In startup-land, there are two schools of thought. The one suggests that caution is key; side-hustle until you make it, ensure you have a safety net because failure is always looming.
The second is, throw caution to the wind. You’re never going to actually be committed until you take the plunge!
The truth is though, whether you’re taking things slowly or barreling full steam ahead, you’re going to have to quit your job eventually. And it’s going to take guts.
Bana Shomali, founder of ServiceMarket, a Dubai-based online marketplace for home services, makes a solid case for quitting even before your idea is born.
It was leaving her job that unlocked the necessary conversations that pointed her into the direction of entrepreneurship.
Today, her startup that began with only a three-page website and a different name altogether (MoveSouq), has raised $4 million in investments over the last four years.
Program Not Responding, Force Quit.
For Shomali, becoming an entrepreneur was never on the cards. In 2007, the Jordanian moved to Dubai with a freshly minted MBA and landed herself a cushy position at consulting firm McKinsey.
Six years in, however, she started getting itchy feet, a feeling many of us 9-to5 workers in the modern economy are familiar with.
A brief job hunt at various other companies didn’t have the desired outcome of piqued excitement, and she was left feeling acutely restless.
“I had spent six years at McKinsey, serving lots of different clients and tackling many different topics. I had great colleagues. It was an incredible career. I felt like it was one of the greatest places to work in terms of getting exposure to a lot of different industries,” she says.
“But I somehow felt I wanted something else.”
In January 2013, Shomali walked into the plush McKinsey offices one final time and tendered her resignation.
“I quit without a plan. I didn’t know what I wanted. All I knew was that I needed a forced shutdown and reset, a clean slate.”
“Everyone said to me, ‘what are you going to do? Where are you going to work?’ And honestly, I didn’t know myself, but somehow it felt right, even though it was risky and scary,” she says.
While mulling over her prospects, Shomali confided in her friend and ex-colleague (and now co-founder), Wim Torfs.
This was where he started spitballing some new business ideas with her, a conversation, she says would never have happened, had she not made the drastic decision to resign.
“I think taking that step allowed a lot of conversations to open up suddenly. Unless you take a risk like that, people just assume that you’re working and you’re happy, and the discussions stay the same. They don’t feel the need to share new ideas as much with you,” she says.
As the idea for MoveSouq started taking shape, Shomali was taken by surprise, by her motivation and proficiency in starting and running the new company.
“I never thought I would be the type of person that would start a business,” she says.
“I was always happy being an employee. I also never saw myself as a particularly creative or innovative person—I knew that I’m a hard worker, I’m responsible and reliable. But I never thought I had it in me to start on my own.”
But the excitement of starting up, of having something new is a rush Shomali will never forget. She’d finally found her place.
“There is this high to starting on your own, it’s addictive. The thrill of it sucks you in. But the lows are also really low. There are a lot of ups and downs, it’s this that keeps you hooked.”
“Professionally I’m such a different person now; my skill set is so much more honed and developed.”