Big Corporate to Data Exchange Startup Transition Story
Q&A With Ben Johnson, Chief of Staff at Harbr
How would you describe your transition as chief of staff at a tier-one bank to a small start-up?
I would say it is both really easy and really hard. It’s easy because I instantly loved it and getting to work in a small organisation where you can get stuff done. I love working on a shared mission I felt passionately about, and with an incredible group of human beings. The hard part is because it was very different, and some of my ‘big company’ habits were not effective in a startup – especially around planning and execution.
Why did you decide to make that transition to Harbr?
A combination of the idea (I had lived the problem that Harbr solves); the people (one of the founders was one of my all-time favorite colleagues); and on a personal level feeling ready to swap big company life to help grow a company from the ground up.
What would you say has been the greatest challenge and how did you overcome it? Can you give an example?
The greatest challenge has been shaking off those big company habits, and flexing the right approach for the right time in a startup. In a big company you get used to doing things a certain way – you figure out what is successful, repeat and hone. In a startup, things move so fast, what works for you at one point in time doesn’t work a couple of months later. So you learn to be really thoughtful about what you’re looking to achieve in any given situation – or as Gary always asks, ‘what problem are you solving?’
In my 2nd or 3rd month, I (unsolicited) produced a 12-month plan for the company, step-by-step, month-by-month. With hindsight, it was at a point where we really didn’t know what the next month would bring – and with hindsight it was me looking for a kind of ‘big company comfort blanket’. Gary laughed it out of the office; my feelings were hurt; and I realised he was absolutely right!
What advice would you give to someone joining an early-stage startup?
For someone thinking of joining an early-stage startup: think really clearly about what it’s like, and whether that suits you. It tends to be quite binary whether they are hugely appealing, or just appalling! (E.g. Do you see it as the freedom to do great things or an intolerable lack of structure.)
Most simply put, the mission and the people. It is great to see the company grow and evolve, while keeping the reasons I joined Harbr still top at mind. If you are interested in joining Harbr, visit our careers page.
About Ben Johnson
Ben’s career prior to becoming the Chief of Staff at Harbr has varied. He started his career in law at a big corporate law firm for a number of years. He then worked within counter-terrorism in government and foreign affairs, which was always a passion of his. He then transitioned into creating a financial crime investigations function to prevent problems within global money laundering, which brought Ben to the world of data and eventually, Harbr.