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Why You Should Never Run a Startup With a Full-Time Job

January 20, 2016, 7:32 PM UTC
Courtesy of DDG

The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you run a startup with a full-time job?” is written by Justin Tobin, founder and president of DDG.

The short answer is you don’t. Or at least, you really shouldn’t if you want to be successful.

There is a period of time in the lifecycle of a startup during which it is fine, even well advised, to keep your job. But that’s before you have a company to actually “run.” We can call this the gestation period. That’s the phase when you’re developing your idea, doing market research, running some initial numbers, and thinking about what connections you need to make or draw on in order to take things to the next level. By the end of that process, you’ll know whether or not it’s time to take a leap of faith. When you decide your idea is more than just feasible and you can’t possibly do any more thinking about it for risk of analysis paralysis, and when it’s something you’re so passionate about that it keeps you up at night, that’s when you know you need to fully devote your time, money, and efforts to bringing it to life. Once your idea truly becomes a startup—you’re incorporated, you’re a business, you’re starting to market and sell—you should be ready to leave your full-time job.

Whether we’re talking about starting a tech company or a more traditional enterprise like a restaurant, launching a successful business is one of the most difficult things you will ever do in your life. A startup isn’t a side project. It comes with a huge amount of uncertainty, so it’s understandable that you may want to mitigate some of that risk by keeping your day job. But by doing that, you relegate your company and your idea to hobby status. Perhaps you are making some money off of it, and good for you, but a startup will never reach its full potential without the complete commitment of its founder.

See also: How to Stay Sane While Working Two Jobs

When you’re seeking investors and partners for your startup, you’re asking people to take a risk on your idea, and on you as a manager. But if you’re still working full time and actively trying to launch a business, this sends a clear message that you don’t believe in your idea enough to even take a risk on it yourself. That’s a huge red flag for investors. No one could imagine a restaurateur walking into a room full of investors, asking them for large sums of money, and then telling them that he or she won’t be available to run the day-to-day operations of the eatery because of an office job. Entrepreneurs need to put their own skin, their “sweat equity,” in the game before they can ask anyone else to do so. You need to show that you’re the first and most committed investor by devoting every resource available to you, including all of your own time and money.


This principle is also true for established organizations and their internal entrepreneurs—intrepreneurs—considering investing in internal startups or innovation practices, and creating new products and services. Business leaders need to commit significant time and resources, as well as dedicated talent, to any new endeavor they launch. Otherwise, whatever effort they do put in will ultimately be wasted. This can’t just be someone’s night job. If you’re feeling hesitant, half-assing your effort will only ensure your demise. But by starting small and giving that effort your all, you’ll minimize your failures while maximizing your successes.

Entrepreneurs who have total confidence in their ideas and are willing to do everything in their power to make them a reality shouldn’t feel they need to hedge their bets by keeping a full-time job. It puts a cap on their success and sends the wrong message to potential investors. There are plenty of ways to fund a startup, but a full-time job is not one. Think of it like this: Every minute spent working on your startup is accelerating the pace of your business’s growth, and that’s a winning proposition in the long run.