How My 9-to-5 Became a Business Incubator

I never considered myself an entrepreneur at heart -- I’m far too risk-averse to put everything on the line and jump headfirst into a venture from scratch. But I've learned that entrepreneurship doesn't have to be all or nothing. It is possible to incrementally build your business -- while holding down a 9-to-5 job -- until your side business is cash-flow positive. Then you can leave your day job to become a full-time entrepreneur in a proven business.

In fact, that's exactly how I built Beat The GMAT, a social network for MBA applicants. By the time I left my job to become a full-time entrepreneur, I had a proven business model and sustainable revenue. Today the site serves 2 million business school applicants each year and is fully profitable without any external funding.

I founded the company in 2005 from my Stanford dorm room. I love the education space and I am energized by the idea of solving education needs through online communities and social media. When I launched Beat The GMAT, I had a dream of working on this venture full-time. But at the time, I was 23 and funding was a major challenge. I also had more questions than answers about how to run a business and my college degree in Sociology certainly didn't provide me many relevant or transferable skills.

So I decided to hedge my risk. I accepted a full-time job as a product manager at a respectable Silicon Valley company. With my day job bankrolling me, I was free to be highly experimental with my side venture and didn’t fear failure. At the end of the day, I would still get my salary and benefits even if my social network collapsed. I was optimistic and thought that I would only work at my day job for one year before I could move onto my start up full-time.

One year turned into four years. During those years, I spent about 40-50 hours a week at my job and another 40-50 hours a week (nights and weekends) working on my side venture. The lifestyle was extremely taxing and I had to make many sacrifices with regard to my personal time and had precious little time to spend with family and friends, or working on hobbies.

Even still, I was having so much fun. At my ‘real’ job, I was fortunate to work with managers who were great mentors and was able to select projects that were relevant to my own small-business interests. It was also during this time as an employee that I met the person who would become my business partner, who also coached me on how to think strategically.

I spent three years experimenting with my side venture while working full-time. And while I made plenty of mistakes along the way, I also enjoyed many successes. By my third year, my site traffic began to grow exponentially, and I was able to begin monetizing my site. By the end of my fourth year, I was earning almost twice as much from my personal venture as I was from my day job.

I was now ready to make a go at being a full-time entrepreneur and I left my day job in January 2009. I became fully focused on Beat The GMAT, and I wouldn't change a thing about how I started up.

Entrepreneurs should do some serious soul-searching and not be pressured to go full time into their ventures immediately. There’s no stigma attached to being an entrepreneur with a 9-to-5 job. Instead, think of your full-time job as an opportunity to incubate your business.

Eric Bahn is the Founder and Vice President of Beat The GMAT, the largest MBA applicant social network on the Internet serving 3 million people each year.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.) The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.

About Eric Bahn

Eric Bahn is an angel investor and serial entrepreneur passionate about helping other entrepreneurs become successful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>