Kickstarter Lesson #81: Don’t Quit Your Day Job (and How to Quit Your Day Job)

23 February 2014

If you’d like to listen to two 20-minute podcasts I co-hosted with with Richard Bliss about this topic, check out this and this. I also talk about it at the end of this video.

Last July, the Kickstarter gaming world was rocked by the revelation that the creator of a successfully funded Kickstarter project, The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, wasn’t going to make or deliver any of the games he promised to make. At the heart of the project update this creator posted to cancel the project was this line: “Unfortunately I can’t give any type of schedule for the repayment as I left my job to do this project and must find work again.”

When I read that, I went over to my little list of future topics to write about on this blog and jotted down, “KS Lesson: Don’t quit your day job.”

I didn’t do anything with the topic for a while. A lot of people were discussing that project at the time, and I wanted to wait until the buzz died down a bit. People were still mentioning the project on end-of-year lists in December, which is a testament to the how one bad project can stay in peoples’ memories even more than hundreds of good projects.

And then…I quit my day job. So I didn’t feel particularly qualified to write a post about not quitting your day job.

I’ve now been running Stonemaier Games full-time for 2 months, a very small sample size. Although time will tell if this is something I can continue to do for years and years, so far I feel like I’ve taken intentional steps towards doing this full time that keep my backers’ best interests at heart, and I wanted to share with you how I’ve done it in case it’s something you’re considering after a successful project.

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First, let me address the temptation of quitting your day job after successfully funding your Kickstarter project. Say you raise $100,000 on Kickstarter to make a board game (let’s say it’s $100k after all KS and Amazon fees). That’s a lot of money, and it arrives in your bank account all at once. Most people could live on $100k for several years.

Plus, this is the dream, right? Doing something you love, being creative, interacting with people who share your passions. Who wouldn’t want to do that full time every day?

But the $100,000 isn’t for your living expenses. Kickstarter’s guidelines specifically say that the platform can’t be used for “fund my life” projects. You can’t use Kickstarter to raise money for your weekly grocery bill, so you also can’t use money for a board game project on Kickstarter to pay for those groceries. That money was raised for a specific purpose: To produce a board game and deliver it to backers.

The truth is, you’re probably going to need every penny of that $100,000 to manufacture and deliver your product. Even if you budgeted very carefully to accomplish that goal, assume that everything is going to cost about 10% more than you anticipated, just so you have some buffer room.

The trouble that many Kickstarter creators in any category will run into is that it takes a lot of time to run a business, even if that business has exactly one product. So how do you fulfill the promises to the backers of your successfully funded project and still make money to pay the bills? Here’s how:

  1. Don’t change anything for as long as possible. It’s that simple. Do both your day job and your Kickstarter job as long as you possibly can. You’ll know when you can’t do it any longer because you’ll start to do Kickstarter stuff at your day job. I did this for about 2 months after the Kickstarter for Euphoria ended.
  2. Don’t pay yourself. This goes into the “fund your life” category. The money you raised on Kickstarter isn’t for your personal enjoyment. However, the nice twist is that if you have $5000 of your personal savings earmarked for Kickstarter in case you didn’t raise as much as you really needed, and instead you overfunded, treat yourself to something nice with a little bit of those funds. For example, I bought a pair of jeans.
  3. Try to reduce your day job hours. Take a very close look at your personal budget. Look at how much you earn each month and how much you spend each month, and use the difference to calculate your proposed reduction in hours. So, say you make $4000 a month, and you spend $3000 a month. As long as you have some money in savings for unexpected life events, those numbers would indicate that you could reduce your day job hours and salary by 25%. Propose the idea to your boss and see what they say. Many bosses are happy to save money. My boss loved the idea, and so I stopped working on Wednesdays. Having that one day completely devoted to Stonemaier made a huge difference at a pivotal time.
  4. Before doing anything else, produce and deliver the product to backers. This is huge. I don’t care how much money you raised–if you haven’t delivered the product to your backers, that money means nothing. What if you budgeted $30,000 for shipping and it costs you $50,000? What if the price of cardboard skyrockets and the game costs twice as much to make? What if you get sued? SO many things can go wrong with a Kickstarter. Assume that they will and deliver the product before making any life-changing decisions. I had delivered most copies of Euphoria before my last day at work.
  5. Create alternate revenue streams and budget for the future. When you really start to think you want to run your Kickstarted business full-time, look towards the future. The revenue from your Kickstarter project was a one-time deal–sure, you raised $200,000. But you’re going to spend the majority of that money on making and delivering the product. How will you earn steady income month to month for the next year or so–not just enough to cover your living expenses, but also to keep enough cash flow to make more copies of your product? I diversified our revenue streams by arranging partnerships with production partners in Australia, China, and Europe, making plenty of copies of Euphoria for retail sales, developing other games for future Kickstarter campaigns, and partnering with a developer to create an iPad version of Viticulture.

