“Do something different. “ A fairly simple yet extremely inspirational piece of advice. And one which has become the mantra for a certain online community which since its’ launch in 2009 has been on a mission – a mission to “help talented people escape from unfulfilling corporate jobs.” So to find out more about that mission, TheEmployable were delighted to catch up this week with Rob Symington, Co-Founder of the marvellous Escape The City.
Hi Rob, firstly can you give us a bit of background about yourself and your career history prior to Escape the City?
I’m a history graduate from Edinburgh University. The first phase of my career involved management consulting with Ernst & Young. No prizes for guessing where the inspiration for Escape the City came from! A little bit about me away from work: I grew up in Portugal, I own a double decker bus called Esmerelda. When I was 22 I drove a 40 year old Land Rover from Cape Town to Cairo.
So , for anybody out there who is unfamiliar with it – can you tell us exactly what Escape the City does?
Escape the City is a community for corporate professionals who want to ‘do something different’ with their careers. What is different? Well first of all it’s non-corporate and non-boring. It’s about finding meaningful and exciting things to do with your working life. The platform is aimed at helping people make three types of escapes: 1. Find an exciting job. 2. Start a business. 3. Go on a big adventure.
And when did you have your “light bulb” moment and come up with the Escape the City concept initially?
Dom Jackman is my Esc co-founder. We were colleagues at EY and used to spend lunch breaks dreaming of starting our own business. The light-bulb moment came when I sent Dom an email moaning about my job. I happened to drop an image of an Escape key into the email. Dom was already working on a charity adventure project called ‘Flee the City’ and he had a big eureka moment – that’s it! Not ‘Flee’ but ‘Escape’ – let’s build a business around the idea!
What sort of market research did you do at the outset which helped convince you that this really could be a workable business?
Lots of Googling. Lots of reading start-up books. Then we just charged at it.
Did you seek any funding or investment when you were starting out?
No. We had some savings from our jobs and borrowed a small amount from our families to fund the first website.
And of course one of the integral elements of Escape the City is the Community. When I last looked you had over 46,000 members. Amazing! When you first launched, how did you set about building that community?
We just started blogging about the concept. The Monday newsletter has been our best tool for building our community. Every week people get reminded that we exist. If they like what we’re communicating they’ll send it to their friends and it’s grown from there.
Check out our Global Meetups page: www.meetup.com/EscapetheCity/. We only launched this a few weeks ago. It’s mental. These are people all organising Esc Meetups off their own backs all around the world. It’s taken us 2 years to reach a level of influence where we can make something like this happen. Communities don’t form overnight… they require a lot of graft and a lot of persistence.
Although the jobs market is really tough at the moment, it is encouraging that more and more people are considering starting up on their own. What key advice would you give someone who maybe has a dream idea that they want to turn into a business?
Our favourite bit of advice is ‘Just Start’. You don’t have to bet the farm to see if you’re sitting on a good business idea. Just take the first few steps in the right direction (without necessarily quitting your job) and you’ll soon get a much better idea for whether the idea has commercial legs or not. Our first steps involved starting a blog and seeing if we could build a community around the idea.
There obviously must have been such a culture shock when you left the corporate world to “do something different “. What have you found though to be the main advantages?
Freedom. Control over what I work on, where and when. Independence. Creativity. Learning on my own terms.
And have there actually been any disadvantages?
Worrying about two things: 1. Will it work? 2. Will it pay? But all jobs come with stress / worry. At least ours is of our own making. No regrets at all. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it again even if next year the wheels fall off and we have to stop doing it? YES!
One feature I really like about the site is the Hero Hall of Fame. Apart from your own of course, do you have a favourite Escape the City hero story ?
I really like Michael’s escape story. He still has a desk job etc but I like the sense of humour with which he talks about the corporate world. This is a great line: “My eyes were opened to the nature of Truth whilst in a meditative state on secondment to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I resigned from Freshfields in a blaze of glory soon thereafter, and fled to the Swiss Alps on my motorcycle with two mates.” Must have been a big motorbike.
Finally, what are the Esc plans for the future? Any exciting things we should know about?
Yes. This is just the beginning. Over the next 1-2 years we’re going to build out an updated platform that helps hundreds of thousands of corporate professionals find exciting and meaningful things to do with their careers. Too many people sit on the tube on the way to work wondering ‘how do I find something exciting to do with my life?’ and. We’re really excited about what we’re building because we reckon it’s really going to help solve that massive question – ‘if not this then what?’
The full Escape The City story can be read here in even more detailed and entertaining form via their “Our Story” blog .
Hopefully reading this will inspire some of you to do something different . And why not start by clicking here and joining the Escape The City community today.