I’ve never believed that starting a successful startup requires you to quit your job, move to your parents’ garage, and run on little sleep until a product is shipped.
Sure, the value in working in a confined environment and focusing all your energy on solving a single problem is exponential but with a startup failure rate of 80%, keeping your job can prove to be even more valuable.
Here are some of the things that helped me catapult my startup to success while I was working at a full-time job.
A couple of years ago I read a post by Paul Graham titled: “How to Get Startup Ideas.” In short, his advice is to get out there and identify problems you’re experiencing first hand as opposed to guessing what problems other people may have—these problems will be hard to come by in a garage, but they will flood you in an office environment. You will understand these problems intimately and it will put you in a position to come up with the right solution.
Running a business is hard, but it gets easier when you learn the different aspects of it. Instead of jumping into the ocean hoping you’d figure out how to swim, you have a golden opportunity to prepare for it. If you’re working at a great company, you can learn things you will otherwise not be exposed to, such as management, leadership, marketing, finance, and more. If you don’t consider your current working environment great, that’s OK, too. You can observe and learn what not to do when you will be running the show.
The relationships you build with your colleagues today will outlive your time at any particular company. By building strong and meaningful relationships, you will open yourself to an abundance of opportunity in the future. Whether it’s hiring people you can trust or getting a quick advice in fields outside your comfort zone, this pool of talented people will be there for you if you take the time to connect with them.
Your job is a great place to spot a co-founder since it gives you an opportunity to get to know them professionally before writing yourself into a joint venture. Unlike fellow students or your weekend beer buddy, at work you get a chance to collaborate with your colleagues under circumstances that will allow you to evaluate their commitment and skill, ensure they are complementary to yours, and if they are suitable to tackle the problems you’re trying to solve.
It’s reasonable to assume your colleagues have expertise in fields that are foreign to you but can be highly beneficial to your startup. These expertise are resources available at your disposal. By simply asking your colleagues for advice, you can overcome professional weak spots. If you want to design a website for your startup, ask your company’s graphic designer for some pointers. Not sure what the process required to starting your own company is? Ask someone from finance if they want to grab coffee. It’s really that simple.
At this point, you have to make sure your “after-hours work” doesn’t create a conflict of interest with your employer. If it isn’t, and your solution is a good fit for your employer, you may have found your first customer! Selling solutions back to your employer is easier than you might think. They will be more inclined to use it because they don’t need to spend a fortune to create it themselves, and the solution is probably designed to fit their particular needs anyway. Also, if anything goes wrong, they don’t need to chase support. In my case, all my former employers are my most valued—paying—users.
You can always rely on your colleagues for immediate feedback. The best feedback I’ve ever gotten is from former colleagues because, unlike friends and family members, they view it as a professional exercise, and as a result will be less likely to sugarcoat it.
Chances are your employer has customers, and these customers can become your users if your solution is aligned with their needs. You will have to clear it with your employer first, but it’s easy enough to strike a deal with them that will allow you to resell your solution through them. You can also get creative about this. For example, if your employer is using your solution in collaboration with their customers, you can find ways to get their customers on board through the solution itself.
You should consider pitching your startup to your employer as they may be inclined to support it financially. Unlike raising money from VCs, your employer knows who you are and what you are capable of, and it’s also probable that your solution is within their domain of expertise—especially if you are fixing a problem you’ve encountered at work. Financial support doesn’t necessarily mean cash either, it can be time. You can give your employer minimal equity for time to work on your startup during the day.
Statistically speaking, the odds are against you, and you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to this fact or get discouraged by it. Most founders try several times before they make it. It’s OK because each failure provides them with new ammo they’ll be taking to their next venture. The truth is, working on a startup while you work full-time is hard, but it’s appealing because it’s safer. If you fail, you’d be able to recover much more quickly and have the energy required to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.
Most of my work was intertwined with my former employers, and for that reason my venture ended up being successful. Unlike the glorified media consensus, a garage is not part of the requirement for building a great product or a successful company. You already have everything you need to right here, right now, risk free. So think twice before running around the office waving your letter of resignation.