I have 1 year of savings, so I’m giving this startup thing a try…

Making the jump from a day job to starting a company is a scary one. I don’t believe there’s a ton of real riskafter all, you’re probably highly employable (particularly if you’re a developer)– but it’s still a big leap. And often, people do it after they’ve saved up about a year’s worth of money so they know they can survive without regular income. Saving money in advance is good. Avoiding bankruptcy and abject poverty is also good.

But here’s the thing: when you give yourself a time limit, say a year, to “make it happen”, you often end up just filling up the time. And by “filling up the time” I mean you spend a year trying to get your startup to work, all the while not really adapting quickly enough or making the hard decisions you need to make … because, after all, you have a year.

I’ve seen a lot of people take this approach, and somehow, magically the time gets filled up and the progress just isn’t there. Now they’re out of savings and have to go back to a day job, leaving their startup in the lurch.

We tend to fill up the time we’re given, whether we need to or not.

If you ask someone to get something done by next Friday, generally, they’ll deliver next Friday, but not before. People don’t seem to value time enough, even though we understand it’s an extremely limited, non-replenishable resource. There’s always a reason for the time filling up, but it’s rarely justified.

Instead of filling up the time and exhausting your one year’s worth of savings, you should assume that you have no time at all. All the time. You shouldn’t be in a constant state of panic, but you can’t assume you’ll figure it out a few months from now and feel OK with that, simply because it’s within your window of opportunity. That window is closing all the time, faster than you realize. Don’t get caught giving yourself a set period of time to succeed and simply filling up the time, and not holding yourself to the highest standards of intellectual honesty and discipline needed to succeed.

When someone says to me, “I’ve got a year to figure this out,” I always think (and should say), “So you have a few weeks. Maybe a month or two. Three tops. At that point if you haven’t got something validated, you won’t have time to build a product, get traction and either raise capital or bootstrap with revenue.”

Don’t fill time.

Execute faster. Recognize you have no time. Be insanely honest with yourself and disciplined in your efforts. Pivot. Move on to something else if you have to. But don’t spend your time spending your time and spinning your wheels. In a year, your savings are gone, you’re broke and you haven’t made enough progress. It’s not the end of the world, but you would have been better off shifting ideas sooner, or saving some of your money, trying something new, getting another job and living to fight another day.

October 5, 2012 Posted in Startups by

  • http://blog.simonsayz.ca/ Simon Therrien

    Its funny, I never taught of it that way but when you think about it, its so true. Great post Ben. I read a quote from Mark Cuban recently and you might like it “Time is the most valuable asset you don’t own. You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you .” I also added a link on my blog to it.

  • toni matlock

    Ouch. I needed to hear that. Thanks.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/scottjhoward ScottjHoward

    The delicate balance of urgency & patients is one of the most difficult business states to achieve. I consistently, give ‘make sure you have 1 year of cash saved’ advise to perspective founders I speak with, having had personal experience. Best investment I may ever make, even though the balance sheet does not reflect that. However, Ben does a great job of nailing the critical path element of the project, focus your time, effort, and capital on quality evidence against your hypothesis.

  • dd

    Start off by buying an $8,000 diamond necklace for your girlfriend. This is the best advice you will ever get but you won’t realise it until you see that it’s true.

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  • VahidJozi

    I find the best way to prevent that outcome is to set very solid deadlines for yourself and if-then decisions. If you don’t make the deadlines, reassess your work and opportunity. What I see is many entrepreneurs stick to a hypothetical vision and block feedback.

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Hope it was helpful…

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    People definitely need enough money to last, so they don’t run out and give up too quickly … but just be careful about filling up the time without realizing it. That’s really my message…

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  • Adam Perkins

    This is great. Everyone should take an honest look at your traction, not just what you ‘think’; left my day job in March. Made it into FounderFuel in July. Hopefully off to a good start! But you never know how things will turn out. Excited for the future!

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Best of luck Adam!

  • george.naing

    testing

  • george.naing

    “Instead of filling up the time and exhausting your one year’s worth of savings, you should assume that you have no time at all”
    I agree, a sense of urgency is absolutely necessary. You are inspiring.
    ethicminds blog

  • http://www.ifn365.com/ Jean-Pierre Levac

    A year’s worth of savings? If I had waited to have one year’s worth of savings I’d never have started anything at all. Grow a pair already, a startup is for grownups.

  • Ruby on Rails consulting

    Very well said – “Dont fill time”. We, http://www.idyllic-software, are big time fans of Lean Startups and recommend that to all our clients and try to get them through the BML loop as quickly as we can. But surprisingly we still find people who understand Lean startups, but want to do a mammoth shipment.

