5 Reasons Why You Should Quit Your Job Now and Work for a Startup (With Traction)


So, you want to put up a startup.

You want to take the leap.

But it’s sooooo hard to let go of the cushy job you’ve spent numerous years cultivating…

You worry about the sudden disruption of that bi-monthly cashflow you’re now so accustomed to and built your life around.

So what now?

Here’s a solution – work for a startup. But don’t just work for ANY startup – work for a startup with traction.

What’s traction? I like Naval Ravikant’s (Angelist founder) efficient definition of traction: “Quantitative evidence of market demand.”

A startup has traction when it has increasing numbers – revenue, users, profitability, engagement, traffic, etc…

These are evident signs that the startup is WORKING, that the business idea has merit and potential.

I’ve been mulling about my own leap into entrepreneurship, and I think one of aspects of my own leap that I underrate the most was my stint in Chikka back in the mid-2000’s.

I underrate it because I started forming STORM before my stint in Chikka. But I think my 5-year stint in the startup (it was 3 years old when I joined) helped solidify my readiness in taking my full leap into entrepreneurship in 2008.

Recalling my stint in Chikka, and my own experiences in running startups, here are 7 reasons why you should quit your job now and pursue a job in a startup with traction.

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1. It’s Inspiring

After 5 years in a very “corporate” environment (IT consulting), I had a very different experience on my first day, when our CEO sent me an email welcoming me to the team, and on the last line saying: “Let’s kick ass and rule the world!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “ass” in formal company channels.

But after that, I was sucked in. I loved the informality and culture they were trying to create. I loved that everyone was in t-shirts. (my previous firm made me wear a tie)

More than this, however, I loved experiencing the growth.

In seasoned corporations, you’d expect conservative growth figures of perhaps 12% or 15%. In startups with traction, we’ve experience numbers like 700%, or even 3000% growth. This is undeniably exciting for everyone in the firm. When a startup CEO makes announcements about growth figures – everyone feels giddy (because everyone feels he/she contributed).

I remember reading that in Amazon’s early years, they made a bell ring whenever a customer would purchase from Amazon. This made the culture electric, they created a real buzz (pun intended) in the air. (obviously they stopped this after there came a point when the bell just rang incessantly.

Traction makes things ultra-exciting for a startup.


2. You Can Get Paid (!)

Here is where the big difference I think lies. At STORM, I tell people who come in: “You probably won’t get the same salary as you would command in a multinational – but present salary isn’t why you would join a company like us.”

But you know what? We would come close.

And combined with everything else we offer (culture, learning, excitement, contribution, input, upward mobility, etc…), this makes it a sweet deal.

You get to work in a startup without sacrificing that big a monetary sacrifice.

“But I won’t get equity.”

No, probably not the big 20%-30% ownership that you would get when you join a pure from-scratch startup with no traction, but….


3. You Have A Shot at Significant Shares

Noah Kagan was one of Facebook’s first 40 employees. He was there when Facebook was still in that rented house we saw in The Social Network. He was fired in his first year (so he didn’t get his shares, because it was vested). He basically lost $100,000,000. Of course, not every startup will be Facebook, but what I want you to look at here is the shares given to Noah. No, as the 40th employee, he won’t have the same % as Zuckerberg or Sean Parker, but got a much, much larger percentage than current employees get. (and he doesn’t need to buy them at $100,000,000 if he bought the same shares now).

Let me break it gently to you: you have NO chance of gaining significant shares in a seasoned corporation, especially if its public.

On the other hand, a number of startups offer equity shares to strategic/loyal employees.  I know some young startups who give all their starting set of employees shares in the firm. In some startups, you need to prove yourself (if you do, most entrepreneurs I know would be happy to give you shares). Dino Alcoseba now owns a portion of the startup he leads, Strata.

If your goal in becoming an entrepreneur is equity (which makes a ton of sense, as this is how most billionaires acquire their wealth), then you might actually find it by working for a startup with traction.

You’re going to have to prove yourself, though. Bottom-line, you have a shot.


4. Learning From Success

You now have so many stories on entrepreneurs learning from their mistakes. We hear a lot of quotes like:

That company I started failed, but the learning I garnered from it was why I now succeed…yada, yada..

This is true, of course (in fact I write about it here).

But you know what? You can also learn from successes! Yes!

By joining a startup with traction, you can see what it takes.

You can work for a dozen failed startups, amass a TON of experience, and STILL have no clue about how a startup can succeed.

In working for a startup with traction, you can see and observe best practices. Want to be a successful startup CEO? Then learn from a successful one.

