Can you start your own business without quitting your day job?

Torn between the freedom of the start-up life and the security of the payroll? As a part-time entrepreneur you can have both.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 27 Jul 2016

No boss. No labouring night and day in wage slavery for owners you’ve never met. The chance to create something and make a difference. It’s little wonder many of us dream we could start our own businesses.

There’s a reason we don’t all tell our managers to stuff it, then stride out into the sunset on a Friday afternoon, however. On the cold light of a Monday morning, when we’ve looked at our bank balance and the mortgage, the risk just seems too much.

‘Entrepreneurship is not for everybody. It’s a hard, hard life,’ says venture capitalist and private equity investor Patrick McGinnis. ‘For some people it’s the right choice, but they may not know it yet, or know how to get there.’

Unlike most people who have advice to offer such people, McGinnis does not advocate taking the plunge, stepping up to the plate or giving it 110%. In fact, all he wants from you is a measly 10%.

Here’s the gist, outlined in his book The 10% Entrepreneur: you devote a tenth of your time and/or capital to an entrepreneurial side project, either as a founder, angel investor or advisor, while keeping hold of your day job.

So, you may be a banker during the week, but run a cheese stall at your local market on Sundays. Or you could be an advertising executive who does marketing for a dance-music start-up on the side, in exchange for ‘sweat equity’, or a small share in the company.

(For a good example of sweat equity, look no further than David Choe, the graffiti artist who decorated Facebook’s first office in exchange for stock now worth hundreds of millions of dollars – not a bad gig if you can get it.)

Like portfolio workers, ‘10% entrepreneurs’ enjoy the protection of a diversified income stream, except they also keep hold of their PAYE jobs. There, though, the differences end.

 ‘Freelancing is great, but it’s sort of like eating Chinese food – once you’ve eaten it, in half an hour later you’re hungry again. There’s no ongoing ownership or value created once you’re billed for your work, as there is with a 10% entrepreneur,’ says McGinnis.

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With that sense of ownership and indeed variety comes fulfilment, says McGinnis, who interviewed dozens of fellow part-time founders and investors for his book, The 10% Entrepreneur.

‘You talk to high powered executives and ask them how things are going and they don’t tell you about that deal they did with their bank, they’re telling you about the salad chain they’ve invested in or the minor baseball team,’ he says.

What’s the catch?

 Giving 10% of your time or capital sounds like a safer bet than putting everything you have into a new venture, but there is an obvious downside. If you’re devoting all your discretionary effort to this side project, doesn’t that risk your main career? Nobody likes (or promotes) a jobsworth, after all.  

McGinnis concedes that the latter is a frequent concern, but insists it’s unjustified.

‘I spoke at Google, and they were extremely excited about this. Entrepreneurship’s become culturally very desirable, but unless you actually do the work of an entrepreneur, you just won’t get it,’ says McGinnis.

Running a project on the side therefore gives you experience and an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ that you can bring to work with you, to the benefit of both your employer and your CV. ‘It also makes you a much happier person, who brings a much better attitude when in the office,’ McGinnis adds.

On the other side, you might be worried that a mere 10% of your time and money won’t do your brilliant start-up idea justice. What if you get leapfrogged by a full-time entrepreneur with a bigger, better-funded operation?

‘Sometimes ideas are half-baked or ahead of their time. When someone quits their job to go full-time they are getting on this path with a limited amount of time and money. Ergo, if you get going on it and it doesn’t do well, you may be out of business, while the 10% is far more sustainable,’ McGinnis answers.

‘In fact people who start a business part-time are more likely to be successful than those who start full-time, because they know it works before they jump.’

If it does better than you expected, you face the choice of going full-time, selling or finding a partner - all pretty good places to be in. And if it doesn’t succeed? Well, at least it won't be the end of the world.

Patrick McGinnis’ 3 top tips for part-time entrepreneurs:

Choosing what to do:  ‘You must find projects that exist on the intersection of what you care about and what you’re good at.’

Telling your boss: ‘You cannot compete with your employer. Most have rules about these things and you must always respect those rules. You shouldn’t be hiding, skulking around the office using the photocopier. You have to be respectful because the day job is what allows you to be a 10% entrepreneur.’

If you’re not a ‘natural’ entrepreneur but like the idea:  ‘If you want to be a great footballer, you have to go to the stadium and watch matches. Spend time with entrepreneurs. Observe them and what they’re doing, see what you like and what you don’t.  There are so many events to go to, and entrepreneurial culture is very open.’

Image credit: Henrik Bothe/Wikipedia


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