Very often you hear about some of the most successful people quit their jobs or school to focus on their entrepreneurial projects. You often hear of how Bill Gates didn’t finish Harvard to focus on this Microsoft project, and how Jack Ma is not even college-educated. You have witnessed other entrepreneurs who left their not-so-satisfying-jobs and focused on their projects, gave them sweat and blood and became successful entrepreneurs. You must also have also heard speeches on taking the leap, acting on the faith, quiting your job, jumping all in, otherwise, how will you convince yourself, or others, that you are fully committed to your goal?
If you are working on an idea or a project that is its infancy, and you have a dream to become an entrepreneur, you must be asking at what point do you quit your job and focus on your business? Should you just drop it all, quit your job and run into your dreams?
Not quiting your job and staying in employment is good for you
What we are not often told is how long these successful entrepreneurs stayed on their jobs, or university programs, before they finally decided it was time to move on. In his book Originals, Adam Grant shows how Sarah Blakely, known for Spanks, stayed at her job for two years after investing her savings to develop her prototype. After Bill Gates sold his first software program, he stayed in school for an entire year. When it was time to leave school, he didn’t quit and throw caution to the wind, but instead, took a leave of absence which was allowed by the university. Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, stayed on his HP job until an investor gave him an ultimatum that he would have to fully focus on Apple to get the grant. Google founders almost didn’t leave their PhD programs. Even author Stephen King stayed employed for 7 years after publishing his story until the success of his book Carrie gave him the support he needed to write full time.
Taking calculated risks
By giving these examples, the message Adam Grant tries to pass along is that even entrepreneurs, known for their risk-taking nature, don’t take risks blindly. Instead, they mitigate risks and only take calculated risks.
“The best entrepreneurs are not risk maximises, they take the risk out of risk taking – Linda Rottenberg.
The reasons these entrepreneurs were hesitant to leave their place of employment is because they were mitigating the risk involved in jumping into a whole new world of entrepreneurship, without having some backup. Like anything else in life, a business could succeed or fail and therefore the reasonable thing is not to have blind optimism, but to be realistic about what could happen.
Of course, some individuals quit their jobs as soon as they develop ideas and have succeeded in their businesses. All the same, the advice here is that maybe you should not be so fast to jump into the business if you don’t have a buffer. If you have investors for example, from parents to business investors, you have committed someone else’s money and you may as well give your best effort to the business in order to make it work. This may require you to leave employment and focus on the project.
However, if you are still developing your ideas, you may need to commit yourself to work on your full-time job and use your spare time to focus on your project. This risk-mitigating move is even more applicable if you have dependents and you really have a lot to lose should your idea not work and yet you let go of your stable source of income.
Staying in employment is not lack of commitment
Often, people will question your initiative and even your commitment to your project if you don’t focus on it full time. Investors will especially question about putting in their money into your project since they can’t sense full commitment from you. However, this is a situation that you can explain. It takes money to make money, and sometimes you not only need your salary for survival but also to pay for some of the things your new business requires to take off.
We hear of entrepreneurs who take massive risks and succeed. What we don’t hear is about those who took such risks and failed. As I mentioned earlier, you also hear of those that left employment to be entrepreneurs, but you don’t hear of how long they stayed on the job even after launching their ideas.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Successful entrepreneurs are probably more risk-averse than the general population. The assumption is that they tend to break the rules and take massive risks, while in reality, they take calculated risks.
“Many entrepreneurs take plenty of risks, but those are generally the failed entrepreneurs, not the success stories – Malcolm Gladwell.
Should you quit your job and take up entrepreneurship?
If you have your business up and running already, and it is performing well and you think it could perform better if you work in it full time, then maybe you should. However, if you are still in the idea phase, or you have set up and there are still no substantial returns, then maybe you should work a bit longer as you give it more time to incubate. Another question to consider is if your business is performing well, is how sustainable are the returns? Depending on the nature of product or service, some returns can be deceiving, where they look good today and maybe not so good tomorrow, and other times they are seasonal. If you start a business to sell umbrellas during the rainy season, they will definitely sell, but how sustainable is this?
Before you quit your job to focus on entrepreneurship, do some serious considerations. Ask the right questions and develop honest answers. Most importantly, mitigate your risks.