There's a lot of misinformation flowing about what it means to be an entrepreneur. Thanks to pop-culture figures like George Costanza and Dilbert (well, maybe a little more George than Dilbert), a lot of people have entertained about elaborate quitting fantasies, going into business for themselves, and jet skiing with supermodels on the weekends in no time with all that sweaty entrepreneur cash.
Reality check: It doesn't work like that. Not at all.
It's a scary and potentially tumultuous transition if you aren't careful -- and a big part of that is because it's so seldom written about or discussed in public. How do you quit when you're ready to open up shop yourself? Isn't starting a new business a full-time job? How are you supposed to juggle that and your current full-time job without letting on about your intentions to anyone? What would Dilbert do?
That's why I gave Ben Wallach and Alex Bravy a call. The pair quit their jobs at Orbitz.com and Monster.com, respectively, in 2006 to start the Highland Park-based Web2Carz.com, a free, full-service online vehicle research portal. Not only did they survive the transition, which is no small feat alone, but the duo has been able to flourish as a startup in a period of time when the auto industry has infamously been taking several hard hits.
For those who aren't familiar, can you first give our readers a bit of background on yourselves and where you were before you started Web2Carz.com?
Ben Wallach: We incorporated in 2006 officially, myself coming from Orbitz.com, which is a big travel website, and Alex came from Monster.com and Cars.com. So we both had strong Internet, technology backgrounds with high-traffic websites; basically decided to join forces and do our own thing at some point.
Could you walk us through the timeline between when you decided to join forces to day one of your new company? I assume it wasn't like you instantly put in your two week's noticed and just got things going from there.
Ben Wallach: No, no, that's a good point. Although we basically were hanging onto our day jobs, if you will -- we didn't say we were going to go cold turkey, quit tomorrow, try this thing and hope it works. I spent a lot of time working weekends, nights, and on the train, and it was more of a transition. Same with Alex, obviously. I don't know if you wanted specific dates, I can get pretty close.
I think a ballpark will be fine about how much time passed.
Ben Wallach: Ballpark, it was about a year to a year and a half that went by before we said officially, "Okay, we're doing this full-time, for real. We've got our office space and everything else lined up." There was a good year before we were transitioning into this phase, if you will.
At what point do you feel you need to you need to tell your boss that you need to step out, and not just step out, but step out to go into business for yourself?
Ben Wallach: Absolutely. In my case I didn't tell my boss that I was involved -- I didn't do this during work hours, so there was no necessity for me to necessarily indulge anyone else. This was a side project for me, I was basically moonlighting. When the point and time came when we felt comfortable going full force with this, I basically gave my notice and said goodbye to everybody. [Laughs.] That was the end of it.
It can be misconstrued as a conflict of interest so I was trying to be very careful. I didn't want to jeopardize my day job. I have a family and kids, a mortgage to pay. I didn't want to do anything too extreme.
Alex Bravy: My situation was slightly different, but also I wanted to add to that that decision is unique to every situation. There are people who like to take on more risk and people who like to take on less risk. Obviously the point of when you leave your full-time employment to working for yourself full-time is a very personal decision. We strongly advise making that decision based on facts rather than a fantasy of working for yourself. You should really have a solid understanding of what the cashflow is, what you expect to happen in the next couple of months, how much time you have if something did happen for the worse before you have make some drastic opposite decisions. If you decided to leave and things didn't work out, how much time you'd have to keep things going. There has to be the need to leave one's full-time employment to run the business, and what I mean by that is you have to be absolutely certain that the time you are now spending working for someone else, if you reinvest it on yourself, that you would actually move the needle that much further into profitability and actually being able to build a business.
But it sounds like both of you are saying to definitely not use this as an opportunity to burn bridges or indulge some elaborate, dramatic quitting fantasy.
Alex Bravy: No, absolutely not.
Ben Wallach: Quite the contrary, because, coming especially in our case, we still have relationships with these companies. In fact, in the long run they can prove to be very useful and beneficial to your new business. You never want to burn bridges. We have an integration in process now with Cars.com, which is where Alex came from. We know those people and we're working with them on a specific partnership right now. Definitely don't wanna do that. [Laughs.]
Can you go into the specifics of that integration? Or if not, can you provide some examples of how your previous employers have been able to help you out?
Alex Bravy: Some of the earlier partnerships we forged were actually with companies -- business is all about your network, who you know. Certainly it's easier to do business with someone you know, someone who trusts you and you trust them. Monster Worldwide actually owns quite a lot of online properties, like Military.com, Fastweb.com. We powered Military.com's online auto-loan application process. They needed a partner in that area, I found out they were looking for somebody, and certainly it was a lot easier to put together a relationship with somebody who you've already known. Burning bridges, certainly, is the last thing someone should do.
Is there any other final piece of advice you'd like to give folks who are thinking of going through this transition themselves? Maybe something you wished you knew at the outset that you had to learn the hard way?
Ben Wallach: I was just gonna reinforce the point from earlier that a lot of people think that if you want to start a new business that you've got to start cold turkey, get a big warehouse, get a bunch of investments, or save up a bunch of money, quit your job and hope it goes well. I think what we've done, and our experience has reinforced this, is that a more gradual approach is much more prudent. Just take it one step at a time, slowly, getting some proof of concept working. Show some revenue potential possibility, and then transition in that manner as opposed to just taking the plunge all at once. That would be my 2 cents worth of wisdom. [Laughs.]