“It’s complicated”

Delicious ribs
[image by Nathan Marx]

You know what’s on my mind a lot since that fateful day? Food.

I don’t care what you’ve learnt from respectable business people. I don’t care what you’ve read from popular entrepreneur blogs. I don’t care what you’ve heard from podcasts about start-ups.

If you’re a bootstrapping entrepreneur, if you’re starting a business with practically nothing, the thing you worry about the most is where your next meal is coming from. Or positive cash flow. I’m still of two minds which one of them is more important.

“So, what do you do?”

I was hanging out with a couple of my friends. One of them said 2 other friends of his wanted to join us. All of us met up, briefly introduced ourselves and went to have dinner.

After we sat down and gave our dinner orders, one of the newly met friends asked what our jobs were. An uncomfortable feeling was already creeping up my neck.

Let me give you some dating advice. Do not ask your date what his or her job is. At least not on the first date. What if he sells niche collectible cards on Ebay? What if she’s a professional pole dancer? What if he’s an undertaker? What if she’s an artist of yarn? What are you going to talk about after you know the answer?

If you expect a standard answer, that the other person works at such-and-such a company, doing such-and-such activities in the position of such-and-such, then don’t ask. Many people work at jobs that they hate. It might not tell you a lot about their interests and character. It’s the “the sex and cash” theory. What people do to feed themselves may be different from what they do for enjoyment. If you’re dating, find out more about the enjoyment part first.

So anyway, I was the last to talk about what I do for a living. “Uh, it’s complicated.” I replied. One of my friends explained, “He’s an entrepreneur.” That word hung in the air, laughing at my puny attempts to live up to the definition. That word palpably changed the density of the air around us, making sound harder to pass through that solidifying wall of nothingness. That word made me question, just for a second, the decision I made in March.

And then time started moving again. Our new friends had no follow up conversation. As expected.

Luckily, there was food in front of us. I started to grab a stalk of leafy vegetable with my chopsticks…

“Wah, on leave again?

There is this McDonald’s near my house that I frequent. “McDonald’s?!?” I hear you say. “Fast food? Blasphemy!”

Hey, when I was holding on to a job, I bought a McChicken and an apple pie for dinner almost every weekday. I ate that, then exercise, and then take a protein shake. I’m not obese by any stretch of the word. Then again, I don’t know anything about my arteries…

Anyway, I frequent that fast food restaurant so often that the staff know me (the ones that stayed long enough anyway). One of them, a friendly middle-aged woman, likes to make small talk with me (possibly because I’m of the rare type of customer who can make small talk and joke with service staff). So after I started working for myself, I’ve started visiting that McDonald’s during *drum roll* office hours.

“Wah, today you on leave ah?” she asked in her Singlish slang.

I took one full second before nodding my head as the most expedient method of explaining why I’m at McDonald’s during office hours. Many weeks after that, during which I’ve used that expedient answer many times, I decided I needed to tell her the truth. If nothing else, at least that the “on leave” thing is false.

So I stepped into the restaurant one afternoon, feeling the cool air hit me after walking in the blistering sun for the better part of 15 minutes. Behind the counter, her face lit up with a smile. “Wah, Vincent-boy!” Yes, we’re on first name basis… I stepped up to the counter, and was preparing to give my order, when she interrupted me.

“Wah, on leave again?” she asked.

This was it.

“Actually, uh, I’m working from home.” I replied.
“Aahh… so what you want today? We have this special promotion…”

Ok, technically it’s not exactly false. I am working from home. I just didn’t tell her I’m not working at a job any more. It’s complicated, you know. I don’t think she’s ready to hear me explain. I don’t think I’m ready to explain to her.

I just need to feed myself

And preferably able to pay the bills. I don’t need to make it big. I just need to be ramen profitable.

Ramen profitable means a startup makes just enough to pay the founders’ living expenses.
- Paul Graham

That’s what I said. To be able to eat. I mean, there’s a food name in the term “ramen profitable”.

It’s legally a company, but you feel like you’re lying when you call it one.

Sometimes, I feel the same way if I call myself an entrepreneur…

Startups usually have to do something weird at first.

Tell me about it…

Ok, I do need to make it big. I just don’t need to make it big immediately (or soon, or now, or yet). World changing efforts need to be big, because the world is big. Big in idea. Big in inspiration. Big in imagination. Big in motivation. Big in hope. Big in that something awesome will come out of it, and a lot of people will benefit from it.

Did you know that the highest degree a Freemason can obtain is 33? By the way, it’s my birthday today.