Why taking a day job doesn’t mean I’ve failed as a Startup Founder

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Homeless man holding hand written cardboard sign. Advice 50 cents. Good advice 2 dollars. Bad jokes for free.

A founder with a day job

As co-founder of a tech startup, a tweet about founders with a day job really grabbed my attention this week.

“I still can’t fund founders who are waiting to quit their jobs before they go full time. I get the financial constraint but I want to back founders who are so compelled that they can’t imagine doing anything else.”

This VC does have a point. I’ve been co-founder of a food tech startup for a couple of years now. It’s extremely hard trying to bring a new concept to market. It takes grit and boundless amounts of determination. There are many dark times when you wonder what the hell you’re doing. When you ask yourself if you'll ever make it through the Valley of Death. You have to put the hours in, and I mean seriously long hours. It’s hard. I absolutely get his stance.

Yet here I am and I’ve made the decision to get myself a full time job. Am I mad? No. Have I failed? Emphatically not.

I’m a graphic designer who’s learnt how to code. All my code knowledge is self taught from the kitchen table, which was sufficient to start building websites. My tech startup was inspired from watching the BBC’s Girls Can Code. Having discovered my geek side and love of code, I seriously wanted to be part of that scene. I decided to take up the challenge of fixing my ‘big problem’ with tech.

I’ve been fortunate that two of my closest friends have agreed to join me on this startup journey and we’re totally committed to this challenge. But we’ve hit a wall.

I put myself through coding bootcamp to build our mvp and prove our concept and we know it will be a big hit. We’ve investor interest and understandably, investors want our proposal de-risking as much as possible. We’ve had discussions with a couple of accelerator programmes, but they too (the good ones) want the business de-risking. Not forgetting, as female founders with school age children and financial commitments we can’t just jet off to whichever country for 9 or 12 weeks to fast track our startup, it’s simply not practical. Travelling into London daily to bootcamp was tough enough.

Trouble is, I have an idea of what we need to do to make our idea scaleable, but I don’t yet have the knowledge to build it. We’re entirely bootstrapped to date so we don’t have the funds needed to pay for a team of developers to create our solution. But without that next stage solution we can’t de-risk and get funding.

There you have it, our perfect Catch 22.

Catch 22

So what to do when the current system doesn’t really support female parent founders like me? We’ve two choices. Give up, which is not in my vocabulary, or get creative and come up with an alternative.

My full time job is that alternative. At Skills Matter I have surrounded myself with a group of highly intelligent and driven people who between them will have the knowledge I’m craving. I have positioned myself deep within a tech events space – a learning hub of creative thinkers as passionate about code as I am. If I’m going to crack this, it will be from working here.

I’ve not been ‘employed’ as such for a very long time, having worked solo for over 20 years. I need to throw myself back into the workplace and gain valuable experience from operating within an agile environment. I’m in at the deep end but I’m discovering what it takes to scale up successfully from a management team that are making it happen. I am part of a growing development team. I am learning from the best. In return I’m able to make a valuable contribution, put to good use the skills I’ve gained so far and stay motivated.

I don’t see my full time job as failure. I see it as a way of keeping that momentum, a means to keep on moving forward. I’m not just working towards de-risking my startup. I’m also de-risking myself as a founder.