Startups: Workers Take a Chance on Benefits

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Sep. 6, 2010 12:00 am  

Some folks are willing to leave behind corporate salaries and benefits. Pathagility co-founder and CEO Mark McCuin said he was drawn to the energy of starting something new after a long and successful corporate career with Fidelity Information Services and USAble Life. He won't be able to offer a benefits package to prospective employees, or even himself - at least not right away. "As we look to add to the team in the future, I believe we'll be able to sell the experience of being part of a startup," he said. "We'll be looking for people that have a founder's mentality. Individuals with this attribute don't place as high a priority on the specifics of the benefit package."

McCuin's software-as-a-service firm is considered one of central Arkansas' more promising and is presenting at the prestigious Arkansas Venture Forum on Sept. 15. He said his decision to leave USAble may not have been logical, but has been fulfilling.

Acumen Holdings CEO John James gave up not just a great corporate job to chase his dream; he gave up a medical practice. James helped launch Farmington Family Clinic in 2004 after completing a family practice residency. But soon afterwards, he answered the call of entrepreneurship. Acumen, a Fayetteville e-commerce company, began with one online shop, ScrubShopper.com, and has three more up and running: ToughWeld.com, TheBabyHabit.com and HotStuffChemicals.com.

The firm plans to open 10 more by the end of the year and go public in the next five years. James, founder Terry Turpin and Acumen's current management team have been involved with projects generating revenue of about $50 million.

So why slum it as a doctor?

None of Acumen's 30 full-time employees is over the age of 40, and thanks to the firm's recent growth, each of them now enjoys a full benefits package.

Acumen is, of course, the exception. James hired Green five years ago - Green was employee No. 3 - with limited benefits and a dream. He understands that startups have to sometimes get creative to overcome the pull of better money and more robust perks.

"First, we try to create upside for every employee," James said. "Getting in on the ground floor of a rapidly growing company can catapult a young, aggressive employee's career to levels they simply couldn't reach in a larger organization in a similar time period. When joining a startup, the upfront risk is high, but the long-term reward can be great if the company succeeds."

Green is a 27-year-old Walton Business College graduate who didn't think he fit the "corporate mold" when he graduated. It's likely he could have interned at and eventually been hired by one of northwest Arkansas' corporate giants after finishing school. But a family connection led him to James, whose pitch was true. And now Green is about to become a minority owner of the firm. While he didn't want to reveal just how much of a minority owner he'll be, Green said his salary at Acumen is now on par with what he could be making at Wal-Mart corporate after five years.

From the start, Green handled every detail of the firm's shipping, supply chain and customer service - an almost overwhelming amount of work for someone three weeks out of college. He knows he never could have accrued the same level of experience at a corporate office in anywhere near the same amount of time.

"The breadth of learning in a startup is amazing," Amerine said. "As a founder or early entrant, you have to learn every aspect of the business - cold. This provides an education in what really matters in a fashion no large company can match. To be both specialist and generalist gives the early-stage entrepreneur an education that compresses seven years of education or big-company time into one year."

And that's how it played out for Green. Which worked out well for him - he and his wife just welcomed their first child, a son. Children tend to bump things like higher salaries and family health coverage up the priority chain, even for young idealists.

 

 

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