This is the beginning of a four-part chronicle of our journey as life and business partners over two decades. It has all the elements of a fascinating tale — love, aspirations, failure, trials and tribulations, success, love… still intact. Phew! The process of recounting our experience has filled us with nostalgia and gladness, and we hope you will enjoy reading our story.
The year was 1999. It was the year Britney Spears burst onto the music scene with the hit album ‘Baby One More Time’; the year everyone couldn’t stop worrying about the Y2K bug; the year the human race had the New Year’s party of a lifetime. That year, Mr Wow and I completed our university education. The turn of the millennium marked a new phase of our lives. Mr Wow was going to launch a career in the IT industry and climb his way to the top of the corporate ladder! How promising! In contrast, I was er… completely lost.
You see, I was never really sold on the conventional wisdom that success = study hard and get a ‘good’ job. It just sounded (still does) so uninspiring to me and I wish parents would stop saying that to their kids! It’s NOT a morale booster! It’s depressing! First, the true goal of education is to gain knowledge (and hopefully wisdom), not to ace exams so as to get a ‘good’ job in the future. Second, please explain why so many people with supposedly good jobs seem so unhappy. Let’s be honest: the idea of getting a ‘good job’ and
working slaving for the next 40 years just doesn’t sound very appealing! Third, maybe your child’s destiny is not to get a job. Maybe he or she is meant to create jobs! Think about that!
When I was in my teens, I would dream about starting my own business someday (a boutique, a cafe, a bookstore…) but various people including my parents would tell me not to build castles in the air. Instead, I should just be realistic and follow the ‘formula for success’ like everyone else. So… in 1999… at the crossroads of my life… I decided to take the pragmatic path and get a job. I just needed to figure out what.
You see, I was never really sold on the conventional wisdom that success = study hard and get a ‘good’ job.
I remember watching ‘The Secret of My Success’ starring Michael J. Fox when I was a teenager and how I was inspired to become a ‘suit’, motivated to climb the corporate ladder to success and bliss. So the plan was simple:
Step 1: Study hard to get the best formal education possible.
Step 2: Land myself a high-flying corporate job in a sunrise industry.
Step 3: Work my ass off and partake in the Singapore dream.
Step 1 went rather well. I do have very fond memories of my school days. Probably one the best times of my life… filled with adventure, lasting friendships and puppy love. Academically, I didn’t do too shabby in the end, thank God. It wasn’t exactly smooth-sailing, but to cut a long story short, I eventually graduated university with first class honours. My parents couldn’t be prouder. The future looked bright, or so I thought.
Mr Wow did get a job in the IT industry while I ended up working in a statutory board. We met through a mutual friend in the second half of the year. Frankly, there was no romantic attraction at first. I just thought he was a really nice guy with a major wardrobe crisis (I’ve since fixed that, of course). Nonetheless, as I got to know him better, the attraction grew. We hung out almost every day and had the most stimulating conversations. Best of all, we had so many things in common, from our taste in music to our sense of humour to our outlook on life! I knew he was special… so I said ‘yes’ when he asked me to marry him three months later.
Life was good. Everything was going according to plan. I landed my first job in a multi-national tech firm. It was a dream job — generous starting pay with full benefits, health, dental and more. The prospects were amazing! What more could I ask for? Without hesitation, I accepted the job offer and was all hyped up for an illustrious career in the fast growing IT industry. Step 2, checked.
Believe it or not, life got even better. After landing my dream job, I found my dream girl! When I first met Mrs Wow, I was instantly attracted. Although she was quite the looker (still is), it was more than that. I found her amusing and I probably laughed too much that day. In all my years, I’ve never met anyone like her before. I couldn’t get her outta my mind, so I called her the next day and asked her out on a date. Guess what… I got rejected flat out!
‘Sorry, I’m not free, busy with work, I have deadlines to meet… blah… blah… blah.’
‘Ok, let’s take a rain cheque then…’ What else could I say?
So… I tried again the following week and got rejected once more. Strike two!
