I first tasted entrepreneurship at age ten. I was selling grasshoppers (yes, grasshoppers) and didn’t have much pressure back then. The risk was low, so entrepreneurship to me at that point was still pretty attractive. And then I moved on to sell trading cards at age 15. That experience got me hooked on entrepreneurship as I learned to be a better salesman. Buying low and selling high to kids who didn’t understand the market was basically my trick.
My next venture was at age 19 when I got into the educational business. It wasn’t at all tech related, just a simple bricks-and-mortar venture. And, oh boy, did that give me some stress and sleepless nights. I figured out that as overheads increase, so stress levels increase too. And that venture didn’t make entrepreneurship very glamorous at all. But somehow, my partner and I managed to pull through. The business was sold at a low price but I confess it was an awesome ride.
Now this Asia tech blog which you’re reading is my latest venture, and stress levels are even higher. I’m starting to taste what it’s like to push really hard to hit key performance indicators (KPIs) and at the same time ensure that the team is happy and is working in harmony.
Taking investor’s money isn’t at all fun. But it does push you hard to strive for better results. Of course, I’m not bitching about East Ventures here. They have been wonderful mentors; and what you see today on the blog — our content, growth strategy, upcoming new design, and upcoming products — are driven by our team’s hard work and vision. Nonetheless, it is the self-inflicting pressure that is haunting and pushing me.
In recent months, whenever I attend events across the region, I noticed it is common for friends to come up to me and ask why the hell I look so tired. Like most entrepreneurs who have screwed-up sleeping patterns, it’s generally a given that we all look like crap. Imagine sleeping just four to six hours a day and keeping your energy levels high by drowning yourself in coffee and energy drinks. Anyone will look like crap after going through several months of that kind of routine. Personally, I figured out that it is more efficient (for me) to work to the point that my body auto-shuts off by itself. Otherwise, if I hit the hay early, I would end up rolling around in my bed, obsessing over problems and solutions.
The entrepreneurial journey is fucking painful. And sometimes I do ask myself if it’s all worthwhile and would I be happier if I were less ambitious. I believe most entrepreneurs go through that at low periods. That’s just the simple truth.
But I also figured out that while the journey can be painful, it will all become magically beautiful when it comes to an end. Whether it is a failure, a successful IPO, or via an acquisition by another company – the ending is beautiful when you look back and connect the dots.
I remember myself at age ten, drenched in sweat in a field catching grasshoppers while my schoolmates were having their meals during recess. I also remember how I was pulling my hair at age 22, shouting at employees when overheads were sky-rocketing and the sales team was struggling.
But these pain points quickly turned sweet in the end. I don’t regret spending a good five years of my life at my previous venture. I wouldn’t call it a success, but the lessons learned are invaluable.
Our Charlie Custer quoted Dave McClure last weekend in Beijing:
He described real entrepreneurship as generally being “not sexy,” “painful,” “boring as shit,” and “full of failure.” If you’re just looking to make money or get famous, he said, “Fuck it, go do something else. Don’t be an entrepreneur.”