When I started my game company back in 2011, I had a lot of drive and passion while believing anything was possible. Our product aimed to introduce a portable PvP (player versus player) game called MoAR for casual players. We developed a prototype then and launched a Kickstarter campaign hoping to bring the product to its next level. The campaign didn't succeed. Many things went wrong then, and I was eager to tackle them and move forward. Slowly though I began to get a feeling, being skeptical for the first time in my startup journey, how far can I go?
The doubt had always existed deep inside, but I ignored it believing I was "optimistic". Back then, being realistic means being pessimistic, which can demoralize a team and eventually kill off a project. My startup did not fail…yet, should we have made improvements or pivoted in accordance to our early feedbacks, we could progress I thought. But, I had a feeling I needed to do more than charging recklessly forward to create a better company, so I decided to take a step back.
I wondered if every founder is going to work equally hard, do the smarter ones have a better chance of yielding a more creative and successful result? Is it possible that what the media promotes about the value of hard work and success be false for the lesser minds? I was beginning to think what they didn’t specify was that passion, perseverance, and optimism are beliefs ideal only for the bright and creative individuals. Those three qualities work amazingly well together for success but so are for failures; those three qualities work like gravity locking us in, and those without enough mass never trigger a fusion reaction to become a star.
I was never known as a bright person, but I had always managed to think so because I had an art degree. But being in the creative field does not automatically make us creative; people who are creative can always think outside the box and are quick with thoughts, and there are definitely dull artists.
If being more creative means that one would have a better chance at building a world-changing startup, I wanted to be smarter at least, so I decided to start reading more. Ancient books first came to mind; I thought if people still read them now, there’s something valuable about their timeless principles that I can learn from to apply to my work. I came across a book by the Confucian school of teachings, which promotes that in order to bring peace to the world, we must set our minds first before we manage any external affairs; We must understand the relationship between all things in the world; we must move on to understanding morality and justice; we need to take care of our physical and mental health before bringing happiness and order to the family, and finally to bring order to our nation before unity of the world can be instilled. What I picked up from the passage was that changes always begin from within. Marcus Tullius Cicero also argued that “You will be as much value to others as you have been to yourself.” I was beginning to understand it’s never about presenting a pretty empty shell but building something perfect where no one can see is what matters. I had always believed that the product, the shell, is everything to a company, and how it’s built doesn’t matter; but when western and eastern philosophies coincide, I knew it deserved attention. As I translated the principles to entrepreneurship, it became clear that people are key to building a lasting company; if a founder is not worthy, s/he cannot attract and build a team that’s worthy, then such team cannot make a product that’s worthy, and company would slowly become irrelevant. I went on to reading the Art of War by Sun Tzu, which Sun states in order to win a war, leaders must possess the qualities of intellect, morality, courage, responsibility, and discipline. I was baffled by how complete the book is in defining the qualities of not just military leaders but any human being in general thousands of years ago. I also noted that the similarities between wars and running a business are very much alike. And if they are similar, the qualities of leaders must match as well.
In retrospect, I avoided any work unrelated activities: exercise, proper diet, or spending time with my family; most importantly, I was working towards a cause that was irrelevant to the world while hoping it was. My lifestyle violated every Confucius’ teachings: I lost my connection with the world; I never read much; my mind was always filled with thoughts; I disregarded my health; I was ready to pursue a dream risking the happiness and unity of my family; I designed a product for money rather than for the good of the world. Additionally, according to Sun’s principle about leadership: I was not smart nor was I reading in my spare time to make up for it; I was not moral having designed a freemium model that's based on greed; I was reckless and not courageous; I wasn’t disciplined enough to have a well-balanced schedule and life; and I lack the responsibility having to risk my family’s future on my blind ambition. Ancient timeless knowledge makes it clear to me that it was time for me to not just to take a step back but to stop. John Wooden once said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” It was then, I learned the value of patience, which may just be the most powerful human quality and virtue I’ve discovered yet; more powerful than passion and perseverance. Patience is not the same as doing nothing. It is about preparation, so you won’t miss your opportunity when it presents itself. I still had a lot of fire in me, and telling myself to hold back, was the toughest thing I ever had to do.
Adopting this new philosophy in life, I began to exercise, read, write, think, train my brain, travel, and spend more time with my newly started family. I have a well-balanced life now, and I never felt more energetic, creative, and happy in my life which were the things I expected to obtain after I had a successful career. As Shawn Ackor would point out, happiness should be the prerequisite and not the result of living a successful life, a concept that led me to believe if I were to continue living like a nobody, I would end up a nobody. I decided I wanted to become someone I can respect and love. I know now I don’t need to be successful to do what successful people do anymore, so why not start doing what billionaires and influential leaders do now? I don’t need to buy luxurious items that I don’t need, but I can live a happy, organized, healthy and inspiring lifestyle regardless, so I began to imagine myself as an influential leader who happens to be starting over in life living as me.
I do not know how all of this may affect my future in starting a company, but I do know I’m now finally a better person who is happy, healthy and has a strong family for support. What I also know is, when I do start a new company again, it will not be because I want to, but because the world needs me to, and I will be a realistic optimist for once who’d live a successful life that is not based on money or fame but with a dream to bring positive changes to our world.