In tech, Apple and Google are some of the biggest dogs in the pack, typically serving as pacesetters for everybody else. But being big doesn't necessarily mean your employees don't have their own dreams or occasionally strike out by themselves.
Chase Mitchell and Brian Bloch, founders of Chill.Systems, are two employees who decided to risk it all and give Google and Apple notice. While they're quick to point out that these organizations are "amazing companies to work for", their reason for leaving isn't complicated.
"While our jobs were challenging and interesting, we did not always leave work feeling fulfilled," says Mitchell. "Many of our daily tasks and projects kept us in narrow swimming lanes, and we couldn't have the impact we craved. We were unable to explore the full scope of our skill sets, and we desired more creative freedom."
"On our own venture," Bloch adds, "the areas of the business that we were able to influence are so much greater. For the first time in our lives, it feels like we have a full runway and the decision-making ability to execute on our project as we see fit. [...] It has been incredibly rewarding, and for the first time, work doesn't feel like work!"
A switch two years in the making
The departure didn't happen overnight. For nearly two years, Mitchell and Bloch stayed in their corporate jobs as they worked out their own backpack cooler product. Their evenings were spent designing, prototyping and building. Eventually, as responsibilities for their venture expanded, they had to make a choice about where to put their energy.
"We got a lot less sleep," Mitchell admits, "but it has been an invaluable learning experience building something of our own. We feel that we've learned more in developing this company than we had in the collection of classrooms and conference rooms frequented throughout our adult lives."
Of course, the founders weren't without anxiety. They committed to self-funding as much as they could, putting a portion of every Google and Apple paycheck into the venture. And they understood that, once they left their jobs, much of their stability would be gone, at least for a while. But the positive messages they got from friends, family and mentors about their design gave them confidence, and some of those people also offered financial support. The nature of the product itself also helped. To test the packs, take photos and spread the word, the duo had to get outside. Away from their screens and immersed in fresh air and greenery, they could relax even as they took care of important tasks. That feedback and environmental rejuvenation, coupled with the fact the founders are also great friends who can really talk to each other, made the stress of the switch manageable.
Paying it all forward
Mitchell says the biggest learning has come from understanding the many parts that come together to make an organization. He and Bloch are involved in all elements of their company. This keeps them busy, but it gives them a grasp of what's necessary and how each decision will influence each area. But they've internalized other lessons they want to pass on, too.
- "Prototypes rarely turn out how you expect them to on your first try. In fact, it will probably take a number of attempts. But when you finally get it right, the satisfaction is unparalleled.
- Manufacturing and product sampling always takes more time than you expect - 2 to 3 times the manufacturer's first estimate is a good benchmark.
- Be a sponge for information and new ideas. You might get an idea from an unexpected person or experience that changes the trajectory of your business.
- Potential partnerships are everywhere. Throughout the project we've been surprised to find how willing people were to partner with us. It's always worth it to reach out and make the ask!"
And Bloch says:
- "Even the greatest challenges can be solved when you see them as a series of hurdles. Tracking down someone with much more expertise in a given discipline can open your eyes to potential solutions you didn't know existed.
- Every idea that comes up is worth exploring, but you have to be conscientious about how quickly and how deeply to explore it. Time and assets are limited, so it is imperative to organize the flood of ideas in a way that allows you to stay focused on your top priorities.
- If you feel like you might want to be an entrepreneur, it's worth giving it a shot when you're young and unanchored. At the very least you will learn a ton, and with hard work and a bit of luck, you might just build something great!"
If the cage is too small, climb out
Mitchell and Bloch's story demonstrates that being a giant or household name known for innovation isn't an automatic protection against turnover. People naturally want to be independent, to feel influential as they express themselves. If they don't get that where they are, they'll seek it elsewhere or create their own circumstances that support it. But there's little reason to feel bad if this happens. All it means is that more people are in touch with who they really are, new workers can come in to get the experience we already have earned, and we all get more innovation than we would if they stayed stuck. So if you have to go, go. In the end, the benefits of exploring outside the gilded cage--including the fruits of your happiness--can reach everyone.