Don’t go full-time until you have to.image
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Don’t go full-time until you have to.

In the startup world, there is a lot of stigma against part-time founders. By keeping their day job, these founders are seen as less committed, established and serious. Full-time founders, on the other hand - regardless of the traction they have in their business - are seen as brave, head-strong, and passionate. Being full-time is actually one of the major criteria for getting access to funding through grants and accelerator programs.

I think this is ridiculous. People need stability and security to be their most creative. Pressuring founders - especially college students - to go full-time on their business before they business needs them to is setting them up for unnecessary stress and pain. I know first hand.

I went straight into working full-time on Lumastic after I graduated college. I was told this was the right move because, “There would never be an easier time”. I didn’t have student loans thanks to my parents and grandparents. I didn’t have a wife and kids to support. And I had about $15k in the bank thanks to grants from pitch competitions.

However, while I’m so grateful I was in this position, I wish I had not gone full-time after graduating. Why? Because the business didn’t need me to be. We had no customers, no users, and hadn’t even launched the core product. In fact, I think by going full-time too early, it caused me to spend way too much time thinking and focusing on stuff that didn’t matter - especially when it came to our MVP.

Because we were launching to no one and had nothing but time, I spent months doing the stupidest shit like building our own goddamn UI library in React. Stuff that I would not have done if I was working part-time and really had to prioritize what I was doing to reach our goals. I’m a big believer in Parkinson’s Law that, “Work expands to the time allotted”. And when you go full-time too early - you have too much time.

Going full-time too early also starts to create problems when the money (and time) start to run out. The last 6 months I was full-time with Lumastic, I was nothing but a ball of stress, doubt, and frustration. Nothing was working, I was incredibly worried about my financial situation, and I was having regular panic attacks whenever a new problem presented itself. Imagine not only running, but growing a startup being in that state of mind. The reality is, you can’t.

So, what would I do next time? I’d do what literally every creator does while they’re building their business. I’d get a part-time or flexible full-time job and work a few hours in the mornings and evenings until the business requires more hours every day than I can give. I’d set reasonable expectations, and focus on making consistent progress on the stuff that matters until it’s clear that going full-time would lead to significant growth in revenue.

This is hard for startup founders to comprehend I think because of the epidemic that is easy access to capital. However, opportunities to raise money or get grants by being full-time doesn’t pay the bills. And I promise going full-time just because it was “easy” ended up being so much more painful than useful. Ignore the pressure - focus on making the work fun. Keep the side-hustle a side-hustle for as long as you can.

Note: This is part of a larger blog series on 10 Things I Learned From My First Failed Startup. Checkout the rest of the series and tweet your thoughts at me.

Drew Lyton
Drew Lyton
Friday, February 4, 2022

I'm a software engineer, ex-founder and writer who cares deeply about creating a better relationship between technology and society. I'm currently writing a book about early stage entrepreneurship.


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