Dom always bangs on about how he looks forward to the day when he can stop eating sardines out of a tin. This blog post is dedicated to that aspiration! Oh, and that’s me eating my tuna sandwich lunch today on Dom’s balcony.

A Leap of Faith

Quitting your job to start a business is scary at the best of times. Starting something that you want to build as a movement, a philosophy and a community first, and a sustainable business venture second is very scary indeed.

It’s not like going into business selling widgets (which obviously comes with its own challenges). By this I mean, it doesn’t conform to a traditional business model. With a traditional business you have a product and you have costs, if you price your product right and you sell enough units you’ll be making money straightaway (or at least you’ll have revenue).

In a roundabout way our business model does now conform to traditional business laws as well. However, the leap of faith that we took was particularly worrisome because it involved committing to something that we would only know whether it would work if we committed 100% (i.e. if we quit our jobs to do it) and executed on our vision. There could be no half measures.

We needed a community before we even had the option of making the concept sustainable. And to assemble a community around our concept we had to work. HARD. With no immediate promise of cashflow.

Chicken and Egg

We started with the problem we wanted to solve: namely that there are 1000’s of talented corporate professionals out there who want to do something different (we were two of them a year ago).

There are so many people searching for work that makes them tick and so little that actually helps them. We always knew there would be huge value if we managed to build something that people actually wanted to use to help them transition away from corporate jobs that they didn’t like.

But we also knew that we could only have a fully functioning concept if we actually had members! Without a strong member base to back us up we would have been selling an empty promise.

Imagine going to Spotify and saying “I represent a website that helps talented people escape the city and join cool companies like yours, do you want to list your opportunities with us?” Them saying: “Sounds interesting, how many users do you have?” And us saying: “Hmmm, 34 at the moment, but we’re getting there!”. Not cool.

For the bulk of 2010 so far our challenge has been: ‘How to attract members to our concept before actively approaching exciting organisations to list their cool opportunities on our site?’ Hence the chicken and egg scenario.

This isn’t intended to be smug (we’ll tell you about the Smug-O-Meter [TM] in another blog post) and is more of a ‘phew’ moment of relief. At the time of writing this post we are 6 members short of 15,000 aspiring escapees. 12 months ago there were 2 of us!

Creating Some Gravity

We needed to get to a point where opportunities began coming to us. We wanted to build a reputation. In a year of big challenges that has been the biggest. Without a flow of opportunities we wouldn’t be able to get sustainable and there would soon be no Esc.

It’s early days but we are now at that “Sardine Profitable” stage (see below for a definition). Every week lots of interesting opportunities come through and the best make it onto the site. We’re lucky that we have an amazing community full of corporate prisoners who are actively using the site to find their next move. Organisations recognise this and that’s how we are able to keep it all sustainable.

So 12 months after starting a blog, 10 months after being on Esc full-time and 6 months after our main site going live we can now afford Tuna sandwiches!

It Can Be Done

I suppose one of the really exciting things about what we’ve done over the past 12 months is to prove that it is possible. Neither Dom nor I had any experience of building communities, structuring complete websites (well Dom had a bit), running job boards, marketing, sales, PR, etc… the list is sadly rather long!

But, reflecting on what we’ve built, if we can do it – then lots of other people can too.

The other thing is that by resigning from jobs that weren’t fulfilling us and taking a leap into the unknown we have exposed ourselves to situations that we never would have otherwise encountered. And here’s the really satisfying part: we are both agreed that even if Esc never made us a bean and we had to go and find another job the whole experience will still have been worth it.

Although happily, current indications suggest that we might not have to do that for the time-being… Thanks for reading and thanks for helping us get here.


PS. Original term and definition from Paul Graham: ‘Ramen Profitable’:

“Ramen profitable means a startup makes just enough to pay the founders’ living expenses. This is a different form of profitability than startups have traditionally aimed for. Traditional profitability means a big bet is finally paying off, whereas the main importance of ramen profitability is that it buys you time.”

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