He wears two hats — that of a writer and that of an entrepreneur. He used to wear the first hat a lot. That is, he used to write a lot. He used to do it every day. He’d write short stories and store them in his notebook or laptop. Some of them he kept. He never showed those to anyone. Some, he sent to publishers. Quite a few saw print in some magazine or other.
But the first hat led him to a lot of trouble. He’d lose his sense of order completely. He’d write for days and maintain an unhealthy diet during those days. He’d stay up for long hours just to finish his writing. After finishing a story or two, he’d sleep for long periods of time. There was no consistency at all in his habits. Sometimes he’d sleep at 3 in the morning and wake up at half past noon, or sleep at half past noon and wake up at 9 or 10 in the evening. He’d also neglect grooming altogether — sometimes taking a shower only twice or thrice a week, despite the humid climate. He’d also totally ignore his social life. He’d stay home for weeks on end without seeing anyone, except his landlady and the grocer. But he had very few friends to begin with, so that wasn’t really a problem. However, this kind of life had more periods of misery than joy. Feelings of happiness which followed news of being published were quickly succeeded by feelings of ineptness, aimlessness, and insecurity. He often found himself moody, irritable, and on the whole, just plainly emotional.
So eventually, he went looking for another hat to wear, and this was when he discovered that he also loved entrepreneurship. In particular, he loved the very idea of startups. He adored how tech geeks, startup founders, and millennial billionaires speak. Their manners were as attractive to him as the manners of writers, novelists, and intellectuals. So he began to learn more about startups and entrepreneurship, and he strove to understand the language of these geeks and founders. He loved terms like product-market fit, pivoting, business model canvas, disruption, innovation, pain point, coding, scale up, venture capitalism, angel investing, bootstrapping, value proposition design, iteration, and so on, and he used them in his sentences whenever he could. For example, many months ago, he met an old acquaintance of his, a writer who is a hundred times more talented than him, or than he could ever hope to be, and this person asked him, in a tone which hinted of sarcasm and condescension, “So, what have you been up to these days? Still writing?” To which he promptly answered, in a tone that barely concealed his agitation and disdain, “Oh, I don’t write as often as I used to. We both know there’s very little money in writing. I’ve decided to venture into a different kind of undertaking, and that is to start my own startup. I’m still looking for a technical co-founder, though, who can code for me, but basically I plan to build an app or platform that’ll teach any aspiring writer creative writing and allow that person to publish her works independently and at relatively low cost. That’s essentially the idea behind the product, but I’m still developing my business model canvas. Soon, I’ll be able to develop a prototype, do a quick launch, talk to our customers to make sure we are delivering real value, iterate the product, and so on until we find product-market fit. If it doesn’t work, we will pivot.”
What his second hat did to him was restore order and sanity to his life. He got rid of his mustache and beard and had a clean hair cut. He started taking a bath regularly, wore the official uniform of startup founders — jeans, plain shirt, and sneakers — and began speaking in a calm, intelligent, and amiable manner. Think Elon Musk or Brian Chesky.
These days, he wears his entrepreneurship hat 98% of the time. He rarely reads or writes fiction, but he’s happy. He’s at peace.
But just this morning, he was in danger of totally losing all his peace and tranquility, for while pitching for a venture capitalist in a cafe, a woman in her mid-twenties who was the co-founder of several startups in Singapore and who’s in the country for business, he suddenly felt compelled to write her a story. Of course, he did not mention this to her while making his pitch. That would’ve sounded bizarre and completely jeopardized his proposal. But while talking to her about his company’s product and value proposition, he couldn’t help but think that this VC would look perfect as a queen in some adventure story, or a princess in some tragedy, or the daughter of an 18th-century English baron in a literary comedy.
Her name was Ingrid. She must be European, he thought. She looked and sounded so. Swedish, Norwegian, or Finnish? He’s not sure which. He didn’t ask. “A thousand years ago,” he might begin his story, “there lived a Swedish queen named Ingrid…” Or, “There was once a girl named Ingrid and she was a princess…” Or maybe, “He had spent countless hours rehearsing his lines: ‘Good day, Miss Bergstrom, my name is Samuel. How do you do, Miss Bergstrom? My name is Samuel. How are you, Miss Bergstrom? The name is Samuel. Very pleased to finally meet you, Miss Bergstrom. I am Samuel. Miss Bergstrom, long have I dreamed of someday meeting you. Finally, that day has come. My name is Samuel, but you may call me Sam.’ But when the day finally arrived for him to be introduced to the great baron’s daughter, he could only mutter her name, “Ingrid,” for as he stood there before her, he was left totally without breath.”
“I’m sorry?” Ingrid said.
He snapped out of his reverie. “Come again?” he said.
“Queen? Princess?” she said.
He looked as perplexed as her. “Queen?” he said.
“You were talking about queens and princesses just now,” she said, trying to suppress a smile.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh. Was I?”
“Yes. And barons and daughters. I’m not sure how those are connected to what you were saying.”
“Oh,” he repeated. “What was I saying again?” he grinned.
“Your users? You were talking about your monthly users.”
She sighed, closed her laptop, and leaned forward slowly. “Mr… Alcuaz, was it?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Mr. Alcuaz. Sam, right? Please understand that I value my time very much…”
“Oh, of course, I’m terribly sorry…”
“Please let me continue,” she said, her voice now firmer. “I value my time highly. To be blunt, the only reason why I agreed to this meeting was because your incubator’s director is a close friend of mine. I don’t normally meet founders who I don’t know personally. So this is an exception. I’m doing this as a favor to her. Now, I’m not sure what kind of game you’re playing here…”
“Oh, I’m not…” he protested.
“Again, if you will let me finish…” Her cheeks were now flushed. “I’m getting the impression that you are not taking this pitch seriously at all. Let me finish. You have no idea how busy my schedule is. I have three other appointments after this and I still have to catch my flight back to Manila tonight. I have three other meetings in Makati tomorrow morning before heading off to Singapore. Frankly, I feel like I’m being trifled with.”
“Miss Bergstrom, I’m terribly sorry for being…”
“Let’s wrap this up, shall we?” she said, glancing at her watch. “I only have one more minute to spare. How many users do you currently have?”
“Well,” he said, trying to regain his composure, “we now have a little over 33,000 paying users, and we’ve been able to meet our weekly metrics since the start of the previous quarter. So I’m very positive that we’ll be able to reach profitability before long — probably in the first half of next year. I mean, I would be very surprised otherwise since we’ve had a lot of traction for such a short span of time. The only problem, though, is that we only have less than a month of runway left. So we badly need a new round of funding. Please, Miss Bergstrom, we’d love for you to grant us that.”
He waited with baited breath for her reply, but she didn’t look up from her laptop. Her face was illumined by the light from her screen. Her eyes were totally still and he could detect a faint smile on her lips, but it could just as easily have been a frown. She flicked a lock of hair over her ear and then time suddenly slowed down. She seemed to glow. He gasped as he saw the faint outline of a crown on her head.