Finding A Founder: An interview with Kym Huynh

Last week, Amber, one of the fabulous Community Managers at Inspire9 sat down with Kym Huynh, one of the Founders of WeTeachMe. Kym has been a long-term resident of Foundry9, and like many founders in our space has a fascinating startup story.

If you’re interested in chasing a career you love, developing trust in a team and caring for your co-founders, Kym has a lot of wisdom to impart on us.

When he is not pioneering the education industry, you can find Kym moonlighting as a wedding singer — he is known for busting out stellar renditions of Ed Sheeran’s classics.

Tell us about WeTeachMe.
 
WeTeachMe is the go-to place for Australia’s best and most popular classes. Whether it be coffee making, bread making, learning a language, learning a musical instrument, taxidermy or terrarium making, WeTeachMe will be able to provide you with all the information you need. Everything — from who the best teachers are, where to go, the cost, student reviews — is there for you to see so you can make an informed decision.
 
What made you take the plunge into the startup world?
 
From a very young age, I loved the process of creation. I later went on and studied to become a lawyer. During my time as a practising lawyer, I was never creating: I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t in love either.

Once I was interviewing at the largest law firm in the Asia Pacific region. I went through six or seven rounds of interviews and the hiring decision came down to the final two. It was around the same time I had booked my adventure to Greece, and I ended up paying more in flight deferral fees, than the actual plane ticket itself. After the final interview, I left for overseas and it was whilst I was out of Australia, that I received a call informing me that the law firm had gone with the other candidate.

I remember thinking at the time, “Oh! That’s not too pleasant.” The funny thing was that my friends and family were a lot more upset than I was: they were making plans for revenge such as toilet papering the firm, and one even started crying. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that if my reaction wasn’t as strong as those around me, perhaps the practice of the law wasn’t my true passion; and that our time here is short, and I should spend it doing that which I am truly passionate about.
 
When did you start developing the idea for WeTeachMe?
 
My whole life I worked really hard: through high school, university, internships, and working in the law. It was a long chain of effort and I was exhausted at the end of it.

While I was on a holiday in South America, I was involved in a car accident where I was badly injured. I needed surgery and had to stay in Chile for the surgery and initial recovery before I could return to Australia. Back in Australia, I spent approximately another year in recovery.

I believe there are moments in your life where you come to realise that life can be fickle. After I came to this realisation, I made a conscious decision to not waste the time that I have on something I am not 100% in love with.

Once I came to this decision, I met my co-founders through serendipity, and I made the choice to live and breathe this idea that we could one day leave a lasting and positive impact on the people around us, and our communities, by sparking curiosity and the joy in learning.
 
What has been the most pivotal moment in your startup journey?
 
For me, it has not been one defining moment, but a lot of little moments that reinforce the idea that my co-founders and I are in it together. What I have found with startups is that the highs are incredibly high and the lows are incredibly low. The only constant throughout is knowing that I have my co-founders by my side and we move on as a unit. We manoeuvre together and around each other.

We have all been through difficult times at different times. It’s amazing to watch our team support each other through times of struggle. We have put in a lot of effort into building a strong foundation of trust and respect. These moments have defined my time at WeTeachMe.
 
You hear so many stories about co-founder conflicts which comes as a bit of a shock and surprise for me. I am blessed and count myself lucky to go through this journey of bringing an idea to life, and growing an idea, with my co-founders by my side.
 
You touched on a good point about trust. What does it mean to develop trust among your co-founders?

When I need help or feel weak, my co-founders are there to support me, and to lift me. I do the same for them.
 
Where did you meet your co-founders?
 
Demi is my best friend from college, she was doing a Master’s while I was finishing my double degree in Law and Commerce. You have so much free time at uni and we often reflected on how magical and special that time was. Nowhere else in your life do you really get that again. WeTeachMe was our way of capturing that time. Where else do you get to spend every day with your best friend?

Martin, I met through an innovation event, and Cheng was a personal referral.
 
What made you want to work together?
 

Myself and Demi wanted to work together because we wanted to recreate the moments we shared at uni. A lot of people come and ask me whether they should go into business with a friend. I think nine out of ten, it’s a bad idea. But if it works, it works incredibly well. Luckily, for me and Demi, it works really well. The fuel that drives that is the trust and respect that we have with each other.
 
How do you align your skill set?
 
