Disclaimer: There is a difference between loneliness and being alone, given that I work from home, I attend a lot of events to balance the time being by myself and around other people. I don't feel lonely at home but working for myself full time I spend a lot of time alone.
I’ve learned to enjoy my own company
“So why don’t you have a co-founder?” Many people have asked me this question, and to be honest I’m still getting to know people here in Bangkok, plus at such an early stage of my startup, I’m still filtering the right people out. Though, I do have a small team of freelancers from my network, it was only after 2 years of living, socialising and networking in Bangkok I found people that I was comfortable enough with (It goes both ways) to come on board. Many people in my network are entrepreneurs or small business owners that too work from home or split their time in a co-working space, and when I asked them how do they manage to balance their time with friends, family, and work, I learned that we all have 2 common characteristics: need for independence and a need to control our life. When you work for yourself, you have more flexibility to create your own schedule, spend time with family, friends, and can work long or unusual hours.
Working from home
I frequently travel by myself, I moved to different countries by myself, I can confidently eat by myself, go to the movies by myself, however, starting a business by yourself is different.
Working from home has it’s benefits, you can wake up and work from bed, you can take naps and eat whenever you want, and you can save money by not renting out an office space. Ok, no serious entrepreneur is doing this, and yes it’s good to separate work life and home life, but the best thing about being home, for me, is my ability to focus my creativity. I’m creative in my kitchen by making hair products, my most creative writing has come from writing on my coffee table, and I get inspired by listening to podcasts and music. If I were to say my 3 strongest characteristics I would say: creativity, my positive energy, and that I’m really organised (hence why I went into teaching) but having these traits work very well only in the right environment/ecosystem, with the right people, and with a great support system.
What does that mean? Example, Israel (I know I talk about this a lot but my time there has shaped me into this confident, tech-savvy, “tell-it-like-it-is,” Blair, the entrepreneur) so Israel has one of the best startup ecosystems in the world, so many tech meet ups and groups, people are willing to help with connections, share and build ideas, and the excellent support from the private and government institutions. Could I do what I’m doing now, back in the US? Absolutely not.
Entering the startup ecosystem
I didn’t know anybody that owned their own business, the words “startup,” “entrepreneur,” and “co-working space,” were simply not in my vocabulary 4 years ago.
From time to time I come across a book that changes my life, one book that changed my life was “Start-up Nation” by Dan Senor, Saul Singer. And both tell the story of Israel’s startup culture and ecosystem (I recommend all entrepreneurs to read this book). So how did this book “change my life?” Well, I come from a small town and from and an insular religious community, so growing up everyone just worked and our social lives revolved around the church. I didn’t know anybody that owned their own business, the words “startup,” “entrepreneur,” and “co-working space,” I learned 4 years ago. Once I decided I wanted to work for myself I didn’t have any examples or role models in my immediate circles. In fact, when I was telling one of my professors about what I was doing she told me, “Angela you want to be an entrepreneur!” and that is when I realised, OMG, she’s right! I wasn’t just “starting a business” I was building a startup!
When my professor recommended this book, it opened up a new world for me. And at that time I was headed to do my graduate studies in Israel so I was excited to learn more about what a startup ecosystem entailed. I went online and found free online classes to learn how to programme and build websites, found online communities like Github, I found events to socialise and network with other entrepreneurs, I even documented my journey on Facebook because I was so excited to share my new journey. Discovering the online startup ecosystem really changed my perspective of what it meant to be successful and happy, which is narrowly defined as: go to school, find a job, get married, have kids, retire after 40 years and explore then travel world. I’ve always been the creative type, this traditional model to happiness and success didn't sit well with me.
I’m very stubborn, and for a while I just couldn’t accept that selling products was what friends and my friends friends wanted, so they too can healthy have beautiful hair.
