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The Perception of Success

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Success is easy to describe isn’t it? It’s a simple word with a straightforward meaning. Only it’s not. Not to me, not anymore. If you are at the beginning of, currently immersed in, or at the end of, the tricky business of building a startup, then I suggest the word ‘success’ should not be so simple and straightforward for you either.

Here’s the thing; a few years ago, way back at the beginning of my time in startup land, I could quite confidently (and probably incorrectly) have rattled off what success would be – what it would look, sound, and smell like. Then the goal posts shifted, the path twisted and things changed.   This happened again and again. The road markers to ‘Success-ville’ were all pointing unexpected directions – kind of like navigating using the launch version of Apple Maps.

This was a very uncomfortable experience (also like using Apple Maps). It seemed as though, since I had not arrived at the original destination in a timely manner, the opposite of success must have happened. Right?

The opposite of success, as everyone well knows, is failure. In startup land, failure can be a badge of honour – the spoils of a hard battle fought. It teaches lessons, toughens you up for the next fight and generally puts hairs on your chest (proverbially…last time I checked anyway). ‘Fail fast’ is part of the startup catechism along with ‘scale’ and ‘pivot’ and ‘attend events where there is free food’, however, I wasn’t there yet.

I kept pushing ahead through the twists and turns long after I probably should have hit the dump button; partly because I was convinced our business model was missing something critical (we ended up overhauling our revenue model and completely rethinking our go-to-market strategy), partly because I am stubborn to a fault, and partly because somewhere along the way I realised that the concept of success is utterly and completely malleable and subjective.

Before I came to this realization though, feeling like I was on the slippery slope to fail-town was highly unpleasant. At this point all the people around you in startup land seem like they are having a lovely time enjoying their own success (insert vision of smug, laughing people clinking champagne glasses and riding ponies).

Two people are Image credit: Pexels

Two people who have clearly just sold a startup.
Image credit: Pexels

I would listen with mild–to-serious envy to tales of huge user uptake, outrageous download numbers, media write ups and (hushed, reverential tone) actual revenue. Of course, amongst this fug of success there were those who very wisely took the fail fast card and moved on to the next project. I couldn’t do it. Somewhere along the way, my original picture of success had faded and suddenly I was free to be less rigid in my personal perception of success versus failure.

I was not failing fast, nor was I success-ing fast. I was (and still am) making my way inexorably down the startup path. Just because I cannot yet hold up a healthy revenue sheet in glee or tweet at Apple thanking them for featuring our app does not mean that I am not notching up successes.

Success can look like a compliment – or constructive feedback – from a potential customer. It could be scheduling a meeting with a mentor or finally making that phone call you had been putting off. It could look like a new database or some sweet new code if that’s your thing. It could even just be not giving up and going to work at that coffee shop down the road.

I am in no way suggesting that all business goals be wantonly thrown aside for an aimless meander through startup land. That’s a little too confronting for an achievement-driven Virgo like me. What I am saying is that whilst you are on the dark and often torturous path to actually achieving those goals, it is much easier, and kinder, to keep your perception of success fluid.

That means when you hit that nasty dank place sometimes called tech-failure sometimes called co-founder dispute or a dozen other unpleasant names, then you can salvage a modicum of comfort from small successes. Even on the worst day, you can remind yourself that you’re still success-ing overall and move on to the next step and one day, when you least expect it, you may look up and realize you have arrived exactly where you set out to go via the really long way around (thanks again Apple Maps).

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About the Author

This article is written by Simone Perkins, contributor of The Tech Street Journal. Simone is Co-Founder and CEO of The Perch Project. She has had the pleasure of working on Perch within the startup space in Brisbane for the last 3 years. Simone likes to drink shamefully un-craft beer and really dislikes the term ‘CEO’. See more of The Tech Street Journal.

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Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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