Whirling Thoughts

Chewing, swishing, and spitting thoughts out. Personal blog of Nicholas Chan.

Category: Reflections

Stay Safe

Bye. Have a great day. See you later.

These words are embedded in the fabric of our daily interactions. They are words that tend to be taken for granted. We rarely think much about these daily platitudes. They go in one ear and out the other.

I’ve noticed a jarring shift in how people have been ending conversations recently. “Stay safe” has become one of the most common ways to send off a friend, acquaintance or loved one.

I find it quite dark. Would be great if we could just get back to “have a great day!”.

“Stay safe” shows how the fear of the virus and its consequences have begun to dominate our psyche. Over time, the influence of the virus has started to seep into benign conversations as a constant reminder of its lingering threat.

Stay safe, because if you’re not careful you could get sick.

Stay safe, because the virus has made it dangerous to go outside.

Stay safe, because after we leave this video call, I hope nothing happens to you. I won’t be able to tell until we call next.

Stay safe, because the world has gone mad. Toilet paper and canned food has flown off the shelves.

Stay safe, because if we don’t flatten the curve, we are going to be the next Italy, Iran, or China.

Stay safe, because if you hurt yourself or get sick for another reason, it’s a terrible time to be going to the hospital.

Stay safe, because I care about you. I hope everything will turn ok.

Stay safe.


Covid-19 has wrecked havoc on the world. It is a critical time for all governments as they deal with the urgent medical and economic situation.

I understand all measures being taken and agree that they are necessary. With travel bans in place and the virus lurking around every corner, it is impossible to decry any measure as too extreme.

As a result of them, my exchange in Singapore has been cut short, and I have returned home for the rest of the winter semester.

This is disappointing. The year was supposed unfurl as one of adventure. One filled with joy and discovery and new friends. One where I would go to the far ends of the world treasure hunting for stories and new experiences; a wealth to be shared with friends and family upon my triumphant return.

I am all the poorer for it.

Creating a vision, building foundations

This year, I will be one of 4 cochairs for the Queen’s Tech and Media Association. I’ve taken to asking myself what I want to accomplish this year, and what would make this year a success.

I wanted to write this down because it’s important to have a larger goal in mind when you inevitably have to work through a mire of boring, mundane tasks to accomplish this vision. It’s easy to slack or stop giving 100% on these tasks without a strong vision.

QTMA is a product management organization. We build software products. But that simplifies things too much. I would argue we teach people how to build great products, launch these products, while creating awareness for tech as a viable and exciting career path for students.

  1. Our products acquire real users
  2. Our members recruit successfully into technology positions
  3. Our members walk away with new skills
  4. QTMA is one reason students end up choosing Queen’s Commerce (as is the same with our investment council and case teams)
  5. Members return next year, or if graduating, remain involved in some capacity.
  6. Everyone has a fun time

March hiring will soon be in full swing. Interviewing 50+ people in three days is not going to be fun, yet it is a necessary task for building a strong foundation for the coming year.

Good times ahead.

Thinking About Change

Heading on an exchange is a temporary goodbye. You wish farewell to your friends, your school, and your family for the next five months, with the hope that everyone and everything will be here waiting for you when you return.

Yet, as you say goodbyes, there is the creeping inevitability of change. As my group of friends said our farewells to one another, one of them posed a question to the group that got me thinking:

“Do you think we will change?”

The answer is yes. But I think that the most important thing in this question is answering how we will change. We can add more to that by asking “how do we want to change?

Change can be sudden. In a few short days, I expect to be waking up in another country. While the rays of sunshine filtering through my windows will be the same, everything else will be different. The room. The temperature. The food. The people. These are superficial markers of change, things that can be quickly reverted with a flight ticket. They’re givens that don’t mean much.

Change can also be slow. I’m imagining this type of change to be the result of pressure. Where old beliefs and perspectives slowly morph as a result of exposure to new stimuli. This change leaves an indelible mark on your perspective and approach to life.

Something that I’ve noticed among friends who have gone abroad is that they have come back with a perspective that is “bigger”. No longer can they imagine staying in Toronto for the rest of their life. They yearn to explore the world more. They think about opportunities globally, unrestrained by borders.

So how do I want to change? I want to be able to dream just a little bit bigger. Instead of being stuck within the boundaries of Toronto, Canada, I want this experience to break down those boundaries and let me sense opportunities for impact around the world.

I want it to be a slow change, something that I won’t notice until I return home and realize that I make decisions just a little bit differently than before.

Know What You Want – Choosing to Leave a Business

It’s with mixed feelings that I have chosen to leave the business that I’ve spent the last 4 months working on. It’s called Cromble, and what we did was take brewing byproducts called spent grain from breweries then upcycle them into higher value products.

After the end of the summer I chose to take a week and reflect on whether continuing with this business was the right decision. This was not as cut or dry as it would seem. We had just received $15,000 in funding in addition to another $4000 in seed funding.

We had world class mentors. One of them had is PhD in molecular chemistry, and was building a startup in Silicon Valley. The other had sold a multi-million dollar chocolate business, and was focused on helping food startups commercialize their products.

I think that ultimately, I had to detach my emotions and critically evaluate whether continuing with this business would be helpful to my long-term career trajectory.

To do this, I filtered the decision through three key questions: what do I want? How do I get there? How does this business align with those goals?

What do I want?

When I was in high-school, I had the chance to interview the CEO of a rapidly growing marketing agency. To me, he was (and is) someone who was very successful. I asked him what he thought was the most important message he wanted to share with people.

I expected a long monologue. Instead all he said was “Know what you want, then everything else will follow”.

