I Just Want To Lie Down

Back in the days of my corporate years, me and a colleague of mine often talked about holidays. These discussions spanned from possible holiday dates and destinations, to all the different food and drink we would enjoy during the trip.

We strategised about the best possible ways to capitalise on these holidays. Should we take it before Christmas? After New Year? Or maybe mid-year?

We took into account costs, the best weather, airlines, any special events, and so much more. It was almost an obsession for us.

I started a company more than ten years ago. Well, we acquired it but in my defence the company was in a very risky position, one bad move and there would be nothing left. We did quite a turnaround to make it into a strong and healthy business. And boy it took time to do that. I never knew acquiring a business could take so much work.

As with other businesses, things were never smooth nor stable for long. We experienced highs and lows, joy, heart break, excitement, and many other indescribable feelings.

We worked so hard for the business (especially in the first few years). I remember those nights when the kids would sleep in the car because we had big orders to fulfil the following day. The worst was when the phone rang in the afternoon with an urgent request, and we knew we had no choice but to abide, because it was one of our major customers – another all nighter coming through. Who said owning a business means answering to no one? We quickly figured out that we were answering to more than 500 people (read: bosses). And these ‘bosses’ could be more demanding than our corporate bosses (not always).

Nevertheless we were happy. Things turned around and we made good money. We started to improve (increase) our spending. A new car, a new house, even a new coffee machine. Life was great.

“Hi Fred.” Eddie said to me. ”How have you been?”

“Hi Eddie, what a surprise. Well, I am doing good, man,” I said.

Eddie is a friend from my previous life. He is the one I discussed holidays with back in my corporate days.

“Where are you working now,” Eddie asked.

“I run my own company.” I replied to him. “We distribute industrial products.”

“Wow, I remember back in BankEast you always wanted to have your own business,” Eddie said.

“Yeah, it’s a dream come true.” I said, trying to remember what I really said to him back then.

“Congratulations man.”

“Thanks, what about you?”

“I work in South Bank Institute now.”

“Sounds like a good place.”

“Yes it is, and guess what, we are going to Bali again this year.”

“Again?”

“Yup, the third time this year.”

‘Third time?”

This guy is so lucky, I thought to myself. I haven’t got the time to do all these holidays this year.

“Ok Fred, I need to rush,” Eddie said. “It’s great bumping into you.”

Despite our best effort we could only take holidays during Christmas and New Year. That would be around 10 days per year. We compensate this by making it in such a way that we only work short hours during the year. Practically we structured the business around our kids. We want to spend time with them so we work short hours but somehow we end up with only 10 days break per year.

In all honesty, I never thought about it before meeting Eddie.

It’s not like we need multiple holidays anyway. Ten days break is long enough – or so I thought.

But I just couldn’t let it go. Eddie gets to take multiple trips to Bali and I am just stuck here in the warehouse? What a crappy lifestyle I have now. Surely there must be something I could do to make my life a bit better?

As I drove home I was reminiscing about the time when I too was able to take multiple trips per year. What a great life it was. I remembered the cubicle where I sat. Eddie was sitting just across my desk (hence we talked a lot to each other). The best part was in the morning when I would use the company’s coffee machine to make my delicious morning coffee. Lunch was not too bad as sometimes we had to rush things, especially when there was a big tender due.

Big tender, what a nightmare.

I must have made more than 1000 spreadsheets over the course of my career as an analyst. Oh yeah, and those headaches, splitting headaches. I was consuming pain killers like candy. I had a box or two on my desk and took two tablets per day. If I kept going the way I was maybe I could purchase them at wholesale price based on the volume I went through.

And my boss, OMG, she was the most discriminating, intimidating, back-stabbing $%&6%^.

You know what, maybe I don’t need those holidays.

Life is good as it is now.

We are happy, our business is growing, the wife is happy (very important), and I have my own coffee machine at home (also very important).

You know what, I have a great life.

It’s simple, not glamorous, albeit it’s the best for me.

I just want to lie down on the sofa, relaxing, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and the most delicious Scotch Finger biscuit by my side.

That’s all I need.

I just want to lie down.


As previously published in Flying Solo: I Just Want To Lie Down

Slow Down, You’ll Get There Faster

Living in a fast lane. Global connectivity. Instant gratification.

Billion dollars ideas.

We have our goals, ambitions, dreams. We want to … no … we need to get there faster before it is too late. While we still have the strength and drive.

