Canadian geek in Myanmar

Tag: entrepreneurship

The high cost of negativity

After my last, fairly depressing post, I was going to work on a fun, upbeat post next but I have to say, it’s been a little difficult given the various conversations I’ve been having over the past few months.  For some reason, I’ve been surrounded by negativity lately, both personally and professionally.  Investors are moaning that there’s not enough deal flow, entrepreneurs are having a hard time with raising funds. On a more personal front, many of my friends have been in Myanmar for 2-3 years and the rose tinted glasses are certainly starting to dim. Everyone’s just a little too frustrated with life and work here these days.  It’s a good thing the holiday is upon us so everyone can go take a damn big breath and cool down.

While I’ve never been accused of being Susie Sunshine, I also try not to complain and either make the best of a situation or change it.  Living in Yangon, there also seems to be a really strange, twisted kind of insular view of how things are “crazy” here.  For instance, I recently rented a car and have started driving myself around town.  Nine out of ten people are shocked by this and always say, how do you deal with the traffic???  Um….seriously?!?  Yeah, there’s definitely some infrastructure problems here but I don’t see it much worse than most cities of equal size. Would Yangon benefit from a metro system? Sure! But have these people been to other large Asian cities like Jakarta or Ho Chi Minh during rush hour? Forget Asia, I’ve been known to idle for over 1.5 hours in stupid Vancouver traffic to travel the same distance that I would in Yangon in half the time…and Vancouver isn’t even known as a problematic traffic city.  Added to that, the city has half the population of Yangon with a skytrain and extensive public transit system.  So, yeah I get stuck in traffic sometimes in Yangon but I am wondering where all these expats have come from that in a city of 4-5 million, there are no traffic jams and all the drivers on the road are perfect and would never dream of speeding or passing on the right hand lane. Food for thought – according to Time.com, here is the list of the worst cities for traffic jams. See? Someone has it worse.

But this post isn’t meant to be about me ranting but rather to remind everyone that being surrounded by negativity can have major impacts to your life, work and health.  As an entrepreneur, I have to keep not only myself but also my team motivated at all times.  It’s hard enough to do that on a day to day basis but almost impossible when you have people who drag you down.  I have two very distinct situations at early points in both of my startups when I was talking about my idea, bearing in mind they were early stage and with people I trusted. The feedback was so negative that in both instances I almost stopped, which would have been tragic.  Luckily, I also has some really incredible, smart people around to prop me up too.  I wrote more about the first example here.

It is so important to find positive and reinforcing friends and advisors and to surround yourself with the right support system, something I talk about a lot. That’s not to say that you should look for people who are just going to tell you what you want to hear, which is counter-intuitive.  Here’s the best distinction I have read about this: “…there is a difference between complaining and having someone bring your attention to an important matter which needs to be addressed.” This comes from this awesome article that tells you why you become dumber and less healthy just by simply listening to people complain…kind of like the harmful effects of second hand smoke. Time to be more aware of the cost of negativity in both yourself and those around you.

I’ve recently started something called 100 Days of Happiness. It’s basically posting one picture a day of something that makes me happy. It is a simple exercise that is mostly about being mindful. So instead of focusing on the negative, or allowing the people around you to drag you down, try something that forces you to think about things that make you happy every day. I’m surprised at how difficult this can be some days but I’m still really glad I’m directing my energy on thinking about what makes me happy rather than pissed.  Try it, even if you only do 10 days. What’s the harm?

The psychological toll of entrepreneurship

I woke up this morning to one of those nasty, horrible days every entrepreneur goes through. The one where it’s all too much and you just want to huddle in the shower and never emerge.  But this time it wasn’t about the current venture I’m working on. As a matter of fact, that is going very well and I am incredibly excited about the idea and the team executing against it.  What got me this time was looking at last year and thinking that everything I touched in 2014 was a huge, fat fail.  This is exactly why I don’t look in the rearview mirror! I sat around this morning wondering why the hell I am even considering doing this again. Surely I was the world’s biggest masochist to open myself to the same kind of betrayal and heartbreak from 2014.

