How do I get a job back after a failed startup?


20

About 1 year ago, I quit my job to work on my startup. It required a lot of hard work and consumed countless nights. My wife was very involved in this decision.

The target was to participate in a business event with the project, but it failed. They said the ideas we presented in our demo were too unclear. We wanted to create a product to fill our own need and surpass the competition's product. Once we began implementing it, we ran into technical issues. It turned out that we didn't know how to make it simple enough. The end result made it very complex and difficult to use. At this point we've thought about retrying and simplifying the idea, but I'm not ready to do anything for it right now.

Now, I'm trying to get a job back. I'm having a very hard time recovering mentally, because I have a hole of more than 1 year in my CV.

I'm asking for your help. I feel very depressed now. I don't feel like I'm a good programmer anymore. I don't know if any company would hire me. Although I have a lot of experience in the discipline(10+ years of Java background and more in other areas). I have read multiple stories were they said a failed startup will give make it more difficult to get a job again. All will ask "How do I know you won't do ... again?" or "How do I know you will dedicate 100%?", etc.

The issue is that I don't know how to defend myself against these questions.

My work for the startup involved technical parts almost all time(except when I read articles here on startups about different aspects of the startup, or tried to think of ways to get the product promoted to VC companies, etc). I've done a lot of reasearch and learned a lot about a new technology used in the project. However the technology is not often used by companies.

I didn't raise any capital for this startup during it's existance or show any entrepreneurial potential (e.g. being able to convince anyone else to join it or hire employees to work on it). And the only version I have of it at the moment is not simple to understand or use.

What can I do? I don't know what to write in the CV. Do I include the startup or not? how much detail should I put about it? If any? Currently, I've sent my CV with the last year filled as freelancing and not startup. It feels like I didn't do anything this year.

What could I answer back to the potential employee about this experience? Is there any hope?

Update 28 July 2011:

It was a real pleasure and comfort to read your answers, they were inspiring and encouraging. You guys are great and I'm glad there are people like you in the world! Thank you!

Day Job Failure

asked Jul 14 '11 at 20:01
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Leadgy
222 points
  • +1 for discussing the dark side of start-ups. – Laundro Mat 8 years ago
  • @Pierre Or reality, indeed. I'm in any case glad Albert shared his story because only there's an overabundance on success-stories regarding this matter. – Laundro Mat 8 years ago
  • if you are looking for a job as java developer, system architect or other technical position, you just have to show your technical skills. – Vp. 8 years ago

12 Answers


25

I think you need some more rest. You sound a bit burnout and you really should grab a beer and try to sleep about one week or so.

On your problem, if you have Java exp for 10yrs+, you will not loose your knowledge just because you did 1 year something else.

I have worked for 2 years as a project manager were I did not code and then went back to code with my own startup. No problem. I believe you just need to relax a bit now, then things will lighten up.

For sure you are an interesting candidate for other companies. Look at your benefits.

  • programmed Java for 10yrs plus
  • Hard worker: worked 1 year fulltime with 60 hours+ at your own business
  • Self starter, innovating, reliable
  • Experience in Startups, probably with young teams?
  • Experience in "how to set up a company", finance, investor speaking etc.

Of course, your startup has failed. Of course you have done mistakes. But you have made lots of experience. If you ask me, you should really add something like that to your CV. Its not a shame to work on a dream and then fail; (except you failed because you played WoW all the day).

I would outline the target audience of the Startup, what technologies you have worked with (if any) or were targeting at and tell people what have done: probably system blue prints, marketing research etc.

And after all you decided to go back to your job because there was no interested investor. There is nothing wrong about that.

One thing you and your wife should really care about is your depression. It is really not necessary to develop it. I can tell from experience how exhausting a startup is and it is pretty normal to feel really tired. And of course, if it failed, it is pretty normal that you are worried and doubt your skills. But after you have sent out your first applications you will see it is not so worse as it looks like. You just need to get rid of your burnout, come back to a normal level. Companies want positive people in their talks. Try to become one of them again.