At this point, you might be just fine–you might have found a great balance between your day job and your Kickstarted business. If so, stick with it. If not, consult with friends, family, and your business partner(s) before taking the next step.

Here are my recommendations for how you do it. Of course these will vary widely depending on the type of organization you work for.

  1. Tell your boss one-on-one before any other coworker. Your boss should be the first person to know–you don’t want them finding out from another employee. Just like a break-up, don’t make it about your boss or your job–explain that the decision is rooted in your passion for your growing company. I debated the best way to do this, as I was worried about my boss’s response. After chatting with several friends and family members, I decided to tell my boss first–privately–and it was absolutely the right decision.
  2. Don’t burn bridges. Some people out there truly despise their jobs, and it can be really tempting to go out in flames. Resist those temptations. People are going to remember you by your exit, so exit gracefully and respectfully. I did everything I could to help with the transition–in fact, I still drop by my old job when needed to help train people who are now doing what I did.
  3. Coordinate the logistics of your future employment in advance. Remember when you started your day job, and you filled out a few forms for human resources to take of your health insurance, salary, 401k, life insurance, etc? Well, now YOU are human resources, so you have to do all that stuff. Contact your insurance agent for health care, life insurance, and disability insurance. Transfer your 401k to an IRA (I use and recommend CapitalOne). Figure out a schedule to pay yourself from company funds. If it’s just you, payroll is actually quite easy–you don’t have to worry about taxes until next year (your salary counts as expenses against your company revenue–your accountant will take care of it). Also, if you get a lot of company mail, sign up for a forwarded PO box.

Finally, the day comes when you’re working for your company full-time. I’ve learned a few things about working from home, and I bet other people can add to these comments.

  1. Get out of the house once a day. This was my biggest concern when I started working full-time. I’m an introvert, so I’m perfectly happy only seeing people a few times a week. The problem is, I would rapidly become a hermit if I lived that way. Even as an introvert, I need to interact with people (not just my cats) on a regular basis. Plus, I need to do things like wear clothes and shower–I’m more focused on work when I feel like I’m at work, and it’s hard to feel that way when I smell like bed. So I’ve tried to get into the habit of leaving home at least once a day or inviting people over once a day. Sometimes that means not taking care of all errands on a single run, but for the most part it’s meant that I get to play a lot of games with people multiple times of the week.
  2. Biddy in the officeSeparate work and personal space. I’m single, and I have a two-bedroom condo. For the last year, my second bedroom has been the place where I keep game supplies, and my bedroom has my computer, bed, clothes, and other personal effects. When I started working full-time, I spoke with a professional organizer, who recommended that I completely separate my work and personal space. It’s important to create a mental and physical divide between the two. So now my bed, clothes, and books are in the small bedroom, and all Stonemaier stuff, my desk, my computer, and my playtest/prototype supplies are in my “office.” Someday I might expand into a separate office space, but for now this is all I need.
  3. Be intentional about work and play. When people learn that I work for myself at home now, the most commonly asked question is, “Is it hard to get work done?” My answer: “It’s hard to not do work!” Within minutes of waking up, I’m replying to e-mails, blog comments, BGG posts, etc. Then I’m designing and developing games, coordinating logistics, and planning for our next Kickstarter. I stop working around 1:00 am when it’s time for bed. So…that’s 16 hours of work a day and 8 hours of sleep. Rinse, repeat, no weekends. So other than getting out of the office or inviting people over, I try to be really intentional about not constantly working. Sometimes that’s a 20 minute break to play an iPad game, or I watch one extra TV show after eating dinner. And before I go to bed, I make sure to read fiction for at least 20-30 minutes, because it completely gets my mind off work so I can sleep well before starting the cycle all over. Everyone has different needs in this area, so figure out what’s right for you.

