How I turned down Google and quit my job

by

“I am going to say no to Google.”

Words I never thought I’d say. I not only told Google I was passing up a product management position with them, but I also quit my full-time job as a director of product at Degreed.

I’ve been asked numerous times how I made quitting my job possible, especially since I have 5 kids. Three habits got me in a place to start a business and they can help others on that same path –

  1. Tell your story
  2. Build in slack
  3. Optimize for learning

1. Tell your story

As I’ve told those around me about quitting my job to co-found a company, many remarked, “Wow! That’s what you’ve always talked about doing!” I love that. I didn’t realize how much I shared my personal vision. But I had made a habit of telling others that my vision was to run a company that helped others love their work.

My story is that I love seeing people love their work. In high school I realized many people hate the day-to-day of their jobs, be it full-time, part-time, student, or sometimes even parents. But I also noticed that some people/managers/businesses were different. Some people loved their work and some companies created delightful experiences. I wanted to be a manager that people loved working for. I wanted to found a company that created delightful experiences.

Clayton Christensen, Reid Hoffman, and Stephen Covey are my role models. The ideas they share and the companies they’ve built inspired me. I could see myself running a company someday because of the skills I was gaining. I knew that others I looked up to had used similar skills to add value through their companies.

It’s now been 10 years and I’ve told hundreds of people that I would start a company someday. Too many people think having their ‘dream job’ will fix all their problems. Too few realize they can dream about making their current job awesome. Those ideas fueled my desire to make that type of change happen through my current jobs and eventually to start a company. I want to help others understand principles of success and happiness to help them be great at their job.

Too many people think having their 'dream job' will fix all their problems. Too few realize they can dream about making their current job awesome. Click To Tweet

Telling my story about my goals was the key to being able to make this jump. First, it helped me get the skills I needed. My story helped remind and motivate me focus on learning. It helped me enlist support from managers and mentors to get those skills. Second, my business partner has long known that this is what I want to do. When the opportunity came, he thought of me.

Having a powerful story makes accomplishing it more possible.

One of my favorite examples and mentors of this is Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn. He talks about manifesting (telling your story about what you want to become). The video is very worth watching. Because he had 1. written his dream down and 2. told his roommate about it, he scored an interview with Warner Brothers (because he wanted to be a media mogul).

So to you I ask, “What is your story?”

What do you want to do?

What problems do you find interesting?

Are you working towards that vision right now?

Why not?


So, how can you start? Here are actions you can take to better craft and tell your story:

Spend a few minutes thinking about what you want

Some help can be 1. thinking about times you have gotten inflow and lost track of time doing something that you loved, 2. thinking about things that make you jealous and say “I wish I was doing that”, 3. read articles and network with others in your field

Write it down

Writing something down 1. makes you think it through more and 2. helps you remember. I use dropbox paper and then tabsnooze to bring up my yearly goals (including my long term vision) daily in my browser. (stay tuned for an article about how I use tabsnooze as my favorite productivity hack)

Be aspirational when people ask “so, what do you do?”

Many people are sheepish about sharing the future. But just because you have an idea doesn’t mean it can’t change. Pick something and start talking about it. Don’t worry about not being able to do something else in the future. Focus brings clarity and direction. Not being specific because you aren’t sure just means you have a mess of a story that’s hard to follow.

Read The Alliance

The Alliance describes the future of work and how the employer/employee relationship is changing. You can be upfront with your employer about what you want to do, making sure you weave together how the current position can help you get there. I mentioned multiple times when applying to both LinkedIn and Degreed (and during employment) that I wanted to start my own business. Not in an “I’m only here to get a paycheck” kind of way, but in a “my eventual goal is to run my own business that helps others love their work, which is why I am really excited about what I can contribute and learn in this position.”

I love hearing stories from my friends. Usually people are sheepish. But I?ve found out that I have friends who want to do everything from run a photography business to work at Google to start a dog rescue to be a mom to write fiction to found a charter school. Usually what they currently do is in the same direction, but they have bigger plans for what they ultimately want to do.

To those who want something, tell your story. Share it. The more we share dreams, the more likely they are to happen.

2. Build in slack

Living within our means and prioritizing what matters helped me build slack into my life. That slack has given me freedom of choice, another key in me being able to start a business.

My wife and I practiced habits of going without when we got married and had our first kid during college. We had nothing, were careful to spend money on what we needed, and avoid debt.

When we did have a job, we saved what we could. We built slack into our budget, overestimating costs at times because we knew it would help us end up with more. I knew, especially having kids, that I would get some money back from taxes, but never planned on using that, so it was a nice surprise.

When grad school came around, we decided to live with parents for a time. Our bedroom was an unfinished storage room in the basement. It wasn?t glamorous. But because of that sacrifice, we graduated from grad school debt free, again building in slack.

