#Asia An open letter to entrepreneurs: Congrats, you made it

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Starting up is not for the normal people who won’t do extraordinary things in order to make their dream come true. Here’s looking at you, entrepreneurs

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Entrepreneur Emotional Cycle

Dear Startup Entrepreneur,

Congrats – it’s the end of 2015. A few more weeks and it’ll be Christmas, then New Year. The startup journey is an endless roller coaster ride, full of highs and lows, and yet the journey has been a 24/7 hustling experience for you. So it’s funny that we’re looking back at your startup life, like some kind of cheesy 80s movie montage.

Granted, you do have interesting jargon and sometimes have crazy Christmas wishes, but in the end… you’ve done it, you’re running a startup. You even hired a team to boot. Congratulations.

Admittedly, there were times where you were close to giving up, but instead of disappointment punching you in the face, you decided to punch it first. So here’s a celebratory list of those particular moments.

1. When no one wanted to join you

It all starts with an idea — a crazy, yet incredibly feasible idea. Or you thought it’s feasible, the rest of the world seemed to think otherwise. Perhaps it was your young-looking face, the inexperience, and your lack of understanding of proper tech jargon that turned people away, but it could’ve been other factors, right?

Whatever it was, people veered away from you and that was difficult. Because your idea could change people’s lives. Could possibly be the Next. Big. Thing. So you decided to stop caring about what the naysayers said. You decided that just like love, or any relationship, there will always be people who understand you for you.

“These are my friends. These are people who have got my back.”

You’ll tell yourself those words later when the tough got tougher, and perhaps, some of them already feel like brothers and sisters. They’ll stay with you through the late nights, the last-minute changes, the product crashes, and the launch celebrations.

And suddenly you’ll realise, your dream became their dreams too.

2. When no one wanted to invest

So we come to the next challenge: investment.

Now it’s convincing a bunch of people with a lot of money that you’re worth it. Sure you’ve got a small team behind your back, but these people have read thousands of pages of hilarious and horrible pitch decks – so you wonder where your investor deck will fit in.

You wrote the best email your brain could craft, you pitched your hardest – but then, those haunting words were said: “You’re too early.”

And maybe they’re right. After all, you’re not the first fintech, edutech, somethingtech startup to grace their presence. So, you decided to make lemonade out of the lemons you were given. It hurts to be rejected, but it takes guts to accept criticism and improve from that.

So every opportunity you got, you decided to receive mentoring from these experts, showing and updating them at every opportunity with your latest product launches and startup developments…

Because someday, you tell yourself, you’d like to prove them wrong. That while you may not be like the fabled unicorn, you think that you’re a strong, resilient, pony.

Also read: Are Indian startups headed for a bubble burst? 

3. When you ran out of money

In the end, you managed to pool in some funds and ask family and friends for support, get a bank loan whenever possible, and have some angel investors chip in some cash for a reasonable amount of equity.

And while it wasn’t enough to buy you new technology, or hire more people it allowed you to continue working on the prototype and keeping your core team afloat. But then reality throws a punch at you, and you realise there’s not going to be enough money in the bank soon. Crap.

You’ve exhausted most of your options the first time, so you gather your core team and have the “talk.” You tell them how things are, how financials look — you’re not sure if you should be optimistic, realistic, or pessimistic. Whatever. You don’t know yourself. So you admit that and watch and wait for their reactions.

You all make sacrifices. Just make the product work. Fix all the bugs. Sell, sell, sell. It’s easy to read this all now, but it was painful to be in those months of torture. Patience was low, fights happened – but despite those rocky roads, you eventually weathered it out.

You either convinced an investor, decided to take up part-time jobs to keep yourself and the company alive, whatever it is: you felt that this was your first entrepreneurial war. And to tell yourself and your loved ones, that yes, I’m still surviving, still being healthy, is something that you’re thankful for. In the end, you continue to be an entrepreneur.

4. When people start to leave

It’s close to a year since your team got together. You’ve perhaps started winning several contests, hackathons, got some screen time on the big stage either as a speaker or a pitching engagement. You’ve already shown the ecosystem your MVP and are working towards progress.

Then another thing happens. People start leaving. Perhaps it’s one of your employees, or maybe your co-founder decided to do a little side project and two or three employees followed. Or maybe you had to fire them. You try not to get too attached, and yet you can’t help but wonder how they’re doing.

“I hope they’re doing well. Wherever they are,” you tell yourself.

Probably social media reminds you that you’re still virtually connected, so you like their posts, you congratulate them. But a tiny part still aches, and it’s all right.

Because if you love them, you let them go – a good founder knows that they can’t keep their employees with them forever. Good founders look forward, to the future, and accept the challenges that lie ahead of them.

And well, if you ended it on a bad note, you still manage to be professional with them whenever you run into each other. The startup world is small, and drama can take a backseat.

Also Read: Hootsuite cuts 40% of APAC staff from Singapore office

5. When you had to pivot

“Fail fast, fail forward” – that’s what the startups say. And yet, admitting that you were wrong is difficult. Sometimes self-doubt sets in. Did you really lead innocent people to the valley of death? Or was your idea, no – your dream, worth fighting for?

“But the data shows…” Yes. You get it. Enough with the Big Data analytics. Statistically, you need to change your strategies. Your valuation is taking a hit. You’re getting complaints from your investors, shareholders, employees.. everyone.

So you get on with it, like you always have. You make a startup-wide announcement; if needed, issue a press release. And some of your critics laugh and say, “Pivoting again, I see.” But instead of giving them a snide remark you bite your tongue, nod politely, and carry on. Because every majestic and beautiful butterfly started off as a caterpillar.

And here you are, back to reality. Life wasn’t meant to be fair, and to many others, startups are meant to fail. And yet you didn’t. You’re still here, submitting us stories of your successes, your latest product releases and next ventures. You definitely know that the journey’s not yet over, and that’s okay. We’ll be here to cheer you on and hope for the best.

As Steve Jobs said,

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Congratulations for surviving the entrepreneurial roller coaster and braving the new year to ride it all over again. Cheers for being you.

Yours,
Bev Tan

Image Credit: Kyro Beshay

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