Why I Stopped Selling My Time for a Living

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I haven’t had a “job” in 2 years. But when I did, it sucked. Seriously, it was terrible. Take a close look a the office timetable above. Is that you? Be honest with yourself. That was my life. Every single day. For 6 years.

This article is in response to this week’s Startup Edition topic, “Why are you working on your startup?”

In a regular 9-5 job you’re selling your time to an employer. I understand this is the normal way of working in our world. And I can respect anyone who puts food on the table. But it’s not the only way. In my path, I chose doing a startup. Here’s why.

Freedom

You can do whatever you want now. Everything is under your control. It’s not dependent on your boss, co-workers, or other departments. You decide what projects to work on. You decide when you want to work on them. You even decide whether or not you want to get out of bed every day.

That freedom allows you to travel any time you want. You don’t have to ask your boss to approve your hard earned vacation days. When you want to go somewhere, you just do it. Your startup doesn’t need to stop either. Just bring a laptop. This year I spent some time and worked from SF, NYC, LA, Portland, and the Caribbean islands. I still plan to spend time in Australia and Mexico.

Yeah, sipping coconuts on a deserted beach in Barbados was nice. This was my office for 2 weeks:

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Passion

You get to put all your time and effort into only things you’re truly passionate about. I remember what it’s like to get assigned a project you didn’t love. But you have to do it. It’s your job. So you slave away coding until it’s done. Most likely never to be used in production. That’s just not fun.

When you’re working on a startup, you need to love what you’re doing. Or else you will get burned out and quit. That’s why it almost never works to sit there and dream up startup ideas. You have to have a deep understanding of the problem you’re working on. If you’re not passionate about it, it’s freaking hard. I’ve tried.

Time and money

Selling your time for money to an employer will put a cap on the amount of money you can make. If you start your own business, it’s up to you to decide how much money you make. And it’s not dependent on how many hours you work. If you’re able to get 1,000 customers paying $20 a month, then you’re doing well for yourself right?

When you work for an employer all that money is just going straight into their own pockets. You are generating more money for their business than they’re paying you. That’s the only way they can run a profitable business. Which means you’re getting screwed.

Making a bigger impact

Let’s face it. Most of the software you write at a company doesn’t ever ship. It never gets into the hands of a customer. There are long drawn out roadmaps and projects tend to get cut for other priorities.

When you’re working on a startup, you make sure that product gets launched. It’s your livelihood. And since a startup can’t survive without users, you know you’re going to make that software so freaking valuable people will shove money in your pockets for it.

Imagine how many lives you will be improving with your software. It starts becoming your mission to spread that impact. Most people won’t know about you yet. It’s going to be your job to make sure you reach them. It’s your job to make them understand how valuable you are. When you get that email from a customer at 3 A.M. telling you how your product works 100x better than anything else they tried, you know it was all worth it.

Why can’t you stop selling your time for money? Please share your fears in the comments!

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23 comments

  1. What if I waste my time and end up losing all my money? What if I can’t find any customers?

    What if I end up working too much and letting go the people I love?

    What if after leaving this company I work at, I fail a personal project and then never manage to get hired at another good company after? I mean, the place I work at isn’t that bad… we even get free beer!… even if it’s slowly killing me and I am losing my soul.

    1. I think these are largely mental hurdles. Money can always be made again if you’re worried about that. Think about the risks associated with NOT leaving your company. Do you want to have an regrets when you die?

      1. help.me.i.am.in.hell · · Reply

        Utter tripe. There are no customers out there who *want to* spend money. Some spend money because they *have to*, but even then they want the cheapest, quickest possible solution with every corner cut, every deadline beaten and then they will try to haggle you down to half the agreed price (or just not pay the second “on completion” installment). Maybe this hasn’t happened to you in your american ivory tower, but the economy has tanked or is about to tank in so many western countries that its only a matter of time before this becomes a reality for you too. Enjoy the freedom while you can. The financial hegemonists are coming to get you too.

        1. If you believe you can’t get customers who want to spend money, then you won’t. You’re targeting the wrong people There are tons of companies who value your work and will put a premium on it.

