Start-Ups

The long, dark road of launching a startup while working full-time

For many founders, the idea to launch a startup hits them while they are still employed, and a lot goes into maintaining balance.

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Image: iStockphoto/everythingpossible

For many founders the question of leaving a full-time job to pursue their startup is not so much a question of "if," but a question of "when." Regardless, there is often a time of overlap, where your two worlds collide and you are stuck between the working full-time at the day job you have and working full-time at the job you built.

"Many startups begin as ideas while the founders are in other jobs, but the focus and attention needed to turn an idea into a company generally requires full-time and full mindshare," said Alex Oppenheimer, an associate at New Enterprise Associates. "When that transition is made depends on a number of factors. The work style of the founder(s) in conjunction with the type of company they are building can make it possible for founders to maintain other jobs for a longer period of time before they go full-time."

Still, some founders decide to make a go at maintaining both a full-time job and a startup. Entrepreneurs are inundated with the advice of pursuing their passion on nights and weekends until something sticks.

But, what if something never sticks?

Here are some considerations to make if you are thinking of dedicating your nights and weekends to making your startup dreams a reality.

Manage your relationships

The first step in this process is breaking the news. You'll need to be as transparent as possible with your spouse, your partner, and especially your boss.

"First, learn about your company's moonlighting, outside activity and/or financial disclosure policy. Certain industries including law, finance or government may require prior approval for outside activities," said Keith Alexander Ashe, CEO of Spendology.

"Learn what the process is. Keep in mind that you should be strategic and cognizant of the politics of telling your boss you want to start a business," he said. "You may want to wait a while if you are in a new position. Also, you most likely may not be able to start a business that involves your current job role or competes with your company's products and services. A suggestion is to start your business off as a hobby to test the waters and then ask permission when the time is right,"

This is essential as a first step because you know that there will be no ramifications from your current employer, as long as you keep working hard. It also helps to set expectations in your home and among your friends that, at least for a while, this is something that will be taking up a lot of your time.

Managing your time

Time management will be the single most important consideration you will need to make when deciding whether or not you can juggle jobs. it's important because it affects your personal life as well as your professional life. Kevin Smith learned this as he set out to found seedchange.

"I learned that while it's really hard to manage a career and family at the same time, adding a startup to the mix is an impossible dream," Smith said. "For several months I spent nights and weekends in the garage researching, thinking through, mocking up and developing crude versions of the product we ultimately launched, but it meant never seeing my kids awake and it was difficult to make real progress without devoting the best hours of the day to the startup. "

It will be difficult to maintain your current relationships if you choose to add a startup to your life in addition to a full-time job. Startups often require more of your energy and, ultimately, more passion. You must be careful that you don't empty yourself of that creative energy that you could be putting into your relationships. David Eberli works full-time at a Swiss security company and while he has trouble maintaining a social life, he also works to find a balance at his day job.

"Another challenge is that I still do a good full-time job. Sometimes it can happen that I have [startup] meetings during normal business times. But there I'm very lucky that I can manage my working time very [flexibly]," Eberli said.

Time is a resource, and you still need to work hard at your day job if that is a job you want to fall back on.

Managing your money

The biggest positives of maintaining a full-time job and founding a startup? "Income and cash flow for your business," Ashe said. "Depending on your corporate structure your personal income can also help with qualifying for financing."

Depending on your market, it can be difficult to get funding without a minimum viable product and your salary can help you get there. Bear in mind, however, that any money you put towards your startup comes out of your personal budget. Still, it's better to have than the lack of funds you'll have if you quit your full-time job.

"Our household income dropped 70% when I quit BlackRock [his full-time job] but we'd planned for the exit a year before I left, saving and cutting expenses in order to reduce the shock," Smith said "The difference in reactions was instant: People took us more seriously, probably even more than many founders because they recognized that we were mid-career and had jettisoned significant roles, titles, salaries and bonuses to start a company in a garage. Even in Silicon Valley, that's not the norm."

Do all of the research you can to determine what you need to stay afloat and what you can put towards your startup. It will be a lean season, so you will need to make some sacrifices.

Deciding when to throw in the towel

Some founders decide to keep working while running their startup full-time, but that is the exception and not the rule. If you want to raise outside funding, and give your startup a real shot at making it, you will need to dedicate all of your time to it.

"I always advise founders to make up their minds to go full-time as soon as possible. Until then it's just a weekend project, not a company," Smith said. "That takes planning, often negotiation with a spouse, financial adjustment and re-alignment of expectations (no family vacations to Europe, for example—or anywhere else we can't use airline miles and hotel points), as well as open discussion and agreement with co-founders. Occasionally I've seen a team of founders divide up responsibilities early on so that one or more continues working in a day job in order to help fund the rest of the team. That can work but it sets up potential conflict without detailed agreement by the entire team on dates, numbers, management roles and ownership percentages."

The truth is that, much like what happened to Smith, people will not take you seriously until you are a full-time founder. The startup life is difficult, but it is infinitely more difficult as an addition to an already full life.

When asked what advice he had for people looking to found a startup while working full-time, Eberli said, "My recommendation is to not do it unless is really necessary."

Life as a startup founder is a consuming one, and few people are cut out for it. Even fewer are cut out to juggle the stress of trying to carry on a normal everyday life at the same time.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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