Genuine Empathy Through the Tears of My Child

Earlier this week, another great and unique moment happened in my world of fatherhood. It was the first time that I saw my 1 year old baby’s eyes water up. Not because she was angry or frustrated or crying to get attention. Her eyes welled up with tears because she felt sad for the “ugly duckling.”

Watching YouTube Videos in Different Languages

As she’s nearing 2 years old, we’ve been allowing her to watch some shows on YouTube. As a proud language learner myself and having experience teaching kids languages, and wanting to give her the gift of multilingualism, we’ve been letting her watch cartoons in English, Chinese and Spanish.

One day, I was searching for “dibujos animados” (cartoons in Spanish) when suddenly a cartoon was recommended called “El patito feo”, which means “The Ugly Duckling”. It was a Disney cartoon and I saw that it was really old. In fact, I think it was made in the early 1900s.

We watched it together, along with my wife and child, and I was disappointed when I found out early in the cartoon that there actually wasn’t any talking in Spanish at all in the cartoon, not even English. There were only duck and other animals sounds. I figured, oh well, might as well finish the 8 minute cartoon.

Enjoying Cartoons Without Any Verbal Language at All

As the story continued, the baby “ugly” duckling used its animal sounds and gestures and facial expressions to communicate its feelings. As it was rejected by its mother and siblings because it was different from the others, and began exploring the world on its own to find a new home and family, I could sense that my daughter was engrossed by the story. She didn’t wince or scream “No, no!” as she usually does when she doesn’t like the show.

In the end, the “ugly” duckling finds a beautiful mother swan and other siblings (different from his original family) and realizes that he is very similar to these new birds. Unlike his duck siblings who “quack”, the swans “honk” like him. Instead of laughing at his “honk” sound, the swans make the same sounds and accept him for who he is. He finds happiness in being like them, and is worried when they leave. But in the very last scene, he is relieved that the mother swan take him in as part of their family, while the duck family look on, baffled. It was really a beautiful story, and made me tear up.

My wife and I were more surprised though when we peered at Zoe’s face. Her eyes had watered up too. They were slightly red, and her face was blank but intense because she had been concentrating so much on the storyline. She had been sad for the little “ugly” duckling, and had been touched that it had found a new home even though it was rejected by its original mother, father and siblings.

Even after the cartoon had ended, Zoe still felt sad and a little awkward because she didn’t know how to react after feeling such a strong emotion.

Understanding My Child Through Her Body Language & Emotions

It was such a beautiful moment. It was the first time seeing her like this, and Fufu and I had to talk about it later on. The beauty of those tears was that it was raw and innocent. Unfiltered and real. She had felt for one of the first times in her life a sense of genuine empathy for the baby duck in the story, and I think it was because she could relate to the human need for belonging, family and ultimately, love.

Even though she has trouble saying words and sentences, she can still comprehend higher levels of language, such as emotions and body language. That really struck me, and we were amazed that even though she can’t yet uttereven 1 sentence, she can still understand when others feel hurt, afraid, lonely or sad. And she can empathize with them… even when they are little ducks in short cartoons.

I never want to forget this moment. I too was touched, not only by the cartoon itself, but by the overwhelming reaction by my 1-year-old baby daughter.

I guess it brought up my own feelings of wanting to be loved, accepted and the importance of family…

I think Zoe will also like Finding Nemo and Dumbo, and I can’t wait to watch them with her, but I think we’ll take a break for now from those really emotional storylines!

Check out El Patito Feo / The Ugly Duckling below:

I Love You, Teacher Matthew: My Experience Being a Teacher

I love you.

These 3 little words have such a significant meaning in our lives, and many of us live our whole lives striving (and even yearning) to hear these words and experience them.

That Awkward Moment When a Boy Said “I Love You” to Me

This week a 6 year old boy, Mars, in one of my English classes said this to me, and at first I felt uncomfortable.

“Happy Teachers’ Day!… I love you, Teacher Matthew.”

