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Ask HN: You're a recent grad that's working full time on your startup. How?
37 points by rscott on Mar 26, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments
I'm curious as to how the recent grad crowd works full-time on their startup. I've read multiple comments over the last few weeks from people that do this, so I have to be nosy and ask the obvious question - how do you do this? Personally, after graduation I will need to get a "real" job to pay for expenses, housing, food, etc. Ideally, of course your startup makes money, but it's obvious that comes with no guarantee or time frame. Are the bulk of these fresh grad full-timers somehow independently wealthy, do they just get by with part-time jobs, or am I missing something entirely?

Let me know, thanks.

Everyone's how is going to be different and probably not applicable to your situation but here is what you can do...just make it fucking happen. This small piece of advice may not seem that helpful but what I'm trying to say is you're nuking it. You're over thinking. Jump in head first and see what happens.

On that note, I don't recommend any plan that involves your parents, but that's just my undying need for self-reliance.

If you really want to know what I do to survive, nothing special really. I cut back my costs but don't eat only ramen and live in a box. I pick up some consulting and freelance jobs and help out people with other stuff when I'm in need (menial labor can be a good thing). The key is flexibility. I think about my company 24/7, but there is no way I can work on it that much. There is more than enough time in the day to make a living wage and work on your startup full-time, just make it happen.

Although I am new to HN I have tried to contribute in a positive way and have not, until now, left a negative comment.

Being a founder is about getting things done, busting walls down and doing, often, the unthinkable in terms of effort and brainpower to prove your thesis correct.

Based on your question, you probably aren't ready.

In my case it's a combination of (a) graduating with money in the bank due to generous scholarships, and (b) having low expenses due to living in my parents' basement.

YCers, of course, are given a theoretical 3 months of living expenses and then usually get other investment at the end of the YC program -- so there's no mystery there (at least for those people for whom $5k == 3 months of living expenses).

Bingo! I too live in my parents' basement - it has it's perks and a few downfalls as well. Aside from saving money, I've found it easier to code at all hours of the night and day while in the basement. There's also an added sense of privacy which seems to give me some mental comfort as well. On the downside, I've now become part of the super-nerd stereotype: jobless and living in my parents' basement. =)

On a side note, I've also found it increasingly difficult to keep in touch with old friends post-grad. The majority of my time is now devoted to my projects rather than hanging out or attempting to reconnect.

On the downside, I've now become part of the super-nerd stereotype: jobless and living in my parents' basement. =)

You're probably just being facetious, but you're not jobless; you just don't have a job that involves working under contract for someone else. ;-)

My friends referred to it as "unemployed but busy", at one point. Many of them were "unemployed and bored" at the time, since it was right around the time when all my friends were thinking of dropping out of grad school.

When I was working on my product full-time, I always said I was "self-unemployed."

As a matter of fact, in India, by default most recent grads live with their parents. In fact, in almost all cases parents pay for your college tuitions as well. So, by the time you graduate, you have no debt, free food and accommodation. But, of course, there is tremendous amount of pressure to get a real job. It is amusing how different two cultures can be.

Just being curious: have you (or anyone else building their startup on their parent's expense) ever considered giving your folks a cut of equity in your company? And if so, how much?

The easiest way is just to move back in with parents. Most middle-class families can afford to do this; I think the stats from my graduating class (05, top private college) were that 50% of students were moving back home.

I took a slightly different path: I moved back in with the 'rents, but I also took a job for a couple years and saved up money. Then I went full-time on my startup, funding it mostly out of savings (I was paying rent to my parents). It's funny - now that I've moved out, my expenses are only about $200/month more than they were when I was living at home, but the difference is that now I'm paying a complete stranger's mortgage instead of my parents.

Is this in the U.S.? If I were a school administrator and half my graduating students were moving back in with their parents after graduation, I would consider my school to be failing terribly. I would expect even a community college to be better than that.

Alternatively, by "top private" do you mean very expensive, so most of the students were independently wealthy and were getting degrees in things not intended/needed to provide jobs after graduation? I just can't fathom going to / sending my child to a school where that was normal.

Yes, this is in the U.S.

"Top private" as in #1 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. It's academically selective (slightly under 20% acceptance rate), and yes, very pricey for those not on financial aid. The demographics did skew toward children of upper-middle-class parents who wanted degrees in useless subjects. Liberal arts, after all.

BTW, this is not saying that 50% of graduates could not find jobs. There were a couple in that situation (mostly English, history, and language majors), but most people living back with their parents had jobs - in some cases, very good ones. I worked at a financial software startup. I had a classmate at the State Dept. Another friend was doing strategic analysis at MITRE (MIT Research and Engineering). All of us chose to live with our parents, even though we were making more than the median household incomes for our respective areas. Then there are more conventional live-with-parents stories, like the schoolteachers and librarians and baristas and unemployed.

