The prospect of joining a start-up for any millennial (btw, I dislike this word a lot) cultivates a sort of excitement that overwhelms the entire mind and body. You are immediately opened to a portal with infinite possibilities that captivates the imagination to new realms. The possibility of making an app that can change the way the world operates whether it’s evolving a social desire or evolving a traditional offline process is a powerful seduction that enables the risk taker in us. The numerous blog posts, books, and articles we read on the rock-star, adrenaline-filled, roller-coaster journey enables the Steve Jobs in us.
For serial dreamers, autodidacts, along with avidly optimistic people, entrepreneurship gives us a shot to allow ourselves to be ourselves and despite all the admonitions, for some it’s worth all the risk. Especially the millennial generation, we are not programmed to work two jobs, 80 hours a week to make ends meet, our parents/care-takers have already done that and allowed us to develop in an environment that provides different opportunities.
I firmly believe there is a transformation period in everyone’s life, not limited to but usually at the adolescent stage in which we plant and nurture seeds of beliefs into our subconscious that can determine the next 50 years of the way you perceive life. These “seeds” can come from life experiences, books, education, and traveling. It’s the gap in between your care-free youth to becoming a developed adult, the exploration/discovery phase before you enter the depth stage. For myself now entering in my late 20’s, I continually fall back on lessons I learned in my late teens/early 20’s whether it’s consciously or subconsciously. I constantly reflect on three key experiences that I have went through in my life:
- Rebuilding myself for 4 months – During college, I needed a change and endeavored to raise my self awareness and self-esteem, Eckhart Tolle’s book “a New Earth” initially created this spark in me. For 4 months, I fiercely read a long list of books focused on spirituality, self-awareness, entrepreneurship, and positive thinking. During those 4 months I meditated 1 hour a day, and followed a strict diet and workout regimen. This was me unlearning everything I learned to that point, reprogramming my thought patterns, and destroying the current pillars of my life while rebuilding a new foundation. I lost 30 pounds and about 30 friends, but I can honestly say it was one of the most liberating times in my life.
- Meditating in complete silence for 10 days – Beyond pushing my own limits, I decided I needed to discover more and go down deeper in this rabbit hole. I learned of a meditation camp that requires complete silence and disconnection for 10 days while mediating for about 6 hours a day. This practice was extremely challenging, especially for a myself, a millennial with an addiction to technology. In 10 days, I learned more about myself than I did in 21 years, my awareness became extremely sharp, I started trusting my inner-compass when making decisions, and my patience was equivalent to a monks’. My thoughts were crystal clear and felt I can shatter through any obstacle, I recommend anyone who has interest in this sort of endeavor to absolutely experience it (Vipassana Meditation, dhamma.org)
- Studying abroad in Europe and China – The final experience that completed the reprogramming of my mind was expanding my horizons beyond the same sunrise I’ve woken up to for the last 20+ years. If you have the opportunity to study abroad in college, I highly advise that you take the opportunity. The education is a secondary benefit to studying abroad, just solely living in a different country, culture, and environment will definitively provide a different perspective in life. I live by the quote that the most dangerous place in your life is your comfort zone, just allowing yourself to leave your comfort zone and experience uncertainty is the true magic to life. As Deepak Chopra preaches, uncertainty is the field of infinite possibilities, it’s the arena in which you will learn and develop exponentially. A great way to realize how far you have come is occasionally returning to your comfort zone by either reflecting on the past or talking to an old acquaintance and you will realize how advanced you have become.
Shifting the focus on start-ups and how this is all related, using these three experiences as the cornerstones for day to day living, I was geared to think that any desire or dream is achievable and not just dream but have the confidence to execute on them. It provided the tough lesson that life is just an experience from point A to point B and the one thing we do have control over is to decide what we want to do in between. Thus, when I was approached by Procurify’s CEO, Aman, 3 years ago to join an early stage start-up with 4 people, including the 3 co-founders, half a product, no revenue, and the only promise was that I would have no salary for a while; my adrenaline kicked in, my pupils dilated, and my heart started racing. The risk-taker in me was activated, the proverbial Steve Jobs was awakened begging me to take step in a journey of uncertainty.
As soon as I was asked, my brain’s amygdala kicked in and immediately flooded my thoughts with fear and doubt. Taking a deep breath and allowing all the preparation, lessons, and development I have gathered thus far to take over my thought patterns, my entire journey to this point translated in two words:
We worked in a musty, rat-infested 400sq office with a histrionic splash of lime green on the walls. We were located outside the city in worn down two-storey building with a rental fee that wouldn’t cover a closet in the downtown core. We had no plan, no strategy, and our roadmap was sketched on a torn piece of paper. I would have a broken picnic bench as my desk and a half faded whiteboard where we would write all of our ideas. To us, this was our sanctuary, the arena of infinite possibilities, and for trail-blazers, the perfect breeding ground.
On our half-faded white board, we wrote down a list of dream investors/advisers for our start-up. On top of that list was Mark Cuban. You would be amazed on what people are capable of doing when we literally have nothing to lose and have no direction to go but up. I suggested to the team, why don’t we just email Mark, it doesn’t have to be asking anything but just creating awareness of Procurify and putting ourselves out there. The beauty of having a room full of true-bred entrepreneurs, the answer is usually the same when coming up with a wild idea
In an early-stage start-up, there is no clarity but you can create energy. If Mark even responded to our email, that would be enough to provide us an ounce of hope which is the main source of fuel for any start-up to keep going. So I sat down with my headphones on, zoned in, and began to orchestrate an email that unknowingly changed the course of our start-up. On the initial email to Mark, I wasn’t asking for any investment but instead wrote that his book invigorates our inner-entrepreneur, what our start-up, Procurify, does and what our vision is for this space. It was a simple email wrote entirely without any expectations coming from the heart, a fellow entrepreneur, and fan of his work.
The next morning, I logged into my computer, checked my email, saw that I have (1) new email…and once again, my adrenaline started pumping, my pupils dilated, and my heart started racing. I was in complete disbelief that the new email says “Mark Cuban”.
With a very direct and short response from Mark, it was enough fuel to keep our young start-up going for a thousand miles. Unknowingly, this was the first step on a journey that took on a roller-coaster of joy and heartbreak. After exchanging a series of emails, showing the product to his team, we were originally turned down but Mark informed us to keep him in the loop down the road. This is where living in realm of infinite possibilities enabled us to power through rejection. We exponentially improved ourselves by gaining as much knowledge as possible, executed on strategies we had in place, and made measurable projections. A month later, I followed up with Mark and the roller coaster had once again taken off when he said he is willing to look more closely. After extensive due diligence, answering hundreds of questions, analyzing every aspect of our start-up, a few months have passed and we received an email that provided us enough energy to run a marathon. We received an official offer and crossed the chasm from bootstrapped start-up to an upstart company with runway.
The aftermath of having Mark on board as an official investor from a still-blossoming tech scene provided ripples that extended reached far beyond Vancouver. We immediately gained visibility, media attention, attracted talent, referrals, and even gained paying clients. One of the best perks was when a client from Dallas, Texas signed on to use our software and was a fan of the Mavericks, Mark generously provided tickets for them to watch a game.
Having a hope, a dream, and the courage to execute is the recipe for a perfect storm. Living with the mindset that there are infinite possibilities between Point A and Point B will always give you the option to blaze your own trail in life.
Lastly, always remember the journey is always more fulfilling and rewarding than achieving the dream itself, so enjoy process.