How Hybrid Entrepreneurs Balance a Traditional Job While Simultaneously Starting a New Venture
New research explores early-stage entrepreneurial role conflict
From side hustles to startups in stealth mode, it’s common to run across stories of entrepreneurial ventures that began while the founder or founders were still earning a paycheck from their employer.
But researchers have done little to examine these hybrid entrepreneurs — individuals who balance a traditional job while simultaneously starting a new venture. How do these people manage the demands on their time and energy that having a job and a startup must pose? And what effect do those demands have on their work performance as they make this entrepreneurial transition?
That’s the question NC State University’s Jenkins Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship Jon C. Carr and Professor of Entrepreneurship Jeffrey M. Pollack, along with colleagues from the University of Dayton, Northern Illinois University and Saint Louis University sought to answer.
While academic scholars have delved deep into other kinds of role conflict — such as when employees struggle to balance work and family commitments — there has been very little exploration of the conflict hybrid entrepreneurs face when balancing a job with a new venture.
New research avenues
“The gap in the empirical literature is we don’t know much about ventures that haven’t survived a certain number of years,” Pollack says. “The gap in the theoretical side of things is ‘Well, what psychologically is happening with these folks who have full-time employment but also have an entrepreneurial venture on the side.”
Their paper, “The role of work-to-venture role conflict on hybrid entrepreneurs’ transition into entrepreneurship,” used data collected from hybrid entrepreneurs to explore the issue. The paper has been published in the Journal of Small Business Management. David R. Marshall of the University of Dayton, Timothy L. Michaelis of Northern Illinois University and Lewis Sheats of Saint Louis University were co-authors on the paper.
Moving from full-time wage employment to an entrepreneurial life — that hybrid process lends itself well to understanding how people negotiate with themselves about the conflicts they face between wage employment responsibilities and their venture responsibilities.
“Moving from full-time wage employment to an entrepreneurial life — that hybrid process lends itself well to understanding how people negotiate with themselves about the conflicts they face between wage employment responsibilities and their venture responsibilities,” Carr says.
Hybrid entrepreneur experiences
Carr, Pollack and their co-authors collected data from two sources. First, they reached out to 39 hybrid entrepreneurs balancing jobs and start-ups to collect data about how they managed to two roles over a period of six months. They also surveyed 222 hybrid entrepreneurs to statistically validate the variables they measured in their six-month study.
The data shows that as hybrid entrepreneurs put more time into their startups, they experience growing conflict with their wage employment role. And as that happens, their motivation in staying employed shrinks while their desire to commit more fully to their new venture grows.
While it may not seem surprising that hybrid entrepreneurs’ attitudes toward their wage jobs changed as they worked more on their ventures, no one had tested that hypothesis or measured it before Carr, Pollack and their co-authors came along.
This line of research also fits in well with the Poole College of Management Entrepreneurship Clinic.
“It provides insight into what happens with businesses that aren’t already launched,” Pollack says. “What’s cool about the Entrepreneurship Clinic is that you get ventures of different ages.”
Implications for employers and entrepreneurs
For employers and employees work-venture conflict can create problems, but also may present opportunities.
Employee-entrepreneurs likely need to manage the conflict until their startup is ready to support them financially. Losing their job due to poor performance could be disastrous for a hybrid entrepreneur who still depends on a paycheck to earn a living.
Employers, on the other hand, must manage employees whose motivation is declining over time and who may eventually leave. Carr and Pollack suggest that employers may want to rethink their relationships with hybrid entrepreneurs.
That may involve providing those employee-entrepreneurs flexible work schedules to make it easier for hybrid entrepreneurs to accommodate their dual roles. It could even mean that employers allow these employees, to some degree, to work on their startups during their work hours.
Why would a company seek to be more flexible to employees who are trying to work themselves out of a job? First, Carr and Pollack say, even if that employee eventually leaves, delaying that employee’s departure can reduce turnover costs, at least in the short term. Plus, some employees may never leave. Instead, their venture may remain a permanent but part-time side hustle. Allowing employees flexibility to have outside ventures could help companies retain them longer.
Get a sense of what roles they are involved in and how you can be supportive of those roles outside the workplace.
“Get a sense of what roles they are involved in and how you can be supportive of those roles outside the workplace,” Pollack says. “You will retain a better sense of how to incentivize your employees to do the work for you that needs to get done.”
Tapping entrepreneurial potential
Second, there is some research, as well as a narrative in the popular business press, that entrepreneurial employees may bring benefits to their employers. If employers discourage or prohibit outside ventures, they’re less likely to reap the benefits, such as creative problem solving and new business opportunities, that hybrid entrepreneurs can bring to an enterprise.
“Entrepreneurially thinking employees are often very good at operating in uncertain times,” Carr says. “They have great creativity. In many instances they can be viewed as some of your most valuable employees.”