When we’re ten years old we all want to be something cool – like an astronaut.
Personally, I was hell-bent on becoming a world famous scientist and had the chemistry set and the handmade sign on my bedroom door to prove it.
As we move through school and then university, most of us lose sight of those childhood aspirations and settle into more ‘normal’ careers with good prospects, comfy chairs and nice business cards. It’s only later that some people get that ‘aha’ moment and realise that they’d still much rather be an astronaut.
Dom Jackman and Rob Symington had a similar kind of experience.
After manouevering themselves onto the first rungs of the corporate ladder, they decided it wasn’t really a path they wanted to take. And after talking it over with others, they also realised that a lot of other people felt the same way.
So they built Escape the City, an information and community platform “designed to answer the question: ‘How do I leave my corporate job and find an occupation that makes me tick?’”
Pic: Mark Hillary
We asked Rob and Dom to share some of the ideas behind the recently launched site – but if you’re a young city exec in search of something a little different, I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself.
Hey guys. Could you tell us a little about your own background and where the inspiration for Escape the City came from?
Rob: We both started our careers as management consultants on fast-track graduate schemes out of university. Dom started at Accenture and I started at Ernst & Young. The inspiration for Esc came from the experience of working in these environments. Neither of us regret these years as we learnt masses and gained invaluable experience that is now serving us well.
However, once we had both achieved our promotions and began to reflect on where we wanted to be in five years time, we both realised that we no longer wanted to work in the corporate mainstream. We wanted to do something a bit different, something that we genuinely cared about.
Escape the City was born the day that we were sitting in neighbouring cubicles at work and confided in each other that we both thought there was more to life than what we were doing.
We then realised that we were far from being alone in feeling frustrated and unfulfilled by working in ‘The City’ and that thousands of young professionals felt the same way. So we decided that we would build something to try to help solve what is a widespread and depressing phenomenon.
EscapetheCity is billed as a site to help young professionals leave their corporate jobs and find an occupation that makes them tick. So what makes you tick?
Rob: What makes me tick is the belief that, across all walks of life, the established way of doing things isn’t necessarily the best way. Making positive change happen makes me tick. Big road trips in old and impractical vehicles also make me tick (old Land Rovers in Africa, motorcycles through Europe, and a double decker bus journey – planned – to China).
Dom: Start ups. There is something magical about creating something from scratch, something in your own image and something you believe in whole-heartedly. Many people dream of doing it, few risk it. And of those who risk it, few make it. I’m also passionate about adventure and ultra-endurance events and generally pushing one’s limits!
Is it all about the job or can people find the same level of fulfilment outside of their 9-5s?
We passionately believe that we all live in an era where it is increasingly possible for individuals to start ventures that allow them that independence and control that comes with running your own business.
This is the same buzz that we are getting from building Escape the City and is what a lot of people are after. It’s not at all easy. But it is more achievable than a lot of people realise. And, in our opinion, a lot more rewarding than working for someone else.
Therefore, one of our main aims (along with encouraging people to make brave career change decisions and go on epic adventures) is to provide a platform for people to research their business idea, connect with likeminds, and be inspired by stories of people who are already out there doing it for themselves.
Having said that, lots of people aren’t prepared to take what they perceive as being the considerable risk of quitting a stable salary in pursuit of a dream. There are often lots of good reasons for this (financial, family, etc) and many people just aren’t that interested in starting their own businesses.
For these people, Escape the City is designed to provide them with exciting and fulfilling roles outside of the corporate mainstream. Thus providing the excitement and meaning that lots of young professionals are looking for but without leaving the 9-5.
An interesting middle solution is to start your own business whilst keeping your 9-5 and then only quit once you have guaranteed that you can support yourself via your new business.
So what is the business plan behind the site? How do you intend to make money?
Esc wasn’t conceived of as a traditional business. It was conceived of as a philosophy, as the solution to a problem. The problem? The fact that there are literally thousands of talent young professionals feeling stuck in jobs that aren’t right for them. The solution? Build a tool that can help them make the leap.
Now that we ourselves have escaped the city to turn this concept into a workable reality we obviously need a sustainable business model. The value in the model is having a willing audience of what is an extremely attractive demographic to lots of different groups of people (recruiters, advertisers, investors, entrepreneurs, etc).
So, although it is free to list jobs on the site, our initial revenue streams will be focused around matchmaking exciting and alternative organisations with our community of ambitious and talented young professionals.
We are now at a stage where introducing charged services too soon could risk stunting our really exciting early momentum. But we’ve got plenty of interesting options in the pipeline – it’s just a question of which we chose. And fortunately, our decisions can all be guided by the single question: ‘would this revenue stream help our members solve their problems?’ If so, then it is welcome on the site.
You give a whole section of the site over to ‘heroes’ – people who’ve made the leap from the corporate world to a more fulfilling career – who are your own personal heroes?
Rob: My heroes? Hmmm… aside from Eric Cantona? I’m really inspired by people who have the courage of their convictions, people who face criticism but continuously deliver on a vision that they care about. I was really excited to meet Al Humphreys (www.alastairhumphreys.com) whose books I read before he talked at our launch party.
He left university, turned down a job at the Foreign Office, and cycled around the world on his hoarded student loans. Seth Godin is a bit of a hero of mine, and of Esc’s, for all his insightful and brave commentary about business, marketing, and change. Was pretty psyched when he replied to an email the other day having watched our video!
Dom: Richard Branson stands out for me. The ability to enter an industry and fundamentally change the status quo. In the adventure world: Phil Packer, a man who has shown enormous strength over adversity
Finally, what advice would you give to someone considering starting a similar business?
Rob: I know that Dom is going to say Innocent’s advice about starting so I’ll leave that one to him! If someone were to start a similar business to Esc – i.e. a business based on an idea – I would advise them to start narrating the concept, start a blog and reach out to relevant people who are willing to listen and potentially to help. We started our blog 5 months before we launched our main website. We essentially evolved our idea in public.
I’m not going to lie, it was often quite an uncomfortable experience as you’re putting yourself out there to be judged / criticised. Ultimately, however, the level of advice and challenge that we received pushed us and the idea to a level that it wouldn’t have got to had we just developed it around my kitchen table in a vacuum (not to mention the fantastic people we connected with).
Dom: Echoing Rob’s words: Start small but definitely do start. If you at least start you’ve done a lot more than 80% of other people. Having ideas is the easy bit; turning them into a reality is a whole different ball game. But definitely start and don’t be scared of failure because the learning is second to none.