Start With Why – Startup World Lesson Learned

It has been 2 years since I first knew about startup world from attending VYE entrepreneurship bootcamp in Vietnam which was instructed by Prof. Tom Kosnik from Stanford University. Time flies by and it’s time for me to sit back and realize what I have learned from this detour to take part in the roller coaster of an entrepreneurial life. It’s going to be a long series because these are what I have absorbed from the past 2 years.

Part 1. Start with why

Albert Mai - Start with Why - Golden Circle adapted from Simon Sinek - Created with

Many people may question why I made a long trip from Vietnam to Singapore to Sydney in the middle of university when my classmates are busy with assignment, GPA and internal clubs. Why I joined startup world. Why I chose the hard path over the paved one. First, it’s because traveling to a developed country and keeping an eye on my own hometown helps me to be able see what may happen next. Yes, it’s just like traveling through time machine to the future. Secondly, startup community is an open community where people help, learn and share valuable knowledge with each other. They give before get, embrace challenge and uncertainty as a part of the journey to succeed. I find myself perfectly fit within the community and I really like the joy the feeling of helping others. Unlike the corporate world where you keep secret, play bad and learn by yourself to climb the ladder. Another cool thing is you will be the early adopters of latest technology, knowledge and tools what will transforms the world. Regarding my path, I don’t call it a hard path but an enjoyably challenging way of life. I have to admit that I have failed more than university can allow and more than the GPA of 4.0 can bear with a frequency of 1 – 3 times a month from personal life to career development to building relationship to professional work. Those things can’t be learned at university or in your comfort zone but when real life splashes water of truth into your face. It all started when I questioned myself why I exist in this world right in year 1.

Lean Startups still fail !

A usual problem for young entrepreneur is to start business just because everyone is doing startup, the technology is hot or it generates fast money. I don’t mean that money is bad, instead it’s good because it’s a tool for you. You may be applying all the latest technology and methodology like responsive web, openstack, flat design and lean startup to increase success rate. Those are just the what, how, who and when. At the end of the day, it comes down to why you are doing what you are doing. What makes you stay up late at night and wake up early in the morning that you can do 24/7 for years to succeed.There is a recent article says that applying only lean startup won’t take you to the glorious road anymore. The reason is everyone knows how to validate problems, how to prototype MVP, how to pivot, how to iterate and “the successful rate of startups is still low and they still fail” – Dave McClure. If you don’t know lean startup, I have to say, you are far too behind. Fortunately, if you are reading this article, you still get the best part of both world.

Albert Mai Think Bigger

Now visionary lean entrepreneurs will lead the game. What’s more important is your vision and passion for your startup. When you keep iterating and pivoting your startup, it may force you to derail from your original vision and you start to lose passion in it. This is not an assumption but a fact, I have seen and talked to many entrepreneurs in Singapore and Sydney who quit their own startups to go back to corporate world or join other startups. If your passion is not huge enough and you cannot imagine the big vision to pursue it, leaving your own startup is guaranteed. Kim Heras – founder PushStart (Accelerator in Sydney) stressed at the Rackspace startup competition (with involvement of Robert Scoble) that always start your pitch with why. He doesn’t care what your technology is,who your team members are, how good you are and how big the market is until he understands why you solve this problem and why it’s you but not anyone else by telling your real story. It’s easy to understand, investors put money in and they want to make sure you will pursue it til the end and work day and night for it without quitting in the middle. Everything else can be learned and he can mentor you,he can introduce you to his network but he cannot train you to be passionate with your startup and to build the vision for it. Indeed, you must be the one to share your vision with him, not vice versa. Lacking vision and love for your startup idea (not ideas, please. No one cares about your ideas anymore) can’t take you far.

You are a zombie, aren’t you?

In personal life and career perspective, since you were born, no one tell you to explore the why and you are always forced to follow things from adult, school, your friends, surrounding community and expectation of society. You don’t know the meaning you do what you are doing. You wake up every morning because it’s your responsibility. If you don’t, you are afraid of getting fired, losing points in climbing up the corporate ladder. Be honest with yourself, without responsibility to do house chore, homework or friend’s calling to play football, do you wake up at the same time or until noon at the weekends? This is why it leads to the painful problem of education that we all fed up with studying (yeah it’s me. Many successful people quit because they find it’s useless, waste of time and money) or just come to school like zombies or robots…You may have the best technique and tools to get high grade. Admit yourself, are those things you want to do for life? I even feel pity for those who are totally brainwashed by education to become a gear in a huge machine, to climb the corporate ladders and wait for big corporate to seek and invite you. They invite you because they want you to fit the missing part in their giant machine (In fact, they still run well without you). Those company’s perks, your family’s pride, your friends celebration and jealousy blur your eye. Joining a big company is not what you are born to do. If it’s not you, there is always other people who are waiting to replace you. Lacking of vision, motivation and passion takes you nowhere in your career.

Why do you exist in this world, mate?

Visionary Entrepreneur - Steve Jobs - Albert Mai's Startup Journey

Why is understanding the why important? Upon realizing the why, you cannot wait to get up to do things you love, you go to sleep easily because you’ve just done something great that add value to others or society. This is so true for me and you can ask for testimonial from my girlfriend and project partners like and when I stay until 2am and get up at 7am. I work on a ferry on the way to work without feeling forced to do it. The “why” here does not only comprise of “why you are doing something” but also “why you exist in this world”. It requires you to understand yourself and to dig deeper in your heart and your deepest desire. The easiest way to illustrate is doing things that you love and the market is willing to pay for it. Investors now put money in more for the right people and the right team than products and ideas. Companies and startups are willing to train you to join their team as long as you are truly passionate at the problem they are solving catch the vision they are pursuing and willing to learn new skills. The journey to explore it will not be easy because you will mistake your liking as your true passion in the first few admission.

If you are interested in finding out how I explored my why and my journey. You have two options:

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[Startup World Lesson Learned Series – Start With Why – Albert Mai’s Uncollege Journey]

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