I was thankful when he said “Happy Teachers’ Day”, but when he threw in the “I love you” part, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was amazed that not only was he able to say it in English, but that he knew the meaning of it, too. Mind you, my students are all Chinese native speakers, and he was a 6-year old boy in one of the beginners classes of English.

I didn’t remember teaching him to say “I love you”, and I didn’t think it was in the textbook! That’s also why I was taken aback by it.

On the other hand, I felt awkward, and I’ll talk about that later in this post…

A Special Day for Teachers

Confucius Temple, Taiwan (Teachers’ Day also commemorates the historical Chinese teacher Confucius)

First a little background. It was culturally appropriate at the time because this week it was Teachers’ Day in Taiwan, which coincides with the day commemorating the historical Chinese teacher Confucius. Several kids in many of my English classes greeted me with a fervent “Happy Teachers’ Day!” because I’ve been teaching English to elementary and high school kids in Taiwan for over a year now.

It was a little strange to me at first, but it did bring a huge smile to my face and it did brighten up my day and really motivated me to teach with much more gusto and enthusiasm than usual.

I also saw a lot of other teachers being greeted, even showered with gifts and praise from parents and students throughout the day. I must admit that it really was humbling, and I appreciate that there is a day that honors teachers in Taiwan. I’m even more amazed and glad that parents and students actually take the time and effort to recognize the day as an official day for teachers, and greet them.

Why I Was Weirded Out By the Words “I Love You” From a 6-Year-Old Boy

When I walked into the English class where I teach bright-eyed, hyped up 6-year old kids, the kids there were still arriving and getting ready for the class. Mars slumped into his desk in front of me where he sat, and greeted me, while also professing his love for me.

I’m going to be honest, here.

Even members of my own immediate family have an awkward and difficult time to say those magical words “I love you” to me. Admittedly, I also have a hard time saying it, too. Of course with my wife and child, I hear and say those words often, but with other family members it’s usually assumed that you love them, and it becomes awkward to actually say those 3 words to their face. Isn’t that interesting?

But for Mars, the words “I love you, Teacher Matthew” just easily flew out of his mouth. At first, my body jerked and my face winced and blushed. I didn’t know what to do, what to say.

Should I say, “I love you” back to him? Would it be weird? Or should I just simply say “thank you”? Would he feel offended if I didn’t say “I love you” back?

Adults Are the Ones That Make The Word “Love” Weird. Kids Are Cool With It.

All the personal understandings I have about relationships, social norms, and cultural questions about using the phrase “I love you” came flooding through my head, and before I had any time to respond to Mars, he quickly scurried away to say hi and whack his friend – as little 6-year old boys do.

Then it was time to start the class.

I guess I didn’t have time to say “I love you” back, or “Thank you” to him personally, but I don’t think it bothered him in the end, so it was fine and I was happy.

At the end of the class, Mars and the other students waved goodbye to me and chanted aloud in unison, “Happy Teachers’ Day, Teacher Matthew!”, to which I bowed sheepishly and said “Thank you” to all of them.

The Highs and Lows of Being a Teacher

Teaching English in Taiwan

In Australia, the US and other Western nations, I know that there actually aren’t dedicated days for teachers as far as I know, and if there are, students and parents don’t really make the effort to do anything about the day.

I know I didn’t have that growing up as a student in Australia.

Having been a teacher for a few years now, after transitioning from running my own business and wanting to simplify my life more and discovering my interest for languages, I can say that I do have more insights about a teacher’s life.

There are days when you feel like you are really making an impact in the lives of your students. You feel glimmers of hope when you see them succeed and excel, and learn. You feel like you contributed to that. Those days are awesome. It’s awesome because you feel like you’ve changed a young person’s life for the better. Those magic moments are what drives a lot of teachers, and I’ve felt it too (even sometimes it may feel like there just aren’t enough of those moments).