There is nothing wrong with big hairy audacious goals. We only live once, so we might as well make the most of it. Often, what we regret the most is the thing we didn’t have the time (or courage) to do.

But how fast can we run? Or more importantly, how far can we go?

Slow down. You will run faster, and you can go far.

It is not the rabbit versus the turtle. We want you to be both a rabbit and a turtle. (Maybe something like a ’turbit’ — a turtle with turbo rabbit). Slowing down to run faster and far is about taking a step back so we can manage our bodies and minds with laser focus. It is about building simple habits that move you towards your goal. Simple habits that if practised long enough will evolve into second nature. And before you know it, you are running effortlessly, faster than ever, non-stop.

We will look at five habits in relation to slowing down. Each one builds the next one and the next one and so on. But that doesn’t mean we forget the previous habit when we get to the next one. It simply says we need all five habits because they are built upon one another.

Habit One: Recharge Regularly

The longer we work, the less effective we are. There is a point where results will drop regardless of how much efforts we put in.

We need to recharge.

Slowing down forces you to notice your wellbeing. When the rush is over, the physical and emotional repercussions will surface. No, they have not been hiding all this time. A multitude layer of adrenaline covered them.

In a way, slowing down allows your mind and body to release their tensions. You then have the opportunity to rest. Your mind and body can recuperate.

Your brain needs plenty of rest to function at its optimal level. Go to sleep!” (Lalah Delia)

Habit Two: Remove Noises

Now that we have slowed down and recharged, we can start noticing noises. Those that are not important to our primary goal — remove them. These noises can be anything from actual sounds (perhaps noisy neighbours) to little side projects that often occupy too much of our mind and time.

The tricky part is saying no to a thousand things and yes to one thing.

Often we are afraid to focus on one thing and miss out on others. What you need to understand is, by doing everything you miss out on everything. By doing one thing you have a chance to be the best at it. Don’t be afraid to remove noises and focus on one thing — your primary goal.

“I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.” (Bruce Lee)

Habit Three: Planning

Removing noises allows us to get clarity. It is time to plan our steps with a clear goal in sight. Yes, planning is an essential habit albeit boring it may be.

Without continuous planning, your efforts will be akin to those wandering in the desert with no map and compass. You can spend years going around trying desperately to achieve your goals without going anywhere.

On the other hand, be careful with trying to find the silver bullet. While the activity of continuous planning is essential, the actual plan itself might be obsolete immediately after implemented. There is no silver bullet. There is only an evolving one.

The whole idea is to coordinate your steps in a strategic way towards a strong goal. But be flexible. Keep fine-tuning and keep evolving.

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” (General Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Habit Four: Self-control

We are our greatest enemies. Often it is ourselves that restrain us from moving forward. In the heat of the battle, we often lose control.

It is the execution that results in success. Masterful execution requires excellent self-control. How are we going to move forward flawlessly if we are continually affected emotionally by what is happening to us?

Slowing down helps you to achieve better self-control through regular recharge, complete focus, and continuous planning.

In achieving your goals, there will be obstacles and challenges. Some of them will make you wonder why you bother to go for it at all. There will be a time when you want to throw in the towel. In those moments, remember, it is not what happens to us that matter. It is how we react.

“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” (Charles R. Swindoll)

Habit Five: Step Forward

One of the most dangerous assumptions in life is that we are in control. While we can be in control of ourselves (Habit Four: Self-control), we are never in full control of everything else. The bigger our plan is, the less certain it is. Our ten years goal is a dream. But our ‘thing to do’ task for tomorrow is very real.

The more immediate the action step is the more control we have over it. The more we can be sure of the outcome.

The most important step right now (actually at any given moment) is your next one. Focus on your next step and stop worrying about the tenth step.This habit builds on both planning and self-control. A continuous act of planning will guide your mind and an excellent self-control will ensure you are moving on the right track.

You never know for sure how the whole plan will pan out but nothing happens until you take the next step.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

So just to recap:

Habit One: Recharge Regularly
Habit Two: Remove Noises
Habit Three: Planning
Habit Four: Self-control
Habit Five: Step Forward

I have even constructed an acronym to help you remember: 2RP2S or TwoRPTwoS (read: torpedoes).

The five habits are simple enough to understand yet challenging to master. And all it takes to start mastering these habits is one simple conscious effort: “slow down”.

