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Founding while working – How to start building a company while you are still employed

Founding while working – How to start building a company while you are still employed

There are basically 2 forms of entrepreneurship you can experience while still working on your full-time job. The first one is where you can propose a project that can be sponsored by the company you are currently working with. The other one is where you work on a personal project outside of your working hours. There are tons of articles written on the former. I’m going to focus on the later. That’s also a form of entrepreneurship I’m currently experiencing.

The primary reason why you might want to consider working  on your own project while still being employed full-time is that you do not want to risk it all. You also want to keep acquiring certain skills at your workplace that you think will contribute towards your own venture. However, before you proceed, ensure that you do not violate any terms of your current employment.

When I hit upon the idea for spoorr (www.spoorr.me) I was completing my MBA. I was deep into debt and wanted to pay it off before pursuing entrepreneurship full-time. I had a job offer on hand for the role of a Business Development Manager. We also had a baby on the way. These personal and career-oriented reasons seemed bottlenecks at first. But then I sat down, analyzed the situation and took some decisions. On the plus side, I had a steady income that could be put to good use once the debt was cleared. I had also built up considerable skills in product development that I could use to run a team. Additionally, I could acquire the selling and marketing skills in my new job as a Business Development Manager.

I had already put the alpha version of spoorr out and tested the concept with my MBA colleagues and my professors. The idea was promising. I now needed to build a consumer-ready product. I could either do it on my own or get it done by good designers & developers. I am not a good designer (actually I suck at it!). I definitely needed to involve a designer. As for development, I realized during the alpha development, that it took a lot of my time in learning the technology (PHP, etc.), developing it and testing it. So much was the time required, that I lost focus on setting the direction of spoorr. All this summed up to one thing – get a team to work on the actual development. I could then run the product development by setting the direction of the product. The money saved from my full-time job could be used to fund the product development.

I first tried complete outsourcing – hired a company in India (which by the way was setup by one of my very good friends). However, this did not work out so well for me since the development team was tuned in to doing what it was told – no ideas, no innovation. So i tried a different route – looked for good people who would be part of a team. I spent (or invested) a considerable amount of time in getting the right people on the team. I went through my network to look for the right people and then once I had them, I tried each one out for a shorter period before going in for a longer commitment.

The effort has paid off. We are now a solid team of product manager (myself), a designer, a front-end developer and a backend developer. The experience has been very enriching! Its not a smooth course at all – each one of us in a different city and time-zone. But if you have a good team, you can address the issues in a better and much faster manner. And you get a lot of ideas.

So, where do we go from here? Spoorr is now in beta. We are still maturing the product to make it more intuitive and user-friendly. Once this stage is reached, we will be marketing it to users. The next stage will be to create a premium offering and then to reach out to enterprises. Its a long way, but we’ll get there.

As I look back to the decisions I took, I realize that I am in-effect playing the role of an investo-preneur. I’m investing in my own company while driving the product development. This helps me several fronts. I have focused on the product vision, while letting my team members focus on what they do best – designing & developing. I am able to fund the development on my own so that I don’t waste time looking for funding and eventually giving away a good share of the company. My current employment is helping me acquire selling skills that will certainly be useful once we start monetizing from the product. On a personal front, I am able to provide for my family while being able to spare time with it.

Here’s a summary of the lessons learned as an investo-preneur (in no particular order):

  • There’s no key to entrepreneurship. Analyze your situation (professional and personal) and decide the way forward. Do what you think is right, just don’t sit on it!
  • Prioritize. As a full-time employee also working on your own startup, you’ll have to prioritize things even more. Manage your time and expectations (yours’ and others’) smartly.
  • Choose what part you want to outsource. You’ll always face the question of “build vs buy”. Choose which areas you want to build and which you want to outsource – core product development, tools, other services and then select the right outsourcing partner.
  • Choose your team wisely. See what are your strengths and what role you want to play in the product building. Choose the rest of the team that brings in complimentary skills. Invest a lot of time in getting the right people.
  • Choose the people wisely. Experienced designers & developers bring in more value for the buck rather than out-of-college students in the beginning. As your product team grows you’ll need the later.

About Kejal Shah
The article is provided by Kejal Shah, founder of Spoorr. Spoorr (www.spoorr.me) is a privacy-aware professional network that allows users to share different profiles with different groups of people – e.g. you can create a different profile for your customers, a different profile for your partners, a different profile for recruiters and so on. Each profile is highly-relevant to that particular group of people. Today’s professional networks (LinkedIn, Xing, Viadeo, etc.) are limiting in that you can create only a single profile and that too is public thus compromising your privacy.

Written by Kejal Shah

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