I founded my first business out of high school - a platform to connect tutors and students. While a freshman in college, I started a Thai food restaurant and sold it before I graduated. Therefore, when I joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch after college, it made complete sense to me to be working on side projects. Fresh from my global training in New York City, I was excited by the convenience that Seamless.com had provided for corporate workers to order food on-demand. Excited, I set out to build a team around the same idea but for Singapore, raised funding from angel investors, and started to work on wireframes, all while being in my full-time job. It was a great experience and I learned a lot, even though I decided to not pursue it in the end to focus on preparing for graduate school. As Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator shared:
I have many friends today who are working in full time jobs, and who reached out to me to speak more about starting a business or launching a startup. Despite conventional wisdom that it is not possible to start a company while you are in a full-time job, I will like to offer a few pieces of advice on how to make it possible.
1. Be Curious And Talk to People Around You
One of the starting point of launching a startup is to find a pain point to solve. You will need to build something people want. This is the first logical step for any aspiring entrepreneurs because you are very likely to find many pain points that you can solve in your daily lives. Be curious and open up your mind. If you are working in a large company, there are probably a lot of bad enterprise software that you are used to. If you are working in bank or consulting job, there are probably a lot of ways to improve the productivity for yourself and your teams. By being curious and interviewing people about their pain point and daily challenges, you will be able to learn a lot about different pain points that you can solve, and that can be a good starting point to start brainstorming ideas for your next startup.
2. Network, Network, Network
The best connections are made when you can be helpful to them, and you are not asking for something. If you are working in a company today, you are probably in some form of position to meet with various people and to be helpful to them. You could be a salesperson in a bank who is meeting a lot of corporate clients, or in the finance team where you are delivering financial statements to your internal colleagues. Either way, create the opportunity to meet with colleagues, bring them out for coffee or lunch. Attend networking events. Be proactive to organize gatherings or social events which will give you the exposure to meet new people.
3. Look For A Co-Founder
Starting a startup is challenging, and you need a good co-founder who can work with you. The best way to find good co-founders are through existing relationships and friends who you have worked with and can trust. The best way to build existing relationships are with your colleagues or stakeholders you meet with in your current job. Once you have identified a co-founder, work on a side project with him to test out how you two are suitable for each other.
4. Start Building Something On The Side
If your idea is to build a web or mobile application, start to develop something on the side while you are in your job. Meet up with your co-founder or potential teammates on the weekends or evenings, and start to draw some potential wireframes on pen and paper, or use software to do so. Ideas generally become clear quickly when it is expressed in the form of visuals rather than words. Start to show your idea to friends and family, and whoever is willing to take a look at your wireframes and prototype and quickly iterate your idea based on feedback.
5. Find An Engineer Or Outsource Your Software Prototype
Increasingly, it is harder and harder to find an engineer who is willing to work with early-stage startups as there are much more ideas than good engineers. I would encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to outsource your software prototype to a third party company who may be be able to help you come up with a first version of your software quickly, and to allow you to get users testing the product quickly. Outsourcing your software prototype is an efficient and at times, affordable way to launch your company while in a full time job, so that you can stay employed while coming up with the first version of your software product.
There are a lot of relationship capital, knowledge and software infrastructure you can accumulate for your startup while being in a full time job. Many times, the startup idea you are pursing may be relevant to your current day job, and being in it may provide synergy for you. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur who has a full-time job but is not yet ready to quit, I would encourage you to start practicing the pointers aforementioned. There will definitely come a point when the side project takes off, and you will have to jump in with both feet; but you will know it when the feeling is correct. Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be more than glad to offer any advice or feedback on your current startup idea!
Desmond Lim is co-founder and CEO of Workstream, an automated hiring platform for companies hiring hourly workers. He is a graduate of Harvard and MIT Media Lab, former product manager at WeChat, and investor at Dorm Room Fund. He is based in San Francisco and lived in Palo Alto with his wife and two young daughters.