Be patient. Founders are often not patient enough. To build a successful company, you need years, sometimes decades. If you accept this and set your sights 30–50 years ahead, you will be less stressed about small project failures or the lack of quick success.
I was once very impatient about achieving success. Living in Singapore and traveling around South-East Asia, I’ve since learned about Asian patience, and it’s very different from our Western culture. Now, I take things easier than before and dislike the get-rich-quick approach. As Naval Ravikant recommends: Get rich slow! Perfect your technique to patiently get through all the emotional ups and downs.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Volodymyr (Vol) Berezhniy.
Volodymyr (Vol) Berezhniy is a Ukraine-born first-generation entrepreneur, who has previously built and successfully exited businesses and has more than 18 years of venture-building experience under his belt in different segments of retail, travel, and tech spaces, including e-commerce. Vol has lived in the US, Europe, and South-East Asia. He started his latest venture out of Singapore, driven by the mission of helping small and medium-size manufacturers in SouthEast Asia and Eastern Europe to expand globally through e-commerce in a sustainable way. Vol is an active member of the Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs Club (HBS OPM42) in the US. He calls himself “HBS ice-swimmer”, practicing a morning routine of swimming in the icy river. He is a positive person, husband, and father of three. Vol follows stoicism philosophy and BCap movement. His other activities include AtapClub, a community for creator-manufacturers, and LambArt.io project, an NFT-based Art-focused NGO, set to support talented kids in the toughest places of the world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m a Ukrainian village boy. My mother was a schoolteacher, and my father a crane man. Our village of 2,000 people was agricultural. My preschool years were idyllic, playing in crop fields and climbing on the cherry, mulberry, and chestnut trees.
Yet, the post-USSR decade of the 1990s was challenging for many in Ukraine. My parents had little money, and we survived thanks to the garden on our small farm. Available money provided quality education for myself and my brother, allowing me to attend university, graduating with two majors in Manufacturing Management and Business Law.
In 2008 as Investment Director of a Ukraine retail property development company, I dreamt of changing the consumer retail landscape by bringing in western capital and building shopping centers. These were tough and exciting times, and I learned from my boss and mentor Alex Podell, who taught me to swim in the fast-flowing river of the golden land rush.
I engaged with bankers from London, New York, and local corporations while negotiating and closing multi-million dollar land deals. Due diligence and negotiations averaged six months per deal, with many sleepless nights negotiating with local “tough guys”. Big money was on the table, and the market was hot, requiring us to fight off many competitors. Then summer 2008 brought a real estate crunch, and everything stopped. I was shocked. Years of hard work and long hours disintegrated due to uncontrollable factors, destroying my dreams and the plans of others. That moment altered my DNA.
I believed there were ways to manage the risks better, but I had to take more responsibility. It would be my company this time. Fighting through the ‘Land Gold Rush Times’ taught me considerable business skills, maturing me as a leader and increasing my desire to achieve more.
That was my moment of truth when I embarked on the path to entrepreneurship.
Harvard Professor Howard Stevenson, the “Godfather of Entrepreneurship”, inspired me when he said: “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled”.
I became an entrepreneur because I hold three beliefs; of opportunities beyond those we can see immediately; that we can do so much more than belief, and the resources we have directly at our disposal are not all that is available to us.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Less an “Aha Moment”, I experienced a growing awareness of inequality, the genesis of which occurred in my hometown. Ukraine is the largest country in Europe and recognized globally for two key industries, high-quality software development, and agriculture. Considered the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine has the most significant’ land bank’ of the most fertile agricultural soil. Yet, it is the poorest country.
While in Harvard, I watched people on-campus eating apples. We’ve all experienced them, big, shiny, perfect, with no smell and less taste while lasting for weeks with no decay. Given Ukraine’s vast land resources, struggling small farmers and manufacturers create unique, high-quality organic products. Still, they are unable to receive a fair price for their labors.
Those vast land resources helped the nation to survive through its most arduous periods of history. Still, with many intermediaries, different wholesalers, oligarchic monopolies, and inefficient government agencies, people become trapped at the bottom of the agricultural food chain. They sell food commodities at small margins while creating a high-value product to the consumer from which others benefit.
