Navigating the Transition: From Fortune 500 to Consulting Startup
Updated: Oct 30
Making the transition from the large, structured, and well-established entity of a Fortune 500 to a consulting startup, where it was just my MBA classmate and I, has been a thrilling experience of change and uncertainty. This leap required embracing that change, a mindset shift, wearing multiple hats, and creativity with resources. A year into this adventure, I’d like to share some of my experiences along with some of the better parts of working as a startup with people I trust and respect.
Before getting into it, I want to bring a bit of context to not only what we do at THAMPICO, but also why we do it. We are a consulting practice that specializes in program and project management disciplines, focusing on the rapidly growing and changing energy sector. But the more important aspect is the why.
While we recognize that the world needs and wants more renewable energy, we believe the only way to achieve this is if it can be provided efficiently, reliably, and affordably. That’s why we support organizations that are developing and distributing sustainable and affordable energy.
However, that’s only half of the whys. The other half is a perfect alignment of values that my business partner and I share; values that include doing what is right, not just saying it – that even more important than profit is treating each other and those that join us on this journey in the right way. We strive to be a “lifestyle business” and earn work that makes our communities, our society, and our world, a better place.
Life at Fortune 500 companies is often characterized by well-defined processes, established organizational structures, and an abundance of resources. We are equipped with comprehensive toolkits to manage our work across multiple teams and functions.
A transition to a startup project management consulting firm requires a readiness to embrace change, more specifically, detaching yourself from corporate comfort and accepting a life of hustle. Startups operate on the principle of agility and iteration, forcing one to pivot rapidly in response to any situation, including market shifts, funding constraints, and evolving priorities.
In the short one-year life of our company, we’ve already pivoted at least a handful of times. We have targeted the public sector, public utilities, manufacturing enterprises, and software implementation. We’ve hired and let go of employees. We’ve moved offices twice and rebranded twice. And now, we have narrowed our focus to energy project developers. One thing’s for sure, we must continue to be nimble and adapt ourselves to provide the most value to our clients.
In the past, I relied on structured methodologies and established frameworks to guide my projects. Today, the rulebook is more of a guideline. Being a startup requires a shift from a structured mindset to adaptive problem-solving. The ability to think on your feet, innovate, and develop creative plans as we go is essential. We’ve all heard it before, that amidst uncertainty, we must view challenges as opportunities. The biggest difference is rather than following established standardized processes, we can come up with solutions that are tailored for specific clients in their respective sectors – all of which can vary drastically in size, personnel, resources, and goals. The structure of my past roles in larger companies equipped me with the tools ready to be deployed in the right situation.
Wearing Multiple Hats
One of the most significant shifts in my transition to a startup is the requirement to wear multiple hats. In the corporate world, professionals often specialize in specific roles and functions, but startups demand versatility. Right now, I play the part of a project manager, operations manager, human resources, CFO, IT, among others. Our consultants at THAMPICO often find themselves performing tasks beyond their traditional job descriptions, such as market research, process development, and business development.
Success is dictated by their multidisciplinary approach to learn quickly and foster a deeper understanding of not only our business, but also the businesses of our clients.
We also wear multiple hats to cover for each other. As we work to be a lifestyle business, we’re constantly looking for ways to be productive and effective no matter where we are around the globe. The ability for everyone on the team to support one another is crucial. This allows for situations like this past summer, where our CEO can backfill for me on client related work while visiting family in Asia. Our goal is to nurture a sustainable business while also being able thrive in our personal lives.
In startups, resource constraints are the norm, drastically differing from Fortune 500 companies where ample resources and budgets are often available to fuel projects and growth. We now must master the art of doing more with less. Creative problem-solving is essential as we have to find innovative ways to achieve project goals within limited budgets and timelines.
I used to manage project teams with dozens of team members over the course of a couple years at a time, fully dedicated to each project. At THAMPICO, we must be mindful of how many clients and projects we engage, while balancing the need to develop a bench in anticipation of future work.
Scaling consulting work is always a challenge and we try to deploy our resources wisely. One of the ways we’ve addressed this is by outsourcing certain non-client-related work so we can focus our internal resources on providing solutions for our clients.
In conclusion, transitioning from Fortune 500 company disciplines to a consulting startup is a daring leap that requires embracing change, a profound mindset shift, wearing multiple hats, and the ability to thrive in resource-constrained environments. The journey might be challenging, but it is also immensely rewarding. The skills honed in a structured corporate setting—such as process management and stakeholder communication—can be integrated with the agility and creativity demanded by startups.
If you find yourself navigating a similar transition, remember that each obstacle is a chance to grow, and each success is a testament to your adaptability and resilience in the face of change.
This post was written by Sam Chao, Partner at THAMPICO LLC, a consulting firm that provides program and project management support for utilities and cooperatives. We help our clients align people, process, and technology to produce optimal outcomes for energy project development. Our goal is to help our clients deliver more reliable, affordable, and clean energy, which is what the world wants and needs.