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If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with my 6-month challenge and table of contents of weekly posts for the past 20 weeks.

tl;dr It’s been 5 months since I first started my journey. Last month, I finally shipped Cusoy (November 8, to be exact) — and since then had experienced a crisis of sorts of what to do and where to go. After a lot of discussion, heartache and going back and forth, I’ve finally decided to split my time 50/50 with Cusoy and a B2B SaaS product (currently in the works) and to continue working on Cusoy until mid-July 2014 for a full 12 months, rather than just stop at my initial 6 months.

It’s been an incredible 5 months so far.

As 2013 is quickly drawing to a close, I reflect back on some things I wish I knew or did and what I’m grateful for because of Cusoy.

This is a bit of a long post, but it’s written in a quick, conversational tone.

I. What I wish I knew or did
     A. Have a team. Recruit others. 
     B. Gain confidence through action; don’t wallow for days in depression and inertia.
     C. Be determined and persistent through 20 mile march process. 
     D. Get an accountability partner or mechanism.
     E. Prioritize your health and energy above all.
II. What I’m grateful for

1. Determination

This has turned out to be the most important quality in startup founders. We thought when we started Y Combinator that the most important quality would be intelligence. That’s the myth in the Valley. And certainly you don’t want founders to be stupid. But as long as you’re over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is determination. You’re going to hit a lot of obstacles. You can’t be the sort of person who gets demoralized easily.

– Paul Graham, What We Look For in Founders


I. WHAT I WISH I KNEW OR DID

So far, looking back, what are some things I wish I knew or did?

1. Have a team. Recruit others. 
2. Gain confidence through action; don’t wallow for days in depression and inertia.
3. Be determined and persistent through 20 mile march process
4. Get an accountability partner or mechanism.
5. Prioritize your health and energy above all.

1. Have a team. Recruit others. 
Don’t be a lone wolf or try to be a hero and think you can do everything yourself. At the same time, if you only have yourself, you’ll need to do everything yourself regardless.

Like I did. And I don’t regret it — I would’ve done the same if I had to start over again.

But I know this is not a sustainable long-term strategy…

No one’s going to say that the key to my success is by working by myself forever. Let’s be real.

Things will always happen much faster and you will go much farther if you have a team, rather than work alone.

There are obvious tradeoffs in your time and energy in meeting people who might not be the right fit, might not have the right skills, might not have the same values and vision, etc. but that’s a risk you need to be willing to take… in order for an upside of having others to work alongside you and give you accountability and moral support through the highs and the lows.

This also greatly helps if you are applying for funding. But do NOT just try to cobble a team together merely for superficial purposes of applying to incubator or accelerator programs — the act of taking on a cofounder is very serious (akin to a sexless marriage taking care of your “infant” startup, you could say) with the sole purpose of increasing the odds of success in general of your startup, not just the chances of getting into some program.

All of my successes in my life happened through the generosity and kindness and help I received from others. Life is all about relationships and people.

I would never have gotten to where I am today if I just worked alone, even though I also did my part and worked my butt off to get to where I was today.

Going back, I wish I put in more effort to try to find cofounders (I put in a very halfhearted effort), while still working hard on my own in the meantime. I also need to learn how to be more effective in selling myself and Cusoy to others, rather than step back and just assume it will speak for itself and people automatically will know why Cusoy is such a relevant startup right now confronting very real and very big problems in health and nutrition.

2. Gain confidence through action; don’t wallow for days in depression and inertia.
A lot of my fears are internal, irrational and unfounded.

The emotional roller coaster doesn’t happen just once, it happens many times throughout… every day.

But… I’ve learned that the only way to overcome fears and silence them is by actually taking action.

That shuts up your fears instantly.

I have so many limiting beliefs, like I mentioned in a previous post, but I have slowly zoned them out. They’re irrelevant.

What’s relevant is what action am I going to take today that’s going to move me forward with Cusoy?

Things are not always as bad as they seem.

If I don’t know exactly what to do, it’s OK. I’m learning as I go. No one really knows what they’re doing, anyways. A lot of it is by trial and error.

If things don’t go exactly right or if I make mistakes, that’s natural. I’m not learning if I’m not failing.

If things don’t happen as quickly as I want them to, that’s OK. I need to learn how to be patient, to thoroughly prioritize on the 80/20 tasks that will make a meaningful difference with Cusoy.

If I’m feeling scared, depressed, confused, insecure — I can gain confidence by taking action, not living in my head of irrational fears and limiting beliefs.

If my startup fails — which let’s be honest, happens to millions of people all the time — life will still go on. It’s not a stigma on my resume or my character.

If my startup fails — no one is going to think less of me. I’ll at least have a very interesting story to tell and fulfilled my lifelong dream of starting a company at the ripe old age of 23. (Whether or not that’s a successful company is another matter…)

The ultimate failure is by not doing anything and by repeating the same mistakes.

Actually, there is no such thing as a failure: everything is a learning experience.

BUT: if you don’t do anything, you don’t learn anything.

Obviously need to add a disclaimer here: there are also some other “distractions” such as paying too much attention to vanity metrics or thinking about making startup T-shirts and swag, inking business cards and so forth… but you’re too smart for that, right? Don’t get distracted by such silly things and don’t learn things the hard way at the big expense of your time, etc.

Focus on your product and your users.

3. Be determined and persistent through 20 mile march process
Remove emotions and fears out of your inaction and make action as a habit, regardless if you don’t feel like working today or feel like you could work for 9 hours straight.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Just don’t give up.

Have realistic, brutally honest, feasible goals.

Reflect after each task and day and week. This blog is also a part of my reflection process.

Don’t get burned out.

A lot of startups fail when the founders give up, not because of financial runway problems.

