The art of juggling full time employment with building a business
80-hour work weeks are not uncommon if you’re the founder of a startup – building a business is a tough gig, particularly in the online space where competition is so fierce.
However, there is an emerging group of young entrepreneurs going against the grain and juggling demanding full-time jobs with a startup. This is an army of entrepreneurs who don’t just preach but also live the lean startup principles, actively use efficiency tools and effectively outsource and delegate the unsexy stuff or the tasks they’re simply no good at.
Up until last week, I myself had juggled the establishment of Hotdesk.com.au with a demanding role at Macquarie Bank. While I was lucky enough to receive funding and embark upon full-time entrepreneurship, juggling full-time employment with a business did not prevent me from kicking goals on both ends of the field.
I thought it would be interesting and worthwhile finding out how other ‘jugglers’ manage to keep things in balance and develop their careers while also establishing profitable businesses and maintaining active social lives. Perhaps many actively employed ‘wantrepreneurs’ reading this can find some inspiration and get started. It is not without its challenges though.
Daniel O’Brien, director of capital markets and commercial leasing with CBRE and co-founder of Blue Chilli company HOUSL, knows all too well the challenges that come with juggling.
“When HOUSL started to gain real momentum, I did find it challenging to balance my home life, day job and HOUSL. Also at this time our second daughter was born, so it was very challenging. But you are only young once, and I always believed in the HOUSL product and knew the ‘end game’ would all be worthwhile,” says O’Brien.
“I had never done something like this before so I was doing all of it ‘on the run’. Without the encouragement and support of my wife, it would have been much harder.”
Despite these challenges HOUSL has tracked a growth curve and has attracted a very high profile investor in REA Group CEO Greg Ellis which has supported the hiring of a CEO, a marketing specialist and a BDM.
In fact, working in the industry already presented benefits and opportunities that perhaps otherwise would not have presented themselves.
“In some ways, working for the largest real estate services firm in the world has introduced me to an amazing network of contacts”, says O’Brien.
“The challenge has been to respect my role at CBRE and to never compromise existing professional relationships. The great thing about HOUSL is that it delivers real efficiencies and benefits so whenever I’ve sponsored an introduction to key influencers within the industry, the product has been good enough to stand up on its own.”
This is something that I could relate to myself. The mainstream press I received shortly after launching Hotdesk was enough to get on the radar of key players at my employer’s investment banking arm, all of whom were very helpful in making introductions to influencers in Sydney’s private equity and commercial real estate space.
Relationships, strategic partnerships and networks are key when trying to capture market share as a startup so it is well worth looking inwards to your place of employment for potential boosts, not unlike the ones received in adolescent years when trying to scale a high fence.
Being tactical about it and setting aside time to work on your startup during predetermined hours is critical to sustainability. Chopping and changing between jobs and tasks on an ad hoc, unstructured basis is not only mentally taxing but unproductive. It can take between 15 and 45 minutes to get into ‘the zone’ after an interruption so a clear focus on the task at hand is critical. Andrei Maior from Barnaby, the newest player on the mens fashion accessory scene, reiterates this point.
“Set aside 2-3 hours a day, turn off your mobile and internet connection and just work. At Barnaby, we make use of automation and workflow tools like Buffer and Trello to support structured marketing and effectively manage and share the workload, despite the entire team being gainfully employed elsewhere,” says Maior.
Further to this point, Laura Chong, lawyer at Holding Redlich and founder of The 400 Co, a boutique fashion label geared towards saving corporate women time looking for stylish wares without the price-tag, tends to agrees that separating work from, well, work, is important.
“Holding Redlich is obviously the priority so I do what I can during my lunch break and always make an effort after work to do something that benefits The 400 Co, regardless of how small that something may be,” she Chong.
Jugglers should consider subscribing to the Pareto principle which dictates that 80% of the return is in direct response to 20% of the effort or investment. This rings true of almost anything in life. Determine exactly what that 20% is for your business. Which tasks are generating 80% of the return? Focus on those. Focus on what you are best at. Everything else can be delayed, outsourced, delegated or perhaps dropped altogether.
