DTC Era   /   February 24, 2020

Why I quit: 5 people on why they left their startup jobs

Quitting any job is never easy an easy decision, and for startup employees who chose to work for a consumer brand, it’s not always about the long hours or low pay. For some, venturing out with their experience gained from building a consumer-facing brand is an opportunity to start their own company. Others, burned out from years of strategy pivots and mismanagement (or in one case, building censored products), choose to move onto more stable, established work environments. These are five stories, edited and condensed for clarity, about why people chose to leave their consumer startup jobs.

Josh LeVine, co-founder of Asystem
I suppose I fancy myself a serial entrepreneur and one trait of most successful entrepreneurs I’ve found is the need to be somewhat, scratch that, fully, opportunistic. You need to sense what’s coming and create opportunity ahead of its arrival. In 2011 I co-founded DTC denim brand Frame, which I helped build and scale including opening stores, as CEO for the better part of seven years. Over time, my role became much more about administration and HR, rather than pure creativity and driving company culture forward. Managing hundreds of people across multiple offices, in L.A., New York and London, became daunting and perhaps not the best use of my strengths.

Toward the end of my Frame tenure, I saw a shift away from shoppers wanting material goods toward health, wellness and experiences. It became less about having the newest “whatever” and more about how to invest in one’s self. So I stepped down from running the day-to-day, and dove headfirst into the wellness explosion we’re experiencing now. Growing up and being based in L.A. also put me smack dab in the center of this area, which resulted in starting Asystem with my partner Oli Walsh. Using the aforementioned retail experience, I’m now helping build a brand of science-backed men’s wellness products and a community around it, which we felt didn’t exist yet. At least not in the way that we wanted it to, nor in the way that the men I know did. This goes back to being opportunistic and sussing out what’s coming next, and we couldn’t let someone else beat us to it.

Stefan Hayden, senior developer at Splice
Until this past December, I spent nine-plus years helping build photography platform Shutterstock, where the average tenure was barely two years. Everyone joked I would never leave. I built up a ton of social capital as I gained a reputation for asking management difficult questions on a range of topics. So when Shutterstock decided to start censoring six words in search results to the Chinese market, including “dictator” and “yellow Umbrella,” I found myself at the forefront of questioning management and organizing a petition to stop the censorship, which was signed by almost 20% of the company. 

The company said they wouldn’t change it, and wanted to move on from the topic while having us trust they would always make the right decision. But being a developer in New York means you don’t have to give management your unearned trust. With hundreds of companies hiring developers right now, there wasn’t a reason to stay unless I actually agree with censorship. So when I found a new job, gave notice and was escorted out of the building carrying the awards won during my time there, I knew there’s never been a better time for a developer to quit their job over ethics than it is today.

Maggie Xue, founder and CEO of Us Two Tea
Last year I made the decision to leave Meural, the digital art canvas maker, and start my own company when I heard the news that we were getting acquired. As the lead designer there, I had grown with the company, and felt lucky to have witnessed its success. The acquisition news signaled to me that it was time to move on and create my own brand, and I felt that I’d done my part. 

There are so many ways that my experience as an early Meural team member helped me build my own DTC company. Most importantly, I learned the ins and outs of how a startup works. I got an inside look at how to develop a product and build a brand. I got used to pushing myself and wearing many hats. Crucially, I witnessed the importance of being a good leader and building a team that works well together. I’ve never felt so lonely as I sometimes do growing Us Two Tea, but I’ve never regretted it. When I look back on the journey and how far I’ve come, I grew a lot as a person—a better version of myself. I am learning new things every single day, and I think that’s all that matters.

Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO at Seed Health
My move from consumer tech to life science was intercepted by a miscarriage, which prompted the existential question, “What will be my impact”? I knew how to build companies, brands, communities and technologies, so whatever I decided to do next needed to be “zero to one.” It needed to compel me, challenge me and nudge the world forward. Shortly after I resigned from a company I co-founded, I got pregnant with my son, Pax, and met my now co-founder, Raja Dhir, a brilliant scientific mind, a fellow first-principles thinker and a true complement to my experience. 

It was my pregnancy that introduced me to the microbiome and exposed me to the abundance of misinformation surrounding our health and the promise of products. However, it was my difficulty breastfeeding that helped eventually launch Seed. We started with the premise of reinventing infant formula, and have since built a platform to bring scientific rigor, precision and education to the noisy and confusing category of consumer probiotics and microbiome-related products. 

Sarah Paiji Yoo, co-founder and CEO of Blueland
Prior to Blueland, I was a partner at startup studio Launch, where I helped launch and operate several consumer brands. There, I spent 10 years as a serial entrepreneur building new brands like M.Gemi, Rockets of Awesome, Follain and Snapette, which was sold to Pricegrabber in 2013. 

Then, my son Noah was born (who’s now three) and that’s when I started thinking: “How can I create a better world for him and future generations?” I had all this experience developing new products and launching new companies, and really wanted to find a way to apply it to help solve some of the most pressing issues facing our planet. And so I gave up my big title in the fashion and beauty industry to start again from scratch with Blueland, where we’re aiming to eliminate single-use plastic packaging in our everyday products.

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