My sense of unease increased during later trips to South-East Asia. I discovered the same inefficient and unequal pricing model. Small farmers and manufacturers had limited access to capital, and banks were leveraging their position by imposing substantial interest rates.
The poor distribution of value within the supply chain and the global inefficiencies I witnessed caused me to ponder three questions. “How may I assist a midsize family better produce a quality product and connect with customers in another part of the world”. “Would it be possible to provide consumers more options at better pricing? Can we create more, higher quality, sustainable products with better transparency into the supply chain?”
I concluded that there are too many intermediaries in the supply chain across borders. Large corporations enjoy easy access to cheap money and cheap resources, including human capital, becoming fat and lazy. They stagnate and fail to create equitable, fantastic products.
I imagined building a company to become a supporter of small manufacturers, create sustainable products, and improve consumers’ health. By supporting small to medium enterprises, we would provide them with data and experience. We could open new markets for them, help with capital, and provide other critical elements of modern trade. A company that supports “the little guy” by enabling greater value return from their hard work, providing them fair pay for the great organic products they produce.
I decided to build a company that could become a ‘virtual roof’ for them, cutting away the hundreds of intermediaries keeping them small while supporting them to develop and grow. A Singaporean friend, Charles Tan, taught me the Indonesian word Atap, meaning roof. I liked the idea, and it is now the name of my company.
In your opinion, were you a natural-born entrepreneur, or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I was born with characteristics suiting entrepreneurship such as resourcefulness, a positive attitude, enjoyment of hard work, and excitement for the future. However, many skills I needed to learn to survive. I’ve spoken of the hardships through the ’90s when my parents had little cash to support me. Much of our year on the farm was preparing fruit and vegetables to survive the winter. For extra money, I’d take excess produce in a bag on overnight trips to the city to sell them, often sleeping on that bag on the baggage shelf.
To survive financially as a student in Kharkiv, I helped wealthy students with their coursework in exchange for money. While not a huge business, I later outsourced this work to junior students and shared their revenue. We all benefited.
I worked hard to improve my English by accessing books gifted to the local library by the American Missionary Church of Christ. As my language skills developed, I attended free lectures given by visiting professors at various universities before volunteering as an interpreter for an energy conference organized by the US Department of Energy.
Some critical lessons came upon graduating from University when I returned to my hometown. It was summer, and my grandmother came to town to sell her strawberries. She asked me to help carry the baskets of strawberries to the bazaar and help her sell them. You can imagine how embarrassed I was meeting my former university classmates, a man with two business degrees working in the bazaar selling strawberries. She left me to attend a meeting at the local council, and I thought to myself, “Let me get through this shame. If I can sell strawberries now, I can sell anything in this world”!
There I was, a young man surrounded by older babushkas, all trying to sell our strawberries. I was outgoing and engaging, and customers began coming to me, so I enjoyed the process. Once I had changed my mindset, I sold everything at twice the original price, and the older women began asking me to help sell their berries. They had enjoyed watching me interacting with customers, and looking back on this moment, I was able to shift my embarrassment and stress to fun and enjoyment. It was a feeling of immense satisfaction coming from an initially awkward situation.
To thank me, my grandma gave me ‘strawberry money so I could buy my first computer: a ZX Spectrum. I have always joked that food produce helped me be an early innovator with technology and projects.
These early influences and later job experiences taught me how to engage with other people to have them work with you, deal with money, and scale a business. I had to learn along the way to survive. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need a mix of natural characteristics and life lessons.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Three people shaped me through my career. The first was my father. Many of my core managerial skills I learned from him. Without any education other than his basic educational certificate, he rose from being a crane man at the local brick plant to taking over the commercial manager role. He regaled me with the deals and negotiation processes at the factory, relations within the sales and supply departments, and what he called “survival lessons” as a way of passing on his knowledge.
The second significant influence is Alex Podell, a 3rd generation Californian property developer I met in Ukraine. Excited about the country as the next real estate gold rush, he came with his own money and sizable private equity firms to conquer Ukraine. His goal was to change its consumer culture and cover it with strip malls and entertainment parks. Excited about the opportunity for Ukraine’s economy, he was a positive, straightforward, and very welcoming person, dealing with all the local townspeople. I joined him as his local man to find land around Ukraine and build a pipeline of deals to expand the company.
