Krystal Choo: A Triple Threat
I see it in Krystal Choo’s eyes – raw, unadulterated passion mixed with dogged tenacity to succeed. Her hunger and fiery intensity comes from a deep-seated place. “I feel like I’ve lived many lives already: there was my battle with depression, the failed entrepreneurship, and the poor kid who didn’t have anything. All these different lives have shaped me into the person I am today. If you had met me previously, you wouldn’t be able to tell that I was the same person.” For someone so young, there is something touchingly frank and open about Krystal that not many will disclose upon first instance. Her vulnerability doesn’t go unnoticed; underneath her auburn tresses, sultry gaze and impressive hourglass figure.
Going by Krystal’s appearance, it is easy to make assumptions: cue the side-eye glances and snide undertones. However, as a CEO of a start-up called Wander, Krystal seems free of artifice – zipping around her office on a scooter in a white bodycon dress and red puma high-top sneakers. Her positivity is infectious as she introduces her team and makes light-hearted comments on how she cannot sit still.
In a sea full of male technopreneurs, Krystal is akin to a mermaid. However, this constant ‘mythical-creature-like’ portrayal seems to be a bête noire for her. “I’m constantly being asked on what it is like to be a woman in the male-dominated tech industry and I’ve difficulty answering that,” Krystal confesses, her voice slipping into a slightly vexed tone. “I see myself as an individual and my traits are not gender-specific. I don’t think I bring any ‘feminine’ traits to the industry.” Her conviction is powerful and as we plonk ourselves down on the squashy bean bags, she makes a rare remark on how she had only two days off since the start of the year. I can’t help but think that I was right all along – never judge a book by its cover. She’s a triple threat with beauty, brains and personality.
WY-LENE YAP: What do you wonder about?
KRYSTAL CHOO: My life.
WY-LENE: What about your life?
KRYSTAL: I wonder if I will ever reach my full potential.
WY-LENE: In what sense?
KRYSTAL: Self-actualisation. What can I do to leave a mark on this world? Whether it is one person whom I have worked with or an entire thing which I am building that affects people.
WY-LENE: At Invest ASEAN 2015, you said, “Strike a really good superhero pose to start your day.” What’s yours?
KRYSTAL: It’s a Superman pose – hands on the hip, wide stance, head up and smile. Scientifically, “power posing” lowers your stress levels and increases your creativity and motivation. It is a good way to start the day.
WY-LENE: Why not Wonder Woman?
KRYSTAL: That’s the classic Superman pose. I guess it could be Wonder Woman too – it just didn’t occur to me because I never watched that cartoon.
WY-LENE: Did you watch a lot of cartoons when you were younger?
KRYSTAL: Yeah, a lot of Marvel, X-Men and Batman.
WY-LENE: Which is your favourite?
KRYSTAL: X-Men of course!
WY-LENE: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
WY-LENE: How did your love for technology start?
KRYSTAL: I can’t quite answer that because it has been around since forever. When I was a kid, every time I went to a mall, I would run into an electronics store and start typing away on the PCs. I would also look at the specs and slowly figure it out. Later on, whenever I managed to get a phone, I would swap a phone out every 2 weeks and mod them. I used to go to the night markets and my dad would give me 10 dollars to buy whatever I wanted, and I would always run to the pirated CD-ROM store. It was one for 8 dollars and two for 12 dollars, but I would negotiate the price down to 11 dollars. I had to beg my dad for the extra dollar – sometimes, he would give it to me – other times, he would tell me to “figure it out”. Subsequently, I also bought Adobe Creative Suite and Macromedia Studio, and that was how I learned web design and development.
WY-LENE: Was it hard teaching yourself how to code at 12?
KRYSTAL: As a kid, I didn’t really see it that way. I have always been a curious person and I still am – when I encounter something new, I like to figure things out. Incidentally, after some time, I learnt how to make websites, animations…
WY-LENE: What languages do you use?
WY-LENE: How did the idea to develop Wander come about? I heard that you were in Bali with Darius [Goh] and you were playing with Tinder.
KRYSTAL: [laughs] Actually, prior to Bali, I had already thought about Wander. In Bali, I was figuring out the name and how the interaction should be like – that was why I was playing with Tinder. I thought a travel app for singles would be very interesting, but it was just a concept back then.
