10 things I learnt in 2019 as a late-stage founder

Here it is; another close of the year recap post. The second of a three-part series – my yearly highlights. Something that was started in late 2016 and has somehow become a must-do for me every year.

The first part is the annual Purpose Langkawi Report, in which I talked about the state of Purpose as a business through the activities at Ironman Malaysia in Langkawi, the Purpose Fellowship, race report and business update. A mix of everything in one.

Second is this one, where I look back and write personal insights to things that happened throughout the year.

The third part, to be written in January is about the coming year’s outlook. In January 2018, I wrote “Committed 2018“, followed by “More of the same insanity, only bigger” in 2019. Uncannily, those became my personal themes that drove me across those years.

I’ve yet to come up with what the next 2020 theme will be as, at right now, I’m still busy looking back and tying up odds and ends to make sure that the year ends up well. So here goes – 10 things I learnt in 2019 as a late-stage founder.

1. I learnt that I’m a founder, not an entrepreneur

It is in how I define success. I’m obsessed with the product. I am turned on by the creation of new ideas and exploring what is possible. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, flip businesses, products and ideas for profit. I learnt that as a founder, a great product is my driver to success. It is defined by the love people have for Purpose. Which in turn, drives the desire to create new more exciting ones.

2. Some relationships blossom instantly, others take a while to get somewhere

An example of this is in the Purpose Fellowship community that we rolled out at the beginning of 2019. I remember my life in ad agencies. Things were over-simplified. We sell the idea that a brand runs a campaign, call it a social experiment and voila, the community will convert. I learnt that it’s as far from that from where I’m seated today. I’ve learnt that in this current landscape, people get distracted so visibility is key.

3. Everyone is an expert until it’s time to back it up financially or doing it

I’ve learnt that this is especially so when it’s time to put money behind their own expert advice. I get this a lot from industry people and the most on LinkedIn. From these interactions, the one key takeaway I learnt from this is – everyone can be a risk-taker when getting paid in a full-time job but not all will be able to do it when that safety net is taken away.

4. We need to fail, in order to learn

I will be fifty in 2020. That means I have almost 30 years of experience with twenty of those in senior leadership roles. Which explains how I managed to raise Purpose to where we are now in less than two years; bootstrapped and with very little funding. Throughout the years, I have learnt through mistakes – believe me I have my fair share of them. As I’ve gone through mine, I’ve learnt to allow my team members to make their own mistakes as well. I’ve learnt that this is what learning is about. I’ve learnt that in order to build a culture that is not risk-averse, I must let mistakes happen.

5. People will ask you for discounts while paying full price to another

I’ve learnt how irksome this can be. I’ve learnt that there is an inherent bias against new brands, especially a local one. I’ve learnt that 2x the price of a European, Italian, Australian or American-named brand must mean 2x the value while any price set by a local-named brand are price-gouging. I’ve also learnt that bias can be changed. I’ll happily say that those who took the faith to buy a Purpose more often than not remained a strong Purpose user.

6. Changing perception often means showing things off

I’ve learnt that people don’t know you, or won’t care about you. I’ve learnt that people almost always start with a bias – either about you, your products, how they’re made, how it performs, valued, and others. I’ve learnt that it’s important that I address these. This goes against the core of my personal belief as I am a firm practitioner of quiet confidence, but over many interactions I learnt that once I break through that wall of bias-ness, they do want to know more about me, the brand and how both mine and Purpose’s philosophies intertwine.

7. Just because an investor has a wide portfolio, it does not mean that they’re an expert in yours

I’ve learnt that no one will know this industry better than I do. I’ve learnt to hear when almost investor say they know better, because I’ve learnt too, that this is what negotiations are about. They would want to pay less than what Purpose is worth – the discounting bias. After speaking to individual investors as well as corporate ones I learnt that the ones more willing to listen are the individual investors. The corporate ones just are not interested in what you’re building as a founder. Their job is to invest in a company and extract profit from it, possibly at whatever the cost.

8. Nothing stops

This is another truth I’ve learnt as a late-stage founder, when there is zero room for a reset or a start-over. So I’ve learnt to do what I needed to do to make Purpose work. Working two jobs? Sure. Three? Ok. Sick leave? No way! This is especially so in the first half of 2019 when I was scaling Purpose. Working two jobs daily, most weekends at Purpose events, the travels around Southeast Asia and then coming back straight into full-time work. Vacation leaves taken up just for the Purpose travel that’s required. As the company scale, so do the amount of work. I learnt that this became too much for me to do on my own.

9. Nothing should stop

I learnt this is what being a founder is all about. Purpose is a 24/7 online direct-to-consumer model. In May 2019, when I started building the team to a team of 5 now, did I start having the luxury of getting a healthy night sleep regularly. Even so, I learnt that thinking about Purpose never stopped nor should it stop. I learnt that some things keep me awake more than others. I’ve learnt that the machine must run even when there’s no one manning it.

10. You get disappointed more than you get delighted

I’ve learnt that running Purpose is an on-going series of tests for me. I’ve learnt that I failed more times than I have succeeded. But overall, I’ve learnt more not to let a series of disappointments become the stall that stops me from trying new ideas. I’ve learnt that when I can let each failure pass and learn from it, is when I am closer to success.

One thought on “10 things I learnt in 2019 as a late-stage founder

  1. This is so well written, Noor! Thank you for sharing your insights and learnings from hands-on building the product and business!

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