That was a recurring theme when I talked to other business leaders in my community. Another made the point of saying:

“As long as you know where you want to go, your decision making becomes way clearer. All you have to do is determine whether that decision will move you towards your goal.”

I want to own and run businesses in the future. But those businesses are the type that are digital in nature. I want to have multiple digital businesses that can be automated or systemized, which then gives me the financial freedom to pursue a “big bet” – a high-growth startup. For that high growth startup, it doesn’t matter if I am a founder or early employee, but I want to contribute to growing this business substantially.

In summary

  • Work in digital / tech based businesses
  • Be able to grow businesses
  • Own multiple businesses

How do I get there?

To me, the key thing linking all of these goals is my ability to drive revenue and grow businesses. Really, digital growth marketing.

This means I can drive revenue to my own businesses. It’s one skillset that allows me to contribute meaningfully on the business side that I haven’t developed yet.

For me, this means that I have to develop this skillset.

Does this business align with those goals?

Cromble is a logistics and R&D heavy business. It’s in the business of moving grain and processing grain.

The next steps in Cromble involve taking funding and investing heavily in those areas. It means lab work, trucks, and drying equipment.

I felt that while this was an exciting opportunity, when measured against what I want to do and how I need to get there, this was not the right business to get me there.

Moving Forward

I’ve chosen not to continue with Cromble, and I sincerely wish the best of luck for my 4 co-founders who have chosen to continue working on this business.

Moving forward, I am looking to sharpen my digital marketing toolkit at a technology company! Looking to work with some great people 🙂

Confidence in Entrepreneurship

Having gone through the QICSI 2019 program this summer, I’ve had the unique opportunity to start a business. While I’ve chosen not to continue with this business moving forward, the experience has left me with many critical learnings and takeaways.

The most important thing I’ve learned has been to have confidence in myself and my capabilities.

Midway through the program, I realized that I had been setting a lot of mental barriers for myself when it came to having a business. I would tell myself that I needed more money, that I didn’t know enough, or that it wasn’t the right time for me to start a business.

Something that this summer program has taught me is that when you really dig into those barriers, they either don’t exist or can be easily overcome.

Don’t have the money? Do a couple of things. Figure out how you can start your business using… less money. Find a way to pre-sell products to add value (checkout Airbnb and Away Luggage strategies). Look for grants and research programs such as SREDS and pitch competitions.

Don’t know enough? No one does. One of the most important things is to have faith in your ability to learn things quickly. My business involved working with craft breweries and spent grain. I knew nothing about either. I quickly got up to speed reading articles and research.

Other ways that I found could quickly accelerate my learning were making sure I had a multi-disciplinary team that complemented my own skills, making sure to ask questions frequently and early, and making sure to… talk to people. It’s impossible to build a business in a silo. You can learn exponentially quicker by finding the right mentors or customers to talk to. There’s a lot of information that is not easy to Google, and the only way to unlock it is to talk to people.

Not the right time to start a business? It will never be the perfect time. It’s easy for us to make excuses, whether they are financial or otherwise. My perspective is that you really set the criteria for yourself on when the right time is. I would make the argument that as a student, it will likely never be easier than now.

Getting even older comes with even more obligations. You have the typical ideas of having a mortgage and kids. Other concerns that I’ve thought about are golden handcuffs and inertia from a cushy career. Why delay?

Grateful for the Opportunity

I had so many reservations about taking an opportunity like QICSI, where I had to work for myself. I don’t have any brand name on my resume. I got paid less than I would have in Toronto. I missed out on friends for an entire summer.

But I have no regrets.

Moving forward, I have confidence in my ability to start a business. To me, that is priceless.

Finding Milestones For Improvement

I started playing basketball with friends right before the summer of Grade 12. I was terrible. I would miss all my shots, not know where to move my feet, and foul people.

You know the kid that no one passes to? That was me.

I was really excited to start playing basketball. All my friends were doing it and I felt that it was a good way to unwind and spend more time with them. Since I also hate losing, I made a commitment to get a lot better at basketball.

That moment came when within a week, a good friend of mine decided to wait under the net, daring me to make a layup. When I got close to the net, rising up for the shot, he spiked the ball out of my hand.

“OhhhHHHhhhh” <- all my other friends

A couple of days after, some kid 4 years younger than me beat me.

Getting Better

So I started methodically getting better. Master right hand layups, then left hand layups. Master dribbling with both hands, then between the legs. Master shooting 3m away, then slowly moving further and further out.

Yet as I found myself practicing and practicing, it seemed as if I was not getting any better. I still kept missing shots. The ball would slip out of my hands when dribbling. Yet another person would block me viciously. It was pretty disheartening.

A month ago, now in the summer heading into my third year of university, I met up with my old high school friends to play basketball.

I scored a lot. It was as if the game had slowed down a little. It was easier to stop people who would always blow by me. It was clear to me that there had been a lot of tangible progress.

But I didn’t realize it until I went back to play with old friends.


My epiphany that day was that it is so hard to realize how we are constantly growing as an individual. It happens so gradually over time, that it is almost impossible to realize on a day to day basis.

It’s like watching a tulip bloom. You don’t realize it, but one day you walk out to the garden and BAM you see the vibrant colours of a blooming tulip.

This moment was a reminder to myself to make sure to reflect more deeply about my personal growth. Reflections on personal growth should extend beyond basketball though.

Recently, I have been thinking about how my confidence, sales skills, presentation skills, and general knowledge of business has expanded exponentially over time. There’s no other way to say it: I am proud of myself.

But there’s still so much to work on.

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