We [Myself and Demi] actually have very similar skill sets. We do personality quizzes and have all the same strengths and weaknesses [laughs]. Following on from this, we made a very deliberate attempt to train ourselves in different areas of the business.
 
How do you delegate tasks in order to accommodate co-founder skill sets?
 
Neither Demi or I knew how to sell. We started as salespeople for WeTeachMe. We love people, love interacting with people and talking to people. So we went out and we learnt how to sell WeTeachMe together.

Every day for the first 3 months Demi would be in tears from people being rude on the phone. Sales are very hard, but we leant on each other for support. There would be days we’d be driving in my old car, a black Peugeot. Bouncing from meeting to meeting all day, we’d start at seven in the morning, and finish at six or seven at night, completely exhausted. I’d be sleeping in the car whilst she was driving to the next meeting.

After we learnt how to sell, we realised no one was doing customer support. We’d sold all these customers, but then there was no one to look after them, so I shifted over to that role and Demi kept selling. Today she has moved into marketing and I look after the customer facing teams. We’ve shifted as the requirements of the business change, making the deliberate decisions to ensure that we up skill ourselves in different areas.
 
How do you manage different communications styles within a small team?
 
I believe all problems can be solved with good communication. Whether it be a conflict that you have with a client or a business partner, strong communication will help you resolve the issue. That said, good communication is hard.

The difficulty is when you’ve got so many different personalities and what each person wants to communicate isn’t being received. So for us, it’s been incredibly important that we have people in the team that navigate and fill those gaps when they’re needed.

Personally, I try to leave people a bit better than when I meet them. That’s something I implement in myself personally. For example, I would ask my team members how they are, if I can help them if they looked stressed. Sometimes I’m there not to offer a solution, but to be there for support. In my experience, people can sense when you’re genuine and authentic.
 
Do you have any advice for founders who are looking to seek out co-founders? Or just getting into the startup world?
 
Yes. One thing I always share with people if they ask me if I should go into business with a friend, I always say, ‘If you do, then it needs to be with someone emotionally intelligent, if you’ve got that, things just click, it’s just so much easier.’
 
What is your most memorable experience with a co-founder?
 
I was visiting one of our vendors: An incredible woman who holds dumpling making masterclasses in her own kitchen. She shows participants how to make dumplings and explains the history of the dumpling. Her mother is Elizabeth Chong, the famous chef! Her grandfather invented the “dim sum ” — the dim sim for western audiences. She comes from a long heritage of people incredibly passionate about food, and it oozes out of her. As I stood back to watch the scene unfold — film crew, professional photographers, and a few of our team members who were participating, I turned to Demi and said, “We created this. Isn’t it amazing?” to which Demi replied proudly, “Yes. We did. It is.”
 
It means so much when the vendors that we work with, appreciate the work that we do because we develop such close personal relationship with our clients.
 
What’s been one of the most challenging experiences of WeTeachMe? And achieving your goals in this space.
 
In the beginning one of the biggest challenges was financial insecurity. I am sure a lot of startups understand the overwhelming stress behind the cash flow of a business. For the first 18 months, we didn’t pay ourselves a wage so we were living off our savings accounts and credit cards.
 
It was one of the most stressful times of my life. I received advice from one of my mentors to start paying ourselves, and we did. That advice was really valuable. We paid ourselves a small amount to start which amounted to an enormous stress relief, fueled with positive psychological benefits. As the business grew, we started paying ourselves more. That was my biggest learning; financial stress can quickly overwhelm a person.
 
Have you experienced burnout?
 
Yes. Two or three times. No one really teaches you how to handle burn out so I had to learn how to identify signs. I notice signs through patterns in the way I work and if these signs become apparent, I force myself to take a break. It can be a bit insidious.
 
Where do you see WeTeachMe in the future?

Right now, we’re the biggest school in Australia! We offer 20,000 classes Australia-wide, and one day I would love for WeTeachMe to be the biggest school in the world.

I am driven by the vision to make a lasting and positive impact. WeTeachMe fills this need for me, as it aims to inspire curiosity and learning in people and encourage anyone, anywhere, to learn what makes their heart beat.
 
Thankyou

WeTeachMe works in Foundry9 at Inspire9 Richmond. They have grown to a team of 20+ members (four co-founders) who are making our community great, providing leaders for new members of Inspire9.