Wow! Second day in a row speaking with an Escape the City original. I have the best internship ever!
Below, my interview with Rob Symington, co-founder of Esc. Read on if you want some great advice about entrepreneurship, perseverance, and buying seventh-hand motorbikes on eBay. Extra points if you can spot the Macbeth quotation!
Liz: What was your moment of truth?
Rob: I had multiple moments of truth actually. Dom and I used to sit in the cubicles whispering to each other about business ideas, feeling like we were in prison or school. He told me about his idea of a site for people trying to find challenges. He said it should be called “Flee the City.”
He had a eureka moment where he started designing our initial initial logo. He texted me a logo that looked like the “escape” button on a keyboard, and it hit me- I felt like Escape the City already existed when I saw that logo! And from then we kept talking about the idea. Essentially, we are the people who we were trying to build the site for. We thought, if it helps us then hopefully it will help those others who feel the same.
My other moment took place during my old job’s yearly review, when you go to people for feedback and put together a report about it. It’s a lot of work, and when mine came round again, I couldn’t face it. So I didn’t do it, and I had no feedback to show my career counselor. I was so de-motivated.
On top of that, when Dom when off to the Yukon he said, “I bet you won’t resign by the time I get back.” So naturally, I did! I was out of there, and I was a free man.
Liz: What’s the best part of your job?
Rob: There are lots of high-five moments that you are never ever going to get in corporate world- little victories on the way to what our main goal is. We’ve created this situation for ourselves. And now we’re enjoying the little highs along the way.
Having control and calling the shots for ourselves is great, although now that we’re doing it we don’t have that freedom and independence that you would imagine, because we’re working really hard building a company. The ideal is financial freedom time, and geographical freedom as well. Once you can work from anywhere in the world and have enough money to fund the lifestyle you have, then that’s the dream.
Liz: What has been the biggest learning experience for you?
Rob: The biggest challenge is letting go and not micro-managing everything, just spotting what’s important. Also, don’t expect everyone to care as much about the idea that you care passionately about as you do. Cynics and critics will knock you back, use that to fuel your motivation.
One other thing is, out there in the world when everyone’s got a project, there’s always so much b.s. with trying to achieve it, don’t worry about the detail because it all falls into place when the time is right. You can be deadline driven when you’re such a small team. And it’s incredible what two people with very limited experience can achieve if they set their minds to it.
Liz: Why don’t more people start their own businesses?
Rob: “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.” People can talk themselves out of anything. You always think of the worst case scenario, like, “I’m going to live in a van by the river.” Especially in this country, where people are naturally risk-averse and cynical. It’s not a culture of failing in order to learn.
The other thing is that people can’t afford to start their own businesses. Although increasingly with the internet and if you do it in the right way you don’t have to have money to start a business. But if you really want to start your own business you can, and save cash from your day job. It’s important to flag up that not everyone is cut out for it and it’s not easy.
Liz: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Rob: I can’t even remember. I think registered my first conscious thought at about age 16. I wouldn’t have minded being a footballer… but I’m pretty sure I was just focusing on being a kid.
Liz: One piece of advice you wish you’d been given when you started?
Rob: Save more money from your job! Don’t buy seventh-hand motorbikes on eBay… like I just did. It’s a marathon not a sprint, by that I mean it can take years and years. Be prepared to be very poor for quite a long time.
Liz: Favorite word?
Rob: “Serendipity” is what comes to mind for some reason!