Past Issues

March 31, 2008

You Don't Have to Ditch the Day Job

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You Don't Have to Ditch the Day Job

By Tony Wright, Co-founder of Rescue Time

Here are some tips on how to launch a successful start-up business or side job without leaving your day job.

In the beginning, it's not always practical to dive into a start-up full time. Eventually you will have to if you want it to succeed. Still, if you're too poor or too unsure to dive in full time, here are a few tips that worked for me.

You need a co-founder/partner and some cheerleaders. Find two or three friends who are really excited to be beta testers for what you're building. Cheerleaders are essential to keep you on track and working! At some point, you'll hit a motivation wall. If you have a partner who is depending on you, you will find a way past that. If you don't, you'll often lose interest.

Pick a day or two per week when you always work. I repeat, always, no exceptions. We did one weekday evening and one weekend day. That doesn't mean we weren't working other days, but having a fixed schedule helps you through the phases of the project that might not be so fun.

Understand that your first version is probably going to suck. Read Weebly founder David Rusenko's post on persistence. It's a long road. My first start-up was a ridiculous fluke. I ran it for two months, then sold it. But almost all of the overnight successes you read about were slogging in the muck for five years before the night in question.

Be prepared for a long journey and be surprised if your start-up is an immediate hit. So with your first version, look for the tiny little flicker than you might be on to something 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.

If you're not busy at work, spend it getting smarter about the stuff you don't know. If you're a coder, read a few design/usability blogs. Read up on what motivates angel investors. Research competitors and write down what they do well. Get brilliant at SEO, search engine optimization (it's not hard). Write a lot more (blogging helps). Think about virality and research the heck out of it.

Having said all that, do be aware of the fuzzy line between using your cool-down time at work for your start-up and stealing time/resources from your employer. If you're paid to do a job, you need to do it!

Be sure you own your start-up. If ownership of your personal intellectual property is not clear, do not rely on the goodwill of your employer. Greed can do funny things to people, even if they were initially big supporters of your start-up.

At the end of the day, there are plenty of start-ups that have started as hobbies, but you need to move past that phase as soon as you can. There is nothing that drives a team forward like the fear of public failure, debt, and starvation. Leap off the cliff and start building the airplane on the way down, and you might be surprised what you can pull off.

Tony Wright, is the co-founder of Rescue Time, a time management software start-up based in Seattle. He posts regularly on the RescueTime blog and his personal blog.

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