Whatever Comes, Just Don’t Stop.

*3 mins read*

I took a 10 days trip to Taiwan.

A personal retreat.

To hit the reset button and to start 2017 right.

It was also a good chance to take time off and do some thinking. About the company, about life, about my wife and about me.

I finished reading Shoe Dog, a memoir by the founder of NIKE and how it got started. I chanced upon the book after my colleague Iccha, who is also an avid reader, brought it  to work one day.

There were many things I could relate to from the book, from Phil’s (founder) shoe sourcing adventure, mishaps, ever growing problems, love and passion for sport and family.

  • Grow or die
  • Your team makes or breaks the company
  • We get more problems as we grow, not less
  • Life, is about more than just money
  • Luck matters.

If you haven’t you totally should get it.

Back to 2016, what a year. The company grew, made more money, raised more money. It also operated at higher cost, had more operating problems. We moved offices, started paying ourselves a little more decently and had a bigger team. I moved to a new place and thankfully am about to be a father as well.

All these happened in less than 10 months and while we closing last quarter, I realized I was burning out. I grew tired, everything looked bleak, profitability seems further away. I had doubts about the company. The founders made plans, we discussed about layoffs, paycut, All sorts of worst case scenario played out in my mind. We weren’t sure if we were in it till the end.

It was until the trip away that I managed to take a step back to realize what I was thinking. This article on a Medium pretty much sums up what I was thinking:

1. In life, your only opponent is yourself.

 I treated everything like it was zero-sum when there was so much else to gain.

That’s the chess mindset. And it holds you back.

In Tetris, you’re only playing against time and the never-ending flow of pieces from top to bottom. The mindset is internally focused — you are challenging yourself to correctly manipulate a random stream of inputs into an orderly configuration. There’s no final boss. No blame to assign.

The real game of life is completely internal. There really are no big, bad enemies who exist to make you suffer. There is no absolute right or wrong move that a certain opponent can punish.

via Your life is a Tetris, stop playing it like a chess

I realized it was internal, it was fear. Fear has been rearing his ugly head. Fear got me thinking that we will run out of money and close. Fear got me think about quitting, even though we still had a product people were paying for.

This is what we learnt. Tests started with a maximum score of 100 and points were deducted for every wrong answer. If tests started at zero and awarded points for every correct answer, we would be encouraged to continue doing better. Instead, we learn to fear mistakes and point them out in others.

Startups start at zero and earn points along the way. We expand our strengths instead of minimize our weaknesses. There is no maximum score. Steady progress, not expected outcome, is the measuring stick.

via A manager’s FAQ

We started with almost nothing and we’ve created a product that is shipping by the thousands every month. Fear is a good motivator, and it should feel like a driving force but I’ve let fear stopped me from moving forward.

Steady progress, is what I should be doing. Sure, BG may have to course-correct along the way, but we should always be moving with a purpose. I should always be moving with the purpose, and that purpose is to build and create value, whatever it may be, and it should be an enjoyable process that makes me feel alive.

“When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is—you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman. Maybe it will grow on me. THERE”
― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

The Work Family

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Closing the year with the bunch of people who have contributed their youth, time, blood and sweat to BoxGreen since the beginning.

Also counting our blessings that we are better than where we are a year ago financially but there’s still a lot more to be done.

People makes the company, not the other way around.

Thanks everyone!

Persistence

*2 mins read*

Amidst all the media coverage, not all is bright and rosey behind the scene. (Still appreciate the support from everyone though!)

Spent the week in the KL office and realized there is still so much work needed to get business off the ground (lack of revenue, market exposure, hiring fit, managing people out, growth, you name it).

So while I was waiting for the flight back to SG, I fired up Pocket (an app for saving articles offline for later reading) and found a god-sent article buried deep in the list of articles that I’ve saved. Extract and link below.

TLDR: Take away the spotlight, tune out the noise and get back to the grind.

“while building and iterating on Justin.tv (long before launching Socialcam), there were many times I came to the brink of packing it up and moving on from the company that bears my name. Shameful? Perhaps, but I know the same thoughts have occurred at times to my co-founders, who are still with the company to this day.

The reasons? Take your pick: we need more traction, we need hockey-stick growth, we need more revenue, we need more buzz, we argue about management issues, we have diverging interests. In the past five years I have personally experienced all the startup failure cliches that exist.