One more time … slow … down …


As previously published in Medium: Slow Down, You’ll Get There Faster

My Wife Knows Everything, and So Do I

“So how much does a bundle weigh?” Peter asked.

“20kg,” I replied.

“That is too heavy!” he said.

“Well, your boss said the maximum weight is 25kg, so we are still under.”

Peter delivered our products around the city. He was pretty healthy for his age, around 60 at that time.

Our warehouse staff, Tom, was in his 20s, so he did most of the heavy lifting. He never complained though. We were lucky to have such a compliant worker. Although sometimes I caught him checking his Facebook account at work.

In the meantime, my wife couldn’t stop complaining.

She always found something, somewhere, to criticise on. Who cared if the floor was not swept yet? Or if the rubbish bins were not emptied? We were busy making money. We did not have time for all of those little things.

We had everything under control between me and Tom. So the last thing we needed was a headache from a clean-freak wife. Don’t get me wrong. I loved her deeply. But regarding my business, there were just three people: me, myself, and I. There was no one else. I did it all.

Business was picking up. Our customers couldn’t get enough of our products. Everything was flying out the door. The warehouse was as busy as Tokyo central train station. I was contemplating whether to get additional staff or not.

Tom rang at 8am.

“Hi Fred, I am sorry, but I need to leave by 11am today,” Tom said.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“It’s a little bit awkward to explain,” he replied.

“Alright, that’s fine,” I said. “I am coming shortly anyway.”

I had butterflies in my stomach. Something was not right.

The following day Tom came to work. He worked hard as usual. Peter, the courier driver, threw some complaints again about the weight of the parcels.

“Hah, weak little old man,” I thought to myself. “I could lift those parcels easily.”

***

My coffee was too hot that morning. I was just holding my cup in the warehouse, waiting for Tom to arrive. He was unusually late that day.

“Tom, you are finally here,” I said to him as he came through the door.

“Ah, yes, I am here,” he seemed somewhat flustered.

“Ready for work?” I asked.

“Umm, before that.”

“Yes?”

“I have something for you,” Tom handed me an envelope. “This is my resignation letter.”

And that’s how I finally knew where Tom went a few weeks ago when he had to leave at 11am. He had gone to an interview at another company.

***

I didn’t have the time to get a new staff straight away. So for the following few weeks, I worked extra hours in the warehouse. It was like an exercise anyway, I said to myself, trying to justify it.

Peter still said the same thing about our parcels, that they were too heavy. Of course, I didn’t pay any attention to it. If he couldn’t lift them, I would do it for him. And so I did, loading all the parcels from our trolley to his truck.

My body started to feel the pain from lifting all of those heavy parcels. In particular my back. I guess I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be. There were times when my back froze in the morning. It stiffened up like a block of ice.

“Maybe Peter is right about the way we handle these parcels,” I thought to myself.

We did interview few people to replace Tom, but we didn’t feel right about any of them. It was not an easy job, what Tom was doing. I wanted to make sure we got the right person.

In the meantime, I kept plodding along.

The back pain got worse. It was a regular thing to get a stiff back in the morning. I couldn’t care less though, we had work to do.

***

“Hi Peter,” I said.

“Fred, you are here again,” Peter said.

“Yeah, we haven’t found a new warehouse guy.”

“O well, at least you’re still young.”

“Well, not really, but I can lift these up for you.”

And as soon as I picked up the last parcel, I felt a knife jabbed in my back.

I fell to my knees. I could still feel the knife. The sharp pain shot deeper into my middle back. By then I felt my back almost collapsed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak.

Peter closed his truck door not realising what happened. He drove away, leaving me on the warehouse floor.

I waited for a few minutes before trying to stand up. I felt a sharp pain every time I tried to move. I finally pulled myself up. I walked towards my office holding on to everything I could find.

“Hunny, I need help,” I called my wife.

“What happened?” my wife replied.

“I hurt my back .. badly. I can hardly move.”

“Ok, stay there, I’m coming now.”

***

My wife took me to a physiotherapist.

It was a disc-injury.

The gel in-between my spinal bones was pressed so hard that it was swollen and hurting the nerves around it.

The physiotherapist said it would take at least a few weeks before I could start working again. And he specifically told me not to do any heavy-lifting. He said if it happened again the damage could be permanent.