          1. What i think most startup people forget is that for you to sell premium the product HAS to be premium too, and not look like something you made in your garage over the weekend.

            Companies put several hundred man-hours into their products and if your product cannot complete with theirs, or add any additional value – they just won’t choose your product or service. Then there is also the issue with trust, the company trust the supplier they already have since they know what they get – why should they trust you?

            There is a lot of things to consider and a lot of risks for both parties.

          2. I think I would spend money if I am getting a return on my investment. No problem hiring someone that can help meet and exceed my targets.

    2. > What if I waste my time and end up losing all my money? What if I can’t find any customers?

      What if the company you are working for reduces staff to cut costs and you are one of them, what if the company you are working for goes bankrupt.

      After spending 15 years working, I found out very quickly that the comfort you get from working for someone else can be easily disrupted and removed.

      > What if I end up working too much and letting go the people I love?

      This is not a side effect caused directly by working for yourself, it is a personal choice. There are many people who are “employed” who suffer this outcome.

      > What if after leaving this company I work at, I fail a personal project and then never manage to > get hired at another good company after? I mean, the place I work at isn’t that bad… we even >get free beer!… even if it’s slowly killing me and I am losing my soul.

      You know it isn’t a bad thing to work for others, this suits some people better. However many of your what-if’s which you use to relate to working for yourself, also relate to working for someone. What-if you fail a project a work, you quite often can end up being fired and that information can follow you to the next job.

      Here in Asia ( I am currently working for myself, just starting ), the beer may not be free but at ~80 cents USD, it almost is.

    3. If you don’t feel confident about leaving your work to build a startup – do as i did and plan for it, work on it after work. It took me 3 years before i was ready and now i am making a living on it since 7 years back.

      You shouldn’t throw yourself into something that you cannot handle, if you do, you will get burned and maybe without an income and a job – and let me tell you, that IS worse than not following your dream.

  2. You need to fix the link to “Startup Edition”; it has a bit of bitly at the end. Otherwise, good post. The deluge of naysayers and hurt feeelings is building at HN. Should be interesting.

  3. Hi, I have a question. Did you have wifi on the beach? If not, can you explain how to get reliable, fast, wifi? I’m assuming you tethered your phone and in that case, can you recommend a provider? Thanks in advanced!

    1. I didn’t need wifi :) I broke up my time so that I could concentrate on really hard things and when I had wifi I could do the easy things, like email.

  4. Argh, you are so right in this post@ Keep telling the truth!

    1. Thanks! Honesty is what it’s all about.

  5. Thanks for the great post. I’ve seen a couple of similar articles on Hacker News and would like to join the crowd. Would you care to write a few posts describing your journey?

    1. If you look back at some previous posts you can see my journey :)

  6. I agree that money can always be made again. This is all the more true if you have technical skills. Pick up a contracting job if you’re worried. And especially if you’re nowhere near retirement, the time is now to take chances. At the very least, you can start your business as a side project before you feel confident to launch on your own.

    Entrepreneurship is NOT for everyone though. You have to think of how important stability is in your life. Some people need it. Be honest with yourself. Stability brings immense comfort and no one should judge that.

    1. You’re so right about that Carrie. Entrepreneurship is not right for everyone. And that’s okay.

  7. My problem is, I need an idea, a problem to solve.

    1. Hey Karan,

      The best place to is to start solving some of your own problems. Chances are other people will have it too. Looking for an idea is hard. You really have to experience the pain or be close to people that experience the pain.

  8. Yanwen Xia · · Reply

    My timetable could look like yours, if I didn’t try to put more value into whatever amount of time at my disposal. I think so much can squeeze into that timetable and all depends on your determination not to be wasteful.
    I fully agree your choice and lifestyle are the envy of all, but it’s not an easy one. Then again, no good choice is easy. All takes hard work and strong self discipline.

    Thanks for a great post.

  9. Cool post – I can totally relate. I am not a developer (not yet anyway :) ) but I have also made the switch from a 9-to-5 to an entrepreneurial lifestyle and love it.

    1. Thanks, it is nice isn’t it?

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