5 Years of Growth in 20s: Work Hard, Stay Kind, Get Lucky [Part 1: Entering Startup]

If it is not fun doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong. All good things in life require a little bit of effort and time.

Soon-Aik Chiew
May 26, 2018 · 10 min read

Work Hard, Stay Kind, Get Lucky.

5 years ago, I was naive enough to choose the road not taken: joining a small startup company, living in the office, working under constant uncertainties: you don’t know when it will be the last day of the business. Being a very impatient guy, I’m grateful that I did not give up too early and still evolving to be better.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable

Like it or not, if you wish to do better in life, you should try to be better to endure greater challenges that will constantly hit. Not avoiding it or wishing for a smoother journey.

Pain+Reflection=Progress. Hopefully, some of the stories below could be helpful to others, especially those in their miserable 20s like most people had.

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“wow, you guys are great.. awards, clients, bla bla bla..”

“we are lucky” — our usual replies, but what I really meant..

“we work really hard to get lucky

I prepared more than 1 year to join a MNC retail company, I read all the books written by the founder. After some stalking on social media, I went to submit my resume to the regional recruiter by hand, and talked to the country managers. I wanted to make sure I stand out among all candidates.

When I was finally done with my degree around June 2013, I received a notice to attend the interview of that company. At the same time, I got a personal offer to attend a tech conference in Singapore. The interview day and the tech conference happened on the same day. I chose to attend the conference in Singapore. #FML

I attended the event as ‘exhibitor’ to sell a product that I didn’t even know much. Thanks to the organizer (who became my mentor 2 years later) for securing a nice spot for us, I had to talk (sell) nonstop to people ranging from entrepreneurs, investors, corporations and more. The 2 guys that ‘hired’ me on that day then went on their mission to hunt down their target people.

“Hey, you’re so lucky for having this spot. Look at mine, no one came to my booth!” — a European who came all the way to Singapore

It was not just luck.

He asked if he could place his booth just right beside me, I had no problem with it as long as the organizer is okay with it. I was bored with selling our own products, so I helped him. #DontTellMyBoss

It got me so excited, when I saw a presenter on stage wearing just short pants & sandals. The content was AMAZING.

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No nice looking slide, no suit & tie, just 100% quality content & mind-blowing facts.

During lunch, I was sitting on the floor together with 2 Malaysians (so ‘down-to-earth’) to have our meals. Later on, my then bosses informed me that they are actually a prominent journalist and an investor in their company. I wanted to work with more great people like them. I met with more nice people in the event, avoided some brilliant jerks.

“Damn, this idea sucks, but it is earning lots of money. Oh wait, that product is great and useful, but the company is going to bankrupt soon”

Above is what I learned throughout the event when I talked to all the startups and ‘googled’ to find out more about them. None of my previous experience taught me about all these, the tech scene is so volatile and FUN (read: dangerous, unpredictable, fast-paced). Anyway, most of the startups I met 5 years ago, no longer exist today; we’re still struggling well.

I spoke to potential employers in Singapore, ‘2.5X’ pay was attractive for Malaysians. Yet, I was ‘aroused’ to do or build something great in Malaysia, as the people on stage ignored ‘Malaysia’ when they talked about opportunities in ASEAN. The 2 Malaysian guys were quite pissed too.

“Why did they just skip Malaysia?” — I asked

“Yea, this is wrong. They should put Khailee on stage” — investor replied

At that time, I was wondering who is this lady called ‘Kai Li’, sounds like a girl that I liked in school, so ‘she’ must be awesome.

3 months later, we were conducting a workshop for startups in Bangkok University, and met him (not her).

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This slide by Khailee is my favourite slide of all time, I shared it with all new hires in the past 5 years.

After going through several rounds of discussions with bosses at office, hotel, food court, inside the car and even airport, I was almost ready to make my decision.

They asked if I have any more concern..

“Can I wear short pants at work?” — I Asked. They said ‘Yes’, so I was hired.

The only rule that I can recall is “no one is allowed to call bosses ‘boss’ ”.

So, I joined a startup company in KL, that is founded by the guys who sponsored me (or hired me as cheap labour) for that event in Singapore. It all started with just a hiring post on Facebook, and I PMed that guy. In week 1, team asked me what title do I want to put on my name card, CMO? Product Manager? Nay, I chose ‘consultant’, as it (perceived to) provides more values to people who receive the cards.

“Did you regret (joining a small startup)?” — Few asked me this.

“I’m trying not to..”

It is subjective to judge whether a decision in the past is better than the other. I used to reflect on it too much, then I realized that while reflection is good we should not waste too much time on it. We should focus on making the best out of the decisions that we’ve made. Look Forward.

#LUCK: I got to experience most of startup aspects except the most painful ones: starting up with capital, giving salaries, etc. That is covered by bosses, so we are free to be kickass without holding back.

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So how does working for a startup company looks like? Quite creepy. haha (This is office #2)

I saw an advertisement about a fully sponsored programme (let’s refer it as Event A here), where they gather promising youths around the world for a competition. I didn’t really qualify for some of the requirements, but I applied anyway. I tried to join a few programmes before this too, but did not manage to secure myself a spot.

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I followed boss to attend a press release event. Coincidentally, that Event A organizer was there too. I approached her that I applied for Event A. Immediately, she told me “Yes, I saw your video application, see you in the event!”

“what? did I get in? really??”

