Startups and Zombies
Things turned out much better than I could have imagined. I was supposed to follow in the footsteps of my family – leave university, get an advanced degree, and then enter a nice stable job with a large company. Or… I could spend spring break sleeping on the floor of my sister’s girlfriend’s flat in San Francisco, crash a job fair at Stanford, and get a job as a coder even though I was actually a chemical engineer and thought Java was an island.
I fell in love with the startup world and made it through the entire Silicon Valley checklist: from the company milestones of going public (or more commonly, going bust…) to the personal millstones of sleeping under my desk and getting fired. I joined in a company’s European expansion and started thinking about learning the business side of startups.
I went to visit a friend at INSEAD and had such fun this seemed like the right move. I took the daring move of applying just to INSEAD and was ecstatic when I got in. Arriving in Fonty was another story… I felt that I had made a terrible mistake for the first four months and regularly considered dropping out entirely. I felt I didn’t fit in with the well-dressed consultants and bankers that made up the majority of my class. By P3, a lucky housing switch and move to Singapore meant I was able to ‘find my people’ and I still enjoy the company of those friends on a regular basis though we’re spread across the globe.
Despite graduating into the opportunity of the pre-financial crisis market in 2006, I decided against a job and wanted to start my own company. Reality caught up with me three months later when I realised I couldn’t earn enough to pay off my business school loans, so I went into someone else’s startup company.
Almost a year later, timing worked out better and I co-founded a new games company in London – Six to Start. Mind, I was still working a day job to be able to pay those business school loans, but I had co-founders, who were able to take the company forward until a point when we had enough money that I could join full-time. The INSEAD alumni network was particularly crucial in solving problems like finding people in Moscow, Dubai and Tokyo to hold a copy of the book The Great Game for the band Muse’s worldwide treasure hunt. My classmates were mostly understanding about receiving very strange requests from me on a regular basis!
After a time, I pulled back from the day to day Six to Start operations, remaining on the board, and went to work with a few other startup companies. Not of all of them survived, but I learned a great deal from raising money in Silicon Valley to the vagaries of 3D mobile software development. Six to Start carried on and found success with the creation of Zombies, Run!, the world’s most popular fitness game. If nothing else, I feel confident saying that of all my INSEAD entrepreneur classmates, I win for having generated the most fun for other people as part of my startup journey.
My interest in starting new things hasn’t ended (or maybe I just haven’t learned…). I’m now exploring a new idea with helping people make better startup companies. The new company has co-founders in Oslo, Norway and Singapore, so it’s getting a proper INSEAD international start. We’re still in the research phase on the problem, but you can keep track of what we’re up to on Twitter by following @beforeyoucode. To all my classmates, consider this a heads up that many more weird requests are on their way to our class mailing list!
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