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Don’t quit your day job (yet)

“Hi Tal, I’m working on an initiative that helps people connect over coffee. I believe in this project so much that I had quit my very rewarding job to focus on it, so… Shall we meet for coffee?”

This text was sent to me last night, and is, in my opinion a good example for the difference between entrepreneurial spirit and utter insanity.

Building a business is time demanding, hard and often comes on the expense of other things. It takes grit to build something from scratch, to keep going despite countless no’s, and to do all of that in a competitive ecosystem with a half-baked idea? That’s 100% lunacy, so why do people quit good, lucrative jobs to it?

My take on in that starting a business will open you up to so many difficulties, that there are just too many really good reasons (albeit shitty excuses) to just not do it. And so, to take the first steps and gather the motivation required to deal with the world of pain that is entrepreneurship, many folks double down on the risk element, creating a situation in which failure is not an option, as there’s no 9 to 5 safety net.

The incentives to break free are clear: independence, self-fulfillment, potential payouts… These are all great reasons to stop working for the man. The thing is that regardless if you start your business while keeping your day job or not, the incentives to do your own thing remain the same, and this is where, I think, startup mentality fails a lot of people:

Reid Hoffman said that if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched too late. It may be true, but this isn’t an excuse to make hasty, irreversible and sometime irresponsible decisions. You can still launch shitty first-versions if you have a day job. Reid also said that entrepreneurs are people who jump off cliffs and build the airplane on the way down, but you know what? even Kamikaze pilots wore helmets and exposing yourself to even more risk than what’s necessary is foolish: you’ll need to be your best self when navigating the treacherous waters of entrepreneurship, and existential concerns around day to day issues can cloud your thoughts and jeopardize whatever progress you’ve already made.

Pitching when resources are running low can be noticeable and come across as desperate. Negotiating with investors with no money to pay rent puts you in a clear disadvantage and is guaranteed to skew your judgement. As tempting as it is to live by an imaginary Sillicon Valley script, successful entrepreneurs are ofter risk minimizers, not risk takers, a claim that has been beautifully articulated by Adam Grant in his book Originals (link to a red video).

As the text I received last night shows, some people use quitting their job as a proof or their seriousness and commitment to get a foot in the door. Personally, I see more commitment and seriousness in those who keep working on side projects after 10 hours in an office. The hard thing to do is to get home at after a day’s work, put the kettle on and start the 2nd shift.

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