It took me a good two years to build SAME Solutions while working full time. The schedule was tough, with most days starting at 6am to work on my own business before switching over to my main job at Medtronic, which I love just as much. Evenings and weekends were also dedicated to building the company. Even when the first significant contracts started coming in, I still continued working in parallel. I focused on building my team and on growing the company organically. This was a conscious choice, not a necessity.
Last August, I switched to part time at Medtronic, which might be a first for a role like mine, at least in the region. Choosing a different strategy taught me a thing or two about entrepreneurship. The lessons I learned this way might be somewhat controversial, but I think they’re worth sharing.
You must deliver on both fronts – always
The temptation when you start a business is to let everything else slide a little while you focus your energy on your start-up. Don’t.
Your day job is as much a responsibility as your own business, if not more so. In the end, it keeps the lights on and you have a professional responsibility to your employer to turn up each day and deliver.
You cannot prioritize one over the other. The sacrifices must be made elsewhere in your life. A lot has been written about time management and carving out some additional hours, about being disciplined and committed to putting in the effort it takes. GaryVee is great for inspiration on that aspect, if you are not following him already...
I cannot stress how important it is that you continue to perform your job impeccably while you work on getting your idea off the ground. Everyone expects a certain level of performance from you. If you continuously deliver on expectations, or even better beyond them, you earn respect and goodwill. You will be an asset to the team and your company. These are important elements that you will most likely need later down the line.
Second, your clients in your new business will have high expectations too. If you do not deliver early on in your company’s cycle, you will not be able to grow. Most start-ups face the same challenge – no one knows you. Why would anyone give you a shot? Getting to a level where your clients and peers are happy to vouch for you must be the main effort. That can only happen by building a reputation of setting the bar high and then going on to overdeliver. Ultimately, this requires you to have a great product or service that is undeniable in terms of its quality and value. And these are not just developed overnight.
By building a reputation as someone who delivers quality and value time and again, you will earn solid, transferable credibility in your industry. Most importantly, people will want you to succeed.
Being ethical and transparent doesn’t hurt – at all!
This one is more controversial because it’s counter-intuitive. I believe that if you have built up goodwill by continuing to deliver in your day job, you can and should be transparent with your manager pretty early on. Your ambition will be respected.
In my case, at the first sign of a potential customer and before formally setting up my company, I scheduled a “personal phone call” with my manager to ask for help with navigating the grey area. Because I had built that goodwill beforehand, after an initial moment of shock, mainly from the fact that I called him on the weekend, he was very supportive. Within six weeks we had run the issue via our internal conflict of interest process and I was good to go. My transparency paid off.
His advice boiled down to this: ’Your own dime, your own time.’ As long as I didn’t use company resources I was free to pursue my venture further. This was something I had almost been paranoid about beforehand and I knew it went without saying. However, my transparency resulted in a rubber-stamp validation and approval of what I wanted to do, meaning I could start my own business with a clear head and a true moral and ethical compass to follow, which has been priceless.
At this stage I would like to acknowledge my manager, our Global Security Team, HR and my Regional Management. They all took a massive leap of faith when allowing me to pursue my venture next to my employment but even more so when we changed my employment contract to part time. There were many hoops to jump through and it would have been much easier for everyone to simply say “no”. It takes a village… a wise man once told me.
One challenge I had to overcome was how to position myself with peers. Actually, it was something that I struggled with personally more than anything else. We like to generalize and put things in boxes. There is a box for security manager and one for entrepreneur and business owner. A box for what I do doesn’t exist yet. But I am sure I am the first out of many.
After switching to part time, things became easier and my mindset shifted as well. Now I simply say that “I split my time between my two jobs…” and then guide the discussion where it’s most useful to people I speak with. Remaining mindful not to misuse relationships has also helped a lot. The importance of sincerity and being genuinely honest with those I talk to about my day job and my own business cannot be over-emphasized.
All of this has allowed me to be completely relaxed about each side of my professional life, knowing that I have nothing to hide. On many occasions, it has also felt like colleagues and friends are rooting for me to succeed in both of my professional endeavors, which is both very satisfying and incredibly humbling.
Be patient – having time (and cash) on your hands is great
Most people think that, in order to truly grow your business, you have to work on it full time as early as possible. While that might be true, it doesn’t mean it’s the only way. A lot of it depends on personal priorities and the type of business you want to build. The most important part here is what “YOU want to build”. I made the choice to not chase investor money when starting out, for example, so we bootstrapped all the way…
Building a business is hard work. It’s exciting but it is hard work. Often you find yourself dealing with one problem after the other. IT developments, they say, always take twice as long and cost twice as much as initially set out. Well, from my own experience, that’s more than true. Bugs from updates to Internet Explorer, lengthy procurement processes, payment delays etc. are a few challenges that we ran into that were totally outside of our control.
All those issues can become cash flow challenges. If early on you don’t depend on your business for your income, you will be better able to wait things out and make the right choices that are best for the business, rather than running the risk of compounding these challenges by making hasty decisions to commit “fixing cash” you might not have and that might not adequately fix the problem, a horrible downward spiral to bankruptcy and madness.
Aside from that, ideas and products take time to mature. Our solution evolved significantly over time. If you have the luxury of time and capital to reinvest, you can continuously test, adjust and continuously improve your products and solutions. A classic case of less haste, more speed over the long run.
Bonus tip: Work ON your business before your work IN your business
I am sure many of you have heard this saying before. It’s great advice but a big challenge that I personally struggled with. The first two years, leaving the outsourced developers and freelancers aside, I worked on SAME all by myself.
When you build a business, you need to make sure it can scale when business volume picks up. There is only so much you can do on your own and I hit a wall about a year ago. Even if I had fully focused on SAME at that time, I still wouldn’t have succeeded.
Instead of paying myself, I invested in a team, all of them with skillsets I didn’t have. We had some challenging times getting everything out of my head, organizing ourselves and establishing processes that allow us now to deliver beyond our client expectations and to develop new, awesome content, but we got there and we are now all benefitting from the power and synergy that comes from a harmonized team.
The key is preserving choice. The choice of how much time you invest in your business, of what strategy you follow, of what clients you go after. Every market is different and every product and service is unique. If you invest in your team, in people whose skills complement your own, then you’re building an asset. If it all revolves around you and only you, you will quickly reach your limit.
Overall, the path I took might not be the one for you. However, the lessons I learned on the way might help you find your own trail.
Building fast doesn’t always mean building well. The key is to build something that will last. Perhaps I could have grown my company faster by working on it full time. Would it have performed better? I don’t know. Right now, it’s scaling and growing beyond me. Would I do it again in the same way? Absolutely.
I have gradually come to an arrangement where I can spend time on two jobs that I truly enjoy. I used the goodwill I had built with my current employer by delivering consistent value and remaining ethical and transparent. This allowed me to stay true to my vision for my own business, which I think should be the real end goal for any entrepreneur.
I would love to hear how similar choices worked for you. If you would like more information on how I built my security awareness business from scratch, how to make sure you still deliver whilst working part time or any other challenges you might face re this reach out to me via LinkedIn or at email@example.com.