Successful Companies Consume You

Every now and again I’ll meet a founder who argues that they are going to start and run a company while maintaining their day job. While in some cases this model can work, it usually doesn’t.

It works when the startup has 1) limited scale and 2) limited operational requirements. In other words, if demand is contained and managing the business has limited time requirements, juggling a day-job is possible.

Demand is contained if the company won’t sell their product to every customer that wants them or if it is truly only applicable to a small set of customers. For example, if someone were to start a side gig baking cakes, if they only sold them to their friends (and nobody else) demand would be contained or limited, enabling the founder to avoid increasing their time allocation to serving more clients.

Similarly, the operational requirements are contained if they don’t iterate on their products or processes. If you only sell a specific type of cake, don’t invest time researching new recipes, and don’t invest in improving or expanding the logistics, customer service, etc. of the company, then maintaining a day job might work.

Here’s the problem. If you listen to your customers demands, seek to make an ever increasing amount of money, or enjoy the prospects of improving your customer experience, then your company will require an ever-increasing amount of time and energy. If your company is getting traction, then you’ll have more customers to serve, processes to improve and people to hire. The net result is that successful companies can’t be contained. They become resource-eating amoebas, consuming everything including management time.

The view that businesses that have the potential to scale will remain small and static is short-sighted. The result is that when founders get traction their day jobs usually have to go away even before the startup is funded or profitable. If you don’t want to be a founder, don’t start a side business. If you do want to start a company, however, be prepared to go all in.

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