From a corporate to a startup : switching ladders

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Recap a year and a half, walking into my London office with coffee in one hand, my mind would be somewhere else, wondering if office goers are willing to pay a premium price for a mobile coffee shop that would bring you a cup of fresh latte every morning to your work before you start.

I had achieved what I call a ‘Nepali dream’ of the generation before me. My parents had educated me abroad, I had spent most of life studying, working and living abroad. I had a good corporate job with a decent salary; I went on a couple of holidays a year; I dined out most evenings and I could afford to rent a very nice flat not so far from central London. In summary, unlike the generation before me, I did not have to worry about my savings, sending money ‘home’, my language skills, blending in.

I was working in a global firm with more than 14,000 associates in 35 countries around the world. Its primary services are risk management and human resource consulting. It also has strong actuarial and investment consulting practices. There were around 650 of us in the Investment department globally. It was a very well -structured company. Within Investment, the teams were divided into Client Consulting team, the client facing team; Manager Research team, who followed a consistent process to identify asset managers for our clients across different asset classes; Strategy team, investment strategy expertise team to give on high level investment advice.

I worked in a Client Consulting team as an analyst, working with all these different teams to provide our clients good, tailored services to meet their investment needs. There was a rigorous review process in place; every document we produced for the client, had to be checked by someone other than the author, reviewed by a consultant and then had to be signed off a senior consultant who is leading the client.

To the extent, there was a company ‘colour chart’ we had to use when we produced charts and the font size we had to use in our reports. To summarise, everything had a process and there was a system in place so nothing fell through a crack and the quality of our work and our professionalism was maintained.

But something did not feel right. Surely, I got this education and western exposure so my mind could be widened. Surely, there was something more I could contribute than a monthly tax in an already developed country.

Like most other returnees, I came here to gauge how and where I could contribute. I had never worked in Nepal and I felt like I had no right to complain or give my opinions about Nepali society when I had hardly spent more than three weeks of my adult life.

Coming back to the present, I am sitting with my newly acquired friends; two of them with their own new businesses. When the conversation is over, I reflect on how much I’d contributed on that subject, they were talking about labour unions and I had not realised my knowledge on the labour laws of Nepal has vastly increased. I am secretly smug.

This is the beauty of working for a startup. You learn everything yourself, there isn’t a specialist team who can just rely on. Everything has only just started. I could go to our legal expertise within Biruwa, it’s a young and fairly inexperience team and the chances are that they learning things too. There aren’t procedures and or resource set up for everything yet. However, I believe that’s the best time to work for a company, definitely where you could contribute the most and make a difference.

In a startup, there are so many things that need to be developed and I believe that’s the most fun part. This could also be frustrating at times, because feels like a task is taking longer than it should, because you are ensuring something small is done correctly. But once the procedure and the system is set up, it’ll be more efficient. Think of someone joining the company in four years’ time when the company is already established, they wouldn’t have to worry about these minor things, but they may be following procedures that you’ve created and implemented.

Another aspect of working for a startup which I enjoyed is that you end up doing many different tasks. This is a bit cliché but no one day is the same as the other. Since I joined Biruwa in January, some of my work highlights include going to Kalimati on a rainy morning to collect

the site of the company we were consulting because the staff were busy; going to pay for the advertisement we were publishing and wondering why I had to waste a whole day when things would be easier if only they had electronic money transfer in place; a radio interview we went to talk about youth in our society and how they can contribute; and attending networking event for organised by our colleagues for Udhyami Impact Fund.

Also, in the last ten months I’ve met a wide myriad of people. Entrepreneurs from all corners of Nepal and have heard their ideas and views, about their business and but sometimes about Nepal in general. Listening to their stories, their hardship, sometimes I get shivers running down my spine. I admire these people’s determination to work through, their vast knowledge, and their optimism. It’s very different to Nepali people I used to come across abroad, only picking on the negative side of Nepal. It’s very different to the views I used to have about Nepal. I don’t think this would have been possible if I was working anywhere else because the optimism that Biruwa and its family has around me has kept me in this country for as long as it has.

Compared to my previous job, where I was working behind a desk with occasional meetings with clients and managers, this feels more real. Working in a startup in Nepal allows me to contribute towards building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.

So I am so grateful for the day I decided to hand my notice in and pave my own way for rest of my future than wait for one promotion after another and be comfortable with my salary. I am grateful for the day I stumbled across Biruwa and decided to come in for a visit. I may not be earning as fat salary as my ex-colleagues but this experience has opened my horizon and I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter where I go now, and thanks to Biruwa, I will always see Nepal as a place of infinite possibilities.

As for my potential coffee mobile service, you’re just going to have to watch this space.