How DO you start a startup when you have a job?

It’s always excited to hear someone say they quit their job to work on their own thing, whether it’s a startup, or a music career, or something else. But I’ll admit, there are times when I’ve wondered — really? But … food? Rent?

Who ARE these people who can just quit working and work on something that doesn’t pay, and might not pay, at least for awhile. It would be easy to assume that these are special people who have rich parents, still helping them out well into their 20s. In New York, people who once worked in finance seem to be able to pull off not working and without income for awhile. 

I got laid off from a job once and made it maybe 2.5 months thanks to a little freelance work, but it wasn’t like I had a buffer — I had to get moving asap. 

So when I decided to start a company, I was baffled as to how I might pull this off. To make matters worse, I had steep student loans — to put it into perspective, my loan payment matched my rent each month. 

What I’ve found is that there IS no “how to” on this topic because every person does it differently. Each person has their own situation, but if you want to start a company, you figure yours out.

Without the support of a significant other, or rich parents, or a high-paying job that nets you lots of savings, and even with student loans, it IS possible to start a company that you’ll eventually work on it full time.

Here’s mine, plus a few other ideas mixed in.

1. Work your company into your day job

I wanted to start a startup that would somehow gamify the process of selecting the best book manuscripts, then edit them and market them to readers. I’ve worked for a literary agent and gotten paid to edit a full-length manuscript that was self-published. I could have started a service company and gotten paid per project — then scaled it and turned it into the platform I envisioned. 

But, I decided that wasn’t the best entry point into the type of business I wanted to run. 

2. Lots of savings

A friend recently quit her job with a years’ worth of savings (she also lives with her significant other). She also has student loans. 

My personal opinion is that you should have at least six months savings before quitting a job. Any less and you’re giving yourself unneeded stress and that won’t help your company. 

A year is good — but I took the opposite route, and while I have nearly no savings (I DO have an emergency fund), my student loans are almost paid off, which reduces my monthly expenses, for when I do finally quit my job.

3. Move to Thailand

I read about a guy who moved to Thailand to bootstrap his startup. I haven’t been to Thailand and would love an excuse, but this goes back to the savings question — although you could get further on less savings, or you could do remote freelance jobs, as long as the time to payment ratio still gave you enough time to work on your own stuff.

4. Move home with parents

I’ll be honest — I didn’t ever really consider this. I lived with my parents right after grad school. They are wonderful, but retired, and very leisurely, and arrange their days around morning coffee, mid-morning coffee, and afternoon coffee. I love going home and resting, but I wouldn’t get any work done.

There’s also something to be said for surrounding yourselves with a community of likeminded people who will drive and inspire you to get sh*t done.  

5. Work nights and weekends

This is, of course, what I did. I worked at Mashable for two years while teaching myself programming and eventually building ReadThisNext on the side. I’ve worked at a startup and I’ve worked at a coffee shop, and neither of those was conducive to building something creative on the side. At the startup, I poured my heart into the day job, and at the coffee shop, I was literally just too exhausted to do anything after work, and had no extra money, so I had to make up for it by cooking at home consistently, which takes up time and effort. 

The salaried job that I enjoyed was ideal. I actually found the days I was more creative and proactive at work, I came home energized and excited to do more work on my own stuff. There was no upside to being lazy at work. A couple times I actually turned research I was doing on my own (about fundraising, about startup accelerators) into stories I wrote for Mashable, so everyone benefitted. 

When I came to Bustle, I not only had just moved into a cheaper apartment but the raise meant I could finally afford to invest some of my own money into my company. I could potentially start paying a developer to build features faster than I could myself (having to teach myself as I went). I felt like Westley and Buttercup when they came out of the Fire Swamp and had defeated the various dangers — Hey, I could do this happily for some time!

(and therein lies the problem. When you start a company, comfort is the enemy.)

6. Do freelance or part time work

I’m going to be starting Monday with a team of journalists at Facebook. The role involves working some nights and weekends, and flexible hours, so I’ll have some daytimes free to do meetings for my company. It’s a really great job. If you told Grad School Me that I would get this job, I wouldn’t have believed you — back then I wasn’t sure I’d get any job in journalism. Much less have THAT job, and my own functioning and beautiful startup MVP, and freelance writing clients. 

My cofounder also has a steady job and we’re both able to commit a healthy number of hours each week to ReadThisNext WITH confidence that we don’t need investment asap or revenue asap. I am quite happy with the setup, and for us to take our time finding the right business model and the right user experience. 

When you work on a startup, I think you have to have a sense for timing. You think raising money would be a huge success — but all that does is give you an end date, a big red deadline. Who needs that kind of pressure? Get product-market fit first. Then get revenue first. Weigh your risks, and take the best ones.