WY-LENE: So the idea was in your mind all along.
KRYSTAL: Yeah, it was a combination of a few factors too. I noticed that a lot of my single girlfriends were travelling with guys they had just met. My designer who was doing a month-long trekking trip across Central Asia couldn’t find a travel buddy. I was also single, so why not a travel app for singles? I tested the idea on reddit and the response was great. Furthermore, my single friends loved the concept even though they hadn’t seen a mockup.
WY-LENE: From my understanding, Wander is an app for singles to search for other like-minded individuals to travel together and it is not a dating app. Surely people use it to hook up.
KRYSTAL: Singles are going to do what they want to do. But I envision Wander to be a platform where people can share their moments with other people. As a girl, when I’m overseas, using Wander is a little safer than picking a random dude from a bar… it can get a bit dodgy.
WY-LENE: Is it a bonus if they fall in love too?
KRYSTAL: I definitely don’t push for any kind of love in this app because long distance relationships are hard. It’s okay if you’re travelling with someone who is also from the same city. I think singles have a different kind of fun with other singles. For instance, if you were to go out with a friend (who is coupled up), the kind of things you discuss and do, are very different than if you were to go out with a single friend.
WY-LENE: Couples tend to be boring.
KRYSTAL: I wouldn’t go that far but I would say that they enjoy different things. So, what is considered fun for a single person would probably not be as fun for someone in a relationship. In terms of late-night partying, some people in relationships have partners who are not comfortable with that. But for singles, it’s almost never an issue if that’s your personality. The kind of conversations which singles tend to have are a little flirty and the boundaries can get a bit blurry too. As such, a scenario can take place whereby two people can have a special moment on their holiday – like sharing a sunset together.
WY-LENE: If you could go to any place right now, where would you go?
KRYSTAL: Honestly, I would stay right here, because this is what I want to do at the moment. If I didn’t have my start-up, I would probably go to Spain.
WY-LENE: What is your best travel story?
KRYSTAL: [long pause] My life is a series of very random experiences, so my answer will vary depending on how I feel. I sailed on a yacht in San Francisco with Phillip Rosedale (founder of Second Life), I got picked up on Wall Street by a banker – he bought me candy and we sat by the harbor and he explained the different parts of New York to me…
WY-LENE: Have you personally used Wander before when you travel?
KRYSTAL: No, I haven’t because we just launched on the App Store last month. The Android version is out on the Play Store too.
WY-LENE: Was there an official launch?
KRYSTAL: Not yet, but I have plans to do something really exciting for our official launch in May!
WY-LENE: Are you going to launch Wander in other countries too?
KRYSTAL: Yes, in the U.S for sure. But before that, I would like to target certain markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, Taiwan and Korea first.
WY-LENE: How is the traction like for Wander so far?
KRYSTAL: 30,000 matches were made on the app.
WY-LENE: Who are your users? And where are they from?
KRYSTAL: We have got some interesting statistics. The users from the top 5 countries are: U.S (38%), Singapore (36%), and the last 3 countries are South Korea, Brazil and Switzerland.
WY-LENE: Based on these stats, do you think Asians are less adventurous or willing to pair up with a travel buddy?
KRYSTAL: Travelling culture is definitely very different in Asia. Asia has the highest year-on-year growth than any other region. In the UK, growth is slowing and in the U.S, there is practically no more growth. But it’s just a cycle. I don’t think Asians are less adventurous but the concept of travelling alone is a bit newer in Asia, so the adoption rate will come from a younger demographic.
WY-LENE: I read that you managed to raise US$500,000. How many more rounds of fundraising are you planning?
KRYSTAL: Probably two more rounds, but I’m going to try to do it in one.
WY-LENE: Ideally, how much would you like to raise?
KRYSTAL: 4 to 10 million – depending on how rapid the expansion is.
WY-LENE: How big is your team?
KRYSTAL: At the moment, 10.
KRYSTAL: My vision is for us to be the go-to community for any single in the world that has an international mindset. I would love for our travellers to meet locals as well. For someone like me, I’m not going to be gallivanting in the next 6 months, but it will be nice to meet other people from different cultures and show them my city – the nooks and crannies and things they cannot find in a brochure. I want Wander to be an app which people can use 200 times a year because they are meeting people from all walks of life and not just when they are travelling. Hopefully, if someone’s on Wander for a year, they will have friends in every city.
