“Soooo, how is your business doing? How much revenue/clients/staff do you have? Do you have funding and investors? Are you going to be the next Zuckerberg?”
A lot of my friends have been sharing the Ali Mese article “How quitting my corporate job for my startup dream f*cked my life up” and though I don’t agree with the title as it is misleading, the contents and journey definitely struck a chord in me. So much so that I cried. It’s really hard to be an entrepreneur and hear questions like the ones raised, so this is my response to the article and a bit of my journey so far. Anyone who has never tried to start their own business before from ground zero (which is most of the people I know), seem to have an over-inflated view of success and of the start-up world.
Start-up success is hard, so let me define the ridiculous difference – in large companies I’ve worked for, the broader version of success is attributed to a good job done by thousands of hardworking employees, all diligently dancing to their bosses’ tunes and playing their small part in a gigantic orchestra. That’s success in an employer-employee world. You helped, sort of. Hopefully there was some sort of bonus to prove it. Otherwise, we along dance to the next company and continuing playing along to the grand orchestra’s scheme of things.
Sure some people have crappy bosses, and I’ve experienced it once before, but having no bosses is harder than a horrible one. Success in a start-up is all up to you. And most of the time, you don’t know what to do. You just can’t know and do everything. You’ve moved from the world of bonuses to loneliness. When something goes wrong in a large company, everyone points the finger and blames each other, but in a start-up, you only blame yourself. We’re our toughest critic, and that’s not even counting the investors, peers, loved ones and others watching you. It’s so hard.
Friends and family don’t understand you. Some make the effort to, but others don’t even want to. They want to write you off in their head as “lazy”, “weird”, and some will even remark “why can’t you be like everyone else and just get a normal job”. If not for the relationship and joy I had with Jesus, I think I would have been pretty suicidal.
I was much more confident and happy when I had the free time and mental space for what I was good at, but having my own business and having to juggle all sorts of things – including things that I may also not be so good at – has definitely taken a toll on my ego. People who only see my Instagrams or Facebook feed think my start-up life is sexy, glamorous, leisure and pleasure. What a stark contrast to the reality, for pictures are just pictures. They are not just aspirational to you, they are aspirational to me too.
My Instagram feed on holiday in Bali this week VS my Mom’s photos of me – What I was really doing was working half the time and juggling my friend’s wedding activities that I was there for
The people who are close to me, and see me worry, work, and fight fire everyday. I have lost interest in fun things and focus so much on what’s functional.
Of course, there is a lot of plus points about having your own start up or being your own boss – that’s why we chose this route, didn’t we? I’ve had many ups along with my downs, and felt a sense of achievement recently when I was invited to pitch for and work on some very huge global accounts. I was honoured when a couple of clients and agencies gave feedback that I do dedicated, creative and good work. And yet, I find myself exhausted and wondering, “is this good enough” or “is this really it?” My friend Smith gave me an interesting take on entrepreneurship the other day –
“It doesn’t mean that just because something makes money, means you should do it. There are many ways to earn money, but there are limited ways to make yourself happy. Choose wisely.”
Doing what you love for a job can be a double-edged sword – suddenly what you love, doesn’t seem so appealing anymore when it isn’t bringing you the money you need as fast as you need it. You start to doubt, you panic.
Monetizing what you are good at can sometimes kill your creativity.
You might be surprised to know that like some start-up people, I started my own social media company because of a vision – not because of money.
(Ya, I’m not bluffing, I really have been working on my company the last 1 year, and yes it has a website and staff and everything. ZEROCOPYCAT.COM – ORIGINAL CONTENT AND INFLUENCER STRATEGIES. There are no copycats here!)
I’ve pulled back on meeting most people I know because it’s emotionally draining to explain my journey and thought process to everyone. It’s so much easier to update the few who know what I’m going through. And so in case you are wondering how I’m doing, or what it’s like to start your own business, or you’re going through something similar to me, here it is.
You don’t see success overnight, but what you do get is growth through this difficult journey. And I think that in itself builds you and a business more than short-term success does.
I dearly miss the comfort zone of having a team or boss to go to for advice – now, the people that best understand the challenges I’m going through are probably my competitors and suddenly, best as we can, us entrepreneurs have to solve our own problems.
I don’t want to take away from those in the startup world who have worked hard and reaped great rewards. They truly deserve it. For everyone who started a new restaurant and within weeks into it, they are all over the news, good for you. I’m happy for you. But success is overrated. Sustenance is what matters. Sure, we should always aim for success – after all, “if we aim for the moon, we can land among the stars” right? But I think early stage entrepreneurs who have been doing this a little bit less than me need to know that even if you DON’T see short-term success quickly, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It’s okay.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, IT’S OKAY. Don’t let others judge YOUR growth based on THEIR perception of success.
Are you aiming for short-term success or sustainable long term fruits? Can you tell when a business is out to make a quick buck the first few months and then you never want to work with them or buy from them ever again? What happened to value? Since when has it been inefficient to take time away from paid work to help someone else, or to develop your skill set?
Sometimes, the important parts about working is not just about the work. Let’s take a step back. Could it be the clients or friends you are helping? The creative solutions you are coming up with? The flexible time you suddenly get to spend with your Mother that you never really cared for enough before? I know that these are personally things that I accidentally discovered.
Ali Mese aptly quoted Hemingway – “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
I want to stop caring what others think about me. No one really cares about my super small company dedicated to creating meaningful content on the internet and specialized influencer strategies around it. I don’t want to focus on the idea of being successful anymore. I want to focus on adding value to those who need it most and helping them with a Christ-like servant attitude. I want to do good work that is honorable. That’s my version of success, but maybe not someone else’s.
I wish people would stop judging society based on FRUITS and focus on the ROOTS on which they are building them.
For all the acquisitions and ‘successes’ of the start-up world, if there’s a silver lining to the non-successes that you don’t see, I do believe that start-up people should have higher employability if they come out into the working world. After all, they have made some of the hardest choices in their career and that in itself is credit.
Like Ali Mese and Tony Gaskin said at the end of the article – “Even if you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.”
Thank you Ali Mese, whoever you are, for this article. All the best and loving prayers to my fellow dream-builders. Please share this with someone who would be encouraged or inspired by it.