  • http://twitter.com/byosko Ben Yoskovitz

    Ouch :)

  • Dude

    sounds stressful. always feeling like you’re out of time. probably not good for your mental health.

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  • http://twitter.com/DianaSchneidman Diana Schneidman

    The title indicates the problem:I have 1 year of savings, so I’m giving this startup thing a try…

    One year of savings is nice, but it’s not the reason to start a start-up. You could just as easily conclude that you should travel the world or train for marathons.

    Anyone with an attitude like that is doomed to fail.

    -Diana

  • http://twitter.com/pkorpak Piotr Korpak

    Though I get your point and agree with it, my angle is a bit different on this.
    I don’t really think that ‘having 1 year of savings’ is the key here. If it was ’1 month of savings’ would that be better? I don’t think so, that would be just dumb (or bold if you prefer). And if it was ’10 years of savings’, would that change anything? I doubt that.
    What matters here is the mentality – and this is where I couldn’t agree more with you. ‘Execute faster. Be honest and disciplined. Pivot.’ – these are phrases to stick on a wall and look at every day. People have to recognize the urgency but not at the cost of ‘financial safety’. If you can’t get yourself motivated and disciplined, sorry pal, it’s not for you. This is business, not blackjack.
    I’m going through that journey right now (quit day job in July) and can’t imagine doing it without any margin of safety. But just as much I can’t imagine doing it ‘filling time’.
    Making it all short, to me that’s ‘have 1 year of savings but act as if it you had 1 day’.

  • http://twitter.com/byosko Ben Yoskovitz

    There’s nothing wrong with a “margin of safety” and you sound committed to not just “filling time” — unfortunately a lot of people do just fill time whether it’s one year or ten. But you did hone in on the key: “execute faster, be honest and disciplined.”

  • http://theagileplanner.com/ Graham Ashton

    I agree with the gist of your post; that if you’re going to take time off paid work to bootstrap a startup that it’s dangerous to be anything other than disciplined and rigorous with yourself about how you spend your time.

    But having tried it, I don’t agree that it’s a bad idea to set a large amount of time aside to focus on your own project.

    Back in January I said to myself “I’ve got 9 months…” and set out to build The Agile Planner. Sure, I’ve spent some of that time procrastinating (mainly due to fear of working on the wrong thing), and with the benefit of hindsight it’s easy for me to look back and think “is that all you’ve done?”

    The early procrastination was an important part of the learning process. I had to learn to trust my decisions and enjoy testing my hypotheses, all the while aware that I was draining my bank account.

    I wouldn’t spend the money differently if I had the chance again. I’ve got a great record (in the form of iterations of story cards) of where every week went, and can remember the lessons I was learning as I look back at those cards. At times I was very productive and produced large chunks of the product in a relatively small amount of time. At other times I didn’t manage to produce much visible output at all, but these were always the times of greatest learning (both about the product, and about me, as a bootstrapper). To learn the hard lessons you have to invest the time.

    Had I tried to test/validate the problem in a couple of months I’d have failed, and wouldn’t have the product I’ve got now. That’s specific to my app; other products could have been tested much more quickly.

    So what I’m saying is that whether or not you need a few months or a year is contextual. It depends on the product and the person building it.

    If you’re going to try it you’ll need a lot of self discipline. I’d recommend having a solid method for reviewing your progress. I’ve been using XP; each iteration’s velocity has been a great motivator. Taking stock of where I’m up to and being prepared to change direction at the start of every iteration was also very important. You can’t just plough on for 9 months, you need to be prepared to act on what you learn. At one point I threw away 6 weeks of work having realised I’d been going in the wrong direction. A pricey lesson, but such a good one.

    So have I got a product on sale?

    No. I’m not yet able to charge people cash for what I’ve built (I’m waiting on the merchant account), but I’ve got real businesses using my app in favour of the alternatives. I’ve also learnt a hell of a lot about what I should focus on next.

    Looking back I feel I could have executed faster, but without the benefit of hindsight I’d make the same mistakes all over again.

    I’m currently in a short period of freelancing so I can fund the next few months of development work, integrate a payment system, and start the real learning. I could work on the app part time, but (and this is a personal thing; do what works for you) I find it much more productive and enjoyable to be able to work exclusively on The Agile Planner for at least a month at a time.

  • http://www.ifn365.com/ Jean-Pierre Levac

    I admit that reply was a tad caustic and abrasive. :) But my point was clear.

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  • Superior LLC

    I think its useful thnks for sharing!!!!!!

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  • http://www.friv3.co/ friv 3

    congratulations on your efforts, wish you success

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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