I learned a lot from Alex’s open-minded approach, his ability to say ‘I don’t know ‘, and he gave me great insight into the American entrepreneurial culture. As a result, I became more decisive when closing deals. I moved from being an Associate into the Investment Director within his company. I was closing multi-million deals, negotiating with the most demanding people in Ukraine who had accumulated a lot of land capital, accessing different resources, and surviving the 90’s. That was a fun time, and I have many stories and lessons from that land hunting period.
The third person who considerably influenced my thinking and values is Professor Clayton Christensen, who I met on the Harvard Business School OPM Executive Program. Professor Christensen asked us the question, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”. He challenged me to think backward by asking myself, “What do I want to leave beyond myself? If it’s my last day on earth today, am I happy with the current result?”
If you take our average life expectancy and deduct your current age, you realize you don’t have that much time left. What can you create using this time? These questions helped me define my mission; I want to leave this world a better place by helping people to improve themselves and create value.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Atap Commerce is my business headquartered in Singapore. There are five important points of difference:
1. Our sole focus is on small to medium enterprises (SME)
Jack Ma, a Chinese business magnate, and philanthropist who created the Alibaba platform once said, “Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world.” The raison d’etre of Atap Commerce is to help small guys in untapped markets expand globally through e-commerce.
2. A strong data and technology focus
We are a technology company, with our back-office based in Ukraine. Ukraine is famous for high-quality developers at affordable rates providing a massive talent pool, with the majority remote-working for US companies. We are leveraging the world’s best value for tech skills to build a global company.
3. A huge commitment to sustainability
Under our Woodhot brand, we’ve launched a tree-planting program to ensure people enjoy our non-toxic, all-natural fire-starters for barbeque and campfires while covered for carbon offsets with trees planted on their behalf. In every product we bring to the world, we focus on improvement. For example, our products are packaged using Austrian certified biodegradable packaging.
4. 100-Years plus approach
In every company and business we start, the word “legacy” is our motto. I expect the positive results of our efforts to survive beyond the next century. We must build and create a legacy that our children and grandchildren will be proud of.
5. Global diversity and distribution
My team members work in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Singapore, Kyiv, Tokyo, Sydney, Karachi, Helsinki, and Kremenchuk. Long before COVID forced remote working in the world, Atap Commerce was international. As a student, I dreamed of a diversified set of international businesses. Now we are there and it is a time for entrepreneurs.
You are a successful business leader. Which 3 (three) character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. The ability to inspire people with a vision, something bigger than themselves that’s not just about making money.
You must start with an idea or dream and wrap up a vision around it, a concept strong enough to pull your business through its growth stages. To provide the light needed to guide you through the darkness of challenging times. From there, you need the confidence and ability to inspire great people to join you along the way. I always share our mission and vision with people I meet, and with some, it resonates. Yet, my team and I constantly challenge the concept. Do small manufacturers need the help we’re planning? Before I had incorporated the company, I hired a team, and we developed a packaged solution for my target SMEs. The best way to check any demand is to ask people to pay you money to solve their problem. The result was overwhelming as great people joined me from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Ukraine. We sold the solution and raised funding.
2. Staying positive and cooperative
Two important traits I desire for my children and crucial characteristics for business success, respect and the ability to look at things positively. Life and success are all about attitude. In my first company, I went through a stressful period when I had to fire several people. Since then, there have been many tough conversations, and I have learned to work with people to develop relationships founded on mutual respect. Often, we remain, friends, long after our business relationship has ended.
I also believe that in most situations you’ll find something positive. Remaining optimistic about the future helps you and others around you. Positivism is a learned skill, and while not easy, it is one of the most important characteristics for your success.
3. Resourcefulness and planning
Founders who build new companies always suffer limited resources. You must develop and polish your resourcefulness. Early in my development, I was always living on the edge. I’d leave decisions until the last moment seeking better options. In time I learned that better is the enemy of good. As your company grows, so too do the decisions. Leaving them all to the last moment while awaiting something better will overwhelm your resources.
