A tale of gratitude, hard truths and life lessons.

On Friday August 26th, I published a blog post detailing my experience working with GrabGas.

Within minutes of posting, the first comments came rolling in. Over the course of the next few hours, the post's engagement skyrocketed and shot through the roof. It was accumulating likes, shares and comments at an unprecedented rate.

The post went viral, spreading like wildfire across the startup community and beyond. Messages, calls and notifications were coming in non-stop from all channels (FB, WhatsApp). There was so much going on that my Facebook broke and I had to restart the browser. By the end of the day, it had gone far beyond any reasonable expectations.

The days following the post went by in a blur, I was sleeping at 4-6am daily just trying to respond to messages alone.

To date, the post has sparked heavy conversations within and outside the community. It has lead to posts in various blogs[1] and media outlet such as Vulcan Post, Tech in Asia[1][2], e27[1][2][3] and SAYS (the ones that I know of). It also appeared on the Lowyat[1][2] forum, Reddit, Yahoo! News and even on the front page of HackerNews.

People from all over, not just from the local scene, but from the rest of SEA (Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, etc) all the way up to Europe and US had found out about it.

A Grateful Surprise!

What happened felt like it could pass as a scene in a movie.

It was lunchtime when I pushed that button. In my mind, my plan was to post it, go for lunch and hit the gym, never wanting to think about it ever again.

As I read through my own blog, which takes me, the writer, 30-40 mins (I'm a slow reader), I was thinking:

"Who on earth is going to spend 30 mins of their precious time reading some 'he says she says' drama?"

"Startup people are already so busy, nobody is going to take the time to read such a long ass story.".

I only expected a couple of responses of "I feel you man." and that's it.

As I've since found out, I was mistaken. People do care about this sort of thing, and they care deeply about it too.

The story resonated with many people. I guess it's because it struck a chord in them - they could relate to and sympathise with my plight. Nobody likes being lied to, and nobody likes liars.

Since then, people from all walks of life, both old and new faces, near and far, from the startup community and beyond have reached out to offer their support, advice, stories of their own similar experiences and also opportunities for the future.

I am surprised, I truly am, but more importantly, I am grateful.

I am grateful to be proven wrong, to be shown that the community cares. So here is my unwavering salute to you:

To those of you that have taken the time to read my blog. Thank you.

To those of you that have gone out of your way to make the effort to reach out to me. Thank you.

To those of you that have given me encouragements, offered your advice, shared your stories and extended future opportunities. Thank you.

I appreciate it all very very much. It's difficult for me to show it to you, but know that it means a great deal to me. Thank you! :D

It will be awhile before I can respond to all of you but be rest assured that I am trying my best to respond to each and every one of you.

The War is (long) Over

To some, it was a cautionary tale, to others it was an eye opener, a rare behind the scene glimpse of a rose tinted startup, but to me, it was a symbol of closure.

To make it extra clear, negotiations between myself and GrabGas ended on 5th August 2016 and there are no ongoing discussions. I am not looking for anything from GrabGas or Digi. The boat has left, the milk is spilled, and the past cannot be undone.

This blog post is late. It took me awhile to calm down after the events, and it took me even longer to write the post.

As I was writing it, the only thing that was going on in my mind was "Aiya...faster type la Julian. I can't tahan liao, it's so heavy. I just want to get it all out, pen it all down and send it off, be done with it once and for all.".

If I were to describe the picture I had in my mind, writing the blog, putting "ink" to "paper" is like unloading all the burden, stress and pressure in my chest from this whole fiasco into a box and wrapping it up nicely. Pushing the "post" button is then akin to me putting this box into a boat on the river and kicking it off, letting it drift off into the horizon, never to be seen ever again. Something like what you'd see in the movies.

Publishing the post was mean't to mark the end of my chapter with GrabGas, the full stop (.) in the story. It was my way of saying to myself, "It's done. It's over. Stop thinking about it already...Farewell! Now it's time to move on Julian. Let's go. Let's go.".

Basically, the blog post is just me writing about an experience I had that in the past that has already ended. Writing was my outlet. I was just recounting it with the purpose of sharing my lessons and moving on. The post taking off like a rocket was not intentional, an unexpected twist of events.

