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FAANG engineer vs. Startup Founder

Interview with Jae Seok An, Founder at Airbtics
Jean
|
August 16, 2022
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Jaeseok is the Founder of Airbtics, the short-term rental analytics for High Return Investments. Airbtics is a bootstrapped SaaS company with remote team members worldwide, from India to the UK to Korea. Previously, he worked at WhatsApp London as a Software Engineer, working on continuous integration infrastructure for Android and iOS developers.

While the transition from an IC to startup founder is not uncommon, the variety of hardships one encounters can differ vastly.  So what are some of the struggles founders face in the transition? How do you know if being a founder is right for you?

How did you decide to transition from working as an Engineer at Facebook to starting your own company?

After finally getting to experience the life of working at Facebook as a software engineer, I decided to try out something I've always wanted to do, starting my own business. I loved using Airbnb both as a guest and as a host, and I liked data, so I decided to build short-term rental analytics software.  

The first 6 months were tough. I did not take an income, so I rented out my extra rooms on Airbnb to keep my spending low. Along the way, I hired a few interns, then some full-time employees, and tried out various growth hacks. After 18 months, finally, the company started making a profit, and ever since then, it has been growing every month. 

How are FAANG companies different from startups?

I've worked at both a startup and a FAANG company as a software engineer. The pace is slower at FAANG, and they provide a sense of job security. However, you will likely make a significantly more significant impact on your organization in a startup than FAANG. Thus, you have a higher chance of re-defining the scope of your responsibilities. While it's not for everyone, you would thrive in a startup if you love having ownership and fast work pact. 

What are the traits of successful startups?

I define a successful startup as a profitable business that provides an ideal work lifestyle to the startup team. Initially, they may not take any VC money, though they might take it once the company is profitable. VC's primary goal is to find a company that's not just profitable, but rather the one that will make them an x100 return. 

Successful startups also have great leaders who can inspire others. A good leader listens to understand what the individual members want and need and can align that with the team's mission and vision. They are often great ICs themselves, so they are always ready to get their hands dirty when the team needs help. This also allows great leaders to appreciate their team's work because they know what it takes to get things done. 

Great leaders also have a good understanding of resource constraints in a startup, so they are optimized for speed. They would encourage their team to be bold and move fast. Sometimes, they'd make decision to wrap up things when they are not perfect so the team can move on to the next task and make bigger overall impacts. 

What would you consider your biggest professional high and low?

My biggest low was the first 12 months of starting the business. It was so much fun to work on my own project, yet, I was losing money every month. I did not eat out for a single meal for 6 months in a row, and  my girlfriend stuck with me. I remember when I went out to a restaurant for the first time after 6 months of starting the business–the food was tastier than ever. It was a stark contrast to just 6 months ago when I was at Facebook enjoying free meals every day in a nice office building. My time at Facebook felt like a distant dream. The hardest thing was the unknown future–I didn't know how many more years I would need to work without an income until the business took off. 

Little did I know, soon after, that my biggest high moment had happened. I surpassed my FAANG salary with the first app subscription ($35/mo) and the first B2B sale.

What’s your advice to founders or would-be entrepreneurs?

One of the most significant advantages of being an entrepreneur is freedom and ownership. To maximize your autonomy, consider bootstrapping as long as possible, especially  at the early stage, and  being a solo founder. By being a boot-strapped solo founder, you can have the freedom to choose how you run your business. It is not an easy journey, but with some hard work, it is feasible. If you have the GRIT to study to pass the rounds of coding interviews as an engineer, there's a high chance that you'll build a profitable startup. 

Check out Airbtic’s Short Term Rental Analytics for High Return Investments

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