Deciding whether or not to quit his day job to become an entrepreneur wasn't the challenge forFirefly Software founder Dan Shipper. When Shipper started his company as a sophomore in 2011, his "day job" was attending classes at the University of Pennsylvania. Dropping out, at least for him, wasn't an option.
So Shipper juggled the role of full-time student with that of CEO of his company, which sells browser-sharing technology for customer service professional and was a finalist for Inc.'s Coolest College Startup list in 2013. And he did both quite well. Shipper successfully earned his diploma in May, and in June he sold Firefly for an undisclosed amount to Pegasystems, where he's now leading his own team.
In a recent interview with First Round Review, the 23-year old graduate explained what he learned while starting up and going to school full time. Aspiring entrepreneurs, take note: splitting your time between a fledgling startup and a day job is challenging, but it comes with underrated benefits. Shipper says the experience forced him to be extremely deliberate with his time. It also granted him extra time to test out the viability of the company. Read on for more of what he learned.
The Early Days
During the company's first 10 months in business, its revenue numbers were anything but promising. Judging from them alone, Shipper could have made a good case for throwing in the towel right then and there.
But Shipper says that there were many sides to his startup's story, and in that moment, he happened to be looking at it from the worst perspective.
"When you have a conversation with someone who really loves your product, you walk away thinking about how this is going to be the biggest thing ever. On the flipside, you see negative information, and you hit the lowest low, wondering why you're even trying," Shipper told First Round Review.
"Even though events like that make you feel very strong emotions, in both cases, the actual prospects for your company haven't changed very much."
That said, it's important not to put the past in the past, Shipper advised. That 10 months, which by some measures was a failure, was also full of valuable information that he used to move his company forward. He began to deeply examine his existing customers, and he questioned whether his product actually fit the way they did their jobs.
The Power of Patience
It turned out that he had largely been on the right track the whole time, he concluded. So he used the customer feedback he received to make small improvements, but everything else stayed mostly the same.
In the process, he discovered another big side effect of patience--it shows your customers that you're serious.
"It was clear that larger businesses were hesitant to work with a startup, so they’d want to see how long they could keep us around, and how consistent we'd be in our service," Shipper said.
The only thing left to do was just hang in there. And after three years, it paid off.
Based on the experience, Shipper's number one tip for young startups is simple: Give yourself enough time to see your company through to success--or failure.