Personal Growth

The evolving startup

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I was listening to the excellent Startup Therapy podcast this morning on my walk. More specifically, I was listening to the episode with Steve Blank, where they were talking about a startup ‘shedding its skin’.

What does that mean, in a nutshell? Well, it is really about the natural evolution of a startup through the different stages of Search, Build & Grow - roughly translated to product market fit, traction, and growth.

The hosts talked about how the different roles of employees, and even founders, within the startup will change as it progresses through these stages, and that even the founders themselves may not be the best people to lead the business through certain stages.

It kind of reminds me of a book I read as a youngster, where a plane crashed into a mountain and the surviving passengers had to work out how to get back to civilisation. The person totally in charge of the aircraft while in the air (the pilot), was different from the person who took charge of the group’s survival in the wreck of the plane in the snowy mountain, who was different again from the person who led the small expedition to try and find civilisation and help. Each had their own unique skillsets which made them natural leaders in those different scenarios. Most importantly, each person knew when to defer their leadership as the missions of the group changed.

I’ve experienced something similar in my own startup, HR Partner. Over a year ago, my original co-founder of two years left the startup. It wasn’t my decision. She had self-identified that she wasn’t the best person to lead the business into the next stage of growth. I must admit that I couldn’t see it then, but over the past year, I have grown to appreciate that call, as the business has grown from strength to strength with different leadership, and indeed, I have now transitioned my startup again to bring on a new co-founder with different skill who is again raising the bar and taking us to new heights.

Kudos to my former founder to having the strength of character to realise that she had maxed out her skills and needed to step out. It has made me think about my long term role in my own company. Though I wrote 99% of the code and have spent a lot of time as a solo founder building this company, I think we will get to the stage in a year or two where I will have to relinquish my own control and ownership over the business for it to thrive.

I was never comfortable with the title of CEO, and I think that my future here lies in being more of a CTO or Product Manager with someone else (perhaps my new co-founder, or perhaps someone else altogether) at the helm, driving it forward.

Eventually, I see myself stepping out of the company entirely, as I am realistic enough to see that my personality type (and future life goals) are not compatible with growing and sustaining a large, enterprise software company, and I look forward to handing over the reins to someone much more qualified and able.

This is not to say I am losing interest in my startup - far from it. I have never been more passionate and excited to build something that is used and loved by more and more people each day. It is just that I need to be more realistic about what it is going to take for this company to be the success that it deserves to be. So in the meantime, I will enjoy my role in the journey, and I hope I am wise enough (like my old co-founder) to know when I need to take a side step.

Proud to be sinister

sinister - (a) of, relating to, or situated to the left or on the left side of something especially being or relating to the side of a heraldic shield at the left of the person bearing it (b) of ill omen by reason of being on the left


I’m left handed. Have been so for as long as I can remember.

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But what I also remember is that when I was about in grade 1 or 2, my teachers in my primary school in Malaysia tried to force me to be right handed. I do recall the raps across the knuckles and the teacher standing over me while I did my writing practice to ensure I kept using my right hand.

It was at this point that my maths grades started to suffer. I was getting 0% on tests, and all my teachers were baffled, as were my parents. No one could explain why I went from a fairly average to good student, to a poor one at this one particular subject.

And it would have remained that way if not for my habit of drawing on everything with chalk, as I loved to do around the house. One day, I used chalk to number all the stairs going up to the second floor of our home. My mum noticed this when she was carrying a basket of clean laundry upstairs, and her annoyance at me on the first flight of stairs turned to concern and realisation by the time she reached the second flight.

You see, I had numbered everything from stair 1 to 11 perfectly fine, but after that, instead of 12, 13, 14,1 5… etc., they were written as 21, 31, 41, 51 and onwards.

The forced transposition from one hand to another also resulted in a transposition of the placement of those numbers, and I was unconsciously writing the numbers back to front.

A quick check of my old maths tests from class showed the same thing. I actually had got the sums correct, however my answers were written back to front, resulting in a cross instead of a tick. To this day I am alarmed that no teacher ever looked deeper at my answers and realised what was happening. Had I not numbered our house stairs with chalk that day, who knows how long this would have gone on, and what impact this would have had on my learning to date.

