Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: Did any of the ultra-successful entrepreneurs (Elon Musk, Richard Branson, etc.) have day jobs while simultaneously working on their first business ideas? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
Entrepreneurs who kept their day job while working on a side venture (until it was time to upscale):
Sara Blakely kept her day job of selling fax machines while she was working on her ideas for Spanx. For two years she worked a nine to five and sold Spanx pantyhose on nights and weekends. She didn’t resign until she was confident her entrepreneurial venture would take off.
Markus Persson began developing Minecraft as an independent project while working forand later jAlbum. The alpha version of Minecraft was released in 2009. After sales expanded, he quit jAlbum to work on Minecraft full time, starting the video game company Mojang to back Minecraft’s development. In 2014, Persson sold Mojang to Microsoft for $2.5 billion
Larry Page and Sergey Brin worked Google while doing their Ph.D’s at Stanford. Both dropped out of Stanford when they decided it was time to start Google Inc. Brin was the only one to return to finish his degree.
Entrepreneurs who quit their day job (or dropped out) before starting a new company:
Shahid Khan worked at the automotive manufacturing company Flex-N-Gate while attending the University of Illinois. When he graduated he was hired as engineering director for the company. In 1978, he left and with $13,000 in savings and a $50,000 loan from the Small Business Loan Corporation, he created the start-up Bumper Works. In 1980, by the time he was 28, he raised enough to buy Flex-N-Gate.
Elon Musk applied for a job at Netscape but was turned down. He later went to grad school as Stanford but two days into it, he went on deferment with the option to come back later. He started Zip2 with his brother and focused solely on it, while reducing his expenses to $30 a month for food. He rented an office, slept on the futon, and showered at the YMCA. In 1999, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq and Musk received $22 million from the sale.
Richard Branson dropped out of high school to start a magazine company called Student. He then started a mail-order record company called Virgin to help fund his magazine company.
Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and started Microsoft with his friend Paul Allen, working on it full-time. They had been researching Intel’s 8080 microprocessor chip for a while, theorizing that computers with that chip would be affordable for the average person someday. When the Altair 8800 came out with Intel’s 8080 chip, Gates and Allen knew it was time to make their move and start Microsoft and work on it full-time.
We see entrepreneurs who became billionaires on both sides. But one common thread is that they all did extensive research beforehand. Blakely and Persson didn’t quit their day job until they were confident in their ventures. Khan didn’t quit until he had a good amount in savings. Musk didn’t leave Stanford until he was assured he could return in the future. Gates had been researching Intel’s 8080 chip and had been preparing for a while to jump on board when it showed up in a new computer. Page and Brin were doing PhD research while working on Google before dropping out to make it a company. Branson’s Student magazine is the only venture on this list that wasn’t a great success, but he relied on his later companies to bring him back up.
So if you have an idea, do some primary market research, create a minimum viable product, see if people will buy it, and sell enough units until you’re sure your idea will work. Don’t quit your day job until you’re ready to upscale.