I have been asked to share my views on escaping the corporate world and pursue the work you love.
First, I have to make it clear that venturing outside the corporate world isn’t for everyone.
I am not saying that only certain people are meant for an entrepreneurial path. It is certainly not a nurture vs nature thing. No. Everybody can do it. I am saying that not everyone is comfortable doing it. And certainly not everyone is willing to make the trade-off necessary to escape the corporate world.
I made my decision in 2008 that corporate life wasn’t for me (indeed it’s more like the other way round that I never passed the final interview or the pre-hiring aptitude test) so clearly after thorough assessment, I am not fit for the corporate world. So I moved on and became a freelance copywriter for 2 years and stumbled upon a random marketing executive job at a then-nobody Green Tomato Limited.
In terms of entrepreneurship, Hong Kong is so much lagging behind that only till these few recent years when I mentioned I am working in the tech/startup field that I won’t kill the conversation and people will be able to say something like, oh, so it’s like you’re working at Tencent or Facebook?
If your passion is to travel every Christmas, or you like to show off your job title on LinkedIn, or you’re obsessed with your office pantry, then that doesn’t make much sense why you should leave the corporate world.
First, you have to be crazy,
like super crazy in believing what you're doing will work
Because you get some rejection, or roadblocks or hiccups, or bottleneck, like every 5 days, if not every 5 minutes. You’re constantly reminded that what you got so hyped about indeed “won’t work”, “no one wants it”, “too expensive to build”, “no investor will like it”, etc.
You thought it will be fine that you can handle the stress but success doesn’t come overnight. We’re talking about 6 months of constant obstacles, 12 months or even years.
You think entrepreneurs are like him:
Think again. They’re like 0.00000001%. But you already knew that, don’t you?
What you may not realise is the word “entrepreneur” or “startup” is cool only at the minute you say it but the entrepreneurial “lifestyle” that we are all aspired to means no style at all. One very wise internet marketer once told me that there isn’t any secret at all. Work like hell for 5 years, and then you will see results gradually emerge.
Imagining yourself like this?
No. No. No.
No flashy event (here at General Assembly or at the co-working space is probably the poshest thing you’ve got), no flashy business-class seat to show off, NOTHING about you is cool.
First, however smart you are, whichever top-notch school you graduated from, you are simply handing over your social status.
How are your parents going to introduce you to their friends and relatives? “Oh, my son is working on that app that lets people tab a few buttons”?
Or worse, no one can remember your product or company name correctly. Not even at an awards ceremony.
Or imagining yourself filling in the visa application form, what are you going to fill in the occupation field?
On the bright side, we don’t have the unnecessary and time-wasting process to follow,
But when we were growing at the very beginning, I had to draft my own maternal policy; we looked after our own non-disclosure agreement; we structured our own workflow; we argued about the best way to “operate” a claim form for office supply expenses.
And if you love gossips (who doesn’t), there is no time or room (literally) for office politics.
Free drinks and limitless beer and coffee? You sure you want to do that when you even have to struggle to pay for the monthly cloud hosting?
At this point, you probably would say these are superficial things that I never cared. Then let’s get down to business.
1. Be prepared that users never behave as you wish however many market validation, user persona, on-boarding or A/B tests you did.
2. You find yourself becoming more and more sardonic when you feel that “I thought of that idea first. But bad timing I guess.” (Deep down you knew you haven’t cracked the execution but it hurts just to think of it, let alone admitting that out loud.)
3. You find yourself building a never-ending Trello board(s) and ever-delaying Gantt chart. It’s not a game for people who can’t work without deadlines nor people who don’t work well under stressful deadlines (like when you suddenly hit a 100,000 daily user traction and your server is down).
4. You find yourself constantly building MVPs (to shut your investors up). MVPs that never work.
5. And then came the saddest part. When all things don’t work, you have pivoted to nowhere, unwillingly you take up one outsource project, then another one, then another one, till a point you already forgot about your dream, minus that big fat paycheck and that very enviable healthcare package.
That sounds quite despairing. So why are you still here?
I don't pursue a corporate job because I want to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.
I want to make real impact to real users instead of decks after decks of ideas that look good on my boss but no one cares.
I can’t stand wasting my time BS-ing what I can do, what I will do, what someone should do. I want to be more grounded than simply coming up with empty frameworks or models or hypothetical methodologies that never get tried and implemented.
