People often ask me how I knew it was time to quit my day job to work on my startup (Before Elixir) full-time. My answer isn’t refined or an inspiring mantra, but it’s one most entrepreneurs are probably familiar with: my body and mind just couldn’t take doing both any longer. It was either quit and focus on my startup or get sick from exhaustion and stress and lose my mind. And I speak from experience when I say that.
There is a time and place to make the jump from your day job to your dream job. I’m here to share with you my take on that and my strategy to make that transition less risky and more financially stable because that shit is important. That’s Maslov’s basic needs shit.
If you are still asking yourself, “is it the right time?” The answer is probably no.
Odds are, if you’re reading this you have a startup on the side you’re working on or you want to quit your job for one you are truly passionate about. Good for you! So just quit and do it, easy right? Not really… Most of us with business ideas aren’t sitting on trust funds that can bankroll our startup projects or have investors knocking at our door. Leaving a safe and stable job is scary and risky especially if you have a family to support. We need money to live and eat and do things we like. That’s just how it is.
As a founder you need to be an asset to your startup, not a liability. You don’t want to be a broke ass founder who is constantly trying to make ends meet. That is not a good business model. Worrying and stressing about money won’t allow you the room and freedom you need to be creative and take risks to grow your company.
You don’t want to be a broke ass founder who is constantly trying to make ends meet. That is not a good business model.
So make an exit strategy. Mine was to save enough money to survive for one year without pay. I did this by putting a portion of every paycheck for 1.75 years into my savings account. That’s also where my bonuses and tax refunds went too. When I quit, I had enough money to live for six to eight months. Then if I had to, I could liquidate my 401K to buy myself another 6-month runway. While I did that I put in a few hours every day on Before Elixir (my startup) to make progress and build momentum to launch.
So that’s the financial part. Now come the emotional, mental, and physical parts, which I think are much harder to navigate. Before Elixir became more demanding of my time as it grew. A year into it I basically had two full-time jobs. That’s when thing started to get really difficult.
For several months, I was sleeping 5 or 6 hours a day and working wayyyy too much. I would make calls on my drive to work, emails during lunch break, and more calls on the drive home. Once I got home, I immediately opened up my laptop and would stay glued to that screen and keyboard until 2/3 am and get up at 8 and do it all over again. This is not something I recommend to anyone but it’s what I had to do for a long time, mainly because I was doing everything by myself as a sole founder.
I basically had two full-time jobs. That’s when things started to get really difficult.
My turning point came when I launched Before Elixir’s crowdfunding campaign. If you know anything about those damn things, you know that running one is like having a part time job; and that’s if you have teammates helping you. Since I ran my campaign solo, it was like tacking on a third job to a plate that was already spilling over.
Running Before Elixir’s crowdfunding campaign was the hardest feat of my professional career thus far. During the campaign, I was so stressed that my shoulders were tender to the touch and I woke up with a headache from clenching my jaw while I slept. I didn’t eat or sleep enough and lost a good amount of weight during that period as well. My body was literally breaking down. But I was determined to make it through and have a successful campaign, which I damn well did!
It was either quit and focus on my startup or get sick from exhaustion and stress and lose my mind.
The day my campaign ended, I knew it was time to quit my day job. I just could not handle two jobs any more. My day job deserved my full attention which I could no longer give and Before Elixir needed me full-time. I had hundreds of orders to fill after the campaign ended and I knew the company couldn’t grow as fast with me juggling another job. It was time to “take the leap.”
You will reach a point where you just know it’s time to quit. If you are still asking yourself, “is it the right time?” The answer is probably no. Something will tip the scales and that moment will be pretty obvious when it happens.
To sum it up, here’s my “WHEN TO QUIT” Checklist. If one or a combination of these things happen it's time to make a change.
- You can afford to
- You can no longer effectively execute both your day job and your startup
- Your startup can’t grow because you are not spending enough time on it
- Your body shuts down and forces you to
If you are experiencing #2 and #3 but still can’t afford to be without a day job, get some help with your startup to decrease the load or consider taking a different job that pays enough to support you but frees up time like Lyft driving. It’s not sexy but it can get you and your startup where you need to be. As someone who’s worked to exhaustion, I urge you not to let #4 happen. What’s the point of busting your ass to launch when after launch you are too tired and sick to run your business? That actually happened to me and it sucked for both me and my company. But if you get to that point, re-evaluate your timeline.
Your health, happiness, and sanity come first and the world and your dream job will wait for you. This is the rest of your life we’re talking about. Give yourself time to do it right!