I couldn’t believe it. I lost a good employee. Then I lost my back. I lost everything.

“I could help in the warehouse,” my wife suddenly said.

“You?”, I said in disbelief.

“Yeah, I can lift those parcels too.”

“They are too heavy.”

“I’ll figure out a way.”

My wife ended up helping around in the warehouse for the next few weeks. I was recovering slowly while she worked hard. And she did figure out a better way to lift the parcels. She used the forklift. I never knew why we did not think of it before. I felt stupid trying to handle all those parcels by hand.

A forklift, of course!

You know what, all her complaints about floor and bins. It meant nothing now. She was the one that held me up when I needed help the most. She was the one that came to the rescue when there was no one else. And she was the one that put up with me and my massive ego.

I never knew how weak I was. I never knew how much I needed someone to support me when I got myself in trouble.

I thought I could do it all.

I couldn’t.

I realised that in this business journey of mine, I don’t have to go it alone. In fact, I cannot go it alone.

I need support.

I needed it then, and I still do now.


“While good support is essential – during difficult times, it is non-negotiable.” — Fredy Namdin

As previously published in Medium: My Wife Knows Everything, and So Do I

Why Real Goals Are Scary (And Impossible Goals Are Addictive)

“In two years, my business is going to expand nationwide,” I said to Rob, my good friend.

“Yeah, and how are you planning to do that?” Rob replied.

“Get good customers base, expand the product lines, hire salespersons.”

“You think it’s so easy? Your plan does not even sound convincing!”

“Well, it’s important to have a dream.”

“Yeah, keep dreaming.”


That conversation took place about seven years ago when Rob was still working for me in my wholesaling business in Australia. I did not end up growing nationwide. It was just a dream.

In all honesty, that dream was mainly comprised of unachievable ambitions and insurmountable obstacles. I did not realise it then, but there were hidden motives behind my dream, behind my impossible goal.

I call them the Four Fears of Reality.

You see, it feels good to live in ‘potential’. It is a place to bask in the glory of our dream without having to worry about the rough roads to get there. We want to feel like we have already achieved that status, that wealth, that fame, that ‘potential’.

We love dreaming.

A dream is seductive and often addictive. But when reality hits, we realise it is just that, a dream. And we see how different it is from reality.

Are you ready to read more about it?

Fear of Responsibility

My seven years old daughter sometimes asked if she could fix things around the house. The latest one being our garden reticulation system. Of course, we said no. It was impossible for her to fix it.

The situation was different when I went to fix it myself. There was a real responsibility because I could do it. It was not easy, but it was possible.

When our goal is within reach, we have no excuse. It becomes a real goal. It becomes our responsibility.

We own it.

On the other hand, if we cannot even get close to our goal, how can we be held responsible?

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a reflection of my unconscious effort to avoid the heavy burden of responsibility?

Fear of Losing Face (this one is rather personal)

In Chinese culture, there is a saying: “Men can’t live without face, trees can’t live without bark.” This is a concept of face (mianzi). It can perhaps be most closely defined as “dignity” or “prestige”.

It is the utmost importance not to lose face because it is the same as losing dignity or prestige. And being a Chinese descendant, my parents had successfully embedded this mindset in my heart and soul.

What does it have to do with the impossible goal, you might ask.

In essence, when I fail to achieve an impossible goal, I don’t lose face. It is the perfect excuse. However, a real goal carries with it the power to make me lose face.

I cannot fail a real goal without losing my dignity.

And it scares me.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a well-planned excuse to save face?

Fear of Real Work

When I set out to expand nationwide seven years ago, I also attempted to create an action plan. I studied my national competitors, learnt about products that would sell nationally, and tried to connect with the big players. All of those seemed like good ideas. I enjoyed every minute of it.

I learned then that those activities did not help me towards my goal. But they felt good. I felt like a big player myself. The goal itself was not real. And so all of my action steps were nothing but drops in the ocean.

I kept doing them though. I could not stop. I was addicted to my impossible goal and the feel-good activities I created along the way.

We tend to do things that do not contribute much to achieve our impossible goal. But we do them anyway because they feel good.

Remember, dreams are seductive and addictive. We want more of them, never enough, always more, and more.

All of these addictive dreams will disappear once the goal becomes a reality.

Real goals push away our addictive dreams, leaving us with boring daily grinds. Real goals produce real work, hard and stressful work. It is most definitely not addictive.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was for me to taste this pleasure of dreaming over and over again?

