Geographies in Depth

115 rejections and no pay. What it really takes to be an entrepreneur

A business deal.

Perseverance is the single defining feature of successful entrepreneurs and people. Image: Unsplash

Patrick Grove
Co-Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer, Catcha Group
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum on ASEAN

A question I get a lot these days is: how was I able to take five companies from inception to IPO within seven years? In short, what’s been key to my success as an entrepreneur?

The simple answer: perseverance

Let’s look at iProperty, the first company we took public. Today iProperty is widely recognized as one of the largest and most successful online businesses in the ASEAN region. However, 11 years ago, it was a different story.

In 2007, newspapers classifieds were the de facto method of searching for property to purchase and rent. The few online real estate portals that did exist were relatively unknown and mostly unutilized. Our business model in South-East Asia was yet to be proven.

Shortly after the company’s inception, we went out to raise funds to enable us to grow the business across the region. We did all the investor rounds: roadshows, pre-roadshows, mini-roadshows – the lot. We saw every bank, banker, broker, VC, PE, family office, fund and investor who would meet with us.

The first five people we met said no. The next 10 people we met said no. The subsequent 20 people we met said no, and so on, and so on.

It was our 75th investor pitch when someone finally agreed to invest in the business. The sole reason iProperty exists today is because we persevered.

Imagine if we had given up after the 20th, 30th or even the 74th meeting. It took 75 meetings for someone to finally say: “Yes, I will give you $2 million for 10% of the business.”

Today that 10% stake is worth $50 million. Today, iProperty is Asia’s leading network of property websites.

Have you read?

Similarly, iflix – which has 15 million subscribers across 28 countries, and is emerging markets’ leading on-demand video streaming platform – had 115 rejections before our first investor said yes!

As entrepreneur Ben Horowitz describes in his piece “The Struggle” – shit happens. That is the nature of doing business. The grander your ambitions, the greater the challenges you face. The most important thing you can do is persevere.

We’ve had many of those “shit happens” moments, where sheer perseverance, and not luck nor skill nor money, kept us going. Some of those moments include:

• Our entire board of directors resigning because we were trading while insolvent and they didn’t want to be personally liable for our debts.

• Our CFO telling us that our balance sheet was negative – by $2 million!

• Losing money every year for eight years in a row.

• Not having enough money to pay the salary of my partner and I for roughly 23 months in the last 15 years.

I have experienced all of these setbacks and many more. Perseverance allowed us, in the instances above:

• To pay all of our creditors back within three years.

• Stay alive till the business turned profitable and we had profits to re-invest.

Perseverance is the single distinguishing feature of successful entrepreneurs and people.

Learning to persevere is one of the most valuable lessons you can learn both in business and life. It is more than just a simple state of mind, or being tenacious in the face of failure. Perseverance allows you to accept that you will encounter challenges and occasionally defeat, but in persevering you learn from your mistakes, evolve and move on.

The road for entrepreneurs is a long and exacting one, both from the initial outset frequently characterized by tough conditions and limited resources as well as ongoing challenges as businesses mature.

Steve Jobs once famously said: “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” And I have lived and breathed that.

One last humbling fact: in 2000, after we had almost run out of money and were on the verge of bankruptcy, a magazine ran a story on Catcha headlined “Please stop dreaming”, in reference to our crazy idea to attempt an initial public offering of our company. Well, guess what: that magazine went bust several years later, while we kept dreaming, and are now 5 IPOs down – with more to come. So here’s to dreaming, and having the perseverance to keep at it.

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