5 tough lessons from quitting my full-time job to start a business

Quitting my full-time job was one of the worst decisions of my life.

When I got a job as a business consultant, I was super happy. I even popped champagne with my girlfriend: it was the job that I wanted.

The moment I started though, things turned out very differently.

Within weeks, it was clear that the job was eating up my life.

I spent five days a week living in a hotel, away from friends (and with my manager staying next door to me). In between, I travelled 15 hours on a train.

The other 2 days were spent recovering, making it up to friends and my partner for my absence, and doing my laundry and admin. I felt squeezed.

Though I learnt a lot about managing big projects, teamwork, and spreadsheets (an underrated superpower), I didn’t really experience seeing how businesses worked from the inside as I hoped.

In the meantime, I was exposed to the idea of startups and running your own business. Through self-development books and local meetups I started meeting more and more entrepreneurs (and a plethora of wantrepreneurs pretending to have a business when all they had was an idea and a stack of business cards…)

It looked like a mirage: on one hand, stay in an uninspiring office and live in a boring hotel; on the other, start my own adventure and craft my lifestyle.

The idea of quitting and starting my own business became stronger and more tempting every day.

So in a few months, I quit my job and launched my first business.

Here’s why it was a terrible decision.

BEFORE: I had time.

AFTER: I was running out of time.

When you have a salary coming in on the same day every month (or week), you have time. On one hand, that time makes you procrastinate and never pull the trigger. On the other hand though, it allows you to think long term and take strategic actions, rather than survival actions.

When I quit my job to launch my first business, I very quickly ran out of time.

As the first time I ever created a product or sold a business, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. That included how long it would take to actually finish the product and get the first sale in (of course, I also overcomplicated things).
It took much about twice as long as I initially expected.

LESSON: don’t quit and start a business, start a business and then quit.

You don’t have to replace your salary straight away, but you must create a repeatable way to generate value for others. That way, all you have to do is multiply your efforts (not find out what the formula is).

BEFORE: I knew what to do.

AFTER: I had no idea what I was doing.

In my corporate job, I knew exactly what to do: wake up, go to the office at 9, finish my list of tasks and duties, and follow my manager’s instructions. Communicate everything clearly, and you get praises and…eventually a promotion. It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated either.

I just didn’t want to play that game.

When I started a business, I had no idea what the rules of the game were.
Apart from my dad (who was no longer around at the time), I had never been closely exposed to anyone with an actual business: most people around me, while I was growing up, had a job.

To figure it out, it took me a long time: I read a ton of books, went to events, made mistakes, and asked other people. I could have shortcutted this.

LESSON: if you want to start a business, surround yourself with people that already have one. Ask them for advice. Yes, you can do this online via podcasts, blogs, and books, but it only counts if you actually select one person and follow exactly what they say. Most of us end up looking at 100 people, ending up with a hodge-podge of contradicting information to nowhere.

BEFORE: I had a steady stream of income.

AFTER: I had to figure out how to create value.

Suddenly, I went from a great first salary to…burning through my savings.
I remember when I misplaced my passport and had to buy a same-day flight from Warsaw to London: my hands were shaking as I pressed “buy”.
I knew that meant two weeks less of a runway in the bank to figure things out.

If you’ve never freelanced or run a business, generating money works very differently from having a full-time job.
In a job, you work on a specific task, someone tells you exactly what to do, and you get paid a fixed amount on a set day: most of the time, your performance will not affect how much you earn.
When you run a business, you have to create a value-generating machine: no one pays you a salary. You have to serve someone else, and create value for them so that they pay you money for it: the more value, the more money.
In a job, you are given the blueprint for generating money; in a business, you have to create that blueprint (hint: it’s a lot easier if you follow what already works).

LESSON: don’t start a startup, start a business. Instead of focusing on a “great idea” that you came up within the shower, go straight to the market. Research forums, contact your target customers, study your competitors.
You want to create a machine that generates value for others and money for yourself as a consequence: it’s much easier to do so if you focus on who you’re serving, rather than keeping the spotlight on yourself.

BEFORE: I had a girlfriend.

AFTER: my relationships transformed.

Starting a business is not a decision that will affect yourself only. In fact, that’s why most of us become entrepreneurs: we want to give more to the people around us.

However, going from a full-time job to running a business will change your lifestyle in many ways, and require the people around you to adapt too. This is not just about my relationship: a lot of the friendships around me transformed when I went from a job to a business. Some thrived, some changed, others withered.

Running a business has allowed me to meet incredible people, share experiences with friends, and create interesting days outside the office which allowed me to meet more women during the week. It’s also given me the growth and confidence to upgrade all my human relationships. But it did come at an initial cost.

LESSON: get crystal clear with the important people in your life about what you want to achieve, the potential difficulties on the way, and how both success and challenges will affect your lives. I am a big fan of running a pre-mortem together to pre-empt future challenges. Take people on a journey with you: it will create stronger bonds that support everyone involved.

BEFORE: I was ahead of the game.

AFTER: I was playing a different game.

When I had a corporate job, I felt like I was ahead of the social game my peers were playing: get a safe job, get a mortgage, buy a dog, and settle down.
Luckily, I quickly realize that’s not a game I’m interested in playing.

However, when you follow your own path, doubt sets in regularly, both when things are going well and when they are not. 90% of people will have a very different lifestyle from yours.

Having a business allows me to travel: in 2018, I spent 200 days abroad, living in 7 different cities (while growing my business). It’s awesome, but it’s also different from what most other people do.

When things come with perks, like interesting experiences and stimulating friendships, it’s easier to accept that you are going your own way. But when things are tough and you have to figure out a business challenge, you constantly wonder whether you made the biggest mistake of your life.
In the beginning, when you have a lot of things to figure out, there will likely be a lot of the latter.

LESSON: realize that once you leave your job to start a business, your lifestyle choices and path will stray from what the majority chooses. And that’s ok.
Actually, that’s why you started a business in the first place. Remind yourself that you chose to play a different game, and surround yourself with people that have the same ambitions, values, and goals as you do.

Leaving my job to start a business has been one of the best decisions of my life.

  • It’s allowed me to face my challenges and grow as a person.
  • It’s allowed me to create value for others and collect thank-you notes.
  • It’s allowed me to craft my lifestyle and spend months abroad each year.
  • It’s allowed me to connect to inspiring entrepreneurs with massive businesses.
  • It’s allowed me to be in charge of my own choices and take control of my income.

Quitting my job to start a business is the best terrible decision I’ve ever made: do it wisely. – Matt

This article first appeared on Medium.