By Alex Rose, director of
I had the lot. A great job at the UK’s top employer. A growing reputation as one of the industry’s most influential voices (according to one trade magazine, anyway).
I was living the high-life in Las Vegas with Google’s global sales force – the machine that had delivered, in the previous three months, total revenues of $14bn (£9bn), 31pc up on the same quarter the previous year.
On all sides, beautiful, smart people – ex-consultants, razor-sharp young analysts, senior hires hand-picked from our closest clients – were cutting loose.
And yet, I was just a small cog in the machine, with all the frustration that brings.
Politics, top-down dictats, meetings about meetings: this is the reality of corporate life, whether at forward-thinking Google, or at the greyest, most process-obsessed organisation on the M4 Corridor.
Perhaps it was too many childhood viewings of Big and Trading Places, but I yearned for a challenge.
I didn’t want to play with someone else’s (fabulous) train set – I wanted to build my own.
So, eight months later, after a final, glorious, booze-fuelled whirlwind of a December, I shuffled into the office on New Year’s Eve, handed in the laptop, stuffed a final handful of yogurt-coated raisins into my coat and made for the bicycle rack.
Google’s plush yet quirky London offices
My next paid post would be as marketing director of a little-known start-up, with a blank sheet of paper as a marketing plan.
I know that walking away from a steady, salaried job for a shot at “making it” is a dream for many people.
I did it a year ago. For all those asking if you should too, here’s what I’ve learned.
1. If you’re going to jump, you need to know where to land
I always knew I would work in cars. It was my first spoken word, I learned to read from my father’s discarded What Car? magazines.
I discoveredwhen planning to take my 25-year-old soft top – a guilty indulgence – down to the south of France for a wedding.
I fell in love with the concept – local, vetted specialist garages bidding for my servicing and repair work – and my mind started whirring. The market is worth £21bn, the same value as the takeaway market, and what did Just-Eat IPO at again?
Six months and one marketing plan later, and I was picking up my business cards.
You can only step off the rocketship once, so don’t leap onto the first asteroid you see.
Plus, in my case, you can only really play the ‘ex-Google’ card once. If you’re not passionate about the business, or you don’t see the potential, don’t take that step.
If you’re going to take the hit on your salary and security, you’ve got to be in it with your heart, and your head.
2. The highs are high
Our business has grown fourfold since March. Being able to put my name to up-and-to-the-right “hockey stick” graphs is an incredible feeling. When I talk about the company to a stranger and get told “we used you guys and loved it”, those moments are like a legal high.
No traditional corporate milestone (pay rises, promotions and the like) will ever generate the same thrill.
3. But the lows are low
Just as the thrill of achievement is unadulterated, so are the disappointments.
The paranoia when you hear of a new competitor, the dismay at a missed sale, delayed software development – you carry them with you like you never thought possible.
Adam Smith writes in The Wealth of Nations about “the agency problem”, in which hired hands will never have the same “anxious vigilance” as a founder or private owner.
If he were alive today he’d find the growth of small firms over the past few years a fascinating counterpoint.
My practical advice: you won’t stop caring, so find a coping mechanism.
I have two. I now sleep with my phone in the living room so that I don’t wake to check our revenues in the small hours. And the punchbag in the garden is my new office buddy, if not my neighbours’.
4. You’d better get on with your colleagues
Our business is formed of six people: three directors, two customer service managers and an intern.
In every previous role I’ve had, I’ve shared the lift with more colleagues than that. Moreover, we’re not childhood friends, nor are we working from our university dorm.
The two co-founders, Alistair Preston and Ian Griffiths, have banking backgrounds and have doubtless sprayed plenty of champagne of their own.
Meanwhile, our two customer service managers have sales and retail backgrounds, and our intern is fresh from university.
In other words we’re six strong-willed individuals, with our own views and experiences, united by a common goal.
With no time for politics, complete transparency and limited resources, things will get heated. We’re Sting/Summers/Copeland, without the hit singles.
5. Just don’t become a shut-in
I work from home three days a week. Once my housemate is out of the door, it’s just me and the radio – and my working life runs by the BBC6 schedule.
Shaun Keaveny – shower.
Lauren Laverne – tea.
Radcliffe and Maconie – lunch.
Steve Lamacq’s “lost 45s” feature – shut the laptop.
It’s hugely productive and, in short, I love it.
Then: Google’s “market square” canteen. Now: the kitchen table
The challenge is, the more solitary you are, the more comfortable you are alone. Get too comfortable, and there’s a risk of reclusiveness.
Social gatherings and sustained conversation become more exhausting (networking aside, of course) and you start to find reasons not to attend them, or to leave early. Watch out for it.
6. Think carefully about your earnings
Expect a big drop, but spending time working out if you can pay your mortgage and keep Sky Movies is the easy part. It’s the psychological calculation that’s tough.
Like it or not, for many of us, our earnings in relation to our peers form a sort of crude career benchmark. The first friend to crack £100,000, the first to buy a flat, first to have “manager” in their job title – I’m competitively-minded and, as such, I can remember hearing about each of them.
I’m not especially materialistic and my lifestyle has changed little. But willfully dropping out of the corporate career arms race and watching your friends’ disposable income accelerate away from yours – even if you don’t need the money and you’re in it for the potential long-term upside – well, it’s one to consider.
7. Prepare to become a bore
Like having young children, your young business sits stubbornly front of mind, and is never more than a half-topic of conversation away.
I regularly find myself having a bizarre out-of-body experience in social situations: I stand there, at a gathering, holding court about our business model, in some sort of pitch autopilot, saying things like, “Seriously, we’ve seen 10 times growth in engagement this year” and handing out business cards.
Meanwhile my conscious self stands a few feet to my side, observes my behaviour and shakes his head, murmuring, “I can’t believe I’ve become that guy,”
8. And a LinkedIn tart
After years toying with deleting my LinkedIn page, it’s risen from its slumbers like a terrifying networking monster. Every anonymous view of my profile equates to another potential lead, every new client gets a fanfare welcome and a mutual love-in, every milestone a chance to woo future partners, and chip away at the morale of competitors.
9. But Monday mornings will never be the same
Attention all Monday morning blues sufferers. Want an instant cure? Join a small business. There’s so much variety, and so much opportunity, that you can’t help but attack the day.
So there you have it. A giant step into the unknown, and a rollercoaster ride by the name of.
Leaving the Googleplex: destination unknown.
|Free, restaurant-standard breakfast and lunch||Treating oneself to a Sainsbury’s Meal Deal on the Holloway Road|
|Free gym with panoramic 9th-floor views from Crystal Palace to Alexandra Palace||Punchbag in the garden, eBay, one previous owner|
|All-expenses-paid trips to Las Vegas and Mountainview, Google’s Silicon Valley HQ||Pizza Hut buffet off the M1|
|Opulent offices. Carpet so thick your ergonomic office chair gets bogged down. Beanbags everywhere.||Kitchen table / colleague’s kitchen table / eking out a cold teapot for hours at the local coffee shop|
|200 bright-eyed, quick-witted, young (in the main) colleagues for company||Feeling you know the BBC6 Music DJs better than you know yourself|
|Top-down mandates||Shaping every phone call to every client as I see fit|
|Quarterly performance scores and bi-annual 360-degree feedback||“How much have we put in the bank account? Do I deserve to pay myself this month?”|