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I'm Dave, one of the founders of the Recurse Center.

When should you start a startup?

March 24, 2011

I’ve met a lot of people who tell me they want to start a startup, but they’re not sure when they should do it. My answer is always that they should do it right now. In response, I usually get a range of excuses, almost all of which are invalid. There are only two valid excuses for not starting a startup: debt, and not wanting to start one.

Here are the excuses I generally hear and why they are wrong:

It’s too risky. Now is actually the least risky time for you to start a startup. It will only get worse from here. As you age, you naturally accumulate things that will make it harder for you to start your startup: a spouse, kids, aging parents who need care, an expensive lifestyle, a career, respectability. The more of these you get, the more risk averse you become. Start your startup now, before it’s too late.

I want to get more experience first. There is very little you will learn in your current job as a {consultant, lawyer, business person, economist, programmer} that will make you better at starting your own startup. Even if you work at someone else’s startup right now, the rate at which you are learning useful things is way lower than if you were just starting your own.

I want to get my MBA first. See above. Business is easy: make things people want; make more money than you are spending. The hard part is making sure you are actually solving a real problem. You will not get good at this in business school.

I don’t have a good idea yet. The idea you have now probably isn’t very good and it’s probably not the one you will succeed with. If you don’t start now though, you’ll never end up with a good idea. Good ideas only come through trial and error.

Here are the only two acceptable reasons you shouldn’t start a startup:

Debt. Debt sucks. Running a company means making risky decisions and having significant debt will make it harder for you to do that. It really weighs on you. For now, live like you were doing a startup (very cheaply) and pay off the debt as quickly as possible. You will thank me later.

You don’t want to start a startup. This is totally fine and acceptable! Nothing is for everyone and startups are no exception. This usually manifests itself as not leaving your current job because you’re actually really enjoying it. Don’t fret. If you have found something you love, keep doing it. You are luckier than most people in the world.

If you want to talk about this, you can do so on HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2369102