How to start a business from your corporate cube

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Starting a company is cheap enough that you don’t need to raise a lot of money to do it, but you still need to feed yourself. A popular route is the in-between step of being an entrepreneur while still working in a corporate job.

This means there are a lot of people running companies from their cubes. Sort of. It’s contrary to just about every company policy for you to set up your widget shop inside your cube and solicit your co-workers’ business. But most startups can skate past the corporate policy restrictions because the founder works after hours. So the entrepreneur is sitting in the cube even if the company is not, and it makes for a difficult balancing act.

Here are ten ways to manage entrepreneurship from your corporate cubicle:

1. Don’t tell your co-workers.
You will want to tell them. They will say, “How was your weekend?” and you’ll want to say, “I got two new clients and I am feeling like a startup stud!” Don’t say that. Even if you’re not doing your company at your work, it still feels like cheating to a co-worker. They don’t want to hear you’d rather be working on something else besides their stuff. You need to keep a positive profile at work even while you do your startup: The best entrepreneurs have solid networks.

2. Don’t blame your problems on lack of time.
It’s certainly a luxury to have tons of time on your hands to focus on your company all day. But most people don’t have that. Most people who start companies have kids or a day job or a girlfriend or college courses – something that distracts them. Don’t tell yourself you would do better if you had more time. Just do better now. Be smarter. Everyone is short on time all the time. It’s not an excuse.

3. Don’t have guilt.
Yes it is morally questionable to be a salaried employee and turn your cube into a call center for your other business. But you can do a ton of personal business from your cube – like call your landlord or the plumber or make plane reservation – in order to make more time to do your business from home. Most cubicle workers spend two hours a day surfing for personal reasons. And these people do not have side businesses at home. So it’s fair for you to do it, too.

4. Get on a stupid project at work.
When you have your own business you think about it all the time. You are responsible for everything, so there is no coasting while someone else deals with a problem or a project. Fortunately, that sort of coasting is rampant in big companies. So if you are starting a business at home, get on a project at work that lets you coast – that will give extra mental energy to let thoughts of your own company jump around in your head.

5. Look for like-minded people at work.
In most companies there are some people thinking like you – trying to get something off the ground while they spend their days in their cube. It’s so hard to keep believing in yourself when the startup is more idea than business. It’s hard not to toss in the towel, but you are less likely to give up if you have other entrepreneurs in your life. To sniff out the other entrepreneurs look for people who dash outside the building every day to take calls. (Reality check: If the calls are ten minutes, it’s a startup. If the calls are a half-hour, it’s a new girlfriend.)

6. Go to the gym on your lunch break.
You think you are doing something so big and so challenging and you are even holding down a full-time job while you do it, so of course you have no time to go to the gym. But exercise provides mental traits of an entrepreneur: You think more clearly, you are more self-confident, resilient to setback, and you become a person who inspires confidence in other people.

7. Sit on a yoga ball instead of a chair.
Everything you need to do to have a startup and a corporate job at the same time requires self-discipline. And this might be why entrepreneurs are happier than most people — because they have good self-discipline and people with self-discipline are more likely to get what they want in their life.

You can get self-discipline by working on your posture. No kidding. So get a ball chair for your cube. Psychologist have found that if you make one, small change in your life that requires self-discipline, like improving your posture, then you are more able to make other changes in your life that require self-discipline.

8. Partner with a stay-at-home-parent.
In general, when I have started companies, I tried not to hire people with kids because they are less able to jump for investors, more torn between where their head and heart are at any given time, and anyway, today’s parents generally do not work insanely long hours. (Yes, this is an illegal hiring practice. But it’s common.)

So anyway, if you are starting a company from your cube you are missing exactly what a stay-at-home parent has: Flexibility during the work day. One of the things that make for a successful entrepreneur is partnering with someone who can fill in the spots where you are weak, according to Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College.

9. Stop fantasizing that a credit card could fund your cubicle escape.
Especially in the current credit crunch, it’s important to be conservative in how much you bet on this side-business of yours. The most successful entrepreneurs are not actually huge risk takers but people who intuitively mitigate risk wherever they can, according to Saras Sarasvathy, professor of business at the University of Virginia. The point of entrepreneurship, after all, is to get out of the cubicle, not tie yourself to it forever paying off your debt.

10. Believe in yourself.
Entrepreneurship is lonely and frustrating. This is not something people talk about a lot because the thing that makes entrepreneurs successful is a crazy optimism that they can create something big from nothing. But underneath that optimism, is a fear that things will never work.

The feelings of loneliness and fear will be exacerbated in your cubicle, where you will be surrounded by people who are satisfied with stable jobs, regular paychecks, and having someone else take responsibility for the ultimate bottom line.

In your cube is the time you will have to be your best self: Confident, productive, disciplined and optimistic. No small feat, for sure, but that’s why entrepreneurship brings out the best in us. That’s why it’s so enticing.