How Can You Leverage on Your Corporate Experience to Start a Business? – Gustavo Liu from Rescale Lab
In episode #15 of Chills w TFC, we bring on a high flying corporate banker who left his job and founded his own tech startup, Rescale Lab, a venture building ecosystem. Essentially, what they do is they help people start businesses lah and they built a software stack to facilitate this process.
Join me as I chill with Gustavo Liu from Rescale Lab to discuss about the entrepreneurship. What are some main challenges people face when trying to become an entrepreneur? How does he go about choosing the right people to hang out with? What are some things he had to adapt to when transitioning from his corporate life to an entrepreneurial life? Tune to to find out!
Reggie: Entrepreneurship is the big buzzword, right? The government is pushing real hard here in Singapore for you not just to position yourself or another career, but maybe consider setting up shop here and shape your own career through a business. I think this is a great move forward to grow local capital, but for many people that have been subscribed to the whole working hard corporate world kind of thing, things are not as easy as “oh, let’s just start a business!” So how do we leverage on our corporate experience to aid us in this process of venturing out into the great big world of business?
Welcome to another Chills with TFC session. In this series, we want to bring on interesting, relevant people to help us learn better from various perspectives. Life is not always about learning from people that you already agree with. Perspectives shape a rounder thinker in our pursuit of the life we love while managing our finances well.
Our guest today was a corporate high flyer from one of the biggest banks in Singapore, top 10 bankers, to be exact. He went on a cheesy ride of no return into entrepreneurship when he were sent to Silicon Valley on a corporate job. The transition is painful but I would say that he believes it’s worth it, so I would like to introduce you to Gustavo Liu from Rescale Lab, a venture building ecosystem. Essentially, what they do is they help people start businesses lah and they built a software stack to facilitate this process. So yeah, he has a lot to share. Welcome back.
Expand Full Transcript
I think a lot of our listeners are employees at this moment in time, right? So they’re all trying to live their life and whatnot, but I do believe that people at certain parts of their life, they definitely considered being an entrepreneur. If they have never settled in the whole like employee thing then that’s fine. But some people, they have already settled in with the whole employee mindset and…
Gustavo: Well, most people are.
Reggie: Yeah, yeah. So in that way of life, what do you think is the main challenges for some of these guys to try to become an entrepreneur?
Gustavo: I think overall, it’s a mindset situation. Let me take a couple of steps back… is education. I don’t, I’m not here to criticize education here in any way, shape or form. It’s just… traditional education is typically problematic for entrepreneurship. One of the biggest debate with this is de-risking an individual from having to have that entrepreneurial mindset. Because if you look at the education system in the 80s and even the 90s, a lot of that is based on how can you turn an individual to be more corporate, to be a more loyal staff, and that sense of loyalty, especially in certain cultures today, like Japan and certain areas of managerial sort of learning. It’s not about being an entrepreneurial leader, it’s about being a staff. And so with that, I would say that it is ingrained in us to be able to convert ourselves and be open to understand the entrepreneurial.
Yeah, entrepreneurship has been open since forever. I mean medieval times, right? People would just travel and money… making money out of that. But if you look at the tech startup ecosystem today, which I would like to sort of separate that from what our parents used to do in terms of building a traditional business, it’s a very different ball game altogether because today you do have to go out and fundraise and that’s expected of you to generate a certain degree of traction and even a metric of success. How we define it in the tech startup ecosystem today is very different from how our previous sort of century…
Reggie: Century… [laughter]
Gustavo: Previous erm… how do I define that… generation, the previous entrepreneur. Their mindset is all about having more control and it’s all about making profit as soon as you can. And you don’t scale unless you have enough money in the bank account, whereas today, it’s okay for you to go in the negative for like five or six years, as long as you can generate a very good sort of traction and a lot of user growth.
So… classic example of that would be companies like Carousell, Amazon, e-commerce companies in large. They can go for a long period of time without revenue… oh well, revenue, yes, but no profitability. But at the same time, they can, as long as they can get a lot of interest and a lot of customer base sort of onboarding, that is considered a way of looking at success.
Reggie: Okay, so then for someone that is transiting in that sense, because it’s like a whole new world in the tech space, a whole new way to manufacture… like a whole new way to create a business in itself. It’s not the same as the past and is definitely different from being an employee, right? Because of your experience working all these people, what are some of their major pain points that a lot of these guys would face?
Gustavo: Well, as I said earlier, mindset is one. Second is lack of guidance and confusing resources and directions that they received online.
Reggie: Confusing… [laughter]
Gustavo: It is confusing. I know it may sound like a very interesting choice of word, but it is sort of like, you know, you’ve got Google, which has got all of that. One of the great things about… and I was just having this conversation this morning with one of the other founders, was yeah, I think if you were born in the 80s or even earlier, you had lesser information on how to start a business.
And so the criticism back then was like “how do we learn how to become a start-up?” Today, you have the other problem, the other side, it was just too much information. Everybody is suddenly a guru…
Gustavo: …of starting a business, and the most common feedback that I get from many of my mentees that are navigating through this confusion is” who do I listen to?” Person A just told me that I need to do this, and person B, now he’s telling me that I need to start small, and then the other guy’s telling me that I need to look at the big picture and think global. I mean, for…
Gustavo: … Can you imagine like how confusing it can be?
Gustavo: And it’s scary. It’s very scary because these people that are giving you advice, they don’t have their skin in your business. They are not wrong. They’re doing their best to give you a piece of wisdom.
Reggie: That is debatable. The best is debatable.
Gustavo: Yeah but…
Gustavo: I would say that is a piece of wisdom, right? It’s sort of like you can’t blame your parents for the way that they raised you for… they’ve done many things that they’ve… wrong, but looking back, in their mind, at that point in time, that was the right thing. So it’s a little bit like being an advisor. There are many business advisors out there. I have many stories that goes through that. We can come back to this later on. The point here is that every advisor has an opinion, but then you, as the sort of starting out, transitioning out of corporate and coming into the entrepreneurship, sort of becoming [indiscernible] founder, have to be the one that live with it every day. So whatever advice you choose to listen to, or whatever actions you take, you are accountable to it. And that is the thing that I was very aware when I started myself.
And this is the same thing that I would usually recommend to some of my mentees. Yeah, there’s a lot of advice, and even my advice, I wouldn’t say it’s the ultimate sort of advice, right? You could listen to very well-known founders like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk or all of those well-known… but look, it’s their advice. Ultimately, listen to what you think makes sense, and do the necessary, just sort of learn through what would be related to your business, act on it and know that that is a decision that you made.
So the other pain points that I thought were directly… I experienced and I see a lot of people experience, is the people around them, your old friends, that previous network that we build around our lives, including your family members and everything. All of the support network may not be as relevant anymore, or they may have very little understanding of why you as an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur is about to go through.
Reggie: Aspiring [laughter]
Gustavo: Because you can…
Reggie: You’re not yet there.
Gustavo: You’re not there yet, yeah, but you’ve got the aspiration that the…
Reggie: I’m going to quit and do this.
Gustavo: Yeah, and that process requires people around you that understand what you’re going through. And I would say that if you’re not comfortable putting yourself out there, especially going out there and network, if you… in other words, I hate to say that those are introverts because they aren’t. There are many people who I would consider extroverts who equally would be uncomfortable to suddenly jump into a network of people. You know, I start talking about start-ups or technology…
Gustavo: If that is not what they are comfortable with… but it ‘s certainly just going out there and trying to build and meet new people, that is a challenge. Inevitably, at this stage, there will be a lot of people that will question you and they will doubt. “Why are you doing this?” And even people who are already in the ecosystem, there are many cocky people that feel like “I’ve already gotten there.” You probably have seen them as you were going around these networking events.
So those can be discouraging for somebody who is already struggling and at the same time, trying to find its way to becoming an entrepreneur. Those I would say will be more of the challenges from a mindset perspective. There are other challenges as well, but one of the areas that I focus a lot is on the human component, the mindset, the people component. I think if you talk to other advisors and mentors, they would say financial will be an issue, business opportunities and partnerships and all that. Yeah, all of those are problem, but I feel like everything starts from the mindset.
Reggie: Okay. So then when you talk about changing your network, you got to hang out with new people and you got to be around people that… more entrepreneurial, aspiring entrepreneurs…
Reggie & Gustavo: [laughter]
Reggie: All right, so how do you go about doing that? How do you go about choosing these people to hang out with? You know, over time people just get so comfortable with the same bunch of people?
Reggie: Right? So…
Gustavo: I mean we are creatures of… we’re herd, right?
Gustavo: And that’s how our ancestors evolved, but I would say that there’s no right or wrong answer for that because when you’re dealing with people and depending on where you are, say you, if you’re trying to build that network in Singapore, it will be a very different experience if you went to Indonesia, Jakarta or KL. The ecosystem there, depending on how maturities… and what type of people, what type of businesses are commonly found in those types of networking events? It really depends.
When I was in KL, I found that certain coworking spaces, actually the founders weren’t tech-related at all. A lot of them were probably doing spices or they were doing manufacturing or pet food, right? Which is really interesting because you don’t find those in Singapore, whereas in Singapore at one point, I’m not sure if you remember. Back in 2017 or (20)16, all these people were talking about blockchain.
Reggie: Mmm mmm mmm.
Gustavo: Everywhere you turn your head is like crypto stuff, right?
Reggie: Yes yes yes.
Gustavo: Today, what happened? … all of that discussion, it completely shifted. So it really depends on the environment. It depends on the time period that whatever is sexy at that point in time. Right now, what is sexy and why it relates for anybody who is trying to at least get started? I would say read up a little bit on certain topics that are on trend.
Gustavo: Like AI, right? That is [indiscernible] the problem with artificial intelligence is that it just keeps coming back.
Gustavo: I believe it goes off again, and then comes back again. Augmented reality was a topic that was very hot in the (20)15, (20)16, but then it kind of died off around (20)18, (20)19 and then now it’s slowly crippling back again. There’s a lot of discussion on sustainability for those that are trying to understand whether they should become a tech start-up. They’re trying to understand what type of start-ups you would like to build? Is it something like a sustainable ecosystem? Solving certain issues in the environment? In people? Empowerment? Accessibility? These are all terms that would help to start a conversation.
The biggest challenge, I think even for myself, if I meet somebody who is about to start and they don’t know how to start, at least we need to have some basic conversation going. And so there’s certain terms that it… simply by listening to more podcasts, right?
Gustavo: …for example, or reading more about certain things, about the start-up ecosystem, be in touch with certain news platforms like Tech in Asia, TechCrunch, e27 and all of that. It will allow them to just be immersed more with those words…
Gustavo: That will allow them to…
Reggie: But aren’t you like… I’m always very… when I go to events or when I meet people and they keep throwing buzzword at me, you know, it’s like a red light. This person knows nothing [laughter] it’s like ding ding ding ding ding, it’s just buzzwords. You know, I want the person to be able to explain to me and you know, those kinds of stuff.
Gustavo: I totally agree, and those are some of the things that very young, new, coming in, aspiring entrepreneurs, they would want to show that they know a lot of things? So they start to throw all of these.
Reggie: Yes yes.
Gustavo: I also remember when I was a banker, when I first started, I don’t know what securities that everybody use, what options were even. Today, I found out a lot of early bankers, they don’t know what options are, but they throw it everywhere and that’s because the ecosystem is sort of like that. It’s there, especially when there’s just so much new tech and the period that we see new tech being introduced nowadays, it’s gotten shorter and shorter. I mean, we didn’t even have a term to define the difference between virtual reality, augmented reality many years back, and now we’re clearly… and now there’s mixed reality. What is the difference between all of these different realities? Then you’ve got AI, which is a commonly-used term back in the 40s for describing anything that could mimic human intelligence. But then now you’ve got everything from visual AI to graphic AI to blockchain AI, all of these different terms.
It’s not enough to just know the terms, and that is why continuous learning is so important. If there is a particular term that you choose to learn as an aspiring entrepreneur, I would strongly advised that… read more about it. Yeah, it’s okay. Start off by just throwing those terms, but really be interested because what I find is that a lot of people would just pick it up to make themselves smart, but they’re not interested at all in those topic. One classic example would be blockchain.
Gustavo: Yeah because a lot of people would like to talk about blockchain, but when you sit down with them and you have maybe two lines of conversation, you realize all their knowledge revolves around crypto, and that is not blockchain. That is crypto. What exactly is blockchain and why was it so hot and what was the white papers about, all of that? I would strongly suggest that at least learn a little bit more on those areas? I think we live in the era that is… I mean, social media has made it so easy for us to learn.
Gustavo: You don’t even have to read nowadays, right? There’s podcasts that you can listen to. There’s YouTube that you can watch, everything made into infographics, and there is all these cartoons. It couldn’t get easier to learn today on those technical tools.
Reggie: Which is why you talk a lot about focusing on the individual, right? Focusing on the mindset of the person, because a lot of these skill sets and a lot of these kinds of knowledge, they’re everywhere these days. It’s so easy to find them and even when I struggled to find which information is accurate, which information fits me because it has this wisdom, but does it fit me? So from an entrepreneur’s viewpoint, I think… for myself, I’m not going through this process of corporate to starting my own business. I’ve always…
Gustavo: Lucky you.
Reggie: Yeah I’ve always been an entrepreneur. So I’ve always been, you know, failing and failing [laughter]
Gustavo: I wish I had gone through that. I wish that I had gotten out, even maybe… not even going to university. Nothing wrong with university, but if you were to ask me honestly, I don’t know what I was going to study in university because I had no experience and I didn’t know what I was… yeah, did I want to be an astronaut? Or do I want to be a doctor?
Gustavo: I think that is what every kid aspires to be, right?
Reggie: No, that’s what every family aspires their kid to be.
Gustavo: Yeah well, depending… if you came from Taiwan or maybe certain cultures, your parents would want you to be a lawyer, a doctor or something like that.
Reggie: Yeah yeah.
Gustavo: But… my parents were entrepreneurs, but what did they want me to become? A doctor or a lawyer.
Reggie: [sighs in Asian child] Okay… cultural norms.
Gustavo: Yeah, and that was what their perception of success was. If you look at where would I have wished to start? I would have wished to have done what you did, which is okay, let me go out and just start something because only by starting your own business that you get your hands dirty on all of the different aspects of a business. Whereas I felt that… I’ve been dis-risk myself by joining my career path, right… wrecking my career path by joining various different types of businesses and working for other people. It was sort of like being focused and specializing in a very particular area that it consumed my time, and the time would be the opportunity that I would have used to learn all these other aspects that it takes to make a business successful.
Reggie: Yeah, and it’s not just about the time. I think there’s this one part about… so I, okay. I did short stints for people. Recently, this was a long stint. I worked for a cloud computing company, infrastructure service. So I did that for about a year odd, so [indiscernible] of a year, and I was so comfortable with the recurring job, recurring work and recurring pay. So there was so much certainty. For lack of a better way to put it, if you go…
Reggie: Yeah. A lot of comfort, a lot of certainty, a lot of assurance. Even I felt like “oh, now I have to go back to the jungle. I have to go back to becoming an entrepreneur.” I was like ah…
Gustavo: You gotta hunt for yourself.
Reggie: Yeah I gotta hunt, there’s so much…
Reggie: Yes yes.
Gustavo: Put up your fire.
Reggie: Yes, so much anxiety and it’s hard, right? So how do you manage that part? Because you were so successful during the cold corporate path, and then you decided to spin out. How did that go?
Gustavo: Well yeah, I would say that I did it really well and I adapted to the habitat… really, really well. In fact, I was one of the top 15 private bankers [indiscernible] and transitioning out was the most difficult. I think it would have been maybe somewhat different if I was squeezed out of my job and I had no other path to choose. And that is where you see a lot of ex-bankers…
Gustavo: … because of the circumstances. But that was not my case. I chose to get out, and that was problematic because for various months, I kept reminding myself and there was just this little devil in the back of my head. It’s just like “what are you doing? You had a great job and you had a great pay and you could have fed a family of 10, but now you are in this hobby.” Right?
Gustavo: Then you thought “what are you doing here again?” Like you know, in the middle of California where nobody knows you, you are completely unfamiliar with a thing and nobody cares about your successful past. Everything that you achieved up to that point suddenly was irrelevant because you are now in the same playing field as that 18 year old, who just did six exits with his brother because he started in life as an entrepreneur much earlier.
Gustavo: And the type of conversations that you were having with this kid was just like… it blows your mind because… and this is essentially what I went through. I wouldn’t say middle age, but I was like…
Gustavo: …coming close to 40, and you know, this guy knows far more things about technology than I did, and I had a computer science degree but I didn’t pursue programming throughout the bulk of my golden years in my banking career. This guy didn’t even learn to code, but he’s so much more intertwined with what is happening today in the tech environment than I ever was. I envy that because if I looked at the way that… if there was another global economy meltdown, which happened in 2007, and I had to go through the entire banking meltdown, right? The banking industry… this guy will probably survive and transition and adapt much faster than I would have had, because I was so jaded and used to the corporate lifestyle. Then now, transitioning out, I had to retrain, rebuild, relearn everything that I spent 12 years accumulating knowledge in.
Reggie: What are some of these things that you really have to throw out?
Gustavo: Oh, I would say like…
Reggie: Everything [laughter]
Gustavo: …90%. Yeah, everything. First of all, pride.
Gustavo: That pride. Yeah, I mean…
Reggie:“I’m a top banker…
Gustavo: Yeah… “and I worked here, I come from Singapore and Singapore is one of the most respected financial institutions around the world.” And at least I knew how to explain what options were.
Reggie & Gustavo: [laughter]
Gustavo: Oh, we know what a straddle and what butterfly.. You know, um, you know, options are. But none of them mattered because from this point on, all of that is no longer relevant. Because right now, what I need to figure out is how am I going to make money? How am I going to build a valuable position for myself so that when I’m going around in these coworking spaces and passing around my [indiscernible] or business card? There’s going to be somebody that would be interested to talk to me.
Thirdly, the most important thing, what am I building? I mean, yeah I might have an idea of what I wanted to build. But what did I really wanted to build was a whole different story, because what I wished to build… as you may know, you know, ideas are cheap. It’s not always the most, you know, um, real startups that, that will eventually come. I think those were some of the earlier challenges.
The other thing that I would say is that, just on these points is that a lot of early stage transitioning out or at least starting out as an entrepreneur, they end up being truly enamoured by some inspiration that they’ve gotten in their head and that thing is very misleading. They don’t spend enough time trying to talk to enough people and validate and all of that, that they usually…
Reggie: Give me some idea on that. What is the context about, to being too enamoured by a certain thought?
Gustavo: So from a personal perspective, for someone, when I first started as a banker, I was like, yeah I love traveling. And of course, right? Because I had a lot of income to spend on…
Gustavo: … and you know corporate life…
Reggie: And corporate flights. Yes yes.
Gustavo: …and then a lot of benefits such as…
Reggie: Corporate hotels? [laughter]
Gustavo: Well, not only that, but also like 36 days of annual leave and you’ve got 30 days of it, you know?
Reggie: Yes. I’ve never, ever recalled that.
Reggie & Gustavo: laughter]
Reggie: It’s like, my friends are like “I’m on leave”. I was like, what is leave? Right?
Gustavo: Yeah. It’s like what, I’m not even on leave when I’m like at the beach, right? That kind of lifestyle that you can completely switch off. The fact that I have that, it was sort of like, you know, the ability to be able to, to take that and spend a lot of time traveling.
So my first idea was well, how about if I just could get people to bring stuff from overseas and then people that are leaving from Singapore could help them carry stuff to another country. So that would be almost, I wouldn’t say barter exchange, but there would be some transaction happening there, this is sort of like, you know, overseas traveling and all of that. Boy, if I had come up with that story right now, I think it would be completely a total failure given all this travel restrictions.
But back then, this was early 2015. I was just thinking, I was still comfortable in my banking job and I was like why don’t I create an app that allows that connectivity, all of that. Did very little research. I Googled, didn’t find anything. I don’t know. I kind of sold my friend on the idea and the two of us put 2500 into this thing. We had this cap… 5000 capital, we just say “okay, let’s go out and hire, outsource a team in India and get them to build this app.” That was like… we thought that was going to be the next unicorn…
Reggie & Gustavo:[laughter]
Gustavo: And so the moment… halfway through building this thing, we were like “oh my god, there were three apps already existed that were doing exactly the same thing” and they were all struggling to take off. And the other thing was, there were just so many things that we weren’t taking into consideration, as I began to share more about that idea, I found that people were everything from “this is a really bad idea” to “oh, why don’t you consider doing this and that”, and they were giving you all of these different advices that were just nothing related to what I thought was a unicorn idea.
Reggie: It always happens where you tell someone your idea, then they will have this like “oh, maybe you should try this other thing.” I’m like “oh dude!”
Gustavo: But do you find that looking back, you think that, okay, you were making a mistake. But now that I’m on this side and I’ve gone through so many failures and build so many businesses, looking back, and as I’m listening to somebody now, it’s a very similar story. Everybody’s sort of trying to get into a new business at the end. They have this idea that they’re so enamoured, nobody can tell them wrong. So you have to let them make their own mistakes. It’s a little bit like… I’m a nerd, so I would always refer back to Star Wars and…
Reggie: Star Wars [laughter]
Gustavo: Yeah, and everybody’s sort of Han Solo and we’re all Han Solos trying to discover who our father is, right? And on this journey, you pick up little bits and pieces of wisdom and you end up with various scars, but ultimately, whatever that direction that you thought you were gonna start at the beginning may not be the ultimate direction that you actually end up with.
Reggie: Yeah, so you have all these scars for sure. Everybody has… we all have scars. How do you manage the scars? You know, it’s so painful.
Gustavo: So one of the areas that I mentioned earlier, that network, right? That relevant network that you surround yourself. This is oversaid and it’s cliché, but I do strongly believe that you are the sum of the ave.. The [indiscernible] people that you surround yourself with.
Reggie: That’s the thing, right? Every time sometimes you believe in something and everybody starts saying it.
Reggie: It was like “urgh I don’t want to say this anymore”.
Gustavo: But I do think that there’s that contagion effect, and if I was gonna rephrase it in another manner, it would have been, you know, how you influence each other and who do you want to be influenced by?
Gustavo: And I knew at a very early phase when I was transitioning out of my corporate job into the startup world, I knew that the people surrounding me, I mean, those kind of 3, 400 champagne brunches where the… you know [indiscernible]
Reggie: I know, I know [laughter]
Gustavo: Yeah, no problem here. This is my card, right? And it was not the group of people that I should continue to surround myself. They were friends and I know they will always be there, and thank god today, most of them are still very close friends to me and I catch up with them on a regular basis, but they will not understand what I am going through in this entrepreneurial journey that only me, myself, I will be able to discover that.
And so one thing is how much do you want it? To me, as much as removing myself out of Singapore, buying a one way ticket into somewhere that everybody talked about was the entrepreneurial environment, which was US. I ended up buying one way ticket, packing my bags into two luggages. I told myself I will not come back until I have really immersed myself into the ecosystem and I have picked up something that could be validated and brought into Singapore.
At that point, everybody I surround myself with was people that… I was just in that kind of environment 24/7. The other thing is I’m usually quite curious in nature. As a child, I have always been very curious, and social media today has made it very easy for me to pick up a lot of entrepreneurial insights, startup insights and tech insights… podcast, I was a fanatic of podcasts. I’m still…
Reggie: What is your favorite podcast?
Gustavo: Um, The Financial Coconut?
Reggie & Gustavo: [laughter]
Gustavo: But that is Singapore, right? So, but I want to say that back then, but how did I transition out of the corporate job and how did podcasts help me? I think it’s Gimlet Media.
Reggie: Oh, love Gimlet.
Gustavo: Yeah. So Alex Blumberg, his journey startup was sort of recommended and I picked up that podcast very early. Actually, when Alex Blumberg was recording his first two or third recording, I was already a listener in [indiscernible]
Reggie: Dude, you’re like an early adopter.
Gustavo: I know, right? God. Yeah, so, but then it helped me because… here and then, I will still go back and I will still listen to those earlier one, because it’s a reminder of all that awkwardness and all of that difficult conversations and challenging structure that you need to understand as you are facing an investor or facing a co-founder. I mean, literally it is, it was very awkward. I mean, if you listen to how Alex Blumberg recorded it from the beginning, the first few recordings, everything from the conversation he had to have with his wife with all of that… seldom do we see that being so clearly documented…
Gustavo: … and narrate it, right?
Reggie: [indiscernible] Sacca and everything.
Gustavo: Yes. So [indiscernible] Sacca came after, but the earlier conversations of him transitioning out of this American life and going to that, and you know… if Alex, if you’re listening to this, I’m a huge fan of yours, but I would say…
Reggie: Me too.
Reggie & Gustavo: [laughter]
Gustavo: One reason why I am a fan of his is because his journey inspired me that anybody can do it.
Gustavo: And it is hard, but that is precisely why it’s so much more rewarding. I mean, looking where, you know, Gimlet Media is today, it just goes sold off…
Reggie: 200 million to Spotify.
Gustavo: Yeah yeah, and that is what we all kind of aspire to be, but we always start somewhere. And so going back to your question in terms of what is the hardest is that as you’re navigating through those pains and those challenges and when the future doesn’t seem to be very clear… constant reminder that it’s going to lead you somewhere, maybe more of this notion that you thought he would have been, but there’s hope at the end of the tunnel. That is kind of how it is, and that Startup recording gave us insight on the earlier steps of where you can’t see anything, but we always started in the same manner.
Reggie: Hmm. So then at what point do you start to see that light? You know what I mean? For, for a very long time, it will be like…
Gustavo: Do I…can I still see that light?
Reggie: [laughter] Very dim ah, very dim.
Gustavo: I think… let me put it in another manner. I talk to a lot of founders today as well, and I would say that the common trend is that there’s always a perceived light and there is always flickers of signals here and there and they’re everywhere, just signals everywhere. But you just don’t know which one to follow, and as founders, is what, I would say we’re kind of like, you know, trying to navigate? With a lot of founders and even myself, we try and look at things with our glasses and it’s extremely hard because when we’re looking at things with our glasses, we lose sight of where the blinking light is.
So it does make sense to sometimes to put down our glasses and to bring up our binoculars, cause that is what is going to keep us on that track. That is actually the areas that I’m still struggling and I will say many of my mentees and many startups struggle. The common trend is that there’s so many points where you think you’re near death…
Reggie: [deep breathing]
Gustavo: …or you think that…
Reggie: [exasperated] Yes!
Gustavo: We can all relate to that, right?
Reggie: Yes, oh my god. It’s like urgh…
Gustavo: But somehow, something happens. Something unexpected happens.
Reggie: Really unexpected. Like super random weird shit happens.
Gustavo: And you can’t explain why, and this is not like, you know, a fairy godmother is going to sh… you know, descend from sky or anything like that, but it’s not like that. But it’s just that somehow, you know, you would end up meeting this person that will inspire you to think otherwise. Sometimes, you realize the darkest of the darkest hours that you thought you were in wasn’t actually that dark, and it was just a mindset shift to suddenly see… and then you see that blinking light again. So a lot of the time I feel that it’s a mindset issue.
Reggie: Yeah. So it sounds like there is one thing that leads you to another, to lead you to another, right? That is very forward moving. But I think there are also a lot of people that are going to try and they are going to quit. It’s pretty normal, much like any other thing. So how do you then not quit? You know what I mean? It’s like so easy to quit. Like if you transit over your corporate job, you try your idea for one to two to three years. And it’s like “ah I don’t know”…
Gustavo: Can I answer that question through a story? So basically, I mentioned earlier that I was traveling a lot and a lot of it was vacation. And one of the things that I like to do as you know, later on, I learnt on why entrepreneurs like to do risky stuff, because they’re, you know… I mean, entrepreneurial journey is a risky journey. But much earlier when I was in the bank, I would take long trips, like two weeks trips, doing hikes. And these are very dangerous hikes. I mean, we are talking about… there are certain mountains in New Zealand where you end up having death situations every year. Those are the hike that really excited me. I just wanted to complete those, but I remember that every time I get into the middle of it, which is the steepest and the coldest and there are points where you cannot stop. You just need to follow through and there’s only like maybe two or three of you, so there isn’t much help. So if anything happens and you’re in an accident, you might end up not being discovered because there’s no cellular reception. It’s just not areas that do that.
I remember this particular incident where it was during winter and we were trying to hike through… can’t remember the name of that mountain, but it was very steep and it was very dangerous. There were a couple of deaths already that happened that year. One of my friends was already in front of me. There was only two of us and he was already in front of me and I was walking behind him and we could not stop because there was snow and we needed to get to the next hut and the next hut, we wouldn’t be able to achieve that until like four hours later. I began to be very cold and I needed to like literally poop. I needed to shit. Sorry. It’s going to get a little bit graphic. Um, I shit in my pants. I literally did, and I couldn’t stop.
There was only… one step at a time that I could take it. I could keep moving forward and I felt like I was about to faint. I was about to pass out, but if you pass out, because it’s so steep that you begin to roll down all the way, and it was like a hundred… I don’t know how many kilometers, how many meters it was, but it was very, very high. And so you just have to keep moving forward. There’s just no other condition… You can’t turn back because turning back is another four hours back, and so the only option for you is just keep moving forward.
And that is how you kind of feel like you’re in a startup ecosystem. In fact, to answer your question, how do you not quit? I find that the people that have a safety net or that have/had another option… the few ones, right? They don’t usually move forward. In fact, if you look at the impact or the scale of the business they’re able to achieve is not as… typically, don’t tend to be as big. As somebody who has nothing else left, but you’ll keep moving forward. That is the only direction that you can move forward, and that is kind of how I remind myself now.
I oftentimes ask myself back then when I was there. What was really going through my mind? Because the easier thing was “let’s give up”, but then… we’re going to have to either call a helicopter to come and lift me out, which happens a lot. But then the other option would be… there’s no other option. You just die, right?
That’s kind of how it is when you’re doing a startup. Your business, you can’t give up, you can’t quit. There’s no option. Quitting isn’t even an option because there are eight people in your company that is depending on you to bring revenue and investors’ fundings and keep the business direction going. There are investors that have believed in you. They’ve given you their money, believing that you are going to make the right decisions and make the right call in situations like that.
So what do you do? And so the advice [indiscernible] as long as you’re breathing, you’re fine. Just keep breathing and take your next step. Take another breathe… breath and deep, deep breath, and take another step and incrementally, as you do more of that, you begin to see “oh, the hut is just there”. Just maybe 30 hours… er 30 minutes. 30 hours… Yeah.
Gustavo: 30 minutes more, and you can see it. And that is how it is for any aspiring period where you can’t see much, but you just have to remind yourself that it’s just… as long as you’re breathing, you’re fine.
Gustavo: That’s a long way of explaining how not to quit.
Reggie: No but that is, that is, that is good. Really.
Gustavo: Thank you [laughter]
Reggie: Thanks for coming on, and I think we’ll have you again [laughter]
Gustavo: Thank you!
Reggie: Yeah, to talk about more entrepreneurship stuff. Cool. Thank you, thank you.
Thank you so much for having me on.
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Okay, so I hope you’ve learnt some good stuff with Gus. They run Rescale Lab, which is an accelerator incubator program that’s trying to help people start high growth tech startups. Essentially means ah, they’re not very interested to help you start your own cafe or do your own consultancy business and whatnot, run a side hustle, Instagram store… what have you. But the reality is entrepreneurs come in all forms, shapes and sizes and we can all learn from each other.
Not everybody’s trying to go for the super high growth, you know, break the market, create a whole new thing kind of business, where you can get super big investments and all that kind of stuff, and many other people that just want to run a small little community store in their Tampines mart ecosystem and whatnot. I used to stay in Tampines so-and-so, okay?
If you are interested to be an entrepreneur, I welcome you to check out our other new show. If you’re running a side hustle, you’re starting your own side consultancy, run Instagram store. To me, they’re all kind of like starting your own business. They have a very different way to look at it and it’s not like a job, right?
So if you are starting your own business, running your own side hustle and want to explore this thing, I welcome you to our new show, Our Entrepreneurshit Show. Right? Very cute. It’s a good name, and we’ve gathered one season, seven episodes with all these different founders in different fields. Some people run athletes’ events, some people ran their own cafe. We have fast growth startup, we have tech startups in China and what have you, right? All sorts of stuff, and I believe that everybody brings an interesting take on a table.
While I was interviewing them, wow I felt like I was going to break down like that… it was tough, very emotional and they share the real juices, right? So as an entrepreneur, if you’re starting your own business, you’re doing your own side stuff, you have to know all these things. You have to be welcomed into the world of being an entrepreneur, right? Where it’s not just a job, it’s not 9-5, you’re not taking orders and all those kinds of stuff.
So I think it’s a very real recount. Check out our new season, check out our new episode and I’ll see you next week. Meanwhile, take care! If you’re not an entrepreneur, it’s okay. Just continue to hang out, keep doing what you do. Create a life you love. Not everybody needs to start your own business, okay? Take care guys.
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