Friday, December 09, 2011

Starting Up While Employed

Someone recently asked me for advice on working on a startup while he was still employed at a large tech company. My first response was to point him at my response on Quora. Even though I provide details on pretty much how to do this, I still don't think it's a great idea.

  • Working at a startup is tough. Doing so while trying to hold down a full time job at a large tech firm is going to slow you down a lot. Unless your idea has such a high technical barrier that you're the only person who could conceivably execute on it, someone else is very likely to get to market before you do.
  • It sends the wrong message to your potential investors and co-founders. As a co-founder, I want to see someone else dedicated enough to cut the safety net and go full time. As an investor, I'd be wondering about your commitment if you were only willing to work on it part time. Yes, nearly everyone knows that Reed Hastings did his startup while contracting for other Silicon Valley firms. But note: he was not an employee, and no one doubted his commitment to the startup because he took out a second mortgage on his home!
  • If you're working everywhere but California, which has extremely employee friendly laws and courts, then even my reply to the above question might not save you. In particular, are you so good at keeping a secret that you can avoid talking about your idea at lunch? And of course, you'd better be scrupulous about never doing any work on that company laptop or on a company paid-for internet connection. (A surprising number of people at large tech companies don't even own their own computer, and trust me, if you end up going to court and this comes up, you are losing all your intellectual property)
  • Finally, if you really are startup material, then quitting your job to do a startup and coming back to a big company if it fails will always be an option. If you're not, then what makes you think your startup will be worth all that extra time you're putting in?
As a result, despite all temptation to do otherwise, if your idea is really good, don't try to do it on the sly (say, while on sabbatical). Just be open about it and walk out and then execute like crazy.
Post a Comment