Conversely, many years later in flying school, one of my proudest moments was when I scored 99.9% on a fiendishly difficult navigation examination. Only three of us in the class (of 12 students) passed that exam and I was chuffed to be one of them.

What makes this even more special is that when I asked my instructor where I had lost the 0.1%, he said that is was because I had copied down one of the numbers from the original question sheet onto my working sheet wrong. But I had come up with the right answer at the end using that wrong initial figure. That was where I had lost the 0.1%!

But the fact that my instructor didn’t just mark my answer wrong because the end result wasn’t what he expected, like my grade 2 teachers did, but instead went through the effort of completing the 2 pages of calculations with my input figures and see that I understood the problem and could come up with a solution - well, that meant so much to me, and showed me the difference between a good teacher and a bad one.

Addendum: I am actually not a strict left hander per se. I do a lot of one handed things (writing, bowling at cricket, playing tennis, eating with a spoon) left handed, but two handed things (playing guitar, batting at cricket, playing golf etc.) right handed.

Actually, I think in guitar playing especially, it helps to have my most dexterous hand doing all the hard fiddly bits on the neck and not just holding the pick and moving it up and down!

Incredible Women in my Life

I know this is a bit late for International Women’s Day, but I thought I would post it anyway.

Some backstory - I used to do a lot of art and painting in my younger days, but haven’t really done anything for the past 3 decades or more. Work, life, music, everything else simply got in the way and I never put pen or brush to paper in all that time.

Until this year, when I decided to try my hand at painting again. But the next problem was - what subject matter? I decided that I would focus on women in my life who have had an impact on me. Not just my immediate family, which consists of strong women anyway, but rather my friendship circle, in which I have many women who I think are totally amazing.

(Note: I have held back from mentioning names in this post. Mainly because I want to protect the privacy of my friends. Most of them are really humble and wouldn’t like to be called out for their strengths, but I think their story deserves to be told).

Here are my (rusty) artistic impressions of my heroes:


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I first met E when she worked at a client site that I was doing some consulting work at. She always had the brightest smile and a genuine “Hello, how are you?” that went beyond mere politeness and showed an actual interest in the answer, which in turn showed the depth of her soul.

E does it hard raising two very young kids as a single mother, but she does not let that hold her back from showering her children with an abundance of love. And she always has time for others.


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J was a good friend of my younger sister and spent a lot of time at our house when growing up, and so I consider her another little sister of mine as well as one of my best friends. Many years ago, while in the prime of her life, she suffered an aneurism which nearly took her life. She still suffers many permanent after effects of that incident to this day, including short term memory loss, but she does not let that hold her back, and she still retains her delightful, happy personality.


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M was another client who turned into a friend. A few years ago she was diagnosed with having multiple brain tumours. Because she lived across the country, I could only follow her journey of fighting through this via Facebook, but I was amazed at her strength, resilience, and most importantly, her absolutely candid sense of humour while going through the worst of times. That is priceless in my opinion.

Even during her recovery, there was no hesitation in outlining funny things that happened as a result of the multiple surgeries and procedures that she underwent - for example, she suffered balance problems following her release from hospital, but she regaled us all with the funny story of how she tripped and fell flat on her face outside her favourite pub when she was on the way to celebrate beating those pesky tumours. It takes someone special to always see the funny side of something so serious. Thankfully M is doing well now and enjoying a full and healthy life.


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J is a long time business colleague whom I have a lot of respect for. I have known her for many years, which includes the time encompassing two marriages that didn’t work out. What I really admire about J is how she doesn’t let heartbreak hold her back. Every time she met a new love, she would throw herself heart and soul into the relationship with no cynicism or negativity. That kind of bravery, to risk your heart over and over like that, is rare.

More recently, J also came down with breast cancer and battled through that with silent courage. She is now in marriage #3 with her soul mate and is blissfully happy living the life of her dreams.