When startups commit suicide, often the root problem can be traced back to a lack of product traction — it’s rare to find people willingly quitting companies with exploding metrics. But one thing that many entrepreneurs don’t realize is that patience and iteration are critical in achieving product market fit. Overnight successes might happen fast, but they never actually happen overnight.

Persistence isn’t just key — it is everything. Getting in the ring is hard, but staying in the ring is even harder, especially when you feel beaten down, tired and alone.

I can’t promise you will succeed if you stick with your startup. What I can promise is that if you give up, you won’t possibly succeed.”

http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/27/startups-don%25E2%2580%2599t-die-they-commit-suicide/

1 May 2016

*2 mins read*
It’s been a year since the BoxGreen folks came in full time, namely the founding team Andrew (COO), Fai (CTO) and Jason (employee #1). A BIG thank you to you guys for sticking it through with the team and believing that selling peanuts can make you your first pot of gold. More importantly, I think this is just the beginning on what we can do to help make the office workplace better.

BoxGreen has grown steadily and consistently in 2015, in fact we were close to profitability. But on this very day, we’ve raised some money help bring this dream slightly further. Why? Isn’t it great to get a company to be profitable?

Investors asked if this company could be IPO some day. They asked if strategic buyers made sense in the next couple of years. Do we want to grow more slowly and opt to attain profitability? The bottom line is, it was the founders’ collective decision to try to build a scalable business in 3-5 years. We chose growth over profitability and we felt we could try to bring this baby up to a whole new level with the additional capital. We also discussed about opportunity cost of starting BoxGreen exactly a year ago and made a deadline to revisit this goal when the time is up.

Personally, it is a milestone but again, it’s important to note that validation from investors should never be taken as a sign of success. That is why we did’t really celebrate too much about it. I’m more excited about having our own space to build out what we set to do.

Team > all 
I can’t stress enough that I’m thankful for the people alongside with me, who have seen the company grow from inside a bedroom to our own office right now. Namely, Melinda(1st intern!), Matthew, Bertram, Nicolette, Candy, Xin Yee, Charmaine, Jamie and Emilea!

I’d always told the team should the company be no longer around one day (touch wood), at least you should be glad you made great friends and had a great working experience. That’s the BoxGreen working philosophy.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou
Behind every successful story is a group of people working hard towards a common goal.  Thank you all everyone.

Whats installed for a startup that has been funded? The clock is ticking for sure. but as i make a case of how much this company is worth and needs to grow, I need to go out and hire some folks right now.

The BoxGreen team is hiring and we’re obsessed about building a great family. Got talent? Apply here. 😃

Building a Team

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The BoxGreen Family

A huge part of satisfaction and happiness in running a business is the ability to bring people from all walks of life together. People who are better, smarter and more capable than the founders. The next part is believing and trusting that they will get the job done in the most awesome manner and seeing that vision being realised.

The company is but a shell of the ideals and dreams of the founders, which may or may not weather the tides of the business world. But the friendships forged during the journey will last a lifetime and be part of an everlasting memory.

I’m thankful we have rockstar interns and capable people joining us in such a short time and I am fortunate to be working along side with each and everyone of them. Go Nuts Squirrels!

1 March 2015

*2 mins read*

It’s official! It has been 6 months since I left my job to focus on a business venture not new to many called BoxGreen.

The truth is, after 6 months of doing this, I’ve realised it has been a wakeup call for me to start finding my passion back again.

I recently met a friend who has left the bank and she mentioned it felt like she lost part of herself in the 3 years which she was working. She is currently taking a break to discover herself back again. I can’t help but to agree with her.

The past  6 months was more of a rehabilitation/discovery process of myself. In the past, I’ve been told to wake up, go to work, come back home, sleep, rinse and repeat. I have given up on my interests, hobbies, doing things that I used to love doing in our past. With the sudden amount of free time after leaving my job, I became quite lost for a period of time because I don’t really know what I am going to do with my life! Work has become part of my life and now it feels like I’m missing on something. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. What I know is I don’t want to be trading my hours for dollars, at least the concept of automating businesses so I have more time to focus on the more important things in life, my wife and my family was something I thought makes sense.

The process of building BoxGreen is definitely a character building exercise. But in the midst I’ve also realised what matters more to me is having the time to do whatever I want, whenever I want.

Some business takeaways.

