Entrepreneurs, Startup Advice

Seven entrepreneurs on leaving the corporate world to do their own thing

Emma Koehn /

Jane Lu at CEO Sleepout

Showpo founder Jane Lu at the CEO Sleepout. Source: Supplied

Few entrepreneurs can say their first ever jobs were in businesses they created themselves, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Often the experience, frustrations and insights generated by life as an employee in the corporate world is enough to inspire individuals to get out and start their own projects.

In recent years, countless company founders have told SmartCompany and StartupSmart what their previous corporate lives taught them — and why they left. Here are a few:

Sarah Liu, The Dream Collective

The Dream Collective Sarah Liu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I was always quite ambitious with pursuing my career in the corporate space, but as someone at the middle level of my career, I realised there was a lack of development opportunities for young women.

“For women wanting to get ahead quickly, there was a lack of access to mentors. I didn’t know where to start, or how to look for it.

“I needed to find a way to understand and equip myself with the skills and knowledge I needed to take my career to the next level. There was no platform available to help me do that.

“I was so confronted by this lack of opportunity that I decided to take it upon myself and start The Dream Collective. There were a lot of women specific programs targeted at senior level executives, but I believed if we wanted to see the dial switch, we needed to look at the start of the pipeline.”

Grant Petty, Blackmagic

Grant Petty Blackmagic Design

“I founded Blackmagic Design in 2001 because I wanted to change the TV industry, which had some pretty big flaws in it.

“Back then the equipment would cost over one million dollars, and businesses would buy devices and hire them out for thousands per hour. This meant really creative and artistic people were working incredibly hard in what was effectively an equipment hire business dressed up as the TV industry.

“People who wanted to work in TV pretty much had to work for a really large company. Back then, it wasn’t a creative industry, but there were so many creative people in it.

“I was an engineer in that industry working with the technology. They weren’t worth that amount of money, so I kept thinking “what’s going on?”

Jane Lu, Showpo

Jane Lu at CEO Sleepout

“Everyone told me I was an idiot for quitting my job and then my first business failed and everyone expected me to just fail again. You just have to back yourself.

“Yes you could fail but you could also be stuck in a job that you don’t like.

“My main motivation was not to go back to my job. [Lu worked for accounting firm Ernst & Young].  Having a business degree is meant to help, but if anything, university gives you life skills. There’s nothing directly applicable from my commerce degree to what I’m doing.”

Irene Falcone, Nourished Life

Nourished Life Irene Falcone

“Before starting Nourished Life I was working in marketing for Universal Pictures. It was a real corporate environment and it made me feel like a fish out of water — a square peg in a round hole.

“I didn’t really understand what was wrong with me. I worked in a regular 9-5 corporate job, but I felt I wanted to do something a bit different and to break the rules.

“I wanted to be able to reply to emails at one in the morning if I felt like it and that attitude was looked down on in the corporate world. I remember when email was introduced back in the 90s and I would stay up into the night using it.”

Dan Kerr, Service.com.au

“The three of us co-founders were all working at another sales job, and Jacob [Banks] said: “I have this ideas to build a trade specific directory, but do it online”.

“I wouldn’t say the three of us were particularly entrepreneurial. It was more that we had a very strong sales background and were just working seasonal sales work, and we thought we’d just give it a go.

“We were like, ‘we’re just going to pick up the phone’ and if people were willing to hand over cash, then that’s our product market fit.”

Fiona Jefferies, Divaworks

Fiona Jefferies

“I’m a very, very annoying employee — I’m a know-it-all. I really had to create a role for myself.

“I got my degree in industrial design, and I was working for a Melbourne consultancy once I graduated [until starting my business].

“But then, I saw so many of our clients weren’t being taken care of the way I would want to be. Clients really want to hear that they’re being taken care of. I wasn’t seeing that happening in the real world. From my perspective, when I’ve been using suppliers, I think about the number of companies that never call you back and if they do, it’s very lacklustre.”

Sarah Wills, W Health and Fitness

“I went through a couple of real life-changing situations. I went through a separation, became a single mum, then my own mother became really sick and passed away. And through that moment of hitting rock bottom, I asked myself, “What is the legacy you want to leave? What are you here for?”

“That’s when I decided to take the leap of leaving the corporate world, which was too restrictive for me to go and pursue my passion, and to go and start something on my own.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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