1 Year Travelling in Southeast Asia After Building My First Tech Startup (Part 3)

It’s a fact, I can’t conceive Christmas without family and this time wouldn’t be an exception. After having a short 3 months of reality the decision to go back to Asia was as natural as waking up in the morning, I idi

Let me share with you some of the thoughts crossing my mind during that Qatar Airways flight back to Kuala Lumpur on January 5th 2015:

  • Maybe choosing an Asian country to spend my first months living abroad wasn’t the smartest idea ever. Whatever, now it’s too late!
  • I’m so not gonna work so much as I did last year (although the first thing I did in my first week in Kuala Lumpur was to open a company!)
  • Damn, Porto is so beautiful! Why am I leaving and why does it has to be so sunny every time I do?
  • I don’t want to be in the news tomorrow and become a statistic! (While flying over the Bay of Bengal, it was a pretty close call!

Home Away From Home

It felt strangely like home when the taxi entered Bukit Bintang and I could see my old neighbourhood around the corner and the busy and noisy streets with a bar every door, now completely empty and silent.

Finally it was time to enjoy a bit more of the city that welcomed me so well over the past 6 months, therefore the first order of business was to move away from our old apartment very close to the noisy Changkat street with 20 bars playing different and very loud pop songs until 4am every evening.

Living for half a year 15 floors above the office —during the first month we were not leaving the building sometimes for 3 days straight! — was not the best idea ever but not being able to get a proper night sleep was definitely burning us out faster than what was expected from building a startup.

We then decided to invest in moving to a bigger condominium a few blocks down the street not just away from the noise but also with a great wellness area with a gym, jacuzzi and a swimming pool. One of the perks of living in an equatorial climate is the outstanding weather all year long so this was by far the best winter of my life!

The roomates and their home, the Suasana Bukit Ceylon apartment building!

My first business!

It was the start of a new year, therefore a great chance to do some radical life changes (the start into a new year always has this effect on me!). I’ve then decided to take a step back from this crazy ride as startup CTO and take some time for myself, while working on what would become the realisation of a long awaited dream: open a company!

This willingness of being my own boss started back when I was 23 years old and had three jobs: finishing my Computer Science degree during the day (or at least that’s what I told my mom), working for Vodafone as a customer service agent from 7pm to midnight to pay the bills, and running a small web design freelance business from my home desk till 4 or 5am. As you can imagine this is not a life one can sustain for too long so one year after finishing my degree I’ve joined Rocket Internet and started my career, working on building venture capital e-commerce companies in emerging markets, mostly across Africa and Southeast Asia. You can read all about it here.

Backyard pool, mostly all by myself every day

Although being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life where I’ve met the few good friends I have today, it also ended up taking away more than what I could have ever imagined. This can be a topic for another article by itself, but from broken relationships, to stress based diseases, weight problems, anxiety and depression — you name it — I’ve seen it all and experienced some myself. This time I had to impose some rules to myself and although there was a lot of work ahead of me, the one thing I wanted to avoid was to become obsessed by it.

I’ve then spent the next three months on a very strict schedule:

  • 9am: hit the gym for some cardio and muscular work (This was the only time in my life I got close to 100kg! Damn you McDonalds with home delivery service!)
  • 11am: a few dozen laps in the pool trying to get the shape from back when I was a junior competitive swimmer.
  • 12am: Lunch in the restaurant downstairs, the good old “Pampas Reserve”, with the staff that was the closest thing to a family we had in Malaysia.
  • Afternoon: work on putting the business together, contacting potential customers and work on some personal projects that I’ve spent the last years trying to find time to finish.

Oh boy, what a ride! I couldn’t be more unprepared for what was about to hit me in the face! Yes, because opening a company in Portugal where I speak the language and know my way around was too easy. I had to do it on the other side of the world where even to send a registered letter you have to embark in an odyssey of 4 hours fighting with the Malaysian public services.

View from my shared office in Kuala Lumpur after a long evening burning the midnight oil

After renting a shared office space and getting the first client I kept focused on developing my network in Asia and it also brought me the chance to work with multiple startups all over the world — a few examples were Singapore, Thailand, Mexico, USA — helping them bootstrap their businesses, shaping the roadmaps, hands-on MVP development, hiring the first software engineering teams and providing all the technology advise to put their SaaS products on the right track to scale.

Let me tell you about a special project that besides having been a lot of fun to put together, it also allowed me to meet great people, that I can now call friends. Based in Phuket, Thailand, we built together a health & fitness startup called ProReach Sports, aiming to deliver an individualised coaching SaaS solution to all sports students, their parents and coaches. See the video below with the founders explaining it in their own words!

Not even mentioning the privilege of calling office to a villa with a private pool in Phuket, we were also in close cooperation with Thanyapura, a Health & Sports Resort in the island, where we were actively doing sports and getting tremendously valuable input from professional athletes and other people in the sports business. Find below some pictures of the office!

This was without any doubt one of the best periods of my adult life where after a tremendous leap of faith I learned a lot, had fun while establishing strong customer relationships and most important proved to myself that dreams do come true if we can beat the fear of leaving the comfort zone.

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