Why 'irrational optimism' works for Singapore startups

By John Fearon

I was asked recently in a shareholder meeting how successful Singapore startups are able to survive and thrive. Some investors joked that it was irrational optimism.

Yet, sometimes the truth is said in jest and I believe it is one of the fundamental traits for success in any field. This concept of irrational optimism is a great summary of what we have achieved in for Dropmyemail in 2012.

Prior to launching, no one believed there was a market or a need for email backups. Even with some tangible traction, there were few believers.

As the initial funds started to wither and I struggled to pay rent. But still I keep my chin up and powered on.

To be clear, being irrationally optimistic is first to always have a positive outlook on the future while constantly getting rejections and kicked in the head. It is the belief that someday by an amazing stroke of luck that something great will pop up.

But equally as important, second, it is to be able to back up that talk with a great game, business, product or service.

“The harder I work, the luckier I get,” said Gary Player, South African professional golfer and widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of golf.

Irrationally optimistic means working hard until you become lucky.

It is as they say, when opportunity knocks, be ready to open the door. Businesses leaders set the tone for the work ethic of their business.

I find that the most successful people I meet share the same trait of being very hard workers. Usually this equates to undivided focus on the end goal and working long grueling hours.

Our team practically works around the clock with 5 global offices (Argentina, US, Singapore, India and Japan). There is only 14 staff to cover all aspects of the core and non-core business, which backs up over 250 million emails and growing.

However, just working hard does not make you successful. What makes business people thrive still depends on luck.

This is not saying to sit and await the good fortune to tide over you. It is trying everything you can at what you do until your magnanimous benefactor/s appear. Ask any seasoned sales representative on what is their secret to constantly meeting his quota and you will get the same answer - law of numbers.

Knock on enough doors and speak to enough people, there will be sales. If the results aren’t enough yet, knock on more doors.

I have lost track of how many times I have pitched for funding from venture capitalist, funds, angel investor, rich friend and their richer friends. It was hard securing meetings and many of those were outright rejections.

But, a few of the many gave us enough funding to carry on. Another way to invite the good luck to your door is to tweak things to find out what works. Like Erie Ries’ “Lean Startup” method, you keep testing what will work for your business.

We also tried various designs and reiterations – the final product was adjusted daily. Just like dominoes, with one stroke, everything started to fall into place. We were cast in “Angels Gate” Season 1, a reality TV show on ChannelNewsAsia, where entrepreneurs pitch venture capitalists for investments.

After a few nervy commercial breaks, we secured a first round seed funding of $250,000 SGD. Our success continued with the DEMO Guru award at DEMO Asia ’12 in March and then getting featured as the APAC featured startup on Amazon Web Services.

We were rapidly scaling and reaching 525,000 users in the first 50 days of our launch and crowned as the fastest growing startup in Asia and top 10 at Echelon ‘12.

There were coverage from international media in Wall Street Journal, CNBC, VentureBeat and more.

We are now close to announcing some major reseller deals to take our service to millions in Asia. We don’t believe we have figured it all out and think there are always ways to make things better with more improvements around email backups, marketing channels, more qualified staff, more cooperative providers etc.

We are happy with progress and our shareholders are happy too! With that we look forward irrationally optimistically about reaching the next level in 2013.

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