It was late in 2019 that I decided to help start a company that focused on bringing a massive change in the financial services industry in emerging markets, starting with my home country of the Philippines.
We had this idea that if we can use data and technology the right way, we can potentially unlock the potential of millions if not billions of the next generation of human beings that might not have been given access to formal financial services because the old system was optimised to serving the top five per cent globally and not to spread the opportunity to the 95 per cent that is left.
Not knowing that a few months later, one of the most devastating humanitarian, health, and economic crisis will be hitting the world, we would have never known that the next 12-18 months will be the biggest test in my career to start building a company from scratch during a time that the world is changing very quickly, not for the better, but the worst.
As I write this article today, only one word comes to mind that probably exhibits the spirit of many of my peers who are starting or pushing through building companies that try to solve large difficult system problems during a time where their personal and professional job securities are at risk daily, it would be the word conviction.
For entrepreneurs, conviction is often seen as the will to move forward despite overwhelming odds. I am sure that most of us know the story of David vs. Goliath, or the battle of the 300 Spartans, or maybe Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.
Conviction for most startup entrepreneurs is deeply rooted in achieving a world-changing idea because we fundamentally believe that if we are successful, the world will be better with this technology being utilised.
It is also the driving force for founders that despite the hundreds of rejections from potential partners and customers to try the product or the 1000s of no’s they receive from investors, they still find the spark to not give up and get discouraged.
Conviction is a term that most venture capitalists talk about while considering the decision if they would like to invest in a startup. As investors, many meetings, data points and discussions are pointed towards answering the questions, ‘do we have enough conviction to invest in this deal.’
The venture capital industry despite funding scalable companies still has unscalable decision-making processes– often relying on human logic and emotions before they decide to invest. Can the committee of venture partners decide without a shadow of a doubt that out of the thousands of deals that they could put money into, this would be one of the few that they would put their careers on the line for.
For the past 18 months in building a startup, I had many moments of fear and doubt that I had to overcome both on the personal and professional side, whether it be delays in product launch because we needed one more regulatory hurdle, or seeing the stock market drop my life savings while having no income coming in and worrying if my family have enough if an unexpected medical bill would come, or do we have enough runway to make it to our next milestone to raise the next round of funding.
These are many points where I just had to have a belief to keep on pushing despite overwhelming pressures as a founder and as a father. During this time, I had many thoughts, what if I had a stable job to ride out the pandemic, or maybe I am not cut out to be a founder, or should I find a backup plan if this thing does not pan out.
It seems that every time I get into these modes of desperation, glimmers of hope start to flash up whether it is an unexpected support program from the government, or a milestone that unlocks another source of funding, or an acceptance in supportive communities like the OnDeck, Techstars or StartX that gives you the network to keeps you focused and helps accelerate your startup goals, or a VC that decides to cut you a check to increase your runway by another 12-18 months.
These things balances out the hard times that I faced and make me realise that moments of desperation are sweeter when overcoming these are celebrated later on.
Looking back in the past 18 months, I had to always ask myself, ‘why am I doing this, when it is just so hard, the answer that comes to mind always comes back to one point, the reason why we decide to build a company, and most entrepreneurs decide to build a company – because hard problems won’t be solved because it’s easy, but because a group of idealistic, crazy people risked a lot to give a chance to make their world a little bit better if they are successful.
I am very optimistic that we will find amazing entrepreneurs and ideas coming out of this pandemic economy that has overcome many near-death experiences, and still found a way to survive in this environment.
I am also excited for the investors that are taking bold investing risks at this time, and not retreating to a conservative ‘wait and see approach, but to back promising early startup companies that are tackling not just the needs of today, but the potential game-changing ideas that will impact the world, not just next year, but in the next 5, 7, and 10 years when the memory of the pandemic is over.
Although the result of my ventures are still unknown and may succeed or fail, I know that no setback, even at a scale of a global pandemic, will make me change my conviction that if I am successful, we have a real chance to unlock the human potential of millions if not billions in emerging markets, and I am grateful to have a chance to do this when the world might need it the most.
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