[This is not a question but I want to share my story and want to send an encouraging message to hopeful entrepreneurs. Sorry for the long post.]

If you want to keep your job and work on a side online business, go for it. I did it and I am planning to do it again.. and again (note: this will not be a marketing pitch!)

I follow and read a lot about startups. I listen to thisweekninstartups.com & and read Hacker News plus others. I read books like "Founders at Work". I am web a developer and have a full time job. Always have been. After listening to all the stories about startups, I get the sense that if you want to launch a successful startup, you MUST dedicate all your time and energy to it.

I started a web hosting company over 10 years ago and it was very successful. I paid for everything from my own pocket. No funding of any kind, not even borrowing or taking a loan. I started with a single server and kept adding more hardware with more traffic, organically. I have no employees and I didn't pay myself. I had a day job. The web hosting was a one man shop and I did EVERYTHING; hardware and software support, billing and marketing. ALL THIS WHILE KEEPING MY DAY JOB! Yes it was hard work and nerve wrecking when a server would go down. I was nervous and tense whenever I traveled because I was in a "what will I do if a server goes down or I need to be there to replace some hardware" mode. I built the systems myself. My ISP has no idea and all they can do is push the reset or power buttons.

However I gave great customer support. I would answer business calls during work, secretly.. oops! Business mail would forward to my phone. That's the only way to juggle between a day job and have a side business AND offer fast customer support. But it worked for YEARS and minus the hosting fee I paid my ISP, almost all my revenue was pure profit. It was nice, minus some stress.

Then, I got married and had kids and got very busy. It affected my business. I was giving it less time and my customers felt it and they started moving to other hosting companies and I neglected all kinds of marketing so eventually I was bleeding customers. Customers left with no new customers signing up. I decided my family came first. The only time I could do any work was when everyone went to bed and I would stay up, coding and coding.

The beauty of the web is that if you go to a web site offering a service, you have no idea if one person is behind it or a group of people. I used that to my advantage. As long as your web site looks professional and you offer a reliable affordable useful service, you are in business!.

I understand that a lot of people are afraid to start a startup and to quit their day job. They don't want to lose the security of a dependable salary and the benefits like health insurance. If you have kids and a mortgage, it would be frightening to lose all that. Some take the leap and some people don't. I didn't. BUT what if you can just make both happen? A secure day job AND and a profitable online business.

My web hosting is dying now. That's OK and I understand. The business became a commodity and there are tons of companies offering free hosting, 59 cents hosting and other crazy figures. I can probably do the same and still be profitable but I think I had enough and I need a change.

Guess what? I am still planning to keep my day job and I have THREE ideas for startups. I am very excited about them and each one can keep me busy for YEARS. I am on fire and I am full of energy to work on the first one. Because I am a web developer, I can build them myself. I can host them myself because I already have hosting experience. I know developing them myself might be too much for me so maybe I will outsource some work using services like rentacoder.com or eLance.com and be in charge because they are my ideas, I know how they should be built and I have the specs.

If an idea fails as a business, that's OK too. Because it will be a great learning experience from a technical side for me. I am a Windows developer. I want to learn WPF, Silverlight, MVC, .NET 4.0, WCF, JQuery.. and the rest of the latest coming out from the technical firehose. What's better than learning these cutting edge technologies, be proficient in them and build a concrete application that the whole world will use. You can put these in your resume and be more marketable. Remember.. I have a day job and want to be more marketable and earn more because I have practical modern skills.

So here's my final word, which I mentioned in the beginning, if you want to keep your job and work on a side online business, go for it. I did it and I am planning to do it again.. and again. If you are going to do it yourself, it will take A LOT of work. To make it happen faster, you will need to focus, have a cutting sharp concentration, adaptable, resourceful, flexible, manage your time with a determination, be able to cut the noise from the web (tweets, facebook, blogs, emails.. etc). Learn.. learn.. learn. I read a lot every day just trying to keep up with all the new technologies. When I code and I need help, I Google. If it looks like it will take me more than 5-10 minutes (I do my homework) to find an answer, I post a question on stackoverflow.com. SO is a great resource. Ask for help, don't spin your wheels.

Good luck!

[I know people will ask. Sorry I can't name my company nor mention my new ideas]


migrated from answers.onstartups.com Jul 6 '11 at 2:19

This question came from our site for entrepreneurs looking to start or run a new business.

5 Answers 5

As a counter point: There is a lot of danger in working on a separate venture while you're engaged in a full-time job. This is especially true if you're inventing something that will eventually be patentable.

A great discussion of this can be found at ip law for startups. NOTE: I am not affiliated with this site in any way, I just find the content interesting.

