Year One

Looking back. My first year was one of the hardest and it also holds the most painful memories.

When I started, I thought I had a good product. I thought it would be easy to introduce my product. I was an engineer. I was never a sales person. I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable in the new role. But I knew that in order to start my own business, I had to bravely step over the imaginery line and be thick-skin about it and become a sales person. Anyway, like all fresh entrepreneur, I had the utmost confidence in my product. I had the innocent exuberance. I was a dreamer. I innocently believed that it would be easy-going and I thought my product would rock the world Singapore!

Reality bites. Ouch!

After the initial euphoria of clinching one deal within the first day, I really thought I had it made. It was sheer beginner’s luck that a deal was clinched on the first day. This made the coming failures all the more harder to accept. Unbeknownst to me, the next deal will only come 7 months later and at a much discounted price. There was tremendous pressure to lower price after 7 months of drought and failures.

One of the most humiliating expereince came during my first month of doing my rounds of sale. First, I went to this shop whereby I know the boss was at the counter with his back towards me. I was courteous and made my intention known. I went up to the counter, introduced myself and wanted to pass him my name card. Throughout the conversation, he didn’t turn around or look at me. For the whole duration, I was talking to his back and he kept insisting that the boss is not in. Feeling embarrassed, I left my name card on the counter and thank him for his time before leaving the shop.

I don’t know why but I felt humiliated. I had to calm my nerves at a nearby park. I comforted myself and encouraged myself to continue.

The next shop was not any better. The shop owner was wearing a pair of black sunglasses. I again courteously introduced myself and indicated my intention. Without missing a beat, the shop assistant suddenly stood in front of me, and blocked me from her boss. Her body just kept moving forward that I had to backpedal and suddenly, I was out of the shop and the door just closed in front of me.

I was actually very traumatised by these two experiences that happened within the same day. I didn’t expect a fellow human being can treat another in such a callous manner. I was very distraught by the experience that I kept to myself for the whole month. I didn’t step out of my home for the whole month. I didn’t do any more sales. I just kept myself glued to the computer screen and pretending to be busy. It was so bad that my wife began to worry about me.

It took me a month before I came out from my shell. Till this day, I never forget the experience.

When I started, at the back of my mind, I knew I needed to conserve my financial resources (only $20k). Instead of having my own server, was started on a web farm. It was hosted in a US server with many other websites sharing the server. The savings were substantial. You are talking about $10 per month vs $1000 per month!

From the onset, I didn’t buy a car. I didn’t think I would need one. I’ll just take public transport like the buses and MRT. But some of the meetings were at locations not easily accessible by buses or MRT. For example, once I was meeting a potential client at The Regent Singapore. I alighted at the bus-stop in front of Far East Plaza and walked all the way to the hotel. I have to plan it such that I’ll arrive 20 minutes prior to the meeting so that I’ll have enough time to cool down and stop perspiring after the long walk carrying a 3kg laptop. I was still wearing long sleeves shirt, tie and pants. Even though due to the hip dot-com culture then, many people has ditched the tie but I felt that wearing a tie was a necessity as I wanted to show that I respected the client and appreciated the time given to me for the meeting.

There was another time when I had walked from Chinatown Point to Delphi Orchard.

If I had to have lunch outside, I would actually look for those non-airconditioned kopitiam cause I can still order a meal at $2 instead of the $3.50 at airconditioned food courts. If I needed a drink, I’ll actually buy a bottle of “Ice Mountain” distilled water caused it is the cheapest drink in the supermarkets. I would take a bottle from the display shelves because those in the fridge are more expensive by $0.10. Probably for the fridge’s electricity bills.

The first year was probably the toughest. It is also by statistics that 99% of startups will fail and give up. I remember wallowing in self-pity during the last night of the year 2000. The future looked so uncertain and bleak. The sense of hopelessness was very engulfing and self-defeating. While many people were happily partying, welcoming the new year, I dreaded it. All the singing and laughter ringed empty in the abyss of my heart. I didn’t know if I should give up but I didn’t know how. By sheer stubborness and pride, I didn’t want to give up. With a simple decision like that, I became the 1% of startups that survived the first year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s