Cheers,

CHristian

answered Jul 14 '11 at 20:37
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Christian
3,590 points
  • wow, great response - I really appreciate you tried to find the best in my situation, it helps..a lot! – Leadgy 8 years ago
  • BTW, what do you mean by "Experience in Startups, probably with young teams?"? – Leadgy 8 years ago
  • Thanks, glad it is of help. With "Exp. in Startups" I meant: you know whats behind a startup, and probably you have even worked with a small team (your wife) around you. Sorry for the bad english – Christian 8 years ago
  • don't worry, I just wanted to make sure I got your idea right and you're right, we did work together in all this, used a wiki to hold all ideas, brainstorms, made functional specs, etc. – Leadgy 8 years ago
  • now another issue is I'm not even sure it is a failed startup because maybe it can be simplified to become something useful, but we just feel we should get our jobs back at this point. So, I just don't know how to react, when an employer asks, if I'd try to continue it in any way or if to include the blueprints of it in my CV. What do you think? – Leadgy 8 years ago
  • I would tell him that your idea didn't find any supporters and you dont expect this to change in the future (be it like this or not). You cannot know what in 3 or 5 years happens. Nobody does. But you don't want to go back to your startup, just want to work again in an existing environment without existencial fear. Nobody needs to know you would quit your job again if you have an investor who is willing to pay. This would be an exception, and there is no need to speak about all possible things which might happen. Tell what is now, not what you would like to happen – Christian 8 years ago
  • Thank you! It sounds like a good strategy – Leadgy 8 years ago
  • Good luck Albert – Christian 8 years ago
  • +1: Around Silicon Valley, many employers would look at your startup experience favorably. Even though it didn't succeed, they'll know it gave you experience with the whole complex process of turning an idea into a commercial product that many programmers never get. They'll also understand the failure itself will give you some important perspectives - for instance, you'll appreciate when code is "good enough" and be happy to ship it and bring in money, while many programmers without that experience will prefer to wait and make things "better". – Bob Murphy 8 years ago

5

List your startup tasks and responsibilities in the CV. Do not be afraid of it or ashamed - it is all valuable experience.

answered Jul 15 '11 at 03:09
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Tim J
8,346 points

4

I could give you advise on how to pimp your CV to make it look good but doubt that it would really help at this stage.

I sincerely believe that there is nothing wrong with you or your experiences. In interviews people just want to hear the truth. Along with this, all employers want employees who will be passionate about the work that they are doing while having the confidence that they can do it well.

So if you want to do something, rather focus on remembering and connecting with your past passion for what you are doing well. Which is programming right?

You see what happens in start-ups (speaking from my own limited experience) is that we forget that we need constant feedback and support from other people. When we first go out and do it on our own, we forget about this and end up missing that which we achieved in a formal business environment.

When we work as individuals on programs or projects like yours, we tend to get trapped in a certain repetitive level of thinking. At the same time we are bombarded with problems to solve, not only in creating a workable product but also in direct measurable aspects of our daily lives. Aspect like clothing and feeding ourselves.

As a result of this we tend to become much more emotionally involved in what we are doing. And ironically almost in all cases that I have seen, we tend to then invest our self-esteem in the program/project as well.

This makes us kinda unstable, in the sense that our emotional stability is not found in ourselves but in our actions. Almost a form of bi-polar with highs and lows depending on what is happening around us.

A good day in programming will create elation and joy, while a bad day in programming will create negative a zombie like blob of no emotion. And by the way, if a program that you are doing on your own does not constantly give you a ratio of 4:1 joy, then you are sure to become negatively reinforced, pessimistic and even depressed.

And like you have most likely have seen while working 10 hour days its hard to live a life that is in harmony with the 80% joy and 20% pain rule.

This roller-coaster is coming to an end, because its not fun anymore. With this it now creates a natural and quite obvious sensation of insecurity, questioning skill and value as a result of the failure to successfully complete your project.

With this all said and done, I believe that you do need rest, just like Christian in a previous post said, but with rest I dont think you need sleep, you need experiences geared to provide you with acceptance and POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT.

If we look at basic conditioning, you have a massive negative association to programming that has been slowly but surely been reinforced over the last year.

Its natural to feel that your skillset has no value and that your prospective employer will grill you and that nobody will want you because of this last year. I would feel the same if all I now see is pain and problems that I couldn't solve on my own. Then again, it does not make this association true.

I would advise that you take a 40 day detox in order to just reset your association to your skill set.

Do crazy small programming jobs to just get your confidence back. Do it free if it needs be, but don't let this break you mentally! Do something that takes a weeks worth of intense (10 hours per day) programming at most.

The more small tasks you complete the more positive reinforcement you will get. The trick is that you need reinforcement that is not from yourself, but from other people who's life you make easier through your skill and gift.

When programming these small taks/projects, make the room in which you program "happy". Have the correct lighting, make sure it is well ventalated, drink enough water and take a 5-10 minute break every hour.

