How To Move From Corporate To A Startup

This blog article is all about changing your career track, from the mainstream corporate world into the unpredictable, risky but highly rewarding startup world.

For many aspiring entrepreneurs working in the corporate world, this transition can be incredibly challenging, and it’s certainly not for everybody. 

In this blog, I will be sharing some of my own personal experiences of what it was like to make this transition, and also insights from Ian McCartney, co-founder of PLYTIME

Ian’s journey has seen him move from a supply chain director at Kellogg’s to startup founder of an edtech venture, so he is well equipped to provide some valuable insights into what it takes to move from corporate to startup, and the lessons he’s learned.

Where does your drive for change come from?

Regardless of who you are, the experience you have or the role you are in, working in the corporate world is always going to be a safer bet than going out on your own, so you need to have the drive to make the change.

For me, when I was working at Price Waterhouse, that drive came from two things. First, they told me I should stop playing rugby and start playing golf, which was never going to happen! Second, and perhaps on a more serious note, I reached a point where I had quite a few ideas of my own and wanted to see what I could do with them.

This meant that I was quite happy to forgo the certainty and security of a monthly pay cheque, and a career ladder, to see what was possible. 

The itch you need to scratch 

Many entrepreneurs have got their own itch that they need to scratch, and eventually, that itch will be enough to make them want to go out on their own – before it becomes a rash! For me, that materialised into setting up my own business advisory venture offering business strategy and planning services for startups. That’s where it all started.

For Ian McCartney, his transition from the corporate giant Kellogg’s started off in much the same way, with an itch he just had to scratch.

From Kellogg’s to board games

Ian McCartney: “I’d always had that drive inside me for new ideas. Even at Kellogg’s, I was always coming up with new ideas on how to improve things, and fortunately, they provided me with an environment where I could go out and do new them.

My corporate life came to a head in 2012 when I had to take quite a bit of time off to recover after struggling with Lyme disease.

During this time, I made a maths-based board game for my kids to help them learn, and shortly after, we were asked by their school to send it in for other kids to use.

I wasn’t a board game designer, and at this stage, the game didn’t look very impressive, so I had some prototypes made up. 

Before I knew it, we had the kids and the school staff asking where they could buy the game! This interest made me think we could really make a difference with this game, so, in my infinite wisdom, I agreed to invest our life savings in a container load of games from a designer in Hong Kong.”

Sowing the seeds of change

Ian McCartney: “One minute I was sitting in a boardroom in Istanbul, the next I’m sitting in a small plastic chair in a primary school with seven-year-old kids – how life had changed! 

That was where my drive came from, and from there, the seed was sown for me to really go on my own and work out a way to help kids and help education.

Those three months off turned into two and a half years, and by the time I went back to Kellogg’s, that motivation for the corporate role had gone.”

Following your passion

There are two key takeaways from Ian’s journey that I think we can all learn from. First, entrepreneurship and startups are not for everyone. You’ve got to have the right mindset and right motivation to get up and make something happen.   

Another thing is that every entrepreneur has a catalyst that sparks the change. Ian made that decision to do something he had a passion for that could make a difference, and he had the drive to make it work.

Those are the key tenets of startup founders: people who’ve got a passion and have the right mindset and motivation to make a difference in the world. 

Even if you have all these traits in spades, as Ian McCartney does, it’s inevitable that you are going to run into obstacles and face challenges when transitioning into the startup world.

I asked Ian to share some of the challenges he faced in his journey:

Forsaking corporate comforts

Ian McCartney: “One of the initial challenges when leaving corporate is leaving behind a good salary and structured supporting environment. The older you get, the harder these things are to leave because you get used to that sort of lifestyle and you have a lot of responsibilities to look after. 

People thought I was absolutely bonkers when I left Kellogg’s, but it was the most natural thing in the world to want to leave. 

So I think overcoming the barriers of the people who think you’re nuts is quite a big challenge.”

Finding the right people

Ian McCartney: “Another challenge is accepting the fact that you can’t do it on your own. It’s vital that you find people who believe in that idea as much as you do and are willing to help you and back you.

Also, finding the right people for your startup is very different to hiring in the corporate world.

In a corporate, you hire people for a specific job, and you know what they’re going to do in that job. In a startup, you’re hiring more on cultural fit and personality and figuring out if they can add value in different ways, because you don’t really know what the job is going to be, and the job can change.

You want someone who’s going to support you, and if the business goes a little bit left, they come with you – that flexibility is key.”

Some things to consider before taking the plunge

So, before any of you working in corporate pack it up in exchange for a startup, consider the following:

  • Can you envisage a life where you are responsible for everything?
  • Can you walk away from that security that your corporate job brings?
  • Have you really got the motivation and the mindset of an innovator?

Remember, startup life isn’t about the money and it’s not for everybody, so make sure you’ve thought it through before taking the plunge.

I hope that was useful!

To get in touch with Ian McCartney, feel free to head over to

You can also listen to the full conversation on moving from corporate to a startup by checking out episode 21 of our podcast “From the Factory Floor”. Alternatively, for any information about setting up your tech startup, feel free to email me at 

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