Why I Launched My Startup While Working Full-Time — And Why I’d Do It Again
One founder explains her decision to juggle both a full-time job and her startup and offers her advice to other entrepreneurs.
By Jody Porowski (Founder & CEO, Avelist)
When you start a business it changes your life. It just does. Every entrepreneur’s beginning is different, but mine is mine and I look back on it fondly.
I actually worked two jobs for a while in the beginning: full-time at SAS, a large software analytics company, and “full-time” (nights, weekends, etc.) on my own tech startup called Avelist.
People have asked me what it was like in the beginning, if I’d do it the same way again, if I have any advice for entrepreneurs considering the same situation. I finally decided to summarize my experience here with a recap of a real day and some advice at the end.
Feel free to skip on down to the advice.
A Day in the Life of Bootstrapping My Startup While Working Full-Time
6:30am – 8:30am (Avelist)
The worst sound I could possibly imagine was getting louder and louder. I finally summoned the energy to roll over, reaching across my still-open laptop to press snooze. I’d been up working on my startup until about 3 a.m. the night before. After about three snoozes, I realized what I was doing and stumbled into the shower.
Hair half dry, I sat cross-legged in front of my mirror, putting on makeup while I talked with my co-founder and some developers in India. After the call, I finished drying my hair, G-chatted with my co-founder before he left for his day job at Cisco, and shot off a few emails.
8:30am – Noon (SAS)
Around 8:30, I rushed out to my car, grabbing a pair of high heels as I ran out the door. During the day I worked as an analyst at the largest privately-owned software company in the world. I can honestly say that I loved my job. On this day in particular, I was presenting my patent-pending linguistic algorithm to clients from a Fortune 500 company.
I waved to the guard as I passed through the gates. SAS was ranked the second best place to work in the US and those guards were like your own personal welcoming committee. I seriously loved them. The next three hours were filled with Powerpoints, Q/A testing and a product demonstration for a few potential customers.
Noon – 1pm (Avelist)
On the way to the meeting, I ate a granola bar and fruit. On the way back, I called my designer to give him feedback on a mockup he’d sent over earlier that morning.
1pm – 5pm (SAS)
Back at SAS, I put some final touches on my Powerpoint before heading to the conference room for the big presentation. The rest of the day I attended a few internal meetings, led a training session for members of the SAS Sales/Marketing team and improved a set of linguistic rules I’d developed for a customer analytics project.
6pm – 9pm (Avelist)
Upon leaving SAS, I drove straight to Starbucks and ordered a Venti (very large) coffee. Time to start work day number two.
I called Jets Pizza to order dinner for the Avelist team (we were meeting at my house for one of our weekly meetings). The next few hours were full of hard work and healthy debate: product planning, roadmaps, deadlines, and bonding.
Hovered around a large table that was covered in laptops, we talked about changing the world.
9pm – 2am (Avelist)
The team left around 9pm and I needed to clear my mind.
I threw running clothes on and went for a jog, recapping my day and planning the rest of my night as I ran.These were my best hours to work on Avelist. Nothing was more valuable to me than uninterrupted time. I answered emails, read articles, wrote a blog post, sketched out product ideas and watched a few YouTube videos (Marissa Mayer theme tonight.)
6:30am Repeat previous day’s schedule!
So there you have it. That was my life when I worked two jobs. I did love both of those jobs, but it was never my intention to do the juggling act long-term.
In fact, from the moment Avelist was conceived in my brain, I knew I would one day leave SAS and pursue Avelist full-time. That was the plan. That was what I was working toward.
In February 2013, I left my corporate job behind to devote all of my energy to my startup. I’d been able to raise a seed round of funding that enabled me to bring a couple of team members along with me and the four of us jumped ship together!
What I Learned While Building My Business
1. I’d do it that way again
It worked well for me to hold a corporate job while getting my company off the ground. I’d especially suggest it for first-time entrepreneurs.
It was definitely exhausting, but going full-steam ahead is kind of my style so it worked for me. Plus, I was passionate about my company and also loved my employment situation, so it was easy to engage in both jobs even when I was tired.
But above all, I’m glad I had the time to learn the basics about building a company while I was still financially secure at SAS. Startups cost a lot of money and take longer than you think. I was able to learn a lot of valuable, first-time entrepreneur lessons during that time and it wasn’t as stressful as it would have been if I’d been running through my savings.
I used the early days to do market research, put together a team, find a good attorney, build a prototype and raise a seed round of funding. After all of that, I was in good shape to jump!
2. Make sure you’re legal
Before I started Avelist, I talked to the HR department and the legal department at SAS. I wanted to make sure that I was allowed to work on a side project while working there. I was very lucky that the SAS policy allowed me to build a company on the side as long as it a. wasn’t competitive to SAS b. wasn’t worked on during SAS hours and c. didn’t utilize SAS resources.
If you’re considering working at a startup while remaining at your current job, I would highly suggest that you at least look at the contract you signed upon employment with your current employer to make sure they can’t claim ownership of your startup down the road!
3. Find your rhythm
Do you work well late at night (me) or early in the morning? Is it best for you to get more sleep during the week and use your weekends for your startup? Make sure you create a lifestyle that works for you. Stress and lack of sleep can do a number on your immune system. Make sure that you are eating well, getting exercise; and reviving yourself every once in a while through taking a break.
Although I didn’t have much time for a social life while working two jobs, I made sure I stayed connected with my closest family and friends. I tried hard to make it to the birthday parties and group dinners, for example, and went on runs and walks with friends so that I could play catch up while we exercised.
Sometimes I’d plan a quick road trip to the beach or mountains for a time of refreshment. And after many nights of (admittedly) not enough sleep, I would treat myself to the occasional weekend of catch up sleep. Those were glorious. The point? Stay healthy because your startup needs a healthy leader!
4. Have a plan of escape
You can’t juggle forever. First, it’s not physically possible. Second, you just can’t give your startup what it needs if you’re splitting your time and energy. A startup — especially in the first few years — needs everything from you.
While you’re working those two jobs, I suggest that you come up with an exit plan. When will you leave your your corporate job? Do you need to raise money first? Do you need to be generating revenue? Do you need to get the product to a certain state? Do you need to have your founding team established? Whatever your goals are, get there as quickly as possible and then just jump.
5. Honor your current employer
They’re paying you to do a job. You owe it to them to give it your all. Make it your goal to be their best employee, the kind you’d want to hire. Above all, don’t let your startup overshadow or hurt the work that you’re doing for your employer.
Remember that this is your reputation and you want to be known as a hard worker. Think long-term. You want your current employer to be a strong ally of yours far into the future.
6. Use every minute to learn
The things you’re doing at your day job can benefit your startup. For me, I was able to get phenomenal experience at SAS that has helped make Avelist a better company and me a better CEO. Observe the way your current employer operates. Watch the managers. Watch the processes. Network. Meet smart people. Ask tons of questions. Learn, learn, learn! And enjoy your time there.
If you can handle the sacrifices of working two jobs, that’s a good sign that you can probably handle the challenges of a startup. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for someone else, but for what it’s worth, as a first time entrepreneur, this process worked really well for me.