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10 Lessons From 10 Corporate Years and How to Apply Them in Startups

Alin Breaban sitting on a desk in front of a laptop in an office
Image credit: Alin Breaban is the CEO and co-founder of Vestinda

Alin Breaban is the CEO and co-founder of Vestinda, a crypto trading platform from Romania.

Alin Breaban is the CEO and co-founder of Vestinda, a crypto trading platform from Romania. After ten years of working in the corporate world, leading product and engineering efforts for a global financial platform, he’s closing the chapter by reflecting on ten corporate lessons he learned over the years and how he will use the knowledge to build his fintech startup. 

1. Companies don’t build things, people do

The team always comes first, ahead of management policies, KPIs, OKRs, and other corporate acronyms. Acknowledging team and individual achievements, helping people grow, genuinely being interested in their future and motivation, and empowering them, are key factors in leading the path to accomplishing objectives. 

Essentially, prioritizing human-centricity rather than employee-centricity is the way to go.

2. Have clarity on your vision

Make sure everyone knows where your company is heading and how it relates to their department and day-to-day work. Align it with all relevant stakeholders and get action items from each. Then break it down into smaller goals that guide the organization and individuals towards the larger vision. 

For the spiritual ones, this works more like setting an intention. Good enough to call out for the universe.

3. Make time for strategic thinking and optimize for the outcome

In my early days leading product and engineering for a platform transacting billions of dollars, I was optimizing for input. Having 5 calendar entries at the same time or working 16 hours a day made me feel productive and valuable. That was just a distraction, though. I was running away from the fact that I did not know what to do in my role. 

Focusing more on the strategic decisions made a difference for me, the product, and the team. And it was a cornerstone of my career. Now, as a founder with very few resources, I must also learn to narrow down and be laser-focused.

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4. Build frameworks, systems, and processes

Building frameworks, systems, and processes give a sense of clarity and stability to everyone on board. Plus, it improves performance by minimizing waste and errors while optimizing for the outcome. In a startup, one may argue that achieving this structure is not easily doable. Having a two weeks iteration on your product development or marketing experimentation strategies is already a framework that helps hugely. 

5. You are not alone. Rely on your team

Someone wise said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I was always part of a team, from being a handball player to being part of a team in the corporate world to being part of Vestinda. Learning to play each person’s strengths is breaking math: 1+1 always equals more than 2 in a team. 

6. Listen to everyone and ask for help

Your organization, team, and customers always know the answer. When lost or in doubt, source the wisdom of the crowd and you will know how to move forward. Listen with an open mind and an open heart. 

7. Seek mentors and educate yourself

I craved time with people who were better than me. Having the chance to meet great people and experts in their fields from tens of different countries was one of the most amazing things I obtained in the last decade in the corporate world. I learned from each of them and some became my mentors. Continuously educating yourself is the foundation of a better self. 

8. Sickening work ethic

Well, it’s just a figure of speech. Of course, you need to stay healthy, take time off from working, and celebrate wins. All the good things your guru teaches you. But we all know that overnight success stories take a long time, so you better be prepared and patiently harvest the 1% increments. 

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9. Have a succession plan

In life, everything comes to an end, including jobs. Even if it feels like a difficult breakout, the grief will be easier to bear when you know what you built is in good hands. 

10. Change is good

I’ll end up my corporate lessons list with a reflection on how to embrace change. Even if leaving the corporate world may feel like a separation, ripping off the bandage is only a new beginning. Learning by doing is always preferred and being a startup founder is a character-building experience. Embrace the uncertainty, take a leap of faith, and trust that your mindset will improve radically. 

Looking forward to another 10 years, building great products with the right people and making the world a better place. And if fantasy creatures show up down the road, that’s gonna be just the by-product of all the experiences from the past decade.

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