This is Part 3 of a four-part series. If you have not already read the following articles, it’s highly recommended you do so:
- Our Story and Business Adventure Part 1: The Beginning
- Our Story and Business Adventure Part 2: The Defeat
Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.Charles Xavier (X-Men)
October 2005 marked the inevitable demise of our first business. We coped with it quite well and dealt with things as they were, but our finances were decimated. At one point, we were so broke that we thought of selling our piano and electric guitar to pay our bills. That was a really low point. Fortunately, Mr Wow managed to find a job quite soon, so we didn’t have to sell anything.
Despite the setback, we remained relatively positive and maintained our sense of humour. We also talked about our mistakes and how we could do better the next time (if there ever was a next time). Still, our marriage suffered to a certain extent. There was increased tension in the last few months of our business and we argued A LOT. I would say it was 40 per cent comforting words and 60 per cent venom, and I was definitely the more venomous party.
The truth is, I was a very difficult person to work with. I demanded a lot from myself and expected others to be just like me. I was a living machine, a slave driver and a nitpicking perfectionist. At the same time, my OCD was getting more severe, so I was giving Mr Wow hell every moment of my waking hours. Ok, that might be an overstatement, but he definitely got a lot of shit from me.
As if our year wasn’t eventful enough, Mr Wow had a sneaking suspicion that I might have Asperger’s syndrome (a mild form of Autism Spectrum Disorder), so he talked to me about it. He guessed correctly. I do have it. This awareness has benefited us tremendously. It brings clarity to my bizarre behaviour, past and present, and helps me to regulate my emotions. I think I’m a lot easier to work with now but it’s not for me to say. I’ll let Mr Wow be the judge of that.
There are many pros and cons of husband and wife running a business together. It’s definitely not for everyone. It brings out not just the best, but also the worst in us. Mrs Wow and I were no exception. Let’s just say she gave new meaning to the word ‘relentless’.
There are many pros and cons of husband and wife running a business together. It’s definitely not for everyone. It brings out not just the best, but also the worst in us.
For instance, one day while running our business (the one that failed), we found ourselves working into the wee hours of the morning. It just so happened that the live telecast of the Euro Cup finals 2004 was airing that very same morning. Portugal vs Greece.
Perfect. It would be a great way for me to unwind after a hard day’s work, I thought gleefully.
Mrs Wow felt otherwise. ‘No way! No rest till we finish this!’
‘What the… I’m not a machine!’ I blurted.
Mrs Wow kicked up a shit storm. I said some things I didn’t mean and the argument went downhill after that. Looking back, it was so pointless. Neither of us got what we wanted. Work became less productive for almost a week (a ‘cold war’ ensued) and I didn’t get to watch the Euro Cup final either. Although we eventually made up, deep down I still couldn’t understand why Mrs Wow was such an extreme workaholic. By the way, I can safely say that I’m definitely no slouch when it comes to work. However, this is where Mrs Wow and I differ — My motto is: work hard, play harder. Mrs Wow’s motto is: work till you drop!
To be honest, I was very confused by Mrs Wow for a while. She would be the sweetest, most caring creature one moment, and the next, she turned into this work demon from hell. At first, I thought it must be the stress. I even entertained the idea that she might be bipolar (I know now, definitely not). Things just didn’t quite add up, especially when I thought about her past ‘episodes’ before we even started working together.
It was just a nagging feeling I had, which prompted me to do a little research online. One click led to another and I finally came across Asperger’s syndrome. It never occurred to me that she might have mild ASD until I started reading up more. She eventually got herself tested and took the news very well. Finally! Everything made so much sense. If you’re interested, Mrs Wow wrote a very interesting post on living with Asperger’s.
For sure, Mrs Wow is a lot easier to work with these days. She has toned down immensely and would no longer go ballistic when I take breaks. My mission now is to get her to take breaks.
I was VERY LOST. I started tutoring again as I refused to go back to the corporate world. NO WAY. Not even to humour my parents! A friend then suggested that I become a realtor since I’m quite good at sales. I tried it for six months and it wasn’t for me. Next.
On my end, I was in full corporate swing. It was back to morning hour traffic, back to a 60-hour, five-day work week and back to the world of work-related acronyms. Although my salary wasn’t fantastic (thanks to two years’ worth of opportunity cost), I deeply appreciated having a stable income once again. Underneath, I continued to reminisce about my first business venture with Mrs Wow. ‘What a ride!’ I would often think.
Mr Wow and I were not spending enough time together. On weekdays, he slept at 11pm while I slept at 4am. On the weekend, he exercised and watched TV while I tutored students. I hated it. Despite all the ups and downs, working with him was truly the best thing ever.
My next business idea was to start a fancy juice bar. I spent quite a lot of time researching the market and concocting an array of juices in my kitchen. I wanted to call my juice bar ‘Forbidden Fruit’. How cool is that, huh? It failed to materialise because the numbers didn’t add up. Maybe the name jinxed it.