Then there are the days where you hate being a teacher, and you feel like crap. You feel frustrated by the curriculum you’re stuck with. Why do we have to teach this? It doesn’t make sense. Or you feel stressed because you have a lot of work to do to prepare for a class, and there just isn’t enough time to prepare for it. Or you feel annoyed and even angry when little boys and girls go bat-s**t crazy, screaming at the top of their lungs, running around and waving their arms and legs, unable to stay still and quiet. Or you feel unsure of yourself when you try to motivate emotional teenage students who feel bored, don’t care, and are slumped in their seats.

Throughout all of this, as a teacher, you stand in the center of the room, bearing witness to the chaos and emotional roller coaster of it all. Yet, we do it because we know there is meaning to it all.

Confucius knew the value of education several years ago. And today, teachers still have an important role in shaping the minds and lives of young people today. I’m convinced of it, having spent hundreds of hours in the classroom with my students.

What I’ve Learned By Being a Teacher

I think I’ve also learned a lot as a teacher. I’ve learned a lot about people, how they learn, what motivates them, what excites them. I’ve also learned how to be more down-to-earth and connect with young kids and teenagers. Before being a teacher, I was actually really awkward around them. One of my goals for being a teacher was so that I could connect better with younger people, so that I actually could be a better father, and learn to connect with my own kids.

I especially wanted to be a teacher in English as a Foreign Language because I realized that I love the language learning process. I’ve been teaching myself Chinese and Spanish, which I absolutely love. Through teaching, I’ve been able to learn more about the methodologies and theories behind second language acquisition – what works and what doesn’t, and how to put them in practice for my students and for myself.

So, I think I’ve become a better person by being a teacher.

A Shoutout to My Own Teachers

Although there have been times where I reached out to thank teachers who made a profound impact on me personally. In light of being thanked this week, and being showered with love and praise, I want to give a shoutout and express my own personal gratitude and admiration for the teachers (many of them English teachers) and other inspirations (both inside and outside of formal schooling) who have positively impacted me in my own life.

Thank you.

Oh, and I love you too.

I Teach English Abroad… & Why I Moved On From My Startup PeoplePledge

When I started PeoplePledge with my wife (when she was only my girlfriend back then!), I never knew how much impact it would make.

So far, we’ve fundraised over $1,000,000 to help families struggling with their medical bills across Australia, USA and South America. We took our platform international, and spread the word about our crowdfunding platform overseas. We were nominated and won the Pride of Australia Medal. We were also nominated for the Young Australian Achievers Award. We were recognized as one of the Top 30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs in Australia for 3 years in a row. PeoplePledge also viewed as one of the Top 100 Smart Innovations, and also won a Startup Salud Award (Startup Health Award), and gained funding from Startup Chile, UDD Ventures and the Australian Government.

PeoplePledge has been with me since I proposed to my wife, got married and had my first child. It has not only been an integral part of helping other families, but it has also been an important part of my own life. In fact, the whole inspiration of PeoplePledge stemmed from my own family’s challenge with paying for the medical bills of my late grandfather. There is so much to love and admire about PeoplePledge, and together, our team and I poured our hearts and souls into creating it, growing it and sharing it with the world.

I learned what it took to create something you truly love, something amazing and inspiring, and to work on it with an unshakeable passion.

We’ve been running PeoplePledge since 2013, so for about 4 years now.

When we first started it, I had visions of it potentially being the one main thing that I would work on for my entire life, in order to help others and also using it as a vehicle to make a positive contribution in the world… but as of right now, things have changed.

What has changed for me?

A number of life events and business-related events have come across my way. Here are the top ones that have influenced my decision to move on from PeoplePledge:

a) Prioritizing my own family and health

PeoplePledge was all about helping other families and helping them with critical health issues that they were facing. The values of family and health were major themes of the business. Yet, when I began reflecting on my own life, I realized I began sacrificing my own family and health which I never wanted to do or intended.

During the PeoplePledge journey, I got married and then had my first child. Now, I realize that I have to take full responsibility of my own family, and that is paramount in my life, especially when I consider the time and focus I need to spend quality time with both my wife and child. I was finding that running a startup, especially a investor-funded one, has been very high stress and all-consuming, which is counterproductive to raising a young family with whom you want to spend time and for whom you want to be there.