1. If you wanna go fast, go alone, if you wanna go far, go together.

2. It’s not a 9-5 job. The time spent does not determined your results. Automation is the smarter way of doing things. Smart business owners create a process which allows them to work on more opportunities.

3.  It’s not all about the end goal but the process.

4. I wrestle with fear on a daily basis and that is what keeps me alive and opens the doors to more opportunities.

5. There’s a reason why many opportunities happen to be found in the road less travelled.

 

A New Year (Sort of)

*2 mins read*

Today is the eve of the lunar new year, which marks the last day of the year in the chinese calendar. I thought it would be appropriate to share some thoughts on the last day of the year.

I have been on this journey of starting my company for almost 6 months now. And more often than not, I felt like giving up almost every alternate days and starting a company is not easy.

Quoting Andreessen Horowitz in his book The hard thing about hard things

What’s The Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology

There are times when I felt like I have been working in overdrive  for an extended period of time. As compared to working in 9-5 job, I started asking why did I gave it all up. The idea of going back to a day job sure sounds tempting as hell.

As of now, I’ve learnt to pace myself better, I realized I can never finish doing everything. I have to focus. So I set off to complete only 3 major tasks each day. Having a to-do list also helped tremendously.

Last but not least, this is more of a marathon than a sprint. I was too fixated on the result that I lost track of why I started this in the first place. This led to a tunnelled vision of working mindlessly, not remember the bigger picture of helping people find healthier snacks easily

To quote an excerpt from AH’s blog,

A Final Word of Advice—Don’t Punk Out and Don’t Quit

As CEO, there will be many times when you feel like quitting. I have seen CEOs try to cope with the stress by drinking heavily, checking out, and even quitting. In each case, the CEO has a marvelous rationalization why it was OK for him to punk out or quit, but none them will ever be great CEOs. Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweat, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary founder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say: “I didn’t quit.”

All that’s been said, the journey is still a fruitful and humbling experience. Every day is different. So here’s wishing everyone a happy lunar new year and a prosperous year of the goat ahead! Mehhhhh~!

1 Jan 2015

*3 mins read*

I realized I haven’t been writing as often as I like to be. I’m a post  behind my scheduled start-of-the-month post. Still, better late than never.

With the help of a very diligent intern, Melinda, and an experienced Startup guy from the valley, Bertram, we’ve managed to sail through December, bringing in some more revenue.

Before diving straight into the business, I would like to talk about people. Somehow aving a couple of people on board meant delegating work more than doing it all on my own. I was mentally tired from engaging so many people at one go, switching mindsets between marketing to product to sales to different people at once. Managing people hasn;t been easier.

Going the extra mile

So how did Melinda end up with BoxGreen? It all started when I received an email at 1:11am on a weekday from an 2nd year college student wanting to intern at BoxGreen. So I thought, firstly, the person must be really determined (or crazy) to be emailing at such an ungodly hour. Secondly, she seems to be pretty eager to learn about the subscription box business and is going to the valley herself for an exchange program at a later date so it may be pretty relavent. Lastly, I usually get a consistent amount resumes flowing in everyday since we have some posting from. But I found most of the applications to be a mass job spam exercise and I’ve also read a fair amount of resumes that was addressed to another company. So for if someone made the effort to mail me personally, I usually make it a point to follow up since they have gone the extra mile to hunt me down. (I think this generally applies to all forms of applications.)

Melinda joined the team has helped out a lot on the social media part, mainly by scheduling post and engaging our instagram crowd. With her help, we managed to reach out to a small network of bloggers to spread the word on BoxGreen.

Back to the thing the spurred me to write this post, Bertram, who used to work in a valley for a YC backed company AnyPerk, shared an article about products management.

The platform today is equally strong on perks and the Sales side. And if the business side is already up and to the right, can the product make it go up-er?

3 takeaways

1. A sales driven approach at a business may have a higher chance of survival than a product driven one

2. It is better to fail fast and know that the business doesn’t scale at an early stage than too late (a.k.a getting funded too early)

3. It is okay to focus on tech heavily later getting the numbers, but remember it has to scale with tech

I did some further googling and found out the company actually changed their course and pivoted SIX times before founding AnyPerk.

