Founder’s Despair: Confessions of an Entrepreneur

For many entrepreneurs, the early days of starting and managing a business can be extremely stressful.

Most small business owners usually launch their ventures with a promising idea and a sense of optimism at the prospect of introducing something new or different into the world. In reality though, this excitement can quickly turn to disillusionment once they have to deal with the complexities of entrepreneurship from cash flow woes and investment challenges, to staffing issues and marketing concerns.

It is a sentiment commonly experienced by many small business founders. In fact, this is how Jennifer Liu of the lifestyle dining group Sir Hudson International, John Luciw of the e-commerce website AsiaXPAT and Pilar Morais of the service apartment chain CHI Residences each felt when they were attempting to get their own startups off the ground.

The entrepreneurs spoke about founder’s despair and the highs and lows of running a business during a panel discussion which I recently moderated. Attended by over 50 entrepreneurs, if there was one theme to draw from the session, it is that setbacks are an inevitable part of managing a business and we need to learn to manage them.


“When we opened our properties, business was booming but fast forward a few weeks, and we were operating in the height of the financial crisis.”


No one knows this better than CHI Residences’ Pilar Morais whose moment of misfortune came after the company launched a number of new serviced apartment buildings shortly before the 2008 global financial crisis.

“When we opened our properties, business was booming but fast forward a few weeks, and we were operating in the height of the financial crisis,” said Pilar. “Occupancy across the entire serviced apartment sector fell from 95% to 20% overnight. It was a worrying time for us and, quite frankly, we were stuck.”

The story illustrates that in a world of uncertainty, things might not work out the way you plan. Not one to give up easily, Pilar states that these are the times that as business owners, we need to find creative ways around problems which includes being flexible and learning how to adapt.


“You’re not a cog in the corporate wheel, you are the wheel.”


“In our case, we changed our business model. We diversified by reaching out to a broader target audience than first envisaged, whereby we made refinements to our properties and operating policies to appeal to different residents.”

It was a viewpoint echoed by other panel members. “Not only do you need to be nimble, but you have to be tenacious, open-minded and believe in what you are doing,” said AsiaXPAT’s John Luciw while sharing tips for overcoming adversity.

“When you hit a stumbling block, you have to keep going as you’re not a cog in the corporate wheel, you are the wheel,” continued John. “One way to stay on top of any situation is to keep learning. Ask questions, talk to people, try different things and - if they don't work - keep going as eventually something will stick.

“All too often I come across small business owners who spend so much time sat behind their desk and even though they are unable to gain traction or generate sufficient income, they are reluctant to try something different. My advice is be open to all possibilities and do whatever is takes to get your brand out.”


“It is important to have a warrior mentality that focuses on solutions, not problems.”


Expanding on this thought, Sir Hudson International’s Jennifer Liu expressed that having a ‘fighting spirit’ has helped her weather the storms, mistakes and tough times that every small business is likely to face.

“Entrepreneurship and building a business is a long journey. It is therefore important to have a warrior mentality that focuses on solutions, not problems. If something goes wrong, you need to navigate around obstacles, never giving up until you reach your goal.”

All panellists agreed that this entails trusting your instincts and appreciating that failure and mistakes are opportunities to gain wisdom.

When the chips are down, they emphasised that it also helps to have a supportive team around you. In other words, building a successful business can be easier when you have partners, colleagues and advisors who can offer support and serve as a sounding board.

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By Janet E. Middlemiss, JEM Group
© JEM Group Limited. First published in Small Business Today.
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