From Management Consultants to Online Entrepreneurs

“We both wanted to do something a bit different, something that we genuinely cared about.”

Dom & Rob

From Management Consultants to Online Entrepreneurs

Rob Symington and Dom Jackman, founders of career-change site Escape The City, share their experience of leaving careers as consultants in the City to become web-based entrepreneurs.

What was your role and lifestyle like in your old job?

Rob: The role was senior consultant in the Customer practice of a management consulting department at a Big 4 accountancy firm. The lifestyle was alright - it certainly wasn't awful. The hours weren't unreasonable, although there was a fair amount of watching your evening evaporate whilst waiting for a piece of work to be signed off by someone higher in the hierarchy.

Dom: Exactly the same as Rob (we had the same job). Monday - Friday was always a bit of a chug. Saturday was awesome and then from about Sunday 3pm onwards the Sunday night blues would hit! The job allowed a great lifestyle, great holidays!

What is/are your new role(s)?

Our new roles are co-founders of an online community-led site called Escape the City. Our platform provides exciting options for young professionals who want to do something different. This entails filling about a dozen different roles every day... from PR to Strategy, Website Design to Marketing and everything to do with maintaining a busy website (web designing, video editing, copy writing, etc)

Why did you change?

Once we began to reflect on where we wanted to be in five, ten, and fifteen years time, we both realised that we didn't want to pursue our careers in the corporate mainstream. We both wanted to do something a bit different, something that we genuinely cared about. The truth is many graduates go into corporate jobs with no great plan other than learning a lot and gaining good experience. After a while many begin asking the same question that we did: 'what else could I be doing with my life other than living for the weekend?'

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

Rob: I miss some of the great people I worked with. I was going to say I miss the salary... but I'm actually managing fine without it. You tend to spend what you have and readjusting my lifestyle to compensate for the lower cash-flow really hasn't been a problem. Then again, I do live at home to avoid paying rent! I don't miss the commute, the corporate speak, and the futility of a lot of the work (i.e. working your arse off for very little real world impact).

Dom: Doing a project you care passionately about is the most fulfilling thing you can do. I believe if you are fulfilled, the time you put in and the money you get out no longer have the same relevance. That said, I would be lying if I didn't miss the security that a monthly paycheck gives you when you are in start-up mode. Giving up a good salary requires a much more disciplined lifestyle, which can take some getting used to. I also miss the great people I used to work with.

How did you go about making the change?

Rob: Saved for 18 months. Planned, read, and researched for about 6 months. Resigned.

Dom: Saved hard to build up a buffer to live on. Did A LOT of research to ensure we weren't barking up the wrong tree. Did both jobs for a while before resigning (without burning too many bridges!)

How long did the process take from thinking about changing career to actually being in your new career?

Rob: 2009 was really the year of transition. I actually left my previous career in order to do a wine-making Masters in Australia. Escape the City was still a side-project at that point. So much of my change was focused on preparing for a plan that never actually happened. Dom and I decided to run with Escape the City full-time when (through our initial blog) we realised that the concept really resonated with a lot of people. So my route from one career to another wasn't as straightforward as some.

Dom: About 4 years! I knew i'd never be a 'career consultant' so was always on the look out for different options. Like Rob, 2009 was a big year of transition. When we came up with the vision for Escape the City it was a pretty quick turn around to get it off the ground and jump into it full time!

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Rob: The most difficult thing about changing was probably coping with worries and doubts as to whether we would be successful in starting our own businesses. Managing other peoples' expectations was relatively tiresome! Having said that, most criticism and challenge from friends and family is motivated by concern rather than cynicism. I suppose you just have to be patient with people who tell you not to do something that you have set your heart on.

Dom:  You go from working in an organisation of 130,000 people with a very rigid career path and hierarchy to the complete opposite, 2 guys in a basement and one shared vision. Its totally down to you if it gets done or not, you have no one to answer to apart from each other. It is a complete contrast to my old job and its surprising how quickly you adapt!

What help did you get?

Rob: Very little formal help. We made sure to reach out to lots of people with experience of what we were aiming to do - however this rarely consisted of more than a coffee or an email exchange. Not to say that it wasn't hugely valuable to speak to a wide range of people about our plan. Reading and researching online were probably our most helpful sources of information.

What have you learnt in the process?

Rob: I have learnt more in 6 months of starting my business than I did in 24 months in management consulting. I have learnt that starting your own business is tough. Tougher than I had realised! However, I have found that this is mainly because you have to stay resilient while you execute your strategy. I have learnt that resilience and confidence are far more important that any single 'amazing' idea.

Dom:  Working with someone else who shares the vision is crucial. Setting up something like this alone would be incredibly tough! Also small things can make the biggest difference (particularly where websites are concerned). The difference between success and failure is worryingly small!

What do you wish you'd done differently?

Rob: I don't want to tempt fate by saying that I don't regret anything. There are lots of small things that I will do better the next time I do them. However, I don't think I would change anything in terms of the fundamental timings and decisions. Ask me again in a year!

Dom: At the moment not much from an Escape the City perspective. Personally I'd have cut down my personal running costs a little earlier, enabling maximum ability to be full time and get the business off the ground. Things always seem to take longer than expected!

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Rob: I would advise other young management consultants who are wanting to do something different with their careers to be really confident about how their skill-set applies to other industries and companies. I would recommend identifying an area you want to work in and developing skills which allow you to make yourself attractive to organisations in the new industry that you would like to work in.

Advice for leaving a job to start your own business:

1) Save enough money to keep you going for 6-12 months.
2) If you went in as a graduate, wait until you get your first promotion before resigning.
3) Do lots of research before leaving.
4) Make a good business plan and then have the courage to stick to it.

Dom:

1) If you have an idea research, test it, trial it. If you think its going to work...
2) Save enough to get it off the ground (make whatever personal sacrifices you need to - you'll forget about it in the long term)
3) Resign or take a 'career break' (to keep options open) - don't burn the bridges!
4) Put your heart and soul into what you're starting.

Are you happy with the change?

Rob: Thrilled. No regrets.

Dom: Absolutely. Fortune favours the brave (I hope!)

Are you a disillusioned City worker?‘Escape The City’is a platform specifically designed to answer the question: 'How do I leave my corporate job and find an occupation that makes me tick?'. Rob and Dom's site has success stories, job listings and volunteering opportunities, and free articles. So if you’re tired of the corporate life and want to make a radical change, check their site out for support and inspiration!

What lessons could you take from Rob and Dom's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below. 

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.