Do you dream of one day coming up with a breakthrough idea, building your own startup, and becoming the new Bill Gates? You're not alone. But like most people, you probably don't have millions of dollars in capital to quit your job and create a new unicorn by just snapping your fingers. But what if you just don't want to pass up this opportunity? Begin working on your project alongside your job.
I know a thing or two about this, so I have prepared a few tips that could help you make this difficult journey at least a little easier. I based them on the experience I gained when I founded the startup Dio while working at the software studio Applifting. These eight tips will assist you in minimizing the risk of failure and help you avoid burnout, getting fired, breaking up, and other curveballs that life can throw at you. You will learn, among other things:
- Why it's a bad idea to quit your job
- How to communicate your project to your employer
- Why your personal life is at critical risk
- How to not suffocate under a pile of tasks
- What your work must be like for you to stay motivated
- The name of a sport that combines skydiving and skiing
- How to choose a startup-friendly employer
- When it's time to stop following the rules (including these)
Don't quit your job
The first step to start your own business is—surprisingly—to not leave your current job. There's a simple reason for this: 90% of startups end in failure. Even if you have the perfect product, a cohesive team, and breathtaking market research, you still have to keep in mind that statistics are relentless. It's good that you believe in your idea and are confident that it will reap success. But don't get swept up in the rush of positive emotions and deprive yourself of your regular income.
If your product or service is really going to be a hit, the right time will come. But by that time, you should already be generating a profit or have an investor, who will also pay for the time you spend working on the project.
Are you worried that your employer won't like you running your own business while working at their company? Don’t be. Many progressive companies are happy to have ambitious employees who are motivated to change the world. The important thing is to be honest and open from the very beginning.
Some companies even go so far as to encourage their people to start their own business. A good example of that is Applifting’s internal startup incubator Voyager, which helps people validate their business ideas.
Yes, entrepreneurship while working full-time comes with its risks. Sometimes, you'll have to run to a lunch with an investor or have a business meeting during the working hours. That's why you should talk about it with your colleagues or superiors and be absolutely transparent. You might be surprised to see that they don’t just understand you, they support you.
Prepare your loved ones
You will need time. A lot of time. And it's not just you who needs to be ready. Your friends, partners, and family need to brace themselves too. Expect to spend a few more hours on your project each evening after work. You won't be going for a walk with your partner during the weekend, and you might not even be going on holiday. Spending 40 hours a week at work and running a business is like working at least two jobs at the same time. That's why it’s important for your loved ones to keep pace with you.
Talk to them about everything as soon as possible, preferably right when you’re just entertaining the idea of starting a business. It’ll help you avoid many conflicts, and you might also gain their support.
Do not forget to plan ahead
You can read a lot of books, attend countless workshops, and have sessions with mentors to learn how to keep up with the startup life and not lose your mind. But all of this is actually irrelevant. No matter what approach you choose, one thing is important: have a plan!
Some people use a motivational diary, where they write down their goals for the day, week, month, year, or even five years. You can establish a journaling routine, writing down your daily plan each morning and evaluating it in the evening, or you can perhaps use mind maps. It doesn’t matter what shape or form it takes. But be careful not to use the planning process to procrastinate. It's something to help you save time, not burn it. I've tried just about everything and decided to stick with the classic Google Calendar. No other tool can handle the fast pace of the startup world so well.
Once you start planning, follow this rule: when you make a promise or confirm your participation somewhere, write it down. As long as you are juggling just a couple of things, you can manage to remember when your parents are having a birthday party and that you have a status meeting on Monday. But once you get the ball rolling on your startup, everything just piles up, and you can't do without a system. You'll burn out.
If you're starting your own business, there's probably something that's driving you forward. And if you are to succeed, that something has to be intrinsic motivation. If, on the other hand, it’s money, success, or ego, think twice before you make your move. Of course, profit is a perfectly valid motivating factor, and no one can claim that it is irrelevant. But it's not the cornerstone on which you can base your startup. Why?
There can be times when things go wrong when starting a company. You waste money, you don't get customers, someone steals from you, or something else goes horribly wrong. Just imagine it. You're broke, and you feel like you've lost everything. Do you think the idea that maybe someday (but really just maybe), you'll make a lot of money, is enough to keep you going?
Theory teaches us that there are several factors that underlie intrinsic motivation. These define the needs that our actions must satisfy in order for us to be intrinsically motivated. What are they?
- The need for a difficult but achievable challenge
- The need for control over our own work and the environment around us
- The need to compare our success with that of others
- The need to help others with what we do
- The need to pursue new and interesting topics that we are unfamiliar with
- The need for recognition of our achievements by others
One man’s meat is another man’s poison. For me, for example, it is essential that the problems we deal with at Dio are truly unique. Since we are one of the first to address the digitization of the church, our job is that much harder. But at the same time, I'm driven forward by the feeling that we're building something so innovative. It wouldn't be possible without it. Try to think about what your intrinsic motivation is.
Keep an eye on your mental health
While you may think there's nothing more important than your startup, over time, you'll come to realize that's not quite true. Your health comes first. You probably think that starting a company is not an adrenaline sport, so what am I talking about?
If you've read this far, you've probably already understood that the startup lifestyle is far from the life of an adrenaline athlete. While you don't risk breaking your neck like you do with speedriding (a combination of skiing and skydiving), you stand a pretty good chance of damaging more than just your mental health. So it's not a bad idea to be supervised by a good therapist or psychologist. Your employer can make this a lot easier for you. For instance, we at Applifting get fully reimbursed for unlimited online therapy sessions through Terap.io.
What is my experience with looking after my own mental and emotional health? In practice, I have found that it is crucial to be aware of how the two areas are connected. If you are suffering from physical problems (body aches, being overweight, underweight, etc.), there is a chance that at least one of the causes is your mental state. And vice versa. Therefore, it's probably not a bad idea to exercise in order to put your mind at rest. It doesn't really matter what sport you do. In my case, yoga, cycling, hiking, swimming, or surfing work well. What is important, however, is that you fully focus on the activity and enjoy it. Don't scroll through Instagram while running on the treadmill. Turn off notifications while cycling, and put your phone away completely before doing yoga. This is the only way to achieve the desired result.
Work for a friendly employer
Speaking of employee benefits, it's good to emphasize flexibility. As I mentioned earlier, running a business takes a lot of time, and sometimes, you have to dedicate part of your working hours to it. Case in point, when you're meeting with successful company founders who mentor you or applying for an investment with a large fund, you can't dictate meeting dates. You'll have to adapt. For me specifically, this means spending close to 20 hours a week working on Dio. That time has to come from somewhere.
An employer who has no problem with something like that is a great help. I'm lucky because at Applifting, we can work anytime and anywhere. So if you're looking for a new job, choose from companies that allow you to do that. Or check out who we're looking for.
Break all the rules
You've followed all the advice, you've toiled for months or years, you've tweaked your product to perfection, and... it works! Payments from customers started coming in, or maybe an investor said yes to you. Then get ready to spend a lot more time on your project.
Are you sure you want to commit to your idea for a few years? If so, it's time to break the rules, including the first one I told you about today. If you've made it this far and your motivation is intrinsic, it's time to take heart and go all in.
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