My conclusion for this post is the same as when I started writing it last summer: Don’t quit your day job. But if you realize that you can afford to live your life and at least test the waters of a career in whatever your Kickstarted business is, I hope this template gives you a starting point.

If you have any thoughts, ideas, or questions to add in the comments, I look forward to seeing them.

26 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #81: Don’t Quit Your Day Job (and How to Quit Your Day Job)

  1. I love this: ” treat yourself to something nice with a little bit of those funds. For example, I bought a pair of jeans.”

    I’m in a similar transition at the moment. I’m my own boss for my day-job so it makes getting permission a bit easier but it’s still a huge challenge to maximize my time so I can get everything done: 8 hours for the “day-job” vending business, 8 hours for Today in Board Games (and other game related business activities), 4 hours to spend with the wife, kids, and friends, leaving 4 for sleeping (I follow a polyphasic sleep schedule with 3 hours rest at night and a few short naps throughout the day to make a 20-hour day function without sleep deprivation).

    Some resources that have been helpful to me on “transitioning” from day-job to dream-job are Dan Miller’s 48 Days Podcast and Tim Feriss’ 4 Hour Work Week. Both have great tips and suggestions for achieving the goal of maximizing your time with your new endeavor without cutting off the stable income of your previous position.

    Jamey – what’s worked well for you when it comes to prioritizing and maximizing productivity? I find that when spending more time in the home office it’s too easy to get sidetracked by items of lesser importance without making progress on the “big” things that will facilitate completing the transition. I’m curious if this has been an issue for you and if so what you’ve done to fix it. Also, are there any other unexpected hurdles you’ve come across in your move to full-time at Stonemaier?

    1. Thanks Roger! It’s impressive you can pull off that sleep schedule. How long have you maintained it?

      That’s a great question. I wouldn’t say that most of my decision trees have changed in terms of work prioritization. I always have a few sticky notes on my desk–one for immediate needs, one for long-term needs, and one for ideas/stuff to brainstorm.

      The one big challenge I’ve experienced is finding time for creativity–it’s easy to get caught up in all the business/customer relations stuff and miss out on the reason I got into this in the first place: to design games. So I try to earmark at least an hour every day for brainstorming and game design/development. It doesn’t always happen.

      The one mental trick I’ve used to help me work smart is intentional procrastination. I’m somewhat of a procrastinator at heart–in college I would often wait until the last minute to study or write a paper. So now I use that to my advantage. If I have something I’m not all that excited about doing, instead of not doing it, I’ll think of something else I don’t want to do, and I’ll procrastinate from doing that second thing by doing the first thing instead. Somehow it works. :)

      1. I love the procrastination trick! I too am a procrastinator at heart – I’ll have to try that :) My biggest regret is that I didn’t learn self-discipline earlier in life. My parents tried to teach me the value of being a disciplined person but I resisted – and I regret doing so now. I’ve spent the last few years doing everything I can to “un-learn” these bad habits.

        Yes – it’s the creative aspect that I struggle with the most. Obviously the day to day operations of your work are important, but I find it difficult to step back and find that creative time to brainstorm and develop new ideas (game ideas or otherwise) – Working on your business instead of just in your business (to borrow terminology from Michael Gerber – E-Myth Revisited).

        I’ve only been on this sleep schedule for a short time but am finding it to be quite refreshing. By following the schedule I can function well off 4 hours of sleep without feeling drowsy or fatigued. Many people have tried it with varying levels of success – including a self-employed acquaintance of mine who has done it successfully for a year and a half now. A google search on “polyphasic sleep” will give you more info – there’s quite a bit of information out there on it (both positive and negative).