Acquire the ability to plan two or three steps ahead and be aware of best and worst-case scenarios. With this planning you create time and options for yourself, freeing up resources. Learning to manage your time with patience is a crucial skill bringing tremendous long-term benefits.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about the advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Some years ago, we built a solid and successful brand, and the business had grown to 30 team members. We then began to experience some very challenging times requiring difficult business decisions.
I received advice that I should use all my resources to save my team, and I chose to follow that advice. It took me some time to realize that what I thought of as brave and entrepreneurial was putting my family’s future at risk. I had three small children at the time. We all need challenges in life to grow and strengthen us, but those challenges must be sensible.
When faced with difficult times and difficult decisions, I talk to my close friends and find a mentor to bounce ideas off. Never again will I take one piece of advice as the answer. Experienced entrepreneurs are but a few steps ahead of you, and there are always people ready to share their knowledge. Talk to many people and carefully consider all advice; you will make fewer mistakes.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Having built companies and managed many teams, I have three principles to recommend.
1. Build an open, trusting atmosphere where people feel safe to be themselves. A place to share success stories and those challenging moments we all experience in our business and private lives. Managers hide from difficult conversations in many workplaces, expecting team members to focus only on work and raise issues only when asked. However, creating a safe place for people to be themselves reaps enormous rewards for an organization by addressing issues before becoming toxic. This culture allows people to feel valued and stimulated, enhancing their creativity, enthusiasm, and personal strengths. Visitors to our offices love the atmosphere and often wish to prolong their stay, and even work there, suggesting we are doing something right.
2. Balancing that openness, there must be a structure to the organization which everyone understands and respects and within which they work. An analogy I use is that of an architect. We want architects to design and build creative and panoramic structures. Still, we also need them to adhere to the general rules of building structures to keep people safe. In the same way, an organization needs a clearly understood form and set of rules, but no rules for their own sake. Structure and rules should stimulate communication in an organization, not crush it. Atap Commerce is a diversified, global organization with teams in many time zones. Our structure requires video communication with rules demanding they be quick, efficient, and with automated notes.
3. You must have a clear and frequently articulated vision and mission shared by the team and drive the organization forward. In this new freelancer economy, money and contracts will not retain people for long. They need to be part of something of which they admire or are proud. I’ve previously discussed the vision of Atap Commerce, and I ensure that people wishing to work with us share our values, whether team leaders, advisors or investors. In this way, we guarantee that we never lose our path when working together, and we create serendipitous moments together.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and authority in their industry?
You need to establish authority in what you do by showing concrete results, numbers, and social proof. Be open in the appropriate social media, industry forums, and targeted blogs. Spend time and be seen with like-minded people, those who inspire or empower you to become a better person. Be consistent and honest with yourself and with others, particularly your team and peers. Don’t be afraid to share your weaknesses; you will learn through time that it’s a sign of strength, not weakness. There is no shame in being open.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Thanks to technology, the world is getting flatter and faster. The internet is breaking down walls and exposing information. There is nowhere to hide. Your data was out there a long time ago. Given there is no privacy anymore, we should relax and start being open with each other. Being more open-minded and focusing on doing more good things is the fastest way to build greater trust, credibility, and authority.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
1. Selecting the wrong partners, investors, or core team members
Who you build your venture with predicates success, not what you are making. Minimize the mistake of entering poor partnerships by working together on small projects or divide larger tasks into smaller milestones. Don’t immediately enter life-long obligations. If you feel good about the individuals, then you can commit for a longer time.
I made two mistakes in my early years. The first was working with oligarchs who wanted to control ventures and dictate to people. The second was being too enthusiastic and taking on too many partners at an early stage while distributing equity. When looking for people, check what they have built, talk to founders they have supported, talk about values and plans. Do not accept their money or “free” support without doing due diligence. Investors wanting to scale your company in a short time frame are not partners; they are speculators and intermediaries. Avoid these people.
