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I am coming up on 5 years at my first job, and want to leave it in order to pursue some personal development projects full time. I have been working on them in most of my spare time and think one of them has real potential. Additionally, I have enough savings to support myself for many more years than the project could take to launch.

I'm hoping for the best, but am planning for the worst because it's absolutely possible the project will fail.

If I determine the project is not going anywhere after a year and I need to go back to a normal job, how would this make me look to a potential employer?

Positive? Ambitious, Self-motivated, Hard-worker

Negative? Risky, Poor planner, Foolish

And how does the amount of time "self-employed" influence those?

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  • Does this answer your question? Should I include unfinished/cancelled projects to my portfolio?
    – gnat
    May 14 '20 at 7:17
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    Speaking from experience: A year is hardly enough for any startup to get up and running. You will be doing a ***load of general admin and setup stuff that has noting to do with your product. Also it will take some time until you really see an return on investment / your product will get traction in the market. I suggest you plan for at least 3 years and if that is not feasible, keep a part-time job until you have at least some cash flow from your product (or think about getting investors so that you can pay yourself).
    – Daniel
    May 14 '20 at 12:38
  • Also, I think country is important here. You may have less trouble with your resume in the US than for example in Germany. Can you add a country-tag?
    – Daniel
    May 14 '20 at 12:40
  • It will look like all the other (whatever percentage of small businesses actually fail) businesses. Your resume should be used to sell you as an employee. You should not highlight your negatives.
    – Donald
    May 14 '20 at 15:07
  • "Risky" is not a negative and "foolish" is not even part of the equation.
    – acpilot
    May 22 '20 at 2:56
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I agree with the others that a failed venture is generally not looked at negatively, but there is one more important aspect that I feel needs to be said.

You mentioned that if you feel the project isn't going anywhere after a year you may look for other work. In an interview, you will need to be able to show what you worked on, and explain what you did for that year in detail. If you have nothing to show or have made very little progress, it could very well be seen as negative.

So long as the interviewer can see that you made an honest attempt, and worked regularly on the project during that time, I think most people would not see it as a negative.

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I do not find any negative aspect of being an entrepreneur in the past.

That been said:

  • You don't know who is going to be your future employer and you can always find an employer who thinks it is negative.

  • There are some positions that are a better fit for a non-ambitious person.

You probably do not want to join a company in either of those cases.

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Succeed or fail, I don't see how entrepreneurship could be looked at negatively. Anyone who would see it negatively is probably a fool.

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    Plenty of people call themselves "entrepreneurs", it quite often doesn't reflect reality. If someone gives it a good go, and can back up their work, fine, but it's definitely not a free pass (if you will).
    – awjlogan
    May 14 '20 at 7:48
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If I determine the project is not going anywhere after a year and I need to go back to a normal job, how would this make me look to a potential employer?

You don't have to add your self-employment experience on your CV, right? Just list your experience like any other CV. Give yourself a title such as "senior programmer", "product engineer" etc. Your business, your company, your own titles. As long as you don't claim yourself being a "CEO", "CTO", "head of engineering" etc, everything will be fine.

Reference check will be easy, it's your own company you will have total control.

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I've been trying to launch my business for about a year now. I still have no idea whether this will work long term or whether I'll have to get a job, so I want to point out the following:

A year sounds like a lot now, but everything takes longer than you think it will. Clients need a string of well timed follow up calls before they buy anything, technical problems can get out of hand... you might even end up locked down in a worldwide pandemic!

I think it's quite likely you'll get to the end of your allotted year, and realise that you want to keep working on your project, and that you have the means to, but at the same time aren't at all sure if you've "made it" or not. You may decide that, even if you are probably going to quit, you should work for a bit longer so you at least have a finished product that you can show off to employers. You may even start job hunting after a year, but not get one straight away (not unlikely in a post-corona world...)

I think, most likely, you'll be like me -- you have a few encouraging little signs that you should keep going, and you'll really want to, but it's still entirely possible that you'll have to quit eventually. As such, my advice is:

Assume you will be doing this for more than one year! Set aside time to keep up skills that you won't develop on this project, even if it's ok not to work on them for one year; be careful with your money; be mentally prepared for setbacks!

I can't comment on how this will look to employers since I haven't yet gone back to work, but I imagine that the fact that you've tried your own business, and the time spent doing it, are less important than what you did and how you did it.

I wish you all the best, and I hope you have a lot of fun... just be ready for things to not go to plan ;)

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