Boring job in Ohio vs Dream job in San Francisco?

I have been reading your blog for a while and have found your advice to be incredibly useful.  I recently found one of your posts from 2011 where you talk about relocating to Hermosa Beach.  That post hit very close to home for me because I’m currently going through a similar situation (although I don’t have kids).  I was hoping you might be able to offer a little quick advice.  No one else seems to understand my situation.

I’m a 35 yr old engineer and moved to the San Francisco area in May of this year.  I was laid off from my old job and luckily had an offer from a couple of guys that asked me to help them build a small search startup company.  I make about 150k per year along with equity in the company that would be worth quite a bit in several years.

I don’t mind SF, but I’m from Ohio and have Midwestern values – so San Francisco is a little different than what I’m used to – but it’s tolerable.  My original plan was to move there for 4 years, collect my equity and then leave.  However, recently my old company offered me my old position back at a salary of $108k in Ohio.  That’s a reasonable salary in Ohio, but the job in California is more enjoyable.  It feels good and exciting to help build a company from scratch.

I am very close with my mom and sister  (who both live in Ohio).  My dad passed away 2 years ago from years of medical problems, so we have a close bond due to the trauma we went through.  Needless to say it’s difficult moving away from people I love, especially my mom since she’s getting older and starting to show signs of medical problems.

I don’t want to regret using 4 years for a great career at the expense of any memories I could be making with my family.  Although, it’s difficult to pass up a career opportunity that could be worth several million dollars in a few years time.

This decision has generated a lot of anxiety.  I’ve talked to my therapist as well as others who don’t seem to have a good perspective on the situation.  I feel like you certainly understand the difficulty of this scenario.

If you have any advice or comments, this Midwestern guy in San Francisco would forever be in your debt.  Any help at all would really help me.

Thanks again for all the writing you do, as it’s really helped me in the past.

6 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I think you should go back to Ohio, get married, and raise your kids near your family because family means a lot to you. You can have a good job in Ohio but you can’t have your family in San Francisco.

    Also, here’s a reality check about your job. The likelihood that your company would be worth millions in four years is slim. If it were even a 75% chance of that happening Google would try to acquire your company because search is so important to Google.

    Startups are very high risk. People who are in the business of evaluating search startups can’t even guess which will be worth millions in four years, so how could you?

    On top of that, you are not a founder, so the company would need to have a huge exit (hundreds of millions), not just a normal exit (say, $30 million), in order for you to make a lot of money.

    Also, if your company were as sure a bet as you’re thinking it is, then all the search engineers at Google who have stock they acquired at a high price would forfeit the unvested shares and go work at your company.

    This is all to say that I think you grossly underestimate how unlikely it is that your four years will net you a pile of money. It’s the job of your CEO to pitch you like he pitches potential investors; your CEO has to always be getting everyone excited about his vision. But investors are putting a tiny percentage of their money into this company and they assume it will fail (that’s the model investors use — invest in ten firms and one will succeed to a big exit). As an employee you are investing everything you have — all your time and earning potential.

    So its never a good bet to work at a company because you think it’ll have a big exit in four years. If you could predict which companies will exit, you’d be as rich as Bill Gates.

    That’s why you should just move back to Ohio. You can make a good salary there, and you can even find startups there if that’s the route you want to take. But more than that, your family in Ohio matters too much to you to leave them for a the job you have in San Francisco.


  2. Grace
    Grace says:

    I also came from a smallish town to Northern California. I also feel like a fish out of water. SF is … crazy. However, I am staying in NoCal because there is no job for me in my hometown. I understand this writer’s agony. Family, friends, value alignment, people who understand you v. professional growth, cultural opportunities, and … excitement.

    For me, I’m going to grow for a while longer. I feel like I stagnate when I go back to my hometown, no matter how comfortable, affirming and loving it is.

    I guess the original poster should ask himself, “if I knew that I would not get a huge windfall, would I still want to stay in SF?”

  3. jessica
    jessica says:

    I have a different take.

    No, your equity won’t be worth anything in 4 years, IF they even make it four years. Heed that advice. Reject that idea of allure.

    On the other hand, why is the old co offering your job back? Better financials now?

    I’d say stick with your SF job, and find another different job in Ohio. It really depends on how you left the Ohio co. For whatever reason, youre not just jumping back to them and that’s why I recommend getting a different offer.

    Good luck!

  4. jessica
    jessica says:

    And anyone else considering staying at a ‘high growth prospect job’ should really look at the math of what P is saying.

    A co needs to be valued in the hundreds of millions to have any significant worth to non-founders.

    The sectors of which this is possible are small, and the ideas that make this happen are extremely rare. Best prediction is the founders themselves and what they have achiever and or their background.

    Doing the math is simple to not get deluded by the sales pitch of founders competing for good hires.

    This guy or girl had to take the job and is now trying to convince themselves to stay because the effort of moving and a new culture adjustment was so much work. I think they forgot why they took the job- they needed it and now they don’t.

  5. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    To the person who wrote this letter:

    When you, your mom, or your sister are dying, you will regret not spending any time with them that you could have. Guaranteed.

    You will not be thinking about the job in San Francisco.

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