Six truths and lies about moving from a corporate to a start-up

Zaid Al-Qassab moved from P&G to be CMO of HouseTrip in January 2014
Zaid Al-Qassab moved from P&G to be CMO of HouseTrip in January 2014

In the first in a new series where Marketing shines a light on marketers moving from the corporate establishment to the start-up world, the CMO of HouseTrip, Zaid Al-Qassab, sorts the truths from the lies around making the switch.

In January 2014, I moved from being director of P&G's £1bn Beauty business to be CMO of HouseTrip, the online holiday rentals marketplace.

There are a lot of rumours about making the switch from a big corporate to start-up. Only half of them are true.

1. "You’ll get more done at a start-up." True.

We achieved more in three months at HouseTrip than we would have in three years in P&G. Literally. As the first marketing leader at the company I had to put in place plans for my team to conduct consumer research, identify a consumer strategy, invent a brand positioning, appoint agencies and create advertising. 

And because there was no existing process and nobody else to give "helpful input", we moved at the speed of light. We were on-air three months after I started.

2. "You’ll lack resources at a start-up." False.

If the key resource of a marketer is consumer data, then we’re swimming in it.  And this plethora of data allows us to analyse behaviour and extract insight with which to build HouseTrip’s product and campaign ideas. Sure, there’s less budget, but that gives us the exciting challenge of reaching consumers with stronger messages to get more for our money.

3. "You’ll be more agile at a start-up." True.

We can make a decision in the morning and implement it by the afternoon. But, with that comes the responsibility to stick to the strategy and not change direction every day.  With real-time data, this is a genuine temptation.

4. "You’ll be able to do whatever you want at a start-up." False.

Every business still has owners and still needs revenue and profit. Start-ups are no exception. In fact, compared to a big corporate machine, you have to get really good at making choices and they better be the right ones.

5. "You’ll innovate much faster at a start-up." True.

In consumer goods, a great idea could give a company a head-start for a year. Not in the digital world. Online speed of execution levels the playing field. At HouseTrip we can launch an innovation only to find it copied a week later. So we need far more ideas and the ability to execute them fast.

6. "You need to hack your way to growth." False.

I know I’m flying in the face of the latest trend, but I don’t agree at all. "Hacking" is throwing ideas at the wall and seeing which ones stick. That’s an expensive option because a lot gets wasted. I’m all for a little focused testing, but if you understand your consumers and develop a winning strategy you don’t call it hacking, you call it marketing.

I did that

Working at a start-up provides an amazing sense of liberation. Yes, there are risks and concerns. But, only at a start-up can you really say "We did that", and point to results that you really did see through from start to finish. So despite the ups and downs, you reap rewards in terms of job satisfaction.

The UK government’s decision to create a tech hub and support a new ‘Silicon’ community is a wise one – the companies founded today could be the big corporates of tomorrow. 

Why not get involved now when you can truly have a say in the direction of a company rather than later down the line when someone else has already shaped it?

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