Ditching the corporate career

Lifestyle Written by John Bolton, Jan 8 2018

It’s the new year, a time for setting goals, re-evaluating and reassessing, so here’s my take on ditching the corporate career from someone who’s done it.

At the age of 32 I was General Manager of products for ANZ Bank. That left me responsible for the bank’s retail balance sheet and revenue. I look back now and think they were crazy to put me in charge!

Even by that stage, I was restless and was no longer enjoying the culture. It was becoming, ‘just a job’.

Then in 2007 I got frustrated enough and in the spur of the moment I decided to quit. I resigned with a rough idea of what I wanted to do, but gave three months’ notice so I could figure it out and still have a salary. There is nothing like jumping in the deep-end without a lifejacket to get you focused!

Anna-Lisa, my wife, wasn’t working as we had two young kids and we had a big Auckland mortgage. I withdrew my entire superannuation (the sum of $150,000) which was embarrassing and should have been a lot more by then. That, along with $100,000 from family, went into setting up Squirrel.

Launching a mortgage business at the height of the GFC with no referral networks or sales experience wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done. Worse still, I opened an office and hired four people to come on the journey with me.

We opened the office on the 29th of January 2008, which is 10 years this January. 10 years!

I built our web site myself and it showed. I did the brochures and they were even worse! Something about starting a business and doing everything yourself.

I won’t go over the story again. If you’re interested I’ve written about it before – read it here

I guess the key point is that it’s never easy jumping out and especially starting something completely new. It will never feel like the right time and you won’t have all the answers. It’s a jump into the unknown.

If you’re contemplating jumping out of the corporate world here’s a few thoughts: 

  1. It will never feel like the right time.
  2. It will be all consuming.
  3. You will have to give things up – for us that was travel and holidays for about four years.
  4. No matter what you do, your income will likely drop and you’ll work longer hours.
  5. You will spend more time outside of your comfort zone, and that won’t be by choice it will be by necessity.
  6. Your friends won’t understand what you are going through. (Being in business for yourself can be a lonely experience.)

The pay-offs are that:

  1. You’ll have a sense of purpose and feel infinitely more satisfied when you have wins.
  2. Passion pays off in the long-run. They say it takes 10 years to be an overnight success and it’s true.

If you’re contemplating starting a business, feel free to reach out for advice. We should also make sure you’re protected at the same time, both your finances and insurance. If you’ve taken the jump already, get involved in an organisation like Entrepreneurs Organisation. I’m a member and love it. If your business is too small they have a start-up / growth program called Accelerator. You can read about it here. It’s the best money you’ll spend next year.

A few final thoughts on setting out on a new venture: 

  1. Be realistic – NZ is a small market so making anything viable is harder than you think.
  2. Keep it simple – don’t try and do too much. Focus on a part of the market and do it better than anyone else.
  3. Cash flow is everything – keep your costs as low as possible for as long as possible. Read “The Lean Start Up.”
  4. Focus on high paying activities and especially sales. It’s the most important part of any new business so don’t leave it to chance. No matter how much you ‘will it to happen’, sales don’t miraculously happen on their own.

It’s a new year. Maybe 2018 is your year to be bold and make a dent on the Universe. Good luck!

We can help. Have a chat to one of our advisers.