Tuesday, September 24, 2013

No Half Measures: Why I Quit My Job for a Prefunded, Pre-revenue Startup

August 10th, 2012 was my last day at Duke Medicine.  I was in a job that anyone my age, or period, should be very grateful to have – autonomy, smart colleagues, mentorship, great benefits, and outstanding company mission.  But despite all of this, I decided to leave my job to work full-time on a company that at the time was quite frankly more a cool idea than a real business.   I loaded up my Uhaul, made the trek up to New York City, nearly killed a hot dog vendor as I emerged through the Holland Tunnel, and then launched forMD five days later.  We had zero funding, didn’t really know how we were going to make money, and some part of me told me that quitting my job to bootstrap our company in one of the most expensive cities in the world was a good idea.  Insane?  Absolutely.

When to quit your job and start a business is a topic that’s been discussed a lot (here and here).  Instead of trying to offer some sage advice, I thought it would be best to simply share my story.

Personally, I knew I had to quit when I realized that my business needed my undivided attention to succeed.  At the time, I had mentors in the [CED] Venture Mentoring Service who were providing me with great advice.  But the problem was that I couldn’t execute what they, my other advisors, or I, wanted me to do quickly enough for the business to really take off.  Product.  Fundraising.  Users.  Revenue.  Legal.  This was a lot for someone who hadn’t started a business before.

I had a lot to learn, and still do, but there was no way that I would learn and iterate at the pace I needed to for our business to succeed while I had full-time employment elsewhere.  And I was honestly obsessed.

At first I tried to raise money so that I could quit my job and work on the company full-time.  We had a lot of polite conversations with some great people, but I don’t blame anyone for not funding us at the time.  How could they know that I was really committed to the company, that I would give it everything I had, and that I really believed in it if I wasn’t willing to give all my time and attention to it?   So when I realized that we weren’t going to really get any serious looks, I started to look at my financial situation.

Ultimately it was a very calculated decision.  I had a passion for building the business, believed that we could execute, and was in a relatively low-risk position.  With regard to the latter, I really didn’t have that much holding me back.  While I owned a home (And still do!  Please rent it!!!), I wasn’t married and had no kids.  I also came to see that our business would never be successful if we continued to take half-measures.

Ultimately though, I realized that the cliché is true.  You regret the things you don’t do the most.   I’ve talked with a lot of people in the twilight of their careers that can remember their biggest regrets.  I never want to be that person.  So with imperfect information, I decided to take a risk.  One year later, forMD closed our first round of funding, we have over 30 partners including at five of the top 10 medical schools in the country, and users in 50 countries.  I feel absolutely blessed to have this opportunity, the trust of my investors, and because of that I work harder than ever.  And it never would have happened if I hadn’t taken the risk.

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