We first met Sonia when she spoke at "LeanIn: SF Tech Edition" in San Francisco about her experience living with food allergies, and her decision to become an entrepreneur. We were so impressed by her story and perspective, and invited her to guest blog for us, which she graciously agreed to do.
In the blog post below, Sonia addresses a topic that is of special interest to many of our startup clients who are leaving BigTech to form their own startups -- the decision to leave the security of a paycheck in search of a higher purpose.
What inspired you to break off from your tech job and start your own business?
In 2010 I left my day job "‘working for the man" in Silicon Valley, and started my own company. Genetically, I think that there was always something entrepreneurial in me, as both of my parents worked in the industry and at some point, left to start their own businesses. Environmentally, I think that life in Silicon Valley almost forced me to do this. And spiritually, I was always looking for a higher purpose.
I came to San Francisco in 1998, recruited by a start-up building the very first digital businesses for global, luxury clients. I was born and raised on the East Coast, so I was excited about heading to sunny California and never dealing with shoveling snow again. As an engineer I was coding at first, and then quickly moved into more of a business role as mentors at the company agreed I would be great working directly with clients. I didn’t know if this is what I wanted, nor if I would be good at it, but I allowed them to mold me. I learned a ton and loved the people with whom I worked. It was an incredible ride for anyone at the beginning stage of their career, especially as our company then IPO’ed and was thereafter sold.
Not knowing where to go after a ride like that, I spent the next 12 years working at different companies in the valley, from start-ups to mid-size to enterprise corporations. I was inherently great at relationship building so I moved around based mostly on referrals and because my skill set was always in demand – Product Management & Marketing. I was highly employable – smart, young, & spirited but mainly I was impressionable, moldable and able to be manipulated by what "the Valley" wanted to do with me – which was a win/win for any companies I worked for. I can’t say I thought a lot for myself as I was mostly "told" what to do in many aspects of my work life.
At that time, everyone in San Francisco was working hard, playing hard. and trying to pick companies where we could become overnight Internet millionaires, even if the companies we worked for literally had no business model, didn’t solve any issue for consumers, and/or the product wasn’t actually built. We marketed the hell out of the concept to get funding. It was the dot com days, and nuts.
I spent so much time at work that there was no demarcation between that and my life. Internally I felt like the focus was so wrong on many levels, yet externally I was surrounded by a robotic vibe that had me focusing on all the wrong things – money, fame, power and making me feel bad if I questioned that. And I did question it, over and over.
Until one day when I found myself miserable yet again at another company because of the same old stuff – I wasn’t working on what I wanted to; I was being told how high I would grow and how much money I would make; and more importantly, I wasn’t being treated how I wanted to be treated. On top of that, I felt all kinds of female discrimination throughout my career. It was like someone was dictating to me what my life is and was. Until I finally stopped allowing it.
So one day I went to the beach, I put my Product Manager hat on and treated myself like a business. I went through a set of hard exercises to answer questions such as: who am I, who am I not, what is my life about, what does it stand for, how is it going to generate income, will it help others or pump goodness into the world, what was the culture like, where it was it all going”? I did this with a pen and notebook over the course of a week, as I knew I must get out of the robotic life I was stuck in, start thinking for myself, figure out what made me happy, and what life I wanted to lead. And then came the harder part of making it happen.
Soon after that trip I decided quit my job working for "the man" and started my own company. I also began working on a passion project in parallel. It was incredibly scary and exhilarating at the same time to be on my own. I had worked for years on gaining confidence to be the real me, and go after what I wanted. Now, I broke off from the robotic world and my successes depended on no one but myself.
And what I saw was that as humans we were more concerned with "having" than "being." When I sat down to really think about that, and see the ugliness and negative energy around it, I knew I had to make changes immediately, as we only get so much time on this Earth. I whole heartedly believe that "one must live in the future in order to recognize the impact of present actions." I was lucky to have realized this, and made the necessary changes in order to live the life I want.
For the past 6 years, I’ve been running a very successful digital agency and passion project, a wellness brand centered around helping people with dietary restrictions (like me) to live life -- that afforded me the honor of speaking on the TEDx platform last year. I now work even harder than I did before, but I’m smart about it and I have so much fun doing it. I live life on my own terms and won’t allow others to make decisions for me or mold me into what they want; I can grow as high as the moon, and make as much money as I want to, or don’t want to. I am fully responsible for everything that I am, and everything that I will be in the future.
This was the best decision for me and I’ve never looked back nor been so happy about it. I challenge you to take time and really answer for yourself, "Are you living your best possible life?" And if your answer is "no," I encourage you to get to work on making the change that you want to see in the world.
This blog does not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. This blog should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. You should always consult a suitably qualified attorney regarding any specific legal problem or matter in a timely manner, as statutes of limitations may bar your claim.