What Rises to the Top of the Pile: Successful vs. Hobbyist Startup Founders

August 15, 2011

3:32 pm

You’re a founding CEO and you have hedged your bet.  You have a day job.  You have a guaranteed income stream. You haven’t burned your bridges.  You’re comfortable.  That’s smart, right?

Like most things, the answer in this case is: It depends.  If you want to guarantee that there is food on your table, it’s very smart.  If you want to increase the probability that you’re new company will succeed, then not so much.

Starting a company is romantic.  It’s exciting.  Being an entrepreneur is so cool and fun right?  Yes it is –  when the founder gets to do the fun stuff.  But guess what?  There’s some really difficult stuff founders must do.  Stuff that just ain’t fun.  Stuff that sucks. So guess what?  If you have a day job, if you aren’t concerned about obtaining your next meal – on your stack of things to do, the stuff that sucks will most likely remain just beneath the next less odious task.

Three reasons why totally committed entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed then hobbyist founders:

  1. Focus, Focus, Focus – It is difficult to focus with complete intensity on two separate careers and execute successfully in both.  One is going to be compromised.  One of your employers – you or your boss who writes your regular pay-check – is going to be cheated.
  2. Avoid Loss as Opposed to Seeking Gain – See, we humans are funny.  Sure we seek pleasure.  We want to create a great company, be rich, be respected, be the next Bill Gates…only slightly less nerdy.  Yet the latest neuro research tells us that our brains are wired to make decisions based on loss and not gain.  If we jumped into your new venture with both feet, then executing the less glamorous aspects of entrepreneurship would be a higher priority.  The rough stuff would have a much better chance of getting done.  Because if you don’t execute, you don’t eat.
  3. Counter Productivity of Goal Setting – Recent research demonstrates that humans derive the same pleasure from announcing their goals as they do by achieving their goals and that people who announce their goals are less likely to achieve them then those who quietly go for it. So if you are going to keep your day job while founding a company, try and keep your goal from your spouse, friends and family.  Don’t tell people that you are going to make it big.  Because your mind will believe you already achieved your carrot goal and you won’t have that personal bankruptcy stick to push you forward.
So what I guess I’m saying here is if you have mouths to feed and no savings, keep your day job.  If you want to swing for the fences, then go for it all.

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Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.

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