Why COVID-19 is my Morpheus and why you need to find yours

Thai entrepreneur Amarit Charoenphan, co-founder of Techsauce and Thailand’s first co-working and startup space HUBBA ,ponders what COVID-19 means for himself and for the startup community in Thailand.

For many, COVID-19 has been a time to catch up on Netflix, to reconnect with family, and to read all those books you’ve brought but left on the shelf.

As for someone who worked non-stop for the past eight years building the Thai startup ecosystem, mentoring startups, and responding to a few hundred emails daily, the sudden stop in business activity is a chance to catch up to life.

And to rewatch my favourite movie, the Matrix Trilogy before The Matrix 4 is released next year.

But weirdly, I find myself barely touching Netflix or anything else on my list.

Rather than trying to force myself to do what everyone else seems to be doing, I sat and meditated daily to understand why I didn’t want to do the things I want to do. 

Thailand 3With the normal hustle and bustle of life disappearing during COVID-19, Charoenphan found himself re-evaluating parts of his life and business.
Photo: Asia New Zealand Foundation

As it turns out, I was mentally processing the COVID-19 disruption with a sense of urgency and survival, with optimism and pessimism all at the same time.

It was not just a global pandemic that was destroying the economy and killing countless lives, but subconsciously I realized that COVID-19 is a personal existential crisis.

It was setting off alarm bells and warning me that I was leading my life unsustainably.

Being addicted to hustling meant I was sleeping late (sometimes emailing my crew at 4am to the chagrin of my team who felt they weren’t working enough) and not getting any exercise.

Flying two weeks out of every month to talk to investors, build global partnerships, and explore new opportunities for my business meant I was perpetually exhausted. I lost touch with my friends in my hometown and met more of my friends on the conference circuit than folks living down the road.

Worst of all, I feel a growing sense of imposter syndrome, which was amplified the more I spoke, mentored, and became increasingly viewed as successful.

Being on a perpetual startup grind made me feel increasing stupid and exposed the feeling that I wasn’t learning anything new or having anything valuable to offer anyone. 

mario gogh VBLHICVh lI unsplashThe global pandemic is an 'accelerant' for change, particularly for startups. Photo:Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash

COVID-19 to me is just an accelerant for myself and for everyone to change. What got me here co-founding HUBBA and Techsauce won’t get me through this new economy.

Eight years in and I still can’t code and speak Chinese despite telling people it was something I wanted to do. I don’t have any of the leadership habits of top CEOs that I aspire to be.

The difference was that I used to blame my work, my exhaustion, and my circumstances for putting off my teams and inner work to improve myself. COVID-19 exposes that all of it is a lie.

Through the highs and lows, I’ve come to realize that unless I pulled myself together, I would not be able to help myself and my startup community get through this crisis.

Eight years of work will be in vain. Seventy five percent of startups have less than two months of cash buffer days, according to JP Morgan Chase & Co. Institute’s report.

That means most startups that I have been working with to grow in Thailand are about to be wiped out.

There’s a lot of opportunity for me and all of us to complain to government, to leaders, to banks, and other people not telling us that COVID-19 is going to tank our business, our economy and livelihood.

Yet we never blame ourselves that we were complacent, working on things that don’t matter, and that we’re not really mentally, physically, spiritually built for the marathon of entrepreneurship, which is often a seven to 10-year journey.

Like Neo in the Matrix, he was going about his life until the day he realized something was wrong. That the system is broken and rigged.

That’s when a catalyst like Morpheus comes in. He offers a simple choice, but one that required me to muster all my courage and mental fortitude to take. To re-examine my life in every aspect and realize that I need to change. The “why” is crystal clear: a more peaceful life. 

Not happier, wealthier or more exciting. But one that can ride the ups and downs of startup life, and every political coup, economic depression, global pandemic and possibly occasional wars that gets thrown my way. I will come out of it battered and bruised but never broken.

So, two months into partial lockdown, I have kept myself busy while our coworking spaces are closed, our physical events cancelled or postponed due to social distancing rules.

I chose to view COVID-19 for what it is, just another thing that will hit the fan in our short existence on this world that we must be prepared for.

I have decided on what to make of COVID-19. It is my Red Pill and I took it without hesitation.

But that’s just me; you can make whatever the hell you want with COVID; a tragedy, bad luck, a holiday or an inconvenience. But make your own sense out of it.

Banner image credit: Wikimedia Commons

- Asia Media Centre