Don't Part-Time Your Dreams
It's too hard to work at a big company and build a startup on nights and weekends.
I built a lot of projects part-time. My brother would help me. After our day jobs ended, we worked on the things that mattered most to us—trying desperately to get traction with our app so we could quit.
But we always failed to build anything big.
That’s because, at some point, you've got to stop tip-toeing and fully embrace it. If you want to realize your dreams, you have to pursue them with everything you got — not part-time them.
I get it; it's not easy to go full-time on your stuff. We have families to support. I come from poverty, and I have a lot of people relying on me, so I know all about it. But the goal ought to be to get to that position as soon as possible.
Also, all of our projects had some marginal success, and all are useful in some way, even if just for scraps. One has thousands of users still, one we've sold. On top of it all, we had scraps, even from the ones that "failed." So this is not an essay discouraging you from starting side projects. Contrary, this is an essay about starting them so you can learn and figure out what's important to you.
Once you start a side project, you may learn, like I did, that it's not enough. You may discover that you have to chase your dreams with all your energy and focus to make them real.
Here is what Derek Sivers has to say about deciding to go all-in:
"Indecision keeps you shallow.
The English word "decide" comes from Latin "to cut off". Choose one and cut off other options. To go one direction means you're not going other directions. When you commit to one outcome, you're united and sharply focused. When you sacrifice your alternate selves, your remaining self has amazing power." - Derek Sivers, How To Live.
To build successful things, when you are inspired, you've got to immerse yourself in the problem. You can't immerse yourself in a problem for an hour or two. Then wake up the next day and put last night's momentum on pause as you return to full-time bureaucracy. As my friend Mike says, "clients don't want to buy your after-hours thinking." So why are you selling it to yourself if your full-time job won't buy it?
Spending time working for a big company while building a side project into a company is antithetical to a tech startup. At a big company, it's no issue to spend hours on calls and useless meetings. The timelines stretch into months and years. But your life is measured in minutes, hours and days.
Trying to do both is like being a world-class runner while also trying to be a world-class powerlifter. Those two things are vastly different and require different tradeoffs in how you train, what you eat, and how you think.
You may not think those soul-crushing endless zoom calls are draining your ability to do your best work on the stuff you love, but I promise you from experience that they are.
"Concentrating all of your life's force on one thing gives you incredible power. Sunlight won't catch a stick on fire. But if you use a magnifying glass to focus the sunlight on one spot, it will." -Derek Sivers.
You are meant for far more than just burning time because someone else does not mind wasting your time.
You have dreams, or you wouldn't be reading this. When you sit in meetings where most of it does not pertain to you, all you are doing is burning time. And if you work for big tech or any sufficiently big company, they have no issue burning your time; it's a marginal cost to keep you from starting something that competes with them. They do this also because they can afford to pay for reserve capacity in case a competitor comes after them.
But you don't want to be a reserve for their ambitions do you, do you?
The world has more problems than ever. Just look around; it's a never-ending set of problems between this pandemic, the crazy weather we've had, the politics, and the instability.
I am not trying to be a downer because Seth Godin reminds us at the end of the day:
"Opportunity is another word for a problem to be solved. And opportunity is often there, but it rarely knocks."
One way to chase your drams full speed is to join up with other people who have the same dreams as you. Could try to raise some venture dollars and give some part of your dream away to reduce the risk. But this has it's own risks of locking one up to one idea that may not work.
People like Daniel Vassallo, chased their dreams by creating a small amount of revenue from a quick to make product. That was enough to give him confidence after he quit Amazon to run full speed at what he wants to do. To try many other Small Bets and buy his own freedom to keep trying things.
For me, it became clear that I would never be fully ready, so I had to just do it. I had to quit that cushy situation to chase my dreams.
They don't call it risk-taking for nothing. On Shark Tank, I heard this entrepreneur woman tell Mark Cuban, "No balls, no babies." That stuck with me.
My old boss Marc Lore always says you have to be all in, it's only when you have a lot to lose that you can really do extraordinary things.
"It's only when you are all in that you find that sixth gear" -Marc Lore
If you want to make your dreams a reality, you'll have to stop part-timing them at some point.
A big thanks to Tommy Lee, Simone Silverstein, and Mitchel Cohen for the feedback on this essay.
Shoutout to one of my mentors John ("Moose") Turek for remaining patient with me all the while nudging me in this direction.