Can anyone cite an example of a case where an ex-employer sued/won/etc a dispute with an employee. I am not talking about outright theft, but rather legitimate business built outside of the day job. –  TimJ Feb 19 '10 at 22:15
I don't raise the question to dismiss your argument, rather I am curious as I see this brought up a lot but have never heard of a case where an employer actually pursued it and "won". (Again, with the caveat that the employee did not use IP from the day job) –  TimJ Feb 19 '10 at 22:17
What that site talks about doesn't apply to me. My business and day job company are different and unrelated. Second, where's the proof? Example, code in a paint shop has no relation to code for an eCommerce site. What you do outside of work is your own business. Third, don't announce to ANYONE at work what you do. Never mention ANYTHING that can be used against you in the future. Your friend co-worker might turn against you and spill the beans when things go sour. If your day job company has 0 knowledge, what can they do? I am a contractor and move a lot. Just be very cautious. –  Tony_Henrich Feb 19 '10 at 22:24
What I do is not patentable. No secret IP is involved. Any junior developer can do what I do. The idea you're working on is what matters. Litigation happens when you compete with your employer and you are using the same code you developed at company time and payroll. That's a different story. But if you create some site, say, making money from affiliate marketing, I am sure it's OK. –  Tony_Henrich Feb 19 '10 at 22:32
@Tony - unfortunately some of your assertions are not correct. Many companies have clauses in the employment contracts stating that their employers' work is theirs - even if done "After hours" or on personal computers. I have no idea if this is enforceable and I agree it is outrageous, but just having an opinion about it is not useful. Note also that while it may not apply to your circumstance Rich was trying to help others to recognize a risk. –  TimJ Feb 19 '10 at 22:44
@Tim - In California, it is illegal for a company to have such a clause in their employment contract. What you do on your own time, with your own materials is your property unless you steal company secrets to do it. This varies from state to state, so you need to look up your states laws. –  Jarie Bolander Feb 19 '10 at 23:44
@Tim. I have worked at many companies and I have never seen such clause. If I ever see one, I will tell them "I am not interested" and before I leave, I will ask them why they have such a clause. –  Tony_Henrich Feb 20 '10 at 4:45
@everyone AS a counterpoint to my counterpoint: Check out Jason Cohen's opinion, from a guy that has definitely been there. blog.asmartbear.com/starting-up-while-employed-admit-it.html –  Rich Mar 1 '10 at 20:07

LeCroy vs Serialtek litigation is an example of what happens when a company feels threatened by the actions of its employee or ex-employee.

I happen to be very familiar with this case and learned my lessons: don't engage in activities that might constitute a conflict of interest, or worse.

interesting, but not what I was looking for. I am looking more for a case where a person started a company, not left for competitor AND a case where there was no conflict of interest/competition. –  TimJ Feb 19 '10 at 22:49
It's going to be hard to find such a case, if it even exists. If your business is an online application, how is your current employer going to get hold of your server side application which is not visible to the public? This is not the case of a desktop application where they downloaded it, reverse engineered it, compared its code with what they have, found too many similarities and made a case and filed a lawsuit. It's nothing like Novel Unix vs SCO Unix. My ideas have 0 threat to previous, current and future companies. Just make sure you don't work for a company that's very similar to yours. –  Tony_Henrich Feb 20 '10 at 1:21

I'd like to offer a counterpoint too. I tend to agree with Cassandre about the energy issue (I'm now 46, so it's harder for me to imagine being able to do two jobs simultaneously) and I think Rich & OutputLogic make very good points about the dangers regarding IP and inventions.

However, I'd like to offer a more fundamental question. Is it right? For some the answer may be yes, but I suggest it's something people should give some serious thought to before embarking in a "spare time" business. If I work for a company in a full-time job, I believe it is right to give my all. During work time, that means I need to be 100% focused on the task in hand, so that calls into question whether it is right to be taking support calls from your side business. Also, as an employer, I take on smart people because of what they can as a whole person can contribute (for example, some of my best ideas have been in the shower), so I would feel slightly cheated if I found out their primary energy and intellect was going into somebody else's business. (Please note I am not saying staff should work 24/7).

My point is not that what Tony is saying is wrong, but rather that it isn't universally true, and that people should be careful before jumping on the "business in my spare time" bandwagon. As a transition strategy, I'm sure it has been useful for many start-ups, but I disagree it's a long-term proposition for too many people.

Everything is not universally true. However it's also very possible. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of open source, freeware and shareware software which are developed by people who keep a steady full time job. Some of these people's day job has nothing to do with software development. So if these people can do it, you can. I am in my forties. This means I have enough experience to execute and code cleanly than someone in his twenties. My mind is clear and focused. I don't have to chase girls, date, drink, explore the world & travel and all the other distracting activities. –  Tony_Henrich Feb 20 '10 at 15:24
Plus the skills I learn from working on my business can be applied at my work (and vice versa). My employers are too keen in paying for my continuous training and education. –  Tony_Henrich Feb 20 '10 at 15:25

Aside from the legal issues, I wonder how people muster the energy for a startup on the side if their day job is already a high demanding job. If I am in a interesting software engineering job with all that entails (coding, inventing stuff, crunch time before releases, ...), then I don't see how I can work in the evening & weekends on top of that.

by saying no to distractions, tv, etc... It's a matter of priorities and sacrifice. –  TimJ Feb 20 '10 at 3:57
I don't work at demanding companies. I love coding and whether I do it at work or at home, I am having fun. This is very important that you actually enjoy your work, otherwise you will feel burnt out. I rarely watch TV. Coding without any pressure actually relaxes me! –  Tony_Henrich Feb 20 '10 at 4:49
I personally love my work, so I'm happy to code away at my startup during my free time on nights and weekends after spending 8 hours mon-fri programming. It helps that I use two different languages (sometimes up to four) between work and my personal projects, so I don't feel like I'm doing the same thing for 13 hours a day. –  Kort Pleco Jul 5 '11 at 16:30

Interesting post. I am wondering - how do you plan to do customer development when you have a day job? Do you completely depend on the search engines to discover your service/ product? Do you plan to do other promotions for your service/ product?

It will be using the usual online marketing tactics. Adwords, joining forums, blogs, tweets which are about the same services I offer. Use a sig which points to your site. –  Tony_Henrich Feb 21 '10 at 16:32

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