Microsoft exec turned founder: 6 things you need to know if you want to ditch corporate life for a start-up

Jensen Harris, right, in the Textio office
Photo courtesy Textio

Jensen Harris worked for Microsoft for 16 years. He joined the company after graduating from college and lead the design and development of well-known products including Microsoft Office and Windows.

He was, for a decade and a half, steeped in corporate culture.

Then, three and a half years ago, the tech executive left Microsoft to co-found Textio, an augmented writing platform (software that help writers chose the best language for stronger communication).

Harris tells CNBC Make It via email that he jumped ship because he knew he couldn't build his product in a big company environment. It's hard for large corporations to "take a risk and bet deeply on a new unproved product category," he explains.

Now, his Seattle-headquartered start-up has 75 employees and clients like Cisco, Slack, the NBA, Intel, Expedia, Bloomberg and Johnson and Johnson. (Textio declines to share revenue numbers.)

And Harris has learned a thing or two about start-up life. In series of tweets, published in April, he revealed what he wishes he'd known before leaving the corporate world.

His first tweet, giving advice for "Microgoogfaceforceazon" (Microsoft, Google, Facbook, etc.) employees looking to make a change, has been "favorited" more than 5,600 times.

Here's what Harris has to say:

1. You're going to make less money at first

If cash is your first priority, don't go to a start-up. "Seriously… it's ok. Startups are not for everyone," Harris says.

2. Your resume should highlight experiences beyond just your corporate role

Internal corporate awards don't mean much to the rest of the world, says Harris.

3. When interviewing at a start-up, it's crucial to talk about yourself, not your team

That doesn't mean you should take credit for what you didn't do, says Harris. Be clear about your contribution.

4. Curiosity to learn new things is crucial

"Your company is not in control of your learning. Prove that you're curious by actions, not words," says Harris.

5. A start-up wants someone who can produce, not just manage

If you don't want "to be on the frontlines," then keep your corporate gig, says Harris.

6. You shouldn't apologize for your time in the corporate world — you have some great experience

Harris says leaving a big company to join a start-up can be a breath of fresh air personally and professionally, as long as you are aware of what you are doing and why.

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