Wake up and smell the startup
Before I begin, I`d like to apologize for not posting in ages. The reason for my absence has much to do with the title and subject of this post. Some of you know that I am the CEO of Epilogger Inc. and that has been consuming most of my time and passion over the last long while. We`re heading toward to final leg of an accelerator program we`re involved in and, naturally, that means we are busy as can be. In fact, ever since my founding of the company that`s generally been the case.
What`s been running around my mind is what I`ve been hearing discussed around me about “part time startups” vis-a-vis conventional wisdom and mentorship that I`ve heard and received from other successful entrepreneurs and potential investors. The conventional wisdom is, in the words of Ken Seto at his AndroidTO panel, “There is no other way to do this other than full time.” I remember standing there listening to the panel and thinking that it was a tough pill to swallow. Images of insolvency, instability and uncertainty began to float into my imagination, painting a rather grim picture of what it meant to be a startup founder. Was that really the price one has to pay for their shot at realizing their dream? The answer is “yes.” It doesn’t have to be grim though.
It took months to sink in, and, admittedly, while I still had Epilogger taking up much of my mental bandwidth, I was still applying for jobs, answering emails from headhunters and going to interviews for high-paying positions. I figured I could do both a full time job and Epilogger at the same time and the truth is, I probably could, because I can multitask fairly well. However try telling that to potential investors, clients, or partners and I can just about guarantee they will send you packing. These people all do what they do full time and want to meet during normal hours and pretty much assume you’ve taken the same plunge as they have. Basically the assumption is that you have skin in the game and have invested not only your own money into your dream, but your heart and mind. The simple logic is, from say an investor’s view, is “Why should I invest in him if he is not invested in his own company?” From the client’s or partner’s perspective, it puts you, the entrepreneur, at a disadvantage in negotiations when they see you have something to lose, namely your job because likely you’re meeting these people on your lunch break and will be found out sooner or later. If you have to go to go abroad for a series of meetings, that’s one hell of a long lunch break.
There are some arguments to the contrary where stories exist of a number of people who began to build a business while working for someone else and some may have succeeded, but I find myself hard pressed to believe that they were able to do so without seriously jeopardizing their jobs or job performance. At some point, they all had to leave their jobs to get to the next level. There’s always a tipping point at which you must take the risk and bet on yourself and your dream for better or worse. A big part of the reason why the restaurant/hospitality industry is full of aspiring actors and singers and so on (live for a while in NYC like I did and they’re everywhere) is because those jobs offer them some degree of latitude (i.e. days off in a part-time schedule) to be able to make it to that audition at 9am on a Tuesday. They’re betting on their future, not a career in food service, and I have mountains of respect for them.
However, in the tech startup world, the typical situation is that entrepreneurs start off with white collar jobs as developers, marketing or project managers, or business development and are tired of working for someone else. It’s difficult, however, to just get tired of having enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table and most of the time, your white collar boss needs you for the full 8 hours (or more!) every day and sometimes on weekends. There comes a time when you have to make the hard decision to leave your security behind and take the plunge. That time is usually when your side startup either interferes with your job or your job interferes with your startup (i.e. you’re too tired from work to work on your business after hours).
There are no part-time rockstars, orators, or part time founders of truly successful businesses. All the people we admire from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg made their choice, even if it meant dropping out of Harvard, against the better wisdom of their peers to pursue something truly special. You can fit the mold and get your degree, get your job, get married and get buried, but if you want to change the world, you won’t do it at your cubicle.
Until you’ve made that choice, and taken that risk, you’re just a worker bee with delusions of grandeur. Wake up and smell the startup.