Week in Review: Five years on and I want to keep running

  • Khailee Ng of 500 Startups pulls blanket from the dark side of founder’s journey
  • DNA founder relates to founders pain, shares some initially ‘censored’ thoughts

NOT mincing his words, Khailee Ng of 500 Startups, speaking at the Tech In Asia conference in Singapore on Wednesday revealed the stark and grim reality of what the startup journey is really like for founders.

Stress levels that would have your insurance company scrambling to read through its own fine print to see if they can cut you off the protection you thought you had from them. Crumbling relationships between founders, with staff, with family. Pressure from investors, from tight cash flow. Frustration mounting at the founders’ inability to raise their own game, be it at the leadership level or management level.

All leading to startup failure, to health issues including cancer and the rare suicide even.

Actually even one founder suicide is a suicide too many. But the above situations are the reality for most startup founders.

Although DNA is not a startup, I can relate to many of the above issues as well. I was mulling writing a commentary about DNA hitting its 5th anniversary last Sunday, May 14, but thought it made for too grim reading, so I self censored myself and canned the article!

But one of the issues you won’t find discussed anywhere, and it’s because founders won’t talk about it, is on how they have or haven’t managed to plug the gaps in their personal weaknesses.

And that’s my big struggle. I know my weaknesses but have not been able to plug those gaps, either because I have not acted on what needs to be done or I am pushing aside what needs to be done or the action you take fails to solve the problem.

And I have stopped hiding these as well. The past few months, those who have greeted me with, “How you doing?” are greeted with my stock answer, “I’m stressed out.”

How much I share with them, depends on how much they ask further.

Some advice you to slow down, but while you want to, deep down, you know the only way you can come out of this a winner is by running hard and fast. Running also makes you feel that you can put aside facing some of the more mundane and less interesting aspects of running a company.

After five years, I have also realized that DNA is in danger of being stuck in the dreaded “zombie company zone”, as Dr V Sivapalan, co-founder of Proficeo Sdn Bhd, described it once.

This is basically where your revenue is in a tight range for a few years. That realization hitting you early is good because it can push you to do more and maybe even take a few risks.

DNA organising an eGames festival, HotShotz is an example of a risk. It is by far the most costly event we have ever organized but it also gives us a chance to break out from a revenue point, if not this year, then next year. Fortunately, HotShotz is going great guns for us with some strong brands such as Acer, Sony, Digi, MDEC aligned with us along with Astro and KDU University College that partnered with us at the idea level itself and I am deeply grateful for their confidence in DNA.

As I assess where we are after five years, there is actually a lot going for DNA, even though I have lost both my cofounders. One always was going to leave after two years but the other left last year because, not only could DNA not pay him what he deserved, it couldn’t even pay him enough to keep ahead of his financial obligations. That was a painful realization for me.

It’s tough being the single leg where there were three before. But you have to somehow dig deep and find meaning in what you are doing because if you decide there is no meaning, then it is easy to give up. And from that meaning also comes the strength to carry on.

And our readers are the greatest source of that strength. They appreciate the content we put out and they appreciate the honest ecosystem commentary we provide, even though that can hurt us commercially.

But we are serious about wanting to be “Your Eye On The Tech Ecosystem” and that tag line keeps us true north. Stay with us in our journey and keep being my source of strength, because I want to keep running! Chakadey!

Here’s wishing you a restful weekend and a productive week after.

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