Wisdom//

Managing Oneself in the Face Of Huge Uncertainty

In the equation of success, three variables—health, relationships, and financial planning—contribute the most significant values.

Getty Images
Getty Images

CEO’s like myself are forced to wear many hats. Starting and running a startup company is a very daunting job, especially if you have a monumental vision with very limited resources. My role is extended to be the CTO, CFO, photographer, designer, etc. We do a lot just to keep the business running. It is quite scary because we put a large amount of capital, effort, and time in this endeavor where there are long odds against success. But, in introspection, I think life is too short to be complacent and comfortable. Thus, to weather the challenges yet exciting processes in a startup, I think one must be very disciplined in these three areas: health, relationship with others, and finances.

To me, health is of prime importance. If you are weak or dead, your company is dead. Hence, working hard to live is useless. Moreover, being healthy is cheaper because I am not required to take maintenance medicine, no hospital bills, and diet restrictions. The question is how to live healthy? In my case, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, I sleep regularly (5-6 hours a day), and know my work limits. Since I am already 34 years old, my stamina is not like when I was in my early 20’s, so resting on a weekend is very important. If I fail to do this trivial routine, it will be catastrophic the next week. For instance, I met a lot of potential clients and business partners last two weeks of November. I got so excited that I worked late and extended it until the weekend. Come the first week of December, I lost my voice and experienced dizziness due to runny nose and mild headache that lasted for a week. During that time, I cancelled a meeting with a high-value client and cannot make follow-ups. So, to me, over working is counterproductive.

What makes me very excited about startup is that the learning curve is very different compared to my contemporaries. With science background, working alone or with few people around me was a bliss. However, as a phase I CEO, aside from talking to top executives, I also do the frontline jobs. This forced me to learn and observe the dynamics of human interactions. I would say, I am more careful compared years ago because I realized my job is always influencing people. I also learn to manage my own emotion, outmaneuver irate people, and condition my mental state. As much as possible, I would maintain a good relationship with anybody for the sustainability of the business, especially with family and friends as they are my most indispensable support system. When, inevitably, entangled in an argument, I would access the value it could bring to me before I would fully engage. Otherwise, I just shrug off a trivial insult. Every time I am engage with someone else, I see it as an energy expenditure. So I won’t spend to unnecessary stuff.  

Many people are so willing to start a tech startup even if it is very expensive because they would jump to a conclusion that they could reap millions from their investment, but it’s far from the reality. Early stage startup investment entails too many risks, but to avoid the headache of a startup roller-coaster ride, I think one must have anticipated this scenario early on. In my case, there’s a smooth transition from being employed to fully focused on my company.  My teaching job actually inspired me to start one due to the huge gap between traditional pedagogy and the current behavior of the students that I saw first-hand in the education landscape. On the onset of developing the technology, I would spend many sleepless nights– I know this contradicts the first point I have suggested earlier but this is a huge sacrifice that already paid off. I launched a public beta without outside funding. Getting fund is cool, but from the way I witness things I was not impressed with what I saw where founders are being pressured and stressed by conservative seed funders in the Philippines. So, sacrificing my own saving would allow me to focus more on developing our product. That is, don’t start a startup just because you want one, but rather this is mission oriented, otherwise along the way you would give up. In my case, I had at least a mental calculation of the possible financial catastrophe, and be prepared for it. In order to do this, I cut my expenditures and reaching to people or Institution that could enormously help me to take-off the company. In my case, I am very grateful to the Asian Institute of Management-Dado Banatao Incubator (AIM-DBI) for allowing me to be part of their Open Mentorship Program. More than the provided business and management mentorship, I am privileged to share a physical startup home, alongside some of the most innovative Filipino startups, located in one of the first business schools in Asia. Considered as the number one graduate school of choice of Filipino executives, to date, AIM has already produced more than 43,000 graduates from 80 countries.

Taking risk is not new to me, in fact, I am more than excited with what would the future will bring. I have learned the beauty of it when I was a fresh graduate who desired to learn more through taking up graduate school. I decided to leave the comfort of our home, and went to the city. The uncertainties and possible dangers were extreme, but this never crossed my mind because my desire to learn is much greater than worrying about how to survive. There were lots of difficult problems, but it can be solved. I juggled full-time job as Senior Physics Analyst, attending MS Physics, and helping my two younger brothers in college. Years later, it paid off. I and my two brothers graduated successfully. My youngest brother who is a fresh graduate of law is very important in my business decision making because legal responsibilities can be very expensive. If I was doubtful to try the risk and lived a comfortable life, I don’t think we could have this relative success.

Right now, I am facing a dilemma where many clients are excited to use my platform, but want more than what my infrastructure can offer like doing the contents for them, etc. Moreover, there are business opportunities in the online course offerings.  That said, I am looking for funding to upgrade my system and hire more workforce.

In a nutshell, pursuing what seems to be impossible becomes apparently possible as time progress as long as there’s patience and perseverance, and not trying is the riskiest. As the mastermind of your own plan, yourself is the most valuable resource. So, it’s logical to take care of it, especially in the area of health, relationship with others, and finances.

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