How to quit your day job (and build a tech startup)

Burning the boats and pursuing your passion

Launching a successful startup requires 100 per cent dedication – and that means quitting your job.

Entrepreneurs must have a "burn the boats mentality," according to ANZ Innovyz START managing director Jana Matthews.

"You land in another land and then you burn the boats. We don't turn back here."

But is it easier said than done? Computerworld Australia spoke with entrepreneurs from four Australian tech startups about their experiences ditching the corporate world.

Quitting is hard

Emil Davityan, co-founder of location-based commerce startup Bluedot, gave up a job as an adviser at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

“When you quit your job, you know it’s going to be months – if you’re lucky – before you have a regular paycheck and most likely years before you’re financially comfortable again,” he says.

“Apart from the money, startups end up consuming nearly all of your time and attention, so I learned – sometimes the hard way – to strike the right balance and still have a life outside of work.”

Adam Theobald, co-founder of coffee-queue killer Beat the Q, worked as an equity markets broker and then at a listed technology company before getting into startups.

Dropping the regular income is the hardest part of quitting the job, and this can be particularly tough for people with children, says Theobald, who has a 12-month old daughter.

“I'm very cognisant of the pressure that startup puts on the family.”

Dipra Ray gave up a job at Deutsche Bank as an investment banker to co-found NexPay, a startup that provides low exchange rates for foreign students, and then mPort, which has developed a 3D body scanner to take people’s measurements.

Ray says one of the toughest parts about quitting was giving up “the stability of a day-to-day job with a guaranteed pay cheque and a relatively clear career path.”

Leaving his workmates was hard, too. “I’d built up great relationships with my work colleagues who had become personal friends.”

Startup Victoria CEO Lars Lindstrom was another investment banker. He quit FIH Kaupthing Investment Banking in Copenhagen, Denmark to start a Danish newspaper and later moved to Australia to launch ReadCloud, a startup that provides eBooks to schools.

The hardest part? “Giving up the monthly salary and potential for career advancement in the industry I had spent 10 years in and risking it all on a startup with an unknown outcome.”

Finding a reason

Theobald says his passion for the Beat the Q concept pushed him forward. “I was very convinced by the opportunity. I paid less and less attention to the risk associated because I really sold myself on the opportunity."

Similarly, Davityan says he was driven by the “excitement of taking a risk, being [my] own boss and creating value where it didn’t exist before.”

Ray says he believed his startup could have an important impact on the world. “I wanted to make a difference and actually create change and value for consumers and businesses.”

Lindstrom says he had lost interest in his investment banking job.

“I wasn’t passionate any more about job and the first startup I did was building a newspaper that I was really passionate about – it was doing something good and that at the time was a far more important motivator than merely financial gains.”

That’s not to say these entrepreneurs moved without caution. Theobald and his co-founder, for example, didn't quit their jobs until they had answered 10 questions about the viability of their proposed business.

“Set yourself some real goals and tests before you make the big leap,” he advises. “What it does is it instinctively stops you from investing in bad paths and it reduces your sunk costs.

"When you do commit, have a budget and a plan to sustain yourself personally and in the business for a period of time for six to 12 months. And then once you're in the business, go 100 miles per hour and don't look back."

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