It's more that if a large enough critical mass (say, all the English majors) chooses to live with their parents, it then becomes socially acceptable. And then their friends do it (while banking the rest of their salary), partially so as not to feel "different" from their less-successful classmates and partially just because they can.

I've had two phases of my life where I went without income. The first was getting established as an open source developer, the second was starting a startup (both, interestingly, feel like they have a lot in common).

After college I worked full time for one year. I kept living with college roomies and saved up about $10,000. I used that to work full time on open source for 10 months, and move to Europe (where I stayed).

When I started Directed Edge 6 years later, I did something similar, but had more saved. I got my living costs back down to college student levels to ensure that we had a long runway.

It's easy to stretch money out if you get used to it and easy to save enough money to live on for a year if you've got an IT job. The freedom of knowing that you can survive for a year on $10k while living well, mind you, is pretty awesome and it certainly gives you the flexibility to do something you think is worthwhile.

I'd love to hear more about your move to Europe. Did you move for a job and have an employer help out with the red tape, or did you work out another path? Having spent about a year in Europe backpacking during my college days (on $10k, no less), finding a means to make it a full-time experience would be great.

EDIT: I assumed you are/were a citizen of the US and shouldn't have.

Yes, I am a US citizen. In a nutshell, I took all of my overtime and vacation in that year of working full-time and went to Guatemala to study Spanish and met a German girl ... that was September of 2001, so a pretty nutty time in the US, and it seemed like a good excuse to try something different.

I had a job with a startup lined up, which fell through, and then ended up getting hired by the SAP LinuxLab who sponsored my visa (roughly equivalent to a H1-B), so I went back to the US for a couple weeks, packed up my stuff, shipped it over and well, stayed. 6 years (and one job) later I got permanent residence, which meant I was no longer bound to having a company sponsor my visa, and a couple months later quit my job to found Directed Edge.

The convenient upshot of that is that now, at 28, I'm permitted to live and work anywhere in the US or EU.


I see a common theme here in the first few submitted replies. What does an ambitious young person do if the parents are

a) dead and gone,

b) sick and dying,

c) impoverished,


d) stingy?

(I ask as a parent of would-be start-up founders, trying my best not to fit into those categories, but never knowing for sure when I might fit into category a).

I think it's ideal to have some sort of part time job. In my case, I have a full time job and can't leave it for two reasons:

1) I am on H1b-Visa [More Important than #2, so didn't even think about applying for YC this summer, though I would love to]

2) I need $$$ :-)

I typically try to wake up early(6am), hit the gym, put in my 8/9 hrs at work so I am free by 5-6 pm. Now I have potentially 6 more hours till 12:00 am during which I try to get some work done on my personal projects OR go to silicon valley meetups etc Or just laze/party out completely some days. [Potentially 30 hrs in 5 days]

So, time is not really a problem, it's more of a Time management and Motivation that will carry you forward. I am still tweaking both :-)

PS: On another note, I will be up in the SF city for StartupWeekend. Still looking for people to partner up ? Anyone Interested ??

you know that you can always switch to a part-time H1b to make more time, right? Also, apply to YC if you are interested and ready to commit, the visa thing is hard but not insurmountable (especially if you raise money). IIRC, The buxfers did it!

It's very easy to go down the road of, oh no there are so many obstacles, but if you're relentlessly resourceful, you can make it work :)

I am a believer in "if you're relentlessly resourceful, you can make it work :)". I honestly never considered/thought moving to a part time H1 especially in this economy. It was always evenings/weekends in my mind. But now that you mention about Part time, it seems a pretty descent option :)

BTW what/who are the "IIRC , The buxfers" ?

IIRC = If I Recall/Remember Correctly

Buxfers = http://www.buxfer.com/about.php (I think)


I'm going to Startup Weekend but I'm also a backend developer. There should only be 1 backend developer per team right?

Get a part time job, find friends with an extra room and live on the bare essentials. If you don't have the comfort of parents who can help you out then it is all the more pressing for you to MAKE your startup succeed (if that's the route you want to take).

Agreed with mdolon's thoughts, but another thought occurred to me while reading through this:

* As a parent, it is likely you have more and varied business connections than your son/daughter. Do you know anyone you could introduce them to who might be able to help them along both monetarily, as a seed or angel investor, and/or as an advisor if (a-d) were to happen to you? This doesn't even have to be a direct contact, perhaps a contact of a contact, or however many levels of indirection you are comfortable with. Just a thought; the help you can provide is not entirely in what you know.

