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My Failed Startup Almost Destroyed Me

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If you know who Peter Thiel is, you probably also know what most people referred as Thiel’s law: “A startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed.”

That’s what happened to us. I wish I knew what I know now. Perhaps I should write another article about how we failed, if it’s useful for people.

I was under the impression I was supposed to sacrifice everything to make it work. I didn’t pay enough attention to my health and I let myself go. For me, the only important thing was my startup and nothing else.

The number of people I have encountered that think like I did is alarming. This is a warning for other entrepreneurs that might be going through the same, or if they think there would be time later to take care of themselves.

It Was Bad From Day 1

Since my co-founder and I decided to create Pathfinder, we were psyched and pumped by the infinite possibilities of what we could do and what we can achieve. We felt we had all the energy in the world, even if we didn’t have the experience or any idea or what the f**k we were doing.

That adrenaline you get when you’re building a startup made me push my limits. We knew it was a rough journey, and so I made it worse by forgetting to take care of my body, among other things you will read below.

You get caught up in that bootstrapping state of mind. You’re so pumped you don’t think or do anything else than your startup. You live, breathe and dream about it. No weekends, no time off, you just work 24/7.

Also when you’re bootstrapping, you cut your expenses as much as possible to save up money, dedicate every penny to your startup, or like in most cases, you’re giving up your regular sources of income.

You start going back to the cheap fast food diet you had during your first year of college. You think it’s okay, that your body can take it, and besides, it’s only for a few months.

I was eating a lot of crap for the sake of not spending time hopelessly trying to cook (I’m terrible at it). I found junk food convenient because it was an already-made hot meal I could get for cheap. My eating habits were and still are terrible.

It Got Worse With Time

It’s hard to break the cycle of eating poorly when you’re in a startup. I tried several times. The emotional roller coaster you go through as a founder could make you relapse in your down moments. When you’re in a startup, there are far more downs than ups.

I became abusive of bad food choices as if it was an addiction. In my many days of sorrow, I tried to make myself feel better with fast food. In my good days, I wanted to treat myself with something ‘delicious’. It ended up being a more expensive version of the same sh*t I was eating before.

I did nothing but work. My mantra was “eyes on the prize, eyes on the prize.” I was not exercising, not giving my mind some rest, not eating right, no sleep and never unplugging.

And I was always tired. Even when I took some time off I didn’t really rest. But I didn’t care. I just wanted my startup to take off, and then we can talk about everything else.

I had a few episodes of stomach pains so severely that there was a time I was hospitalized for a night. I was so stubborn and stupid, that wasn’t enough of a wake-up call to make changes.

Now I’m sure those habits made it harder to succeed. Not that my startup failed because of this, but I’m sure I could’ve been better at it if I was in a better shape.

Skipping Through Life

I let this toxic mind set control my life. It also deprived me of precious life moments and people I would never get back.

You tell yourself “don’t worry, keep going! Don’t lose focus on your dream! You’ll enjoy the rewards when you succeed.” You’re wrong. I learned this on the hardest way possible.

I am originally from a beautiful Caribbean island where the Dominican Republic is, but I live in Spain. Even though I love the old España, its people, and it’s the place I consider home since 2006, it really makes it complicated for immigrants to build companies here.

The struggle of being a startup founder is worse when you add the incredibly painful process of being an immigrant. But what it feels like to be a startup immigrant, the overcomplicated migration system here and the pain in Spain of being an entrepreneur are whole new subjects we can discuss in other articles.

Not only it’s been extremely hard for me to go through the Spanish migration process constantly, it seems like it never ends. In December 2012, I was not on top of it. I said to myself “It’s okay, I won’t be able to go home for Christmas, but I’ll fly there later, even for a more extensive period.”

Yes, I rationalized it in my head. Tickets were very expensive anyway, I could use that time to work on some things and I was permitted to renew my resident card later on anyway. I could do it later on and it’ll be fine. “Eyes on the prize, Rui, eyes on the prize.”

I WhatsApped my father telling him I was not going home, but not to worry, I’d be there in a few months to spend really quality time with the family. He then responded that he was very sad I wasn’t going to be there. By then, it had been more than a year since the last time we saw each other.

My father was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. In 2012 it seemed he finally won that long battle but then it came back a few months later. It never ocurred to me that it could’ve been fatal this time.

In January 2013, things got a turn for the worse. I tried to rush my papers to be able to fly home ASAP. Since it was during the holidays there was not much to be done to fix it.

And then it was too late. One evening my mom called me to tell me dad passed away. We thought he had a few months, I thought I had time.

I didn’t see him and I wasn’t there to say good-bye. I cheated myself out of more time with him thinking I could always do it later. Even if my startup would’ve succeeded, sacrificing that would’ve never been worth it.

Your Environment Affects You

After my father died and the excruciating guilt of not being there, I took my habit of abusing of fast food to a whole new level and gained even more weight.

I carried on with my startup and didn’t want to think about what was going on. And then, I got to spend some time in Silicon Valley and a few months in New York and that helped me get out of that mental funk.

It started when I flew to San Francisco for the Evernote Conference. It was a long journey and I arrived there pretty late at night. I took an Uber to the InterContinental Hotel, checked in and went directly to bed.

At 5AM, my eyes were already wide-open. In Spain the local time was 2PM so I couldn’t sleep any longer. I turned the TV on and wandered around my hotel room. I stood on a weight scale while I was checking my Instagram feed on my phone.

It was the first time in years I saw my weight in pounds instead of kilograms. It was 231 lbs. My first reaction was “this can’t be right.” I checked the scale, threw my phone to the bed, took out my pajamas and tried again: 230 lbs.

I googled how much it was in kilos and it was, in fact, the right number. I’ve been seeing it for months but never converted it to pounds because I preferred to stick with a measurement unit I didn’t quite understand.

I immediately put on my training clothes and went to the hotel’s gym to work out until the morning. I have finally received my wake up call.

After that, I spent a few months in New York, and over there it was easier to make smarter choices. There are better food options and when you’re tempted to eat junk, you see the calories right there on the menu. It forces you to think twice about it.

I was in a great environment. I fell in love with the startup NY community. I pushed General Assembly to let me use their coworking space. They did even though they were closing the service and were not accepting anybody new.

During that time I ended up losing 30 pounds. It was a combination of feeling good and productive, surrounding myself with great minds and being in a better headspace. I was happy.

written by Rui Delgado, Startup Entrepreneur and Startup Author at Medium. see more.

Callum Connects

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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Callum Connects

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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