Pretty much every entrepreneur faces the same dilemma in their early career. When do you quit your stable, comfortable job and pour your heart and soul into your startup?
Dimple Lalwani, founder of Social Belly and winner of startup competition #getstarted2014 took the plunge in February 2015. We caught up with her to find out how it feels to quit your job to focus on your startup…
After coming up with the idea for Social Belly, Dimple knew that she had to first validate her idea before dedicating a lot of time to it.
“When I had the idea, I was reading lots online and a lot of the stuff online was scary. 95% of startups fail and one of the first things I wanted to do was to see if there was a market for my idea. I spent the first 2-3 months researching online trying and arranging meetings with foodies across London to analyse their reactions. [I wanted to know] did they get really nervous? Did they get really excited about it? If they got excited, was it just excitement for me or was it excitement for the idea?”
Not only did Dimple want to validate her idea for Social Belly, she wanted to know what starting a business was like, and how other people had succeeded and failed.
“After I came up with the idea, I started contacting founders of other companies… companies that were running at that moment, or had failed, or had just started. Instead of learning what went good in terms of them running their startups, I wanted to know what went bad. And this seems a little bit negative at first but… everybody always says what goes well, but we as humans are generally really bad at explaining our failures. One of the things about being in the tech world is that everybody’s just super, super open to sharing opinions, to sharing their visions, sharing what went wrong so that the next person can improve.”
Dimple decided to spend two evenings a week contacting founders and asking them about their journeys and where they thought problem areas could be with Social Belly.
“Most people told me they just spent too much money at the start without even validating their product… What you really need to do is get a website out there, whether you have dummy buttons or whether you have something simple and functional, something that shows who you are and what you’re doing and then see whether people are clicking through etc. See whether people are interested in what you want to build.
“I first did it [tested the idea] with newsletters. It went really well, the open rates and click through rates were really good, so then I decided to build a website. I used Squarespace. I was spending about $10/month and I created a really nice website with some really nice pictures. I took the pictures myself, I did everything bootstrapped, and then I started to see whether there was traction. I had dummy buttons everywhere. I was using Squarespace Analytics and a little bit of Google Analytics but at that point I wasn’t really sure how to use the platform. And then using that information, I was able to pitch for #getstarted2014.”
Juggling two jobs
For a time, Dimple was juggling her career in a large hotel group, and running Social Belly in her spare time.
“It was really stressful [juggling full time job and Social Belly] but it was also really satisfying. I knew that my passion lay in building something – Social Belly – so as soon as I finished my job, I didn’t used to go home. I’d go to Starbucks just around the corner and fire my laptop up immediately. Within 10 minutes of shutting down one computer I’d be opening my personal laptop and I’d just start with it.”
While the idea of juggling two jobs sounds like a nightmare to most people, Dimple says it didn’t feel like she was working two jobs.
“Everybody used to tell me “it’s like you’re doing two jobs” but to be honest, I felt it was fine because it didn’t feel like a job, it felt more like a hobby. It’s similar to how you’d feel if you first started going to the gym. Even now, I don’t feel like I’m doing a job. No one’s telling me what to do. I push myself to my limits and as soon as something feels like it’s going well, I plan a stronger strategy around it.”
Dimple’s friends and family were very supportive, and along with a couple of interns, advice from her network was one of her most valuable resources…
“Every time I was in a pickle and didn’t know what to do, when I was really, really stuck, I’d offer to cook for people, whoever I thought had the skills, whether it was my family or my close friends… I would gather people, cook for them and casually say “so I’m going through this problem what do you think”…
“Those brainstorming sessions gave me a whole new influx of motivation. [I could see] this is what people think I should be doing so how am I going to do that? Figuring out the ‘how’ was my responsibility, from them I wanted to find out the ‘why’s’ the ‘what should I do next’ and ‘what are my priorities.’ They helped me in terms of strategic thinking. Sometimes, you’re so involved in your work that, you need an outsider’s perspective. One of my biggest strengths is that I like to speak to people, people I don’t know, because at the end of the day I’m building this platform for them, and not for myself. I tend to gather a few colleagues from a co-working space or a few friends or family and I’ll just ask them for some advice.”
