by • January 9, 2017 • Career Entrepreneurship, FoundersComments (0)3

When to quit your job and go full-time on your company

When do you take the leap? More time to focus on your new business at the cost of a declining personal bank account.

The phrasing contains a misleading assumption: that going full-time will always help you move faster and get further. Or that you need to be full-time to start “for real”.

I talked to a young guy a couple months back. Doing well in his job, had just gotten a promotion, but wanted to cut loose and start the business he’d been thinking about for the past year. This seems innocent enough, but what’s actually happening is that the question of whether to quit his job has prevented him from starting in the meantime.

When you’re starting out, your most valuable resource is time[1]. But crucially, not all tasks use time in the same way. Some tasks use calendar time. Others use clock time.

Writing code (or designing a product, or doing marketing) takes clock time. If you can put in more hours, you’ll get more done. For these tasks, being full-time is helpful. But those usually aren’t the best tasks to begin with.

Setting up meetings (or talking to customers, or finding a cofounder) takes calendar time. After a quick burst of work, you’re waiting on a response. Stressing over your inbox for an extra five hours a day isn’t helpful.

The classic mistake is to do nothing on your startup, get frustrated at the lack of progress, quit your job in a huff of heroism, run out of productive tasks to do in a day, fill the remaining hours with busywork[2], get frustrated at the lack of progress, get stressed at your declining bank account, and go get another job.

The surprising step here is “run out of productive tasks to do in a day”. This is what trips people up.Your major tasks in a fledgling company mostly involve talking to people: finding a cofounder or crucial first hire, understanding customers, learning your way around the industry, securing a first customer commitment, etc etc.

I’m a big fan of doing these early tasks while you still have a job. Use your lunches, holidays, sick days, and after-work hours to send some emails, have some meetings, and ask for early commitments.Calendar time tasks fit into the gaps of your existing life, and crucially, can’t be sped up with more hours. All going full-time does is put a big glowing death-clock over your head, since now you’re burning cash and only have X months to figure it out.

At some point (potentially very soon, potentially after several months), you’ll find that clock-time tasks are becoming more important. For example, you need a prototype or to do a bunch of marketing. Instead of waiting on other people to answer your emails, you’re waiting on yourself to do the work. That’s a great point to quit your job and go full-time on your startup.

Is it still risky? Yes, absolutely. But by doing the early calendar-time tasks ahead of time, you’re ensuring that the risk you take is as effective as possible.

So stop using the question of whether to quit your job as an excuse not to get started today.


[1] You might say the top resource is more like “good time” or “focused time” because obviously some founders fritter plenty of time away on low-value tasks or unproductive work. The others resources I’d add to the list are insight, founder skills (development, design, distribution), and access to good cofounders.

[2] When I say founders who go full-time too early “fill the day with busywork”, it’s worth noting that they don’t realise they’re doing it, and they certainly wouldn’t describe it as busywork. What they’re actually doing is a good task, just too soon. For example, they spend a ton of hours writing code before they know what their customers care about. Or they spend perfet their brand before they have the crucial team member they need to actually do the core work. They’re certainly suffering through a lot of work that feels startup-y (and keeps them busy), but it’s not useful.

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