The right time to startup

I’ve had several conversations with owners of consulting firms that I’ve worked under. I’m always interested in how they started - and each time I’ve found they basically had no clue of what they were getting into and they were in their 20’s - early into their careers… And 30 years later they are still alive and kicking… not to mention they employee 25-50 people and offer a range of serivces…

These owners each ended up becoming the most successful people in the design business I’ve met. So… my question for the group is … when do you know it is the right time? or is there even a “right” time…

I’m almost under the impression that some mistakes in business will happen with any level of experience.

I’m well aware of the consulting giants and their history - and their startups… How important is where I begin location wise?..

If anyone has any advice I’d appreciate it… thanks…


when the swedish king takes his annual winter dip.

ufo. thanks for the thoughtful response… moron.


Being unhappy with the status quo and, generally, with always being “led” by someone else are good starting points. Losing your job for whatever reasons after giving it your best for years may be another. Some frustration with the way others see or practice design is good but, as with everything, any excess will hurt. You still want to run your own show because you have something positive to add, so a healthy personal and professional attitude is a must.

There’s never really a “right” time simply because running any business is just too much uncertainty, risk and ambiguity for most people to stomach for very long. I know everyone dreams of one day being their own boss but then it’s a good thing it only stays a dream for most. You need tremendous stamina, perseverance and passion to make it as a design consultant. You may admire those who made it, but you are still outside looking in - doing it is altogether a different story.

If you have even a half-decent design job today consider whether you can subsist on uncertain wages (or sometimes no income at all for weeks on end), no health benefits and tons of other BS, all in the name of apparently shafting the system. It’s not that easy.

Also, keep in mind consultancies that have gotten where they are today started out in very different times when design services were not yet the commodity they have become and the profession - in my experience - actually enjoyed a better reputation within industry than is the case today. More people are aware of ID now but for more of the wrong reasons than decades ago. The way most media portrays industrial design has actually lowered the profession’s IQ in the eyes of many business leaders by lumping product design together with interior decorators and stylists of all flavors. Nothing wrong with style, flair and panache in life, quite the contrary, but then, if you are a mere sub-service of marketing departments in industry, you are worth accordingly.

One thing remains certain - the younger you try it out the more time you’ll have to make your mistakes, learn and refine your business model towards a viable enterprise.

I agree with Egg. His is an excellent post overall. The younger you are the better. After a year the “shine wears off the apple”. After 2 you question the decision making that put you there it’s not for everyone. You must have the independent spirit to achieve and a passion to run the show from your perspective alone. After about two years you will know, so starting young is a good thought.

Not being the mastermind behind a world-class design business, I can only speculate on when the “right time” would be. But for me and three of my associates, the time is…now.

I offer this story to anyone willing to read it.

After school, there was a core group of my classmates that stuck in the area and found decent design jobs. Being rookies, we absorbed everything that we could and boy did we love cashing those sweet paychecks. But my joy faded quickly as the job I got was with the same company that I had already been interning at for the past three years. In fact my first day of work as a full-timer was no different than any other day previously.

I was learning not much of anything that I hadn’t already clued into. The best I could hope for was to refine and hone those skills (which didn’t take long given the very limited scope of design work that came through our department). So not six months into my first job, I was looking for something new.

After a few interviews and a lot of soul searching, I decided that the ideal gig would be to run my own show. Two of my friends agreed and we set about to start up a design business.

It was not long before we lost all direction and with it, momentum. We were only a year out of school and had no real handle on the business aspect of running a design studio. We weren’t even smart enough to know what we didn’t know. So we let it die.

Three years later, we all have different jobs ( I myself was on my third) and tons more experience and savvy. One week a few months ago, we each independently had the flash of inspiration that the time had finally come. We are much better armed, have a new team assembled, and are in the beginnings of our journey.

We may fail, hopefully we will not. But the point here is that we had not discussed going into business for ourselves since the first go-round died out years ago, yet we all felt the divine epiphany that the time was now…

Ralphie – I recently quit my day job and started my own design business.

Just as Egg and the others have mentioned–there really isn’t a right time. I spent a lot of time discussing these same questions with people before I made the jump. I think that I was subconsciously hoping that someone would “give me permission” to take the risk. That was never going to happen.

You are absolutely right about mistakes happening with any level of experience. The fastest way to learn is to just throw yourself in the deep end. So long as you maintain solid business ethics–no mistakes you make will be crippling to your career.

It’s good to be well-researched. It’s also good to have plans. Just know that at a certain point, you have to give up on planning the perfect scenario and just get in there and start “doing” it.

Hope this helps. Good luck to you.

Thanks - this was all very helpful.

Something to keep in mind Ralphie,

Once you fully realize that your creditors can’t eat you, it goes much smoother…

p.s. What did your dad ever do with that lamp?