Confessions of a Boomerang Employee: What Led Me Back Home

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JumpLeaving Shutterstock was a hard decision for me in 2012, but at the time it felt like the right one. It turned out, however, that returning to Shutterstock 18 months later was an even better decision.

I originally came aboard to launch and develop the Shutterstock affiliate program. During my two years with the company, I turned that project into a revenue generator. My key accomplishment was taking something from nothing and carving out a new, meaningful revenue channel. It became my pride and joy, knowing that the program’s success was entirely in my hands.

If that was the case, then, you may wonder why I walked away.

While working on growing the affiliate program and creating new products and opportunities, I got a taste for what I was creatively capable of. Shutterstock actively recruits for and hires those with entrepreneurial know-how and ambitions, and my experience building the affiliate network lit a spark in me. I decided I wanted to turn that passion and enthusiasm into a business of my own. Being around the creativity, growth, and excitement unlocked my own entrepreneurial DNA, so I made the decision to leave Shutterstock and start a company.

This wasn’t the first time I voyaged out on my own, though. When I was around 10 years old, I started my first business in my neighborhood. It was a lawn mower tune-up business. When I put flyers in neighbors’ mailboxes to market my services, I wound up getting a few interested customers. Imagine their surprise when they discovered, upon my arrival to pick up their stalled mowers, that I was a four-foot-tall, 10-year-old with Converse sneakers (which I still wear).

That didn’t stop me. I wheeled those mowers back to my parents’ garage and got to work tuning them up. Yet, as I came of age, I left behind my entrepreneurial identity. It wasn’t until I landed at Shutterstock that I found an environment that not only rewards creativity, but also encourages staff to try stuff and fail. It was with that mantra in mind that I was determined create something of my own. With a friend, I founded a company that made some money, but not enough to make a real go of it. For us to scale the business long-term, we quickly realized we required a significant capital investment, something that we had difficulty in securing. Ultimately, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be the business that took off.

When you’re running your own business, you learn a mile a minute. That was a sentiment I thrived on and didn’t want to lose as I looked ahead to my next conquest. Throughout my time away, I had kept in contact with my former colleagues and also kept an eye on Shutterstock’s growth post-IPO. Shortly after going public, Shutterstock sought ways to feel small again. And that’s when an unfamiliar, hybrid word — “intrepreneurship” — changed everything for me.

As Shutterstock continued to provide an atmosphere for employees to explore, create, and try new things, the company announced it was launching an online-tutorial business called Skillfeed to help both creatives and non-creatives improve their professional skills. I got a call from my old boss asking me to come aboard as marketing manager for Skillfeed. With this new enterprise, Shutterstock was setting out to do something entirely new, to harness its talent and resources to achieve something else: helping people invest in themselves.

Which brings us to the present time. I’ve been back here for almost a year. During my second stint, I’ve marveled at how Skillfeed has functionally behaved like a startup while being supported from behind by Shutterstock. Our team is composed of passionate and creative entrepreneurs, serving as marketers, designers, and programmers. In a way, I’m back where I started, looking for innovative ways to scale our marketing channels and be a part of a daring team that is creating something from scratch.

We’re a small team with big goals. If we have an idea, we test it right away. I firmly believe that the emphasis should be on results, and less about the requirements of how to get there. As a team, we’ll try anything if we think it will work. You never know what will win out in the end, but you must have faith that you’ll find the right way.

By Matt Bell