For most of my life, I grew up wanting to do good. I was always volunteering. And so it was no surprise that I became a social worker.
But somehow, along the way, I quit social work. And started a business.
In June 2020, after realising that I could do my job in 3 hours rather than the 8 hours I was contracted for, I started building a business whilst having a fulltime job.
In October 2021, I quit my fulltime job to do business full-time.
Yes, it was the stupidest decision at that point in time.
Because all I was earning was $700 a month from writing.
Mind you, I’m not worth a billion dollars, yet
If you’re here to read another story of Elon Musk, go away.
You won’t find that here.
You will find someone who’s bootstrapped, survived on cans of baked beans, and tuna, gotten chased out of libraries because he started using it as a workspace…
You sure you still want to do this?
Come on then.
This article is an evolution of that journey.
It shares the journey. My own journey. So that you, as an aspiring entrepreneur, can become one too.
Sure, I’ve spent much of my days eating from tuna cans, gazing longingly into restaurants, and wondering when I would ever get to spend without thinking so much.
But would I do it again?
Here’s why you should, and how you can.
But first, let’s get the myths out of the way.
Myth: Entrepreneurs need the right idea
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
You don’t even need an idea.
What’s more important is to actually start doing something.
Take risk. See failure. You’ve heard of all the stories of entrepreneurs failing. Cue the Instagram-mable quote about how failure is the mother of success.
Blah blah blah.
I’ve seen young people come up to me again and again trying to tell me the latest ‘business idea’ they have heard from yet another guru.
Sure, go try it.
Let’s see how it works out.
I’ll be the first to admit that if you really want to start something, you should just do it.
Stop caring about what people say about your idea.
Myth: Entrepreneurs need the right tool
Often people ask me what tools I use to be so productive.
Sure, I tell them. I show them my fingers.
I just use my fingers to type on the computer.
And get shit done.
That’s the most important thing in business.
Get shit done.
Focus, and action
As a writer, I’ve had the chance to meet many successful businessmen. Many of them don’t strike you as the typical entrepreneur.
You know, the one who dresses in a suit, and who goes to big conferences, and flies around the world.
Nah. They look more like the uncle in your coffee shop, shaking his leg, and quietly happy.
They are often the most unassuming people, but when it comes down to business, they have one thing not many people have.
They can sit down and get shit done.
When the time comes to execute, you would see them going through hell and high water just to make things happen.
It sounds like something simple. But just try executing your own business idea and getting the first dollar into the business. You will get what I mean.
Myth: Entrepreneurs need training
Business schools are rich. They are rich because people think that they need more training before they are ready to start a business.
Just look at me. I was a social worker. That’s the most non-profit job you can get.
How did I start a business? I just started it.
The most training you will get is by doing. Learn by doing. You don’t learn by sitting in a classroom and doing make-pretend pitch decks and never doing the work.
Looking back at the past 2.5 years, here’s what I’ve learnt
If I could advise the person who just started, here’s how I would start.
Stop watching stupid videos, and do the work
Yes, that was me. I was the one who would buy ‘entrepreneurship’ courses, and sit in front of the TV, and watch ‘how to build a business’.
But I realised I didn’t actually build it until I stopped watching those videos.
Motivation doesn’t last.
That’s why the most important thing for you is to ask yourself,
What do you want?
If you want a business, you won’t get there watching videos.
Build the boring business
In my role as a writer, I speak to many business owners. Some of the most impressive owners are unassuming and humble. They own some of the best businesses, you would never expect.
- Selling caskets and funeral services
- doing cookies
- hand sanitisers
These are businesses you might think are boring, but which have built owners a lot of money.
So don’t chase the next big idea.
Just look at what you can do, with what’s around you.
Don’t chase the exit
It depends on you. If you want to be rich, just build to flip.
Where you can pitch to a venture capitalist, and sell off your company.
We believe a lot in Jason Fried, the cofounder of software company Basecamp, argues,
Don’t build to flip.