As entrepreneurs we have an innate desire to get our hands dirty and dive into every nook and cranny in the business but this isn’t an efficient nor effective use on our time and may actually be counterproductive as we aren’t focused on what really matters. Timothy Ferris, author of the 4 Hour Work Week, considers this ‘work for work’s sake’ and there’s not many bigger productivity killers.
Budding entrepreneurs concerned with investing a lot of their time for little return may be well advised to consider lean startup principles around testing their idea before committing additional time to their business. Testing market appetite for an idea these days can be done quite easily and cost effectively. A simple landing page together with a targeted Google Adwords campaign and maybe an online form are enough to test traffic and interest in your idea.
Pending some early market validation, one can outsource the development of almost anything without spending a fortune. Logos, websites, online stores, brand development, blogging, social media management and search engine optimisation are all only a few clicks and maybe a well planned phone call away on Freelancer.com. These enable founders to test the waters without breaking the bank.
That’s all well and good but what about the impact on my career you say? Will your employer look down unfavourably on your entrepreneurial pursuits as a conflict of interest? Will your performance in the office be impacted? No on both accounts says Chong.
“Having a creative outlet makes you a better employee. Running my own business has helped me look at problems differently which is an important quality for lawyers and I find that I have so much more energy now at work because I have that creative outlet,” she says.
Her employer has been very supportive of her pursuits with The 400 Co and her advice for entrepreneurs who aren’t as fortunate to have a supportive ecosystem at work is simple – “either quit or don’t do it”
I too found that while at Macquarie that not being 100 percent invested in one thing makes you in some ways better at both and in many ways a happier person. It may have something to do with an appetite to explore life’s opportunities and not resign yourself to one pathway or corporate ladder or camera lens for the rest of your life. What makes life exciting is seeing, pursuing and experiencing different things.
A change is as good as a holiday and the challenging yet rewarding nature of running a startup can actually make you happier in your day-job and may even teach you a thing or two that you can incorporate into your normal day to make you a more productive and valuable employee.
It is true that some workplaces may have more entrepreneurial values and be more supportive than others so get a good gauge for just how supportive yours is before you start wearing branded youridea.com.au t-shirts to the office on casual Fridays or updating your Linkedin profile headline.
Still, if an employer, in today’s day and age where innovative lateral thinking is being encouraged (although perhaps not widely practiced), doesn’t value your drive and would instead prefer that you went home and watched TV, then it may be worth questioning whether this is an employer where you can build a satisfying career and absolutely be your best.
It ultimately comes down to transparency though – often a conversation with the right people is all that it takes to communicate that you are doing your own thing on the side and that it won’t impact your meeting responsibilities. Just be sure that there are no conflicts of interest and that you report any outside directorships to your employer. This is usually just a formality to meet the employer’s compliance obligations.
Is it all work and no play then? Finding time for relationships and having a strong network of moral support is ultimately what makes juggling sustainable, at least in the short to mid-term. Juggling full time work with a startup doesn’t necessarily mean you have no time for anything else. Chong has managed to build a fashion label while practicing law and will be partnering with other companies and charities such as 28 Days, Scent Candles and Cancer Mater Chicks in Pink to give back to the community.
You can do it all. You just need to commit to and work for it. No doubt there may come a time where the crossroads stare you down and a decision must be made between your business and your employer but that doesn’t mean you can’t juggle until such a decision presents itself. Just like the armies of thousands that purport not to have time to exercise or prepare healthy food, there are many who keep pushing back their passions and waiting for ‘the right time’ to do what they love.
However, that time will never come – life is always throwing competing priorities our way and the best way to deal with this is just to dive in and get amongst it. If you are passionate about what you do it won’t feel like additional work, it will make you a better employee, give your more energy and just may well present a lucrative and rewarding career path of its own.
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