5. Upward AND Horizontal Mobility

Dino is my poster boy for upward mobility in a startup. 5 years from “Junior HR Consultant” to CEO. (We have numerous examples of less dramatic upward movements as well 🙂 I think this is a clear advantage of working for startups – you get to grow with the firm.

But horizontal mobility is extremely important as well. Increased horizontal mobility allows you to find your own traction within a firm, and contribute where you can do your BEST work (a tremendous difference)

In a large corporation, it is often very difficult to change departments. Let’s say you start a career in Sales. You go up the ranks. If, suddenly, after some discernment, you decide, “I want to transfer to supply chain,” don’t be surprised if it takes time for your request to happen, or more likely, it doesn’t happen.

With a startup with traction, you can be flexible. With traction comes growth. With growth comes the need for new positions. Hence comes the opportunity to not only contribute in different areas – and try them out!

Longtime JGL advocates would be familiar with AR, who originally worked as a recruiter in (the now defunct) Searchlight, then she was hired by STORM. She then became STORM’s HR Officer, then HR Manager, then transferred into Consulting, then became our Content Management Head, before occupying the position she holds now in STORM, which is Customer Service Head. All in 2-3 years!

For startups, traction is king. Once a startup experiences traction, the possibilities are endless.

Make your possibilities endless as well and join one.

(Part 2 coming up soon!)




JGL Thursdays Unplugged v1 – So What Happened?

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Last week, we held our very first Thursdays Unplugged in the STORM office in Ortigas.

I was with John, Gelo, and Ethel. We were supposed to be 5 people but the last participant couldn’t make it at the last minute. In retrospect, it was better suited for 4 people – more on this later.

So what happened? 

I had no idea what was going to happen, so it was a bit awkward to start – it seemed too intimate at first. Then I laid the rules – 15 minutes per person, with an ideal 5-minute pitch, and then everyone can supply ideas and advice.

And just like that, we started.

It was pretty cool. Everyone had a very different idea, with each at different stages of the startup process. One was entirely in the idea stage, one had its initial meeting with a potential client scheduled in a few days, and one idea was already contracting employees. I cannot disclose the ideas thrown in the meeting – but it was a fun discussion.

Again, Fate intervened a bit because one person’s other business was in the same value chain as one of the ideas presented – so there was a lot of very concrete advice rendered.

Of course, the discussions went far beyond 15 minutes per person. I guess this was natural, because the startup ideas represented true passions of these individuals. Also, everyone else was eager to help out and suggest stuff, which was pretty nice. I was reminded a bit of the spirit of JGL’s Open Coffee.

What could be improved? 

Some adjustments have to made for this week’s version though:

1) 5 people in the room would have pushed the meeting to 8pm. Last Thursday, we ended at around 7:00 pm already, and I barely made it to dinner. With some rules, I think this could be managed though. This Thursday, we’ll limit the participants to 3.

2) There needs to be some pre-work done so the conversation during the actual session can go deeper. Just 3 questions:

a) What is your idea or problem? Explain in 2-3 short paragraphs.

b) What help or advice would you need?

c) Is there a website or deck we can view? Kindly attach/link.

3) We need to make sure we do not have coffee and chips. They do not mix.

4) There needs to be a timer on the table for guidance.

5) There needs to be an FB group page for follow-ups/updating/further sharing.

Who’s got next?

JC, Jode, and Jerome (ohmigosh!), see you this Thursday! It’s going to be fun!

I can’t make it on August 7, but we’ll have the next one on August 14. All 3 slots still open. Do email me to reserve!


Buhay Bootstrap (plus, free startup glossary!)

The year is 2006. Pao and I were about 15-20 pounds lighter. Pao was still enjoying his mullet haircut, while I was still enjoying some hair.We wanted to put up a flexible benefits solutions firm, capitalizing on my own early-market experience with flexible benefits.

None of us were really “entrepreneurs” when we started. I was an HR guy and Pao was a programmer. We tried pitching to investors for startup capital, but I think this failed for two reasons: a) the mammoth 100+ page business plan (AKA complete waste of time) we crafted, and b) at that time, no one understood what our idea was and could become. So we ended up bootstrapping.

Funding. There are two general ways to fund a firm: a) raising capital from investors, or b) bootstrapping. Bootstrapping basically means getting no outside funds. The founders themselves would put up the initial capital (another common ploy would be credit cards, although nowadays there seem to be no end to spammed loan offers), minimize costs by all means necessary, survive, and wait for the business to break even and eventually, be profitable. What you give up when you get funding from investors is equity – and thereby control. When you bootstrap though, and it works – you retain control.

