A word
Toby Egbuna
November 2, 2021

The Big Leap

Today marks my first full day working solely on Chezie.

I took the leap; I’ve officially quit my job in management consulting to focus 100% of my time and energy on Chezie.

I’ve wanted to start my own business since seventh grade when I sold sodas out of my middle school locker (a very lucrative business, might I add). I just wanted to be sure that whatever business I started was not only one that I felt passionate about, but also something that I felt confident could be a successful company. I’ve found both of those with Chezie.

When Dumebi and I first launched Chezie in 2019 (back when we were Dyversifi) I had this absurd idea that we would hit the PUBLISH button on the site and things would just take off. I thought we’d have so much press and so much traffic that we’d instantly get the validation that we needed and I’d be able to quit by the end of the year.

Breaking news – I was wrong. Very wrong.

It's taken every bit of two years to build the foundation for this transition to full-time. A lot of trial and error, rejected applications, and failed launches have gotten us to this point. I wanted to write this to share my thoughts and experiences with anyone thinking about making the big leap and going full-time on their business idea.

Signs it’s actually time to go full-time

When I went on How I Built This earlier this year (insert hyperlink), Guy Raz asked me what we would do with the $50k prize, and my response was that I would quit my job. When we won the prize, multiple friends called me out on that promise and said that I had to go through with it. Not going to lie, I was hoping folks would forget that I’d said that.

Though I did want to quit right after we won that money, I remained patient and waited on three things to happen. I’d encourage anyone thinking about quitting to only do so when you’ve confirmed the following:

1. You know your company’s identity and have validation from customers, not users

“What does your company do?”

When we launched, our answer to that question was that we help diverse job-seekers find careers that they love and we help companies recruit diverse talent. The problem was that, while we had validation from job-seekers that our solution was valuable, those job-seekers weren’t the ones paying us. To get companies to pay us, we needed job-seekers. To get job-seekers, we needed content (i.e. Stories). To get Stories, we needed access to job-seekers. This puzzle was one that we spent 1.5 years trying to solve, and after a while, it became very clear that this initial vision that we had for Chezie’s identity wasn’t one that would stand (at least not anytime soon). At the end of the day, a business needs to be able to make money, and we came to terms with the fact that our initial business model didn’t provide a clear path towards revenue.

After a few pivots and over 100 calls with potential customers, we identified a different problem that we could hone in on: employee resource groups. Since launching our ERG Dashboard, we’ve stepped into a new identity that still meets the vision we had for our company when we first launched, but is also one that companies are willing to pay us for. Chances are that as we progress, we’ll uncover insights that will shape our company’s identity further, but we know that they won’t force us to make a complete overhaul as we did in the past.

It takes time to figure out your company’s identity, and if you quit your job before you’ve confirmed it and gotten validation from customers, you’re setting yourself up for some serious stress. And trust me, this journey is challenging enough.

2. You have a defined plan to support yourself

If you’re someone who’s fortunate enough to have the financial means and emotional support needed to quit your job on a whim, more power to you. For the rest of us, it’s really important to have some foundation before you quit. When I first got a sense that quitting my job was in view, I spoke to my financial advisor, and we worked together to come up with a plan for how I would sustain myself for the transition. I’ve been saving money for the past year knowing that I likely wouldn’t be able to pay myself a salary right away – all those months not being #outside actually helped me pocket some cash. It sounds obvious, but if you’re thinking about taking the big leap, make sure that you’ve laid out a plan to fulfill at least your basic needs – bills, food, an occasional night out with friends (you have to be able to treat yourself every now and then), all that good stuff. Again, this journey is stressful enough; you don’t need to worry about how you’re going to pay next month’s rent.

3. You don’t have time to work two jobs

For the last two years, I figured out how to do just enough at my day job to stay employed, but still be able to spend as much time as possible working on Chezie. On my best days, I spent 80% of my time on Chezie work. This, coupled with time spent during nights and weekends, was enough for us in the early days to feel like we were making good progress. It didn’t make sense to quit my job and forgo the salary, health insurance, and other benefits that came with it if I could manage doing both.

In the last few months, however, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to continue doing both. It became harder to find those relaxed consulting projects, and my to-do list for Chezie kept growing. There were times where I had to push back a customer call or slow down on development for my consulting job. This was the third and final sign that it was time to make the leap. I didn’t ever want to sacrifice the growth of our company for a job that I knew I wasn’t going to stay in long-term.

Quit, but do it in baby steps

Even after you’ve established that it’s the right time to quit, there are smart ways to do it. Most companies offer some sort of leave policy that will keep you on the payroll. In my case, I was able to start a leave of absence where, although I won’t be getting paid, I’ll retain access to my health insurance.

You should be seeing a trend here. The name of the game is to transition away from your job in steps. Hold on to the benefits and security of your full-time job until you are absolutely forced to step away. Honestly, knowing this, it might be time to rebrand the “big leap” to the “small series of hops.” Feel free to suggest a better title.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little scared. I’ve entered an unknown space with very little security. However, with that trepidation comes excitement. I’m excited to finally be working on something that fulfills me. I’m excited to build a world-changing brand with my sister. I’m excited to onboard our first employees and learn how to truly manage a team. I’m excited (and a bit overwhelmed) about having to learn how to do all of the things that come with being a Founder.

Most of all, I’m excited to see what the future holds for Chezie. Earlier this year, I wrote that the hardest part about being a Founder is the ambiguity. It’s so difficult to feel confident in the decisions that you make. However, while I still 100% believe that the ambiguity is the toughest part about being a Founder, it’s also the thing that most motivates me. We really have no idea how impactful this thing we’re working on can be. We’re solving a problem that millions of people face – not feeling a sense of belonging at work. Imagine if we’re the company that solves that problem??? How wild would that be?

With that end goal as even a remote possibility, making the big leap doesn’t sound so crazy after all.

Toby Egbuna
Toby Egbuna is a Co-Founder and CEO of Chezie. He is also an aspiring movie buff, an Ed Sheeran stan, and a mediocre cook.

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