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Our Story #5 – Creating Gravity

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts which track the building of Escape the City from the original idea through to what we’ve built today.

This instalment covers September 2009 – when we just chucked ourselves into the fray and created early momentum for our idea.

We created a simple WordPress blog (the first incarnation of this blog in fact!) and posted a few articles about ‘escaping the city’ and ‘doing things differently’ (although Dom still hadn’t come up with our motto: Do Something Different!).

Then (eager to get some real life interaction going on the site) we drafted an email introducing our new concept (EsctheCity it was called) to a collection of our friends and contacts.

How do you get your first users?

We often get asked how we moved from 2 subscribers (Dom and Rob) to a mailing list of thousands of people we had never met. The simple answer was emailing everyone we knew and asking for their help.

You can read that first email here: http://bit.ly/KMesWT (it helped that our friends were our target audience so were more inclined to sign up / spread the word).

The email is probably too long and has too many requests in it. Perhaps we launched too early. However, the ripple effect that the email generated was incredible. It was definitely worth it.

Launch fast (even if, like us, your product isn’t ready yet and you are just introducing a concept, a blog and a mailing list).

An idea on your computer is nothing. An idea out there in the world starts interacting with the people you are building it for. It takes on a life of its own.

The results?

We were absolutely blown away by some of the early responses… people responded massively positively to what we were doing.

Here are some of the comments:

Wish you all the luck in the world with this, great idea! I will take the survey in the morning as I’m off to bed now.

I have an overwhelmingly good feeling about this idea. Well done! So, how can I help?)

This is a fantastic idea – why hasn’t any one thought of it before?! Can’t wait for the launch party.

As requested, I forwarded this on so hopefully you’ll have more subscriptions. Wishing you the best of luck.

The second circle

And then… within a day… we started receiving emails from people we had never met (usually friends of friends). People volunteering their stories or introducing contacts. It was spreading!

I thought I’d mention that I have just hung up my boots and am working out my notice period before flying out to live in India to work in microfinance. I just wondered if this could be incorporated into your website somehow. I would be happy to write articles on my venture.

Loving the website and entire concept. Done my bit and forwarded it on to 100+ people and also to two pals of mine who are currently out in (Congo National Park & Africa) doing wild life conservation projects & the other runs a charity. May be good opportunities etc.

The third circle

Then companies we didn’t even know existed we began emailing us with opportunities. Before we knew what was happening we were listing entrepreneurial opportunities in Rwanda and Land Mine Clearance gigs in Cambodia.

And within days we were already helping people find opportunities that they would never have discovered had we not decided to push something out into the world before we had even figured out whether it was just a project, a blog, or a business with serious legs.

It was incredible that an idea we had dreamt up just months previously was now a real thing out there in the world. This was the beginning of the ride that has taken us places we could never have imagined (and it’s only been 2.5 years!).

What did we learn from this stage of our story?

  1. You won’t know if people will like your idea unless you show them something tangible. So get something out there into the world.
  2. So many people you know will want to help you – you’ll get a massive buzz from it. Accept help gratefully. Receive advice gracefully.
  3. Every email from a new person at this stage is a high five moment – enjoy it!
  4. Use the odd naysayer or doubter as fuel and motivation – or just ignore them. It really doesn’t matter and they don’t know what you’re planning.
  5. Follow up every lead, no matter how obscure. Later on you won’t have time for all the random stuff and you never know what leads to what.
  6. Karma is real – so often people we helped in the early days have ended up helping us back. Clients, introductions and even investors!

We also learnt how true this statement is…

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

Your idea will never be perfect…

… and you can always be better prepared to launch. But you need put something out there in the world to catalyse a reaction. And by doing so, no matter how small, you’ll start creating your own gravity.

Rob (co-founder – Escape the City)

@escroberto

  • John Richards

    Great story.

    Question. The one big thing stopping me quitting tomorrow is how I would survive for the first couple of years if the model is unlikely to generate revenue in that time, much like your idea.

    How did you grapple with this problem?

    • Team Esc

      Hi John,

      The damn money question!

      What we did was we saved as much as we could from our corporate jobs for a period of 12 months to a) start the business (£5k each) and b) to give ourselves as many months without earning a salary. We thought we had about a year of living like a student under our belts.

      We also actually did a lot of the pre-launch work in and around our jobs. So that we were ready to hit the ground running when we quit.

      Beyond that… once the money began running out (it always lasts less time than you think) we did a variety of things to make ends meet: private tutoring to school kids, sub-letting our rooms to new flatmates (sleeping on the sofa!) and part-time work.

      Then there are the non-advisable tactics of going into debt / borrowing money / credit cards. However, we were fortunate in that we were only full-time on Escape the City for 6 months before we started making money from our job board.

      We also rationalised quitting our jobs by the fact that we were going to leave in any case and that if it didn’t work out we’d see the experience of trying to start a business as a learning experience or a masters that we didn’t pay for!

      Many professionals end up funding their start-up through contract work. Particularly if they have a broad base of skills (i.e. consulting). There are agencies where you can register for short-term contracts and the day rates are often huge. So you work for a month to give yourself two months of start-up time. Not ideal but it works.

      Hope that’s useful!

      Rob

  • John Richards

    Thanks, really interesting. I’m somewhere in the middle of what you say in that I’m launching something whilst in my job – just about doable, though tiring work doing a normal job, an hour before going into work and four hours in the evening! – and thinking about saving enough to give myself a year to make something of it.

    Completely agree about no downside in terms of experience. Worst case scenario it will be valuable ‘business’ experience that I can use if I wanted, or needed, to get back into the corporate job market.

    Will see what happens! Love ESC btw, it’s inspirational reading.