How to start up and work full-time - Fonics

There are a many reasons for startups to be working full time at the same time as running their business. But what's the actual nitty-gritty of starting up when you're still in employment like? We put a few questions to the founders of new educational startup Read With Fonics, an app that teaches children to read. Teacher Sophie Cooper and sailor Henry Bomby run it alongside their day jobs - here's what it's like.

What’s your startup and what’s your day job?

Sophie: Our product is called ' Read With Fonics' and it is a new app that helps children learn to read more efficiently. Read With Fonics is designed for 3-6 year olds, to be used both at school and at home. I am a primary school teacher in Key Stage 1 and it was through my frustration with the lack of up to date resources that I developed the idea. Fonics main USP is that it offers feedback to teachers. While the children are playing the games their scores are being logged so teachers (and parents) can see how well they've done. It makes teachers more efficient as they can tailor their upcoming lessons specifically to each students needs.

Henry: My day job is I am a professional sailor. I generally compete offshore which can mean going away for 2-3 weeks at a time, which has made it tricky at times when you can only talk via the sat phone and via the boat email!

Does your startup relate to your job and has it been beneficial?

Sophie: Yes absolutely! I am head of product development so it is my job to try it out with my class and get feedback from my students. It has been a hugely rewarding process. It has been hard as teachers have very little 'free time' already but the process of developing the app has made me better at teaching children to read so that is very positive.

Henry: For me, not at all! But through the racing I have been doing over the last four years I have had to, in effect, run a small business. From finding and working with commercial partners and sponsors, to sorting logistics around the world, to creating and then delivering on commercial contracts as well as working within the media. All these are all skills have helped in my role working on the business side of Fonics.

How long has it been since you started up?

Sophie: I thought of the idea in mid-August, we committed to it straight away and started working with a developer in September. We had no money at the time but did a deal with them where they would start work and we would pay them back through revenue later on. The rest of the money that we needed to complete the app we found through Virgin Start Up. We were super lucky to find developers who shared our vision for Fonics and wanted to be a part of our journey.

Where do you find the time to work on your startup?

Sophie: It is hard, I love teaching and so definitely don't want to quit. But I generally talk with Henry every lunch time on the phone to catch up with the days progress and make decisions that need to be done. The hardest is when he is away racing and is not contactable at all! And I am in the classroom all day - that's when the project slows down a lot!

Does your employer know and are they supportive?

Sophie: I tried to keep it a secret for as long as possible actually as I didn't want them thinking it was affecting my teaching. But when it came to getting feedback from my students and using it in class and promoting the app in the media it was hard to keep it a secret! Everyone has been so supportive though, and have even given great feedback. They all think it is a great idea, hopefully they aren't just saying that because they are my friends!

Henry: Yes they do, some of the guys on the team I race with at the moment have young children and they were keen for me to get it out there as soon as possible so they could start using it! They are very supportive, although I did get told off for replying to emails and being on the phone one too many times when I was supposed to be working. I had to commit to getting up a few hours earlier and going to bed a few hours later to catch up instead!

What are the benefits of starting up when you’re still working?

Henry: I guess the benefits are you still have an income, and less seed capital is required to cover your living costs. But you have to accept long days and that it will take longer than if you were working on it full time. We never could have afforded to commit to it full time however, so that was never an option for us.

Sophie: Like Henry said, it was impossible for us to do it any other way. It hasn't been easy, doing it full time would have been a lot less stress and meant we had a lot more sleep these past five months! But it has been great, we have learnt so much and we are now so close to seeing the reward at the end.

What are your plans for the future?

Sophie: For me I love working with children and love teaching, that is my passion and so I don't want to have to quit because of it. The dream for me would be that I can carry on doing both. Perhaps I may have to go part time if it came down to it, but that is definitely not an option at the moment financially!

Henry: I am already very very lucky in that I don't really consider what I do as a job if I am honest! And I have many goals within sailing that I've dreamed about ever since I was at school that are still yet to be accomplished! But this opportunity came along and I think it can make a real difference in the world and be unbelievably successful - I couldn't miss out on being a part of that.