Imagine a world where you can do whatever you want. You’re not forced to drive to work every day, slave away in your tiny cubicle for ten hours and drive back home, only to get stuck in traffic for another hour. When you finally have some free time, you think about how you’re going to stay mentally sane with such an outlook on your life for the next 30 to 40 years. There must be a way to get into your visionary world, where you only work if the topic matches your interest. Read on, to get an insight in my experiences trying to find the hidden path.
Everything I describe in this post is from my own experience, so take everything with a grain of salt. Luckily I happened to start my way to entrepreneurship under extremly positive circumstances, hence remember the survivorship bias.
Without risk there is no reward, especially if you’re seeking autonomy in your work life. My first steps on my way to get near this promised land was to quit my job as a software engineer / technical consultant in 2014. I quit a well-paying job with high job security to become an entrepreneur. I left behind a lot of social benefits and a moderate potential to climb the career ladder. This didn’t sit too well with my family surroundings that mostly consists of people that have been life-long employees, sometimes never changed job role or employer for 40 years. Although I’ve wanted to start my own company since college, the final piece of the puzzle for me has been the book “The Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco. I read a lot about startups and the lean startup methodology, but the book from MJ finally convinced me, that I need to try it on my own rather sooner than later.
The concept of uncontrollable limited leverage vs. controllable unlimited leverage, that is presented in the book, is easy to understand and one of the major advantages I see in entrepreneurship:
- employment = uncontrollable limited leverage: Your finacial leverage is restricted to your yearly salary as an employee. Any raise you might get won’t help you to retire 10 or 20 years earlier (probably). Upper management will decide over your fate in the workforce. You cannot control it on your own and cannot pursue the most promising opportunities with your time. Basically you’re told what to do.
- entrepreneurship = controllable unlimited leverage: You decide yourself how to spend your time and are in full control. In the best case scenario the return on your investment is unlimited. You might develop a business model that scales well and you’re not bound to trade your time for money.
I’m aware that in reality it’s not that simple for most people. For me it boils down to these options, so I’m trying to take the more promising path.
Preparation for the jump
Next to my full-time job I started to work on products to support the government with enterprise content management. As an employee I’ve seen various products in that segment and saw a market opportunity. Even Y Combinator noticed the inefficiencies in government software in their “requests for startups”. That’s what I’ve experienced as well during my time as a consultant. Together with two friends we prepared a business plan and tried to get funding. We tried to partake in a programme called “EXIST-Gründerstipendium” here in germany (You may read a german article about it on the ditemis blog). The valuation for the concept was mediocre, mostly because of a perceived lack of innovation. Nevertheless I believed in the potential to accompany the public administration on its way to technological and digital change.
After having working prototypes I went ahead and spoke openly about my ambitions, ideas and the development progress with my team lead. The ideas were received well and there was shown commitment to support my intentions. I quit the day after that meeting and started working as a freelancer for my old employer. The important thing to note here is that I had an extremly open and trusting relationship with my colleagues. I assume that there are a lot of employers who wouldn’t think twice about burning all bridges after presenting such intentions. I am extremly thankful that my former colleagues saw a business opportunity instead of getting tangled up in emotional quarrel.
Comments & Critique
We asked various experienced founders, startup communities and organisations for help to gain a realistic view on our business plan. Their review helped us identify the gaps and dangerous assumptions in our concept. If you’re thinking about starting a company, get to know your local startup community. There are a lot of organisations offering support for free during your first steps. Every one of the people we contacted for coaching, mentoring or reviewing was glad to help.
Nearly a year later
After ten month of operating as a freelancer I’m quite happy with the current situation. Strong revenues from 2014 support me through 2015. Finally I’m having some free time to dedicate myself to product development. 2015 is the year to work the hardest and tackle the real challenges to scale the business.