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Featured on May 08, 2012

Mike Howe

"Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become - Steve Jobs"


I started off as a baby in NY, it was a great life and everything was free.

At 6 I started to earn my own keep selling rocks door-to-door, that was my first solid business.

At 8 I ran my lemonade stand, big money spinner.

At 10 I had the strength to start shovelling snow and mowing lawns, which funded my first big purchase, the Super Nintendo. This was the main reason for a 15 year gap in any serious entrepreneurial activities.

At 12 I was shipped off to school in the UK and i've lived a fairly transatlantic life ever since.

After graduating with a degree in Economics, I saved up some cash working in a miserable job and spent a year traveling around the world making bad decisions. A few near death experiences later I settled in London working for the British Foreign Office, which resulted in another year of traveling. Eventually I got sucked into Banking and 4 years later I managed to escape the corporate world to run my own startup, helping other disillusioned professionals "do something different". Running a business with friends, being creative, mixing with a more entrepreneurial crowd and helping people at the same time is so much more fulfilling.

So now i'm back back in NY running my own startup, liberating talented professionals from their boring corporate jobs and enjoying life.

When I have time to take a break away from, you'll find me climbing mountains, scuba diving, skiing, cycling, reading a book or watching live music.

I'm passionate about social entrepreneurship, development, revolutionising education and inspiring people to follow their passions.

  • Title: Partner, Escape the City
  • Age: 27
  • Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
  • Contact: @escmikey

We read that Seth Godin's book, Tribes, was your bible when you were first starting out Escape the City. Are you still consulting Tribes as you grow Escape the City? Have you learned any lessons while building Escape the City that Tribes didn't prepare you for?

Tribes played a huge part in shaping our thinking as we built the foundations of Esc, so its almost ingrained in everything that we do. Standing out, having an opinion, being unique, different, even bizarre are essential traits if you want to create something remarkable. And remarkable businesses that have core beliefs and stick to them, develop followings that play a huge part in spreading ideas in a meaningful and enduring way.

However, Tribes probably didn't prepare us for how difficult building a business would be. The principles behind Tribes are so simple and effective, almost common sense really, so its easy to be naive to how much hard grind goes into "leading a tribe" and growing a business.

I suppose the lessons learned outside of Tribes have been more of an education in the mindset required to keep going. Everyone says it, but running a startup is genuinely a roller-coaster ride, there are big ups and very big downs. The downs always seem bigger than the ups, so its a resilience to this and the ability to keep moving forward thats so important. Knowing that I'm learning so much from every iteration, emotion and experience is what keeps me going.

You say you "made bad decisions" and had "near death experiences" (plural!). Please tell us an awesome story you have from your travels abroad.

I was climbing a mountain in Bolivia which is over 6,000m, so higher than Everest base camp. The climb took several gruelling days and on the final day we emerged from our tent in the pitch black of night to make our ascent to the summit. The cold was terrible and the wind was blistering as we made our way up. After 6 hours of trekking through deep snow and climbing ice walls in the darkness, we began our approach on the peak. We were literally 100 meters from the top, when the girl I was with (Amanda) started being sick from the altitude. There were only three of us in our group at that point including the guide. Several people had already turned back from frost bite or altitude sickness. We sat for a couple minutes while Amanda gathered herself, but stopping resulted in our body temperatures dropping fast. I started to feel the cold in my back from where I'd hurt myself only a week earlier after accidentally driving a quad bike off a cliff, destroying it and nearly killing myself (stupid I know). Amanda decided that despite how close we were, it was too difficult to carry on so we were forced to turn back.

On our descent of the mountain, we reached the top of a 100ft vertical ice wall that we had climbed earlier the previous evening. At that point the cold had killed the batteries in all our headlamps and the sun hadn't yet risen. It didn't occur to me at the time, but for some reason the guide directed us (in spanish) to climb down, rather than abseil. But assuming he'd tied us to the top, I don't remember thinking anything of it. So in the pitch black with 100ft drop below me onto solid ice, I gradually made my way down. I was probably a third of the way when I heard this deafening scream from above me. I couldn't quite make it out, but about 20 ft above me I could just about see Amanda climbing down. She wouldn't stop screaming and I had no idea what was going on, so I was forced to start climbing back up. When I got to her, she was clinging to the wall with her ice axe dug in, shaking in fear. It had turned out that the guide was also descending at the same time, we were all tied together with no ropes secured at the top. If one of us fell, we all would. Afraid that Amanda would panic further and lose her grip on the wall, I tried to calm her down. With the wind beating the cliff face and snow from the top blowing in our eyes, we had to get down quickly. So I climbed down and literally grabbed her boot with one free hand and talked her through each step. I don't know how long it took to get down, but it seemed like hours. One slip from any of us and we either would have died from the fall, or from injury and the cold. But, when the sun started to rise, the view was incredible and we'd earned it.

So far you have around 65,000 professionals looking to escape their corporate jobs. Do you see this number rising in the future? As someone who got "sucked into" a banking job, why do you think people stick with their corporate positions even if they are unhappy? Any advice for people who want to break out?

Absolutely, there is no shortage of people who want to do something exciting with their lives. Plus, we're growing faster than ever, and the new platform we're working on should make helping people discover what makes them tick, and also intelligently matching their aspirations with genuine opportunities a reality. We ran a survey recently on professionals in America, and 95% of them want to change careers in the next 2 years. That is an astounding figure and demonstrates the fact that there is a gross mis-allocation of human capital in the world. People are simply not doing what makes them happy.

There are a few fundamental things that stop people following something that they’re passionate about:

  • Having to take pay cuts or sacrificing salaries
  • Jumping off the corporate ladder with the worry of either having to start again, or fear that a change of course will look bad
  • Loss of “career progress” by starting something new
  • Peer/family pressure to follow the beaten path
  • Simply not knowing what they’re passionate about
  • From the moment we're born we're all pushed down the same path. We go from being creative, young and free, to being "standardized" by education. From there we're told which universities to go to and what degrees to get. Then we're told that success is defined by which bank or consulting firm you work for, and any less is a sign of failure.

So we follow the herd with our horse blinders on, oblivious to all the other opportunities in the world. And at no point have we been told to look inside ourselves and ask, "what do I really want to do with my life?!" How we've been steered away from answering that question, I just don't know. It’s a failure by the educational system and society itself really. It might sound dreamy, but if the 95% of people who plan on leaving their job in 2 years, were actually being productive in things they enjoyed, I’m sure the economy would be better for it.

If you don't know what you're passionate about, you won't figure it out by simply thinking about it. Our actions and experiences guide us and define who we are. 

My advice:

  • Meet new people - Start surrounding yourself with open-minded, forward looking people, not just people who have followed the beaten path. Talk to people outside of your immediate friendship group. New perspectives help to steer your compass. Start going to meetups and lectures on topics that interest you.
  • Read more non-fiction - I digest "startup" books, and they help open my mind, trigger ideas and figure out what gets me excited and what doesn't.
  • Invest in yourself - Go to classes and learn new things. For $20 you can go to a Skillshare class and learn something new from someone who loves what they do enough to teach it in their spare time, and at the same time you'll meet a load of people who are also branching out and exploring new things. Allocate a certain amount of money each month to learning new things.

Once you begin to step outside of your routine surroundings, you'll realise there is a world of opportunity that you never new existed.