Stories of Resilience: Esther Wang
Editor’s Note: In this series, we explore how resilience shapes a person’s character, how it affects our emotional and psychological state and if there are times when we become more resilient to challenges, setbacks and failures.
forgetting the pain and starting all over again
jumping through hoops and tackling challenges with hope, again and again
staying the course, in spite of fear and pain, to complete what I have set out to accomplish.
Some call this grit. I just do what I have to do.
I consider resilience to be the ability to bounce back from setbacks and obstacles, time after time. And so, these words reflect my introspection on the subject.
When Wy-Lene invited me to share my story about resilience, my mind froze. My past 6 years have been filled with numerous challenging moments, and I have so much to say. Working through the decision paralysis and anxiety that accompanied this, I recalled what Yiping [Goh] shared during October’s Women of Worth dinner, which struck a chord in me—a trait of entrepreneurship is the ability to forget pain—and yet somehow we remember when the time is right. The pain of starting everything from scratch, the pain from all the troubles behind the scenes, and the courage to try again.
As a founder of a start-up called Joytingle, I am always in survival mode. My mind is always focused on solving problems when I encounter them, concentrating on inching forward, one step at a time. While keeping track of whether what I’m building, has any real, positive impact at all.
This entrepreneurial experience is not a journey I would wish on anyone—developing a hardware manufacturing product (with high sunk costs), obtaining certifications from international safety standards, designing with worst-case scenarios in mind (such as children throwing, stepping or even swallowing items), creating a multi-functional product that can cater to different user scenarios (from stressful clinical environments to special-needs schools) and juggling it’s usefulness/fun factor in different situations (from a doctor’s quick introduction to a young patient, versus 30 minutes of waiting time in a clinic). Everything had to look deceptively simple too, so users feel comfortable using it and discovering the toy at their own pace.
I recall moments of trepidation, such as when I bought a one-way ticket to visit factories in China. I was prepared then to not return until I had completed my task. My friends called me ‘brave’ for going to China’s fourth tier cities alone, but frankly, I was only doing the necessary to move forward. Another instance was when I demoed my product at a US health conference. I thought to myself: Can my product compete globally? Because I wanted to know if my product was good enough against what was out there in the market.
I recall the hesitation I felt when the thought of starting a company first occurred to me. I fought the idea for a long time. As a designer, I only wanted to perfect my skills of understanding how shapes communicate emotions, create functionality and intuitively make users understand how to use a product. But then I remembered how I felt when I was 17: when my ideas were beautiful on paper, but I just did not how to make them come ‘alive’.
A designer does not just create good designs, but also adds value to a user.
I realised then that it is not enough to have a good idea; the concept must be well-delivered, and every step has to be completed with integrity.
“誠品”. “誠” is keeping my word to my customers (言) and fulfilling what I set out to achieve (成就) with all my heart, and “品”—which is made up of 3 small mouths—means letting my product communicate my values.
By age 27, I’ve achieved what I had promised to my 17-year-old self. I’ve turned my ideas into reality despite being self-taught and facing obstacles such as having to pay for the entire product turn-key cycle.
There have been little moments of joy throughout my journey such as when I discovered that there were 7 aspects to consider before selecting the right screw. Happiness then was finding a hardware store with boxes of screws or being in a shop that sold screws, instead of shoes.
My resilience has been rewarded with stories from my users: I’ve heard from a 7-year-old brain tumour patient to hospital specialists worldwide telling me how they use Rabbit Ray with patients whom as young as one, to teenagers clamouring for it when specialists walk by.
I think my biggest obstacle was not the steep learning curve, but the lack of funding to put a product to market. I was then only a fresh graduate from school with an idea. I didn’t have a network in the healthcare industry, I lacked the know-how in product development, and had no money in the bank.
I’ve learnt grit through bootstrapping in order to have enough cash to pay manufacturers, partners and staff salaries. I still remember the process and the pain like it was only yesterday. If you add up the years of problem-solving and overcoming challenges, resilience also means remembering to learn during the crucial moments, and forgetting the pain so that you can pick yourself up again.
Resilience also requires a heart of gratitude, to always remember the help and support given by loved ones and like-minded people who believed in and cared about your growth. I used to think opportunities were hard to come by, but now I realise that opportunities will always come to those who persevere and stay committed to their cause.