Balancing A Job And A Startup
Updated: Oct 30, 2020
There are a lot of ways to bootstrap a company. In the early days of building a product, this often means that we’re working a day job to fund a startup we’re passionate in. We’re hedging our bets with the day job so we don’t burn through our savings while we’re validating or finishing a product. But we’re serving two masters now. Or more, once friends, family, and other responsibilities are taken into account.
We do need to be careful though. If we choose to keep our day job while also running a startup, then let's go through a few tips to help with that journey.
Document The Vision
We started the journey of building something new for a reason. Put the inspiration on paper. Describe the why in ways others can understand. And test that with strangers to make sure it resonates. We are not on a simple journey. It will be hard. Staying conscious of why we’re doing this thing helps keep the drive alive and keep us from just spinning our wheels trying to find the right project to give our attention to.
By serving so many masters, we run the risk of not being any good at any of the things we’re working on. This might mean alienating friends, stressing familial relationships, or getting fired from that day job. If we want to build a business, we will need to sacrifice something. But what? That’s for each of us to decide and it should be done deliberately. Some investors think the day job has to go immediately so we can focus on the startup. But keep in mind this increases the risk, sometimes significantly.
The shiny new thing can really take over our lives if we let it. Once we have our priorities straight, it’s time to get to doling out time, based on those priorities. The day job will likely occupy a large chunk of time. Family and friends would rather be put more on a schedule than just lose our attention entirely. And then there’s the startup. The passion project. By sandboxing the time for the startup this way, we make sure not to let the rest of our life slip through our fingers.
Stick With A Minimum Valuable Product
What is the minimum amount of work to get something out in the market, that satisfies the Vision we documented earlier? We don’t necessarily want to put a crappy thing out there that gives us a bad name. But we do want to ship as early as possible. That’s a Minimum Valuable Product (not a Minimum Viable Product, because we want to keep value in the front of our minds). If we don’t try to bite off too much, we can continually confirm that the vision resonates and that we’re on the right path.
Make A Plan
Now that we know how much time we will spend on the startup, let’s break the project down into parts. This doesn’t have to be a comprehensive business plan, a complex Jira board, or some crazy Gantt chart (although I personally love doing all of these). Instead, a general outline that allows us to pivot when needed, and estimate how long the project will take. In the future, those might become milestones on a project plan. But for now, they just keep us focused on the parts of the project that matter, namely the Minimum Valuable Product.
Get A Good Productivity Tool
There are a ton of list apps out there. There are lots of other tools that help build a checklist of things to be done and even block out time on our calendars so we can stay focused on the right tasks at the right time. Pick a tool and stick with it, it will keep us honest throughout this journey (and others).
If we’re keeping a day job, chances are we’re making a good income and certain aspects of founding a new venture can be handed off to someone else. No one is going to do as good a job as we are, since we’re the founders - but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to get some velocity here and there to speed things along. Finding people we can work with also opens up the viability of partners, or employees, once we get to that point.
Stay Mindful Of Performance
Even if we time-box our project and do everything right, our minds might just wander over the barrier and think about our project. Try to stay cognizant about the performance at work and the quality of the time spent with friends and family. Again, being pulled in a lot of directions at once can be a challenge. But if we’re passionate about the vision, hopefully worth it.
Evaluate The Viability
The ability to leave a full time job usually comes with money. The startup might need more and more of our time. But if that doesn’t translate into revenue, consider how it might. Revisit the vision and how to monetize it. If the endeavor doesn’t make money, it’s a hobby until it does. Make sure we understand the return on our investment of time and money and what the horizon looks like to monetize that. It’s fine to have hobbies, but also important to make an educated decision about what we’re doing.
Talk to Investors
If we are to build a company, we’ll eventually need more capital than the product is bringing in, to grow. Talking to investors isn’t always about raising money. It’s often about validating the idea, getting a business aligned with fundraising, and one of the most important aspects, mentorship. Many investors have founded companies themselves and are empathetic to the cause.
Ultimately, starting a company is always hard. It’s potentially less stressful with a day job, but likely to take longer to get things off the ground. And another company might swoop in and build what we were working on in the meantime.
Some might question our commitment to the vision of what we’re creating. But it can be worthwhile to keep the relationships at work going, to have capital to bootstrap the company, and to keep our sanity if we might otherwise be stressing about money all the time. Good luck with all of it. You’ve got this!