Fear of Real Change

Have you ever thought that an impossible goal often does not push you forward? In most cases, it does the opposite. It restrains you from moving forward.

I did not get anywhere while trying to expand nationwide. I did a lot of research, thinking, reading, and so on. But I stayed where I was.

I was too busy creating feel-good activities that led me nowhere.

Truthfully, I was scared of change. And my impossible goal helped me to stay put without feeling guilty. I convinced myself that I was moving forward. I was progressing in my mind. But in reality, I was not.

I was trapped in my own dream. Or rather, I trapped myself in my dream.

An impossible goal will move us around in our mind. Real goals bring with them concrete actions that yield results. Real goals will force us to move forward, in reality.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was me hiding behind my fear of change?


“Fred, you are still here,” Rob suddenly appeared at the door.

“Yes, I am still here,” I replied.

“I thought you would be conquering the country by now.”

“Haha. Well, that was two years ago. I am now into other things.”

“Such as?”

“Selling more safety gears to the workshop next door.”

“That sounds more promising, want me to come with you?”


If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. (Dale Carnegie)

As previously published in The Ascent: Why Real Goals Are Scary (And Impossible Goals Are Addictive)

Overnight Success: Merit, Grit, or Luck (or is it Magic?)

How often do we see those overnight successes only to find out that their ‘overnights’ spanned over decades? We don’t really see the years of hard work behind it. The media couldn’t be bothered either. After all, overnight success does sound better than ten years of blood, sweat and tears.

These instant success stories (often stem from ‘one brilliant idea’) create the illusion of .. well .. instant successes.

“If only we can find that one idea; only one idea and we’ll be rich.”

Merit (the quality of being particularly good or worthy)

When I started my business I thought I was ready (not really, maybe 70% ready). I did spend a few years in university learning about business (sort of). And I did have some experiences in a business analysis role.

So I embarked on this business-journey, and it was not at all how I imagined it would be.

My vision was ‘Walmart Contender In Two Years’. My reality was ‘Work Hard For Years And Still No Guarantee Of Walmart Level Success Whatsoever’.

There was a big difference between running a business and learning it in university (or from behind a business analyst desk). Interestingly, for us, it was not about the complexity of running it. I guess we were lucky enough to have acquired a simple-to-run business.

It was the uncertainty and the constant worry that got into me. I reckoned my blood pressure shot up because of these ongoing business-heart-attacks.

There was no assurance that we would meet the sales target for the month or in anything at all. Often, we revised our yearly plan and budget within a few weeks into the year. Don’t get me wrong. Those plan and budget were crucial. They gave us the goal and the general strategy to get there. But we had to keep adjusting, fine-tuning and evolving.

My so-called merit only took me so far in the midst of uncertainty in the business world where they were so many unknowns. Anything could go wrong any day, and vice versa. It was like someone ‘up there’ was turning the ’lucky tap’ on and off at random.

Life to me is defined by uncertainty. Uncertainty is the state in which we live, and there is no way to outfox it. (Thomas H. Cook)

Grit (courage and resolve)

When you have a young family, any decision is never straight forward. I wanted to quit the business, but I never did.

There was the anxiety, the worry, and the stress.

But there was also certain flexibility in running my own business. I could bring home some work, divert the phone, work from my little van, etc. I could pretty much organise it around my young family.

My family became my motivation. And hence I found the courage to continue. I found the seed of my grit.

Now, I did not magically have the superpower to push through all of the challenges, obstacles and dementors in business (still don’t). There was no magic wand to cast a powerful ’patronum’ spell.

It was just as ordinary as any person would have it.

This so-called grit started as a simple decision to keep going. It then grew into something rather substantial, something I could feel, something I knew existed in my heart. It became a mental muscle. There were times when my gritty-muscle needed rest to recuperate. There were other times when it pushed me further than I thought I could.

Nowadays, my simple motto is to do the next thing, and the next thing, and the next one, one by one. Trust me. It gets easier as the years pass. My blood pressure is still pretty high, but I have learnt to live with it (with a daily medicine).

Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. (Angela Duckworth)

Luck (success or failure brought by chance rather than through one’s actions)

Have you ever seen successful people and thought about how lucky those people were? They struck gold. And then more gold, and more.

Me, on the other hand. There were so many times I came across opportunities only to see them flying away. If just I had the resources to capitalise on them.

