The ONE TRUE RISK I faced in taking the startup leap

One of these days, I’ll post the full-blown story of what exactly happened when I took the leap and kissed my corporate career goodbye. It was truly a Faith-Leap for me.

Till then, kindly make do with this super abridged version:

I was a 33-year old corporate lifer with a wife and a newborn son I was supporting. It was the middle of the 2008 recession. The startup firm I was working part-time putting up was struggling mightily, partly because I wasn’t giving it the time it deserved.

I had two paths to take.

One was to continue on my 12-year corporate career as a line HR director, continue receiving my comfortable salary, continue with the peace of mind that my family would be ok. I would also continue working in a career I had since realized wasn’t for me, and didn’t stoke my passions anymore. It would also mean the sure-death of STORM, my startup baby.

The other path was unthinkable: to go full-time in the startup, in an effort to right the ship. In doing so, I would be swallowing an 80% salary cut during a recession year and I would be leaving behind a career which took a decade to build. It would mean my startup would have a chance of surviving.

Easy choice right? Bye-bye STORM. After all, what idiot would risk his family? The more I thought of it however, the more I saw the real risk.

It then became clear: I could always go back to my corporate career. There would ALWAYS be someone in need of a good HR guy. If my experiment with STORM didn’t work out, I could always go back. Malamang may increase pa. 

On the other hand, I realized I could never go back to STORM. Had I let go of it, it would have died and that would’ve been it. I would never find out what could’ve happened if I took the leap. I knew it would be hard to live with that what-if. The real risk was to grow old one day and never find out.  

And so, with confidence and faith amidst a trying time, I took my great leap.

My wife Pauline supported me that time through and through. We tightened our belts and made small sacrifices to make ends meet. It never became desperate though. In a few months, we were Blessed with a big client, and revenues started growing.

The benefits of making the leap are fantastic: I am able to pursue what I am passionate about everyday. I wake up in the morning actually excited to go to work. I am learning tremendously. I am able to decide and do what I feel is relevant and important, like this blog, in the context of my work. I feel God more in the workplace, and feel surer that I am where He wants me to be – pursuing my God-given passions.

These are things which I feel everyday, which I seldom felt in my corporate career. I believe everyone should be given the freedom to pursue these, work is such an integral part of our lives. We can’t and mustn’t settle.

Think about it. Is the risk even that big?

Young people. They say “startups are for the young” because of two things: first is that it takes a lot of energy to pursue a startup. You will work HARDER than you did in corporate. Hopefully it’s not only because of your intense will to make it, but also because you’ve chosen a product you love. The other reason startups are for the young? You have nothing to lose. You don’t have mouths to feed yet, nor a house loan to pay. You can always go back climbing the corporate ladder. It will always be there for you.  The ONLY thing you might be sacrificing is lifestyle (the one your corporate salary allows you to afford), which really if you think about it, isn’t worth it. At all. If you have that itch, there is no sense stalling. Take that leap now.

Slightly older folks. You probably have something to lose. It’s the large, 2x-a-month cash that comes in like clockwork. You use it to feed your dependents. If you think about it, your career is NOT really at risk – you can always go back to it.  By now though, you probably have an idea if that career of yours really is something you really love, or its something you are stuck with. If it is the latter, you owe it to yourself to take a leap – don’t settle. Not necessarily a giant, hairy leap, but perhaps smaller, more calculated leaps that build momentum. (I talk about that here) Create a definitive plan. Partner with young people who can take the big leaps. You are the one they will look for needed domain knowledge. Small, low-risk steps.

Look, startups are not for everyone. They require a high tolerance for ambiguity and failure, as well as high intestinal fortitude. I remember the early years when my partner Pao and I would face not knowing where the money would come from WHILE losing a huge client WHILE losing a key employee WHILE having to clean the office. Grabe. However, if you have that fire in your belly, there is NOTHING as exhilarating as being the captain of your own ship, I tell you.

There is only one way to find out though. Take a chance.

