Career Development · Startups

How to build a career whilst building a start up?


February 15th, 2016

I am 30 years old, and I am currently trying to gain experience working for others, in parallel to this with my technical co founder, we've built a mobile application (iOS and soon Android), a scalable API to support it, as well as the servers from scratch.

We are just about to launch the product, and do not need any investment since our overheads are very low. We do not need any employees since we are both technical and have control of everything technically.

I am worried about taking the plunge and going full time on my product. As much as I believe in it, I don't feel ready to take the plunge without a strong resume working in corporate companies or agencies with corporate clients. I've spent the bulk of my career to date working in very small start ups, and although they have taught me a lot, I am not sure if they will help my employment prospects for the best jobs. Hence, I am worried that if I went full time and my project didn't work out I would have a hard time competing with those more established in corporates.

I would like to continue building my career alongside my start up, is this possible? At the same time, I am aware that if I never go full time, I may get out competed.


I really do believe in the product, and a huge reason why I have not given up yet, is simply because the idea I have been working on has not been done in the way we have done it. I would hate to be in a situation where there is a massive 'what if I had done it, instead of the other person?'

At the same time, I am just worried that without any corporate experience on my CV, if my start up bombs after a year (90% of start ups do), I will be one year older and out competed by those with more experience or younger than me.

David Austin Relentless problem solver and innovator.

February 15th, 2016

Once you embrace the purely start up life where the startup is your baby, you will have a difficult time going back to someone else's corporate grind.  The question then is do you want to feed this startup adiction, knowing it will destroy  your desire to walk into a job interview for a job you used to want, but no longer do.

Depending on what your current career path is, yes ... It can be a career setback were you to take this leap.  Some careers, like a common professional service career, you can slip back into without a hiccup.  If however you were in a specialized industry that is always changing, or a trust sensitive company where loyalty is paramount (perhaps everything is in trade secrets) then taking this leap will hinder that career were you want to return.  In either case you need to act once you make this jump (and I'm assuming you will... The question being part of the psychological process of making the leap), you need to act as if this is a one way street ... That yes, your friends currently in the same career as you will continue to climb a ladder no longer available to you.

You can believe in your product all you want.  The question is do you believe in you?  In fact your product may fail.  Most do.  Can you get back up and try again?  Or will you run back to your old career with your tail between your legs?  Not that there isn't anything wrong with that.

The question is for you to answer.  Why are you doing this, can you get what you want with your current career, and are you prepared and willing to give up a sure thing for that when it is likely to mean a career path of try try again?  Because for most by far that is what it is, and for them that's okay because trying new things is what makes it awesome.  Are you that person?

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

February 15th, 2016

We are all taught the XFactor/Pop Idol method of startups - just have a good idea, present it and people will shower you with money. 

The reality is that, if you plan a startup, the first thing you should do is start building the skills and the networks you will need, while still in employment. VCs choose teams as much as they choose ideas and not having a good enough job and skills history will hamper your startup.

You can do a lot of this through Meetup Groups. Join all of those you think relevant and go along and volunteer for stuff - you will learn new skills and meet a lot of people including your future co-founders. Go on hacks, join projects and blog what you've been up to. Put it all on your LinkedIn profile too.

Alongside this do some MooCs, including spending the money on getting the certificate. It will not only teach you some new skills but it will give proof that you can stick at things and learn stuff.

You need three things for a successful startup - technical skills, business knowledge and marketing/creative abilities. Work on whichever two of those you are least good at, so that you at least have a good understanding of the key decisions and hopefully to find someone better than you at the bits you can't do so well. Focus on finding and building a rounded team. Then, and only then, think about your idea and how to make it happen.

Sebastian Pereyro

February 15th, 2016

This is what I did, saved money to have a runway of at least 12 months, while worked as hard as I could at the companies I was working for to build the skills that I believed I needed to make the jump, connected with the outside world as much as I could (hard to be very open about your entrepreneurial life within a company), and once I could not stop it anymore, I jumped. If you believe in this company, have the luxury of having a strong co-founder, both technical, and with a project already going. What could go wrong? the worst is that you will learn that you didn't know some stuff, you might probably run out of money and will have to get another job, o start doing freelancing...You will pay for your real life MBA instead of going to an official program.

I planned my jump for few years, and now I am doing it. Many will tell you, you are crazy, many other will tell you go for it, many like me might tell you a story that is not even fully written, but all that doesn't matter.What matters is how you feel about, when you are outside, you need to be self accountable, so no one will come and tell you what to do or not to do, you will have the freedom to do what you think is best.

Start doing what you think is best for you under your situation/context. If you feel you are not ready, don't do it. Build up your resume with the bullet points that you think will make you feel ready. That's your priority.