We put in around 90K all in all and got started. Pao actually took the leap much earlier than I did. In a crucial move, he went full-time in STORM immediately. I worked with him part-time. To minimize costs, the company began operating in the living room of my 1-bedroom condo. The bedroom effectively became my house. (When I stepped out of the door – boom, I was at work!) We didn’t pay for any office furniture – everything was something someone had donated, so uhm … it wasn’t exactly a breathtaking sight. Our monthly costs were Pao’s salary (near minimum), electricity, and the cheapest internet provider at that time – Destiny (don’t get me started). We felt like we could manage the burn and survive until we got a client or two.

Burn rate is a synonymous term for negative cash flow. It is a measure for how fast a company will use up its initial shareholder capital. If shareholder capital is exhausted, the company will either have to start making a profit, find additional funding, or close down. (wikipedia)

Our plan: to make money from flexible benefits consulting first, and then eventually use the funds to develop an online flexible benefits system to market. Game.

Excited, we planned out a half-day seminar on flexible benefits in Discovery Suites.  Then we started calling people to come. The event was jam-packed, filled with a lot of large firms. Peso signs started broadcasting out of our eyes and stuff. We we’re Kings of the World!

Until we talked to them.

None of them wanted merely consulting. They wanted the online system.

Hokay. This was a significant problem. We had wanted a kick-ass online system. We had previously developed the specs and we designed the data flow very carefully, capturing the various nuances of a comprehensive flexible benefits program. The resulting design was a gargantuan task which would take months to develop for a team. On pao’s salary alone we had 2-3 months of burn left. So what to do?

This led to our first pivot.

Pivot: this is when, due to new insights gathered from the market a firm does a quick turn, a quick strategy change, WITHOUT changing the overall vision of the firm

We needed small, quick wins to allows to raise funds to hire one more programmer to help Pao finish our system as fast as possible. Prior to this time, I had conducted an organizational climate survey for a friend’s organization – and thought that might be a cool service. However, there were a large number of competitors in the business, so we thought an online web survey tool (there wasn’t a popular one at that time) could make us unique in this market.

Amazingly, Pao did the tool in a month, we dubbed it WebSurv. (we still use it now for some projects) Websurv helped STORM land its first few projects – analyze/report projects for some medium-sized firms.

We eventually got to hire our first employee, Angela (who, during her initial interview, took fifteen minutes waiting just outside the door of my residential condo unit before finally mustering the courage to knock). This set the stage for everything. We finished the flexible benefits system before the year ended, managed to land two major flexible benefits clients as 2007 started, and the rest is company history.

In six years, STORM has manage to become a bona-fide player in the local HR technology market, with its sights set abroad.

Some items to takeaway:

1) No, it’s not as glamorous as you might think. (not at all!) It takes a whole lot of sacrifice and humility.

2) It really helps to have a partner with you to weather the storms (pun intended).

3) It’s mighty tough to get investor money (a bit easier nowadays though). Bootstrapping is entirely possible though and has a lot of upside. Check this out. I’m a big believer.

4)  Your plan has to be really be very very flexible to changes.

5) It can take a long time – so patience and perseverance are paramount.

Small steps ARE the giant leaps

It doesn’t need to be a giant leap. Perhaps you don’t need to quit your day job just yet. But start something. Enough of the Starbucks dreaming with your friends on that idea you wanted to do. Start doing it.

Small steps.

The small steps are the great ones. They allow you to digest the grand adventure you are undertaking into bite-sized pieces. They also allow you to generate much-needed momentum to take the bigger leaps.

 In 2004, I had my big idea. It was to create a benefits-based HR technology firm. I do remember multiple times when I decided to put these thoughts aside thinking, “ME?! Start a firm?”

However, it would gnaw at me periodically. I would have near-sleepless nights imagining and think to myself, “hey, this could work.”

I finally put my ideas on Powerpoint. In retrospect, this was crucial. Creating those slides was my first small step. I then proceeded to think about people whom I think could help me build the firm. I made a list of people whom I thought would be interested in the idea AND would complement my skill set – this was my next small step. I spent a number of weeknights having coffee-talks with each of these people, openly sharing about my idea, and asking for their opinions. In other words, I was recruiting.

Momentum was created, and soon, we were having brainstorming sessions in my house. Soon, I was signing SEC incorporation papers. Soon, we had a STORM email address. Soon, we started operations. Soon, we landed our first client. 3 years after, I took a deep breath and took the plunge – forever turning my back on the corporate career I had built. Soon, I was thinking about more startups.

Small steps leading to bigger steps.

What small steps could you take?