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I hope all programmers have gone through the stage at I am.

I'm an iPhone and mobile apps developer and currently working in a company which is 1 of the best in my city.

Now I am at a stage where I've two options. The first is with a big company like IBM or the second is with my own small company in which one of my friends and I will be starting.

You might be wondering why am I asking this question instead of trying my own company but I know that once getting myself into a business going back to a job after closing a business would be a painful condition for me.

What's your preference? What advice can you suggest?

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Do you have the budget to do a start-up? –  Buhake Sindi Apr 16 '11 at 13:23
    
Asking a prom queen out and getting rejected would also be painful. –  Job Apr 16 '11 at 19:35
    
Possible duplicate of programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/2130/… –  Anna Lear Sep 11 '11 at 13:47
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closed as off topic by Yannis Rizos Mar 7 '12 at 7:35

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8 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Below are the prerequisites to consider before you think of a start-up:

  1. You have a backup support so that you are not on road if it shuts.
  2. You have similar passionate partners, at least 1, to whom you can bounce ideas.
  3. As Joel Spolsky wrote somewhere, if you can't describe in one sentence how your product is different from others and what pain it solves, then don't start.
  4. You have a clear picture, a vision, of where you want to reach in one year, two year and so on.
  5. You should also plan in advance on how to get an edge over competitors.

I met a young guy who started his small company. You can read his success story here.

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+1 for answer. +10 for sharing story. (I wish I could upvote 11 times :) ) –  Guru Apr 23 '11 at 5:40
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In my experience, certain choices require a great deal of confidence and certainty. If we were friends in real life and you came to me and said "Should I get married?" I would say no, because if you need to ask someone about it, you're not ready. Ditto having a baby, or leaving your job to sail around the world for a few years, or those sort of things. People do those things and they work out great, but anyone who isn't sure and doesn't know whether they should or not -- well in my opinion under those circumstances you shouldn't. And I think starting your own business is one of those choices.

If you work for a great company, why do you want to leave? Focus on that for a while. In a big company, things will be different - and in a startup they will be different. Startups don't stay small long and they can get wild and crazy. Starting your own 1-2 person firm and just keeping it like that is a third option and very different from the classic startup culture. So really think about what you want your working life to be like, and how various changes could move you towards that. And at some point, you'll see what's right for you, and do it.

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+1 for if you need to ask, and deserves another +1 for the third option of the right size for you. –  Matt Apr 16 '11 at 13:45
    
No, starting your own business is not one of those choices. Taking the leap to running your own company is hard. I know - I was in the same position several times. You're never 100% certain that you're doing the right thing. Bad, bad answer!!! –  Elad Apr 16 '11 at 20:08
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Everyone has an opinion, Elad, but as someone who started my own business, hired people and laid them off, hired again etc, and who faces very hard decisions regularly, it is not a route to take just to see what it is like or because some people told you it is better than working for someone else. Without a strong desire to do it and the knowledge that you made your own decision, I don't think you will be happy when times get tough. –  Kate Gregory Apr 16 '11 at 20:39
    
would give +10 for that if I could :) –  quickly_now Apr 17 '11 at 1:42
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startups and huge corps are 2 very different worlds

corps are predictable and stable

startup are exciting and risky

if you believe in startup's idea why not to try?

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You don't say whether you have business skills. Running a company or start-up is very hard. It takes an entirely different set of skills to being a programmer.

Not to put you off: no-one can answer your question but you in the end. Just make sure you know what your getting into. Big company is safe & 9-5 hours, start-up is very hard work and very risky.

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Having done exactly what you describe here, I have some experience to share.

going back to a job after closing a business would be a painful condition for me

Yes, this is very much what's keeping me in my own business, despite it not being particularly profitable. Having been my own boss, on my own convenient hours, I will try to make it last for as long as I can. I really don't want to go back to the old style.

The main downside is of course the absense of a fixed income.

One downside I did not expect is that the utter freedom in choosing what I work on is actually a rather tricky thing. At work you're always told roughly what to do. You get all the flexibility in how you do that with good employers, but you don't need to spend days wondering which project to work on.

When you're working in your own company, there are so many choices that one requires quite a bit of discipline to stick with projects long enough to actually complete them.

Lastly, there's all the hassle of extra paperwork and legal stuff - it's great when someone else does it for you, and all that's expected of you is to produce code.

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"once getting myself into a business going back to a job after closing a business would be a painful condition for me" - not necessarily. I went from employee to business owner in 2004 and for a long time I thought I could never go back to being an employee even if I wanted to.

My perspective changed over the years, though - my life changed and therefore so did my priorities, the industry I was into (casual games) changed drastically, my own country changed during that time, even I changed (I was 23 and single, now I'm 30 and married) so the employee-vs-owner equation changed.

So on may 2nd I'm formally leaving my company and going back to being an employee, for one of the biggest software companies out there, and I'm very happy and excited about it.

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I made the transition multiple times in the past 14 years: from developer in a small firm, to co-owner of a consultancy, to first employee in a start-up, to developer in a big corporation to CEO of my own startup, to my previous and current positions, again in a big corp.

With each move and each new position I learned new things. All those experiences have been invaluable to my career development. While the transitions are never simple, my own experience proves that it's both possible and worthwhile.

If you're in a position to try and make it on your own, and you have the gut for it, then definitely go for it. There's no experience that's more educational and fulfilling than entrepreneurship. There's a lot you can learn in your a career in a big company, especially if it's a good company, that would be worthwhile, but that choice is always open. Opportunities to start your own business are rarer and as you age life tends to get in the way.

Advice you shouldn't listen to:

  • People who tell you that you should first gain experience in a managerial position. The correlation between experience as a manager in a big co. and in your own co. is smaller than people think. Especially people who never tried both...
  • People who tell you that it'll be hard to move back to being an employee if your business doesn't work. Some managers are afraid to hire entrepreneurs, but you want to stay away from these guys anyway. Others are smart enough to be excited about the prospect. I owe much of my own career advancement to my experience as an entrepreneur - what it taught me, and what hiring managers realize that it did.

Finally, I recommend that you read some Q&A's at http://answers.onstartups.com/ - that's another StackExchange site with some valuable advice.

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I do not recommend moving from developer to owner. IMO, it's better to move to a big company and do not start your own business before you get enough experience in managerial position. If you insisted to do it before that you better either get someone with experience to manage your company or at least get some management courses or education. I have seen people who make this move without experience make disasters that impact everyone in their companies.

Being your own boss is your decision, but being somebody else's boss has ethical obligations.

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Managerial =/= entrepreneurial. –  Matt Apr 16 '11 at 13:41
    
@Matt what do you mean ? –  M.Sameer Apr 16 '11 at 13:49
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The typical skillset of managing is not the skillset required to successfully be a founder in a startup. It will be a skillset needed later however if the company grows. –  Matt Apr 16 '11 at 14:01
    
What I wanted to say that becoming the owner and boss even for just two employees comes with obligations. You need to keep the ship sailing and heading for the right direction to pay their salaries and allow room for their personal lives. Some people go and start their business and do not care if they pay their employees late or made them stay the night working even though it's all about their business plan being messy from the first place. This all about managing a business. Of course higher skills are needed to run larger companies but the ethical obligations of management do not change. –  M.Sameer Apr 16 '11 at 14:09
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@Matt - Sameer advice is very good and actually yes, having managerial skills is an important trait of a successful company founder. If the founder is already knowledgeable about managing the company, he/she can focus more on the product, and less on learning from own mistakes trying to manage the company. Plus, he did suggest that if the founder himself can't do it that the manager should hire someone to manage. –  Jas Apr 16 '11 at 19:45
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