        1. Let me know if the procrastination trick works for you. :)

          I might have to check out the E-Myth Revisited book–I like that philosophy.

          I remember Kramer trying a method similar to that on Seinfeld. I tried it briefly in college, but it didn’t work all that well. Maybe it would work there since my schedule is much more flexible. Good luck with it!

  2. Very interesting and insightful article. I am not quite ready to quit my day job, but my job offers a lot of time off (I am a plumber by trade and things are slow these days) so I am able to invest a lot of time into Grey Gnome Games. One day I hope to get to the point were I can do this full time, but I have a Wife and 3 kids and I think it is VERY important for people to make sure they really can walk away from their day jobs if they are the main bread winner.

    I wish you continued success and look forward to more of your articles!

    1. Jason: That’s cool that your day job has flexibility and fluctuations in terms of time commitment–I could see that working well if you have a “passion” career running parallel to it. You make a great point about taking a good look at your budget to make sure that all of your living expenses for you and your dependents are covered well into the future before making a big move. I hope your success continues with Grey Gnome!

  3. Jamey,

    I’m new to your Blog (and by the way, good for you for cracking the code on WordPress!) and I’m very thankful for everything that I’ve read thus far. I had an unsuccessful Kickstarter Project at the end of 2012, turned it around with better marketing and pricing tiers, and subsequently ran a 280% funded KS a few months later (see Crafthulhu). Now, we’re running another one (nearing 200% funded ~ Cthulhu’s Eldritch Knowledge) and much of what you’ve written resonates with me.

    Again, thanks, Jamey!

    Cheers,
    Joe

  4. Thanks for the great article! We are not ready to quit our day jobs here at Cosmic Wombat Games. Being a partnership complicated matters and the fact that we each have wives and kids complicates matters further.

    But that’s ok, it is something we are working toward. We knew when we started it would be a long, slow process and we’re ok with that.

    Just keep plugging away, put the work in and things will happen eventually.

    Now, to just get Stones of Fate funded!!

  5. Very insightful information. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Any tips for those of us whose hours at the day job aren’t negotiable? I’d love to reduce my responsibilities (and pay even), but don’t think this will gain much traction with my employer. Would you suggest changing careers temporarily to one that could be more flexible?

    1. Hi Dennis, thanks for your question. I was very fortunate that my boss let me take a cut in hours (and pay), and you make a good point that it’s not feasible in many jobs. Changing careers might be a bit drastic–I mean, if you have a steady job that you enjoy, there’s no reason to risk losing the job security at this point.

      One thing you might try is to try to work out a schedule where you get just one day off a week that you currently don’t have off–a day to devote solely to your company. Maybe it means that you work an extra hour on the other days and take a slight pay cut, but that one day can make a huge difference.

  6. Best of luck, looks like your self disciplined habits are serving you well. I have an idea you might like for the creative side. Take a trip to somewhere – say Japan – and list all the stuff you have to do. Make a travel game out of it and write off all your expenses for the trip as research and development. Good luck in all.

    Brian

  7. Nice article, people definitely jump in too soon to the “quit my day job” pool without properly assessing the risks.

    One question I had is how you plan for future volatility. Something I feel that is not discussed by creative people who have recently found success is what they plan to do if their pool of creative ideas dry up? What happens if you a great Euro designer but in 5 years the market shifts towards more big budget thematic games? What kind of pressure is placed on your game design capabilities now that you don’t have the leisure of taking as much time as you need to find unique and interesting mechanics?

    Do you have a large pool of savings to weather downturn? Did you leave yourself a path to return to the “real world”? If people have a hard time honestly assessing when they can quit their day job in the present I can only imagine that their honesty with how successful they will be 5-10 years out will only be that much more cloudy.

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    1. Ian: This is a really interesting line of questioning, and I appreciate you posting it. I’ll do my best to address these questions.

      1. As for the first set of questions, for me in particular, I’m interested in designing, developing, and publishing a wide spectrum of games, not just Euro games. In fact, I’m much more interested in that than I am interested in tracking and basing business decisions on gaming trends. There are millions and millions of gamers around the world, and I’d like to publish at least one game that will excite every one of them. That may not be possible, but that’s one of my goals.