In the end, I realised it was not ‘luck’ that I needed. It was always about making the most out of luck (not luck itself). And one way to do it right is by having all three: Merit+Grit+Luck (or MGL — read: muggle).

Muggle (a non-magical person)

We don’t have magical abilities. We are just everyday people who work hard and learn hard along the way. And if we do that long enough (gritty-muscle at work here), we will start to notice golden opportunities floating around us.

The crucial part is to turn them into successful results before our competitors do. And this is when our merit comes into play. It is the time when we get to make use of our skills, experiences, networks, and so on.

Within this small golden window is when we seize the opportunity and capitalise on ‘luck’.

My dad gave me a piece of excellent advice about business. He told me that in any industry golden eras come and go like waves. For me to experience a golden era and ride the market boom that comes with it, I need to be an excellent player in it.

Many great companies were built in decades. They look like ‘overnight successes’ because often we focus too much on the short time they struck gold. We don’t see the decades they spent persevering through immense challenges and obstacles, perfecting their crafts, fine-tuning their methods, evolving themselves.

They were just ordinary ‘muggles’ with the courage to go through life and business. They waited patiently for the golden opportunity so they could strike when the time was right and capitalise on luck to the fullest.

And so could we. 

Good luck is when opportunity meets preparation, while bad luck is when lack of preparation meets reality. (Eliyahu Goldratt)


As previously published in The Ascent: Overnight Success: Merit, Grit, or Luck?

Is Your Startup Killing It (Or Killing You)?

Tom was an ambitious young entrepreneur. He started a successful tech company in the healthcare industry — an object of envy among his business peers.

Despite all the admiration, Tom was under a lot of pressures. Working from 6 am to 10 pm on a daily basis started to take its toll. He came home physically and mentally tired, but his brain could not stop working. Constant worry and stress gave him terrible insomnia. Tom realised his health was getting worse. He lost his appetite and survived mostly on black coffee and toast.

There were times when Tom had suicidal thoughts. His mind was clouded in darkness, and the air felt dirty; it was difficult to breathe in.

But his success mattered more than anything else.

He kept going in denial of his fractured sanity.


The Stigma

Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘Founder Depression’?

Founder depression looks a lot like a typical depression. Sadness, loss of interest, lack of energy and constant fatigue.

Sounds familiar?

Look it up, it is real, and it is happening. Maybe you have experienced it yourself. Perhaps you have seen someone else going through it. What you might not expect is the following. Founder depression can happen regardless of whether the startup is a success or not. According to research, entrepreneurs are 30% more likely to experience depression than their nonentrepreneurial counterparts.

Starting a business is stressful. It is the constant networking, cash flow pressure, lack of sleep, customer problem, product failure, staff issues, long hours and so on. Interestingly, despite the enormous stress a founder is under, none of them seems to talk about it much. Ask any founder about his or her business. I bet you; the answer will be along the line of: “I am killing it”.

It seems like there is a stigma attached to founder depression. No founder wants to look ‘weak’. And often they are willing to sacrifice their sanity for that. It is almost like a badge of honour, to be under enormous stress.

The Spiral

A startup is essentially a combination of people and process, driven by its founder. While it seems like the founder has the ultimate control of the startup, it is not always the case in reality. There is a web of responsibility and accountability among founders, investors, staffs, and customers. This intricately interconnected web often puts the founder in a difficult position.

Should the founder allocate resources for the wellbeing of the staffs? Should they pursue new product development? Should they start to penetrate the market now?

And so the initial drive leads to stress, which if not managed, then turns into depression.

“Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak — the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either.” — Aaron Swartz, Reddit co-founder (Aaron tragically committed suicide in 2013)

But the stigma attached to founder depression often prevents founders from opening up and getting help. The inability to get help will lead to further depression, and the downward spiral continues.

Breaking down depression starts by breaking down the stigma.

Breaking down the stigma starts from within. It is the mastery of self that allows us to look weak and vulnerable without feeling insignificant.

The Safe Place

It requires enormous strength to open up about our weakness. We don’t just approach a stranger and start sharing our deepest fear. We need a safe place. We need a place to be us, to be humans that hurt and bleed like mere mortals. Only then we can crawl our way up. Slowly recovering and rebuilding our strength.