Strategies are good but they won’t move ships, I would rather work with engineers…
And many more reasons why I stick around that I am sure I won’t be able to make these differences if I am just a tiny nail in the enormous corporate battleship.
“After almost a year, this is the first time we got to know how our colleagues think and most important of all, this is exactly why my team put in so much efforts in making the first impression right. Philip, Patrick Lee, Terry will know how many times I’ve told them this is not our fxxking job and I don’t wanna bother anymore how to announce things like bad weather arrangement or how to take sick leave, (because one question always leads to another headless question) but you guys always persist because we know however mundane they may seem, these are the things our colleagues care the most.
“Thank you” won’t be enough to describe how I feel about my team. First, I suck at perseverance and you guys keep saying “come on, we can do it” or “it could be worse”. And then you guys made me worried for the first time in 20 years that I’m not invited to join lunch. Not to mention how I bore you with my weekends with my daughter.
But most important of all, you guys stick around even I won’t be able to guarantee any results for the venture we set out to do one year ago, no proper job title (we invented our own), not under any proper team (we are not under any formal AL system), we know if things work as planned, no one will notice, let alone any pat on shoulder, but if things got screwed up, we are taking up shxt that no one would be responsible in the first place if we didn’t take the initiative to deal with.
I’m just super lucky to have found a team of learning-savvy idiots who are a bunch of problem-solving-obsessed weirdos like I am and we’re motivated by the annoyance that “why no one took care of that” and came to accept that “if someone was gonna do something about it, they would have done so long time ago”. So knowing full well it’s definitely someone else’s JD, but if it’s necessary to fix, then we live by the motto, “if not us, then who?” But yah, at the end, we are already lucky if people don’t call us nosy.
So guys, here I said it, that I won’t be able to guarantee any career advancement (though you know my opinion about what kind of talents the society needs in the near future) but I hope that you can find and learn and develop your domain speciality throughout this adventure. As I said very early on in this project, repeatability and automation is the goal so that is still the destination we’re heading to.
And for all the small changes people now notice, we couldn’t pull that on our own. We have Blair and Candy who are always working closely with us. We have Stephen Wong on our side and understanding what we wanna achieve and helping with resources that we need. Kevin Kwok and Carrie Yeung who took the initiative to find better ways and tools to gear up the design team. Our technical leaders, Danny Kok, David Sung, Scott Lam, Barry Lai, Jackey Wong and the whole web team, despite their really busy working schedule, are willing to join together and meet up weekly to come up with ways to raise up the company’s standard. Duncan for all your invaluable advices and suggestions and tirelessly explaining to me all the hidden messages in all the things you say. And lastly to my boss, Sunny Kok, however much I complaint, your trust grants us the luxury to experiment how to make a truly great company that we hope ours can turn out to be. In this society of short-sightedness, self-censorship and when everyone is living in constant fear, I consider ourselves very blessed that we can still write freely what we think about our company and post freely on Facebook as we wish to.
Of course, we really own Ida Mak a big thank you! Thank you for always pushing us to come up with things that are more well-thought. Thank you for taking the time to write the post and let us know what you think. We might have different opinions at times but bottom line is I could feel that you are on board with us and wanna make things better. I really really am grateful and appreciative to all the feedbacks you’ve given us, albeit challenging, they’re constructive and we need more people like you who care and are willing to tell us in our face what’s on your mind. This helps us tremendously in improving our design and to make our efforts truly useful to everyone.”
So after listening to what I have said and you still think that a startup or entrepreneurial life is for you?
Then JUST DO IT.
Don’t bother about mapping out the whole route. Just “enter” your destination, then start the engine. Embark and improvise along the way. Don’t over analyse your situations. Don’t spend too much time reading Jack Ma’s biography or deep reading WeChat’s or Airbnb’s or Uber’s strategy.
If you still have spare time, make sure you equip yourself with the right tools to build products and the most efficient skill sets to manage projects, those are shortcuts to make your iterations faster, to identify flaws in your business plan sooner and to help you scale smoother.
At the end, this is a game that the more you practice, the more likely you will win.
I gave this sharing 4 years ago at General Assembly and I am so touched that 90% of the colleagues I mentioned are still with GreenTomato and 100% of them are close friends and allies with us.