Full-time vs part-time entrepreneur

Starting a venture on your own is like a the last big round of poker. To win the pot, you have to go all in. — Me

Can you really become a successful entrepreneur without getting both feet in it? The answer: Mostly, no! But it depends…

Note: This story for first published (One foot on the boat) on The Beaten Road on June 23rd 2017.

The many people I meet who dream of doing something on their own have one fear that stops them and it’s not the fear of failure that stops them, its the fear of the repercussions of that failure or delayed success.

Of course, many of those people are in jobs and have families or some sort of familial duties — pay for rent and utilities, take care of parents, etc., if not running a full-fledged household with a spouse and children. And unlike a carefree person who might have a bigger risk appetite, a person with responsibilities has, in a way, more to lose.

And that’s why, these guys take it slow. They put one foot on the boat (to somewhere their dreams want to go) and still have one foot on the shore (the safety of their current lives). And we all know that it is impossible to get anywhere that way.

This is also the reason why entrepreneurship is not for any and everyone. It’s not just about the risk appetite, it’s also about how reliable your safety net and support system is. Most, who might have a large risk appetite, may not have reliable safety measures to fall back on, like a wealthy spouse, huge savings or investments, an unsupportive family, etc.

But the fact remains, if you want to cross the channel and reach the land of your dreams, you will need to have your both feet on the boat. You have to go all in — it is literally, all or nothing when it comes to starting a startup.

I believe I need to clarify something here. Yes, there are startups where the founders have worked on it part-time. Yes, some of them are successful. But there are two caveats to these statements.

  1. The businesses, if continued part-time, become lifestyle businesses.
  2. Once they (the founders) give it an initial push and gain momentum, they all jump in with both feet. Just like bobsledding. Or even cycling, if you have the habit of pushing your cycle before you start pedaling.

Any successful (non-lifestyle) business will require your full-time attention and efforts. You cannot continue your job and the business and expect either of them to take off.

Another point to note is the attitude of investors. Almost every investor I know or have heard of refuse to invest in a potentially great startup if the founders are not in it full time. They understand the principle I mentioned in the previous paragraph and do not gain confidence in the startup unless they know that the founders are going to work full-time and hard to make sure their money grows.

If you are not ready to jump all in, that’s fine. As long as you come to terms with the notion that you will at some point, you are okay. Till then, it is understandable to test the waters a bit. In fact, that might, some times be the sensible thing to do. Like these:

  • When prototyping your product. You can work in your garage or spare room at night, creating prototypes and that’s alright.
  • When you are demonstrating your services. You may serve your potential customers on your day off, just to see their response and get their feedback.
  • You are researching the various aspects of business — market, competitor, product development, etc.. As long as you don’t end up in a limbo in this stage, part-time research is fine.
  • You have a reliable team to take care of most of the operations. Most times, this is fine, but again, somewhere down the line, as the leader, you’ll need to lead by example and take on more responsibilities.
  • It’s a side business anyway and you are doing it to give additional income at home or just to follow your hobbies.

– Ravi Warrier, Lead – Programs, Startup Innovation, T-Hub

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