The Biggest Risk is Not Taking One At All


By Al Chen It’s cliche as they come, but I couldn’t stop saying this to myself while I spent the entire week at work figuring out what my goals were going to be for the quarter to prove I should get a promotion. I was extremely lucky and fortunate to work at one of the world’s best companies straight out of school, Google. The gourmet meals, awesome benefits, and super smart colleagues were enough for me to stay happy and sane for 5+ years. Over time, I realized (like many millennials) I wanted more than a cushy job. I wanted to find purpose and meaning in what I do. Call it sadistic, but I wanted to know what pain felt like. I wanted to know what staring into the abyss not knowing where your next paycheck will come from, if it at all. Thus, I threw myself head first into the world of startups and entrepreneurship. Right after I left Google I experimented with a few ideas just to scratch my own itch. What if there was a better way to keep track of places you want to go eat? My friends and I launched Monje (now sunsetted) to answer that “problem.” What if there was a better way to learn to use Microsoft Excel? My fellow Excel nerd and myself launched a product called KeyCuts. What if there was an easier way to do word-of-mouth–or in today’s terms–influencer marketing?  Cooperatize was launched. Through my various ventures, I saw few themes pop up which I’d like to share:

  1. Be financially stable. I’m not talking about stable in terms of you are putting money into your 401k every month or saving a few extra bucks at the end of the month to put towards a down payment. I mean literally having enough funds in your bank account to afford your rent and food. You may read of stories of people who max out credit cards to fund their idea and have $5 in their bank account at the end of the day. Make sure there’s a cushion. Even the Airbnb founders found a way to keep their fledgling startup up and running in the early days by selling Obama-branded cereal.
  2. Use free software. If you are starting a business that involves web development, use as much free software as possible. You’d be surprised with how much you can get away with by simply googling for common business tasks from accounting to HR to graphic design. I wrote a blog post about this on my company’s blog. To this day we still use the free invoicing tool we used when we invoiced our first client.
  3. Start with a side hustle. For most people in a 9-5, you’ve probably have had dreams of starting your own business and the best way is to test it on the side. Until you’ve gathered some early traction, it might not make sense to dive full-time into your venture until you find yourself staying up until 5 in the morning handling customer requests for your product or service. You will know when it’s time to quit the 9-to-5, but it starts with experimenting on nights and weekends!
  4. Be proud of the little wins. This is probably one thing I’m still working on myself. Small wins early on meant getting a website up, or landing your first paying customer. Medium-sized wins means getting a repeat customer or a bigger contract. Enjoying the small wins along the way will help you and your team enjoy the journey instead of the result (IPO, unicorn-status, bathing in a gold bathtub, etc.)
  5. Be willing to change your beliefs, fast. This tip has taught me how valuable data can be not just for your decisions but for your mental well-being. I remember thinking about a feature I wanted to get built for our platform and convinced myself how awesome it would be and how it would change the game. After it launched, crickets. The data showed that no one liked it and no one was using it. Needless to say, it was a very humbling experience since I was so easily blinded by thoughts. When presented with data that proves you wrong, be willing to change your belief, position, or attitude towards the situation. And be able to change it fast.

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