The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: London local, Rob Symington, Escape the City co-founder — May 4, 2014

Interview: London local, Rob Symington, Escape the City co-founder


“Too many startups chase quick success and funding. I think ideas and teams need to gestate… It takes guts to think long-term.”

Louise Potter catches up with Rob Symington, co-founder of Escape the City.

What inspired you to create Escape the City?

I met my co-founder, Dom Jackman, when we were both working as management consultants in “the City” – London’s financial heartland. We were inspired by our own frustrations with the corporate career ladder – too much meaningless work all aimed at a one-dimensional pursuit of profit. Bored and ambitious, we wanted to spend our careers working on things that mattered to us. When we realised that we were far from the only people to feel this way, we decided to start a community for all the other people who aspired to build careers outside the corporate mainstream.

How is it positioned differently from other careers sites?

Whereas most career sites align to a sector (ie. tech) or a skillset (ie. developers), we align to an emotion – namely that feeling that life is too short to do work that doesn’t matter to you. We’re also a community first and a business second. Our bible is Tribes by Seth Godin. We didn’t invent this emotion, we simply chose to put a flag in the sand for anyone who feels the same way. Fortunately for us, many people do, and over 140,000 people have joined Escape the City in pursuit of careers that matter (to them and the world).

Startup life is a long way from the city. What’s been the biggest adjustment to make from leaving the corporate world?

The buck stops with you in a startup. In the corporate world you can almost always count on someone else being ultimately accountable for a problem. The other adjustment, which is a positive one, is that we’re massively more productive working in a startup. In the corporate world there was so much work for work’s sake. Now everything we do (and we do a lot of work) is directly aligned to achieving our goals.

You crowdfunded £600,000 to build Escape the City – were you happy with this approach in hindsight?

Absolutely. We had a real head vs. heart decision to make when we turned down one of London’s top VCs to raise investment from our own members. No regrets at all. Escape’s brand stands for rejecting the mainstream and doing things differently. It would have been pretty rich if we’d gone straight back to the corporate world for our funding.

If you had to pick a job that’s been featured what would it be?

I have always loved working and travelling in Africa. One of the very first jobs we listed on Escape was for a project manager to work with the Rwandan government to setup a careers service for Rwandan graduates. It’s a job I would have loved to do. Esc was still just a side-project at that point and I remember my business partner, Dom, jokingly warning me against applying for the first opportunity that came across our radars! Almost five years on and I’m glad I didn’t.

What’s the best thing about working in London?

There is so much opportunity in London. There are so many people and there is so much positive energy. We could never have launched Esc I the way that we did in a smaller city.

What other startups are doing work that you admire – and why?

I love what the guys at Maptia are building. Straight out of uni and coding their platform themselves. They have been brave enough to take the long route to build a business that they control 100% in pursuit of a big, long-term vision. They lived in Morocco for a year to keep costs down.

Too many startups chase quick success and funding. I think ideas and teams need to gestate. The great thing about the internet is that it has massively democratised entrepreneurship.However this also means that as first-time founders, we often don’t know what we’re doing in the early days, so keeping our business alive long enough to learn important lessons is really important. It takes guts to think long-term.

Who would be your perfect boss?

Seth Godin. Or Eric Cantona. They’re both artists and they’re both brave enough to be different. In a world of uniformity that can’t be underestimated. I think the best bosses find talented people who share their values and then trust them to solve difficult challenges.

Where do you escape to?

I live on a narrowboat with my fiancé and a cat called Jack who thinks he is a pirate. We don’t have a TV and we don’t have wifi. So when I’m at home I’m (for the most part) unplugged. Living as we do, constantly connected, we’re all overstimulated. I find it’s really important to be present and be still and reconnect with my immediate surroundings whenever I can.

What updates can we look for next on Escape the City?

I’m currently on the look out for a permanent venue for The Escape School in London. The Escape School is our education arm where we produce talks and courses on the subjects of unconventional careers, startups and adventure. Watch this space!

About our writer // Louise Potter is the curator of The Fetch London. She also writes things Contagious and teaches things at General Assembly. Follow her via @louisepotter_.