When I started I had no plans to sell hair products, I wanted to create content and a community for beauty entrepreneurs to connect. I began to sell products because I had a few extra hair products and my friends wanted to try and buy my hair products. And once I finally pivoted to sell hair products, I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know where to buy supplies like jars, shampoo bottles, and takeaway bags , I didn’t know how to sell products online or on social media, all I knew was how to make a few hair masks and style hair. But I eventually found my way and explored Chinatown, I found a place to print my labels and do my packaging, I learned how to sell on Facebook and LINE@, and I have found experienced entrepreneurs to mentor me. This journey really began with my creative needs and find my own path to live a happy and successful life. It’s not easy, and I work a lot, but I take everything day by day.
As always, thank you for reading!
Disclaimer: I recognise that it's a privilege for me to quit my job (especially in a foreign country, where paperwork is everything), I'm not your average person, and to naysayers it's 2017, I believe people know what they want, but are either too scared or care what people think when it comes to following their dreams. If you can quit your job, leave a relationship, change your gender, "come out the closet,” move abroad, change your religion, run for political office, go back to school, go base jumping, whatever, go for it (of course with a plan and some money). And if you fail, at least you tried.
Why having a great job is not enough
I worked really hard to get my last teaching job at an international school (highly competitive to get in Thailand), and once I landed this amazing job, a few weeks working into it, I knew this was not for me. If I wanted to be a teacher for the long term, this was the perfect job. Great salary, professional and fun workplace culture, teachers freedom in the classroom, excellent location, amazing coworkers, school invests and listens to the teachers, and I had the best students a teacher could ask for, but I was not happy. And this was not what I wanted. And for those that know me, I go by 2 names, Angela and Blair, as a teacher I went by Angela, and I reached a point were I created a different identity at work, “Teacher Angela.” When I went to work in the mornings, and changed into my uniform, before heading up to the inter-teacher office I looked in the bathroom mirror and recited :
You are Teacher Angela, you're happy, a team player, you love your job, your coworkers are your friends, Blair, the entrepreneur doesn’t exist here! This job pays well and you can manage being both a teacher and entrepreneur! Again, Blair doesn’t exist here, so don’t talk about your life outside of work, and if people ask about your weekends, keep it light.
Sad, I know, and this worked for a few weeks, but the longer I stayed the harder it became to keep up with this dual identity and growing responsibilities of my startup.
Making a choice: teaching or my startup
I reached a point were I no longer had the energy to work full time as a teacher (too often teachers are expected to sacrifice their time outside of working hours) and meet the growing responsibilities of Healthy Hair Asia. On top of that, my time was becoming increasingly more valuable. And the “nail on the coffin” was when I was assigned to be one of the event organisers for the schools largest event, that was happening in February, and it was such a big event, roles and responsibilities were given in September (yes this was disclose in my teacher contract but the reality these responsibilities, made it clear that this was a real teaching job unlike my other school where I had a lot of flexibility and freedom despite my teacher responsibilities) I couldn’t imagine spending my valuable time and energy outside of work, planning for a school event, let alone the biggest one. I thought to myself, I have to leave this job, now.
Resigning from my teaching job
I got the news of this responsibility at our weekly meeting on Friday, September 22, and on Monday September 25, I woke up around 3AM (don’t ask me why) to write my resignation letter and get some work done for Healthy Hair Asia. Not a wise decision. When I got to work at 7:45AM, I felt fine, a bit nervous because I emailed my head teacher my resignation letter and not sure if she read it. When I came in for work (after reciting my morning ritual of being Teacher Angela) I asked for a moment of her time. Nervous at first (I read for articles about how to gracefully resign) I was very genuine and told her that this is an amazing teaching job, everyone at work is great, and I admire their dedication to the students, but this is not what I want, and she understood. She stated that she was sad, and just needed to find a replacement.
Sleep deprivation and overworked
I’ve always taken my health seriously, but as an entrepreneur I’ve tended to push my limits further and further, this time I went too far.
