The Reluctant Entrepreneur
SMALL NOTE: I know I said that I will blog about recommended graduate schools as a follow-up to my previous blog entry but that's taking a bit of research on my side. I am also hiring now, so I suppose blogging about what I'm currently doing might help me spread the word. Aaand there's a third reason, which I will explain at the end of this post. So for those who were expecting my list of recommended graduate schools, my apologies. I will get to that soon, I promise. WARNING: Super long post. I sorta got carried away and forgot that this isn't LiveJournal.
Until last month, I was the only member of my family who did not own a business.
For a long time, this frustrated my parents and my brother to an unimaginable degree. My brother, who owns a moderately successful resin miniatures (toys) company, has a favorite line: “You have skills that could make money even if you choose not to be officially employed, why the heck are you wasting your time making other people rich?” My mom’s favorite line is, “Ano yan, hanap-patay na naman?” (“Are you earning your death again?”).
This incredulity isn’t exclusive to my family. My colleagues in the academe thought I was crazy for still wanting to be employed instead of running my own gig. But see, I believe I had valid reasons for my career decisions:
- I had a business before. I failed.
- Like my dad, who’s an inventor with patents to his name, I loved creating things and discovering new knowledge. Unfortunately, I did not inherit his courage in building a business out of his passion.
- Though I have made a lot of connections in grad school, I was afraid to network out of that sphere.
- I had my share of great bosses (like the ones I’ve had at Level Up, Inc.) and my share of not-so-great ones. I’m actually terrified of turning into the latter.
When my youngest sister finally put up her own styling and retail business, I felt my parents’ worry for me heighten. It wasn’t that I had no clear career direction, as many people have mistakenly thought. On the contrary, if you are very keen at pattern perception, you would be able to glean that I kept my loyalty to the multimedia industry and I had worn an all-encompassing title for 15 years: Information Manager.
But let me just examine the reasons for my reluctance because I suspect that many of my students have the same misgivings even if only a few of them have expressed similar reasons.
Failure on the first try.
There was this song in the early 2000s, performed by the late Aaliyah. Its lyrics go:
If at first you don’t succeed, then dust yourself off and try again. You can dust it off and try again.
To strengthen my resolve, I Googled the word “failure”. There were so many results — there was even a page with 398 quotes about failure — and most of the results said that failure is basically the first step to success. This led me to further examine why I failed that first venture in the first place.
And here’s what I came up with.
Employing people is a responsibility.
This was the origin of my fear. I have seen some of my dad’s employees wreck machines out of spite and my brother was swindled when he was starting his company. Furthermore, no matter how generous my dad was, there was always someone who misunderstood his intentions. In short, I have trust issues when it comes to entrepreneurship.
With my first business, I thought I could do it all by myself. I loved programming and I also did art/design/writing when I needed to. I put up a web design and hosting business and had clients from various parts of the world. The setup would have been perfect because the introvert in me was relieved that I did not need to talk to clients on a face-to-face basis. The problem was, because of the trust issues, I wore myself down answering support tickets on an almost 24-hour basis. Imagine how hard it had become as a programmer/designer/tech support when one of my resellers from the US brought in a hundred or so customers.
There was also a problem of getting paid, because PayPal wasn’t an option available to my country at that time and the only online merchant services available back then would not do re-occurring billing cycles.
It’s been a decade since I sold that business and times have changed. Online transactions are no longer as problematic as they once were and the trust issues would have to give way. I still have bits of it, but thanks to an added decade of experience, I was able to find talents I could trust. People who are better than me when it comes to programming and art. I just need to be able to use my skills as an information manager in order to establish a streamlined process and the kind of business culture that I want. (Well, the Tinkerer in me is still going to set up much of the technology this business requires but that’s about it. I promise.)
My mom also told me something that appealed to my INFJ personality:
You want to do something for the good of humanity? Teaching is one way. Creating jobs is another.
Fear of becoming the boss I’ve clashed with.
This is literally the stuff of my nightmares and the thought has caused me quite a number of anxiety attacks at the beginning, which resulted in loss of sleep and appetite. In order to overcome the terrifying thought, I decided to frame my decision in a more positive manner.
