I Am Moving Back to Chicago

This spring I will be moving back to Chicago after spending the last year  in my home state of California.  It’s exciting to get back to Chicago and I wanted to share a little bit about the decision to come back.


Why I left Chicago in the First Place

When I was growing up in Southern California, my friend Jason used to call me the Family Guy because whenever he asked if I wanted to go out I was always busy doing something with my family. For me, family is and always has been priority numero uno. So when my uncle passed away a few years back and my grandma Elsie was living by herself in Massachusetts, we decided it was time for her to move back to California where she had had lived for the previous 30 years of her life.  After months of trying to convince a 93-year-old woman to move across country, she finally said, “Ethan, I’ll move back when you move back.”  I said, “Sold!”  And that was that.  We moved back to California towards the end of 2011 and I have spent the last year and change living in the state where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

My time in California has been wonderful and I am very grateful for it.  Living closer to my family, I was able to do things I hadn’t done in years.  I visited my sister on her birthday for the first time in a decade.  I was able to surprise my best friend Ned for his 30th birthday and later attend his engagement party.  I even got to celebrate Hannukah this year with my family for the first time since probably high school. Most importantly, I got to visit my Grandma Elsie 15-20 times in the past year and was even able to make this biography about her.  She’s in hospice now and we’re not sure how much longer she’ll be with us, so I’m insanely grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with her and the rest of my family.  It’s truly been a gift.

As Much as I love being close to my family and friends, I’ve decided it’s more important for me right now to be back in Chicago.   

First and foremost, I’ve come to the conclusion that my decision to live in California was hurting my business partner, Desiree.  During my time away, we went from a six person team to a 20+ person company. While this growth is exciting and mucho, mucho awesome, in this same period, we had our merchant account fire us as customers, we moved offices twice, we had an employee go AWOL for a week, and we had to lay off folks that felt like family.  None of these things are fun.  All of them are difficult and stressful and emotionally taxing.  My being out of the office has meant that Desiree has had to shoulder way more of the crud that partners are supposed to share together.  And that just sucks.  I don’t want to make her do that anymore.

Second, it dawned on me recently that there is a big distinction between managing and leading.  My being in California hasn’t necessarily hurt us from a revenue standpoint (we tripled our revenue in 2012), but it is starting to hurt us from a leadership standpoint.  As we begin to scale our company and develop a culture and identity, founders need to be leaders, not managers.   And while I’ve found that managing from afar is difficult yet doable.  Leading from afar is nearly impossible.

Third, I have been blessed with an opportunity at GiveForward to work with an incredibly passionate and inspiring team of people doing something we believe is going to change the world.  Opportunities like this don’t often come around twice in a lifetime, so I don’t want to take this one for granted.  I’ve heard stories from so many entrepreneurs who after getting lucky with their first venture, spent the rest of their lives trying to recreate that magic only to find that the stars never aligned again in just the right way.  When you have something that you truly believe can make a dent in the universe, and you’ve been lucky enough to catch all the right breaks along the way, you need to grab on tight with both hands, go after it with all your heart and remove any hurdles that can hold you back from achieving what you know is possible.

Lastly, it’s always about family.  Most people are lucky if they have one, loving and supportive family.  I am lucky enough to have two.  I get to work at a company where co-workers genuinely care about each other and feel more like family than cubicle mates. So while saying goodbye to my California family is really hard to do, it’s a lot easier knowing that when I return to Chicago, my GiveForward family will be there to welcome me back.


48 thoughts on “I Am Moving Back to Chicago

  1. Susan Silver says:

    Hooray! What a wonderfully heartfelt description of your decision-making process. Thanks for sharing and I loved reading it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your non-Giveforward friends are looking forward to having you back as well. Also, Flag football season records in Chicago have struggled mightily since you left…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Welcome back Ethan. Deep dish pizza and friendly Chicagoans are waiting for you.

  4. cecareer says:

    Looking forward to having you back!

    Una Pipic CEC una@chicagolandec.org (c/t) 312.912.2800

  5. Jeff Kurt says:

    I know it was a tough decision, but I couldnt be happier to have one of my favorite people living in chicago again. Let me know how i can help with the move.

  6. Priya Meyer says:

    Can’t wait to visit you in Chi-town!

  7. Jason Owen says:

    Mind you, that was when “family guy” was a struggling yet hilarious cartoon that kept getting cancelled. Now seth macfarland hosts oscars. Hopefully GiveForward follows a similar trajectory…godspeed guapo.

  8. Lokey says:

    Can’t wait to get ya back brotha!

  9. mary ashby says:

    exciting! good luck with the move!

  10. Jay Reed says:

    Good luck with everything Ethan I look forward to watching you dominate!

  11. Anonymous says:

    VERY Cool!

  12. I am going to miss you buddy. You are doing the right thing for you, your future family, and the GF family. We first became friends over the phone and we continue to be. It was fun to have some time with you in person over the past year. Much love buddy!

  13. compassx says:

    Ethan – as always, a thoughtful and introspective post. Nicely done. On another note, psyched you are coming back to Chicago!

  14. Horrified to say that I didn’t even know you’d left. Welcome back Ethan!

  15. Yay! So does this mean we can finally meet IRL???

  16. Glad to have you back in Chicago! Big Star misses you big time.

  17. elliot sainer says:

    First congratulations on your announcement on the personal side! Also, thanks for sharing your reason for moving back to Chicago. Sounds like the right choice for you. Best of luck, and hope to catch up next time you are visiting your mom in NB

  18. marcia sainer says:

    Hi Ethan,

    Congratulations on your engagement – Brittany sounds like the perfect fit for you. I just viewed Elsie’s video and she’s certainly a role model for the 90+ crowd. Your decision to move back to Chicago makes sense and I wish you all the best.

  19. Ned Algeo says:

    Fine, I’ll let you go. But you’ll be back, they always come back ;)

  20. Anonymous says:

    Great post, E. Back in our DC days when you were cramming constitutional law into your (sizable) brain, I always had the sense that bigger and frankly more meaningful things awaited you. You were a doer, not a stuffy lawyer. And you’ve done amazing stuff, been an inspiration to many, and continue to lead with your unmatchable heart and humor. Stay you, bro. I’m only sad we couldn’t hang out more in Nor. Cal, but I will continue to follow your pursuits from afar. Honored to call you my friend.

  21. […] Austin of GiveForward wrote a great blog post about moving to the SF Bay Area and then back to Chicago and all of the issues he and the company […]

  22. Clare says:

    Ended up over here at David Cohen’s suggestion and I’m glad I did. Beautiful stuff.

  23. Awesome post! Such a reminder that we sacrifice so much as entrepreneurs, but the rewards of success, whatever your goal might be, is what drives us all. As a born and raised Chicagoan living in the Bay Area, I know it’s a struggle to find that life-work balance, but having such a great team behind you will surely help. Best of luck in Chi-town!

  24. […] of an online fundraising startup discusses moving to Chicago from the San Francisco Bay Area and all of the issues he and the company were grappling with. EthanAustin.com. (Hat tip: David G. […]

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