Gaining Confidence In A Foreign Land

Gaining Confidence In A Foreign Land

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It was 6:30 PM and the sun was just about to call it quits for the day.
After a few days of living in Bangkok, I noticed the sun would set a full hour later than Manila. Interesting, I thought as I walked to the BTS. An extra hour of sunlight every day for the next 3 months.
I was sent to Bangkok to represent the company in D-Next – a startup accelerator program. The goal was to explore the market and see if there was enough demand for our product that would merit expansion. This would involve visiting industrial sites, discussing our solution with plant engineers, and pitching our company to investors and executives.

D-Next is an accelerator program led by PTT Digital and RISE Accelerator.

It was a pretty big project, and I was a little worried I might not be able to carry it out very well.
At this point, I’d like to tell you that my official title is “Marketing Director,” which might make it seem like i’m not exactly the right person for the job. I personally don’t give much importance to titles as I’ve found them to be quite arbitrary when you work at a startup. Without the proper mindset, they can act as constraints and give rise to the “but that’s not in my job description” mentality.
When you work at a startup, you do the work in front of you as best you can – no buts about it. This is something I really take to heart.
Regardless, I was very intimidated by what needed to be accomplished. I had previously agreed to this mission because I thought it would be a good learning experience. Prior to this trip, I had never traveled without company – let alone live in a different country by myself for an extended period of time. I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
Over the course of the next few months, I manned a booth in Startup Thailand, pitched (and won us the Best Startup award) at Asian Utility Week, and spoke with numerous investors, engineers, and executives from the industrial sector. I even got to visit places outside of Bangkok to do site inspections in different provinces – there was so much going on that the nerves and impostor syndrome I was experiencing had to take back seats.

In picture: Me awkwardly accepting an award with only one free hand.

All the while, the rest of the team provided me with online support. At the time, our CTO was stationed in the EU and our CEO back home in the Philippines. They have since switched places. We like to jokingly brag about being a global company, but in truth, we all end up missing home after a short while.
Towards the end of my stay, I was able to present our technology to EnCo (PTT Subsidiary) and perform preliminary testing on their chiller plant. It was a valuable experiment because not only did we impress them enough for them to request a more intensive analysis, but we also found a potentially viable portable method to our solution. Along with the Asian Utility Week victory, I remember feeling quite proud of myself after this development – it validated my being sent there.
The whole trip culminated in Demo Day which required all participating startups to pitch in front of hundreds of people from PTT, RISE, and other companies from different sectors. Right before I went up on stage to present our pitch (something I had practiced more than a hundred times already), I felt more nervous than I had ever felt during my whole stay. This was it, I thought. Everything I had worked on for the past 3 months was on the line. It was intense, and I was intensely anxious – moreso than I usually am before a presentation. However, as I got on stage and started talking, I felt less and less nervous. My anxiety was replaced by an acute focus and a fervent desire to succeed. I distinctly remember this particular moment to have felt very empowering.

I had done my job successfully. Because of this I was invited to a private pitching session by an organization of investors. Great, I thought. Another chance to possibly mess up.
The night before the event, I chanced upon a Talks at Google video featuring Frank Abagnale Jr. – the real life person portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the biographical crime drama film Catch Me If You Can directed by Steven Spielberg. If you haven’t seen the film (you should), it’s about one of the most successful conmen in the world – i’ll stop here lest I spoil the movie.
Something that Frank Abagnale Jr. said in the talk struck me because it resonated with something I had been experiencing.

“If you believe that you’re good at what you do, and you strive to be good at what you do, you don’t need to worry about what other people think […] The minute you start doubting yourself, other people will see that you’re doubting yourself, and that becomes a weakness in your personality.”

Of course! In retrospect, most of the anxiety I felt stemmed from second-guessing myself and thinking of how unconvincing my 25-year old non-engineer self would seem to the veteran engineers and executives on the opposite side of the table. However, whenever I directed my focus on simply applying myself on the work in front of me as best I could, not only would people respond better, but I would also feel and perform the same. Wise words from a former conman.
Equipped with this familiar and yet novel wisdom, I presented my pitch and felt more comfortable than I ever had.
Overall, things went really well in Bangkok, if I may say so myself. We are currently in talks with potential clients in Thailand and have built relationships with key entities in the country. I myself learned a lot from the experience and was able to perfect my pitch. Perhaps it’s thanks to that extra hour of sunlight I spent practicing every day. Then again, I’ve always worked better at night.
I’m back in Manila and everything’s back to normal. I’m seated in a coffee shop working on a document we need for an expo we’re attending in Taiwan at the end of the month.
As I glance out the window, I see the setting sun paint the buildings of Metro Manila with its final rays for the day.
It’s 5:30 PM. I’m home.

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