How? Well…instead of focusing on the kind of boss I did not want to become, I focused on the kind of boss I want to become. This meant that for days, I would dig up the internet for heroes to look up to. Here are my current top three:
- Dr. Ed Catmull – President of Pixar, who has been a long-time idol. He is known for pioneering many graphics and animation technology. What I loved best about him? He entered the animation industry at a time when it was unlikely for a physicist such as him to get into the film industry through visual art. He instead used his knowledge in physics to break into the scene. Here’s a story of how he was as a boss. Here’s also a video of how he ran Pixar:
- Dr. Jane McGonigal – Game designer and Chief Creative Officer of SuperBetter Labs. I’m not sure if I’m in awe of this woman because of her altruism (works closely with educational institutions) or because she still managed to be a prolific researcher while doing game design. I don’t know how she does it, but I hope my time-bending mastery would reach that level someday. Here’s one of the talks she did for TED, about making the world a better place through gaming.
- Allan Simonsen – Ever since I heard of Boomzap Entertainment, I had always wondered how the founders were able to create a game development studio that has a similar process to a web development firm. I had viewed a number of his videos and I am impressed with how much he is willing to share. I stumbled upon one of his producers’ blogs and I read something that amazed me: “The same co-founder said that he does hope Boomzap cranks out new entrepreneurs that carries its ethics…and succeeds at the endeavor.” These are the words of someone with the heart of a teacher. This is the kind of entrepreneur that I want to be, someone who is not threatened by her students’ accomplishments because she wants to create a better ecosystem — with them — for the Philippine game development industry. Listen to his interview about the game industry and starting up.
How I ended up here and what’s next.
I honestly dreaded going home to my family to talk about all our career paths and possible inheritances but the inevitable day came. We had a family meeting to discuss our parents’ retirement plans. When my parents asked me what direction I’m taking, I tried to stall by telling them:
There is only one company I’m interested in entering. Allow me this. If I do not make it, then there is no other option but to build my own.”
I was not sure if it was because my parents were such “Prayer Warriors” (they go to church everyday and have the devotion of saints) or if it was my heart that did the talking, but the moment I received that company’s preliminary questionnaire (which was very personality-based and not performance-based), I had a sinking feeling that I didn’t belong there (I am a staunch advocate of strength-based performance evaluations) and that the time had come to face my fears. I was not going to get into that company. My answers, as honest as they were, were too INFJ. INFJs, comprising 1% of the entire population, are described by Marina Margaret Heiss thus:
INFJs are distinguished by both their complexity of character and the unusual range and depth of their talents. Strongly humanitarian in outlook, INFJs tend to be idealists, and because of their J preference for closure and completion, they are generally ‘doers’ as well as dreamers. This rare combination of vision and practicality often results in INFJs taking a disproportionate amount of responsibility in the various causes to which so many of them seem to be drawn…As a pattern of behavior, it is perhaps the most confusing aspect of the enigmatic INFJ character to outsiders, and hence the most often misunderstood — particularly by those who have little experience with this rare type.
Here’s the thing: Personality-based assessments will reject INFJs in a heartbeat. Fortunately, there were two powerful aspects of my INFJ personality that gives me a bit of hope. One is that despite not being the sharpest tool in the shed, I have unusually firm resolve and commitment. How else was I able to juggle work and studies, getting high ratings for both, while fulfilling all my career/education goals within my self-imposed time frame? That did not require loads of intelligence. That required fierce determination. Terror bosses and terror teachers notwithstanding.
The second is that once I saw that this was an opportunity for me to create the kind of game development industry culture that I want — one that would value family and embrace diversity — I had zeroed in on my next milestone.
So this is my next target: To make it possible for a Philippine game studio to achieve a good work-life-balance for its developers and perhaps produce entrepreneurs (I’m looking at my students and devs) that will spread this kind of culture. I am also urging my students to perhaps come back and teach, after they’ve built their studios. To me, these are the little ways we could help in creating a nurturing ecosystem that could potentially change the lives of many game developers in this country.
In summary, I want to create a culture that:
- Has more women game developers who would not need to quit because they would be given enough time to spend with their husbands and children (or their cats and quirky hobbies).
- Allows fathers to watch their children grow.
- Is output-oriented (like the web industry) and not stuck on the 9-6 model (like manufacturing companies).
- Fosters a community of coopetition instead of just competition.
- Values human capital.
- Focuses on creativity, powered by technology, instead of obsessing on technology alone.
- Values and promotes education. This last is very important because of how much I value learning and gaining knowledge. I am seriously thinking about an arrangement that would encourage my developers to pursue certifications or higher education.
These are all seemingly impossible (obviously ambitious) goals but they’re worth chasing after. Whew.
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