Taking the leap
As you’d expect, Dimple had plenty of concerns about leaving the security of her job to work on Social Belly full time…
“From day one I thought ‘some day’, but I always worried about what I would do if I didn’t receive my salary…and how do I know if people believe in my product or not? I knew there were thousands of people on my website but I didn’t know if they would convert into money or not.”
Dimple recalls finding out that she had won the #getstarted2014 startup competition where she won an MVP built by Simpleweb, marketing support, hosting and legal advice. She says that winning the competition is what really helped her decide it was finally time to take the leap…
“When you emailed me and told me that I had won the #getstarted2014 competition, I realised that there was people with plenty of experience (the 6 judges on the website), that believe that there is a market for Social Belly and this company [Simpleweb], is willing to put in resources for me.
That was the day, I thought it’s not just me, there are more people who want this to happen. That was the trigger, but also it just grew up so the more I got myself involved into the tech community here in London, the more I thought what is there to lose? Will it just be a salary? For me, right now, making money isn’t my priority in life. What I really want to do is build something that people want and that people are excited by and that will automatically bring money if the idea and execution is good enough.”
On financing the leap, Dimple says she had to make cutbacks and save enough to support herself until she could get some funding.
“Last year I decided that someday I would quit my job, I just didn’t know what month it was going to be in… I started saving up as much as possible, trying to eat homemade food as much as I could (plus cooking was my thing and I needed those pictures for instagram!). I quit in February and I’m still living off savings and I’ll probably be living off savings for another 6 months.”
What it feels like to quit your job
While Dimple loved her old job, following her passion has brought her happiness and flexibility.
“I feel like what I’m doing, because its something I’m so so passionate about, I feel super happy all the time. It’s changed my routine because I can manage my routine the way that I want to. Even though I said that I won’t work on weekends, that never happens, but at least I know how to manage my time.
“For me, I’m happier, so everything kind of falls behind the fact that you’re happy and you make time for anything that’s a priority for you. Before I used to, on Saturdays, wake up at 7:30 or 8 in the morning because that was my full day of work, whereas now I can take it a bit easier, I can go to the gym, do some housework and then start, so it just gives me a lot more flexibility.”
On leaving her job Dimple says
“I was happy, but more than anything it just felt right. It felt like I was just doing the right thing and it was the right time, because Simpleweb were in the QA testing, we were getting the product right, getting the website right for launch and it just felt like it was the right moment.
“I speak to lots of startups and they say that that they want to quit their jobs… I think one of the most important things is that it’s not about quitting because you’re so sick and tired of your other job. You need to be logical in terms of how you’re going to pay rent and everything. I think this whole story about startups having to eat pot noodles and stuff, I don’t think it’s healthy. “
It’s not all about being financially ready though says Dimple…
“It’s about strategising what’s the right time financially, but also what’s the right time in terms of your product development… It’s all about making sure that there’s a market for what you’re doing, that there is some kind of traction that you’re getting.
“Don’t go straight for a web developer. I made the mistake where three months in, I was just looking for a web developer to build my website…. that’s not your first priority. It’s not about how much money you spend, its about how smartly you do things… It’s about making sure you’ve got a product that people like, that they feel interested in, understanding why they feel interested, knowing who your target market is and how you’re going to target them.”
Don’t burn bridges
Whatever you do, leave your job on good terms says Dimple, whose previous employer now provides a space for Dimple to host monthly events for Social Belly.
“One of the main things is don’t leave on bad terms, just make sure that you’re very clear about what you’re doing and what you want to do. If your employer really believes in you and really hired you because they think you’re good, they’ll be happy for you so don’t try to hide too much.
“When I was working on [Social Belly] part time, I didn’t want them to think there was a conflict in interest so I did keep it from them for a while. But eventually, everybody started to realise that I was really interested in something else, about food, about people, about community, about bringing people together so eventually I told them bit by bit. The more relationships you build, the better it will be, for any part of your future life.”
Social Belly is a marketplace connecting foodies who want to host dinner parties with people looking for unique dining experiences. Find a dinner party near you now.
If you want to discuss your startup, get in touch with Simpleweb today for an informal chat.