I Quit!

Before you utter those famous last words, milk that corporate job for all it's worth-your new start-up will thank you.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the December 2000 issue of . Subscribe »

Hey there, I'd just like to let you know, I'm quitting today." In your deep, deep sleep, you have whispered these words.

"I'm starting my own business, you see."

You have rehearsed this speech awake, too. In front of the mirror. On your way to work. When you toss your meal into the microwave. Not a day goes by when you don't fantasize about it.

"And I realize it's customary to give two weeks notice, but I'd like to give you the rest of the day, pretty much, and I'd like to start working on my company tomorrow."

Wait a second. You're usually not that brazen, even in your daydreams. Something strange is afoot. Is your daydream being hijacked?

"What's more," that voice says, "I'd like to discuss with you the idea of me using your offices to start my business. You could incubate my company-let me use your conference room, your phones, your administrative assistants. I think that'd be a great idea, don't you?"

Actually, this is no daydream. About a year ago, Anil Aggarwal, 30, and one of his co-founders, Raymond Iglesias, 27, had a conversation with their human resources director at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacCrae, a law firm in New York City.

But instead of calling for security, the HR director consulted senior management. And they said yes. And for about two months, Aggarwal, Iglesias and third co-founder Jonathan Weiner, 27, worked on Fatshoe.com, an online incentives-based marketing company, in the building leased by their employers.

The attorneys were excited by Aggarwal's concepts. Before he moved out, Aggarwal secured $100,000 in legal services from his employers, payment contingent upon institutional funding.

Some of Geoff Williams' earlier jobs, where what he learned is still up for debate, include stints as a waiter, a secretary, a bookstore clerck and a guesser at an amusement park.

Starting Somewhere

Cary Grant's real name was Archibald Leach. Abraham Lincoln was once a storekeeper. We all begin somewhere. And end up somewhere else.

Stephanie Anne Kantis' end to her means is Stephanie Anne Room to Grow, a chain of stores in Houston and Dallas where she sells upscale furniture for newborns and children. But Kantis had a career before she opened her stores in 1996, at a small interior-design and furniture store in Dallas, where she worked as the shop's marketer, all the while honing her craft. It's not exactly shocking, then, that she went on to open her own furniture store.

What's surprising is just how much knowledge Kantis picked up at the job she had before that, when she was working as a sales clerk at a department store. "I really learned how a big department store [functions]," says Kantis, who worked in one of the clothing departments. "I learned about opening my own company, from the layers of management to the policy procedures to the guidelines on how to check in merchandise."

In fact, Kantis didn't stuff the employee handbook in a drawer or chuck it in the trash. She took it home, read it cover to cover and took notes. She did the same with some of the sales training manuals, too. And now she has her own employees operating by her guidelines.

We grant you permission to practice infidelity-in a way. "How To Cheat On Your Boss" will slowly lead you out of your cube and running your own business.

Learn Until The Last Day

The moment you start working for somebody else, you're working for yourself. At least, that's one way to look at things. "If you're going to be successful while you're on that job, become the CEO of Y.O.U. Inc.," announces Willie Jolley, professional motivator and writer of A Setback is a Setup for a Comeback (St. Martin's Press). "If you're a secretary, be the best secretary you can be," he says. "Do more than you're paid to do, and one day you'll be paid more than you do."

Jolley's dialogue can be dizzying, but he's right. When you own your company, executives may remember you. If you were great at your job, they'll probably assume your own company reflects that. If you were a disaster at your desk . . . well, there are other executives out there.

It was John Harris' reputation that helped him land clients for his Cincinnati-based marketing and e-commerce firm, ViewSource Media. Harris, 35, a former advertising executive, started his company from home in 1996. He wasn't afraid to pick up the phone and call clients he had worked with before. "When you're working with clients, get to know them," advises Harris. "When you're on your own, you can contact them-not to steal them away, but because they know you, and they have friends."

After you leave your job gracefully, you get in there and you start your business! Read "Let Us Count The Ways" for reasons to dive in.

So when is the time right to lob that water balloon-er, to shake your employer's hand and bid adieu? Well, first of all, don't quit your day job until you've created your new day job, or, at the very least, until you've started creating it. "It's that maxim of learning on someone else's nickel," explains Timothy S. Mescon, the dean of entrepreneurial management at Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. "As long as you can sustain both initiatives-your current employment and the setup of your new venture-you should juggle both as long as you can."

When you leave, if you want to try an exit strategy similar to Aggarwal's, remember it needs to be a fantastic deal for both parties. And if you're determined to jump sooner than later, don't just look at the future. "The majority of what you do [in your future company] is not what you have a passion for," observes Harris. "What you'll end up doing is running the business and dealing with clients and employees." You need to learn all that stuff sometime. Why not start now?

Shopping List

you can milk your job for all it's worth, take a look at everything you can aquire for your future company:

Future clients. That doesn't mean stealing them from your current employer. But your contacts have contacts . . .

On-the-job training. It's free! All you have to do is work like a slave.

Funding. Hey, you're working, right? You can save up for the lean times, in case VCs don't flock to you.

A reputation. locally and in the community you work in and want to serve.

Ideas. If you work at a job even remotely similar to the business you want to start, you can look for things you can improve upon in your own company.

Education. Some companies pay for employees' schooling.

Potential investors. If not your own employer, perhaps some of those future clients would be willing to invest in your venture.

Loose Lips?

Here's a thought: Should you just be honest and tell everybody that someday, you're going to have your own company? "I was always upfront with the people I worked for," says John Harris, CEO of ViewSource Media. "I wasn't hiding anything. They had a need that had to be filled, and I had the skills."

But others feel differently about spilling the beans. Some think it depends on the relationship with your boss.

Either way, Harris doesn't propose wearing a sign, alerting everybody of your intentions. "I think the biggest, most common response is, they don't really care," says Harris. "Starting your own business might be your goal, but that's not their goal, and a lot of times they're thinking 'Yeah, right. Suuure you're going to start your own company.' And a lot of times they're just going to let it in one ear and out the other."

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