Ways to Dominate the Non-Startup Part of Starting Up

(Omaha, NE) 12/17/15 Written by Sabastian Hunt

From living with 8 different entrepreneurs over the past 16 months, it has become apparent that several factors that are completely unrelated to business have a huge impact on a startup’s chance of success. You’ve got to get several things right and hopefully this list will get you thinking about a few of those things.

  1. Work Situation — Only about 20% of entrepreneurs start companies directly out of unemployment, this means that 80% start up or get the idea to start up while still employed. [1] Most people have a day job and a startup concurrently. The trick is figuring out how to provide an income for yourself somehow until you’re all in on your startup. Quitting your day job too early can screw you out of income before your startup reaches escape velocity. Conversely, staying in your day job too long can stall your startup and prevent you from focusing on it enough. Taking for granted that you won’t be able to raise funds in year one, I’m a big a fan of the intermediate option in this case. I like this process: only day job > day job + startup > find side job + quit day job > startup + side job> only startup. With day jobs there is a lot of cumulative stress that can prevent you from going all in on your startup. If and only if you feel like you can’t live without pursuing your startup dream then you should start making arrangements for a low stress side job and tender your resignation from your day job. I’m a huge fan of the serving/bar tending gigs or Uber/Lyft driving and Airbnb hosting while working on a startup. With these gigs you get to meet a ton of people that can be potential customers. The trick is to find something decent paying like the aforementioned gigs that is also low stress and flexible. The goal here is to sustain yourself financially and be able to buy time until your startup does its thing. I’d personally recommend working as a server just on the the weekends. On weekends the pay will be the best. I’d suggest driving for Uber for 2 hours Fri and Sat nights after getting off work when surge pricing goes into effect. If you take the amount of money you’ll make as a server and on Fri and Sat nights at a busy Omaha restaurant (downtown) and Uber driver and then add in the money you would’ve spent going out — it can be a $2200 swing in income per month which is a reasonable amount for many to live on and you’d only have to work two days a week. One alternative to the low stress side job is to switch your day job to something more related to your specific startup — getting paid to learn more about your startup’s industry is a win/win.
  2. Use of Free Time — I think it’s ideal to have your free time feel like free time yet be somewhat productive, if possible. With some of Jason Feldman’s free time he drives around town in his car. This free time is productive because his car stereo is broken in a weird way: it won’t turn off and it’s stuck on NPR, so Jason’s time he spends just going for a drive is spent passively learning about world events and happenings some which will surely be applicable for a business purpose in his future. Being aware of trends is important. In the AMC show “Mad Men” the main character, Don Draper, often goes to see movies alone in the afternoon. This accomplishes his desire to be entertained but it also gives him a pulse reading of the market which is essential for him in his role as an ad executive. When you do go out is it productive? Can you switch it up and go to that new martini bar and hope to rub elbows with someone who could actually benefit your startup?
  3. Who is in Your Tribe? — According to motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. I’m not sure how accurate this one is but the general concept makes sense. It’s tough to not let people rub off on you and vice versa. Are the people you’re surrounding yourself with intentionally and randomly colliding with positive impacts in your life? Figure out how to get people in your tribe who will make you better and fiercely protect those relationships.
  4. Spending Habits — This is a tough one here. If controlling spending was easy then everyone would have it under control, but if you manage your cash properly you can extend your runway by miles. When you’re in the midst of the startup grind it’s okay to go without certain things. I slept on the floor without a bed for 4 months — I wouldn’t recommend that but it’s all part of the hustle. A friend of mine at a startup slept in his office until he was caught and asked to stop. Learning to be austere and lean will come in handy down the road. When you go out for fun only bring the cash you’re willing to spend. No cards. Become good at forecasting your demand for food and buy in bulk. Read “The 4-Hour Chef” and learn to cook, it’s way cheaper than eating out. Check out group buying and coupon apps. Garage sales and thrift stores should be your friend at this stage. My favorite piece of advice to control spending is to look up all the interesting events in town that will have free food. There is nothing better for a struggling founder than being able to go to an event and learn about x (pertaining to his/her startup), network and get a free meal out of it.
  5. Effective Grouping — Leveraging the concept of effective grouping is like breaking the laws of mathematics. One hour of walking for exercise and general well being + one hour of reading a book should equal two total hours. With effective grouping it only takes one hour to listen to one hour of an audiobook and walk for one hour. Got a significant other? Put one earbud in your ear and one in theirs and you’ve added an hour of bonding. As seen in exhibit 1.6 below:

What could have taken three hours takes one hour when you employ the concept of effective grouping. A crude process for effective grouping would be to make a list of all the possible goals/tasks/activities that you hope to do and assign them a 1–10 value for how important they are to you. Next, make a list of all the things that can be grouped together and then add up the scores together to determine which bundle of activities you should do.

6. Prioritize — 99% of the time when people (including me) say they’re too busy it’s complete bullshit. You’re not too busy. Saying you’re too busy is a cop out much of the time and fails to recognize the real issue: inefficiency and failure to prioritize. Take an audit of your life and figure out where the fat is and cut it out. Make a “Stop Doing” list and simply stop doing the things on that list. Repeat this process monthly until you’re satisfied with your efficiency and don’t need to say you’re too busy anymore. Lastly, it’s a must to check out what Tim Ferriss has to say about lifestyle design. Your startup will thank you.

Got some awesome tips from your experience as an early stage founder? Do tell! Comment below.

[1] See Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 2015 at http://www.kauffman.org/~/media/kauffman_org/research%20reports%20and%20covers/2015/05/kauffman_index_startup_activity_metro_trends_2015.pdf