Ed Allie

The Comfortably Uncomfortable Arena

This is a Guest Post by Ed Allie, Insight Manager for Exact Media

I expected to be a lifer at P&G. When I started, coworkers jokingly referred to what was called golden handcuffs: a career’s worth of profit sharing that allowed lab techs to retire as millionaires and executives to buy winter homes in the Keys.

And I loved working at P&G. I had colleagues that were the best and the brightest in my field. Budgets that let me choose the best programs and services. I had products on shelves at Walmart and copy that aired during Better Call Saul. Life was good even if my last line extension didn’t fly off the shelves or some competitor introduced a product that stole market share. It was just a minor setback; I was still going to win more than I would lose.

But, late in 2014, I decided to unlock my golden handcuffs. After seventeen years at a Fortune 50 company I made a decision to step away. It’s a great company, and I enjoyed the challenges, the work and, most especially, my coworkers. But as large companies evolve and grow in the new economy, workplace transitions are bound to happen.

You may have an opportunity to unlock your own golden handcuffs like I did so I wanted to share my experience as I transitioned from the corporate world to the startup world.

The Need for Change

A pretty natural transition, and a good choice for many folks in my situation, is to look for a similar role at another large company in a similar industry. But that did not address the real issue for me. I wanted to try something unique and challenging and stretching in ways that I could not experience at another large corporation. I didn’t want to just ride a roller coaster – I wanted to raise my arms up next to the sign that said keep your hands in at all times.

[pullquote]I didn’t want to just ride a roller coaster – I wanted to raise my arms up next to the sign that said keep your hands in at all times.[/pullquote]

After lots of counsel, conversation and prayer, I realized I wanted my life to be comfortably uncomfortable. I was ready to take on risk that would not be solved by having a world-class roster of suppliers and solutions. I wanted to step into the unknown.

But how? I’m not an entrepreneur—I didn’t even run a lemonade stand as a kid. And I’m not a technologist—I don’t write code or apps or turn 0’s and 1’s into tools that order taxis or encourage your children to do chores.

At the same time I was making my transition out of corporate life, one of my mentors was doing the same and joined a startup in Cincinnati. As we talked about what I was looking to do for the second half of my career, she asked, “What about a start up?” And so began a series of connections that ultimately led me to relocate to Cincinnati and join Exact Media to create our Insights Department.

Joining a startup from a big corporation is, without a doubt, a culture shock. Moving from a place with thousands of employees to being the eighteenth employee brings with it a unique set of pros and cons. For instance, I learned the names of everyone in the company within three minutes but we have no I.T. department for when the wifi doesn’t work. Even with the challenges, the opportunity to have impact and use your whole self is incredible and the assets you bring with BigCo experience are invaluable.

Translating BigCo Knowledge to the Startup World

Corporate experience, for all the Dilbert jokes, teaches you how successful businesses work. Exact Media is not a lemonade stand (which is good since I have no lemonade stand experience) and, at the end of the day, the hope is for our NewCo to be a BigCo. Because of that I am able to apply a lot of my BigCo learnings to the startup world.

For instance, coming from a corporation allowed me to bring professional experience and valuable client insights to the table because, not six weeks ago, I was the client. Essentially, I don’t have to guess at what my value proposition is. Also, in a lot of cases, your customers and your investors have corporate backgrounds so you speak a common language. A lingua franca that has been tempered and forged through day in and day out experiences at a corporate job.

Having inside experience on how a corporation operates is also valuable knowledge in the startup world. Inevitably, as any company grows, it requires systems and processes. In the right doses and with an eye squarely on the team’s culture, BigCo experience with processes and systems greases the wheels that help startup companies really begin to grow and scale. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel; I just need to share and reapply my BigCo experience.

The opportunity at a startup to contribute and create foundational elements of a company’s culture and business model are immense. I worked in a function with over 1,000 employees in my previous company. Now I am essentially the entirety of the function. The scope and responsibility is both fearfully daunting and fantastically liberating.

[pullquote]While I may not technically be an entrepreneur, I am most certainly a pioneer. [/pullquote]

While I may not technically be an entrepreneur, I am most certainly a pioneer. Leaning on my BigCo experience, I am creating a center of excellence for Exact Media and laying the foundation for the future of our company’s entire Insights Department.

The Comfortably Uncomfortable Arena

As our CEO, Ray Cao, said in our recent team retreat, growing a company is hard. It’s harder than I could have imagined and there’s always going to be growing pains and hiccups. But I’m learning to be focused in the midst of ambiguity, to be okay with the roller-coaster dips and to stretch and exercise muscles I never used before.

Teddy Roosevelt summed it up well 115 years ago:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So if you find yourself with that metaphorical key to your own golden handcuffs and you are wondering what your next chapter is, I encourage you to consider jumping into the comfortably uncomfortable startup arena.


headshotEd Allie is the Insights Manager for Exact Media, where he’s working to help brands connect with (and better understand!) consumers in the moments that matter the most.  Ed joined Exact Media after a 17 year career at P&G, where he worked to build brands such as Pampers, Charmin, and Swiffer. Outside of work, he’s enjoys life and serving the community with his family in Cincinnati.

Connect with Ed on LinkedIn

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