After three years of working at Ernst & Young in London as a management consultant, Dominic Jackman felt unfulfilled and decided it was time for a change. In 2009, he asked his boss for a sabbatical but was told “no.” In the past three months, six of his colleagues had also asked for sabbaticals and they were given priority.
But Jackman, then 30, was not prepared to wait. He teamed up with his colleague Rob Symington, also 30 and struggling with the same dilemma, to find an alternative.
They scoured the internet hoping to find opportunities that would allow them to escape the corporate rat race. But when they couldn’t find such an opportunity, they decided to make one. They saved up some money, handed in their notice, and lived on €12 (~$16) a day for a few months.
Thus began, Escape the City, a website that offers a way for young, unfulfilled corporate professionals to leave the conventional path. Three years after it launched, Escape the City has over 120,000 members and has helped hundreds of people leave their corporate jobs. The business matches these unhappy corporate professionals with potential job opportunities, connections, and inspiration needed to make the leap. Because of Escape’s large database of highly-motivated, corporate professionals, many young, fast-growing companies want to tap into its pool of talent for potential job candidates. Escape also reaches out to companies that offer exciting jobs opportunities that meet Escape the City’s criteria, based on member feedback from what was missing in their corporate jobs:
- How entrepreneurial is the job?
- Does the company have a positive social impact?
- How exotic is the location?
- Does it allow for adventure?
- How exciting is the brand?
Escape has helped a London hedge fund manager leave his job to run a lodge in Mozambique and another ex-City worker work on clearing land mines in Cambodia. Members peruse listings for “manager of a social food enterprise in Tanzania,” an “executive director at a slum project in Mumbai,” or “UK Community Manager at Vita Coco UK,“ the coconut water firm.
The company generates revenue through its job listings and networking events. Growth has been about 100% year-on-year for the past three years and 8,433 employers are currently listed in its database. In 2012, the pair raised about £600,000 ( ~$984,272) on crowdfunding website Crowdcube after realizing they needed more capital to grow the business. Next year Jackman and Symington will launch the “Escape school,” which will offer a variety of online and offline educational services to prepare people for a career change.
The business expanded to New York in May 2011 to give unhappy Wall Street bankers an escape hatch as well. The founders concluded there were even more unhappy corporate workers on Wall Street than in London because of fewer vacation days and higher students loans. “They are more stuck,” Symington said. The Wall Street platform now has 30,000 members and offers Escape-type opportunities in New York and the rest of the world.
“There are so many people who got the right grades at university and were proud when they landed a job at a big corporate [firm]. But after a few years of working long hours and paying off student debts, these people often ask themselves: Is this it? They realize they mostly work to satisfy their boss and aren’t using their full potential,” Escape the City founder Rob Symington told Quartz. “Prior to the crisis, landing a job at Goldman Sachs upon graduation was one of the most coveted positions graduates could get. That has changed. The best graduates spilling out of college nowadays opt for a job at Google or Facebook,” he said.
Frank Yeung, a 28-year-old Oxford alumni, was hired by Goldman Sachs after graduating in 2007. But after two years of working as a trader and obsessively checking the stock market, he decided drinking champagne and burning cash on nights out wasn’t for him. “I like nature and reading books,” he told Quartz, while showing his screensaver—a photo of him on a white sandy beach with palm trees, peering into the distance. “This was the moment I decided I was going to change careers and make a business of selling Mexican fast food.” He quit his job in 2009 and started Poncho 8, a burrito fast food restaurant. Four years later there are five Poncho 8 locations in London and the chain has been voted the best burrito bar in in the city by Esquire. Yeung now uses Escape the City’s platform to recruit employees.
A whole genre of career-guidance books caters to this very demographic. Career coach Pamela Slim wrote Escape from Cubicle Nation in 2005 to help ”frustrated employees in corporate jobs break out and start their own business.” Celebrated author and speaker Seth Godin urges in Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? that it’s time for people to stop following the rules of the corporate system and instead draw their own roadmap. Other startups have similar goals as Escape the City. There is Enternships, which helps students and graduates to find entry-level jobs in small businesses and startups across the UK and Europe. Or Workinstartups, which provides a platform to connect startups with young creatives, and helps startups to find the best candidates.
In 2006, 46% of Princeton’s graduates went into finance on Wall Street. In 2012, this number had dropped to 11.5%. Investment banks are taking notice. Goldman Sachs is easing its tradition of permanent overtime and is encouraging junior bankers to relax during the weekends, rather than logging onto their computers, Jorge Alcover, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs told Quartz. “Since last month, login codes and entry passes of junior bankers are getting blocked from Fridays at 9pm to Sundays at 9am, unless there is an imperative business justification,” he said.
Escape the City looked at the investment banks where the most employees want to leave. In the top three are JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, based on data of the 55,000 email addresses registered on Escape the City’s website. Sixty-one percent of Escape the City members have fewer than five years’ work experience, and 33% have worked for two years or less, according to the organization.
While graduate schemes at top corporate firms haven’t entirely lost interest from graduates—Goldman Sachs received 17,000 applications for the 2013 summer internship program—large firms will have to reassess how to keep retain talent. Until then, there’s always an escape.
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