A few hours into my day and several chats with friends and family later, I’m feeling a lot more balanced.  I’ve been reminded that while i don’t have anything physically to show for my efforts on 2014, I do have a lot more experience and strength. I also have a fuller life with hobbies I enjoy. Besides all of that, and the most important thing of all, I have amazing friends and family who are there to catch me, remind me that I’m great and nudge me on my way again.

I met a young girl earlier this week who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur and I told her to go find some entrepreneur friends. Surround herself with people who will understand what she’s going to go through. Entrepreneurship is truly the loneliest journey you can take so you need to make sure that you build pit stops along the way with people who will nudge you on, no matter how much you want to wallow, who high five you at the wins and hug you at the fails.  This is especially true if you’re doing this while single.  There’s no one there at the end of the day to catch you when you want to fall so you need to make sure that you build a strong safety net you can rely on.

On the reverse note of all the above, being an entrepreneur is also one of the funnest and most rewarding things you can do too.  The roller coaster ride is intense, which is probably why some of us do this more than once.  I am a huge supporter of people who want to join this journey.  Just do it safely. Find some outlets for stress relief. Build your pit stops. Surround yourself with your champions.  And remember, it’s okay to wallow every once in a while too. And if all this fails, read the “forgive yourself” lesson from the previous post 🙂

Now I’m going to just fucking get on with it.

The Secret Sauce of Startups

“So, tell me everything I need to know to start a tech company in Vietnam”

That was a question I was asked last week. And the guy was totally serious.  Even worse, he was an overseas Vietnamese or (VK as we are more commonly known here), in his 40’s and had just joined a tech startup as an ‘advisor’.

I had breakfast with a lovely female entrepreneur today and she told me she gets many similar kinds of enquiries. Either that or ‘how do you balance entrepreneurship with life/kids/etc’.  We had a good laugh over this supposed secret sauce of entrepreneurship, as if there was a silver bullet of some kind that made you brave (or crazy) enough to take the leap into this world.  If I had this sauce, I’d be rich and taking a helicopter to breakfast not a beat up, hot and run down Yangon taxi.

But after a couple of hours mulling this conversation, I realized that there actually is an answer.  The next time a want-erpreneur asks me, I’m going to say just fucking get on with it. Or I guess the more common vernacular is JFDI – just fucking do it.  Here’s the big secret: not one of us has all the answers and if we’re doing it right, we start with way more questions than answers. Every single entrepreneur I know goes through patches of faking it because that’s just what needs to happen.

Someone asked me today what my biggest lesson from last year was and I said that I learned to forgive myself.  Just fucking get on with it but give yourself room to fail.  Just fucking get on with it but forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Just fucking get on with it and when you fall, pick yourself up and move on.  So just fucking get on with it.  What’s the worse that can happen? Well, I guess a whole lot actually. But take it from someone who has gone through the worse possible first “exit”, it’s all survivable.

Start up lessons

I had prepared the presentation below for Barcamp Saigon today but by the time the disorganized staff had schlepped me back and forth, they had closed off the ability to submit topics so I was not allowed to present. Usually at Barcamps you can submit a topic at any point during the day but apparently the organizers here felt the need to be fancy. All that amounted to is that I had two presentations prepared that are now just content for my blog. Given how busy I’ve been lately, it’s nice to have some content to post actually.

Below is something that I put together and is very specific to me and SQUAR. As with most start up information you find online, it should be noted that every company has their own stories and nuances. Hopefully this can provide some food for thought for any budding entrepreneurs, especially in Asia where our game is played so much differently than in the Silicon Valley.

It should be noted that we moved very quickly: product from concept to Google Play store in less than 4 weeks, oversubscribed investor interest in two weeks and a ton of media interest within 5 days of a beta launch. A combination of great timing, hard work and a bit of luck has SQUAR in the enviable situation of Silicon Valley investors like Sequoia seeking me out.

One day soon, I will write a more detailed story about the SQUAR start up story but for now, would love to hear from others who have done this in the region to see if they have additional stories to tell.