As a parent, it is likely you have more and varied business connections than your son/daughter. Do you know anyone you could introduce them to who might be able to help them along both monetarily, as a seed or angel investor, and/or as an advisor if (a-d) were to happen to you?

That's the primary reason I am here on HN. (Well, actually the primary reason I signed up for a user account is that I lurked into some very interesting discussions here over several months, repeatedly following the link here from Paul Graham's essays, but what I claim I'm learning is entrepreneurial skills I can use for myself and impart to the next generation of my family.)

Agreed that sometimes parental connections are WAY more valuable than parental money. I know some spectacular examples from my own generation, as I know (as a professional school classmate) the child of a Vice President of the United States. Most of my personal connections are not closely related to the career interests of my oldest son, but it only takes one person who knows one other person and so on if all the relationships are friendly and pro-active.

I started working on my startup immediately after graduation 1500 miles from my parents' basement. I found a cheap room in a boarding house from which I work and tutoring rich private school kids just four hours a week keeps me going. For a little padding, I took a tiny loan from various parts of the family - it really annoys me when people assume anyone can find a $20,000+ loan from "friends and family," (I can't) but my family is almost exclusively low-income and was able to put together a little something that helped cover incorporation, business cards, etc.

I would suggest a part-time job as well. That's my situation right now. I'm a soon-to-be-grad, and I'm doing part-time school, part-time work at a software company. One or two days a week there (depending on my work load at school) pays my living expenses, tuition and loan repayments.

If I weren't in school, and didn't have student debt, I could live quite well on the same amount of income, yet bootstrap a startup at the same time.

Mind you, this requires a well-paying and flexible part-time job, but it's definitely possible.

YC isn't the only program that allows Bright Young People(TM) to get off the ground. For example, I'm on the EPIS programme in Scotland (http://www.epis.org.uk - shameless plug) which is effectively a year-long YC, giving you a £10k loan to get started, free office space and a ton of mentoring. (The reason I'm interested in YC is because Scottish mentors and investors, for the most part, don't 'get' emerging technologies.)

There's also the Royal Society Enterprise Fellowships, also in Scotland, which is an even cushier deal - you graduate straight from PhD to startup with a year's salary from the university and some small seed investment.

For the most part universities want to commercialise your work, so if you're a graduate with no money but a ton of great work you want to turn into a business, there is support there - you just have to know where to look.

This applies more to postgraduate students, mind; some of the things that supported me fresh out of my BA and looking to start some projects included a part time job that paid well enough to cover my basic expenses, leaving me free to tinker in the rest of the time, and doing a lot of freelance work which pretty much came to the same end. Having money saved up from internships and graduate stipends also helped, but I believe the system is a little different in the US ;)

I graduate in May and plan to move to full-time. I'll be able to work on my startup because my parents have [thankfully] agreed to help me out while I try to bring it into the black. Since I've been working on it a lot during college, I hope to start making a profit not too long after graduation. I'm currently living with some college friends in a house and intend to live there for now, unless (A) money runs out and I need to move home, or (B) I decide it'd be better to move to the valley.

I'm in Iowa right now; it's a dead zone, but I have resources available to me here (family, time, friends) that I wouldn't have if I just upped and moved to SF right now. Not that the prospect isn't intriguing of course.


Thanks. If I end up needing an actual job/career, you're right -- I'd have to get out of here in order to find anything enjoyable. But I think as a startup founder, the situation's different -- I'm not directly dependent on the job market here, so I'm not immediately inconvenienced by a lack of good CS jobs.

WebNotes’ first founder worked part-time on WebNotes for about a year after graduating before raising enough investor money to go full time. After going full-time, he gave everyone else an ultimatum to jump ship as well, and now, we’re a five person team.

So, in short, I’m lucky. The startup has been able to fund me from the start.

How concerned was the first founder that while he was getting money together, another startup would develop a competing product and spend the year working full-time while he was working part-time on his own? If such a competitor appeared in the year's time, what would the first founder have done?

I ask because there seems to be some division amongst the comments and essays I've read about how severe of a risk this is, and whether it is a greater risk than jumping in without building up a sufficiently comfortable cushion beforehand. The other half of this, that either hasn't be discussed as much, or maybe I just haven't noticed discussions of, is what happens when a risk of competition appears while the people involved are working at mitigating the risk of inadequate savings/funding.

It seems that some would argue that going the route of the part-time job to fund the project is reasonable path to follow and that things will work out; others that would claim that it puts the startup at an acute risk of failing or just never getting off the ground, and that never having enough money goes with the territory.