In your breaks, make sure to breathe deeply and don't just drink a cup of coffee, stare out into a distance that is at least 100 times farther away from you than your screen.

As soon as you have some confidence back,- and have realized that programming is not the bane of human existence - start looking for opportunities to start playing in a crowd.

It will only be then when people will start enjoying interacting with you.

Nothing has changed with your skillset, what has changed is they way you think about it.

Remember that it is a skillset that has successfully fed you for 9 years.Right? So connect with your competence.

Recondition yourself in the mental mindset and frame that you are the person who takes the action that provides the results that creates good outcomes.

Aside from programming, start with some other activity that will help you feel better.
Start training, jogging, walking, swimming... whatever and set SMALL outcomes for this, for example, swim 5 laps, walk around the block or jog 2 km's.

Physical exercise will help stimulate feel good hormones in your body and help reflect on the good that has transpired.

I have a feeling that if you were in a better situation (most likely economic, support and interaction in a group) that you would still be at it trying to make this one work.

So the best advise that I can give is to feed your mind with hope while creating a supportive environment that feeds you both Psychologically (mental rewards and praise and recognition for good work) and Physically (cold hard cash).

We are all human man, we need it!

Great books to read that help provide hope:
The Science of Getting Rich - Wallace D Wattles

If you are a religious person, the go abstract and enjoy this one as well:
Its your time - Joel Osteen

Whatever you do, dont throw the project away, you will be able to use it in some way or another in the future. Believe you me, as soon as you are mentally back on track you will see that your answer has been there, waiting right in front of you, all the time!

Good luck with your future Albert, Looking forward to hearing and even reading about your success soon!

answered Jul 19 '11 at 19:21
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Salmon
181 points
  • Thank you very much for this response Salmon! It felt just like reading the "Jeff Keller - Attitude is Everything" only a lot more specific on my particular situation. Oh, and near the end you suggested some books on your own - I'll give them a good look, I'm sure they're very good – Leadgy 8 years ago

4

I would approach this by listing the startup just like you would any other company on your resume.

ie:

Experience:

  • Foo.com (2010-2011) (Founder, Project manager, lead developer)
  • Alice and Bob Inc (2008-2010) (developer)
answered Jul 15 '11 at 03:02
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Ryan Wilcox
183 points

4

First of all don't worry Albert, you didn't loose one year, the experience you got is valuable as Christian pointed.

Anyway if you are worry about the job interviews, apply for jobs offers you don't like just to practice interviews. After several interviews you will know how to answer the difficult questions for a job you actually want.

You could consider working for another startup.

answered Jul 15 '11 at 03:06
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Jpgerek
61 points

3

Albert

I have gone through a similar cycle twice in my life. Here is what I did.

a) If you can and if its not too painful write about it. Tell your story and get it out of your system. If you are a blogger, run a serial. If you are not, start blogging. When you put it out in words for the world to see, it takes the poison out of your system.

b) Here is the relevant bit from my CV

"E-learning startup targeting corporate training within banking and insurance sector. 21 months of front line, start-up exposure as founder/ CEO"

Make a list of things that you did and that are relevant for your new employer/job role and list them down under this heading (identified target segment, wrote enterprise code, ran the PMO office, researched new technology, rolled out product, did cycle testing, handled customers, managed expectations, ran a tight ship under budget).

c) When you select future employers, select other small businesses and entrepreneurs. We all look out for each other, believe in second chances and are more than happy to give you a shot if we see a fit with our immediate needs. I am not sure about others but given the choice between two individuals with the same experience, I would always pick someone who has given failing a shot, survived and gotten up again. It's a stamp of character.

d) When you are questioned, be honest, but be positive (we hate negative sentiments). Employers understand that you had to give destiny a spin and when the time comes you will do it again. They also understand that you are not going to try anytime soon given the hit you may have taken. My favorite line was:

"I am done with ambition. The last time I was ambitious it cost me X."

e) Finally please remember that nothing ever goes to waste. Stuff that I did 10 years ago still comes in useful. A concept that failed in my first business, helped me start my second, and is flourishing in my third. Sometimes it come in useful sooner than 10 years.

Pss. One last item. Don't let your IP (Intellectual Property) go. When you get the job offer, disclose the prior IPR so that if you do decide to simplify it and launch it side by side with your job, there aren't any legal complications later on.

answered Jul 19 '11 at 16:53
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Finance Mentor
688 points

3

Seven years ago I was in your same position, only worse: Before attempting my startup I only had a little more than one year of work experience, and my "hole" after it was 1 year and a half.

