Being your own boss could be one of the reasons why you decided to create your own career path, or you’re attracted to the freedom of being able to chase big dreams, the thrill of building empires out of a vision and the joy of making a mark.
With a blossoming startup ecosystem and the success stories in Malaysia, even a newbie might be enticed to go on the glorious road to be an entrepreneur.
While some may be aware of the reality of this route is one that has very little glamour and involves a great deal of hard work and sacrifices, having mentors to give advice or even have an outlet with are important when one hits a bump along the way, as Christopher Quek, Managing Partner of Tri5 Ventures Singapore reflected in a session titled Honest Sharing: The Reality & Struggles of Entrepreneurship at WORQ.
Bankruptcies, runaway partners, and working through a list of odd jobs to make ends meet, even if it meant going around selling pirated DVDs—these were among the few points of advice, failures and lessons that were raised at a sharing session joined by Jan Wong, CEO and founder of OpenMinds Resources, Andrew Tan, Managing Partner of TinkBig Venture and CEO of CrowdPlus.asia, alongside Christopher Quek.
Moderated by Kenneth Ho of BEAM, the discussion really drove one point home: it really ain’t easy to be an entrepreneur. Here are some things they’ve all learnt—mostly through the hard way.
1. Don’t Have A Dream Too Big To The Point Of Unsustainability
For some startup founders, they can be so tied to an idea they spend every waking second thinking about it. Jan Wong, CEO and founder of OpenMinds Resources gave an example of this analysis paralysis, where one continuously builds their idea in their mind without implementing, until it becomes unrealistic without considering the foundation of the vision.
“It’s like building a castle too big in the sky without understanding the fundamental groundwork that comes with the castle,” Jan Wong illustrated.
Instead, the recommendation is to dissect everything into little, digestible pieces and identify what can bring in the first cheque.
Recognising if an idea is worth pursuing, identifying the first step and understanding what it means and what it can do to bring in your first dollar should be the steps taken to go about building a business.
2. Fail Fast, Embrace Failure, Learn From Them
Starting a company to watching profits roll in to facing bankruptcy were among the bumps Andrew Tan had to go through 4 years after graduation.
He reflected that ego played a big role in his first failure. “When you’re young, you think you are God by creating something out of nothing,” he said. He continued to encourage entrepreneurs to make more mistakes so that one is able to look at how to diversify and expand from different aspects, as staying in one spot isn’t encouraged.
3. If You Haven’t Cried, You Haven’t Experienced It All
“The journey of an entrepreneurship is a superiorly lonely one,” Christopher said. Confessing that he had oversold himself in the past after receiving funding for his e-commerce website, the website crashed.
“It was a big hit, especially when you’re trying to answer to investors who put their confidence and faith in you,” he said.
Jan Wong of OpenMinds lent his voice on how he had to deal with partners who would not show up in the office, or would just up and leave. Andrew added on that neither friends nor enemies are permanent.
There seem to be an underlying theme that while entrepreneurship is a life full of unlimited possibilities, it is important for entrepreneurs to have an outlet and a good support system. Family and loved ones may not be directly supporting Jan Wong in running his business, but they were there to listen when he needed them.
4. Funding Shouldn’t Be The Only Motivation In Our Startup Ecosystem
Jan Wong observed that the first thing founders would have in mind is how to make their first million.
“If you can’t make your first dollar, you’ll never make your first ten,” said Jan Wong. Finding it mind-boggling, he questioned the possibility of making a million after funding, bearing in mind that the profit or even revenue hadn’t been made in the first place.
Dishing out advice, he suggested that one could start with a similar industry to raise capital first before going back into the primary industry. “If I can’t buy hardware, can I go into a service business first and build from there?” Jan Wong said.
5. Don’t Hire A Clone Of Yourself
Building a dream team is vital to any organisation, startup or not. People would want to work for someone with a greater goal and a greater purpose and that is what founders need to bring across.
As a founder, you’d have that unique passion.
How does one communicate that passion with potential successful hires who may be good at what they do, but may not share the same passion as the founder?
Stressing the need to align goals with the right working attitude, Andrew mentioned that there’s no grey area in committing to a goal and in improving oneself to achieve that goal.
“It is more tangible to find out what excites the individual, then identifying if their excitement and passion aligns with the vision or part of the passion the founder carries,” Jan echoed.
Collectively, they will form a team that is passionate and driven as they will feed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Being surrounded by founders and fresh startups in this session was really inspiring as it was a huge bubble of motivation and collaboration as each attendee understood the blood, sweat and tears required to build something from scratch.
That being said, I definitely don’t see myself starting one anytime soon, just because I’m becoming more aware each day of what a huge step it is to take, and I’m not sure how I can contribute in changing the landscape. Perhaps writing about budding founders and feeding off their motivation could be a start.