Not only that, I slowly began to notice that I could no longer fit into any of my clothes. I had to buy larger clothes and many of my clothes began ripping because I was literally busting at the seams!!! I had become obese, and I was neglecting my own health. Looking back on it now, I turned to food as a comfort for when I felt stressed in my business and with the pressures of a new family. Also, I didn’t have enough time to prepare quality meals for myself so I ate junk food, and I also didn’t have time for myself to exercise. This also was a major contradiction to the value of health which we wanted to stand for with PeoplePledge, and it felt so weird for me to be dedicating all my time and energy to helping others’ health, when I couldn’t even take care of my own health properly.

b) Challenges with the crowdfunding market

Another problem we began to face was the the crowdfunding market itself. We were the first to bring the innovation of medical crowdfunding to Australia and to Chile, however, there was already very strong, highly funded competitive forces in the USA. We found that the largest and best market for our platform actually was the United States, where there was a big need for it, however we would need millions of dollars of more funding to compete there.

c) Sticking to our values

However, I would say the biggest problem that we faced was a major conflict of direction and values with our investors. When we took investor money, we had hoped that their goals and values aligned with our own, and we presumed they would give us advice while we would consider it, and generally leave us alone to let us do what we did best. Our primary focus was to help families with their medical bills, and we wanted to do it in a lean, cost-effective way, and we wanted to have the biggest say in the direction of PeoplePledge.

We had thought that the investors would respect our vision, expertise and methods, but once they wrote us the checks, they tried to take over the company, telling us what to do, and demanding that we focus on selling and making money, and they were very nonchalant about wasting money, or to put it bluntly “flushing money down the toilet”. What’s worse is that they had some of their staff giving us advice about marketing and entrepreneurship when some of their staff members had no experience in marketing or being an entrepreneur themselves.

I don’t mind getting advice from others who have experience. I do mind being told what to do by others who don’t know what they’re talking about, and just pretend to. I put more weight on advice given by people who have had success in the area in which they are giving advice. What irked me most was that some investors and their staff members demanded certain things that were against PeoplePledge’s core values, and yet they were not the major shareholders of the company, so they didn’t have the right to do so.

Brutal lesson learned: Taking investor money is not always a good thing. Sometimes it’s actually better not to take investor money. If you do take investor funding, you need to know, like and trust your investors, and they need to respect you and how you do things, and it’s best that they have had success and expertise in key areas that will help your business.

What will happen to PeoplePledge?

We sold off our business and medical crowdfunding tech in Latin America, and we parted ways with our investors with whom we were having conflicts. We closed down the PeoplePledge office in Chile, and we are no longer going to offer medical crowdfunding services in the USA.

Doing this was not an easy decision, and it has taken about a year or so to do all of this, during which I had a lot of time to reflect on PeoplePledge, my family and myself.


Don’t worry? —? PeoplePledge Australia isn’t going anywhere. PeoplePledge Australia is our baby, and that’s where it all started, and I still see the need for it in Oz. Therefore, we are still continuing medical crowdfunding for struggling Australian families.

We designed it to be easy to maintain so there’s absolutely no reason to shut it down. I’ll fix serious bugs, ensure smooth running of the service, and may think about ways to reinvest some of the revenue to improve it. But I’m not good at focusing on many things at once, so for my own sanity I’m considering it feature complete while I focus on my family and also get started at my new job as Teacher in a school in Asia.

This wasn’t an easy decision since it cuts short PeoplePledge’s potential. But actually it’s already met the modest goals I set out to achieve 4 years ago. Despite PeoplePledge having struggled as a startup and the pains and hardships we had to go through, I consider it a success.

If anyone decides to use PeoplePledge Australia from now on, please get in touch if you have any major problems, but please keep in mind that most of the service will be automated and that we’ve scaled down our team, and we will only be working on it part-time from now on.

What exciting projects am I working on right now?