Third time was a charm! Probably out of pity, she agreed to my dinner invitation a few weeks later. Persistence definitely pays off. Woohoo! It was our first official date, just us two. I will never forget it. There was never a dull moment and I was utterly smitten.
‘OMG… I could talk to her about anything!’ I thought to myself. ‘Where has she been all my life?’
At the end of the night, I asked her for another date and she agreed readily. Yippee!
Soon, we were in our own bubble and the peripheral world no longer existed. It was as if time had come to a complete standstill. I was on cloud nine and after three months of ‘intensive courtship’, I proposed to my soulmate. She said yes! And as the saying goes, the rest is history…
It was an eventful year, to say the least. We had our first big fight while planning for our wedding. Soooooooooo dumb but I think many couples went through the same nonsense. With hindsight, we should have just saved the trouble AND money and gone for a peaceful honeymoon. Anyway, we got married, borrowed some money from my dad and bought a place. We were broke but we couldn’t be happier.
Married life was blissful but working life kinda sucked. Even though I was quite good at my job, I didn’t enjoy it. I just couldn’t find a meaningful connection to it, if you know what I mean. Motivation comes when one has a sense of purpose and I had none. That’s actually the worst thing that could happen to a highly motivated individual like me. I was running on autopilot, going through the motions day after day. Yet, I pressed on, dragging myself to the office every morning by focusing on the pay cheque at the end of the month. Hey, perseverance is good and winners don’t quit, right?
For me, work life was rosy. No complaints whatsoever. I woke up every morning looking forward to work. It so happened that my direct supervisor was an amazing boss who recognised and valued my contributions to the team and organisation. As time went by, I was duly promoted and given a handsome pay increment. This of course came with an ever-widening job scope, more responsibilities and what seemed like an endless stream of emails to reply every day. I lapped it all up and couldn’t be happier. I was making my way to the top. I was living the dream!
Mrs Wow on the other hand was having a tough time at work. I remember her dragging herself up for work every morning and complaining about how meaningless and bureaucratic her job was. Nevertheless, she was able to somehow compartmentalise her feelings and still give her best at work. That is Mrs Wow for you. Her work ethics are impeccable and you can expect nothing less from her. Believe me, I’m not being biased. Anyone who has worked with her will attest to this. She takes great pride in everything she does. A perfectionist, almost to the point of obsession (something I would come to know very well when we became business partners — more on that later).
In the meantime, it was heartbreaking to witness her struggles with the corporate world. What I thought then was that some of us are just unlucky when it comes to employment. It was probably not the right fit for her, so I encouraged her to consider changing her job.
Poor Mr Wow had been listening to my incessant complaints about work for almost three years. Lucky me, he’s someone with endless patience.
One day, BAM!
‘I’m quitting my job,’ I declared out of the blue. I felt liberated just by saying the words.
With Mr Wow’s fullest support, I tendered my resignation the following day. (Have I told you that I have the best husband in the world?)
My mum attempted to change my mind by giving me a pep talk on how I should try harder. ‘Many people don’t like their jobs but they still persevere…’
‘Mum, I’m not those people! Maybe they are fine dragging their arses to work every day but I’m not! If they don’t want to do anything to improve their lives, that’s their choice. I’m trying to improve mine, don’t you get it? It’s not even about trying hard. I DID TRY! It’s about finding my calling… it’s about feeling happy and motivated and passionate about what I do!’
I closed my case and she gave me her blessing.
I wasn’t going to laze around at home, of course. A friend was thinking of starting a student care centre and wanted me to partner her. The deal was she would come up with the full capital (her family is obscenely rich) and I would be given sweat equity for my hard work and time. I was really excited about it and spent two months doing research and writing the business plan — a pretty solid one, I might add. Sadly, it didn’t work out. There was no sweat equity and I was just free labour. My friend said it was miscommunication but I knew it wasn’t. My gut told me to walk and I listened to it. Oh well, it was a valuable learning experience. One of my strong points is that I move on very quickly. Business is business; there’s no need to get emotional.