As concrete examples of both viewpoints, the 37Signals guys would argue that splitting one's time at first is fine, and is in a lot of ways more desirable than diving straight in. On the other hand, pg has argued in his essays that moonlighting is incredibly risky to a startup's success, due to both the time commitment required by other obligation(s) and the placating effect of an near-assured soft landing should things go bad.

It seems like this situation is precisely where discussions of risk trade-offs come in. Hearing the thoughts behind how these trade-offs are balanced is interesting and useful, both for the sake of curiosity and helping me and others develop an intuition for where our own balance should lie.

The risk of going part-time isn't that a competitor will beat you, it's that you won't make a good enough product. Don't worry about competitors, worry about the product.

This strikes me as being worried about the same thing, especially in a market ripe enough for you to have real competition. Presumably, in trying to best your competition, you and/or they -- hopefully both if both are paying some attention to the other -- will ultimately approach a product the customer wants. Otherwise, you're both dead anyway. Past that, it's up to whoever has the better product.

The only other thresholds to overcome is that you or your competition solve enough of the customer's problem for them to be interested at all, and that the price is something the customer would be willing to pay. Odds are, if you are tooth-and-nail with one or more competitors, you'll pass both those thresholds just trying to keep ahead of them.

There might be very niche markets were you won't have the threat of competition to keep you honest about product quality, but I can't imagine of any. I'd worry about any market where no one cares enough to make a competing product.

I started my first company by getting supported by my partner, working all day & night :). I had a deadline of 6 months to release which I met. We lived like students (still in a student flat), and by no means had any disposable income. It was exciting and daring, and paid off.

My advice, find a brainy girl/boy who believes in you (and can add value in their own way) and talk it over :)

That's pretty impressive. The pressures of working 24/7 on a startup don't always mesh with the ideal of a happy balanced relationship, especially if the startup founder is relying entirely on the other to be the breadwinner. I've not really been in that position myself, but I've heard a lot of stories about how relationships nearly died because of someone getting obsessed with a startup and neglecting their spouse. Any thoughts?

She's a special girl what can I say :) We have both been working on a mutual startup products for a few years now. It has worked for us, probably because we are both different (optimist/dreamer vs pessimist/realist) yet the same (passionate, understand the same domain specific areas, work insane hours and love it).

Well, kudos to both of you then! :)

I live in India, Pune. So the expense are really low as compared to US or Europe. Plus, I really cut down on expenses and still manage to have decent lifestyle. I have a cook coming in to cook food and a maid to clean the house.

I worked for a year and saved enough ($3000). This amount of money will go long way (8 to 10 months) if I spend frugally. I am already 4 months into developing the startup.

Another thing is, develop a knack for getting things cheaply. If you search around, you can get same things far cheaper, than say from a Mall or Big shop.

I just graduated and got a full time job. I leave work around 5ish, I hit up a cafe and usually work until 8-10. I get home relax a bit, I go to the gym around 11 and then bedtime for me. Lather, rinse, repeat...

I've learned what I need to do to not burn myself. I've fine tuned it to the point where it's become sustainable, at least for a while. I try to exercise four times a week, eat healthy, get at least 7+ hours of sleep and to, once in a while, change things up dramatically to break routine, such as going to a different city to work.

My job pays the bills, I don't have very many responsibilities and my goal is to start a company which will provide a steady source of income and open up other doors of opportunity.

Bottom line: You can have a full-time job and start a company.

We are two cofounders. We both had full time jobs. We worked nights and weekends for a year and got something out the door. Now that it is going well, I made a deal with my employer to switch to part-time. I consolidated my fixed costs (aka sold the car, got rid of cable) to be able to live on a part-time salary. The other cofounder is on an H1-B, so he doesn't have the same options.

We live in Cambridge, MA, so you can get by without a car. Food is cheap, and rent is in the range of $700 a month with roommates. So one should be able to live in Cambridge comfortable on about $1600 a month.

Once we get funding, we will both do it full-time.

Talk to your parents.

It's amazing what the response to

"I just recently graduated. Instead of going to Europe to get drunk for a year, I'd like to go home for a year and write software for my startup."

can be.

I'd have to agree that in my case, I'm pursuing a full-time start up after having worked for a few years, saving up a bit of cash that will hold me over for the next few years. Along the way, gaining some experience from the corporate sector to bring to the start-up.

Am I the only person who would ask my parents to pay for my living and allow me to startup?

I am planning to live on the provision from my parents to startup after June. That is when my current job finishes. :-)

Well, of course, I have got my ideas and plans ready before starting. :-)

Uh, I moved to the 3rd World. Forex swaps help for bread and butter income!

My mommy loves me and is letting me bum it?

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