Zachary Kreger is the founder of Offspring.
For me, this question used to be pretty easy to answer. Up until 18 months ago, my answer was that I worked for a large financial institution trying to stop bad guys (and gals) from laundering drug money and doing my best to prevent the financing of terrorism. This always prompts comments from people like, “Wow, that’s really cool” or “I never knew people did that type of thing.” After more than a decade of honing my skills in the anti-money laundering profession, I can tell you with certainty the work I do every day is actually pretty darn cool. Now that I’ve added “entrepreneur” to my title this question takes a lot longer to answer.
I started getting the “entrepreneur itch” when I was in college. When I graduated in 2002 the tech jobs that once seemed abundant and lucrative in the late 90’s had suddenly vanished with the dot-com crash. I had expected, along with most of my college classmates in the information technology field, to have accepted a job offer well before I even graduated. Let’s just say, that didn’t happen. To pay the rent and buy food (or beer), I fell back on my self-taught skills designing websites for small companies like a bank, golf course, and a maple syrup producer. I really loved designing/creating and gave serious consideration to making it my full-time gig. In the meantime, I kept the job search going and eventually found a great job at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis that started me on my current career path.
Side-note, my first actual entry into entrepreneurship was designing and selling “support naked soccer” t-shirts during my senior year of college when school administrators were trying to shut down this very unique pastime. I’d be happy to share more if you’re curious.
As you may imagine the entrepreneurial itch never went away. I was constantly thinking about the things I could create and the industries where I could contribute and innovate like wind energy, connected homes, large-scale energy storage, and modernizing financial transactions. Instead of going down one of these paths, I found every excuse in the book to halt my ideas in their tracks. Excuses included my lack of startup experience, the planning of our wedding, the responsibility of having three kids, mortgage payments, and the quality of life I’d become accustomed to.
Just thinking about big life changes like quitting a full-time job (or in my case a decade-old career) and starting fresh can be extremely paralyzing. If it wasn’t for some amazing family members (some of them who are also my Offspring co-founders), I’d probably not be writing this to you today. Their time and resources gave me the support and confidence to give this whole startup thing a try. That’s not to say there weren’t difficulties along the way.
Knowing the Rules
When you are finally ready to enter the startup world, you basically have two choices: go all in by quitting your day job or try to run it on the side and have two jobs. If you choose to run it on the side, life becomes a constant balancing act making sure family time is abundant and you give your startup the attention it needs to build and grow. You also need to make sure you are aware of your company’s policies. The company I work for has very strict rules on outside business ventures, which actually make a lot of sense from their perspective. Before starting Offspring, I had to verify and document that my new company would not be a competitor in the financial services industry, that it would not take away from my day-to-day responsibilities at work and that I would not recruit any of my co-workers to come work with me. In addition, I had to get approval from the most senior levels of management. Restrictions like these can either be intimidating or significantly limiting if your startup idea is in your current industry.
Just Do It
Here’s the thing, I really like my day job. That meant for more than a decade I had nothing motivating me to try something new and completely out of my comfort zone. At the time, the risks always seemed much higher than the rewards. If you find yourself in the same situation as me and have that entrepreneur itch, I want to encourage you to not wait any longer. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. I’m looking forward to the day (hopefully soon) when my answer to the question “What do you do for a living” is once again easy.
Zachary Kreger is Co-Founder of Offspring, a Des Moines-based startup that has recently launched a simple and easy-to-use iPhone app that gives parents a way to capture, share, and publish your kid's special memories.
Photo Credit: Headshot via Kreger, others via PicJumbo