Throughout the year, I made a living as a private tutor and it was a pretty lucrative side hustle. I must be really good at teaching because my number of students kept growing — from a couple to 15! One day while looking at a student’s mind map, an idea came to my mind. I should start a business offering accelerated learning courses!
Business is business; there’s no need to get emotional.
I can’t quite recall how I got hold of the book that gave me what I call an overdose of revelations. The book that turned my ‘Secret to Success’ plans into a pile of ashes. The book that redefined what money meant to me.
Yes, you might have guessed it. I read ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki. In a nutshell, that book literally turned my life upside down! It was an awakening and there was no turning back.
In case you haven’t read the book, Robert Kiyosaki writes about the cash flow quadrants, namely the employee, self-employed, business owner and investor quadrants. I was fascinated by them, especially the business owner quadrant. You can say that I was bitten by the entrepreneur bug.
After that first book, I read whatever I could get my hands on, mainly books on entrepreneurship, business management, personal finance, investment, and the list goes on. Needless to say, Mrs Wow joined in on the reading frenzy. She would read something and insist that I read it and vice versa. We were two hungry entrepreneur wannabes devouring as much knowledge as we could.
We started exploring all kinds of potential business opportunities, scouring the web and classified ads, and even attending ‘the next big thing’ seminars. We looked into everything we could get our hands on — from taking over small brick-and-mortar businesses to starting an online business to buying a franchise.
And yes, it wouldn’t have been complete without considering joining a multi-level marketing (MLM) business. It actually got quite out of hand at one stage:
‘What the hell is that?’ asked Mrs Wow with an incredulous look on her face.
‘Er… don’t you think it looks cool?’ I responded with a sheepish grin.
‘NO! It looks like something from Turkey. You know, that thingy people puff… what is it called?’
‘The shisha? God, no! I bought this from the seminar I attended earlier this evening. Remember the one I told you about… the MLM company. It’s their flagship product. It’s an aromatic diffuser with a multitude of health benefits. See, it’s filled with a specially formulated essential oil and the flint goes on top. You light it and it burns like a scented candle. Doesn’t it smell wonderful?’ I demonstrated how the diffuser worked.
Mrs Wow was FUMING (and rightfully so). It was my bad. Can’t believe I fell for another
sales con pitch. In my enthusiasm, I ignored all the red flags.
First, it really was a stupid product. Second, the MLM company turned out to be a pyramid scheme and was eventually banned by the authorities.
I guess we all have our phases. Thank God this one didn’t last long and relatively little was vested. All I can say is, we’ve been there, done that, and MLM is definitely not for us.
Please don’t misinterpret. We’re not saying that all MLM companies are dodgy, just that we ought to be a little more careful before investing our hard-earned money into ‘the next big thing’. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Coincidentally, in the same year Mrs Wow had quit her job to pursue her dream of starting her own business. In hindsight, it was serendipity for sure. This was, without a doubt, the raw beginnings of our next adventure.
We eventually found THE business and took the plunge. I tendered my resignation (to the shock of my colleagues) and looked forward to my very first business venture with Mrs Wow.
Sayonara corporate world… hello business owner world!
For the record, I didn’t detest my job back then. Not the slightest. I was in fact happily employed. Was I out of my mind? Hell no. The thing is, every decision we make usually involves push and pull factors. In my case, the push factor was actually pretty weak.
Though it wasn’t a perfect job, I didn’t have a pain-in-the-ass boss, the office politics were manageable and I was genuinely interested in what I was doing. However, the pull factor of being a business owner was overwhelming. I realised that it was my true self, my calling.
I mean, so many have read ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, but you don’t exactly see people quitting their jobs in droves. I can’t think of any other way to explain it except that it just struck a chord within me. I thought to myself: if I don’t pursue it now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.
Be brave enough to live the life of your dreams according to your vision and purpose instead of the expectations and opinion of others.Roy T. Bennett, The Life in the Heart
Success doesn’t happen overnight. Read about our defeat next.