Any success stories out there where someone with a full time job managed to start a business in their spare time?
If so, how did you do it? How do you stay motivated? Did you do it alone?
On a related note, if you're interested in collaborating with this hacker on a data-mining-related side project, let me know.
Not exactly what you are looking for, but Basecamp was a side project of 37signals. They worked on it about 10 hours a week, because they were doing consulting/client work for the majority of their hours and pay. As Basecamp made money they gradually moved off of client work. Read their blog and Getting Real for more details, but it's full of useful stuff around this. Basically, they needed Basecamp for themselves, so had a lot of motivation to get it done.
In my own personal life, I've had mixed success. When I was working full time I tried to start a little piece of database management software for Java PDAs. I never finished it. It was hard to stay focused and just get the thing done. One of the main problems here was I was working on something I didn't have an urgent need for myself.
I learned a lot from that, and the next "side project" I did was just consulting work for someone else. Moonlighting in other words. That went a lot better. Probably because someone else wanted my work. So I had to get it done. That was easy for me to bang out things people could use right away.
Tgethr is a side project of ours now at Inkling. So we basically have full time jobs doing what we have done for over 4 years now, but spend a little time building this other application that helps us out with the majority of our work. It's definitely a challenge to work on side projects. There's so much I want to improve on it, but we don't have the time when our main work beckons for our attention. But gradually things get done, and tgethr is starting to kick some ass. We used some holiday downtime to release some improvements to our site there, and it's paid off greatly with us increasing our paid customers by 75% even over the Xmas + New Years weeks.
The main point of advice that comes from this is: I hope your side project is something you feel you yourself urgently needs. If it's not, it's going to be super hard to stay on it. So many things will distract you and it will be easy to drop your goals. But if this project is something that's going to help you do something better right now (work better at your current job, manage a hobby or club better, etc.) you'll stick to your goals so much better.
Ask yourself this question: If this data-mining project was built by someone else yesterday instead of you, would you drop your money on it today because you need it that bad? With tgethr, I was paying for someone else's tool because I needed it that bad. But that other tool didn't cut it, and we needed to start our own.
I launched my product, Bidksetch, while employed -- in fact, I'm still employed!
It's been about three months since I've launched I'm near 800 users with a good percentage of those paid accounts so far. The nice thing is that every month I've seen steady growth (except for the first one which was completely wild).
Anyways, it was a tough road and I made some mistakes along the way but was able to recover. I made two attempts at launching this product, the second much more successful than the first.
In 4 months, how I did it (the successful way):
Regarding staying motivated, I can't express how important interacting with other like minded individuals is. Find a way to do it. Whether it's online or in person, make sure you give yourself the advantage of being able to talk to other people that are doing the same thing that you're doing.
Most start-ups I know of, started as a part-time job. While working full-time on an idea you believe in should 'get you there' faster, the most critical point is having a team that is willing to commit.
Some people can afford to work for equity, or really want to leave their day jobs, others need some cash-flow to pay their bills. Instead of going through the chicken and the egg thing, it is possible to form a team (2-3 founders) that will work each at his own pace to reach a target that will allow raising some funds.
Once these funds are raised, then the full-time issue is clear.
Building up the team, means you will need to convince other people than yourself that your idea is great. It will give you the opportunity to practice your selling and will give you a chance to improve your idea by listening to others - this alone might save you hours of work in later (more technical) stages.
Bottom line, my 2 cents:
Start at your own pace, target building-up a team, once the team is there, you can do full-time if you really believe in your idea and are willing to take the risk (get the reward in terms of equity for your risk). Once funding is in (or if you do bootstrapping - significant revenues) go full-time.