Part I: When should I go full-time on the startup? A series on things I ask myself as a founder.
This is a series on things I’ve asked myself constantly as a founder. The goal is to share, talk about and ultimately create some massive knowledge share of advice & honesty around these questions.
I started working on Reset in January 2018, and we opened our doors eight months later in August. Throughout all that time , I’ve asked myself (and been asked) versions of this question many, many times. As of last week — I’ve made the leap into being full-time with Reset after juggling both for longer than was probably mentally sustainable (more on that later!).
I’ve seen opinions that fall passionately on both ends of the spectrum — the gung-ho, follow your passion at all costs and the meticulously waiting for the right time camp.
In the first camp — the passionate fellow startup founders, VCs, and other advisors who adhere to the “all in” method. If you’re not 100% committed to your start-up, the advice is that it can be seen as hedging your bets or a lack of commitment. And, we’ve seen some truly spectacular products and leaders come from this grit and the struggle — isn’t it what people think of when they think of entrepreneurship?
And in the second camp — there’s the equally passionate founders, VCs and advisors who might favor the grey area rather than absolutes. They like the steadier approach of working on your startup in line with a day job to maintain financial stability.
A 2013 study of 5000 entrepreneurs spanning different age group over 15 years to see if it was better to keep your day job. They found that those who kept their day jobs, were “33% less likely to fail in their new venture.”
CEO of Spanx Sara Blakely kept her job selling fax machines (and used her house as the shipping hub) for 2 years while she was building Spanx.
Ok, so that’s what some of the experts say. But how do you get started on what you should take to heart and how to move forward in the best way for you?
Over the last 6 months, it’s been very daunting (and so exciting) thinking, planning and looking at how to go full-time with my startup. Because as much as we want to speak about the endless wealth of personal passion to project us forward — bills, responsibilities, and other commitments are also real life.
For me, looking at the following things realistically and deliberately helped me plan and make the decision to go full-time. I will emphasize the deliberate piece — look at them, think about them, and sit with them. It’s a process.
I don’t think it’s possible to have this conversation without acknowledging the privilege of being able to go full-time on a role that pays $0 right now. Not everyone has the resources, community support, risk tolerance or wealth of other things that make that choice available. The rhetoric around “if you’re not full-time, you’re not doing enough” can sometimes get pretty overwhelming, and excludes large groups of amazing entrepreneurs which I think can be a problem.
These are some important things to look at when deciding whether it is the right time to go full-time on your business.
Below, I am assuming you have done the due diligence of vetting your business model and plans and will be focusing on the individual aspects of making the decision.
Risk Aversion & Finances
Your level of risk tolerance is different from that of your co-founder (if you have one), your team and anyone else involved. It’s important to be brutally honest with yourself as to what risk you are comfortable taking, and how those risks will affect you and your mental health.
Are you comfortable being without an income or with a decreased income for 3 months? 6 months? More?
Sit down and calculate these specifics and tie them to your budgets, be very precise here so you know realistically what it means for you and your family.
For me — this meant admitting to myself that I am not as risk-tolerant as I once was in my mid-20s, and that is ok. I needed to know I could comfortably be without an income for 3–6 months and adjust timelines accordingly.
Don’t sacrifice your mental health by choosing to be more risk-tolerant than you feel comfortable with, or take on someone else’s tolerance as your own
So you’ve level set with yourself, and have a budget in mind — now what? Understand and evaluate where your salary as a founder stands right now, 6 months from now and what the goal is and how it lines up with your budget above.
Myself and my founder have decided not to pay ourselves yet and invest our money into the business — which means my salary is in customer smiles (lame? maybe, but yes) and zero in actual dollars.
Does this make me nervous sometimes? Absolutely. But, I knowingly made this decision and have prepared for it so when anxiety calls, I try not to answer the door that day.
Your Support System
Researchers at the University of California recently studied the link between entrepreneurship and mental health — the findings were pretty sizeable. They found that 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed were dealing with at least one mental illness, and about 1/3 were dealing with multiple.
These types of stats are the beginning of much bigger conversations about mental health, burn-out and hustle culture — but one of my key takeaways is just how important having a solid support system is during this often lonely time. Building something from the ground up, usually without a back-up plan, can be exciting, scary, and everything in between.
Evaluate what your emotional support system is — is it friends, family, other founders? And commit to keeping them engaged to the good and the bad during the ups and down, and especially the downs.
For me — I feel pretty lucky that my partners, my friends and my family are all supportive and understanding of the risks I’m taking. I feel like I can share the good and the bad with them, and know that they won’t shy away from talking about the bad stuff.
I’m working on building that relationship with other fellow founders — because I’ve heard sometimes those vent sessions are really helpful!
The Business Need
Does the business need you to be full-time? Is there enough work, enough traction for you to go into this thing full-time and feel like you are spending your time wisely?
For about 6 months once we launched, I am not certain the answer to that question was yes for me. The business didn’t need me full-time yet, and so I chose to continue my day job to instill more capital into this venture.
Ask yourself (and map out) what business needs are currently being met and which ones are falling through the cracks. Prioritize and map where you would put your extra 15,20, 30 hours per week and ensure they are going to the highest value activities.
If you’re struggling to fill those hours in — that is something to think about.
And finally, how bad do you want it?
Is solving problems for your start-up all you think about? Is it creeping into your daily work life? I found myself leaning closer and closer to this camp, where I thinking and solving these problems pretty much all the time.
I wanted to do this full-time, and couldn’t wait until I could dedicate all of my time to it. That part is obvious but important, you have to want it.
Are you in the middle of this decision process right now, or do you have some tips for others who are in this boat? I’d love to hear them!
In part II, I’m going to look at some of the more tricky, human and emotional parts of the transition to being full-time for your venture.
This includes stuff like team dynamics if one partner is full-time and the other isn’t, and handling some of the rough patches spurred by money, outside pressures and fundraising.
Basically, it’s about get really honest ya’ll!