I was exhilarated and after our talk I had a pep to my walk as I headed to my class to begin teaching. However, Monday morning is swimming for my section and as I was leading my students to the pool, I felt a bit dizzy, withdrawn, and not focused. And I remembered I skipped my breakfast (not a good idea), so I left my students with my co-teacher and assistant teachers to eat some yogurt I had in the classroom. But, it didn’t make a difference, and when I returned, I just sat and smiled, looking at my students, so proud of them swimming and having fun. But, something was wrong, I was running very low on energy and the day just begun (teaching requires a lot of energy, especially when your teaching 2 year olds) , so I went to look for the school nurse to get some help. Things got a bit blurry after that, but I was in the nurses office lying down, slowly crying and saying that I need to sleep! All the lights bothered my eyes and every sound was too loud. She walked me to the international teachers office, so I could get my stuff and go home. Somehow, I was able to text my boyfriend, who was able to pick me up and take me home to rest.
Last day of teaching
Once I got better, I returned to work and had to make a trip to immigration, only to learn that I had to leave the country to renew my visa (one of the benefits I guess living as an expat in SE Asia there are so many neighbouring countries to travel to for a weekend). So, this time around I went to Penang, Malaysia, which turned out to be very fun and mini business trip. I met up with a friend who owns an organic home farm and family bakery business, and got to learn about the organic and natural market in Malaysia. And once I got back to work, refreshed and slowly counting the days that I wouldn't have to be “Teacher Angela,” I learned that they found a replacement, who would shadow me for 2 days, and Friday October 6, would be my last day teaching.
Being a full-time entrepreneur: Day 31
Early this summer I did work full-time on Healthy Hair Asia, but I didn’t manage my time so well, plus I was focusing on finding a job. Working full-time and part-time, I’ve learned
how to manage my time and responsibilities a lot better. So, day 1 , October 9th my morning routine was solid and so I naturally woke up at 6AM to write, do yoga, read and eat breakfast, all before checking emails, notifications, and other work related issues (for all freelancers and entrepreneurs I believe having a morning routine is essential before you start working!). Now that I can be “Blair” full time I have time for building business relationships, attending events like In-Cosmetics Asia 2017, making products, and so much more important tasks that I couldn’t do when I was teaching. Before I left teaching, I did discuss my decision with my mentors, who all are very proud of me :)
Going back to the US
So far in 2017, I’ve left 3 jobs, lived in 2 different countries, co-founded the Ladies Afternoon Tea Network, celebrate my 1 year relationship with my boyfriend, and now was working full-time on my startup. Returning home I wasn’t Blair the entrepreneur, I was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and old friend.
Every week I talk and message my family, and since visiting the US last year for my cousin’s wedding, I thought I could wait another year to see everyone. Well, it’s hard to explain that feeling to return home, but something in me said it was time to go home, and I did. However, I wasn’t exactly prepared because I’ve changed, people who I grew up with changed (good and bad), the American society has changed (good and bad), so I felt out of place. Since I share so much of my life on social media (so my mom can see me) it was wonderful to see my niece and nephew who I love and adore, I hugged and kissed my mom like I haven’t seen her and years, and bickered and gossiped with my older sisters and cousins. Being in my home town, Leominster (pronounced Lemon-ster) walking around and observing the few changes and new faces I thought: my I’ve come far as a small town girl!
Exploring the NYC startup community
New York City, may be the “capital of the world” but for a startup, it’s expensive, people live in a bubble (New Yorkers, there is a world outside NYC and the US), it’s very conservative in investments, there is A LOT of homelessness, people don’t really smile or make eye contact when walking the streets, but what I loved most about NYC is the diversity of people, I forgot how diverse the world is!
Never skipping a beat I headed to NYC to explore the startup community and pick up some products that I would otherwise pay a fortune to ship to Bangkok. For about 6 days, I worked in a few co-working spaces, met some really cool entrepreneurs, attended networking events, meet ups, met up with old and new friends, and bought some really great products. My overall experience was okay, but I think NYC doesn’t meet the top 5 places in the world as the best startup community (my top places: San Francisco, Israel, Singapore,Bangkok, and Shanghai).
November is here which means the holiday shopping season has begun! And so many great things are happening in the background, I have a team, I’m partnering with beauty brands and retailers, I’m selling more organic products on the Healthy Hair Asia marketplace, and more. Out of all the craziness that has happened in 2017, I have absolutely no regrets and look forward to how this year is going to end for me!
As always, thank you for reading :)