      2. As for my time, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot lately. It’s not really a matter of clever mechanisms–every game designer has dozens of clever mechanisms up their sleeves. But clever mechanisms that meld with theme that are well developed and playtested and are a ton of fun? Those are far and few between, and they take a lot of time. It’s something I already spend a lot of time on, and it’s one of the reasons that we’re open to well-tested submissions. If someone has already taken the time and effort to make a really great game, I’d like to have the chance to publish it.

      3. We spent a huge amount of money making and shipping games. So no, I don’t have a lot of personal savings (or profits from the company) that I could turn to if we suddenly stopped selling retail games and Treasure Chests. It’s very tough to look really far ahead in the future until we have an “evergreen” product–a game that sells out 10k print runs (at least) several times a year. Do I have a plan to re-enter a world where I don’t work for myself? Not really. I’m confident that the skills I’m building by running Stonemaier Games will help me if I ever need to apply those skills to someone else’s company, but there are no guarantees. I fret about a lot of little things, like health care and Kickstarter promises and losing momentum and not taking the right steps to grow the company and diversify our product lines…I think these are mostly good things to worry about. I don’t want to get complacent, nor do I want to take for granted what we’ve built so far. I also worry about what it means to grow. When I’m the only employee at Stonemaier Games, there are many things that are a lot simpler/easier than when we add even just one other employee. For example, I will have to wear pants to work.

      Does that help to answer your question? I appreciate the opportunity to write about this–it’s been a good reflection for me.

  8. Yes that was very interesting. I ask only because I used to be an aspiring professional poker player and one of the things you really had to maintain was a size able bankroll just to weather inevitable down turns. I think the recommended amount is to have 6 months of living expenses and that this is generally recommended for all entrepreneurs going on their own regardless of the field of their profession. With this amount at least you will have a few months to decide if you are just having a bad month or if it’s basically the end of your no-pants career.

    I am also interested in your publishing aspirations. The reason I found your site is that me and a friend have started working on a fairly interesting design and tomorrow is actually going to be the play test of our first prototype. I stumbled on your site yesterday and inadvertently spent the whole day reading the majority of your entries, they have been very helpful.

    The biggest thing about our planned kickstarter that worries me is the shipping. Not only does it involve many risks but it also involves a lot of work. I would be very interested in finding an experienced partner to help publish as I am not really in it for the money but really just to get innovative design out into the hands of gamers.

    I am not sure what your submission process would look like but I think this was one of the things I couldn’t find a lot of information on. I would really like to find out who the mid tier publishers are that would be open to partnering with aspiring kickstarters. It seems like all the “how to approach publishers” advice is based on how to approach established partners like fantasy flight. Given that they probably receive hundreds of submissions it would be more helpful to have an idea of who the publishers are that are just starting up to help other kickstarters.

    You are the first person I have heard of who fits into this category and if you have any posts that you have that would be great.

    1. Ian: Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad you mentioned the point about always holding on to 6 months of living expenses–that’s a good way to live, and I try to do that too.

      I hope your first playtest goes well! Usually I try to do my first playtest solo, as games rarely play in person as they do in my mind. :)

      We do have a formal submission process you can check out (see About/Submissions). Every publisher is different–there isn’t really a universally accepted way to submit games. I will say that there are very few publishers who just want to serve as a Kickstarter partner, though. I can’t speak for most independent publishers, but I think most of us just want designers to submit their playtested (but raw) games to us for publication, and we get the rights to the game and pay a royalty to the designer. James Mathe has a few posts about the game publication process.

  9. Cool I’ll check that out. Tonight was my first non-solo play test. Some things worked, others need to be refined. It will still be a while before I submit but I will definitely look into publishers as I would be more than willing to give up a cut to someone else doing the heavy lifting.

    Thanks for the tips, this is definitely the best kickstarter site I’ve found. I sent it to my partner and he said he already learnt a lot after reading a few posts :)

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