“I now know I should have left earlier, but I stuck it out and ignored every signal my body sent me.” 

Image of Mathilde Néau
From Startup Co-Founder to Solopreneur

Mathilde Néau gave her all to her work, but started to see that it wasn't ultimately what she wanted for herself. Here's how she found a new career that's right for her, and the lessons she learned along way.

What work were you doing previously?

I worked as a recruiting agency co-founder. 

I was a recruiter myself, and then grew into an operations role as I hired and managed the team.

What are you doing now?

Now, I’m growing Woody Jobs, a job board for creative companies. 

I’m a founder again but with a different twist – I’m bootstrapping my own product (solo) rather than offering a service!

Why did you change?

When I co-founded the recruiting agency, I was much more interested in the entrepreneurial journey than the core service in itself. 

It was my first real job, so I poured my heart into it, only to realise that it wasn’t aligned with my skills and ambitions. 

I was on a promising career path which was all laid out for me (recruiter, COO, and then CEO of the agency), but I soon realised I was in the wrong lane. 

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I now know I should have left after three years, but stuck for two more years, and ignored every signal my body sent me. 

Every day was a struggle. I experienced intense burn AND bore-out, and felt guilty for all of it. 

The moment I decided to make a change was when I realised the situation was not only impacting me but the people around me too. 

When it’s not just about you anymore, that’s your cue. 

How did you choose your new career?

I found my new career through a series of small experiments, trial and error, and following what felt interesting to me. 

Contrary to common beliefs, you WON’T wake up one day, and boom you have your answer. 

Even though it sounds frustrating, it's so much more fun than predictability. A clearly defined path offered on a plate by someone else? No thanks. 

Every project helped me understand what I liked doing, didn’t like, what felt natural, and what felt sticky. 

The only thing I knew was that I wanted to move into a more "creative" job, but I wasn't sure what it meant. I experimented with web design and illustration for a few months, I did paid illustration gigs, designed a website for free, and sent some quotes to potential clients. 

I had a foot in the door, but it still didn't cut it. I was looking for something slightly different.

I took a small step back and realised I could also join a creative company. I started freelancing for a gaming studio as a Talent Partner/Recruiter. 

Even though I wanted to move out of recruitment, I still managed to enter a more creative industry and experience the behind-the-scenes of building a game.

Joining a team was never my final destination, however. Deep down, I knew I wanted more sovereignty over my work and to create things myself. 

Since I learned so much about hiring in general and for the gaming studio, I took this knowledge and decided to build my first product: Woody, a job board for creative companies. 

A job board sounded logical with my recruitment knowledge, feasible in terms of complexity, and perfect to learn “product” skills.  

I learned how to build an MVP (minimum viable product) using no-code tools, how to design the site, how to drive traffic to my site using SEO, write content, and currently, learning sales! 

Are you happy with the change?

It took me a while, but I realised I'm a creative generalist and not an expert/specialist at one thing. 

Even though the product I’m working on can evolve, pivot or even fail, building and growing products from zero to one as a solo/small team founder is perfect for me. 

The learning by doing, full autonomy, marketing and nerdy tasks, and variety of projects, suits me well. 

I’m still casting votes for who I want to be every day, but right I’m really good where I’m at. 

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

I do miss building relationships with candidates, but that can be instilled in my current activity if I want to.

My original work was a service business, and 90% of my time was focused on dealing with people (clients, candidates, and teams) and problems. 

It wasn’t focused at all on creating things. This is something I don't miss at all!

How did you go about making the shift?

To me, the shift is as much practical, as it is psychological. 

Practically, I decided to stop asking myself about the final destination, but rather what my days could look like. I experimented with projects I felt drawn to, and freelanced to test those out.

Besides, freelancing is great to build a bridge to entrepreneurship, and save money (it buys you some time). 

Psychologically, I got two coaches to help me out.

Shifting your mindset from an old identity to a new one can take time, and we underestimate how it can slow us down! 

How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?

I transferred several skills from my previous experience to freelancing.

Talking to clients, doing proposals, negotiating my fees (etc) were skills I’d built up before. 

Regarding product and marketing skills, the best teacher is to know where to source the right information and to learn to do things yourself.

For instance, I learned SEO following courses from thought leaders, reading a few SEO experts’ newsletters, and (the most important part) applying those techniques in my projects and experimenting with them.

What didn’t go well? What wrong turns did you take?

I guess I almost fell into the same trap of not listening to my gut, and not quitting at the right time again. 

For instance, freelancing with one client felt “final” and like I had to “commit” to the team. I knew it wasn’t for me, but I had a hard time admitting I had to do my own thing. 

Learning when and how to quit has been one major takeaway for me. We’re taught that we need to stick as long as possible to something, while it might just be the worst thing. 

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

I always managed to have enough savings to feel secure, and freelancing is the big solution for me here. 

I know it’s a safety net I will always have. 

I had savings from freelance coaching I did for a school for a couple of years, then I worked part-time as a recruiter and saved enough money to go full-time on my product. 

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

When I left my job, I had this “social status” (COO, co-founder, managed a team…).

It was hard to start from zero again, even if it felt more aligned. 

Also, moving through your fears, and getting out of your comfort zone. Every time I had to pitch something new, sell a new skill I had, or launch/talk about a new project felt so vulnerable. 

It’s not like because you’re on the right path everything is suddenly easy – you still have to move beyond your fears. 

It just makes it all much more rewarding and worth it. 

What help did you get?

Building your “team” of supporters who think/do or have similar ambitions to you can be extremely valuable. 

I got really active on Twitter at that time, where a small community of “makers/start-up founders” would help each other out. That showed me what could be possible. 

I also had two coaches to help me, one when I left my job and another when I decided to go all in on entrepreneurship.

What resources would you recommend to others?

Ness Labs is an amazing source of information for career shifters who want to experiment without a clear map.

The Pathless Path podcast gives you the “permission” to wander and experiment, and shares examples of people on their own unique journeys. 

Berlin Boss Babes, a community of women creating their own thing, led by Tamara who is also a great coach. I can’t recommend her enough!  

What have you learnt in the process?

One main takeaway is that every step of my career change, for now, has served its purpose. 

Working in service helped me to do freelancing “easily”. Learning to do web design helped me create my first MVP. Recruitment in gaming opened up my network for my job platform etc. 

So, I can only guess which opportunities I'm unlocking as we talk. I'm excited about what's next!

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I used to have a lot of anxiety and felt restless for a while. 

What I needed was more patience and trust in myself. 

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

You don’t need a grand vision.

You need to experiment quickly by doing small projects yourself. It will give you confidence and clarity on what you like and don’t like doing. 

Also, don’t be afraid to quit if it’s just a “meh”, as much as don’t be afraid to commit if it’s a big “yes”. 

To find out more about Mathilde's business, visit www.woodyjobs.com.

What lessons could you take from Mathilde'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 [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.