Immediately after moving on from PeoplePledge in Latin America and the USA, I had several months of soul searching. I felt lost and confused. I didn’t do much in terms of work and I intentionally did not keep myself busy, so that I could have plenty of time to spend with my new family, and figure out what I want to do next.

As for the future, I’m excited to teach English abroad in a Private English School in Asia. This sounds a little random and left-field, but it’s actually not.

During the time I was in Latin America to grow PeoplePledge, I taught myself Spanish since I needed it for business and for my everyday living. As I developed my Spanish language skills, I realized that I loved the language learning process. Not only that, there were actually times when cash flow with PeoplePledge was tight, so I would teach English part-time to Chilean business people, high school students as well Spanish diplomats and lawyers. I discovered that I actually had a knack for teaching languages too, and for sharing my knowledge on how to learn languages efficiently, using research-based methods and the latest technology.

I decided to teach English in Asia, since I can still teach English as a Foreign Language to students, but I also have the ambitious goal to teach myself Chinese (which I have been trying to do for a long time now, but have consistently failed in the past). Plus, living in Asia means I’m closer to my extended family in Australia (which is important for my child).

I’m teaching English part-time for only a few hours a day, which gives me more hours in the day to exercise, spend time with my wife and child, and even time to work on passion projects related to language learning and tech.

In future, I envisage myself perhaps building technology related to language learning, education and literacy. Right now, I’m really interested in the fields of applied linguistics and computer-assisted language learning.

I’ve already built myself some apps that I’ve hacked together for myself, which I may release to the public. But for now, I’m working on them in private, and simply for myself. I just want to focus on understanding the language learning and education fields, and focus on actually helping my students in my classes succeed and reach their goals.

I’m also getting interested in projects related to affordable homes, as I’m finding that I seem to have an interest in real estate and housing, but this project is still in the idea-stage.

Overall, I want to simplify my life and focus on my family and health. Of course I still want to help and inspire people, as I see that as my life’s mission, but for now I teach English abroad… which certainly is still very important.

3 Reasons Why David Heinemeier Hansson is Correct: You Don’t Need Investors to Start a Business

DHH during Dave Thomas' TalkPersonally, I think David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) is correct when he says that the VC, angel investment is a gamble, and that entrepreneurs should be very careful when taking money from investors. DHH is the founder of Ruby on Rails and Partner at 37Signals. I recently listend to an interview with DHH on a podcast, and I’ve been listening to DHH’s thoughts and philosophies ever since I started on my own entrepreneurial journey.

Bootstrapped Business VS Angel/VC-Funded Startup

Spils giving some coding tips to DHHWhen I was just starting out as an entrepreneur, I would listen to DHH’s point of view of the long-term, sustainable, profitable and bootstrapped business, and I would compare it with the view of actual angel investors, venture capitals and the general startup media’s portrayal of the hero entrepreneur who gets millions of dolars of investment.

My first ventures would all be bootstrapped. But as my startups gained traction, I did try out the angel, VC-route.

My most recent startup originally gained traction on a very smal team withe bootstrapped funds and a few grants. Nevertheless, when I joined an incubator, the pressures of getting an angel or VC investment started to influence me, and i thought: “Why not take the money?” And I did pitches in front of investors, met up with investors for coffee at their offices for “chats”, and eventually we did take money from an investment firm.

1) We were distracted with chasing money, rather than focusing on building value

While the experience was very useful to understand how to pitch, raise money and woo investors, I think we did waste alot of time trying to get money instead of actually building the business and providing more value to customers. DHH is right in that you lose focus and raising money ends up being like a “drug”, and you always are trying to get a bigger and bigger hit (infusion of cash from investors).

2) Investor has different values & agenda to us

What really bothered me in the end thought was not so much the waste of time, but what irked me was that the investor we ended up going with actually had different values to us. Not only that, they tried to heavily steer the direction of the company even though their number of shares was minimal and I felt they actually had no personal experience in certain matters that they were so adamant about. It felt as if they thought they knew the business better than we did, even though they had no entrepreneurial experience nor no experience in the field of the business. The investors really pushed us to make short-term profits and hitting those targets instead of considering about building long-term value for customers. They also forced us to make certain hires that was in their interest, but not in the interest of the business.

