Last week’s episode covered the type of mindset needed to be an entrepreneur, and how you have to be open to pivoting away from your old career. That can be quite a hard decision in itself when you’re thinking about all the old perks and stability that you had in your old career. I opened up about how at a very young age of 19, I made the decision to ditch a future in law and tried my luck in the modelling industry, where I learnt lessons that would mould my future entrepreneurial journey when I co-founded Groupon Singapore two years later. The podcast ended with a very funny story about me trying my hardest to pretend to be a model and involved a flirty moment with a woman in her late 40s. Check it out, part 1, if you haven’t yet.
This next episode will be about how you need to be resourceful and adaptable if you are trying to fit in a new environment. With entrepreneurship, your environment is constantly changing. Not only is your internal environment changing, your mind and your ideas, but your inner circle or startup is changing including the opinions of those closest to you like your friends or family, and then your external environment and outside players are also changing rapidly, like your allies and competitors. Obviously, you should take care of yourself first, your sanity, then your inner circle, and then your externals like partners or enemies.
When you decide to be an entrepreneur, you’re either coming as an industry Insider, or you’re coming as an outsider. As an outsider, If you’re trying to enter a new industry that you’ve never had any exposure to before, it’s going to be much harder because you’re going to have to learn about all the unique characteristics that make up that industry. if you’re coming as an industry Insider, then you’ll have the experience, the knowledge, and the contacts, to give you an edge. Regardless, you have to be extremely good at listening for the signals so that you can easily change your plan or strategy to accommodate things that you may not have thought of. Remember, your now outside of your comfort zone, so reaching so high means that you’re going to have to stretch yourself in new environments.
The famous saying goes “a Leopard Can’t Change Its Spots”, but one thing that entrepreneurs are good at is being able to change their spots to match the situation. There’s a famous quote: “You don’t have to be the man or woman you were five minutes ago.” And that applies on so many levels, not only is it referring to making errors and learning from past mistakes and being able to forgive yourself then changing how you do things moving forward, but also to a deeper level, it could mean being able to adapt your identity to fit certain situations.
Here’s a personal example. When I was 19 years old in Singapore and trying to figure out who I am, I thought how high could my aspirations take me? I was studying law but I wanted to be something so much more. I asked myself, “what else could I be?” Well the only Stakes against me was the fact that I had a law degree and I wasn’t planning to use it, but once I moved on from that I had everything to look forward to. In the last episode, I talked about how I tried to get into the modelling industry when I clearly didn’t fit, I was not tall enough or good-looking enough. But I got a lot of gigs out of it, just basically by pretending like I belonged in the modelling industry. I was looking at how other models would act, and I started to act the way they did and being a job where it’s mostly about your physical appearance, you don’t really have to do a lot of talking or thinking as a model, as long as you could adapt, you could survive. I even got the chance to walk the runway for Christian Dior in Singapore and after applying, somehow became a Cleo Magazine Bachelor of the Year.
But time’s weren’t always good and money can be hard to come by sometimes, every entrepreneur will come along a period where it feels like you just entered the desert, nothing seems to be going your way, the deals aren’t closing, or the cash isn’t coming into the bank. You have to think of it as a marathon and start to act like it’s a long distance game, not just thinking about tomorrow or next week. I remember when I was young I got so bad that I wasn’t making up money that I wasn’t going to make next month’s rent. When it affected something so fundamental to your survivability, like food or shelter, you really start to freak out. I had already gambled by trying to pretend to be a model, so I thought being a young Asian guy in Singapore who could speak English well, maybe I could be a host. You know, you probably heard about them from Japan, they are guys who work at high-end bars to entertain women, mostly middle-aged or older women, and they get paid in tips or commission for drinks they sell. Yep, that’s right, to make ends meet I decided I was going to be, not quite a male stripper, but a male host. What else was I going to do, I thought if I could pull this off, I heard that Japanese hosts can make thousands in a night. Well, I was wrong. In Singapore, there was barely a host industry, and hosts got paid something like $80 cash a night. Here’s what I had going for me, I was outgoing. Here ’s what I had against me, I wasn’t muscly, I wasn’t buff, I wasn’t someone who you would necessarily pay extra money to see in an establishment. But I thought, what did I have to lose? So I went on to Facebook and through a friend of a friend, I saw an ad for an audition to be a host. I turned up, and the guy looked at me up and down and said, “take off your shirt,” and it must have been a really low turnout because he accepted my audition and my strip dance which was the talent part of my audition. He told me to come back that night to that club in Singapore.
Here I was, a guy barely 19 trying to get paid to talk to women. *Play sounds of bar*
So here comes 8 p.m. and I show up and he gives me a police outfit. This bar had a dress-up party where I get to roleplay as a police officer and I went to town with it, I was telling girls that it was illegal but they were travelling without my phone number and that I was going to write them a ticket with my phone number on it. I did it. After that there were lots of different dress-ups, one was Olympics themed where I put on a fake moustache, one was Malaysian Village themed where I got to wear a sarong, one was Future theme wear apparently men in the future don’t wear many clothes, it was a lot of fun. Did I feel objectified? Not at all, being a young guy, any attention was good attention. Was it the right way to make money? I had to do what I had to do to be able to pay rent. There were definitely worse things that I could have done. Maybe working in a 9-5 job photocopying or worrying about what my boss thought of me would’ve been worse.
What it made me realise is that if you really want something, for me, it was a dream to be able to live in Singapore and to pursue different careers, then you have to do what it takes. And if you do it with energy, and you can convince others of your conviction, then maybe you just fit into that dream. Being a host obviously wasn’t my dream, but I had to adapt my short-term actions to make my bigger dream possible. And I transformed from a guy who had struggled with talking with women, to now being able to entertain them for money. Ok, the money part sounds bad, but it forced me to grow as a person.
Since all good things in life are acquired by enduring pain, he who avoids pain is worthy of nothing good. Some people might look down on being a paid entertainer at a bar, but the pain I had to overcome made me a millionaire less than two years later.
There isn’t anything special about this story, just an example of how someone can set their heights to unrealistic levels and as long as there’s a little blink of a chance, you can do it. If you’re in a similar situation, where you want to try something new, achieve something great, close your eyes, and open your mind. Put aside your negative thoughts and just go do it.
Sometimes you have to let entrepreneurship take control of your life and you have to allow it to change you. But sometimes it can change you too much as I’ve been in many situations where I didn’t act like myself and I was surprised by my behaviour afterwards when I reflected on it later. I’ll go more into this in part 3 of this series. We’re going to take a break and start a new series next week and return to this series at a later period. Let’s keep things interesting.
If you enjoyed listening to this podcast episode, or it inspired you to become a Bar host, then please share it with your friends, family or colleagues, that would be the greatest compliment to me. Email them or tell them to check out the podcast episode on RamenToRiches.com.
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