2. Making the classic Product/Market fit mistakes
A widespread mistake to which I offer two pieces of advice. The first is to search for a more significant long-term market shift. Avoid quick-flip copy-cat benefits and the automation-only SaaS approach. Copying automated products or services is easy. Your goal as the founder is to create a long-term economic moat. Don’t hesitate to roll up your sleeves and do some dirty work. At Atap Commerce, we’re investing in a long-term trend fueled by the US-China trade war. While it’s only beginning, we’re focused on untapped alternative markets; it’s a winning position, just not right away. However, we do see larger companies such as Apple moving their manufacturing out of China into Vietnam.
The second is to do a lot of testing. Carry out A/B Tests and collect the learnings before venturing into a specific market or product. Put yourself in your partner’s or client’s shoes and test your value chain to be sure they will receive the value they seek. Ask people to pay money for your ideas before even building a minimum viable product, packaging it as consulting, and seeing if it sells. Prove your ideas by using third-party APIs before investing in your software product.
3. Going too fast or too slow
Founders frequently go too fast when building something. They raise too much money at wrong valuations or place themselves under pressure by creating unrealistic expectations at the start of their journey. When sourcing venture capital, you need the correct amount; seeking too much or too little are frequent mistakes. If you’re at an early startup stage, take at least 12–18 months as your cash burn rate time. At the same time, in your assumptions, you should build worst and objective case scenarios with well-understood tactics you’d take in both cases.
Hiring a large team too soon can also be a mistake. In this freelancer era, we can test both the need and the individual. When a role is supercritical for your business, and you need to speak daily, that is the time to consider hiring people full-time. One of the main reasons companies fail is because they grow too large too fast.
4. Mental fatigue
Founders and startups often fail through burnout due to going too fast and hard, eating poorly, avoiding physical exercise, and missing sleep. I recommend three steps to manage pressure and avoid burnout:
a) Get a full five days of good sleep by going to bed early and rising early
b) After those five days, do ten days of any good physical exercise
c) After those fifteen days, take a weekend off, find a quiet place, and a piece of paper. Write down three things that people would remember you for if you died today; also, add your vision and business mission.
Now you’re back on track!
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
I’ve had broad exposure to many entrepreneurial ventures, including family businesses, private equity, corporate, venture capital, and investment companies. I’ve worked in an IKEA office environment and franchise businesses. I’ve learned that if you have the entrepreneurial gene, you get addicted to the adventure of trying new things and exploring new ideas. More so if your values or business mission involves focusing on something bigger than yourself. With any addiction come highs and lows.
Entrepreneurs visualize things for which they may not have the resources. Look at famous entrepreneurs like Elon Musk. He has so many revolutionary ideas that people call “the fantasies of Elon”, but he dreams and acts to implement them. As entrepreneurs, we try, try and try again, and we never give up. However, when you try multiple times, it is guaranteed that you will have failures. Hence, entrepreneurs go through dramatic swings from extraordinary highs to dramatic lows, then they recover and try again. When you set ambitious goals backed by solid values and a mission that is more than just making money, success is worth so much.
I recently connected with Naval Ravikant, my favourite modern philosopher. He shared some wisdom that I support regarding entrepreneurship, firm structure, and size. He states that, like myself, people learn from corporate jobs, and then they figure out how to work for themselves. Therefore optimal company sizes are shrinking as people enjoy working more in smaller family-kind environments. The critical thing is to continue going, never give up, and find your obsession. Ultimately, your place within your ideal small environment, either as a leader or a good value-add peer, depends on the level where you feel most comfortable. You experience the highs and lows in a learning curve cycle that you must go through to get on the right track.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I recall a time when my appendix burst in May 2015. An ambulance delivered me to the hospital semi-conscious, and the doctor asked me how I felt. I told him to fix me quickly as I had to move the office. He replied, let’s make sure you survive first. It was only later I realized the risk of death from peritonitis was very high if not acted on fast enough.
I’m convinced that appendix bursting was due to the uncertainty, stress, and pressure I was going through with my business. At the same time, my country was going through a revolution and the Crimea annexation. Often the universe challenges you with a life-threatening experience to become a more robust and more thoughtful person.
