, Bretagne (such was their wish). The next weekend we spent discovering Brussels and Bruges, a small city in Belgium that was on my travel map for a long time. Mom and Dad were happy. The same day I left them at Charles de Gaulle, properly escorted by all the priority lines I have access to, Louveteau and I took off to our own adventure, to St Petersburg and Moscow and then to Athens and Santorini. A few weeks later, we closed the summer in Croatia, in between Dubrovnik, the setting of The Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing, and the island of Lopud. I was breathing sun, summer, salt water and the distinct spirit of adventure.

And all this time, in the background, I was working on my happiness project. You might wonder, what’s there to work on during the summer holidays, when everything around inspires happiness. Time economics. I am a big believer of doing things when you can afford doing them versus when you need them to be done and all the alarm systems are on. I knew that when the work fully restarts after summer, it will probably take 90% of my focus and my most ambitious aspiration would be to have some kind of control over it. It is true: with my next week’s schedule looking like Croatia –> Geneva –> Paris –> Prague –> Moscow –> Paris, the time my happiness hacks becomes very limited.

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When You Don’t Get What You Want (Like A Job)

I really like my job. I work in tech, I drive innovation, I change things for the better. I see the results of what I do. My customers come from the industry probably the most on fire for this change, not to find themselves out of business tomorrow. I work for a multi-area, I travel a lot, I meet great people. Colleagues, customers and partners.

Yet a few months ago I applied for another job. As it has always been the case with me, I was not looking for one. However, a position in Western Europe (another multi-area) has opened up for exactly the same role, and I saw it as a great opportunity. I would work with customers and partners at a different maturity stage, I would have new challenges, I would learn from new brilliant people. And it would strike my passion of geographies: I would reconnect with the Nordics and get to know new cultures. It just felt right, 101%. From the moment I learnt about this role, I knew I should go for it.

So I did. I thought that my interviews went well, but then learnt that the hiring manager changed his search criteria and was now looking for a different profile. That happens.

It does feel bad not to get what you want, for sure. Especially if you are generally used to winning. Winning most of the times makes good salesmen, entrepreneurs and other risk takers. It also does make bad losers. It stings not to get what you want. Especially when you are 101% sure that’s the right thing.

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