“Yes, because we have less than enough people that submitted applications!”

You miss all the shots that you don’t take

BOOM! I was so worried that I would not be good enough to make the cut. I’m sure a lot more qualified people who are better than me were interested to join, but they did not click on the apply button or thought that it was too troublesome to make a video application. So they missed the chance.

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Keep Showing Up.

SHOW UP’ — if you don’t know what to do, or not confident of what you’re capable of, just be present and show up. Despite NOT knowing what would bring us and the company to be on the right path, we show up everyday.

Not knowing how to do or achieve something? Admit not knowing! Learn! Google! Read! Try! Ask! Seek Help! Try harder! Try Smarter!

Event A is a satellite proramme of a much bigger summit event. My company actually took part in another satellite programme that focused on entrepreneurs, Event B. The organizer of Event B mistakenly put my name as ‘Co-Founder’, printed my face on poster, and even printed a box of name cards for me.

“Hey, why did you lie? You said you’re just an employee!” — participant from Event A

“Because I am!”

I did not win in my own Event A, but my boss/company won in Event B, with a special award based on popular votes. I disappeared at Event A half of the time, doing my work and ‘hunting’ votes for our company in Event B. We knew it was tough for us to compete with other global startups to get into the top 3 positions. So, another colleague and I were focusing on helping the company to win the special award. We collected all possible votes around the building, even from the security guards.

Although it was just a small award, it later helped us to reap more privileged opportunities than other winners, for example, our boss getting exclusive invitation to share the same stage with President Obama in the U.S.. Until today, we are still getting some benefits out of it almost every year. This would not have happened, if we didn’t push to win the award, and if we went silence after winning it. We helped without expecting gains, we gained.

If there’s a will, there’s a way. Not Away

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Will Will Smith Smith Will Smith?

It was a short 4 day trip, I had 2 missions for the company:

  • A: attend an event to learn as much as I could
  • B: explore a business opportunity

Mission A:

I attended that event as one of the very few international delegates, that event brought on industry experts around the world. By just listening to the speakers, I knew that was not enough for me to maximize my learning, as well as benefits for our team back in Malaysia.

Before I attended the event, I engaged the event community on social media, to make sure I don’t miss out any opportunity to have further interaction with the speakers, organizing team, attendees etc. I discovered a useful tool from other attendees. That tool later helped our company to generate more revenue, my new team is now using it too.

Lift people up, help while you can.

After the event, I was privileged to have dinner with the organizer and speakers. Everyone there was industry veteran, and I was just ‘one of the youngest consultants in the industry (that didn’t really know much yet)’. These great people tried to involve me in their conversation, to help me understand and learn more. People like this reminds me that ‘great people lift others up’, and I want to help others to do better too.

When I returned to Malaysia, I shared everything with the team, to ‘lift’ them up as illustrated below.

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Mission B:

I had to visit a company to dig some important information. It was pretty last minute and we did not have the right network to reach them. So team suggested to just visit their office and see what I can do from there.

I did not know what to expect, I traveled to the office but the door was closed. I was jumping around the building for 5 minutes and wished that someone from inside (if any) would notice my presence. Finally, a lady opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” — She asked.

“I’m from Malaysia, can I speak with your manager or any person in charge?”

“Errrrrr……….. errrr……………”


“Hold on a second.. (1 min later..) alright, you can come in. Our manager will talk to you”

So I spent almost an hour talking with the manager to get some useful information that we needed for a project.

Me: “Sorry, this is actually my first time doing this. I didn’t know whether this would work, but.. thanks! ”

Manager: “this is so weird.. no one came to our office like this before. It is my first time too! I don’t even know why I accepted your interview. I don’t think I would think tell others that much.. ”

Don’t think so much, just do it!

Aside from these 2 missions, I attended another conference. From there, I met the curator of a similar conference in Malaysia. I then attended that conference in Malaysia, was impressed with our local talents and stories. I then joined the organizing team for the next few years. The theme for the 1st year conference in Malaysia: connecting dots.

We connect dots to live our life to the fullest.

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I went to hike a hill during the last day, I was surprised not seeing anyone along the journey. When I came down, a lady from Hong Kong told me “Are you crazy? there was a typhoon” Ohh, so I got a different experience.

Way before this trip, I had a chance to attend a business trip in Japan, the country that I wanted to visit the most. We decided to send our intern instead. Although she did not join us as full timer later, we are proud of that decision.

“In the end, everything will be ok. If it’s not ok, it’s not yet the end ”A very kind lady reminds.

Work Hard, Stay Kind, Get Lucky

Till Then… See you in part 2, which I will cover some of the below:

  1. dumbest to luckiest — learning from OLD people
  2. I coded lousy apps- almost lost thousands $$
  3. quit and return- for greater punch
  4. skip all networking parties
  5. exceed experts by googling, reading, online+offline learning
  6. close first 5 figure sales — by keep ‘google-ing’
  7. so, this is ‘burnout’.. and how to deal with it
  8. diversity = strength
  9. seek help — choosing (& being) good mentor, leader, boss
  10. TIPs: Teamwork is Perfect, Trust is Power
  11. saved money to buy phone, in the end give it to help others.
  12. winning clients, beating giants…
  13. go big and go home
  14. bad project experience-be vulnerable
  15. competition again
  16. how to destroy yourself as bad manager
  17. ….

Let me know if you wish to hear more about any of the topics above.

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