Lessons learned from my dad: a female entrepreneur’s story

Very recently someone asked me, what’s your parents’ background? How is it that you managed to start a startup (4 years and running, profitable from Penang and a female)? I have not thought long about it but I have always credited God for our success. Today on Father’s day I read Bob Go’s tribute to his dad and I realized that there are so many things I owed my dad for teaching me and I could never repay him for.

1. I will always owe him his love for me

My dad has never once told me he loves me until we started long distance phone calls and I was in a different continent— it’s typical Asian upbringing. I know that my dad loves us dearly — all 4 of us are the crowns in his life and I know there’s nothing he would not give in order to have the best for us.

My dad lost his dad when he was 18. Since then he was brought up by my matriarchal grandmother, the leader of my extended family with uncle, aunt and my dad in the family. My dad did not want his family to see poverty again and because of that- he dropped out of college and entered workforce early in his life. He studied accounting, has tried becoming a policeman, was working for a company til it was on a brink of bankruptcy and had no directors left. That was when my dad bought the almost-bankrupt company and worked hard to pay off its debts until where it stood today.

He travelled for business a lot when we were young. I remembered that every time he put us in the car to drive us around the island and we’d fall asleep, I kept wishing “please let this ride go on forever” because I wanted to be with my dad and mom so much.

2. I will always owe my dad the lessons he taught me as an entrepreneur.

My dad lived in a “dog eat dog” world and would always tell me to be suspicious or tread carefully on business relationships. He also grew up thinking that profit margins and growth were the two most important metrics in a business. Although he knew that his environment and mine were totally different, he never stopped cautioning me about people and the importance of understanding the financial health of things.

He taught me a lot about bookkeeping, accountancy and finance. Much of them I did not agree with. For example, our bookkeeping and finances are outsourced today. He always thought that as the pulse of the business and cannot be outsourced. More importantly I think he drilled into me the importance of treating team mates well. My dad has seen many people come and go but a lot of his people today have been there for over 10 years (coming from the manufacturing line). That is impressive considering most people stay in startups today for not more than 1.5 years.

Planning ahead was another thing he would tell me.

You need to know what plan A looks like, followed by B, C and D.

As cute as it was, he also wanted me to get on newspapers for all kinds of reasons. When we first launched, he organized for journalists from local Chinese papers to cover our story. That’s my dad’s method of showing his love!

3. I will always owe my dad his provision for us

I’ve lived a life that did not really know difficult times. My dad through all kinds of storms have managed to keep the frowns and near bankruptcy situation from us. It was only when I grew up that I learned about these things. He has raised us up to be independent, caring and responsible people. All my sisters have had education overseas and I can safely say that we have never lacked anything in our lives.

I remember one heart-wrenching moment. This was prior to the ideation of Piktochart. Back then, we rented a warehouse and it was on top of my dad’s office. Our finances were running low and I did not understand that the web design/development world runs on credit of up to 180 days. When I knocked on my dad’s door and he asked me to tell him how the business was doing, I started crying and I told him I don’t know what I was doing any more. I couldn’t understand why our clients would withhold cash when they are definitely richer/bigger than we were and I’m risking not paying our team mates their salary that month. My dad ended up loaning us an amount to get started and thanks to that cushion, I had enough bandwidth and courage to consider starting Piktochart.

4. I will always owe my dad for teaching me about parenting.

At times when I misbehaved, he has caned me with his leather belt. Although there weren’t many of these occasions, it frightened me and I have never wanted to get on the wrong side of my dad.

My dad was strict when he needed to be and by doing so, all of us grew up wanting to obey authorities. My dad did not express himself very much but in what he lacked, he showed us that we are so dearly loved in his life. He made sure that all of us got the best education and (contrary to many Asian parents) told us that our grades do not matter but it’s how you live your life that does. He always emphasized good running shoes, to get exercise and go on the right diet. I knew that those were the things that he grew up missing because he did not have someone teach him these things.

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” — Colossians 3:20

5. I will always owe my dad his forgiveness.

I grew up as a good student and top scorer in most of the subjects. However as I got to the rebellious 18, I wanted to do everything contrary to common sense. I am the eldest child and for my parents, watching their eldest child leave home to study in the UK was a difficult thing to do. The summer later when I came back, I saw my dad age very visibly and it broke my heart. For all those years that I have been away from home, I know it took a part of him away. For all those times that we debated topics especially related to business, I could have been more submissive and just said “Yes dad. You are right” instead of arguing the matter over and over again.

I am also sorry for the times when as daughter, I could have comforted my dad. Dad had an immense amount of pressure when raising 4 of us because of the failing business. Heavy drinking and smoking were his ways of escaping. He also probably had no one to confide in. I feel like we failed as children as we could have reminded him that all is not lost even if the business fails. If only he stopped carrying that heavy burden with him, he might not have had the gout and developed other health problems.

In 2012, I’ve also accepted Christ. For my parents, this was a drastic change because I’ve been a devout Buddhist before that. I went from holding joss sticks to not eating food offered on the altar. From going to the Taoist temple to telling them about how great God’s love is. My dad warned me not to talk about Jesus at home, but I couldn’t do it. I now look back and think how selfish I was to have not taken their feelings into consideration. I was not tactful as the only agenda in my mind was for him to understand that God loves him.

My message to you

Daddy, I’ve longed to tell you that we appreciate your sacrifices but it’s not the possessions/status in life that give us meaning. I only wanted to see you happy, making peace with your past and being able to love and receive love. I am sorry for all the times I’ve failed you as a daughter. I have often prayed for you to open your heart that God may heal you so that you will have love relationships with the people you love. I want you to remember that you will always be my dad no matter what season we’re in. I love you.