Paul Graham says that the most important founder quality is being determined, resolute and resilient.

Life won’t be rainbows and butterflies all the time, but even when it is at the moment, you just need to keep trucking along.

In both rain or shine, the good times and bad, if you feel like shit or incredibly ecstatic — you mustn’t get depressed or become complacent. Keep going. Keep moving. Don’t stop.

4. Get an accountability partner or mechanism.
I have problems with my productivity and major issues with accountability.

I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself and how I work (such as writing this at 2:14 am in the morning — why am I so weird and such a night owl?) and can very accurately predict my own behavior ahead of time.

Why? No one’s there to excoriate me if I don’t do things that I plan to do. No one’s there to kick my ass into action. I get super lazy, complacent even. Mentally give up and rationalize myself out of things to do. Make up excuses for literally everything — I’m serious. I can really rationalize anything and my parents always tell me to stop rationalizing like a lawyer whenever I get into arguments with them.

I think sole entrepreneurs have exacerbated problems with productivity and accountability when they don’t have cofounders who are intrinsically motivated to give a shit whether or not they are working on the startup and making progress every day.

5. Prioritize your health and energy above all.
I make it an absolute priority to eat healthy and exercise regularly. It’s not something that’s up for compromise.

People have a misconception that there’s some way you can manage your time, but that’s actually not true.

It’s all about managing your energy… and thus, your productivity.

As you may realize, not all hours are created equal. Your productivity waxes and wanes in direct correlation to your energy levels throughout the day.

Just like how it’s stupid to stay up all night studying, as your energy and concentration levels at 2 p.m. are drastically different than your memory and retention levels at 2 a.m. or even 4 a.m. I won’t even get into how unhealthy this is for your body, let alone your productivity.

I mention this because there’s this “hustle” mentality that entrepreneurs are supposed to be working 24/7 and that it’s “cool” to overwork yourself and brag about how much time you spend working (how much of that time is actually productive?).

The best way to optimize your energy levels for maximum productivity is through proper nutrition and regular exercise.

Don’t stay up until 4 am, eat ramen, buy junk food, gulp down energy drinks. Gross. Just, don’t. It’s not worth it.

…I myself have a bad habit of staying up late… but I always make sure to get my 8 hours of sleep in. That’s a fact.

Take care of your body, and your body will take care of you — no getting sick, no lowered immune system, no clogged arteries, no trips to see the doctor, etc.

No startup, amount of money or success is worth the expense of potential significant health problems and issues down the road.

You’ve got one body in this life; treat it well.

II. WHAT I’M GRATEFUL FOR

Things I am grateful for in these past 5 months:

…the risk of jumping off a cliff and diving into the unknown, screaming with joy and crying tears of fear on my way down.

…putting myself out here in being fragile, vulnerable and authentic. I’m only a human, not Superman, and I’m far from perfect.

…the chance at this point in my life to take action and follow my dream of starting my own company, even though I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

…that I saved up enough money to not have to worry about working for about a year or so.

…that I had the generous opportunities, mentorship, past work experiences with incredibly talented people at Evernote, RetailMeNot, Square and several finance-related internships that all shaped me into the person I am today and equipped me with the tools and resourceful mindset that I use everyday.

…the opportunity to have shipped Cusoy entirely on my own.

…the fact I went through three MVP iterations on my own.

…the fact I went out and successfully procured 60+ beta testers through organic user acquisition.

…the chance to interact with hundreds of people to learn more about their problems and listen to their pains in eating out while gluten free.

…the opportunity to have 10+ face-to-face in-person meetings with users who happily and voluntarily set aside their time to speak with me.

…the validation that what I was solving with Cusoy is a real problem, of validating product/launch fit.

…the chance to pitch in front of Greylock Partners, an A-list VC firm — even just presenting my measly first MVP alongside other startups that had already raised seed funding and had full-time teams. I was very shy and nervous and embarrassed, but am grateful for the chance to start learning how to pitch myself.

…the opportunity to work with Rock Health’s EIR over the course of three months and learn to consolidate my thoughts and progress on Cusoy into a funding application (that ultimately was rejected due to various predictable reasons).

…the chance to live and work on Cusoy in the San Francisco Bay Area in the heart of Silicon Valley, among many other smart, interesting people who encourage entrepreneurship not only through their words and support in talking the talk, but also in their actual actions of walking the walk.

…the fact that I’m even writing this blog post and have met people, readers and strangers and opened up connections that I would never have had otherwise.

…the opportunity to work on Cusoy whose product mission and purpose solves my own personal problem and that of many others, addresses a large market and actually makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives in health, an important cause close to my heart.

…all of the lessons above and many more that are specific to B2C startups and Cusoy that I would never have learned through firsthand experience while working for other medium-sized, pre-IPO companies that I did (Evernote, RetailMeNot and Square).

…the chance to also try my hand at a B2B SaaS product and learn a totally different way of starting a business, different customers, etc. I am excited beyond belief, because it takes 98% of the guesswork out of the picture that I had with Cusoy, but does not require any less hustle or hard work in order to succeed. I’m up for the challenge.

…above all, the chance to learn and make mistakes along the way.

To learn about myself. To observe my productivity, or lack thereof. To push myself out of my comfort zone. To learn how to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. To get over my fears and limiting beliefs. To face my fears of failure and my daily emotional roller coasters head on. To be brave and take a tremendous amount of risk. To stop caring about what others think of me. To start caring more about what I thought of myself and my own personal growth…. To be OK with not having all of the answers, for once — and come out strong on the other side.

Wow! I’m just rereading what I wrote above — it’s been a wild, crazy ride so far.

No amount of money could ever buy this experience.

For all of the above, I am grateful for these past 5 months 🙂

P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter here.

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