Build a company for the long term.
But we also follow what people like Airbnb’s founder, once shared in his analysis of his company’s competition with Wimdu, a European competitor that was posed to beat Airbnb in the European market.
And yes, stop chasing easy money like grants
In the first half of this year, I chased grants like RAISE’s Social Enterprise grant, or the DBS Foundation Grant.
I got none.
But I spent months trying to prepare the pitch deck for them.
It was useless.
And here’s what I’m going to tell you.
Earn money to feed yourself. Don’t take other people’s money.
It often comes with so many conditions and inflexibility that you would wonder if it was even worth it in the first place.
Don’t be a grant-preneur.
Be a real entrepreneur.
There’s no breakthrough moment.
To become a better entrepreneur, you need to grow across these six skills, as shared by software entrepreneur Shane Melaugh.
When you first start at business, you will suck at all those skills.
The problem is that today, we look at the gurus on Youtube talking about the breakthrough product, or the hottest product idea, and we think that we could be like them.
We tell ourselves,
If only I had the right idea!
If only I had the right opportunity!
If only if only !
And you will never get there this way.
One skill at a time
When I first became an entrepreneur, I was frustrated. Product after product I had debuted had bombed. I had spent more than $18,000 on product development, and seen it return to me all of $208. Can you imagine?
But as I look back at that journey, I saw how focusing on one skill at a time helped me to exponentially grow. In my first 4 years of business, from a scrawny 21-year-old taking products off China’s Tao Bao and then reselling them on Carousell, I was just focused on communication.
I was learning how to
- Do public speaking
- Write good ad copy
- Write good articles
This intense focus helped me to grow.
And today, I still write most of the articles you read. Some of them might be bad.
But I believe in this intense focus on nurturing your skill, everyday, putting in the reps, whether or not the rep is going to be a Personal Best.
Bootstrap, bootstrap (on your own money)
Spending other people’s money is easy. Spending your own, and having your own skin in the game, is not so easy.
That’s why I always recommend founders to start bootstrapping, using their own cash, so that they feel the pain.
That said, there were still some tools that helped
Whilst I’ve said that you shouldn’t chase the tool, but how you actually use the tool, here’s the tool stack I’ve found super helpful.
You need Notion.so for better work management
Being productive, and stopping procrastination is vital if you want to get shit done.
Founders, have found some way to get things they don’t like doing, done, however painful it is.
They also find some way of capturing all the work they need to do, and tracking it so it gets done.
To capture all you need to do, Notion is one of the most understated apps. As a task-management app, set in a kanban style, you can arrange your tasks from top to bottom according to
- How important it is,
- And what stage of completion it is at
This helps you to move things and keep track of things.
Thrive Themes is a must-learn
In my classroom as a 13 year old, I never knew why I had to learn Infocomm Studies. For us, it was a time to fool around and play with computers. We had assignments that taught us tools like:
- Adobe Flash
- Coding in C
But looking back, that gave me the comfort to eventually begin building sites on my own.
As a former social worker, I’ve seen many clients who haven’t had such opportunities. It pains me to see how big a digital divide this is.
Most importantly, figure out WordPress
WordPress powers most of the internet today.
And learning its interface is going to be vital for you to continue doing sites, that will allow you to earn as you sleep. Or for people to access your content even when you’re not seated there.
I was once suicidal
If you look at me today you might think I’m a confident person who knows what he’s doing.
But it wasn’t always like this.
In 2015, I was suicidal. Daily I would take a chair up to the highest floor of my apartment block, stand on the chair, and wonder if I should flip myself over.
Coming to this point, seems like a complete turnaround.
But the most important thing that helped me was a faith. Mine was in a God, as a Christian.
It is faith that will bring you through your hardest time as a founder.
It is lonely.
Very lonely. There will be nights where you will sit by the window, stare out, and feel completely alone in being able to share what you think with others.
But you still do it because you believe better is possible.
It will get you started, and keep you going.