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Wayne Huang is the co-founder and CEO of XREX (AW#17), a neo-fintech that solves dollar shortage issues for cross-border merchants in emerging economies. He previously founded Armorize Technologies, which was acquired by Proofpoint, Inc. (NASDAQ: PFPT) in 2013. XREX recently announced their $17 million pre-Series A financing. AppWorks led their seed round in 2018.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you really have to enjoy testing your own limits and taking on new battles and risks.
I like climbing, so I will use a mountaineering analogy. There are two types of people - one, you really enjoy all of the difficulties in summiting a high mountain. You know your life's on the line, but one of the reasons why you do it is that you’ve had plenty of practice and you have strong confidence in your ability to overcome these difficulties. In the few weeks that it takes to reach the summit, every day is painful. Every thing is painful. Breathing is painful, getting water is painful, even going to the toilet is extremely painful. But that’s how you push yourself and put to test everything that you've been trained to do. You go forth confidently and you keep on doing it until you’ve reached the peak. The feeling of being on top is exhilarating, but the minute you are on top is also the minute you start preparing for your next climb.
To me, people with this type of mentality are atypical and often viewed as “not normal.” Entrepreneurs, by definition, are not conventional. They live to defy the status quo and some don’t lead a so-called “healthy” lifestyle. But if you’re that type of person who is always hungry for the next challenge, and who’s so confident that you can overcome those struggles, and who gets really bored when you are unchallenged, then yes, be an entrepreneur. You will need to be physically and mentally prepared for this unconventional lifestyle. Just like mountaineering, it is not a typical sport that most people take up and the risk that comes with it is not low.
The other type of person is the one who really wants to get things done and over with. When they are on a mountaineering trip, they only see the dangers and difficulties and they just want to conquer it. They’re not going to feel relaxed or happy until they have completed the mission. If you're coming from that angle, you're not going to enjoy the entrepreneurial journey because you will never feel settled until you are “successful”. Companies go through stages in their lifecycle. A person with this type of mindset will always be obsessed with the end goals: when will this round of fundraising end, when will we turn a profit, when will we be successful, when are we going to reach the summit? It will feel like an endless journey with endless challenges and struggles, and they won’t enjoy it.
As founders, we get opportunities to start companies usually because we’re good at solving a specific problem. And that specific problem is one with wide and expansive implications. Therefore, the solution for this particular problem has widespread demand. When you are one of the few people who can perform a service that is badly needed by the market, that’s when you earn your chance to be a founder.
But if you need a big team to get to product/market fit (PMF), then what does that mean? That means a lot of your time will not be spent on building your product, or solving that specific problem, but on dealing with generic company management and operational issues. And you are likely not the best person to handle these issues, because that’s not how you earned your startup opportunity. So keeping the team size small has a huge advantage in that you get to really center your energy and attention on addressing that problem that you’re good at solving. But, if finding PMF means you have to expand your team, then you really have to be very cognizant of the fact that you are going to be spending a lot of time dealing with these issues that you are unfamiliar with. The trade-off will be spending time on things that don’t maximize your expertise or energy.
As a founder, you have lots of stakeholders and they are betting on you. This means sustainability has to be a priority for founders. Everybody is going to need this person to last for 10 years or more. Startup is a game of survival. If you don’t survive, your company will falter.
Over the years, I've acquired a few important skills along the way. I’ve learned to be selective on whom I should give my attention to. I don’t view failure as something detrimental and irreversible - when you have an infinite view and understanding that failure is a crucial element of the learning process, you become less concerned with how others see you because you have your eyes fixed on the prize. You are confident and resolute. You are agile and flexible but your direction is set. This attitude gives me peace of mind, because I really can give it my all to make this company successful without having to look over my shoulder with a fear of failure. I always appreciate feedback from people who genuinely want to help my company become better, but I know when to gracefully bat away comments that offer little value.
I am also very careful not to overexpose ourselves, meaning that when we hit a milestone, we celebrate, but we don’t over-celebrate. Because I know if you succeed one month, you could fail another month. The higher you climb, the faster you could fall. So I learned to keep my emotions in check. I don’t make a big fuss over things and this reduces all the ups and downs that could be distracting. When things don’t go according to plan, we review, revamp and relaunch. We are good at keeping ourselves the underdogs. To a certain extent, we are setting the right and reasonable expectations for ourselves and our stakeholders.
I tried very hard to relax but that didn’t last long. It’s like when you summit Mt. Everest, you say “oh my god, I’m so lucky that I wasn’t killed, that I made it down safely. This is it. I’m going to go back to my family, I’m hanging up my boots and never doing it again.” And then you stay put for a few months, and you’re like “I am not built to be stationary. ” So that was my struggle. I had a good job at Proofpoint, but I knew I still had more summits to scale and new things to try.
To me, life gets boring when there are no issues to solve or challenges to overcome. All the days seemed to blur together and I had lots of pent-up energy. I was itching for something that would propel me to the next frontier. Then what I did was channel all that craving for risk-taking into mountaineering. On the mountains, I became more and more daring and adventurous. I was eager to test my own limit and see how far I could go. And that’s when I realized how to strike up a balance between risk and stability in my life. I knew I wasn’t ready to lead a life of comfort and tranquility. But, instead of seeking thrills from climbing giant cliffs and jumping off the base, I realized becoming a second-time entrepreneur would satisfy my drive to conquer new terrains. I might fail the second time around, but at least it wouldn’t be as bad as falling off of a cliff.
For many entrepreneurs, starting a company is about the thrills and the excitement that we feel when we come up with a technology or a solution that solves a pressing issue. When life gets too stagnant, that’s when we get antsy or feel we are not putting our time to best use. We are constantly hungry to tackle complex and difficult challenges. Each new challenge is a new mountain peak, and we are confident to reach the summit and learn for the next one.
The life of an entrepreneur is not conventional. We are determined to challenge the status quo. You can’t expect someone to scale one mountain after another without taking a break or getting new equipment or replenishment. That would be risky, unwise and the trip will be riddled with agony. But you also can’t expect someone who is meant to climb to just stay on the ground. On the mountains, I often encounter tremendous challenges and setbacks. Sometimes I even miscalculate my own ability and I have to recalibrate. In spite of all the risks and challenges, I still want to trek ahead and do my best to reach the summit over and over again.
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