Comments

  1. Said g’bye to my corporate life too to be ‘the captain of my own ship’. Keep the inspiration and the advice coming!

    • peter cauton says:

      Hooray! Congratulations on taking the leap Lia! Liberating, isn’t it? Thanks for commenting! Cool site by the way!

  2. Great article. My question now is where am I going to leap?

  3. did you take the leap even with limited financial resources? that is my number 2 obstacle. number 1 is which passion i should pursue.

    • Hey Karlo. Cool email you have, btw.

      I took a smaller leap while I still had my fulltime job – I did my startup on the side. The blessing for me was having a partner who really took the full leap. After 2 years, we were having a bit of trouble, I had to go fulltime. In retrospect, having “no choice” was a blessing for me.

      Before making a huge leap (commitment, time, money), smaller leaps might be much more in order. Within these smaller leaps, you have to TEST your idea. I can’t overemphasize how important this is. When I made my big leap, I already knew there was a market for flexible benefits – we already had a couple of clients we were serving. So when I took the bigger, fulltime leap, I had that knowledge to lean on. I did need to tighten my belt a bit after taking this larger leap.

      So before making leaps, test it out. Talk to potential clients. Create a prototype and make make users use it. Test first.

      A GREAT READ is Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup – this is a very very good resource to read up on regarding idea testing and iteration, and entrepreneurship in general.

      Hope this helps, bro.

    • For your first obstacle, do an introspection on what you really want and believe in – be it entrepreneurship, or fine arts. For the second obstacle, read all about the art of bootstrapping. If the likes of college dropouts such as Dustin Moskovitz and Mark Zuckerberg can found a multibillion-dollar company (Facebook), then why can’t people with a proper corporate job not do it better themselves?

  4. This article is very inspiring indeed. I believe this story is another testament on just how much of our world has changed – the loss of the long-term corporate career, startups as the business to-be-in, and college dropouts as the new billionaires. If it weren’t for your decision to take that big leap, who knows where you might have been right now?

    • Thanks for chiming in Kristian! I agree that the world is changing, and that startups are becoming a valid alternative, that yes, the long-term corporate career (in one firm) is going the way of the dodo. I just think our country is taking awhile to get to that point. I still don’t agree that people should drop out though – the examples we see are outliers – I think we need college to grow up a bit.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Hi Peter, inspiring story you have which is relevant to my current situation. I do however have made the necessary steps of my own towards the same goal and it’s good to know that there are others like you who have the same disposition like me.

    • Hey Jonathan! Thanks for chiming in. Good luck with your journey! Do tell us how you’ll be doing, and if you need any help, bro. Can I ask which disposition you are referring to?

      • Jonathan says:

        That staying in corporate is no longer gonna cut it and that we all have to take risks and do something extraordinary to gain the things we want most in life and take charge of our own future.

      • Right on Jonathan! There’s so much opportunity and job meaning that’s ours for the taking, if only we reach out for it.

      • Jonathan says:

        True that! I’d like to have you as a friend since most people I know don’t have the same disposition as I do. If only I can find more people like you to partner with my own business, that would be awesome!

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience, Peter. This is very inspiring. I have read a lot of stories from foreign countries doing startups but haven’t read much about Filipinos. This is definitely much better since I can relate to your culture.

    I really agree with you that starting a business while you don’t have dependents yet is best. We don’t have much to lose yet.

    I have experienced the leap of faith too. When the IT People(this includes myself) in the company were being disposed, I was one of those who became happy rather than sad and rattled. I was excited to be “unemployed”. I was like a bird who wanted to go out of the cage. When I did, I went full-time with my freelancing.

    But before that, I already had some clients while working a full-time. So it wasn’t really a big risk. I just received little money at first when I jumped. But it wasn’t really that big of a risk. I like it when you said “The ONLY thing you might be sacrificing is lifestyle…”.

    Thanks for the posts, Peter. Keep ‘em coming..

Trackbacks

  1. […] his blog, entitled, “The One True Risk I faced in taking the Startup Leap,” Peter notes, “If you have that itch, there is no sense stalling. Take that leap now.” It was […]

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