Resilience as a Trait for Success: What These Founders Can Teach Us About Grit

man hiking on mountain trail

Often recognized as a key trait to success, the subject of resilience frequently headlines articles from top publishers such as Forbes magazine and the Harvard Business Review. Resilience is described as the ability to withstand hardships and soldier on despite unfavourable or unpredictable circumstances. It’s also about not letting failures faze you when it comes to reaching your goals. Everyone has failed at one point or another in their lives, but how many can say that they were willing to go through failure enough times before throwing in the towel? Many noteworthy individuals have gone through countless setbacks before reaching success; their stories of accomplishments made more remarkable by their journey in resilience.

Take J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, for example – who had her manuscript turned down by 12 publishers before getting accepted; or billionaire entrepreneur, Jack Ma who went through a series of rejections from Harvard University and KFC among them. It goes to show that success is not built from simply chasing dreams, but about weathering the storm of setbacks and facing challenges with conviction. The following are some notable ASEAN businesses we can learn resilience from:

Lesson 1: Being Fuelled by Passion is not Enough

Anyone can set goals but not everyone is willing to put themselves through the ringer to achieve them. It simply isn’t enough to just dream or to put in the work for that matter. It’s hard work and resilience. I’m talking about those who exert the maximum amount of effort and fail and do it all over again until they get to their dreams.

An example would be Nicky Wong who hails from Brunei as an IT programmer-turned-food and beverage franchise entrepreneur. Recently featured in Biz Brunei, Wong’s first venture was in the tech industry where he later started the Sultanate’s first mobile content service and online store called QQestore in 2006. Fuelled by burgeoning success, he was set to establish Brunei’s first IPO through Infindo in 2010 but unfortunately, the plan fell through shortly after. However with resilience along with a life-changing business workshop, Wong shifted trajectory and refocused his energies towards the more lucrative business of F&B franchises with a stake of over a dozen storefronts. Despite the change of business focus, his spirit of entrepreneurship is palpable, especially considering his latest joint venture in setting up a co-working space franchise across 20 ASEAN cities.

To a resilient person, failure is just a stepping stone to success; you don’t quit when the going gets tough, you reinforce your resolutions instead.


Lesson 2: Believing in the Struggle

Resilience is also about having your patience tested, your confidence challenged, and your goals questioned. While you’re experiencing all of that, you will come to a point where you learn to believe in the struggles and sacrifices as being integral components to your achievements. This was the case with Singapore-based Alexis Horowitz-Burdick, who started Luxola in 2011 and who has since sold it to French luxury goods giant, LVMH. The online cosmetics store has now been rebranded as Sephora Digital, becoming the e-commerce branch for Southeast Asia. However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing as Horowitz-Burdick recounted the time when she was unable to afford a salary for herself or her team in the beginning on top of navigating around an unfamiliar digital business field that had not taken off at that time.

The same can be said about Zopim, another Singapore-based startup established in 2008, which was sold to an American company for USD37 million in 2014, becoming one of the most significant buyouts in the city-state. Qing-Ru Lim, one of five co-founders, recalled a time when they could only pay themselves about USD380/month for the first year then somehow managed without salaries for half a year.

Penny-pinching aside, their time and energy was entirely focused on building their tech company, even if that meant roughing it out for a few years before they hit a gold mine. They didn’t just become millionaires overnight – it was a matter of struggle and sacrifice for success and you’d need a hefty dose of resilience to carry you through.


Lesson 3: Beating the Odds

Another thing many resilient people are familiar with is doubt. It’s not just self-doubt that comes creeping in every now and then, but also the drone of scepticism by the people around them. You know who didn’t let these voices get to them? The founders of Grab, the ride-sharing app that has expanded across the region with over 68 million downloads in 7 countries.

Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling were met with a heap of reluctance in the beginning from potential collaborators, including comments saying that no one would use their app. However, having hit their 1 billionth ride last year, whatever misgivings they had to go through was well worth it. Resilient people contend with doubt all the time but they understand that in order to achieve success, they are going to scale that mountain of uncertainty with gusto.

Related: Meet Myanmar’s Top Professionals: 4 Tips on How to Find Your Passion


Lesson 4: All About the Rebound

As much as the journey of success is accompanied by sacrifice and struggle, it’s imperative to also learn how to bounce back strategically. In other words, resilience is not just about getting into the ring again, but also switching it up with a smart counterattack.

Sometimes it’s a combination of a shrewd approach, patience and timing as evidenced by GO-JEK’s slow and steady rise into the largest unicorn startup company in Indonesia. GO-JEK was first established as a motorcycle ride-hailing service in 2010 that has since evolved into a smartphone platform now offering a wide range of on-demand services beyond transportation ranging from deliveries of food and provisions in beauty treatments & massages to an e-wallet, among many other services. It went from a team of 20 riders in 2010 to a net worth of USD 5 billion in 2018.

While GO-JEK wasn’t exactly a failure in the beginning, it didn’t have the same kind of impact it enjoys now. All the while, founder, Nadiem Makarim ventured into other startup ideas, many of which failed before returning to his passion project just as ride-sharing apps were gaining more ground in the region in mid-2014. By then, he had come back more experienced and knowledgeable but more importantly, he showed that an innovative success like GO-JEK was achieved from learning past mistakes and recognizing the opportunities in the local challenges.


Rolling with the Punches

What we’ve learned about these ASEAN businesses is that no amount of hardship would deter them from their aspirations and being adaptive to challenges is paramount in an-ever changing world. Additionally, there are opportunities to learn and innovate from failures and, as cliché as it sounds, success really does take time. Of course, not every budding entrepreneur is necessarily struggling to pave their way, but for those who are, resilience is a trait you would want to adopt.

My personal go-to resilience mantra – good things come to those who wait, however, great things come to those who persevere

Related: 5 Influential Bruneian Leaders You Should Follow This Year


Written by: Mas Dino Radin

Mas Dino Radin is currently a solo founder of her social enterprise startup called Future Resilience (FutuRe). Beyond that, she’s an all-around hype girl for empowerment. When she isn’t spending all her time hustling her budding startup life or hyping people up to live resiliently, she can be found with her nose buried in books and making the occasional solo travels. Her interests are in citizen science, biomimicry, disruptive tech, design thinking, human-centered design and innovation for social good. She can be reached at

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