When I first started working at LinkedIn, I had a crucial conversation early on with my boss so that I could have slack with my time. I had already proved myself as an intern, and showed my willingness to get done what needed to be done. In return for making sure I continued to be on top of things I asked to 1. leave each day at 4pm so I could catch a train and get home to have dinner with my family, and 2. work from home on Fridays. My boss said yes. When I was at work, I worked hard. Many times I worked on the train to and from work. And there was a number of nights I got back online and finished work late. But, I had slack in my time to spend it where I wanted to ? with my family.

I made do with less, so when times came where I wanted to spend more, I had it to spend. This made time to spend learning the skills I needed to build a business, as well as allowed for the financial savings that made taking a risk something I could do.

3. Optimize for learning

I wouldn?t be able to start a business if I hadn?t learned a wide variety of skills. People knock millennials for leaving jobs quickly, but one benefit of switching jobs is the ability to optimize for learning. I?ve had 6 full-time roles in my life. 15 if you count all of my part-time roles in high-school and college. I could have done fewer roles, with more consistency, but every time I felt myself capping out in terms of learning, I had to change. I didn?t want to be comfortable. Many of those additional roles were added opportunities at work, even if just a lateral shift. But changing what I was focused on pushed me to learn more. Learning more helped me be ready to jump at opportunities.

I?d been at LinkedIn for a year and a half, founding and building the initial learning product. While there was plenty left to do, I felt myself slowing down in terms of learning, as things became more repetitive. I was the go-to for a lot of knowledge, which was fun, but also showed me that it was time to move on. So I started conversations with other teams, talking about my long term goals and skills I wanted to work on, as well as the skills I could bring to the table. I found another role that utilized the product skills I built, but also had enough different work to be very challenging for many months. Don?t get comfortable. Comfort is the enemy of progress.

Another piece of optimizing for learning has been my reading habit. I?ve carved out time to read ever since I graduated from college (something about being forced to learn in college just makes additional reading awful). I read on kindle and listen on audible. I listen on commutes and read on planes. That habit has helped me read 146 books since I graduated college. Right now I average around 20 a year.

Some of the books I?ve read recently

If you want to read more I encourage you to surround yourself with great content. Loot your local library (many have great online offerings and free audio books as well). Kindle and audible are wonderful. Use read-it-later type apps and functions like you find in pocket or degreed. Ask those you look up to what books and articles they are reading. My favorite email reads are Seth Godin?s daily blogFarnam Street, and Barking up the wrong tree.

Everyone should prioritize learning. Learning is compound interest for your career.


Why I left my job (and why I?m co-founding Sprintwell)

While those 3 habits were how I left my job, the why is I left normal employment to create.

I am co-founding Sprintwell with my good friend, Charbel Semaan. He and I became friends when we worked on Learning products at LinkedIn. We found a knack for working together, he on design and me on product. And we?d also said we wanted to work together again in the future.

I have planned for years on quitting my job and working on my own venture. And it was still hard. The last Friday of full time work felt weird. I had a solid plan moving forward, but it was still that feeling of jumping off. Knowing that my next step wouldn?t be on solid, predictable ground.

We help companies and individuals take the next step to get to their breakthrough. We help you get through decision deadlock. Our main offering is sprints as a service. With design sprints, We help companies gain insight in 4 days that normally takes 4 months to discover. And we are working on additional tools to guide others through sprints ? helping companies invent their future faster and helping new brands find a voice.

Design Sprints are a 5 day exercise developed and honed at Google. Many software companies have adopted parts of design sprints to help them better validate initial ideas. This helps companies avoid building the wrong thing (which happens all the time). Identifying course corrections early on is cheaper than the old factory model of identifying defects and reworking at the end (especially when those defects aren?t simple bugs, but lack of product-market fit).

We?ve moved to a 4 day model that keeps the pace from lagging and doesn?t monopolize an entire week for executives. In 4 days we hone in on the problem, interview experts, map out the user experience, brain storm and vote on solutions, build a prototype, and test that prototype with 5 potential customers. Companies ask us to come facilitate design sprints for a number of reasons. You want an outsider to help the team push through decisions (it can be very challenging for an existing team member to facilitate). You want to bring in different perspectives and insight into solving problems and building projects, especially when it?s a high risk/high reward situation.

If you?re about to head up a large project worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, wouldn?t you like to make sure you?re building the right thing? Then validate and hone the direction? To save yourself the classic entrepreneur?s error of building something that no one wants? And in the process, up-skill your employees and infuse design thinking and agile process into your culture?

Sprints relate to our mission ? to empower people to provide through dignified work. We help businesses and individuals invent their future faster through design sprints. We help brands find a voice through brand sprints.

It?s scary to create, to leave something existing for a new idea. The main problem stopping companies and individuals from creating is their culture. For individuals we might call this mindset or habit. This is what we consider the most important problem we want to solve ? help others breakthrough so they can create. As another aid to this, we are excited to inspire individuals to create through personal sprints and build a content channel dedicated to conversations about creative confidence called Made In Public.

I know the 3 habits above got me in a position where I could find an opportunity (by telling my story), have the skills I needed to do so (optimize for learning), and was in a financial position to take some risk (by building in slack). We are very excited to inspire others to create and invent their future faster.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Seamons writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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