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S is a relatively new friend, but has already astounded me with her spirit of generosity and her willingness to go above and beyond to help a friend out. She is an avid traveller and is not afraid to explore the wilder side of places she visits on her own. She is a super smart former lawyer. She is also a former MMA cage fighter, so she is one tough lady that stands for no nonsense. A serial entrepreneur, I always enjoy spending time with her talking about startup life and travelling.


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D is another friend of my sister who is like a little sister to me too. Always ready with a delightful smile. She is a beautiful soul. She has 2 children with special needs, but I have never heard her complain once - she showers all 4 of her children with boundless love. Tragically, she recently lost her young son, and my heart goes out to her, because of all the people in the world, D does not deserve this. She also had her own personal battle with cancer a couple of years ago, but that never stopped her from being there for her own family. For me, D is proof enough that no higher deity exists, because any god that can put someone as amazing and compassionate as her through such life trials really does not make any sense to me.


I hope to add to this list over the coming months, and I am realising how lucky I am to be surrounded by such strong, inspirational women almost everywhere I go. They have all played a part in shaping me into the person I am today.

People have asked me “Aren’t there any men who have inspired you the same way?” and the short answer is yes, but apart from my own Dad, I really can’t think of any other male figure in my friendship circle who has been through the sorts of battles that the women above have. I am sure there are though, and as soon as I find them, I will do something similar.

Successful Simplicity Revisited

I am a big fan of Derek Sivers, and have subscribed to his email newsletters since I met him at the Business of Software conference in Boston a decade ago. Last month, a newsletter came from him titled ‘Successful Simplicity’. The crux of the newsletter is explained well in the following video:

Basically, people find complications in things that they don’t want to do, and dismiss those same complications if it is something they want to do.

To bring this concept back to my own world view: This reminded me of several discussions I have seen on music forums I frequent about changing guitar strings. Lots of people seem to find the task of changing strings quite arduous and something to be avoided unless really necessary.

I will admit, I used to think the same way, but I have learned to overcome these ‘complications’ and inconveniences and embrace this particular task lately. And believe me, I had to. With over 20 guitars around the house, and a professional musician for a son that I act as roadie/guitar tech for, there wasn’t much choice.

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It goes back to a book I was reading many years ago about the ancient Samurai warriors of Japan. Because the feudal system of the time meant constant battles against Daimyos and duels between blade masters, their long and short swords (which were considered the ‘soul’ of the warrior) were constantly getting damaged in combat, or by body oils and blood! Contrary to what is shown on the big screen, these swords needed constant care and attention to prevent corrosion and cracking of the blade. Almost every time a Samurai stopped at an inn or a castle, he would have to get out his polishing kit and perform maintenance chores on his swords.

But the way they approached the task was what intrigued me. Because the sword was considered their ‘soul’, they treated the blade with reverence and utmost respect. Any work done on the hardware was treated as a sacred duty. Inspecting the sword for chips or nicks was a loving action that increased the warrior’s familiarity with his blade and gave him a chance to bond with an object that was considered an extension of his own body and consciousness.

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I decided to adopt that same philosophy with the routine task of changing strings on my guitars. Nowadays, I usually set aside about 20 to 30 minutes for the exercise, and I clean up a spot on the table on our deck (where I can experience the breeze and hear the birds in the trees) as my workbench, and inform the family that I am not to be disturbed for a while. I set out all my tools in an orderly fashion, and select the guitar that I will be working on.

Much like a cha-no-ryu tea ceremony, I tend to deliberately emphasise every movement. Almost theatrical. I force my mind to be present to the task at hand, rather than wander away. I bring my full attention to every dent, blemish and scratch on my guitars while working on it or cleaning it - not in an accusatory or critical manner, but simply as an observation and part of the process of becoming intimately familiar with my instrument.

In a lot of way, it is like a meditative practice, that forces me to be ‘in the moment’ and to appreciate every nuance of it.

Just reframing this regular task in this way has turned it from a chore to be put off, to an activity that I actually look forward to nowadays. So much so, that I started applying the same philosophy towards other mundane tasks that I have to do on a regular basis. Still got some troubles applying it to things like doing my taxes, but I will get there eventually.

Have you tried a similar technique to turn onerous tasks into joyous ones? Let me know.