Nows a good time for moonlighting as an entrepreneur

Given the crazy economic scenario and the numerous layoffs happening these days, it’d take a great amount of faith and gut instinct to make the leap to a full time entrepreneur. Current times are challenging enough for experienced entrepreneurs to rethink their decision about launching a new venture. It’d be an even more daunting and uphill task for first time entrepreneurs.   

Taking that into account, now’d be a great time to moonlight your entrepreneurial idea. Moonlighting (if doable), would be a great strategy during healthy market conditions as well, but considering that holding on to your day job has become even more important today, you might want to seriously consider moonlighting your entrepreneurial idea first.  A lot of people feel that moonlighting doesnt work – it distracts and affects your day job and at the end of it, your moonlighting effort may go nowhere.

Well, moonlighting isnt difficult and just requires some additional discipline, effort and motivation on your part. At the end of the day, you have nothing to lose — if the idea doesnt work out, you got a quick proof of concept and you get to move on. All you end up “losing” are a few evenings and weekends of not hanging out with friends or watching TV or dining out at a restaurant. I say losing in quotes, because the way I look at it, even if the idea doesnt pan out, you still end up getting some great insight and experience while building the product. You might acquire some new skill or two along the way also.

Some quick thoughts on how to go about moonlighting:

(1) Identify a small opportunity – some service or application that you’ve personally felt the need for. For example, Buxfer was born out of the founder’s needs to keep track of their expenses. Any such small app or utility that you feel would make your life a bit easier. Thinking small in this aspect is important for a couple of reasons -

(i) With limited time, you want to get to a working prototype as soon as possible. 

(ii) you want to keep the idea tractable. If you set your goal to build the next Facebook while moonlighting, I’d say you’re more than likely to fail

(2) Keep the design and feature set as simple as possible. You dont really need to have a full featured app that does everything. Just stick to the KISS principle. Fancy AJAX effects and scalability can be addressed later – that is, if your app takes off.

(3) Keep small, daily goals for yourself. For example, I’ll implement the site registration / login module today. Accomplishing such small goals will work wonders towards keeping you motivated

(4) Familiarize yourself and if possible use any of the web frameworks like Django, CakePHP, Ruby on Rails. They can be a huge time saver and you can focus on getting things done. Additionally, Django and RoR have lots of reusable apps as well. Make use of these reusable apps in your code. This saves you time and gets you that much closer to a working prototype

(5) Probably this point needs to go first – Discuss your ideas / plans with your friends. If you can convince any of your friends to hop on, that’d make your life much easier.  Having a cohort will not only help in the division of labor but you can also bounce of ideas / designs etc with your friend. Additionally, one can keep each other motivated and going.

(6) One of the biggest challenges you’d face is to stay motivated and disciplined in your effort. Do some sort of activity to keep your sanity – be it any hobby or any sports or anything that can help you blow off steam.

Any additional ideas that you can think of ? Are you currently moonlighting as an entrepreur ?  Do you plan to ? Do share your thoughts.

Finally, two nice posts on moonlighting: TonyWright and Tom Preston-Werner (not exactly moonlighting, but an interesting read none the less).

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11 comments

  1. Adding to point 4). One can use Google App Engine to significantly bring down cost. (One cannot run a background process on appengine and there are few drawback, and the only runtime language supported as of today is python).

  2. There are few other ways to increase chances of success. Essentially increasing the cash flows without shifting your focus is the key.
    Many entrepreneurs believe that only way to reduce outflow is doing everything in-house. Which cant be more incorrect. Generally advice is value your time. Calculate how much you can earn in a given hour as a freelancer. Now decide which tasks takes up entire hour and gives you lesser money. Delegate, outsource these tasks. your productivity is more, focus is there. If required use these hours to actually freelance :-)

  3. While moonlighting, it is a good idea to implement in phases. Execute phase one while you are developing phase 2 and so on.

    Some of the problems in moonlighting with your day job are disclosing founders’ identity openly, networking on sites like linkedin, participating in contests where founder details are required to be disclosed, registering a legal entity etc. It could also become a roadblock when you are looking for tie-ups with established players.

    Can anybody please share how are you managing these issues while in day job?

  4. I beg to differ. I hold a contrarian view. I feel this is the best time to jump full time, if one has done his/her homework right.
    > Evaluate if the market opportunity is real
    > Find out how the target market is effected or going to be effected by the slowdown in the economy
    > Does the product or service give immediate benefits, either tangible or monetary to the end users/customers
    > Are they willing to pay for the product / service

    If the answers to all the above is in affirmative, then this is the best time to go entrepreneurial.

    Agreed, times are tough, a few jobs may be lost, funding will be tough – but if one were serious he/she would already have planed and set aside a significant amount of personal savings to stay afloat for atleast a year or two before real revenue from the product begins to flow in. These times test ones conviction, cause once he/she takes the plunge there’s no looking back. One can’t chicken out at the end of 6 months and go back to 9-5 job, it might be a hard find.

    That leaves only one way to success, to excel through the product/service offering and build something that the market really wants and is willing to pay for.

  5. To add to the above point, assuming the salary hikes next year aren’t going to be anything like in the past – this is the best time period to experiment ’cause the opportunity cost hasn’t been so attractive for a while.

  6. @ankur,

    I’d bother about GAE or AWS later — to get off the ground, a simple shared hosting account should suffice

    @ashwin,

    jumping in full time is always a good idea, because you can contribute a 100% energy and focus on your efforts. however, considering the current market conditions, several folks might just be apprehensive to take the plunge full time. in that case, it wouldnt be a bad idea to test the waters by moonlighting a prototype

  7. I can’t agree with Ashwin anymore. This is the time when you actually get lesser competition as others (including giants) will go into their cocoons.

    Check this out if you haven’t already read this out. http://www.paulgraham.com/badeconomy.html

  8. I completely agree with you considering the current job scenario. Sticking to your job is important at least for the next 6 months. Obviously then, moonlighting remains the only option. I have been doing it for quite some time. But then, you might have to consider working full time on your start up in the near future as you get involved more and more.

  9. (3) Keep small, daily goals for yourself. For example, I’ll implement the site registration / login module today. Accomplishing such small goals will work wonders towards keeping you motivated
    These lines are very true in my experience. Now, I am doing this, spending my weekends and weekday nights. Leaving my job is the best idea, I think. But, I make up my mind everyday, that I am going office daily, to earn for my initial start up fund. I think my break even point lies in the next few months.

  10. Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where
    I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

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