I’m going to put an angel on one of your shoulders and a devil on the other. You’ll have to figure out which is which.
April 26, 2016
Don’t Be Above the Job
Sometimes, an entrepreneur just has to go to work
I’ve been hearing this a lot lately: I want to be an entrepreneur but I have to put food on the table. Or pay off insane college debt. Or I’m starting a family.
First off, let me say I totally empathize. From where you are, this looks like cliff diving.
Then let me say, stop it. Do both.
Look, not a lot of people are going to tell you this and if it gets back to me I’m going to deny it and paint you as a filthy liar. Your word against mine. But yeah, go ahead and take a job or keep your job, and keep working on your idea.
Balancing a job and entrepreneurship is one of the hardest assignments you can take on in life. The stakes are high and it’s not going to be the fun kind of made-for-TV startup experience. It’s going to suck. It’s going to be lonely and scary. It’s going to be later nights and earlier mornings and slimmer chances and shorter runways than even your average entrepreneur complains about.
But if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it. Now.
If you don’t do it now, then when will you? When you retire? Let me tell you something, slick, you’re not gonna be that limber.
A lot of startups have been spun out of career jobs that became day jobs that ultimately wound up the rear-view. In some ways, it’s like getting a free head start, because most of the time, these entrepreneurs end up disrupting an industry they’ve been toiling away in for years.
But even when that’s not the case, they have years of “this is not how I want to spend my career” lessons driving them on the business front, the operations front and the cultural front. But none of this is to say that the corporate world is inherently evil or bumbling or unworthy of your time. In fact, the corporate world and the startup world are symbiotic, and there are very good reasons for this.
I’ve had several entrepreneur friends who recently had to table their startup when the funds ran out and go back to working for someone else.
Again, my first words are that I understand the emotional and mental strain this can put on you. I’ve been there. And not because things went pear shaped, but because I needed more time and I was stagnating, but I believed in the idea so much that I didn’t want to start anything else.
I was losing my mind. I was pushing the wrong buttons, grasping at straws and making bad decisions. So I took a job, something to keep me busy from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. while I racked my brain trying to figure out how to get my idea out of neutral.
And when it all came together, I left that job in good standing and launched Startup #8—and that was while we had two-year-old twins and the wife was three months pregnant.
That sucked. Suuuuuuucked. But I’m so glad I did it, because it got me out of my slump and forced me to work three times as hard and twice as quickly.
The lesson here is that we entrepreneurs should never be elitist about jobs, for a couple of reasons.
Intra-preneurism, while I hate the term, is a real thing. I made Startup #8 out of it. Remember, the gigantic company you’re working for today started as a small operation with a dream and some scratch money. You can flash-forward your own company years ahead and see where the pitfalls and gotchas are.
Is your job full of borderline incompetent management and awful customers and contradictory processes? Good, figure out how to not do this with your own company and how to handle it when you inevitably do.
You don’t quit your job and start your own company because you want to. You do it because you have to. You shouldn’t be going from 60-hour work weeks to four-hour work weeks, because you’ll be right back where you started, only you’ll be filling your days with social media marketing and business card design instead of TPS reports.
If you don’t have enough work to do on your own thing to fill 12-16 hours of your day, you’re not ready to jump. As callous as this sounds, keep the paycheck coming in.
People rarely talk about this, but one of the reasons Silicon Valley is so preferable for entrepreneurs is that there’s a system in place to employ failed founders. Sometimes it’s an acqui-hire; sometimes it’s just a hire. The startups and major corporations there don’t care if you’re an entrepreneur because they want you to attack their business like you’d attack your own.
This is not the norm anywhere else. In fact, it can be a stigma. I remember the countless times I heard about how I’d have trouble getting a “real job” because I was so entrepreneurial. While that’s stupid—most major employers really don’t have that upper hand anymore—it’s still the conventional wisdom.
It’s also stupid because if I find a place I love, I’m going to stay put whether I built it or not. I’m not an entrepreneur because I think Mark Zuckerberg is cool. I’m an entrepreneur because I think building companies is cool.
But while we’re on stupid…
The grass is not greener in startup world. Entrepreneurism is a calling.
The line I hate the most from The Social Network (and there are a lot) is the one about how a million dollars isn’t cool but a billion dollars is. If you’re in startup for the money or the fame or because it’s a conversation starter when people ask you what you do for a living, get out and take or keep that job.
What’s cool about startup is the independence, the responsibility, and fulfilling the promise of who you believe you are. But most of the time, it’s a job. So don’t go around looking down on everyone else just because you call yourself a CEO.