I have been working by myself on a startup for nearly 2 years. In those 2 years I did not make a profit. Granted, the startup was very ambitious.

The startup was official and incorporated, but I did not employ anyone. I worked with UI designers, and marketers who helped steer the project, but they were not employees.

Ultimately the startup didn't get anywhere because I lacked the resources to enter an extremely competitive domain. However, time and time again people have told me that I was going in the right direction, and had a product with a lot of potential. However, the minimal viable product for this industry is very substantial and I simply could not reach it on my own.

As much as I would like to continue working on this project, I simply cannot support myself any longer, and as such, I have decided to hang it up and seek employment with other startups.

The thing is, how do I list this on my resume?

I did learn a lot, and have been working constantly from 10-14 hours a day. I built everything from the backend, front-end, design, and marketing and have all the necessary resources to prove it. But I am still afraid that a potential employer will look at my work and think that I've been slacking off for 2 years working on some side projects.

  • 5
    If you are looking to go with a startup they will likely get it and value the experience. Even established companies would not dismiss you.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 11, 2015 at 17:30
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    I'm very curious what your idea was, how close you were to completing it, and what you would need in order to complete it. I know this isn't related to the question, but I'd definitely like to see you reach your goal if it's at all possible.
    – dudeman
    Dec 11, 2015 at 19:01
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    Few startups succeed, but having the courage and drive to be self employed along with the experience of having run your own business is valuable regardless of the amount success of that business. Dec 11, 2015 at 21:04
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    Also bear in mind that a large majority of those interviewers see whose most recent job is as founder of a startup, the startup has failed. The exceptions are those who've succeeded and sold, but don't want to retire or do it again. So the interviewers are more familiar with this than you are. I've only interviewed about 4 people in the last 18 months (it's not a major part of my job), and I've seen one of each. I was way more interested in what the failed startup did than the fact it failed, because I wasn't interviewing him for the position of starting a company from scratch. Dec 11, 2015 at 22:22
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Maybe they like the startup atmosphere. Is it really relevant to the question? Dec 12, 2015 at 0:19

4 Answers 4


This is fairly easy since you actually incorporated and you have a legal company name. Just list it as you would any other company with "Founder" or "Owner" as your job title. Describe your tasks and responsibilities for that "position" as a version of what you mentioned here.

  • Founder and Chief Developer
  • DGDD Startup, Ltd.
  • 2013-2015
    • launched independent startup in X industry developing Z
    • coordinated with UI designers, marketing consultants, market research
    • full-stack development
    • ...

Or a variation of this. It's all excellent experience and since you have the prototypes/deliverables/resources to back it up and show your work, it shouldn't be a problem that your company ultimately didn't launch.

Be prepared to sell yourself well in the interview because there's no manager they can call about your performance in the past two years, but I don't see this being a problem if you're interviewing at other startups.

  • I'm curious. If the situation was the same, except that it wasn't incorporated, how can it be listed on a resume?
    – Aloha
    Oct 13, 2020 at 6:32
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    @PNDA You use whatever name you operated under. Or some variation on "self-employed" if you didn't have a corporate identity. You'd still be the "founder" so whatever you call it doesn't really matter as you're your own reference in this scenario. If you had client/partner references you'd use whatever name you communicated with them under. The advantage of having incorporated is that you have a single official company name and it simplifies background checks if those might come up.
    – Lilienthal
    Oct 13, 2020 at 8:28

The core challenge here is to minimize concerns that your "self-employment" consisted of playing video games and hanging out with friends talking about an idea that never went anywhere because you weren't working or lacked dedication. Employers actively avoid hiring someone that claims self-employment in the absence of real work.

Also, while the idea of "even though you failed, you learned valuable lessons" is great, it is not true. You might be an idiot, lazy, disorganized, unprofessional, etc. which is why you failed. This is a valid problem for an unverifiable "job" and you are right to be concerned.

So you need to demonstrate:

  1. You no longer want to be self-employed. This has to be very clear in your resume, or else you risk the appearance of trying to moonlight to keep your current idea alive; you will only be half-heartedly dedicated to your employer while really trying to keep your start-up alive.

EDIT: On your resume, to demonstrate a firm commitment to employment, state: business liquidation, filing of a final IRS return, legal closure of the business with the state of incorporation, a link to a webpage that states you are no longer supporting the product, etc. If not this, you can emphasize financial or personal reasons that you are seeking employment (like the discovery of excessive development or operational costs, unanticipated time spent on non-technical aspects of self-employment, a clear admission of defeat to the competition, publicized events that severely damaged your product/vision/operations, etc.).

The key element here is that if your resume does not communicate a clear and urgent need to abandon self-employment, potential employers may not be convinced that you will be committed to employment: i.e. subordinate to a manager or boss. Many people leave employment to "do their own thing" so you must be convincing that you are motivated to be compliant and dedicated as an employee. END EDIT.

  1. Concrete evidence of lessons learned. If you spent $500 on a Facebook ad campaign, say that explain what you learned from it. If you hired a designer to create UI and realized that it would take too long to produce, you need to mention details about that. No employer wants a failure, but more so they don't want you walking in to a job making more unrealistic estimates or have unreasonable expectations about what you can accomplish during your employment with them.

  2. On the job learning. Provide links to websites that show current skills (your company website, github, stackoverflow...). Your company has no credibility, so no one can know if you have up to date skills or none at all. Anything to help them see that you actively learned is important.

  3. Other people respect your work. Get references from your UI designers, marketers and anyone else that provided professional advice or services to your startup. Credibility is critical. It's nice that you say how you engaged others, but if your "UI designer" is your sister and she's not a web person, you are right to be worried.

  4. You can complete tasks. Provide links to websites, app stores or any place else that references work that you completed while trying to do your startup. Mention prototypes, focus group results, surveys, etc. This is about showing that you don't "give up" or get distracted. That you will finish what you start with your employer.

  5. That you are professionally active. Include attendance at trade shows, conferences, meet-ups or anywhere else that you had a professional presence. This demonstrates active learning and professional development on your part with outside resources that are verifiable and can be asked about during your interview.

Not all of these are necessary, and you may have other things not listed that will help demonstrate your value to a potential employer.

  • Thanks for your input. In regards to your first point, how exactly do I show this in a resume?
    – DGDD
    Dec 11, 2015 at 18:20
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    I personally think it would have to be part of your cover letter, rather than the resume itself. Dec 11, 2015 at 20:36
  • @DGDD - I edited the response to provide more details on how and why to address this on your resume. I have faced this problem and hope this helps you.
    – Jim
    Dec 12, 2015 at 8:07

Firstly, just in case you have a doubt, then let me tell you that you definitely need to include the experience in your resume as it is very valuable, and seen the same by managers and recruiters.

You should list it like any other work experiences. Include your roles in the startup, skills learnt and your takeaways from the experiences.

< Started - Ended >

Company Name

  • Details of company
  • Your role, and responsibilities
  • Skills learnt
  • Takeaways from the experience

(Optional) Include the reasons of failure and/or the lessons learned from the experience. Trust me, these lessons are very difficult to learn otherwise, and would prove very vital when leading teams elsewhere.

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    It's generally better to bring those lessons learned up in the interview or, if they're relevant and worded well, in the cover letter. They don't belong in a resume.
    – Lilienthal
    Dec 11, 2015 at 18:23

You list it in the normal way. You describe your duties and the experience you gained. This is the kind of experience many companies are looking for, so don't be shy. Oddly enough, there are plenty of companies who would rather hire someone who ran a failed startup than someone who succeeded.

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