Building a company after the Ph.D.
Before my thesis defense, one of my Ph.D. supervisors asked me whether I thought about building a company at the beginning of my Ph.D. The question got me thinking, and, of course, the answer was no. Four years ago, I only thought about doing a PostDoc at a good university as the next step to keep developing my career. Also, at the time, building a company was only a dream that some people I follow on Twitter could do. Then, the question that arises is: What made me change my mind and what made me go for it? I believe that nothing happens overnight, and this has been a long process that led to the development of Hynts Analytics. Therefore, I thought about explaining this process by answering the following questions:
How did my mind start to change?
Why did I make the final decision?
Am I scared?
Was my Ph.D. useful? Am I using the skills I acquired?
How does this new step feel?
1.- How did my mind start to change?
Back when I was doing my Master's thesis at CMU, sometimes I would spend time talking about how to solve startup problems that Marcus Thomas, a Ph.D. student at the time that I shared the office with, had in his head. Maybe he does not even remember, but I enjoyed that quite a bit. I thought it was something different, and it got stuck in my head. That, together with having people close to me related to the business world and my desire to read more business, economy, and startup books, led to the growth of an idea in my head.
Essentially, I wanted to see how the more technical side of my Ph.D. (Statistics, AI, ML, Deep Learning) applied to companies and how they were using it. I wanted to get a "first" hand idea of it. That motivated me to join a master's in Business Analytics that completely changed my mind about my next career step. Halfway through it, I knew that starting a company was not far anymore and that maybe it was a viable option. However, there is a long stretch between idea and execution. Then, why did I go for it?
2.- Why did I make the final decision?
The top 1 reason for me was, without a doubt, to find the right person to do it. I do not think I would have done it alone, I lacked the confidence to pursue it on my own, and I would have decided upon another path before maybe thinking about it. Moreover, it was not only about finding a person but the right one. Starting a company will mean constantly being in contact with that person and working hand-in-hand. Either you enjoy the time, the communication flows, and are proud of how you work together, or it will be increasingly difficult. Therefore, I could not be happier to say that I started Hynts with my good friend Nico.
Furthermore, there were other compelling reasons to start a company. One of them is that I believe that after my Ph.D. is the best time to do so. I think the opportunity cost will only rise, and I probably will not have as much flexibility. Thus, I told myself to believe that I was ready, I could learn anything, and that I should give it all to see where this new adventure would take me.
3.- Am I scared?
Of course, I am! A significant percentage of startups fail!
Then, how are you still able to do it?
I am scared enough to understand that it is a challenge, is the right moment to do it, and that I will be happy about making this decision. On top of that, I also see it as a fascinating opportunity to learn and grow, and I am sure the knowledge I acquire will benefit me in the future.
It is a challenge, but it is the right moment to do it, and, most importantly, I know I will be happy about making this decision.
4.- Was my Ph.D. useful? Am I using the skills I acquired?
At least 90 % of the skills I acquired during my Ph.D. are vital to do what I am doing now. Changing fields or career paths does not mean stopping using all you learn during such an intense journey. If you look at the left side of the figure below, I still use my technical knowledge, writing, presentations, and ability to solve complex problems. I am sure these skills will sound familiar to anybody working in academia and many other fields. On the other hand, I am also learning many new things (listed on the right side of the figure below) that are necessary to do my new job.
Do not fall into the sunk cost fallacy of a career path. Nowadays, many of the skills are transferable and will help you do more things in your new position. At least in my case, everything I did is helping me a lot.
5.- How does this new step feel?
I have always tried to support doing what I feel good doing and doing what I enjoy. In that direction, I am happy doing this now. Essentially, because I am moved by learning, being in a fast-paced environment, and being surrounded by highly skilled people, and I believe that this brings or will bring me all of it.
However, I am not extending this to anybody. I am just trying to share my journey. If I would have to recommend something: Follow your passion, and you will be happy with what you do. I am just a simple guy trying to take steps in that direction and see where that leads.
Books I read between July and September
How will you Measure your Life. Clayton M. Christensen
Freakonomics. Steven Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Can't Hurt Me. David Goggins
The Dark Hours. Michael Connelly
The Element. Ken Robinson
Skin in the Game. Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Ihr Findet mich nie. Robert Wilson
Essentialism. Greg McKeown
The Richest Man in Babylon. George S. Clason
From a friend,