Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lua’s Startup Way: Dropping the Baggage

Nowadays I run some low-key websites without a “real” business model, no longer interested in accelerator or funding, not so eager to get a co-founder, got distracted to work on interesting projects at times, doing coding most of the time, enjoy being low profile and I am actually feeling happy and quite optimistic about the future. I could be delusional, or having irrational optimism, and I am loving it. The only thing which sadden me is not doing enough wholeheartedly.

Having read too much tech news on startup glamour and lured by the free funding the government is providing, I thought getting funding or joining an accelerator is the way to go. I fail miserably at all attempts, but I am not sadden by it, and I actually felt happier as I sort of figure out what I really need along the way. There are good reasons why I fail at these attempts, mainly I am too naïve and technical incline, doesn't know the right people in the industry (poor networking), and my business plan is not polished (I am not speaking the right jargon with business people), and probably I suck at pitching, convincing and selling. I didn't regret going through this process as it did teach me a few lessons: i) growing a startup and pitching for funding are 2 different skillsets ii) investor (or competition judge) are not always right (take their words with a grain of salt) iii) do I really need their money and expertise?

There is always “best practices” for something, and for startup is about i) single founder is a disadvantage ii) solid (or proven) business model is required (especially in this part of the world iii) most successful startup we heard for manage to raise fund.

Sometimes single founder is not our choosing, just like we can’t pick any women to be our wife just because we wanted to get married; do I need to wait for the appearance of a co-founder before I do a startup, or it’s more intuitive for me to go ahead and adapt along the way? Some people might argue if we sucks at attracting talent (a co-founder), we would probably suck at growing a startup. Though it would be great if my friends or colleagues wanted to do a startup together (or wish I study at Harvard), but I don’t blame them when most of them enjoy the comfort of employment and I am the odd ones. I believe sometimes finding an awesome co-founder does have a luck factor into play, but solo founder does have the advantage of utmost agility.

An entrepreneur is a man with multiple talents, and I admit I don’t have even half of the qualities to be the perfect entrepreneur: I don't like Business Model, and I don't do traditional Sales & Marketing. I admit that most business does require typical business model, where we sell a product or service, and charge money for it. What if it is something less typical or never been done before, like how Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram started (before they are proven profitable)? It seems be to be promising, have good traction, and something great might come out of it, or fail in epic scale? Maybe the business model could be some kind of advertising, but no one could really say for sure. Sometimes the long game or the uncharted business doesn't really have an obvious business model, where the only meaningful metric for the moment is traction.

Though most of us relate success in raising fund equal to success, but I have come to know plenty who raise fund drown in mediocrity (the ability to grow a business and to raise fund are indeed two different skillsets indeed). The ability to be featured on TV or TechCrunch, winning competitions or pitching contests or accepted into accelerators doesn't equate success. The question is: why would you like to raise fund (for growth or distribute the risk)? More importantly, why are you raising fund when you haven’t even built anything worthy? The only meaningful measurement of success comes from your customers (paying ones) and users (tons of them).

I am glad I did try a bit of everything so that I could understand better the path which is suitable for me, and came up with the following conclusions.

Lua’s Startup Way:

  • Startup for me is a feel good term about starting a potential business in a more innovative way (usually technological) than traditional business, be it high-growth or a lifestyle business.
  • Solo founder or not, it is probably fated.
  • Join accelerator if you think you need help: networking, opening doors, future funding, mentoring, etc.
  • Raise fund only if you need money to grow; if you can’t pay yourself, you should figure out a way to sustain without begging. If you don't believe in your idea with your own money, no one would.
  • If you are not running a traditional or proven business, the purpose a “Solid” Business Model is to "persuade" investors into giving you money; everyone could make a guess, but no one really know for sure.
  • If you already know what to do, pitching and competitions are just distractions.
  • There is no shame if your startup ends up as a sustainable lifestyle business and you are having fun; not everyone could and should make millions of insane dollars.
  • Play my strength: I am reasonably good technically but sucks at sales and marketing, make sure the startup I am growing doesn't depends on my weaker skills to succeed.
  • It is not accurate to assume that all business needs to sell a product or service directly.
  • I should spend most of the time understanding the business and its customers and users, refining and optimizing the product or process until you are happy with it; everything else is a distractions.
  • At the end of the day, it’s still about passion and perseverance, on which we could continue to adapt and have fun along the way. Don't expect others to give a shit about my passion.
  • If my work doesn't bring me satisfaction, I am doing it wrongly.
  • If money doesn't buy me food and freedom, I am spending it wrongly.
  • If I am still miserable, there must be something not done, or not done correctly, or the heart and the mind is not in sync.
  • If a good idea in my heard is not executed for years. it's definitely my fault and I should definitely do something about it.
  • No one could stop me from doing what I truly desire, except myself; if I didn't do it, it is not because I don't have the time or money, of the fault of my mom, dad, investors, society, etc.
  • There is no shame in failing, but there are regrets for not trying.
  • If there is a idea which you think is great, but others disagree, don't kill it, test it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Surviving a less than perfect life 苦中作乐

Though I know it is almost impossible to achieve perfectness (except in Street Fighter), it doesn’t means I didn’t try to make life perfect, or at least aiming to achieve something much better than the current state. I try to get better grades in school (did I?), change job in search of the better career, turn my life upside-down in realizing my dream, learning to live a meaningful life without regrets, etc.

What happens when things didn’t get better, but getting worse? What if we stumbled upon some problems, which couldn’t be solved immediately, but might take years or the problem could never go away all together? This reminds me of Beautiful Mind: where John Nash couldn’t get rid of his imaginary friends, but realize the fact that his imaginary friends are not real.

As much as we desire only happiness in life, we also have to accept life does comes with certain dosage of uncertainty and challenges which crop up from times to times. Sometimes it just took some planning and effort to solve these challenges, and sometimes we get some stubborn challenges with no obvious solution in sight. Even though we manage to clear the level this time, something bigger and more badass might appear the next time around.

How do we live with this “problematic” life? Perhaps I find wisdom in a Chinese proverb 苦中作乐, which means finding happiness within hardship. In a certain sense, we can’t prevent shit from happening, but we certainly can control how we react towards it. And most of the time, despite the shit that is happening, it’s a probably just a small part of our life that we over magnify it. I believe another problem is that we don’t like the fact the shit stick on us, it makes us feel uneasy and want to get rid of it immediately, but we can’t, at least not so fast, and that leads to further frustration. In a certain sense, I believe we have make peace with shit and have a ceasefire treaty, until the time is right to finish it off, or maybe not.

Living an imperfect life, might be the journey required to lead a perfect life. Without frustration, happiness shall have a lesser value.