You will feel low and vulnerable when you invest energy and time into a venture; however, if you are not afraid to fail even multiple times, the pain from the effort to achieve success also brings immense happiness and satisfaction.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I reassessed what I was doing and began to rebuild my life values and business priorities. Yes, you will feel vulnerable when your business is under stress, but don’t try to work harder; learn to work smarter. One book helped me a lot during that period, and I’ve read it a few times. It’s “Edgy Conversations: How ordinary people can achieve outrageous success, by Dan Waldschmidt”. I have also started to follow stoicism and ancient philosophers like Gino and Seneca to learn more about managing your attitude to life events.
By the end of summer 2015, I set myself on track to a healthy lifestyle. As I live on the river Dnipro in Kyiv, I set myself a challenge to swim daily until my birthday in November. Although I was always the last person in my family to enter cold seawater, I considered this an excellent healthy challenge. I reached my target.
After that, I took a week’s break but felt a lack of energy. I was missing that feeling of after-swimming euphoria, the spike of power it gives you. I later learned that swimming in cold ocean water causes a boost in your endorphins, boosting dopamine and serotonin levels and making you feel euphoric and calm long after leaving the water. I decided to continue my swimming challenge and try to get through Christmas!
As I researched the ‘cold-water challenge’, I realized how healthy the experience is. Terry Lin, a friend of mine and founder of the outdoor furniture brand, Outer, gifted me the” Dutch Iceman” book, Wim Hof. Wim could sit for 40 minutes on ice, and he never got sick. His autobiographical book recounted the death of his wife and the need to raise his children himself. To overcome the challenge and pain, he had to work on himself and become a stronger person physically and mentally.
I now call myself an ice-swimming addict. If cold water is accessible wherever I am global, I continue that practice as I have almost every morning for the last 5-years.
My advice is always to challenge yourself in a good sense, be proactive, act, and get good habits before life brings challenges to you. Work on your physical and mental health and be ready at all times to be sure you can powerfully and confidently bounce back from challenges you encounter.
My immune system has been significantly strengthened since I started my ice swimming 5-years ago, meaning I was ready to face the challenge COVID has thrown at us.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Train your body to strengthen your mind
As I’ve already described with my ice swimming, challenge your body physically every day to activate endorphins, preferably in the morning. You look at challenges differently, and people will see you as positive and confident.
2. Decide on your personal and business mission
While taking years to achieve it paves the way for future success and insulates you against minor setbacks. When setting your mission, remember the question, “If you died today, what good remains as your legacy” “What have you left as your legacy”.
My team and I once launched a successful product that proliferated. I then became aware that some people with whom I had shared the idea had launched a copy. Your automatic response is anger, but if you have a clear personal and business mission, this small win by competitors is a learning opportunity — an insignificant event on your more significant journey as an entrepreneur.
3. Be fair and open with your team, your family, and your investors
As an entrepreneur, you need to focus your energy on new milestones and achievements while leading the business. Be sure your family supports you, your team understands what you are doing, and investors are aligned. Be transparent with those close to you when facing challenges and riding the entrepreneurial emotional roller coaster. As with all things in life, promise less and deliver more to all who support you.
Starting as an entrepreneur, I was not transparent with my team and investors, and I delayed problem sharing. However, while you can’t see a solution to the mounting problems, others may see a solution at once. Investors are keen to support you, but if they don’t know there is an issue, it might be too late to talk. Similarly, at home, I was happy to share my wins but not my losses. My wife is very supportive through tough times, so I must always share my challenges. Doing so creates a closer, more supportive relationship.
4. Develop and practice a giver attitude
Given our capitalistic world of limited resources, it’s easy to become mercenary and materialistic. However, after 18 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve realized that to receive something of value, you first must give. I see it as a universal law of equilibrium. If you take something from here, you must compensate somewhere else. Be proactive and move first. Do good things, and the universe will return similar to you. If you take and don’t give, the universe will “kick your ass”.
5. Be patient
Founders are often not patient enough. To build a successful company, you need years, sometimes decades. If you accept this and set your sights 30–50 years ahead, you will be less stressed about small project failures or the lack of quick success.