Hello Louise – our London curator — September 1, 2013

Hello Louise – our London curator


It’s a cliché, but when Samuel Johnson said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, he was on to something. London has everything – and everyone.

After Chloe Nicholls launched us in London town 18 months ago, we were wondering who would be amazing enough to pick up where she left off. So, I couldn’t be happier to welcome Louise Potter as our new curator in London. She’ll be kicking us off on our first Fetch back in September after the summer break. Louise must not sleep! By day, she’s a strategist at agency Inferno and in the evenings she’s a teaching assistant at General She’s also a graduate of Google’s Squared program. Yes, it’s ironic and that’s a pic of Louise in Berlin above. Check out our welcome interview with her below:

How did you end up where you are today? 

I read history at university and, after I worked out that everything I’d spent the past four years learning was just stuff that had already happened, I decided to always focus my future attention on the things that still yet to happen. It means I spend most days thinking about innovation and tech; during my day job working in an advertising agency and by night, when I work after hours as a teaching assistant at General Assembly. I was also lucky enough to spend three months on secondment at Google’s Squared program. Life’s better when it’s filled with the unknown – it leaves more room for surprises.

Why did you want to get involved with The Fetch? 

Because it’s brilliant! I’m an avid reader of The Fetch, and so the chance to get involved was incredibly exciting. I love the fusion of tech, creativity and business, especially because I think they’re the three most exciting areas in London at the moment. Plus, it always manages to shock me with how much happens around the city every week. I’m a magpie of this kind of stuff, so I see being able to help curate it is an opportunity to make use of all those shiny, stored things – and to find out about some brilliant new ones, too.

What things excite you about our community right now? 

How interested and enthusiastic everyone seems to be about what we’re doing – it’s infectious. A reader recently compared missing The Fetch to missing a dose of crack. You know you’re doing something right when you’re being compared to a highly-addictive, highly-illegal drug.

What events do you recommend in LDN?

I love the eclectic mix of the Lost Lectures. They’re always such a strange mix of speakers, but when paired with beautiful, unusual locations it really works. It’s Nice That have started hosting ‘Nicer Tuesday’, which are similarly great – the subject matter has ranged from failure to erotica so far, and it looks like there’s plenty more obscurity yet to come. On more tech subject matters, there’s a raft of brilliant events coming out of all of the incubators that have popped up around the city recently – my favourites right now are probably Wayra and Level 39. Oh and The School of Life is perpetually magnificent, too.

What’s your favourite thing about your city? 

That it’s a million different cities in one. Every street you walk down is different from the next – foods, smells, architecture, shops, people. It’s a cliché, but when Samuel Johnson said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, he was on to something. London has everything – and everyone.

What’s unique about London?

The attitude of Londoners. They’re unlike any other species – in the UK or indeed the world. They moan about the city all of the time, but nobody else is allowed to say a bad word about it. There’s a unique mixture of sarcasm, lager and eccentric dress that everyone who lives here seems to possess.

Where can we find you in LDN? 

I’ve worked in Covent Garden for the past three years, so I’m usually to be found around there and Soho. The choice of restaurants and cafes is wonderful and completely overwhelming in the best possible way – I’m addicted to Monmouth CoffeeSalt and Polpo at the moment. I’m also in love with the Southbank. No matter how long you’ve lived in London, it always makes you feel like a tourist.

How can we connect with you? 

I’m quite digitally-promiscuous, so there’s a plenty of different places. I’m most active on Twitter, but I can also be found on InstagramLinkedInFlickr and pulling together a ramshackle blog every now and again, called Other Plans, as well.

If you didn’t live in London, where would you be? 

I lived in Toronto for a summer a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed it – the magical panorama of the city that you get from Toronto Island is unlike anything else. But the winters are far too cold – so I’d probably choose Melbourne. It’s an amazing maze of a city; the culture, dim sum and quality of life there rivals anywhere else in the world. [It’s also the original home of The Fetch!]

You can also follow Louise and The Fetch London via @thefetchLDN and on Facebook. Sign-up to receive our events-packed digest via and get your work life covered!

%d bloggers like this: