Ever since college, I have always wanted to do my own thing. From time to time, I would wake up with these “great ideas” that would “change the world” and make my entrepreneurial dream come true. Yet when it was time to say bye to the free meals at the Bay Area startups or the steep discounts at the Nike company store, I chickened out. I often wondered what would have happened if I pursued those ideas I had in college, but I would eventually convince myself that life is better now that I have a great career, work I enjoy, and most importantly, stability. However deep down, I knew that my desire to create is the missing piece and nothing else would be able to fill that void. That was pre-pandemic…
2020 was a crazy year. Especially in Portland. The constant news of disease, violence and chaos made me question our purpose of existence and the meaning of life. Isolation seemed to be our best friend in terms of Covid yet our worst enemy in terms of mental health. Luckily, I had Frosty, the puppy I adopted from the Oregon Humane Society in December 2019.
While I was her free meal ticket and humble human servant, she was my loyal companion, my source of physical touch, and my ticket to human interactions at the dog park – the only place that seemed socially acceptable to talk to another human being in person. As Frosty and I frequented the dog park multiple times a day, I saw the growing need for a pet owner community that not only connects people online but also nurtures genuine relationships offline.
I finally found my calling, and this time, I am not letting it slip through my fingers because life is too short and who knows what is going to happen tomorrow. YOLO!
So I did the startup thing. Using everything I learned from my previous jobs, plus countless nights of obsessing over the stuff I do not know, I took a stab at it and started my dog social network app – Booper. It has been the hardest job I have ever had, yet the most satisfying. I do not regret leaving my shiny job a single bit because I finally found the perfect alignment among my hobby, my work, and my passion. Here, I would like to share 5 startup learnings in dog terms:
1. Know WHY you are doing it
Building a company is like adopting a dog. It is a long term commitment – something you would be willing to commit at least 10 years of your life working on. In dog terms – if you are committing at least 10 years of your life picking up poop (or fixing bugs) daily, multiple times a day, rain or shine, you better have a very solid idea on why you are doing it.
A friend once told me that knowing the why is essential because it is going to serve as my north star at the darkest and hardest hours on this startup journey. The clearer the why, the brighter the star, the less likely I would give up during hard times. For me, it is the combination of my calling and the realization that I would totally regret not trying to start something of my own if Covid gets me tomorrow.
2. Learn from others’ perspective
Building a company is way more than just an awesome product or a great marketing campaign. Essentially it is about passionate people, from different backgrounds, coming together to build an efficient and autonomous system that solves important problems. As a founder, acknowledging that you do not know or need to know everything is a great first step. Being open minded, humble, and eager to learn from others’ are all qualities we want to see in a good leader.
In dog terms, entrepreneurship is not the game of lone wolf rather the job of a pack leader. The pack leaders’ objective is to recruit talent, inspire creativity and form alignment on key goals with your pack. Hence the skills of connecting, listening and learning from others are indispensable in a founder.
3. Persistence is key
My dog is a hustler. She relentlessly hustles, begs and demands her portion everytime I sit down for a meal. She quickly claims her share when given the chance and never gives up as long as there is still food on the plate. As a professional food beggar, I contribute her success to her persistence and I am definitely proud of my dog child for it.
As an entrepreneur, I learned from my dog to keep my eyes on the prize, find creative ways to achieve my goals and not take no for an answer. When facing the inevitable rejection and failure when building a company, do not forget to remind yourself of the large picture of WHY you are doing this. End of the day, grit and resilience are what is going to push you to the finish line.
4. It is going to be okay
Obviously dogs do not have to deal with the stress and anxiety of paying bills or running a company, but they are experts in focusing on the now. They are here to remind us to be present, enjoy the journey, and things will be okay. Afterall, life is about experiencing, learning and staying in the present. All else is just variables you cannot control.
The startup journey is a marathon, not a sprint. As long as you are clear on the WHY, stay committed and do your best, things are going to be okay.
5. Lastly, just do it
Aspiring dog owners often ask me: “When/how did you know you were ready for a dog?” Well, like all major life decisions, sometimes you just have to take that leap. Do not get me wrong. Do plan! There could be better times than others, but there is no perfect time. At some point you will realize that planning more will not move your progress further, and it is time to commit, take action, and just do it.
As long as you are clear on the WHY and think through on HOW you are going to do it, the next step left is to commit and stay with it. Afterall, only action will drive progress and results.
I am a firm believer that a founder’s experience is very personality dependent. There is no right or wrong, just a question of fit, timing and risk tolerance. If you are a dreamer like me and at a point in your life where you can afford some uncertainty, I would encourage you to explore your passion and dig deep within yourself to find that spark. If you are lucky, perhaps you will find your calling that will inspire joy and creativity for the rest of your life.