Back to BoxGreen, we are at the point where our MVP is over and our growth has sorta flat-lined without advertising. The hardest thing is not about getting the 1st customer/user, but it’s more like going from 100-1000 paying customers that’s hard. We have just started experimenting with ads and finding out our cost per acquisition (i.e online marketing jargons about how much advertising cost is needed to get a customer to buy your products)

My hypothesis as of now is:

Our customers are not converting because our web experience is bad

A few things to improve on.

  • Paypal checkout is clunky
  • Landing page is kinda ugly looking (Need a better hero banner)
  • We need better photos
  • Our web is not sophisticated enough and our sites are all over the place (distracting customers)
  • Snack page is not in our main site
  • Blog/community site is not on our main site
  • Ecommerce function is situated on Shopify
  • We don’t collect enough email leads
  • There is no reason to come back to the site because you can’t rate review or learn more about trying to snack healthy

So we are putting more efforts into our site and hustle as hard as we can for the next 2 months.

The question remains, can we scale this business to the rest of the asian cities, just like how we imagined?

1 November 2014

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Shucks! I am one month late.

October has been a pretty rough. I got my ass handed to me while pitching the idea of a subscription box to investors. They all have the “not another subscription box” look across their face. The general folks on the street don’t really get the term subscription boxes either so I had to put it  across simply that I sell nuts and dried fruits online.

Ambiguity also happens to be the word of the month. I underestimated the level of uncertainty I had to deal with on a a daily basis. As quoted from Mikkel Svane, founder of zendesk in a Startup Grind interview:

There’s complete ambiguity about what’s going to happen with the company. There’s complete ambiguity about when you’ll ever get a decent paycheck. So keeping people together in that phase is really complicated.

Everyday I am second guessing whether we are building something people want, whether this is a company worth building. There were countless of times where we wondered if this would be a worthwhile venture to pursue. And then after reading Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing about Hard Things, I realised this is part of the struggle.

‘On fear – The hero and the coward feel the same. They just do different things. People who watch you judge you on what you do, not what you feel.’ – Ben Horowitz

Thankfully, every signup and feedback from customers gave reassurance that someone is paying for BoxGreen (some even paid for a year upfront). And so we continue our climb to the 200 sign up mark.

‘Embrace the struggle and remember – the hard things will always be hard things.’ -Ben Horowitz

 

1 October 2014

*5 mins read*

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I am officially one month into my new job.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m the same old horrible time manager. The plan to do a weekly post didn’t seem to materialize but seeing the 2000 views from my 1 September post, I figured people would be curious about my progress as an entrepreneur one month in. So thanks to the mental motivation from you guys, here’s my report.

I am proud to say I’ve learnt more than than I ever did a month in business than working in a bank. I’ve talked to more strangers, customers, gotten positive and negative feedbacks from investors than I ever did in the bank.

Just to digress a little, I’ve also picked up a couple more books to read and listened to more podcasts. I finished reading Delivering Happiness, a story of Zappos, a US shoe company which got acquired by Amazon and I highly recommend everyone to read it. In fact, I think all business/team leaders should buy this for their staff. It’ll be a leap into learning about positive customer experience and building a successful & happy culture. (disclosure: I’m trying out amazon affiliate program so the link above will provide some revenue if you decide to purchase)

One thing for sure. I’ve looked back at the cushy lifestyle I once had and have never regretted being out here. The constant act of  struggling, fulfilling, serving, selling to customers, potential employees, investors made me feel… very much alivereal.

Some lessons I’ve learnt in the past month.

Keep your emotional state constant

A good news is never as good and a bad news is never as bad. One day you could have a random investor calling to know more about the business that gets you all excited. Another day you could have a potential lead turning cold. It’s a roller coaster ride dealing with all these and I’ve learnt not to over think too much about it.

The saying  hope for the best but expect the worst which just means averaging your emotional state all the time when you are starting a business.

Starting up takes up a lot of time

I have come to a realization that this is going to consume more time than I thought (even though I was mentally prepared for it.) My good friend, Wee Meng (who is a sociologist at heart) gave some great advice.

“You should be more mindful about the time you spend because you’ll tend to work harder since you know it’s own business and your effort will translate directly into results.”

Unfortunately, that’s the truth. Starting up takes up a lot of time. As much as people don’t want to talk about it. It’s hard and it’s an insane amount of work. Balancing work and fulfilling responsibilities as a husband, boyfriend, etc…it’s impossible to do that without tradeoffs.