3) Investor did NOT help us when we needed it, even though it would have been so simple for them to do so

Furthermore, whenever we asked them for help, they never gave it. For example, we knew they had some contacts with certain clients and I asked them for an introduction and they said they would arrange it, but never did. That annoyed me. More and more we questioned their value to us. They couldn’t even do basic tasks such as following up something they said they would do to help us, and yet they would totally flip if we had different opinions to them and wanted to do other things our way. The attitude seemed to be that the investor just wanted to give us money, then dictate for us what to do, and then not even genuinely help us wout when we needed it. I now see the value of smart money, and if I were to do it all over again, I would not take their money. I would rather take investment from someone who truly would help us (at the very least, if it was simple for them to do), and to give us advice because they actually had first-hand experience as an entrepreneur in the same field as my business.

Can You Build a Profitable, Fun, Bootstrapped Business that Lasts 10+ Years?

Having sold that business, and having a few months break of reflecting on it all, I’m ready to move on and try another venture. This time around, though, I will take on DHH’s advice to go at it alone, bootstrap, and focus on a business that I am personally passionate about, without having to chase money and investors and getting tripped up by the whole vicious circle and reliance on funding. I’ve started businesses in a bootstrapped fashion, but never grew and sustained them over 10+ years, which DHH has done. I wonder if I can do it, and that’s what I’m aiming to do now as I move forward.

3 Ways to Come Up With Ideas For Your Next Business

ThoughtAre you stuck trying to figure out how to come up with a business idea for your next startup? This post will help you, based on my current experiences tryin to figure out a new business that I will launch.

Take Time to Think Through Your Business Ideas

In my post yesterday, I talked about how I recently sold my previous startup business, and I am now in the process of transitioning to move on to another idea. So this post is just as relevant for me right now as it is for you.

I’ve been reflecting on what sort of things I want in my next venture. What sort of factors should I consider for it? What makes it a good business idea versus one that will suck and won’t work?

3 Factors For Your Next Business Ideas

Here are 3 things to think about to help you brainstorm some business ideas for your next startup:

1) What are Your Passions & How Could You Turn That Into a Business?

Think about what you are passionate about. What gets you excited? What turns you on? Do you have a hobby that fixates your mind and attention? And what if you somehow turned that passion into an actual business?

It’s certainly not impossible. That’s something that I am personally trying to do right now. I love languages!!!!! So for my next venture, I am certainly thinking of ways to get into the language learning industry because I feel that I naturally am inclined in this area, and I would do well in it compared to others who aren’t passionate about it.

2) What are Your Skills & Connections & How Could You Use Them For Your Startup?

Consider your skills and connections. Even though you may be passionate about something, you may actually suck at it in terms of your skills. So another area to be brutally honest with yourself is in regard to your skillset, and your connections.

I’ve actually been learning languages for 10 years, and am very familiar with all the different ways to learn foreign languages. Not only that, I recently began teaching English in foreign countries to high school students, businesspeople, diplomats and lawyers. Therefore, I have skills in learning and teaching languages and I also have a number of networks and connections in the field.

3) What are Markets or Industries That Fascinate You & What’s Their Market Size

You MUST think about the market you’re going to get into and its market size. This is very important. It’s crucial in fact. Don’t just be selfish and consider your personal passions and skills. Also, take into account the market that you will help with your passion and skills. The market must be big enough.

If you don’t know how big your market is, you can check out this 5 minute sniff test to quickly sniff out whether your proposed market is big enough and has profit potential.

Don’t Waste Your Time on Startup Ideas That Will SUCK

Overall, there’s a bit of an art and a science to coming up with business ideas. Just consider these factors to get you started and to screen your ideas so that you don’t get too overwhelmed. Screening your ideas in this fashion can also help you to save time and money!!