Making the jump: How we did it
Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. May's topic is leaving a full-time job to pursue a startup.
Today marks the last day at my corporate day job. That's right people, I'm making the jump. I'm leaving my safe and comfy job to work on the startup I cofounded called Instin! But hold on, it wasn't that easy, for the past 15 months I've been planning for this day. If you read last week's post by Bo Fishback, I'm part of the group of people that "Side projects turn into companies".
15 months ago me and my co-founders Ryan and Keith, who also made the jump, decided to devote the majority of our free time to work on a side project I started called myHomework. myHomework is a student planner app that helps students stay organized on their classes by receiving notifications of when assignments and tests are due. Today myHomework has been downloaded over 2 million times, with over 400,000 active students this past semester and 25,000 who have paid for the extended features.
Having a side project is easy, I have several friends that have side projects, some are great ideas that can become companies as well. What makes the difference is how serious you take it and how much time you are willing to devote to it. Gary Vaynerchuk during a really inspiring talk at Web 2.0 Expo 2008 once said:
If you want this, if you are miserable or you don't like it, or you want to do something else, or you have a passion somewhere else… Work nine to five, spend a couple of hours with your family, seven to two in the morning is plenty of time to do damage!
That's what we did! Every day from 9 AM to 5 PM we worked really hard at our day jobs, then we would go home and work really hard on our side project until we went to bed.
You may say "I don't have time, I have a wife, I have kids"
Guess what? We do too! Ryan is married and has 2 kids, Keith is married and has 3 kids, I'm married and have a really cute but annoying dog! One trick that I learned is how to multitask and be productive! This helps when balancing family and work.
I've watched all those popular TV shows like: Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelor & Bachelorette, Glee, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Biggest Loser, American Idol and etc. The time I spend watching those shows, I'm sitting next to my wife, with my laptop on me and working. Every now and then I make a comment about the TV show, which shows her that I'm somewhat paying attention and that's enough to make her happy!! On weekends I wake up early, go to a coffee shop and work.
I've also learned that I need to take at least one day/night a week to devote all my time to my family, it's usually Friday nights, it also helps me relax and recover.
You may say "My job expects me to put extra hours!"
Our jobs expected that too, but most importantly our jobs expected to get the work done by the time expected to be done. My co-founders and I all came from a technical background, something we noticed while working on our side project is that we learned a lot of new technologies. Technologies that we brought back to our day jobs which made the work inside the company better and more productive, which also helped us get promoted faster.
We also noticed that our executives were getting really excited about side projects and started encouraging other employees to do the same. Side projects help companies innovate in ways usually not available on typical job routines, which turns into creating better products. In the end both sides win!
You may ask: "Why didn't you guys make the jump earlier?"
Well, we didn't know anything about: running a business, raising money, validating an idea, marketing a product. We just knew how to build a product and build it well, however we were really committed to learning about it.
I started following people expert on the subject matter on Twitter such as entrepreneurs and investors, I started listening to entrepreneur focused podcasts, I started watching Kevin Rose's Foundation videos. I started reading books and blogs. I attended Kansas City Startup Weekends, I attended startup conferences (like SXSW and Big Omaha).
But most importantly, I started getting involved with the Silicon Prairie startup community. If you live in Kansas City I recommend you signing up for the Startup Digest newsletters, attend a Startup Weekend and come to a KC Geek Night.
Overall, if you are part of a big corporation, want to learn more about entrepreneurship and always had the "what if" question, I believe side projects are the way to go. After some time you find out if the project you are working on is actually getting anywhere, while still keeping the nice benefits of a corporate job. Hopefully soon you will also have the opportunity to make the jump!
Credits: Photo is part of the video: Venture to the Eiger by Blake Byles
Founder Friday is brought to you by the Heartland Technology Alliance
Thanks to our Founder Friday series sponsor, Heartland Technology Alliance, a nonprofit working as an advocate for innovation and competition in technology and communications across much of the Silicon Prairie and throughout the Upper Midwest.