Moonlighting or deep-dive?

Which way to go if I want to work on my software product idea?

Amol Potnis
The Startup



This is a classical question. I have faced it first-hand when I started working on my product, Muffin.

If one has any product idea, should she start moon-lighting on it …or should she deep dive fully in to it to work full time on it?

I am a software engineer. So let me share my thoughts from that perspective.

Moon-lighting clearly minimises the risk. The risk of failure. The risk of being beaten by unexpected problems while working on the idea. The risk of not being able to create the product to the satisfaction. The risk of not being able to reach to the targeted audience. And so on. Execution of any such idea involves all these and many more risks. Moon-lighting minimises impact of all of them. It keeps your current day-job safe. So your monthly pay-cheque is guaranteed. Your bills are taken care of. Your family is totally unaffected on the financial front.
But there are other disadvantages with moon-lighting.
A. You work for really long hours in on any given day as you are working on your idea after your day-job. This has serious impact on your family time and also on your health. So this is not as simple as it sounds.
B. Your product idea may not get enough efforts from you as you are working on it only for a few hours a day.
C. Hence it may not get explored to its full potential. You may kill it assuming it does not have that spark (this happens most of the times).

So there is a high chance that you may get stretched a lot for a long time, but still the idea may not get converted in to any serious product due to lack of serious and consistent efforts from your side.

This is working full time on your product idea. It is really high risk game. If it fails, you may lose your time, money and efforts. It can be a considerable push-back in your career if you have taken a break for this idea. If you are fortunate to have funding, then you have some breathing space on financial front. But still rest of the impact remains the same.
But it brings up some hidden benefits too.
A. As you are full time working on the idea, it becomes your highest priority item to deal with. The concept gets sliced-n-diced in various ways. Best ways get explored to bring out the full potential of the idea in front of the target audience.
B. The investor can sense your commitment and seriousness about the idea. This is one of the important checkpoints from her perspective before she takes any investment decison.
C. Time, efforts, and money spent gets its due importance. You can clearly decide milestones and gate-points to see progress made and eventually objectively evaluate the situation.

Overall it becomes a real serious attempt.

Which way to go?
This is my personal opinion based on my own experience.

A. You are young and have no serious responsibilities :
I suggest to take a deep dive. Work full time on whatever you are passionate about. If the idea clicks, that’s cool. If it does not, you already have learnt many invaluable lessons which will be useful in the further journey. As you don’t have serious responsibilities, you almost have nothing serious to lose (other than your time and efforts, and may be some money in some cases. But that is okay in my opinion.)

B. You are mid-aged (like me) and/or you have a lot of responsibilities:
Though it is a high risk game, I still suggest to take a deep dive. Considering your state, mostly it is difficult for you to put extra serious hours on your idea on every day. It is a big toll on family time and health. So mostly moon-lighting is not going to work for you. Better you calculate the risk, take time to prepare yourself for it and then jump full time on your dream idea. It is still worth taking that high risk. (If you have money to hire other people, then may be you can continue with your job and execute your idea with the help of a hired team. But I will suggest it only if you have a very very reliable team with you.)

C. This is your hobby project:
Then please continue with moon-lighting. You may learn many technical things while doing it. You will feel happy as you are working on something you like. If something useful comes out of it, that is great. Else you won’t feel too bad to dump it.

Does it mean that moon-lighting is not a real option for any serious product attemp?
I won’t say that. But at least it did not work well for me. I really have a high respect for people who keep their day-job, manage family responsibilities well and still moonlight on something of their choice to produce something useful and/or successful. Opensource world is full of such people. I feel they are really extra-ordinary guys. But when it comes down to normal people like you and me, I vote for doing it full time.

Do you have any different experiences to share? Feel free to comment.

P.S. If you think this discussion may help other people, please actively share it. Thanks.

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Amol Potnis
The Startup

I am a software architect by profession. I am studying how emotional intelligence plays crucial role in dramatically improving employee engagement.