Cruise Ship or Backpack?

In March of 2013, I made the decision to leave Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and join CoachUp, an fast-growing tech startup. So far, it has been the best decision of my professional career.

However, the decision being the “best” of my career had nothing to do with CoachUp being a better anything when compared to J&J. Rather than the decision being rooted in right or wrong, better or worse, I’ve concluded that it’s all about fit. At this stage in my career, working at a smaller, fast-growing company is simply a better fit — both for personal growth and for my ability to contribute significantly to a company’s growth.

Before I made my decision to resign from J&J, I reached out to family, friends, mentors, and anyone I could get in contact with who was in the entrepreneurial/startup community. I was curious what it was like on the other side of the fence — whether the grass was really greener. Looking back, what I really wanted was for someone to tell me what the right decision was: to stay at J&J or to join CoachUp. Looking back, I now realize that I found the answer from within rather than from outside counsel.

I wanted to share the below blog post by Chris Zacharias, Founder of imgix, who wrote about a similar career transition from Google to starting his own company.

The meat & potatoes below:

“Large companies are cruise ships. They work very hard to make you comfortable, provide you safety, and satisfy every need you have. There is plenty of free food, great entertainment, massages, yoga, gyms, opportunities to travel, excellent childcare, and plenty of people to connect with, ranging from young to old. You are all moving in the same direction and seeing the same sights along the way. For many people, at different stages of their lives, this is an ideal way to travel. Along the way, I discovered that startups are just like backpacking. There is not a lot you can carry with you, you have no real protection, and there are no guarantees your journey will be fruitful. However, by committing to the path you get the opportunity to travel on your own terms. One of the most rewarding parts to me is collecting tons of crazy stories, both good and bad. It is the stories that keep us going when everything goes to hell. For the right type of person, at the right time in their lives, working on a startup is the best possible way to experience a unique journey that few others have had the chance to or have dared. When I explained to my family and friends that I was starting a company and explained it to them in these terms, it finally made sense to them.[1]”

The focus shouldn’t be on whether backpacking is better than riding on a cruise ship, or whether working at a startup is better than at a Fortune 500 company. Instead, the focus should be on what’s the best fit for you at this time in your life.

I’ve chosen to step off the cruise ship and pick up my backpack.


  1. This quote is from Chris Zacharias, Founder of imgix. The full blog post here. Your words helped me take the leap of faith to pursue my passion.

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