In my final year at university, a friend – Alasdair – and I made a pact. We decided to go work for big companies for about three years and get some experience and then leave and set up our own business.

As students, we had been very active in AIESEC – a global student organisation – and had the opportunity to work with lots of sponsors, typically the graduate recruitment managers of major corporations. We had a general idea to do something in the graduate recruitment space and thought it would be would be a good idea to be real recruits of big companies, go through the recruitment and selection processes, get a job and some valuable experience before making the leap to doing our own thing.

We had a lot of passion, the beginnings of an idea, complementary skills and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people – and help the businesses hiring them to get better results.

The plan worked. An international bank hired Alasdair and I landed a great marketing job with ICI Dulux near London. We put our heads down and worked hard. We made the most of the experience and training opportunities and did good work for our employers. We also convened our own ‘Escape Committee’ meetings – using the office meeting rooms and whiteboards at weekends to brainstorm and work up our plans.

A few months shy of the three-year mark, Alasdair left his job and headed up to Glasgow on a reconnaissance mission to check it out as a startup location. We kind of knew the answer would be ‘Yes, do it!’ and one month later I left my secure big company job too.

My time with Dulux was time well spent. I learnt a lot about the world of work and how to get things done. I learnt about branding and marketing and how big companies work. Twenty years on, that experience is still useful.

Skipping out the door

I fondly remember the last day at my big company. Many of my colleagues asked me how I felt – ‘Liberated!’ was my answer. One suggested it was a big risk to leave a secure job and a promising career. I said that, for me, it was a bigger risk to stay.

In my last few minutes at work, I walked up to the top floor of the HQ building – not too difficult as it was only three storeys – and literally skipped down the stairs singing ‘I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.’ I hopped in my Ford Fiesta car, drove to Glasgow, sold the car and worked with Alasdair to start Yellowbrick and we succeeded in making a good dent in the graduate recruitment and training market in the UK and North America.

Many years on – and working on another startup right now – I know I made the right move. Liberated? Yes.