The safe place is difficult to find. Yet without it, founders are often reluctant to open up. Before they let their guard down, they need to be sure they won’t be taken advantage of. Opening up requires deep trust and in the world of dog-eat-dog where do you find trust?

The safe place is difficult to find indeed.

The good news is, the safe place does exist. The safe place can be a family member, a close friend, or even a mentor or coach. The bad news is, you need to look for it. The safe place is not hiding, but it is not actively looking for you either.

Once you find it, keep it, and care for it, for it is a rare find.

It is a place where you find the strength to be vulnerable and the inner peace for reflection and recharge.

The Courage

There is a limit to the founder’s ability to withstand constant stress and depression. He or she might have found a safe place to refuel. But still, once the limit breaks, a massive depression will set its foot in the founder’s heart.

It is a moment of courage. It is the time for a tough decision. Founders need to choose one of two things, keep going or admit defeat. Both require a tremendous amount of courage. It takes courage to keep going knowing your sanity is on the line. And it also takes a lot of courage to admit failure and defeat.

There is no right or wrong answer here. Only the founder knows the answer, for only he or she knows the sacrifice that comes with it. The founder has no choice but to endure the agony that comes with either of them.

Whatever it is, a choice must be made. And it is only within the founder’s heart that the ultimate choice can be truly decided.

Only you, the founder, knows if the startup is killing it, or killing you. The real question is, what are you going to do about it?


“Running a start-up is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss. After a while, you stop staring, but the glass chewing never ends.” Elon Musk


As previously published in The Startup: Is Your Startup Killing It (Or Killing You)?

 

What To Do When You’re Backed Into A Corner (5 Strategic Keys to Capitalise on During Desperate Times)

Once upon a time, I had a vision of business victory. I drew a straight timeline of my (forecasted) success on a blank A4 paper.

That’s it, a straight line.

Never did I know that my visionary picture was not complete without various corners of setbacks. The simple straight line transformed itself into many chaotic abstract paths.

While success is what we desire, often a desperate situation precedes a great leap ahead. Just like pulling a catapult’s sling for a powerful shot, a painful stretch prepares for a strong comeback.

In this article, we will look at five strategic keys. I call these the ‘CoRNNR’ (read: corner) strategy for it is useful when we are backed into a corner.

The first three keys form the necessary elements. The fourth key is the most challenging one, and the final fifth key is the glue that will hold everything together.

CoRNNR strategy is being laser focused during a tough situation, for a powerful comeback. Coincidentally, setbacks, failures and crises provide fertile ground to discover, develop and strengthen our cornered business.

After all, a cornered army is a dangerous one.

“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” — Sun Tzu

Core Strength

Pressures force us to switch on our survival instinct. We need to become our best selves to endure hardships. There is no time to muck around.

About a decade ago, we acquired our first business in mining industrial wholesaling. We supplied safety gears and industrial strength chemicals to workshops and factories.

Our business was operating in a highly competitive market with notoriously low margins. A few years into the business, several national players entered the market and started stealing some of our significant customers using aggressive pricing tactics.

It was a typical scenario of a small business getting bullied and squashed by large corporations. We were losing customers. We knew we had to compete differently from the major players to survive the onslaught.

And so we started to look at what we could do that our big competitors couldn’t.

It was undeniable that our smallish size meant we were more flexible and we could respond faster to our customer’s needs. Our large competitors had to comply with complicated operational procedures. We didn’t.

We then found out that a small number of engineering workshops around our area were not too concerned about prices. Instead, they preferred to work with vendors who could guarantee fast delivery of supplies when required. It was something our big, fat competitors had troubles fulfilling.

Upon this realization, we started to build our business around a simple strategy. It was the assurance of quality supplies with a fast delivery turnaround. We could do that because we were small, flexible, local, and highly motivated.

It became our core strength.

We found our unique competitive advantage, and it opened up a whole new opportunity for us. Our large competitors backed us into a corner, unknowingly positioned us at a unique vantage point. It enabled us to see how we could compete on our terms in a crowded market.

Key #1: Find a core strength that allows you to compete differently from your competitors.

Resources at Max

During the onslaught period, when the big players stole our vital customers, we suffered a severe cash flow problem. This situation got worse when the mining industry crashed at around the same time. Most of our customers were operating in the mining industry.

It was a double whammy.

The cash flow issue pushed us to become meticulous spenders. We learnt that we paid too much for several services such as broadband, landline, and mobile phones. We also found out that a lot of work our staffs were doing could be outsourced or automated (it’s cheaper that way).

