Two-job Entrepreneurs Hone Juggling Acts

By Kira Bindrim

Published: June 24, 2009 - 12:36 pm

Cheryl Fishbein knows a lot about stress. After all, the 55-year-old clinical psychologist helps her patients through everything from job trouble to divorce. But stress took on a new meaning for Ms. Fishbein last year, when she decided to start her own consulting firm, while continuing to run her psychology practice.

“I’m just thankful that I’m very high-energy,” she said.

Ms. Fishbein, who works 14-hour days to accommodate her patient schedule and fledgling company, is one of many New York entrepreneurs holding down a day job. With the recession lending uncertainty to even the most staid of full-time positions, few are willing to give up their steady paychecks. Funneling salary dollars into a budding startup can also be an appealing option for entrepreneurs hoping to minimize their debt.

For Ms. Fishbein, the decision to start Philanthropic Capital Advisors, which advises wealthy clients and institutions on their charitable donations, was born of dual passions.

“I’m doing a juggling act with two jobs that I’m devoted to,” she said. “I love the people in my practice, and I love the idea of getting philanthropic dollars where they need to go.”

For others, the balancing act is a product of necessity.

Ross Felix, who was laid off from a financial firm last August, took advantage of the down time to launch, a matchmaking Web site he hopes will compete with big names like But when an opportunity arose this spring to join Sony Corp. as a consultant, Mr. Felix jumped on it.

“My entire team has a day job,” he said, referring to DatingRevolution’s chief technology and financial officers, as well as the site’s main developer. “We’re all moonlighting.”

Mr. Felix has put some $15,000 of his own money into the Web site, which he developed based on interviews with more than 700 singles. DatingRevolution will eventually run users $15 a month, and Mr. Felix hopes to glean additional revenue through partnerships with other social networks. But for now, he’s prepared to build the company with blood, sweat and tears—not loans.

“It’s all about bootstrapping and doing things intelligently,” he said.

The same is true for Katie Deedy, who launched wallpaper design firm Grow House Grow two years ago. The 27-year-old Brooklynite just finished her second line of wallpaper and garnered some publicity after appearing at the seventh annual Bklyn Designs show in May. But Ms. Deedy also works more than 30 hours a week at two bartending jobs and funnels $10,000 of her earnings per year into Grow House Grow.

“It’s going to be a while before I even come close to making back what I put in,” she said. “But I don’t owe anybody any money.”

The lagging economy is fueling entrepreneurs’ reluctance to take on debt, and many are looking for other ways to make ends meet. More than a third of small business owners say they’ve reduced employee hours, instituted hiring and salary freezes or tapped into their personal assets to cope with the recession, according to a recent survey from the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor. Eighteen percent say they have taken a second job.

But juggling jobs doesn’t come easy, especially when one of those jobs is as all-consuming as starting a company. Even the most energetic of entrepreneurs run the risk of stretching themselves too thin.

“There’s no way to successfully say, ‘I’m going to have this business be all it can be, but I’m also going to work 10 hours at a day job,’ ” said Deborah Bailey, who coaches would-be entrepreneurs and hosts the weekly Internet radio show “Women Entrepreneurs—The Secrets of Success.

Although the economy is motivating many small business owners to keep their day jobs, the reluctance to forgo a steady paycheck is nothing new. In 2008, 1.1% of all workers were two-job entrepreneurs—individuals who are wage-and-salary workers in their primary job and self-employed in their second—compared with 1.4% in 1998, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Indeed, small business owners know all about uphill battles. For many, the same fortitude that helped them launch a company also enables them to balance two jobs.

“It’s kind of like having a double life,” said Ms. Deedy.

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