I was once very impatient about achieving success. Living in Singapore and traveling around South-East Asia, I’ve since learned about Asian patience, and it’s very different from our Western culture. Now, I take things easier than before and dislike the get-rich-quick approach. As Naval Ravikant recommends: Get rich slow! Perfect your technique to patiently get through all the emotional ups and downs.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I believe resilience is a crucial trait of successful entrepreneurs. It correlates well with the ancient stoics philosophy about happiness and the ability to manage your attitude and emotions towards things you can or can’t change. I have a favourite quote from one of my books called “The Daily Stoic”, by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, which says:
“We want the easy life — or so we think. But is the easy life that admirable? Anyone can get lucky. There’s no skill in being oblivious, and no one would consider that greatness. But the person who perseveres through difficulties, who keeps going when others quit, who makes it to their destination through hard work and honesty? That’s admirable because their survival was the result of grit and resilience, not birthright or circumstance. A person who overcame the external obstacles to success and mastered themselves and their emotions along the way? That’s much more impressive. The person who has been dealt a harder hand and understood it but still triumphed? That’s greatness”.
I define resilience as the ability to cope well emotionally through stressful and challenging situations.
These are the attributes related to resilient people, which I would put on the top of the list:
1. Seeking and finding positives in challenging situations.
2. Being kind to yourself and others
3. Practicing gratitude
4. Nurturing your health
5. Remaining connected and open with your family and team.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I’ve spoken of growing up on a farm and needing to work in the garden. I started to hate gardening, especially weeding potatoes or strawberries or collecting bugs with my hands. I remember when my father brought us from school to work and to prepare the produce with hours of exhausting labour. When we finished a hard day, I wanted to run back to school and study harder, read more books and better educate myself to make sure I got a better job in the future. I’ve never asked him, but I’m sure my father did it to build resilience in my brother and me.
In the ’90s, when my father lost his job and my mother worked as a teacher getting a minimal salary, we experienced hard times. We barely had enough money to buy essential products. Those were some of the most arduous periods in our lives. Still, my parents always stayed positive because we had a garden and could plant and grow our produce. They told us stories about our grandparents’ most challenging times during the terror famine in Holodomor during the 1930s. My parents always compared the 1990s to the 1930s or post-WWII years, and by comparison, our experience seemed easy.
My personal experiences are what drives me now. The people who work in the gardens, on the fields, small farms, small family businesses, and small manufacturers spend their whole day from sunrise to sunset working so hard. They are super resilient and deserve a much better life. I want to help them all.
We have a beautiful life, and we should practice gratitude for what we have, stay ambitious, and try always to achieve more in what we do.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Yes, I generally maintain a positive attitude during difficult times. I believe it’s my nature as I was a cheerful and smiling child. Then as I grew, I trained myself physically, which stimulates a positive attitude and builds personal and mental stamina. Every day of the year, we each choose the mindset with which to start our day. Regardless of the circumstances or the weather outside, it’s always better to start it in a positive frame of mind.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Confidence is a result of maintaining a positive attitude. People who display quiet confidence, as opposed to arrogance, create trust and belief. If you maintain that trust through the way you conduct yourself personally and in business, you build credibility. It becomes infectious and creates a solid and lasting business relationship.
When you start dealing with clients or a new team, you need to do your homework. Try to understand them by learning as much as you can. Be attentive to achievements and important details in their lives. When speaking to them, stress those achievements and be positive about them. It generates a culture that people emulate and to which they aspire to belong.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“The worst thing that can happen to a founder isn’t failure; the worst thing is mediocrity.”
I learned this phrase from my acquaintance, Abheek Anand, Managing Director at Sequoia Capital in Singapore. I’m not sure if these are his own words as I have never asked him, but I like this saying.
As humans, we can take ourselves too seriously, overthinking issues and situations. If you have good intentions, go and try something, don’t over-calculate, it’s not a chess game.
I bring this same attitude to all my teams, motivating them to think big, never micro-managing them. I give them a window of growth by expanding creativity and encouraging them to learn new things.
Life is short, and you want to live your life in a way that leaves something good behind yourself, bringing benefits to others for over a century. Be brave, go and do great things! Achieve more!
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!