It was amazing how much cash was bleeding through areas we could either switch to a different provider or stop altogether. We liked this exercise so much we decided to do it regularly. It was a responsible, well-thought cost-cutting.

Desperate times hurt businesses. Cash bleeds through different outlets. A regular cost-cutting exercise would keep our resources shipshape at maximum capacity and best return.

Key #2: Make sure your limited resources work as hard as possible for your strong comeback.

Niche Domination

So we knew how to compete differently, and our resources worked super hard to fuel our survival. It’s time to revisit the customers.

We had to let go of some customers who did not require the value we offered through our services. They were casualties of the price war.

We tried to focus our efforts and resources on a select group of premium customers (premium for us). We were confident that when we became good at something, we would naturally grow.

So we kept our eyes fixed on the chosen ones (read: customers).

What we didn’t realize back then was we stumbled upon a niche. A niche perfectly placed for our little business. In a nutshell, we matched what we could do best with the needs of a small corner of the market. It was not a big slice, but it was growing, slow but sure.

Difficult times propelled us forward through a unique path we would not find otherwise. We discovered a niche market big enough for us yet small enough to dominate. We knew we could compete comfortably against the big players because we found this niche through our unique competitive advantage.

Key #3: Use your core strength and revitalized resources to dominate your niche.

Nurture the Efficiency Seed

Our previous strategic keys can be summed up into “utilizing resources at maximum capacity to service a niche market that is a perfect fit for our unique core strength”. The final result is a highly focused, well-oiled, efficient business. The first three keys will integrate into one.

There is one small challenge, though. We can only build efficiency over time through patience and consistency. In short, it takes time, blood, sweat, and tears to perfect the efficiency engine.

It is, in essence, sowing and nurturing a seed; I call this the ‘efficiency seed’. This seed is the culmination of the previous strategic keys.

Nurturing efficiency is the most challenging part of CoRNNR strategy because we need to let go of everything else that does not contribute to servicing our niche customers. And that includes other potential customers, products, suppliers, and so on. We have to fight the temptation to try out different things. We must focus on what we can do best within the niche market that we have chosen utilizing our limited resources to the max.

Nevertheless, we will start to doubt ourselves.

But remember, we sow seeds in dark places, in obscurity where it is often cold and lonely. And it takes time to nurture them before they germinate and grow roots.

Similarly, we discover these strategic keys during tough circumstances. For only during desperate times that our perspective changes, forcing us to see pathways we would not consider before. People might misunderstand you and even mock you for your new focus, but it is important to keep playing to your strength and keep moving forward.

The next and crucial final key will help tie everything together in a beautiful little bow.

Key #4: You only become the best in your chosen niche market through focus, patience, consistency, and persistence.

Resilience to Prevail

Tough times demand resilience. We need to make a conscious effort to focus and power through. Resilience is the substance that holds everything together.

Resilience was there when large corporations squashed us. It was present when we scrambled through a cash flow problem. And it held us up when we decided to focus on servicing a small number of engineering workshops, leading to the discovery of our niche market.

Think of it as a mental muscle that strengthens your spirit whenever you feel defeated. Use it when it is difficult to take the next step. Use it also when certain people are trying to pull you down. And finally, use it when you are confused and lonely.

Now, the final twist to the CoRNNR strategy.

How do we develop our resilience muscle?

Well, there is no short cut. We can only develop resilience through desperate times.

Just like physical muscles, resilience muscle grows when it is stretched under heavy pressures. You can see how useful CoRNNR strategy is when we are backed into a corner. Because not only our perspective changes during difficult moments, our resilience also grows.

CoRNNR strategy is a full circle. It begins when the going gets tough and only when the going gets tough do we get to grow with it.

Key #5: Harsh circumstances build resilience, embrace these times for it is the precious resilience that will hold yourself (and your business) together.


Just to recap:

Key #1: Core Strength
Key #2: Resources at Max
Key #3: Niche Domination
Key #4: Nurture the Efficiency Seed
Key #5: Resilience to Prevail

I hope these five keys have been helpful.

Keep the momentum going and keep going strong.

“When you are backed into a corner, you can give up or you can use that corner as a stepping stone.” — Fredy Namdin

As previously published in The Startup: What To Do When You’re Backed Into A Corner