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Listen up soldier! 3 Army lessons on Escaping the City

Esc member Tak Lo is originally from Hong Kong and the USA, but fell in love with London and has lived here for the past 3 years.  In his former lives, he jumped out of helicopters with the US Army and held PowerPoint and Excel black belts as a consultant and investment banker.  He’s atoned for his sins and now building a travel-related startup, the Travelst.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. – Dale Carnegie

Last summer…

I had just finished my investment banking internship at Canary Wharf.  With an offer in hand, I thought this was it – I had a career and I was set for life.

Fast forward one year later, myself and my co-founder just finished Patriot Boot Camp hosted by the #1 startup accelerator in the world TechStars, where we pitched our company amongst 75 other world-class companies.

What happened in the middle?  Loads.  And it’s all down to 3 simple takeaways that I learned while serving in the US Army.  My drill sergeant would be proud.

Assess the situation.  Honestly.

I got real – I was turning 32.  I had a few more years before the kids were going to come.  And if I didn’t get into entrepreneurship now, when would I do it?

I also wanted to build something in the tech industry, a world which I applauded for being honestly open and welcoming of new ideas.  I couldn’t stand on the sidelines anymore and just wish to be in the industry.

I also had the ambition to make a ripple in the world of tech.  And I wanted to make a ripple in the world in the best city I’ve ever lived – London.  And as much as this was a challenge (getting a UK entrepreneurial visa and the high cost of living here), I knew I wanted this.

Act.

“Inaction may be safe, but it builds nothing”

This was something I had learned when I served in the US Army – move, and keep on moving.  Don’t stop.  Never stop.

I felt this was the case here.  I could have planned my route and made sure the market size was big and the opportunities were ripe.  I could have dotted all my I’s and crossed my T’s.  But I also felt that by doing so, I was giving myself  opportunities to quit entrepreneurship.  The only way to get into the pool of entrepreneurship was to jump in.  And I dove in, head first.

I found my co-founder, Choti, who was in the right place and the right time.  He wanted the same entrepreneurship route as I did, and had a passion that burned as much as mine.

Together we analyzed our passions and what the biggest pains about our passions were – as the famous Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham says, “scratch your own itch”.  And there was borne the Travelst –an online solution that helps travelers organize trips – an improved TripIt.

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.

We dived straight in – finding the necessary resources, getting connected into the London entrepreneurship community, and talking to the right people.

As they say in the US Army – adapt and overcome.  We took all the opportunities we could, adapted, and overcame whatever we could.  As two business guys with little coding experience, we hacked, pummeled, and slogged our way to developing a demo product with a brilliant design.

Us working hard pre-TechStars Patriot Boot Camp

And as they say, the harder you work, the luckier you get.  And when we heard about the TechStars Patriot Boot Camp opportunity from our friend Haroon Khan, we knew we had to apply.  And a combination of luck and a good pitch helped us get in.

TechStars CEO David Cohen giving us feedback via Twitter

With TechStars CEO David Cohen

I know for a fact this formula won’t work for everyone.  But the key takeaway is – don’t let doubt, risk, and the possibility of failure get you down.  That’s what gets almost everyone down.  And when your chance is gone, you’ll kick yourself for having let an opportunity pass.

Instead, break the pattern.  Do something radically different, and act now.  Don’t be your normal self and out-think your self.  Just do.  Have the confidence that you can adapt and overcome your way, because if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably been quite successful in your own career.  And if you can succeed in one career, you can succeed in another.

Have the confidence you’ll figure it out.  We did, and we’re all the better for it.

We’re looking for talented developers, product managers/UX, and business development folks.  If you love travel and want to make a splash (not a ripple!) in the travel tech world, send me an email at tak@thetravelst.com.  Let’s rock this world.

  • Adele

    Thanks for sharing Tak – love this point: ‘Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.’

    • Tak

      ‘Take the bulls by the horns’, as some say down in Texas :)