Leaving London. And how backpacking helped us launch Pattern Digital.
Pattern Digital Marketing was born from necessity more than anything. Alice & I had twice quit good jobs at big marketing agencies in London to pack our lives into a backpack and explore the world for months at a time. At first we thought nothing of it. Parties on white sand beaches by night and exploring the ruins of ancient civilisations by day. Who wouldn’t prefer that to work?
But on our last trip we realised that it wasn't that we wanted a change in work, but that we - and the marketing industry on the whole - needed a change.
Why marketing agencies need to change the way they work.
We work in Digital Marketing - an industry that barely existed 15 years ago. The impact that the Internet had on Digital Marketing was as pronounced as the impact that it had on society on the whole. It changed everything!
Society has changed to embrace the Digital Age. People are glued to screens 24/7 (for better or worse). Social Media changed the landscape on how people keep in touch or up to date. Twitter even played a huge part in the Arab Spring, where crowds were able to mobilise large groups with the same efficiency of the military. Society after the internet is unrecognisable in some places. But the same can’t be said about media agencies.
There have been restructures since then to make sure that Digital Media, once banished to the basement as an ‘add on’ to a media plan, is now fully integrated into all departments. People are ‘mobile first’ when planning activity. But still, people are organised into strict hierarchies that are housed in huge, white walled buildings somewhere in central London or New York.
We looked at this and just said; ‘why?’. Why do we have to be in this office? Why do we struggle to pay rent in a place that, ultimately, doesn’t make us happy? And why don’t our employers see that there must be another way?
After a while, there really was only one solution. And that was to put our money where our mouth was a set up a business that reflected these values and try a new way.
Why we left London to start our business.
We’ve always held a strong view that London or New York, or any big city environment is full of distractions from what real life is about. Distractions are great every now and then, but if you’re not careful you can spend your whole life being distracted from what actually matters to you. Pop up crazy golf is cool but it isn’t going to make you happy forever (unless you fashion a career from it which, admittedly, would be awesome).
During our time in London, we consistently found ourselves needing more and more distractions to keep ourselves entertained. It’s no coincidence that you can find packed our bars at midnight on a Tuesday night in Bethnal Green.
We always felt genuinely happy when we were out of London. We thought that this was because being out of London meant that we were on holiday. But the more we thought about it, the fewer and fewer reasons we could come up with to stay in London. Our expertise and jobs mean that, as long as we have a computer, we can work from anywhere in the world. So why was London really making us happy, and did we have no choice other than to stay?
The answer to both questions was ‘no’. So we set about trying to come up with a solution. Our own business. Taking the best of the expertise we’d learned in the biggest agencies in London, combining it with the opportunities that the Digital Age brings, and doing it in a way that makes us happy.
Backpacking & how it shaped Pattern Digital.
It seems a little silly to go backpacking when you need to focus on setting up a business, but we actually made this decision with a business head on. The two things that we needed the most to help set up Pattern were money and time. We had a little of the first saved up, but not an infinite amount.
We obviously wanted to give Pattern as much time to get off the ground as possible, and so we looked at our living situation (renting in London) and calculated how long we would have before we would have no choice but to call curtains on our project.
It wasn’t long. Our rent in London would have eaten almost three quarters of our fund in just three months. And that was without buying food or drink. Safe to say that we would have to be careful and that could lead to a pretty bleak London winter both living and working in a small London apartment.
One night, after a few drinks, we pulled up an old budgeting spreadsheet that we used to travel South America and started comparing prices. We quickly realised that it had taken us six months to spend the equivalent on accommodation in South America as just one month in London. Food, drink and transport was all cheaper too.
So at this point, it wasn’t just the more fun thing to do, but it was looking like the most financially sensible thing to do too.
How did it work out?
It worked out even better than we could have planned. There were benefits to being abroad that we never even considered. None of our clients seemed to mind that we were going away as the level of service remained the same. Most of the time it gave us something a little more interesting to talk about than usual!
On top of that, because we were going out and exploring new places after we’d finished work, we were free from the distractions of a big, economic powerhouse of a city. Once we were no longer considering what colleagues were earning in comparison to us, we quickly realised that we didn’t care. We were doing everything we needed to be doing to have a fantastic life, and more, on a budget less than half the size that we would consider acceptable in London.
Not only was backpacking a sensible AND fun way to get Pattern off the ground, but it ended up informing the way we want to run our business and what we want to get from the rest of our lives! And all for less cash than 3 month’s rent in London.
We made the decision to move full time to Malaga and carry on growing Pattern Digital in the city that has Europe’s most sunshine hours. And that we would try to work with people that want to work in the same way that we do.
So if you’re considering starting a business, and you don’t have to be in a set location, why not combine your professional adventure with a more personal one and go backpacking too!