Look At The Numbers
Runway and Burn Rate for the Start Up of Me
I was going to move back in with my parents.
The numbers made my decision clear.
Incredulous, I looked at my spreadsheet again.
At the end of 2020, I lost my job. Luckily, this happened the same month my lease in Texas was ending. I negotiated my rent renewal down to $1300 a month, a good deal for Austin, but this couldn’t compare to the carrot my parents were dangling in front of me.
“Why don’t you move back home for a little bit?” my Indian mother not so innocently suggested. “You could save money and delay going back to the corporate world.”
She knew I had dreams of working for myself and launching my own creative projects.
This is where my spreadsheet came in. If you leave your job for any reason, it’s important to know your runway, a fancy way of saying how long you can live without an income.
My numbers empowered me to make the decision to not only delay going back to work, but to commit to staying out of the corporate world for at least a year so that I could move into creative entrepreneurship.
At the time, it felt dreamlike, risky and unhinged.
But there was math behind the madness.
Runway and Burn Rate
When I first moved to San Francisco 8 years ago, my boyfriend at the time was trying to launch his own company. Classic Silicon Valley stuff.
One day, he showed me a spreadsheet he created that calculated his burn rate against his runway. He knew exactly how long his business could last with the money he and his co-founder had raised.
After I left my job, I fashioned a similar spreadsheet for myself, imagining myself as my own angel investor.
To me, this simply means, how much money do I have and how long will it last?
Running The Numbers
For me, I have my 401k, my HSA, two checking and savings account, investments, former company stocks and a stupid Robinhood account where I once bought marijuana stock because another guy I dated made it seem like a hot buy. Some lessons you learn the hard way.
I added this amount up to see how much money I had across all accounts. Up until this point, I don’t think I had ever looked at my net worth.
My goal was to see how long I could last without bringing in any income. This timeline varies depending on my expenses.
Thinking of myself as a startup again, the second part of the equation is my burn rate. Burn rate is the money I’m spending but not replacing with an income.
To find this, I had to know, what were my expenses each month?
With my new rental agreement, I knew my rent in Austin would be $1300 a month. Then I added in utilities, groceries plus car, health and rental insurance. It’s good to also keep in mind consistent annual payments like car registration or car checkups. Fortunately, I don’t have any outstanding loans like a car payment or student loans but if applicable, those should be factored in as well.
This was my bare bones budget. Money I needed to pay my bills and survive.
To get a realistic picture of how much money I spend, I also like to look at my previous month over month spending.
Tea and tiny sandwiches with friends. Daytime dance parties. Hikes in Hawaii where my iPhone slipped and shattered.
By looking at these payments, I get a realistic picture of my burn rate and can find opportunities for cutting down my expenses. Investing in a hard shell Otterbox phone case saves me an otherwise inevitable $185 bill at the Apple Store.
I like to see how long I could last both theoretically with dipping into my investments and also if I didn’t touch them. Since I’m young, I’d prefer not to interrupt the compounding that’s already happening if I can.
Running the numbers helped me realize a couple things. One, I had saved up a lot of cash and wished I had put more of it in index funds earlier. Though, I could’ve blown all my money on marijuana stocks so maybe over saving was the better alternative.
I also realized if I moved in with my parents, I could make my savings last twice as long compared to living by myself in Austin. The extra time to explore and launch new projects without having to look for a new job was enticing.
Moving in with my parents for a little bit didn’t seem so bad either. The small sacrifices I’d have to make were less privacy and constantly being fed. The latter doesn’t seem bad, but my Indian parents cannot seem to fathom that their daughter gets full.
Small Town Burn Rate
My decision to move in with my parents was the first domino that fell in my journey into entrepreneurship. During that time, I launched my biggest creative project which was a podcast with my sister.
After living with my parents for a year, I was ready to move out again. I pulled out the same spreadsheet. This time I was trying to decide if I should move to a city by myself, or consider a small town with a low cost of living. My sister was moving to take a job in said small town and asked if I would join her. It wasn’t something I seriously considered until I looked at the numbers again.
Paying to live by myself in a major city would burn through my money a lot faster than living in a small town. Rent was skyrocketing across every city in the United States. Meanwhile, a three bedroom house in this small town was less expensive than any room I ever rented in San Francisco. Once again, calculating my runway and my burn rate made my decision easy. I could keep my expenses low and didn’t Thoreau isolate himself to write his novel? This dusty desert small town could be my Walden Pond.
While a bit unconventional, I’ve been enjoying my time away from the corporate world and can’t believe it’ll soon be two years since I left my full time job.
When I talk to my friends who have lost or want to leave their jobs, many are hesitant to do so because they are afraid to support themselves. I don’t pretend to know anyone’s situation. So I always recommend doing what I did.
Imagine, you’re the startup and the angel investor. Look at the numbers.
Let them give you the confidence to leave the corporate world behind.
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