Leaving the Man Behind
As a lifelong corporate worker bee, I often daydream about fleeing the hive and starting my own business. However, as I am not naturally inclined to any particular talent beyond the ability to string words together, I’m unsure about what that business should be.
Quitting the corporate kung fu hustle doesn’t work without solid prep. Like many others before me, I found that I’m a sucker for the siren song of steady paychecks. With the fantasy of working for myself in mind, though, I met with seven bold San Franciscans who showed me how it’s done. They’re making their own honey now, as it were, and sharing it with their neighbors.
Previous Career: Government Attorney/Asylum Officer
New Venture: Artist, drywellart.com
When Alyson stopped learning new things as a government attorney, she quit. To the dismay of her parents, her sabbatical turned into full-fledged retirement from the field. She accidentally launched a new career when her interest in old butchering and scientific diagrams inspired her to create an illustration of a new beet beer she tasted with a pal at The Bruery in Orange County. She tweeted a link to her work, and the people at The Bruery liked what they saw. They commissioned her to do diagrams of all their beers, and Drywell was in business. Paid in brews for her first few pieces, Alyson has since moved on to getting cash for her quirky artwork, which has appeared in Williams-Sonoma cookbooks and in the homes of the coolest people you know.
Previous Career: Global Art Director at Bare Escentuals
New Venture: Creative Director and Designer of Rebecca Bartlett LLC, rebeccabartlett.com
Last February, Rebecca realized that all of her remarkable creative energy was being siphoned down a corporate funnel. She was constantly thinking about what was best for the company instead of what she wanted. Sparked by the sudden loss of a family member, Rebecca decided to carpe the diem and leave the corporate world once and for all. After a sabbatical in Spain with her husband and their cat, she founded her own company, specializing in helping businesses with creative direction and branding. “I am incredibly energized by the creative challenges that having my own business has enabled,” Rebecca says. “I am inspired again.”
Previous Career: Retail Merchandising and Marketing
New Venture: Owner of Pot + Pantry, potandpantry.com
Donna comes from a varied corporate background, which she says provided great training for starting something of her own. One of the major drawbacks of that world, though, was working at places where getting promoted meant “allying with the ‘right’ people and playing the politics game,” Donna muses. She made a personal pact that prior to her 30th birthday, she would start her own business. That plan became Pot + Pantry, a nifty kitchen store in the Mission with vintage flair where customers can buy, sell, or trade their way to charming new housewares.
Previous Career: Contract Apparel Designer for Dockers
New Venture: Founder and Designer, Hawke and Carry, hawkeandcarry.com
Paula grew tired of working in the “non-creative creative” department. She felt disconnected from her designs by the time they reached stores and wanted to make her work something that better represented her aesthetic. Hawke and Carry reflects her rawer, more individualistic style. Her designs are chic and utilitarian, and she uses high-quality leather in everything she creates. Paula is inspired by local boutiques and “people producing things on a smaller scale with a lot more thought put into them.”
Previous Career: Worked at Cisco Systems until 2001
New Venture: Founder of Rickshaw Bagworks, rickshawbags.com
After the dot-com crash, Mark felt that the tech party was over, especially for him. He was ready to let his entrepreneurial spirit run free. In 2007 he founded Rickshaw Bagworks, where fresh bags are made daily in the Dogpatch. Inspired by biking enthusiasts and SF’s sustainable ethic, Rickshaw maintains a commitment to the spirit of the city — utilizing reusable materials and community-minded business practices. Mark points out that “most people don’t even like their job, let alone love it.” For him, life is far too short to not enjoy or be excited by what you do.
Previous Career: Design Director at The North Face
New Venture: Co-Founder, Creative Director, and Sometime Janitor at ALITE Designs, alitedesigns.com
Growing up in Alaska with a “crazy uncle” who taught him about the birds, the bees, the flowers, and the trees, Tae had visions of becoming a similarly charismatic mentor to people interested in the great outdoors, but was unsure of where to start. Armed with a ton of design experience after working for Ford and The North Face, and a desire to strike out creatively on his own, Tae and a partner set out on a mission to inspire indoor types to get outside. ALITE Designs was born. With products like the Monarch Camping Chair (their best-selling fold-up that weighs less than 2 pounds) and the Sexy Hotness Sleeping Bag (complete with built-in slippers, a hood, zippers to connect you with your mate, and a steamy Kama Sutra-patterned lining), he encourages you to let your freak flag fly.
Previous Career: Studying to become a nurse practitioner
New Venture: Founder of The Wellness Place, wellnessplaceco.com
While working in a hospital, Sarah realized she was depleting herself both emotionally and physically. She’d been using her herbalist background to create an all-natural skincare line on the side that worked with her sensitive complexion. Soon her living room workshop was flooded with requests from friends and colleagues seeking a healthy skincare line. She decided it was now or never and took the leap in 2010, devoting herself to The Wellness Place and its success full time. The Wellness Place offers 100 percent natural products with food-grade ingredients as well as holistic health services.
Like Paul Simon says, there are 50 ways to leave your lover — and just as many ways to leave the corporate job that is etching frown lines into your pretty face.
This story originally ran in The Bold Italic's Vol. 2: What's Next? magazine, which is available for purchase here.