A year of balancing work and a startup: Bandy
Most entrepreneurs will find themselves in the position of starting up whilst working - and in fact, keeping your job can be a positive thing. That's not to say it's without its challenges. How long can you keep working what amounts to two jobs, without burning out?
Harsh Jani is the founder of The Bandy App, a new platform for people to exchange second-hand goods. Forget cash - transactions on Bandy are all about swapping items with others, turning your unwanted goods into an essentially free shopping experience. Genius. But it took over a year before the founders were able to quit their jobs to focus full-time on the business. Here's what that first year was like - and what they learned.
How often have you thought about walking into your boss’s office and saying ‘I quit!’? The thought came up persistently and intensely the last time I held a “traditional” job, but it took another year before me and my co-founder could quit to focus on our startup.
0 months in – the idea’s spark
I still remember the moment my phone vibrated as I was sitting on the living room sofa with my housemate watching a film. I looked down and noticed I had a message from my future co-founder, Ross Macfarlane. The message was long - really long – and it ended up steering my life onto a different course.
In his message, Ross pitched me the idea for what has now turned into our company, The Bandy App. He elaborated on the gap in the market and how he had come to see the potential for a young company to fill the existing need. I was instantly hooked, and when he asked me if I would be interested in bringing this idea to life I said YES without a moment of hesitation.
1 month in – starting to plan
Once you think you have a good idea, the first thing I suggest you do is google ‘lean canvas.’ This is a one page business plan that will help you put your idea to paper, and help confirm (or deny) the viability of your idea and the product in the market.
Once you have confirmed that the idea is a go-er... You GO!
What’s stopping you from just doing it? Oh, nothing much - just maybe your mortgage or rent, putting food on the table, your parents, or the fear that the limited cash at your disposal is not going to be enough to start a company. We couldn't quit our jobs yet.
This is when you have to learn to be smart, effective, and efficient with your life, your money – and, most of all, your time.
3 months in – learning, learning, learning
In my last position I worked as a consultant in industrial and manufacturing engineering, often travelling to factories and warehouses where I helped people build parts of machinery and improve their processes. I worked long hours but I still had a lot of unproductive ‘dead time’ – the time I spent driving long distances.
At the time I wasn’t much of a reader, but I quickly found myself listening to audiobooks, listening to entrepreneurial podcasts and educational shows while on the road. I started utilising this dead time to gain knowledge in areas I knew nothing about and learn how I could build and run a business. Upon getting home from work I would be on my phone or laptop right away, talking to my business partner to put our ideas from the day onto paper and to discuss the next steps.
Our evenings of watching TV and relaxing quickly turned into nights of networking and reading. We stopped going out boozing every weekend, which was one of the hardest parts - we had to stay focused. I would use my time to travel down to London, visiting Ross and refining our idea. Did I mention the added challenge of me living in Manchester and Ross in London when we first started? Not even that could stop us.
Five months in – working together
When it comes to launching a startup whilst juggling a high-powered career, finding find a good business partner with a skillset that is very different from yours is invaluable. I imagine having a good business partner is like having a good marriage. The relationship needs to be fluid, and you have to be comfortable running every decision past the other person.
Ross was a travel consultant with experience in design and other creative fields. He would use downtime in his office and at home to design the platform for our app. He would think of creative ways to make the software more appealing to mass markets, while constantly getting feedback from his colleagues and friends on his work to date.
However, don’t just rely on your own startup journey - reading about other people’s journeys and speaking to people who have done it or are doing it is the fastest way to gain relevant knowledge. If you can get good at this, you can hack your way to success.
And if you can, find a good mentor. This is a huge help, especially when you are short of time and money as most individuals are when working. Mentors will help you brainstorm and talk through your plan.
Seven months in – the breakthrough
Months and months went by, going through this cycle of working and starting up in our spare time. Every day we were learning, reading, networking and refining our idea and its execution.
Finally we had a revelation moment when we thought: “WE HAVE IT!” The design was final. However, moulding the design and vision into an actual working product was a completely different story. That was going to cost us – and a lot more than we had anticipated. The only solution was to get a loan and invest in someone else’s talent to have the product built for us. However, the loan would not have been possible unless we had both been working full time and had a good income; banks always want to be assured that you can pay them back.
Nonetheless, our expenses doubled overnight. You need to be prepared for this! Goodbye to a life of luxury and comfort when you leave a job and start a business. We bootstrapped and ran as lean as possible, saving every penny we could.
10 months in – taking it to the next level
I used all of my holidays to attend important business meetings. I travelled to London as often as I could, sleeping on Ross’s floor for months. Only then were we ready to start speaking to investors. They had seen the amount of work, time and heart we had put into the business and were interested in our progress.
Depending on what kind of business you are looking to run, you might not be ready to quit your job until you make enough revenue to cover your expenses or have an investor come in to support you financially. An investor will step in only when they believe they will get a return on your business. The process of finding one (I can assure you) is neither easy nor fast, but don’t let anyone knock you down - keep at it.
13 months in - launch
Once we launched, our product occupied our minds 24 hours a day - we could no longer focus on work. We got some early investors on board, and only then were we ready to quit our jobs and focus on bandy full-time. A year had passed, and we could finally focus on what we loved - on ‘building our baby’. After 13, months Bandy had our undivided attention.
It was then, finally, that we walked into our boss’s office, handed in our notice, and with the biggest smiles on our face said: “WE QUIT”.