Outside, every day is a rollercoaster, I have only been on my own for 2 weeks and I can already tell you that it is very intense, but when I am at work, even on not so much fun stuff, I feel that I am one.

I like the previous comment, about those 3 things to have a successful startup, but those 3 are not enough without persistence. So my take on anything that you do, be persistent.

Enjoy the journey, and learn from it.


Nebojsa Stojnic Independent Business Owner at Mikroevent

February 15th, 2016

Totally agreed with Colin .

David Pariseau

February 15th, 2016

A lot of the advice I've heard is that you need to believe 100% in yourself and your product and commit yourself totally to it.  That if you have any fear or doubt then you shouldn't even bother.

I would argue that doubts and fears can be quite healthy, and in fact often an important component of success.  Doubts and fears force us to question our decisions and assumptions.  If you have no doubts or fears then you are perhaps not as careful as you might want to be with your resources, your relationships with customers, vendors, with your product development, with your hiring, etc. 

Of course, you don't want to be so fearful that your paralyzed into inaction, but a healthy dose of concern I believe is critical.  I've met a lot of "supremely confident" entrepreneurs, and, to tell the truth I've been one more than once personally. 

Though that confidence can give one tons of energy and excitement and be very motivating, I don't find I always make the best decisions when I'm in the throes of that over-confidence.  Sometimes that blind confidence needs tempering, and there are few things more tempering than a failure or two. 

Anyway, that's my hard-won 2 cents...

Michael Barnathan Adaptable, efficient, and motivated

February 15th, 2016

First, make sure you have the resources (mainly runway and experience) to do this. If not, work a little longer until you do. Nothing will kill your startup quite as fast as having to make poor decisions out of financial panic.

Assuming you do, it sounds like you're worried that going all in will destroy your career, which has mostly been with existing startups so far. I take it you're usually interviewing the founders, right? Picture a few scenarios, starting with the worst: you start your startup, a year later it bombs. You put it on your resume, founder at the next company you're interviewing with sees it. Do you really think another entrepreneur is going to look at that experience negatively? It's actually the "better" cases that you might have to watch out for more (e.g. got it funded, then it died), as founders will want to make sure you treated your employees, investors, etc. with respect in those cases, but those will in turn give you more experience when it comes time to do another startup. If you get an exit of any sort, however small or large, it will look very positive no matter what you do next (one reason why I often counsel people to prove out concepts rapidly and go for relatively small exits in their first startup or two rather than aiming at the $1b valuation from day one, though that's not an opinion most will share).

So whatever the outcome, this is really low-risk from a resume standpoint.

Don't buy into the "startup or career" dichotomy, either. It's common for people to flip back and forth between the two over and over again. You are not irrevocably making the decision to be an entrepreneur forever with this step, and should not think of it that way (although what people say about losing the desire to work for others does ring true). Neither are you selling out and giving up on your dreams if you have to go back to corporate life for a while. It's a marathon - pace yourself and don't worry too much about each individual decision if you're headed in the right direction overall.

David Pariseau

February 15th, 2016

Your fear that after one year's effort you will have "nothing to show for it" seems unfounded to me.  In my experience having done many of these, the learning curve has always been steepest in the startup environment.  While I've learned plenty in consulting gigs, or as an employee, it was nothing like drinking from the firehose that is a startup.

Also, having "failed" at a startup is not the detriment on your CV that you think it might be.  To me it signals someone who is motivated, hard working, can juggle multiple projects and has a can-do attitude.  It should be a strong asset to your CV.  As an employer, I might be wondering if I could keep you interested and engaged enough to keep you long term.  So, that's something you'd have to discuss, but that's a good discussion to have.

So, if you're in a position to float your enterprise for the year (you mentioned) have something that you're close to launching and believe in it, I don't see any downside (from an employment perspective) and certainly some upside from that perspective to going for it.


Paul Lukaszewicz

February 15th, 2016

Are you an entrepreneur or employee... only you know the answer. I must admit, I have had difficulties getting back into a corporate gig after having done some startup work. Pretty sure it is a recruiter red flag. With that said, you'll know if it feels right to go all in. Trust the gut.

Kirsten Minshall Founder of UVD and CTO at Limpid Markets

February 15th, 2016

I'm confused here, are you saying you do or don't believe in your product?

Ema Chuku Product Developer. Founder.

February 15th, 2016

Assuming you really did work for other startups and it taught you a lot. These are the kind of questions working for a startup usually answers for you. Meaning from your experience with working for other startups you should be in a position to answer this question. If you are seeking a 2nd self justification then you are not ready to venture out. In other words keep working on your startup as a side thing.