Tonight for the first time in 7 years, I met up with one of my old school friends: Sam. Sam and I go way back. He used to be the top boy in my year, that means he almost always ended up in first place.
I remember the days he would compare his marks with mine just to see if I might eventually catch up. I never did catch up with him though except for once when I got lucky. The rest of the time I always settled around 4th or 5th place.
After we parted ways when we were done with our SPM, Sam went on to pursue his ambition of being a lawyer and today he's a lawyer at one of the top law firms in the country probably earning more than a lot of the other guys my year are making now.
He came by the Nuffnang office tonight to meet me for dinner and as he walked in, he took a quick look around and he said
"Wow! Look at you and your office".
He then went on to say how it must be great to have a business of my own and how he was hoping to do something else but practice law some day, something different... like perhaps start a business or something.
Sometimes I wonder if people fully understand the other side of the story, how it really is to run a business and the price you pay for it.
A lot of people seem to come up to me these days and tell me the same thing, that they want to own their own businesses one day and how they feel it's only that way they would make real money.
First of all, there's the obvious notion that the businesses you see and pay attention to are the ones that have succeeded and made it at least somewhat far and what you see on the outside are the rosy things. Sure you see the money they spend, the cars they buy, the nice cosy office they sit in and you see a whole lot of other material things but let me tell you what you don't see from an entrepreneur's point of view.
First, there is the coming up. All businesses start small and when you're small, sometimes you just meet nasty people who will look down on you and spit on you while you're trying to climb up. All you can do is swallow your pride and take it.
The only satisfaction you may get in return is that one day if and when you do get big, you'll notice how these people who once looked down on you and spat on you turn around and suddenly are somewhat your best friends. Hopefully by then you'd already know who truly are your friends and who aren't.
The most taxing part about running a business though is the stress. I thought I've had stress during my student life and with whatever short work experiences I had before starting Nuffnang. I really did have stress... but all that stress was nothing compared to the immense stress I've faced since Nuffnang came about.
I've had nights where the stress from work was so immense that I lay awake in bed the whole night sweating... yes actually sweating in a cold air-conditioned room.
Where does the stress come from? Everywhere and in all sorts of angles, from bringing sales in to managing cashflow to managing a team and the stress gets bigger the bigger the company gets.
Let me give you an example.
When Nuffnang was a small company with just 4 people in it including Ming and myself our costs were low so there was a lot less pressure on sales. Today it costs millions of dollars a year in salaries, server costs, rent and all other costs just to keep Nuffnang running.
Imagine the pressure we face to make sure our revenues at least keep up with our costs. Fortunately for us, we've been lucky so far and our revenues have always outpaced our costs.
Every day I walk into the office I look at the many faces of the people that work there. They all smile at me in the mornings and I love them all but there is the burden that I carry that their lives are directly affected by whatever happens to Nuffnang. That any mistake I make with not managing the company right could hurt their jobs and their lives at this company. So every decision I make carries that burden because sometimes the smallest wrong decision can have the biggest impact.
Sometimes it's true when they say that the grass is greener on the other side. Because at times when I've been overwhelmed by all this stress I sometimes do wonder how it would be like to be just working at a great job in a great company. I mean when you're working and you screw up, what's the worst that can happen? You lose your job then all you've got to do is find another one.
When you're running a business and you screw up, what happens then? You not only lose your job, you lose a lot of money and you drag a whole lot of other people down with you. That is the burden of running a business of your own and that is the price you pay.
And you pay that price without knowing whether at the end of the day whether your business will work or not. I feel very lucky because Nuffnang worked... and I'm sure many other people have tried many other different businesses and gone through worse but still haven't gotten anything out of it yet.
So is this what you still really want? The sleepless nights and the immense stress you face every
Why do I do it then?
I guess for me, I do it for a lot of reasons like passion, interest and love for what I do but also because of the thrill. Somehow there is something in me that loves challenges and loves being faced with problems that I've never faced before, then finding the solutions to them.
I can only seem to get that satisfaction from running a business in a new industry like Nuffnang. Every day I face some sort of problem at work in Nuffnang but I get an adrenaline rush whenever I'm faced with a difficult situation like that and occasionally manage to pull of a smile on my face while doing it.To be honest, I think as we all grow older our priorities will change and I can see mine changing too. Right now while we're all young we chase our careers, we chase material wealth because there isn't a lot more to chase.
But I think one day when we are married and look into the eyes of our children, our lives will no longer be about chasing wealth, it will be about other things, like growing old with our soulmates or watching our children grow.
By then I think whilst money will be important, its importance will come in a different form. The stability and constant flow of money to support your children will matter far more than the amount you have. I can see that happening to myself one day... I wonder if everyone else does.