For those who say it’s about having better time management, sorry but that’s a story they are telling themselves.  As much as I’d like to tell myself to manage my time, I know in my bones that’s not going to happen. I listed down some of the things thats in my job scope

Web design & development
  • Wireframing
  • Website Design & Maintainence (Strikingly)
  • Website Design & Maintainence (Shopify)
Sales
  • Sales Lead Follow up & Closing
  • Vendor relationship
  • Customer relationship & experience
Marketing & Product Design
  • Box & Web Design
  • Newsletter Write up & Design
  • Discovery Card (Design, Print, Cut)

Logistics

  • Packing of boxes (Pack, Label, Seal, Stamp, Send)
  • Delivery (B2B)
  • Delivery (B2C)
Product
  • Snack Sourcing
  • Snack Curation for B2B
  • Product Photo shoot
  • Box Design & Printing
Business Administration
  • Fund Raising (I underestimated this)
  • Administration fillings and general office keeping (licensing, permits, secretarial)

and really, it’s alot of work.

Get your sh** together with your co-founders early

There is no doubt Andrew & I have arguments and differences & I’d be more worried if everything was smooth sailing.  We constantly need to balance our personal commitments and prioritize the business in our lives. Both of us don’t spend enough time working together (twice a week) and I realized we needed more commitment, accountability and time to work together to make the business work. It’s not easy and we’re still sorting it out.

If you are starting something with your co-founder, get the hard questions sorted out early. Talk about equity, talk about commitments, talk about clear roles and responsibilities, talk about values right at the beginning and commit on a paper napkin or in contract. It’s easy to say let’s see how the business goes and take it one step at a time but when you are at the cross roads or when sh** hits the fan, that’s when all these homework will save you.  Our acceptance into JFDI was a reality check on our commitments and a lesson.

Bottom line is It’s not just good for the business, It’s good for both of you. The discussion is gonna suck now but it’ll just suck even more down the road.

Be selling, always.

Not the cold selling or harassing your friend sense.

But it’s important to have conviction in what you are doing because everyone, and i repeat, everyone, is gonna ask how BoxGreen is going and if I dread answering the question, they can tell. Even my dog knows when I’m lying to him.

Mak_Paper

Nobody likes to hear a sad sobbing story of your business failing. People want to be inspired, challenged and to a certain extent, entertained.

Customers want to believe that a snack revolution is coming their way, that tong gardens and camel branded peanuts (Big snack brands) are for 40 year old guys who drink Tiger beers.

Investors want to believe you can be the next snack brand to be in all of Asia and ultimately be bought over by a big company.

Suppliers want to know they are riding on the next wave of snack craze.

These ultimately may or may not happen but it’s ultimately the founder’s job to communicate the vision to them, so always be selling.

People are out to help you (& themselves) succeed.

The truth is, everyone wants to succeed. Everyone wants to support the up & coming underdog. Everyone wants to believe and be part of something big.

We’ve gotten a term sheet to join JFDI & I am very very grateful they  see something in us (2 guys from banking with no domain or technical expertise trying to break into the F&B industry?) but on the other hand, I really respect what they are doing and want to be part of them to do them proud.

Vendors are interested to build a long lasting relationship, while making money along the way.

Customers appreciate our effort in curating different snacks every month and are backing us on a 3-12 months plan.

Friends are chipping in to help when we are paying them literally, peanuts.

This win-win relationship has gotten us very far and is something I’ll always bear in mind – never sacrifice long term goals for short term gains, especially when it’s at the expense of others.

The Business so far

BoxGreen has grown and signed up 30 more subscribers this month on the B2C end and are moving towards the 200 subscribers mark.We’ve also signed up another small company thanks to Andrew’s contact.

That put us a step closer to our target of 1000 subscribers in 6 months. 3 more months to go to make that happen.

Fundamentally,  the business is profitable. but is it gonna make us 10x the return? I don’t have an answer to that. I think it’ll depend on how big the founders want this to be, our definition of success and what do we want to become down the road.  We are afterall, our greatest obstacle & enemy.

Being Transparent 

Why am I being so open about my experiences? Simply because I think there is so much more to gain by sharing than keeping it all to myself  – especially in starting a business. I received emails from businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to know more about BoxGreen and how to start a subscription business and it gets me excited to see new ventures happening and possibilities ahead. More often than not, I’ve benefitted more from the people whom I’ve shared these information to than the other way round. So here you go, feel free to comment or drop me a message. Let’s make October count!