Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

Entrepreneurs: Don’t Quit Your Real Job Too Early

Many entrepreneurs I know feel guilty about not quitting their day job when initiating their startup, worrying about not giving their all to an employer, juggling the multiple roles, or even a legal conflict of interest. I’ll try to offer some guidelines to address these issues, but I generally recommend you keep the day job until your new company is producing real revenue.

The exceptions to this advice would be if you are being paid for your startup position by external funding, or if you have enough money in the bank for both you and the startup to survive for at least a year. Otherwise, I suggest that founders be up-front with their employers, with an honest commitment that the “side” work on the potential startup will not jeopardize committed results.

Then there are the more pragmatic questions of how to make concurrent startup efforts productive. Many people simply can’t handle multitasking, so they struggle for years doing both, and really do both jobs poorly. Even if you are not in that category, I recommend the following guidelines, summarized from real experiences of Babak Nivi on Venture Hacks a few years ago:

  1. Team with a partner. In a part-time effort, a co-founder is essential to keeping you on-track and working. At some point, you’ll hit a motivation wall, but if you have a partner who is depending on you, you will find a way past that. If you don’t have a partner, you’ll often lose interest and find something else to entertain you.
  2. Pick a day and time per week where you always work together. Babek and his co-founder worked one weekday evening and one weekend day, every week. That doesn’t mean they weren’t working other days, but keeping a fixed schedule will help you through the phases of the project that might not be so much fun.
  3. Set some real milestones. What will it take for everyone to dive in full-time? 5,000 active users? 10,000 uniques a week? Funding? The target should be a shared understanding. You don’t want one founder who is ready to go full-time while the other has reservations. That’s not fair to either one, and it leads to disasters.
  4. Pick an idea that is viable part-time. Every startup is a hypothesis. If your hypothesis is, “we can build a better web-based chat client”, that’s something you could test quickly. If your hypothesis is “we can build a car that runs on lemonade”, that’s just not going to work as a part-time effort.
  5. Understand that your first version will not be the final. Be prepared for a long journey and be surprised if your startup is an immediate hit. So with your first version, look for the tiny little flicker than you might be onto something. Use it to motivate you to make it better. Every week, make it better than last week and see if that flicker of light can be fanned into a tiny flame.
  6. Use every spare moment at work getting smarter. While others are enjoying coffee or lunch, use the time to update yourself on your technology, your competitors, angel investors, or how to incorporate a new business. That said, be aware of the fuzzy line between using your cool-down time at work for your startup and stealing time or resources from your employer. If you’re paid to do a job, you need to do it first.

You also need to be realistic about the conflict of interest issue. If your startup could even have the appearance of competing with your employer’s business, you could lose everything later. Also check any employment agreement you may have signed that might dictate that “any” invention or development during employment is the property of that company.

Obviously, the alternative of quitting your day job early avoids these issues, and also removes any excuse that your startup is merely a hobby. There is nothing that drives a team like the fear of debt, starvation, and visible failure. Even you may be surprised what you can accomplish under pressure.

If all of this discussion still scares you, you probably need to keep your day job long-term, and give your startup idea to someone else. There is nothing wrong with a dependable salary, medical benefits, and a contributing 401(k) retirement savings account. At the very least, don’t take the entrepreneur plunge with your eyes closed.

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

prev next

You might also be interested in

The UrbanTech Movement is Transforming Cities

Urbanization is a defining process of modern life.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and the number of urban citizens around the world is projected to rise to 66% by 2050.

In the US, over 80% of the population lives in urban areas with 1 in 7 Americans living in New York, Los Angeles and

Read more >

Angel Investors Spotlight: An Inside Look at Hudson Valley Startup Fund’s Investment Process & Advice for Founders

Hudson Valley Startup Fund brings together a network of the region’s successful business and community leaders to give back, supporting the launch of the next Hudson Valley visionaries. We sat down with fund managers Chad Gomes, Johnny LeHane and Paul Hakim as they shared insights into their investment process, what they look for in both group members and startups, and

Read more >

The Right Startup Advisors Are As Valuable As Money

If you are a new entrepreneur, or entering a new business area, it’s always worth your time to assemble an Advisory Board of two or three executives who have travelled that road before. You need them before you need funding, and if you select the wrong people, or use them incorrectly, no amount of money will likely save your startup.

Read more >

How do I get in touch with investors/funds with just an idea and no product?

There are many wonderful ideas, and they are not necessarily easy to come up with. So congratulations on having thought of one!


“Having value” and “Being fundable” are two completely different things. What the more experienced responders here are saying is completely accurate: while a good idea is usually a necessary ingredient for the formation of a good company, it is

Read more >

Is there an incubator for aspiring Angel Investors or VCs?

No, but there are several sets of courses on angel investing that can provide a good base from which to start. The most comprehensive and best known is the Power of Angel Investing seminar series developed by the Angel Resource Institute (formerly known as the Angel Capital Education Foundation, and prior to that part of the Angel Capital Association). It

Read more >


One thought on “Entrepreneurs: Don’t Quit Your Real Job Too Early”

  1. John says:

    Great Post!

    What happens at the funding point if one of the founders does not commit full time?

    I’ve recently quit my job and started working full time as the CTO on a project with a partner (so in that sense I’m too late in reading this post.. :).
    My Partner is an expert in his field – the project idea is his and of course looks promising – however he has a small company which he intends to continue running.

    I personally have no problem with that, however I would be happy to hear your opinion as an angel investor –
    Assuming the initial product indeed proves to be promising – would you fund such a team?