“Always take it one step at a time. A step in the right direction, no matter how small, is still a step forward.”~ Harprem Doowa
Name: Harprem Doowa
Professional Titles: Co-Founder & MD – Frank.co.th – selling online insurance
Notable Achievements: Entrepreneur of the year 2017 Award by Australian Alumni Association
Education: Sasin Graduate Institute & Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
Relationship Status: Married
What I wanted to be as a child: “A Business man and owner of a company.”
My Definition of Success is: “Achieving whatever keeps you and others around you happy.”
- OCD on certain things
“I had just become the head of the team to launch Petloft.com (Thailand’s first online pet store). I was working with experienced people all of whom came from the e-commerce field, but I had no real-world business experience at all. I had a lot of ideas – a lot of unorganized ideas, with no prioritization and nothing to back them up except my gut feeling. To most of my staff who had experience, this wasn’t enough. They started to complain about the work I was doing to the investors, which made me doubt every one of my decisions in meetings.
‘Criticism was plenty, but there was no constructive feedback that would help me improve. It came to a point where the investors eventually called me into a meeting room. It was the kind of meeting where as soon as I went in, I knew it was going to be bad news. They revealed what my staff were saying about me, behind my back, and it took me by surprise as I didn’t see it coming. I was so oblivious in my own world trying to understand the business, that I didn’t realize what was going on behind closed doors when I wasn’t present. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Then they finally dropped the bomb on me – they didn’t think I was suited for this job.
There was “pin-drop” silence in that meeting room as I sat there on the opposite side of the table with the investors. These guys were the giants in the e-commerce industry having built and exited two companies previously. I had a huge amount of respect and admiration for them. Hearing them tell me that I didn’t live up to their expectations and that I wasn’t going to cut it in this role was a massive blow to my self-esteem. I started tearing up right then and there. I think that anyone’s first reaction in such a scenario would have been to defend themselves and that’s what I did. Two sentences into defending myself, I realized that it wasn’t going to help my case nor was it going to change their minds. I walked out of the room with my heart on the floor and my head down. I was utterly defeated and ashamed.
That evening I went to a pre-planned friend’s get-together and it was so obvious to everyone that something was not right with me despite my attempts to hide the emotions. I went from a cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy who is always cracking jokes and making others laugh, to someone unrecognizable even to myself – sitting in a corner barely saying anything. I left the party and went for a walk to clear my head.
It was at that point, while I was walking, I thought to myself that this can’t be the end. There must be another way out. What the investors saw in me on the first day we met is still there and I wasn’t going to let this incident take it away. I called the investors individually and spoke to them for an hour each. I offered them a deal where I can stay with the company while giving me a chance to learn from them. I tried to convince them that I was still that guy that impressed them in the first meeting and all I needed was a little structure and guidance. I begged them to give me another chance, even to cut my salary and take away my equity along with my title as CEO. I offered to take a title downgrade to ‘Business Development Manager,’ and asked to let me prove myself under their mentorship. They finally agreed to my terms.
The next day, I went to work and they called me into the meeting room again. This time the vibe was completely different. Same room, same people, same setting, but the atmosphere had shifted. There was hope in the air. I sat down opposite them and was told something that I’ll never forget. They told me that in their years of working, hiring, and firing people, they had never seen anyone react the way I did. They never saw anyone try to come up with a solution the way I did. They admired my tenacity and grit. At the end of that meeting, we came to an arrangement where I would work as a Business Development Manager under the company’s new CEO and I had 3 months to prove myself. If I did, I would get my equity and salary back.
In those next few months, I worked my ass off, learned everything I could from my mentors, and strived to understand the business like no one else. I also took this opportunity to learn about managing people, workplace politics, and company vision communication. At the end of that term, my original salary was restored, I reacquired my equity in the company, and was named the Chief Operating Officer (COO). I didn’t get the CEO title back right away, because, in those 3 months they had found a replacement for me. That person, however, didn’t make for a good CEO, and a year later I claimed the title back, growing the company to a 25-million-dollar valuation with 70 employees. We were one the largest Series A funded companies that year.”
Why Harprem is a Winner:
Pride can be a restricting factor in the game of life, especially if you have to start from the bottom again. Harprem’s quality to revert back to a lower position and assimilate was a great lesson in humility. Nevertheless, his passion and drive to move back to the upper echelon of the company was the exact mentality he adopted to move forward during those hopeless moments of failure. He describes,
“In any situation, there is always a way out and we just have to find the means to make it work. I am a problem solver, and I viewed what happened to me as a problem that has a solution. I always start by taking a deep breath and letting the emotions out first. Once the sensitivity of the moment has passed, that’s when I start thinking of how to fix it. I ask “why” multiple times to get to the source of the issues – there is no point in fixing the symptoms, so I always go for the root cause. Adopting the mentality that there is always an answer to any dilemma, is what keeps me going.”
Here’s how Harprem rationalized the problem:
“I re-evaluated why I got fired, and concluded that it was because: 1. I was not experienced enough to lead a team; 2. I did not know how to run an e-commerce company; and 3. I didn’t understand that part of running a company means dealing with internal politics. By focusing on each of these individual problems one at a time, I was able to find a solution. For points 1 and 2 it was easy – find a mentor, which is exactly what I did. When I got fired, I listened to what they believed my downsides were and I found ways to fix them. For point 3, it took some time to learn and it came to me naturally the more experience I had.”
I am absolutely convinced, after hearing his story, that you can maneuver your way out of any problem that may come your way. When you face failure, take a moment to calm down, look at the situation objectively, without letting your emotions and ego affect your judgment, and identify the action plan for a solution.