How my startup journey began
It all started at a startup weekend.
The second one ever held in Thailand, where my team- a group of people I had never met before that day, came in second place for our idea to have social media for pets.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, I was being offered $50,000 for the idea based off a powerpoint presentation and suddenly, I am a part of the Ardent Capital incubator.
A pivot was made from a social media site to an e-commerce site. I had just become the head of the team to launch Petloft.com (Thailand's first online pet store). I was working with experienced people, all of whom came from the e-commerce field (Zalora, Ensogo, Tarad, Lazada, etc), but I had no real-world business experience at all.
I had a lot of ideas – a lot of unorganized ideas, with no prioritization and nothing to back them up except my gut feeling. I was juggling between developing a site, finding inventory, marketing, dealing with the warehouse, hiring, budgeting, and it was all new to me. I was familiar with the concepts but new to the execution. To my experienced staff, ideas weren’t enough. They started to complain about the work I was doing to the investors who ran the incubator and question all of my decisions in meetings with the rest of the team. There was plenty of criticism but there was no constructive feedback that would help me improve. Three months later, the investors eventually called me into a meeting room. It was the kind of meeting where as soon as I went in, I knew it was going to be bad news. They revealed what my staff was saying about me, behind my back, and it took me by surprise as I didn't see it coming. I was so oblivious in my own world, trying to understand the business that I didn’t realize what was going on behind closed doors when I wasn’t present.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Then they finally dropped the bomb on me - they didn't think I was cut out for this role.
There was “pin-drop” silence in that meeting room as I sat there on the opposite side of the table with the investors. These guys were the giants in the e-commerce industry, having built and exited three companies previously.
I had a huge amount of respect and admiration for them. Hearing them tell me that I didn’t live up to their expectations was a massive blow to my self-esteem.
I started tearing up right then and there. I think that anyone’s first reaction in such a scenario would have been to defend themselves and that's what I did. Two sentences into defending myself, I realized that it wasn't going to help my case or going to change their minds. I walked out of the room with my heart on the floor and my head down. I was utterly defeated and ashamed. That evening I went to a pre-planned friend's get-together and it was so obvious to everyone that something was not right with me despite my attempts to hide the emotions. I was the cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy, cracking jokes and making others laugh, but that day, I sat in a corner, feeling sorry for myself. I felt unrecognizable even to myself. I left the party and went for a walk to clear my head. While I was walking, I thought to myself that this can't be the end. There must be another way out. What the investors saw in me on the first day we met is still there and I wasn't going to let this incident take that away.
I called the investors individually and spoke to them for an hour each. I offered them a deal where I could stay with the company while giving me the chance to learn from them. I tried to convince them that I was still that guy that impressed them in the first meeting and all I needed was a little structure and guidance.
I begged them to give me another chance, even to cut my salary and take away my equity along with my title as CEO. I offered to take a title downgrade to ‘Business Development Manager,’ and asked them to let me prove myself under their mentorship. The next day, I went to work for my last day and they called me into the meeting room again. This time the vibe was completely different. Same room, same people, same setting, but the atmosphere had shifted.
There was hope in the air. I sat down opposite them and was told something that I'll never forget.
They told me that in their years of working, hiring, and firing people, they had never seen anyone react the way I did. They never saw anyone try to come up with a solution the way I did. They admired my tenacity and grit.
At the end of that meeting, we came to an arrangement where I would work as a Business Development Manager under the company's new CEO and I had 3 months to prove myself. If I did, I would get my equity and salary back. In those next few months, I worked my ass off, learning everything I could from my mentors (Tom and John Srivorakul) and strived to understand the business like no one else. I also took this opportunity to learn about managing people, workplace politics, and company vision communication.
At the end of that term, my work and effort had paid off as my original salary was restored, I reacquired my equity in the company, and was named the Chief Operating Officer (COO).
I didn't get the CEO title back right away because in those 3 months they had found a replacement for me. However, a year later, I claimed the leadership role after further grinding, proving to investors and myself that I could do it.
We eventually grew the company to a 50-million-dollar valuation with 70 employees in Thailand. We were one the largest Series A funded companies that year.
I knew then that this was only the beginning of my journey.