Hi, I’m Edmond. In January 2017, I co-founded a startup in Hong Kong where I’m the CEO. Like many other founders and CEOs, I have a brutal schedule. Here’s why: We’re building an organisation platform that helps people connect communities with organisations. We serve associations, charities, clubs, corporations and organizations of all sizes and nature. We have very high hopes for our startup!
In 2018, we experienced 5 times the growth in organizational user accounts, revenue compared with 2017. We also went from 4 to almost 20 team members. We just reached a milestone of 1000 organisational accounts on Juven. Thanks to a great product and business momentum (and good luck), we managed to close the second of two Pre-A Round funding near the end of 2018 for about USD 2 Million. Our closing rate was nearly 100% — which means for every potential investor we pitched to, we have almost closed every one of them (Stay tuned as I will write a future post about how we did that). Though I’m buoyed by the success, still I was feeling exhausted.
As you can imagine, like many other founders and CEOs, I have a brutal schedule
As you can imagine, Startup CEOs are always running at full steam. And I am no exception. Between hiring new staff, managing the company, pitching to investors, and looking after key clients, I — like many other founders and CEOs — face different challenges for me physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally and spiritually. So at long last, there came for me a long holiday during the Christmas and New Year break, which I could use to repay those “quality time debts” to my family, friends, and to myself as well.
I am glad to use this article to re-cap how I spent my holidays and and share with the reader some insights I got from doing so.
Before I started working in a startup, I spent some time doing quantitative analysis at a major bank in Hong Kong. Naturally, during the holidays, my quantitative self kicked in to do some analysis on my winter break. For simplicity’s sake I’ve broken down everything I did into 6 categories, “Work”, “Family”, “Social / Fun”, “Rest / Lone time”, “Service / Church”, and “Sports”:
As you can see from the charts, my actual time spent was very close to ideal (although I could have done a bit more exercise). You can find the exact details of my break here.
Reflection 1 — Everyone matters, even the CEO!
The holiday break not only gave me a chance to rest, but also time to reflect on each team member as a holistic person, and not just as their title, role, or professional capacities. Let me clarify what I mean:
As CEO, from Monday to Friday, work occupies 80–90% of waking hours. For weekends, it’s still around a quarter. I am aware, however, that working longer hours would not necessarily help further but might in fact harm quality and sustainability in the long run. So the holidays gave me an chance to think about what helps me the most as a holistic person.
The most important element of my support is my family. My family is really a cornerstone for me personally. As such, I am very grateful that my family is so understanding in letting me work insane hours and often missing out on quality time with them.
I spent more time on “Social / Fun” activities during Christmas, because of “quality time debt” to my friends. But I feel that this was slightly too much. On normal weekends, I don’t enjoy spending too much time with friends or socializing. On the contrary, I gain energy and refresh myself by being alone to read, think or simply rest. Having a clear head is super important for making good both operation and strategy decisions.
Church and service are important for my spiritual life, peace of mind, and maintaining a high EQ and compassion in the highly competitive and fierce commercial world.
Sports is important for physical well-being. I love to play basketball and I used to go play every chance that I got. However, I have been working out much less these few months compared to the past. I’ve gained some weight and don’t look as sharp as before. A healthy body has obvious benefits for living an entrepreneur’s life, and I decided to change and will allocate more time to it.
As you can see, all these aspects of my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being will affect me professionally on the job. That is something that is often lost in the daily hustle and bustle, and indeed brutal work schedule that I have to drive growth for my startup. But if I’m not doing well in any of those aspects, I bring that energy with me into the company. How I am doing affects me, and therefore the whole company.
Every member of a startup team affects the whole company. This is especially true since we are still quite small in number. Every team member affects the mood and energy level of everyone else in the office. As the CEO of a young company, I am responsible for the success of it and every teammate.
The lesson here is that I have to take the initiative and be proactive in taking holistic care of my well-being, in the many aspects and areas of my life. That way, I can have the best positive presence and positive impact on my team so that they can perform at their best as well.
Reflection 2 — Product, not sales, is the real driver of growth
On December 22nd, we held our Juven strategy meeting with our investors and our team. It was our 4th strategy meeting of the year. The meeting served to wrap up the year with a review on how we built this company starting with just us two co-founders. It was good to be able to think through the journey of the company and our product.
One of the things we learned was that, while we had to dream big and be ambitious, we also had to balance those ambitions with a realistic estimation for our workload in developing the product. This is especially crucial for planning product developments, as well as managing our client’s expecations.
We also learned during these two years that the true key factor to driving growth is not sales — but to build a really great product.
Early on, we had a general idea about our product, but it was untested in the marketplace. Naturally we thought it was amazing. So when we finally got our first client, we discovered that our product was actually deeply in need of improvement on many fronts. The things we were doing was not scalable as well. Eventually we had to totally revamp everything! It was painful but necessary. But a great product is going to sell itself! Our experiences in this year really confirmed that lesson.
Reflection 3 — Change in routine can have unexpected benefits
On the morning of the 24th of December, which is a workday in Hong Kong, I got into the new office to oversee the installation of the internet. I had told the rest of the team to work from home and take it easy for that day. However, Didier, our developer, also came into the office.
I also took some time to build some of the IKEA furniture that we had bought. As the CEO, I just don’t have the time to spend on sundry work like this. And in fact, during regular operation, I would be mismanaging my time if I did this. However, I am a handy person and since it was a slower day at the office (as Christmas Eve is generally slower for business). Our engineer (software of course) Didier, true to his profession, proved to be really helpful with physical engineering as well!
I haven’t done something this handy in a while and I really started to enjoy myself. After we had built a few chairs and tables, we had lunch with together and we had a really good chat.
My reflection is that, sometimes slowing down and changing our routine allows us to try something new and outside of our usual routine, from which we can benefit and refresh our minds with new perspectives. In this case, I got to to bond with a colleague that I don’t usually spend an awful lot of time with, helping me to build that relationship, which ultimately positively feeds back into the company as well.
One more thing
Just before New Year’s, I received feedback on my performance as Juven CEO. I was given three pieces of advice: leadership discipline and fierceness, setting the right tone, and constantly challenging myself and the company for the greatest business sustainability. I think that the feedback I received could be a topic for an article that can be of interest to you, so please stay tuned for that!
I hope that my reflections gave you some insights into life as the CEO of a tech startup in Hong Kong, and to the extraordinary challenges (and rewards) of working in a startup! Until next time.
Juven builds integrated organisation platform software that empowers organisations of all sorts to build, engage and grow community. We believe that organisations should have access to beautiful, intuitive and reliable tools to create greater impact.