That said, even though it was unintentional, I would like to apologise to all parties who has suffered damage from the post.

Hard Truths

I understand that many feel strongly about what has transpired and are keen to see some form of "justice", but there is a hard truth that we must not forget, and that is:

A Startup is a Business.

It is a brutal place where courtesy and fairness is a luxury, a place where the idiom "Survival of the fittest" rules supreme. Unless covered by the trenches of law, everything else are just guidelines ("common sense", community rules, best practices, etc).

While their conduct may be called into question, as far as business is concerned for what happened between us, there is no "justice" to be had. The reality is that I presented my offer to GrabGas and they presented their offer to me. Neither party accepted each others offer, and so that is it. Done. End of story. However unpleasant as that may be, it doesn't care if its fair or unfair, that is just the stark reality of doing business.

That being said, however distasteful it may be, I have to admit that in this case, I was beaten in business. I was naive - I let my guard down, came unprepared and clung onto wishful thinking. At this point, blaming anyone else but myself would just be the stupidest and most unprofessional thing that I could do.

As a HackerNews commenter aptly puts it, "Its not what you deserve in business, its what you negotiate.".

Fortunately, I am blessed to have good people in my life that has provided cushions during the fall and helped me get back up after.

It's easy to let our emotions take over and our imaginations go on a negative shopping spree, but we mustn't let that happen. Don't make this personal. We are better than that. We should strive to be professional and try our best to keep things in perspective (Business!).

Life and business is inherently unfair, but that doesn't mean we ourselves shouldn't try to be fair and courteous to others. It just means that we should never let our guard down and always be prepared, be it friend or foe.

It's Time

It seems that my first boat got stuck onto some rocks and didn't exactly drift off into the horizon. I hope that with this additional push, it will finally go on its way.

It's time I moved on to get the closure I was looking for.

To my fellow comrades, once again, Thank You all for the support and kindness that you've shown me.

I may not be able to remember all your names and all your faces, but know that I will forever remember this day, the day you all stood with me. From the bottom of my heart, I Thank You for being there! :D

Onwards to greater things!



Lessons from the Community

This is still work in progress. I will append new learnings here as I go through the mountainous amounts of comments.

From HackerNews:

  • "Its not what you deserve in business, its what you negotiate."
  • "What is not written, does not exist."

From FB - Some word for word, some synthesised.

  • "When you see a startup by 3-4 "bros" and all of them have overlapping skill and none of it is tech, it's a super huge red flag." - One of my favourite ones. Lol.

  • Dont sell yourself short. Know your worth.

  • "One does not join a startup without black & white, especially working without salary."

  • "It seems like a case of "misunderstanding/misleading", as the tech guy thought he is co-founder, while the founders treat him as early employee (with vested equity). This could be avoided with proper black & white." - Mismatch of expectations! Make effort to ensure everyone is on the same page!

  • "As a tech guy, I would shy away from co-founders who thought sales/marketing is more superior while tech is a replacable tool."

  • "Startup require high level of trust to work (even with black & white), avoid doing it with people you barely know."

  • "We really don’t have a choice and just got to be thick skinned and ask the tough questions at the start & negotiate. A bullet could have been dodged."

  • "Negotiations should always be done before the work and not after, so we don’t lose leverage."

  • "Contracts are essential. At the end of the day, when things turn sour, all we can look forward to is the contract that we have. On a side note, always read through contracts thoroughly before signing & never just leave it to lawyers to protect your interests. If you hire a small firm to draw up your contract, chances are that they aren’t really doing the best job & may not be flagging up a lot of things. Some may even be drafting sloppy terms. Onus is always on us to read, understand, check & ask the lawyer."

  • "He mentioned “one would have thought I was being invited to join them as equals”. This was an assumption. The lesson here is try not to assume."

  • "It was mentioned that after the work was done, all their offers were too bad to accept. Seems to me a case of expectation not being met. This could have been avoided by both parties if both were upfront about what each was expecting from the other." - Again, mismatch of expectations. Ensure on same page!

  • "Never mix friendship and business. I’ve learn the very hard way myself"

  • "The most important lesson of all, let go and let grow =) Just move on….it’s better for both parties that way."

For those of you trying to reach me, you can contact me at julian.ee.blog@gmail.com. It might take awhile for me to respond