Goodbye World, Hello People
Not many people will admit their mistakes but I will.
Over those 3 years in setting up my own recruitment business, I have failed, I have learned, I have matured but most importantly I have grown as a person. Being a first-time founder, straight after my graduation, I had the most naive mindset and thought I could change the world and became a Billionaire the very next day. Did it work out as planned? Obviously not! At least I was lucky however; I stayed clear from any loans, debts and the need to end up using food banks, but still managed to find myself a well paid part-time job to bootstrap my startup.
Here’s the thing — working in startups, or so we call it now, a ‘Disruptive’ environment, you are often working with a bunch of people who are new to the commercial environment. I learnt from people around me, mainly people that worked for themselves, and ones that built their own tools in their bedrooms. They often do not have a solid plan, the process is linear, rather like a headless chicken, going round and round, hitting a wall, turning around and then heading in another direction somewhere else.
It is painful, tiring, but rewarding. The process can be long but the outcome is often be invaluable. Over the last 3 years in setting up my business, I have had a lot of pain, nose bleeds (sometimes lasting 3–5 days a week when I am stressed) but fun too! There are many proud moments I would like to highlight: from being invited to speak in front of students, to being sponsored to visit other countries to inspire other ‘Young Entrepreneurs’; these are the feel good moments which you would seldom find in a 9–5 job! However, none of these experiences are as valuable as finding who you are, empowering others and being a good leader. When I joined an ‘Accelerator’ programme called Ricoh HQ, run by 50th Generation, the year long programme truly enabled me to identify, reflect, step back and to find myself.
I remember when I was first accepted to the programme, I thought about all of the bad experiences that I had with ‘Mentorship’, either the ones that said could help me with my writing, but it turned out that they couldn’t even spell correctly; or the ones who said they could help me to scale my business but they were struggling to scale their own businesses themselves. I immediately made it clear to my mentor assigned to me in the programme that ‘I didn’t need you’. Looking back, I felt embarrassed to have said that because she turned out to be the best person I have ever worked with, someone that I can seek for genuine advice from, feedback outside of her working hours and a great supporter in my private life too.
Mistake 1 — Leadership skills required
During my one year in Ricoh Ignite, my mentor put me through a Leadership and Development session, during which I sat with all the experienced and non-experienced managers. Being someone that came from a very different background, it took me a while until I felt comfortable to sit with all of the Ricoh staff members. Our facilitator was great, and really inspired me a lot. They did different things with us, switching from requiring us to stay in or get out of the classroom; working with groups and carrying out different leadership activities. It is then I realised, the startup pattern that I had embedded in my life was completely wrong. It didn’t have a good structure, clear vision and culture! Hence it was a hard work for me being the captain steering the ship.
Here’s something I have learnt. To get people to work with you, you need to understand each others’ goals and personalities. To be a great leader, is to empower your team. It is a different game working as a teacher and being a leader. Not to mention, I worked as a part-time teacher in a performing arts academy — great people, talented kids but the strategies are very different, and when I tried applying some of the stuff that I have learnt in my lessons, it clearly did not work.
Mistake 2 — Too much selling
Being a startup founder can involve a lot of talking — whether it’s talking to VCs, potential customers or to stakeholders. But, there comes a time when your throat gets sore and the itch to get on the pitch becomes overwhelming; there was one time I spent so long attempting to get my messages across, the VC was yawning!
Nothing is better than ‘less talking, more listening’ and that’s something I have learnt through Ricoh Ignite — to understand people, identify the problems and to sell the solutions and the values. To sell your product straight away, it is often a BIG ‘NO NO’!
Mistake 3 — Too much skills and not focus
I truly understand the advantages of the multitude of skills that I have, from speaking 4 languages to being able to create commercial marketing materials (I am quite proud of myself too but thanks to my mum and dad who brought me up well!). These are the winning formulas for me as an Entrepreneur, as I can cut down a lot of the costs in hiring people to do the work for me, and it also comes in handy to leverage my language skills with my other businesses — great for building networks and partnerships.
Lesson learnt: Say ‘No’!
Too much distraction and doing too many things often equals doing none. It was really hard for me to turn down opportunities, but through Ricoh Ignite, I have learnt to say ‘No’ and now, it turns out to be a great feeling to say ‘No, no, no’ but rather ‘Focus on one thing and do it well’.
Mistake 4: We are not machines, we are human!
Working for yourself could well mean working out of the normal hours, 24/7, replying emails at 1am but it is the freedom and flexibility that we all love — for example, working at home or at the coffee shop. One of the reasons many startups fail is because their founders are not in good health or are overloaded with work and causing poor mental health (anxiety, stressed, obesity) and so on. I have been through this myself throughout my startup and was often caused by the lack of security, rejection and lack of acceptance within society.
Lesson learnt: Time machine
I think there is a clear distinction between an Entrepreneur and a normal employee. It is the mindset and the resilience of ‘fail hard, fail fast and get back up again’. Yes it is good to work on various things at once, after all, an Entrepreneur is often jack of all trades at the beginning, but this could well mean spreading ourselves too thinly. So the solution is to manage our time properly by allocating the hours for each task but still keeping one day completely free for ourselves. Have a hobby. After all, we are not a machine but a human. But I am sure you will agree, even machines still ‘Shut Down’ time.
Mistake 5: Find your inspiration
I tend to work better when I have inspiration and motivation. This is often built by people around me. When I am low energy or not motivated to work, especially when I am at home, I tend to switch my focus to something else or go out to a coffee shop to work around other people. Believe or not, I love noise; whether it is the music that gets me to work, or the chit-chat among the crowd. I used to be blame myself when I wasn’t productive and had to force myself to focus. It was daunting and I often ended up watching at the clock and getting nothing done.
Lesson learnt: It’s acceptable not to work
Through Ricoh Ignite, I have learnt that it is completely fine to follow your body clock and when the energy is high, we speed up and ‘Go Go Go’ but when the energy is low, we switch our focus to do something that requires less concentrating and that is completely acceptable!
So, what’s next?
After working on my own startup and having worked with hundreds of startups, some I have seen their faces on TV and news on and off, some being swept under the carpet, I thought it was time for me say Goodbye to the startup world but focus on the ‘people’ in my new chapter. There is not a solid answer to what my startup will be and I there is no definitive answer as to whether I will be a successful entrepreneur or not. I think success comes from doing what you love and everyone can still be an Entrepreneur without any limitation of working for yourself or someone else… because in the Digital age, everyone is equal. Even if you have a 9–5pm job, you can still leverage machines to do the work we are sometimes unable to do ourselves, for us. Also, successful founders are the ones that have the will to try, the will to learn and the will to succeed against the odds.
New Chapter Begins
I am truly thankful for my time at Ricoh Ignite and so all my mentors, supporters, fans and those sending me Valentines messages (even though I am taken!). Without the Ricoh Ignite, I would not have started a new chapter and have found myself.
I am still going to continue my legacy but right now, more narrowly focused on people and leadership so — ‘Hello People’!