Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Truth About Running Your Own Business

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.


kh diDi said...

I guess this is the price that everyone has to pay to pursue what interest them.

Have fun with Nuffnang and I wish you all the best Tim!

-Avid reader of LengMou and your blog

wan hafiz said...

Quite true. Running own biz, is a hell especially at the beginning.

Tree is the graet methaphor for running a biz.

Once your tree is giving a nice/good fruit, only then you can feel the sweetness of satisfaction.

giap said...

Tim, I could not agree more about your story. Sometimes people just cant understand the brighter of the sun means the darker of the shadow.

six said...

hey boss!!very inspiring post!u got me thinking alot now...do drop by at my blog ya!

§pinzer said...

posts like these are a very good self-reflectory materials when the time calls for it.

keep it up bro, never lose sight of what you want!

Boss Stewie said...

boss: thanks boss. Yes just wanted to share the other side of the coin and how it's not necessarily somethign to envy at all

wan: that's true... the tricky part is that not many trees bear fruit quickly

giap: the brighter sun means the darker shadow.. gosh i love that quote!

nicholas: thanks dude. shall drop by when I get the chance to

spinzer: thanks dude.. you too ok?

LazyBum said...

Something very inspirational...so now I guess I should be happy that my stress level is no where to what you have been going through...hehehe

Great post and wish Nuffnang all the great success...would love to see you guys grow even more bigger and better

Success is no where without all the bumps...keep it up ")

Boss Stewie said...

lazy: ahh thanks dude... will let you know how it feels months from now

Anonymous said...
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jasonleecj said...

Best post I've read thus far since following our blog for the past 2 years!

I'm a law student and an aspiring entrepreneur, your stories are good stuff for people like me. haha.. one day compile everything, edit edit then publish a book la yeah!

Like it or not Tim, you're now a role model to many young fellas like me out there, and we're watching.. I mean reading you!

*Don't hold back on your posts tho! Like it!

Jane said...

In my opinion there is always a risk on both.

I have my own biz and also at the same time I do have a job..

The stress level on both sides are almost the same in my opinion.

As a programmer, everyday I face lousy company protocols and the hard work of developing,supporting the system almost 24-7.

All that and the only reward that is to look forward to is the yearly increment. Which in most cases.. how much can they provide, perhaps only max 30 %?? It's just so little compared to the millions my boss earn.

Not only that in my everyday work, I have to face all levels of people, the top, the lower, clients bla bla..

The stress of trying to perform well is so intense that sometimes I wish I'm a non responsible person. Therefore i understand why many people thinks it's a good idea to have a biz.

Whilst in biz however in reality.. from my experience.. the amt of work we put in do not always equal the result. Sometimes.. there can be no result at all.. and we just need to keep goin, finding more ways to make it work. There is also a point to decide whether or not to let it go.

For me no matter where you are.. the grass will be greener on the other side... the only one is to do what we can obviously like what we are doing so that no matter how hard it gets .. there's a reason to continue...

Digital Insider said...


Well said and I couldn’t agree more. Running your own business can be very satisfying. You basically get a MBA course without having to attend classes, learn from experience and make mistakes that you wouldn’t as an employee and that is something no money can buy. It does however bring on tremendous amounts of stress that is unimaginable and the money especially in the early days of a startup is basically shit. Some days you wake up and ask yourself why the heck do I do this ? You then remember it’s the passion, the adrenaline and satisfaction that of what you do that drives you into the office each day.

Putting your employees first is one of the best ways to ensure you act responsibly and to ensure you don’t make critical mistakes that affect the lives of those you employ. To add to your stress level , each employee has an average of 1.5 dependents, so you are not just responsible for those that you employ, but multiply that by 1.5 for the REAL number of people you might affect if you make a critical mistake.

Nuffnang has achieved a lot in a short period of time and I have a lot of respect for what you and Ming have achieved but please stay grounded as we face the worst economic crisis in a recent memory. Don’t let your early “success” get to you and I hope you and Ming stay grounded thru out cos the hard work is just about to start.

As the Chinese say, “ starting a business is hard, growing it is even harder”. I suspect you are headed into phase 2 of Nuffnang’s development and the “even harder” stage is just about to start. Trust me, phase one ie starting up is actually much easier and fun compared to what you will face in the next few years.

I am a big believer that if you take care of your employees and customers, ultimately they will take care of you by brining in the top and bottom line. Just remember to have fun, remember the dream and take care of those who take care of you; all else will take care of itself.

And your priorities do change over time especially when u have a family but stay passionate and believe in it, that dream will come true. When I started my business six years ago, I was young and “na├»ve” and had a dream. As I have now have two young children, priorities do change. The critical test comes when you have to choose between attending your child’s PTA meeting and meeting with an important client to close the multi-million dollar deal.

Good luck, stay focused and have fun.

Kevin Huang

Unknown said...

Hi Timothy,

Stumble upon your blog. Such an inspiring post. I felt your burden too. But the most thing that hit is

' The burden that I carry that their lives are directly affected by whatever happens to Nuffnang'

Truely true. The thing with most people is that they want to have business, but do they think to succeed in business?

Wish you and your nuffnang team a best of luck :) Send regards to Firdaus :)

Ikhwan Nazri/Tekong

Adventurer said...

have fun and do enjoy the process... :)

Sometime it is the time to take things serious.. along the way enjoy it..

Boss Stewie said...

jason: thanks very much dude... will try to blog about these thoughts of mine once in a while

jane: you're right.. the grass truly is greener on the other side. Hey you're a programmer! We're looking for more programmers at Nuffnang, why don't you drop us a mail!

kevin: congratulations on being the most successful businessman to ever comment on my blog. Thanks for your great advice Kevin, we shall all stay grounded!

ikhwan: Thanks dude, will send regards to Firdauz

Adventurer: Well the good thing I guess is that I AM enjoying the process