I was 30 and very unaccomplished. My life felt lacking in direction and I grappled with self-doubt. Every day, insecurities and questions about my choices would flood my mind and I was going nuts. I used to have a sense of confidence, even arrogance, about me. It was gone and I was unhappy and scared.
My life felt lacking in direction and I grappled with self-doubt. Every day, insecurities and questions about my choices would flood my mind and I was going nuts.
One day in November, BAM!
‘I’m going to find a job,’ I said impassively.
Mr Wow looked intently at me.
‘I just feel that I should give the corporate world another shot, you know. I’m not getting any younger, so it’s now or never. If it doesn’t work out, at least I tried. And it’s not like I’m doing anything important now…’
With Mr Wow’s fullest support, I updated my resume and commenced my job search immediately.
Yes, I was a defeatist. For a while.
I could hardly believe it at first. I never thought Mrs Wow would ever consider going back to the corporate world again. But one fine day, lo and behold, she dropped the bombshell and the next thing I knew, she was sending out her resumes. And thank God… no more juicing! I’ve never had so much freaking fruit juice in my life before!
To be honest, I was getting more than a little worried about her state of mind. Even though she was keeping herself occupied, she was still clearly unhappy. I could tell that she was trying to find herself again and I prayed that rejoining the workforce would make her happier. However, deep down, I knew it was a long shot.
I was back in the corporate world by mid January. Frankly, I was surprised that I was still employable. In fact, I was so blessed that I received two attractive job offers on the same day! I chose to work at an educational institution as I thought the work would be more meaningful. I told myself to adopt a positive mindset, that I should be glad that I still had ‘commercial value’.
But God had another plan for me, a higher purpose… so He won’t allow me to derail from it for long.
Working life sucked! My boss was a toxic nerve agent and I was utterly miserable. Why can’t I have a normal career?! I tendered my resignation after one year. GOODBYE FOREVER CORPORATE WORLD!
True enough, Mrs Wow’s journey back into the corporate world didn’t last. At least she tried. I was glad she could finally move on without regrets. I couldn’t help but wonder what her next big business idea would be.
Meanwhile, I got promoted at work and became head of department. I was in a comfortable position, but some days, I felt I was just going through the motions. Could I see myself doing this till the age of 65? Something began to tug at my heart again. However, I would brush it off and tell myself that I should be contented that I have a job. And so life went on…
2009 was a momentous year. I knew with absolute certainty that my destiny was to be an entrepreneur. I told Mr Wow to kill me if I ever talked about giving up again. I spent my free time reading voraciously and thinking about business ideas. To cover my monthly expenses, I tutored a few more students (despite working full-time, I didn’t stop my side hustle) and taught part-time at a private school. Eventually, I found mental clarity and came to the realisation that it wasn’t mere coincidence that my first business, last corporate job and side gigs were all in the education industry. This is where my interest and strengths lie and I should do what I do best.
I explored a few possibilities (even childcare) before deciding on an English enrichment centre. It made perfect sense:
|Knowledge & Expertise
|I know the industry and business very well.
|Market & Demand
|Lots of demand. Like many Asian countries, Singapore is obsessed with education. Kids here attend all sorts of enrichment and after-school programmes from music to cording to martial arts. Speech and writing courses are especially popular.
|Totally different from our first business. The competition is fierce but it doesn’t matter that the market is saturated. If I’m entering it with a better offer, if people like the way I teach, I’ll kill the opposition.
|Relatively low. Mostly renovation and furniture.
|Very low. Mainly rental and utilities.
|I like the education industry. Teaching is also hugely rewarding and I’m naturally good at it.
Mr Wow was behind me completely. In fact, he readily agreed when I asked him to join me on this adventure! Woohoo!
The rest of the year went by in a flash. Mr Wow continued to work full-time while I took on another copywriting side gig to save up for the business. When we were not working, we were busy making plans. We were determined to FOCUS — Follow One Course Until Successful.
By now, it became clear to me that there was little job satisfaction or passion in what I was doing. Although I felt a great sense of responsibility towards my team members (I thoroughly enjoyed working with all of them), at the end of the day, I had to be brutally honest with myself — it was the steady pay cheque, the year end bonus that motivated me most.
So when Mrs Wow told me about her English enrichment centre idea, I got goosebumps! I crunched the numbers and was convinced it had a high probability for success. This could definitely work. The business had a relatively low start-up cost (or rather something we could confidently manage and fund ourselves), good cash flow and a very healthy profit margin. It was also a business we were passionate about. Profit with passion. Perfect! But unlike the past, I was in no rush to quit my job. Unlike the past, we would do things differently.
We knew exactly where we wanted to be and never looked back. Read about our comeback next.