That didn't stop my current employer to hire me, and to later appreciate what I had learned during my startup time - even if that wasn't why he hired me.

Before throwing myself again into the labor market I took a very short "vacation" (at my parents' home, having spent all the money I had set apart) to think it over; then I set a date to start, prepared my CV (citing my failed experience) and tried to think about the future and not the past.

Not dwelling in the past is precisely my main suggestion: Give yourself a time limit for thinking about what went wrong and what you could have done differently. After that, start thinking only about your future possibilities and how to achieve them. Finding a new job is a job itself, and if you work hard enough at it you'll have less time to think about the past.

As for the depression, if you feel really down, I advise you to seek professional help - I did that, at another difficult time of my life, and it worked.

answered Jul 20 '11 at 07:40
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Danmaz74
381 points

1

Now, I'm trying to get a job back, and I'm having a very hard time
recovering mentally because I have a hole of more than 1 year in my
CV.

you have a hole in your CV ?
what is that a disease that incapacitates you ?
seriously, I would see it as a good thing as a recruiter.
why should it be bad to begin with, I dont get it...

I'm asking for your help, I feel very depressed now

yeah me too. but thats a totally different subject so it wont be addressed here, boy.

I read a lot of stories where they say a failed startup will give you
an incredible hard time getting a job again. All will ask "How do I
know you won't do ... again"

Why should they care you will do it again ? Do you think their business rely on you ? they re companies, they hire, fire, get customers, loose customers. really, its the way it is and you quitting is not a big concern as long as you dont screw them.

or "How do I know you will dedicate 100%", etc.

dedicate 100% ? who dedicates 100% ? people have family, priorities.
you dont dedicate. they have a need, they need someone to do it. you are the man who know how to do it. you are professional, efficient, and they wont find a better guy than you.
answered Jul 17 '11 at 00:28
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Nicolas
119 points
  • this answer is in a very patronizing tone, @nicolas. I agree with some of the points you make (business doesn't depend on one hire, dedication, etc) but it seems like you're talking him down. He specifically asked for help on how to "get up again", that's more than most people out there would/will do. As always, just my opinion.. – Tomeduarte 8 years ago

1

Winners don't really get it the first time, they fail, and fail several times. There's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm sure you have a lot of lessons learned and that will make you even more marketable as a candidate for a job. Remember how many times Col. Sanders was rejected before he got his first yes.

Success Story of Colonel Sanders (KFC)

answered Jul 28 '11 at 11:14
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Joset
161 points

1

Do not feel like you have fallen from a pedestal. When starting a company , which most of in this forum have done or planning to do, be ready for failure.
with 80-90% failure rates, one has to realize that not all ideas could become success.
Do not be depressed. Take a break. Go on vacation (if you can afford) but most important part is do not be depressed.
Your self confidence is most important here.
As long as you are willing to work as a programmer/developer , contributing to to the team's success , you should have not much problem.
You would have picked some cutting edge skills in web development like Jquery, Html5 . Sell them along with your java experience.
Have you tried joining another startup which has been funded on way to profitability and can make use of your skills ?

answered Jul 28 '11 at 22:09
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Skillguru
344 points

1

This post is more than a year old now, and i am sure that you would have found a job of your liking and be back on track. Please write about how it worked and any strategies that helped you.

I came across this post while searching for answers for a situation like yours. I was working for a completely different non IT field and wanted to do a start-up. After 8 years of experience at a company, I quit, studied for a year to get programming skills and started my foray. 2 years off work and still not made suitable returns (And investing all savings plus incurring debts), I am thinking of going back to regular job.

I plan on disclosing this gap as Startup experience, of which one year i spend doing an IT course, and the rest on creating the 2 Android Apps that I have created and put up on Google play. Although it seems simple and easy to have an idea for a startup, actually creating one and marketing it has been a tough time, especially doing all by self.

answered Jan 21 '13 at 20:00
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Abs
11 points

0

IF you dont mind what was your start up about?
My cofounder and I have been working on a start up since 18 months.. and am telling you.. we are $100k+ down :(
But somehow we are still pushing it.. I guess the most important decision involving in a start up is... when to quit.

Lastly, go to job portals and find contracting jobs. Iam surprised you are not aware of this. People take 1-2 year breaks and successfully get jobs as a contractor. All the best.

answered Feb 3 '13 at 03:53
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Rajiv Singh
14 points

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