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Experience when starting up a company

Experience when starting up a company

Experience when starting up a company

Hi all.

For those of you that own your own business - how many years of experience did you have when starting out, and what scale of projects were you working on? Did you feel skilled enough, or was there a lot of learning as you go? Did you wait too long or do you wish you had gained more experience before starting?

I'm a structural engr working in heavy civil. Unfortunately there are no jobs where I live working with buildings, which is what I would like to do. So, (as I've posted before) I'd like to go out on my own. Would appreciate and some advice and encouragement!

RE: Experience when starting up a company

I'd say that's not a great idea, unfortunately. If you have no experience in buildings, you have no business designing them. Just like if somebody came to me with a highway bridge project, I'd politely decline to take the job. I've done a couple short span pedestrian bridges under the supervision of a qualified engineer, so I won't take anything beyond your average hiking trail bridge.

You also have the issue of getting work. If nobody knows who you are, how are you going to get work? I recently went out on my own - but only because I have enough contacts to at least provide me with enough to keep my kids fed and experience in a particular niche that is very one-off-ish and is not well served in my area. The rest I can build over time. Without that basic cornerstone to build from, though, I wouldn't feel comfortable starting a business. I also have experience in all of the areas that I'm going after. If I haven't designed it or something like it before, I usually won't look at it. If I do, I talk with a colleague who either has the experience or has the right connections to set up a third party review to make sure I'm not too far off base. But again, I won't take anything that is completely out of my realm of professional experience. That falls too far out of my ethical boundaries.

RE: Experience when starting up a company

My experience is primarily in non-building structures, with some experience in buildings.

How many years experience before you went out?

Also you and I spoke on a thread last year regarding a basement wall stabilization project... That project is complete and I've some good results. I'll be putting up a thread about it in the coming weeks/months.

RE: Experience when starting up a company

Good luck!

I was forced out in 2012 when the only company I had ever worked for, a steel fabricator who provided some design-build services, went under. I had just under 13 years of experience and had been sealing my own drawings since 2006 (when I was added to the insurance policy). They originally brought me on to replace their aging engineer..... who, once I came on decided to work as long as he could (they laid him of is 2009 and he worked part time for the company until he passed in 2011). I started out estimating.... then running quick and dirty engineering designs.... then began working with their PE polishing up my designs... became registered and then started doing my own work for them. When I was doing the "quick and dirty" engineering designs I would be designing up to 80-100 buildings per year. Everything from stair designs... to small canopies... to warehouses.... to 3 story buildings. Nothing much over 3 stories (maybe the occasional 5 story building).

Once the company folded every scattered like rats from a sinking ship and I had my first batch of clients. I was able to step right in and design whatever I wanted.... steel, spread footing foundation systems, metal building foundations, stair designs, insulated metal panels systems etc.... I didn't have much experience in concrete and still to this day pass on those projects (wish I had more experience with those types of projects... or a partner who could smooth over my shortfalls). I have since expanded out more into wood design and engineering, but still pass on the heavy concrete projects.

If you don't have experience with this type of construction you will stick out like a soar thumb. I am currently working with an architect on a larger sized industrial building with a 2 story office (72,000 square feet). She is a nice person.... and easy to get along with.... but she came from the high end commercial/hospital sector and has no business designing this type of building. The details they selected are not the best or the most economical. I tried to tell her but she wouldn't listen. I knew the GC was going to have an issue when it came time to build. I just visited the project today. It's almost done and the site super, who has been there for 1 year, has yet to see her step one foot on the project and has been complaining about the details since day one. In this instance, it's easy to see that she is out of her comfort zone.

If you don't have the experience, the sub contractors are going to call you out. That's fine, if you can prove that the sub contractor doesn't know what's he's talking about....but when a steel fabricator comes in who knows what they are doing, and you are out of your comfort zone, they may just call you out.... and have the technical background to prove you wrong.

RE: Experience when starting up a company

I had about 6 years of experience before starting my first company. I had been a PE for about 2 years and had been exposed to some great project experience prior to going on my own. (responsible for all offsite structural steel inspection for a "major theme park in Central Florida" and same for a large international airport as well as the day-to-day projects). Had a significant pavement failure investigation on an international airport to start my business. Had such diverse experience, it was relatively easy to get clients as I could provide both consulting and materials testing services.

The second time I started a business was after 29 years of experience. Had a good personal reputation and exposure to major clients so again, was not difficult to get work.

Experience, confidence, networking and exposure will all serve you well. The international airport pavement failure job came from a chance meeting at a local ACI chapter meeting where I met an attorney working for the airport and we discussed concrete and concrete failures. He hired me for the job.

RE: Experience when starting up a company

Personal experience with this. You have to know where your customers are going to come from.

I don't mean general swaths of industry ... I'm talking "This person, and that person, and the one over there." Specifics. Unless you can point to individual persons, by name, who you already have some sort of connection with and are likely to feed you some work, you are going to have a hard time finding customers.

Word of mouth works, references work, but you need to start with something.

RE: Experience when starting up a company


Thanks for the input and advice. When you first went out, did you make a clean break or did your employment and entrepreneurship overlap? How long were you in business for yourself the first time around?

RE: Experience when starting up a company

I had 13 years of experience when I started my practice, and went into my specialty (glass and special structures).

It's definitely a significant transition to go from buildings to highways, but if you find the right opportunities its possible. The point is to design a retaining wall for a highway embankment which is similar to a retaining wall you designed for a building, but to AASHTO rather than IBC.

RE: Experience when starting up a company

hemiv - I'm in a similar place as Ron was with his first foray into self employment. I have a little over 6 years of structural engineering, 2 years as a PE, some intern work before that, and a previous career in nuclear power. I had the pleasure of working at a firm with a very broad spectrum of projects, so there are very few market sectors or construction materials that I haven't touched in one way or another, and most of them several times.

My entrepreneurship and employment have overlapped for several months, but only because I am in a unique situation where I'm practicing as a structural engineer, but doing all in house work and so my "side hustle" doesn't compete with my employer or violate any anti-moon lighting rules.

RE: Experience when starting up a company

I made a clean break because there was no way to do it without not only burning a bridge but chopping it up and blowing up whatever was left and then chucking the remains into a shredder and melting them down.

Pay heed to any employment agreements that may be in effect in your current employment. I consulted with an employment lawyer some time in advance who not only explained what was and wasn't enforceable about the employment agreement where I worked before, but what I needed to do to avoid getting in legal hot water.

Make sure those target clients that you've identified in advance, have a way of finding you once they find out that you're no longer where they expect you to be. It's entirely possible (my situation) that you will not be allowed to call them, but there's nothing stopping them from calling you.

11 years on, no regrets, moving on to semi-retirement.

RE: Experience when starting up a company

hemiv....both times I started a business it was a clean break. Fortunately, my clients elected to stay with me rather than the company I worked for.

The first time I was in business for 6 years and sold out to a former employer (large international firm). Worked for them for 12 years after sale. The second time...I'm still in business after 15 years.

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