I get the call at least once a quarter. A friend, acquaintance or random person reaches out to me and says:
“Raj, I think its time for me to leave Google (insert household name tech company here). I need your advice on starting a company.”
The second version of the phone call is from someone who has left their well-paying job and is concurrently interviewing for new ones while “exploring a start-up” and looking for advice on their start-up.
In the beginning I took these phone calls seriously. I took the caller through the pros and cons of starting a company. I tried my best to paint an accurate picture of the steps along the journey and the accompanying thrills and challenges. Pretty soon I realized that almost none of those people ever left that large tech company. And if they did, they ended up at another one.
Entrepreneurs don’t interview. They commit. But its not for the reasons typically discussed.
The romantic version of the story involves throwing everything to the wind, being the risk-taking, college-dropping-out, dream-believing cowboy that is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend. The reality is a lot more murky. The reason you need to commit is because there is no other way truly validate a serious start-up opportunity.
Starting a company takes intense focus and uncertain timeframes. Unfortunately, it isn’t like being an investment manager. You don’t get to pick 50 ideas and experiment with a whole bunch of them and let the best one win. It is an inherently linear pursuit. A ton of ideas look really good at 30,000 feet and terrible when you get up close. And the only way to get up close is to dive deeply into your proposition. Unfortunately that takes 100% of your working hours (and many non-working ones). Of course, the idea is the easy part. Having the right team, driving to execution, raising money, validating your proposition, prototyping your product, getting buy-in from your family are important steps. One hundred things have to go right to start your company – and then you’re just at the starting gates.
In my case, I went through this in the two and a half years before starting BloomReach. I left my job at Cisco expecting that it might take six months to start a company. Two and a half years and more than a half-dozen serious start-up explorations later, I started BloomReach. There were plenty of reasons for the long run up. Markets that turned south. Teams that did not gel. Ideas that sucked. Prototypes that I hated. I tried to keep the bar high, believing that if I was going to pour my life into something, it had to work.
During those “two and a half years in the wilderness,” I had a young kid and a super-supportive wife. Not everyone takes two and a half years to get to the starting blocks, but the variance on that time frame is massive.
That brings me back to my friends from tech companies. For highly-qualified individuals, getting an interesting job is A LOT easier than starting a company. So the time frames never line up. A person concurrently looking for a job and starting a company will be faced with an inevitable choice – a highly certain, well-paying, pretty cool job versus a highly uncertain, not well-paying dream that is nowhere near fleshed out. That’s because getting a job is a deterministic endeavor that likely completes in weeks (maybe months). Starting a company has no defined timetable.
The only way to make that choice is to never put yourself in a position to make it. If you truly want to start a company, dedicate yourself to that and only that. Otherwise, kiss your entrepreneurial dreams goodbye.