WY-LENE: What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
KRYSTAL: When you’re unemployable, but still want to work. [laughs] Essentially, that’s what I am. I don’t have patience for inefficient processes or bureaucracy. I like to change things for the better – which is sometimes not accepted in organisations. I think entrepreneurs are romantics because every entrepreneur out there pictures a reality that doesn’t yet exist.
WY-LENE: Or they could be twisted… it’s a journey full of struggles and hardships.
KRYSTAL: [laughs] Yeah, I wouldn’t say that it is rewarding in a tangible way. When you’re just starting out, you definitely don’t get paid well. It’s not about the money. I mean it’s quite cliché but it is actually about the journey (personally and professionally). I think I do more in 6 months than a lot of people who have had a 10-year career in an organisation because there is some form of repetition. If you look at it like a “T”, there is a high chance you will develop some kind of depth. But as an entrepreneur, you develop the breadth and that encompasses everything like helping my guys with coding, marketing, fundraising, etc… all of which are done almost simultaneously. This definitely pushes your boundaries of what you think you can do.
WY-LENE: Did you ever imagine being one?
KRYSTAL: No, never. I never imagine myself coding or even starting a business. I did it because I wanted to create something and everything just kind of followed from there. Actually, I think this is quite a commonality with entrepreneurs – they stumble into it, or rather, fall into entrepreneurship. Interestingly, I have not met entrepreneurs who started something because they wanted to be their own boss. It’s usually a push or a pull. For me, it’s a pull – I want to create something new and this idea pulls me in. For others, it’s a push – they are so jaded with X and Y, that they want to do their own thing.
WY-LENE: In recent times, the start-up scene has gotten sexy.
KRYSTAL: It’s not at all. It’s a sweet hell. That being said, entrepreneurship is deeply fulfilling because you are the one who makes all the decisions and that gives you a sense of purpose.
WY-LENE: Can you be “happy” as an entrepreneur?
KRYSTAL: My definition of happiness is having a purpose in life and I’m happy every day no matter how frustrated or stressed I am, because I have chosen this path. I know a lot of people can’t say this about themselves or about their jobs because they are not happy. I think people need autonomy, but unfortunately they don’t have that at their workplace.
WY-LENE: What’s the biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur?
KRYSTAL: There are two misconceptions. First, you’re your own boss. In reality, you’re a slave to your team, clients, investors and suppliers. Basically, you’re responsible for everything. The second one is that you can make a lot of money. You might be able to make a lot of money but you shouldn’t go in just for the money… and besides, there are far easier ways of making money.
WY-LENE: How about the most challenging aspect?
KRYSTAL: For certain large business decisions, it is challenging to understand when to push on (even when you have nothing left) and when to give up (even if you still have a lot to give). You have to know: this is not working, so that you can have more time to re-evaluate and shift your focus onto something new. I’m someone who refuses to give up and sometimes that can be a detriment.
WY-LENE: Do you use your beauty as an advantage in your career?
KRYSTAL: Everyone is given a set of tools and they cannot choose what these tools are. Some of them can be developed, some of them can’t. Being an attractive woman definitely helps in terms of attention – no one is going to turn down my LinkedIn request (out of curiosity). That being said, when you’re running a business, it hasn’t proven to be a boon just yet. I think there are certain assumptions people make of attractive women that aren’t great – especially if you’re still in your twenties. You lose a lot of credibility just on the basis of being female, young and attractive. If you have all three, it can work against you. But the extra attention definitely helps if you’re in a consumer business.
WY-LENE: How important are your looks to you?
KRYSTAL: Over time, my looks have gotten much less important. However, certain days matter more than others. For example, if I’m going to 3 investor meetings today, I wanna feel damn confident. So when I look good, I do feel that confidence and it comes out in my presentation – investors need to be confident in me and my company. On the other hand, if I have achieved something really good, I can look like shit and still feel damn confident.
WY-LENE: Have you ever considered being a model?
KRYSTAL: No, because my mind is my best asset. It would be a waste not to use it to pursue my passion for tech.
WY-LENE: What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
KRYSTAL: Surviving. I had depression for 8 years.
WY-LENE: What are you most grateful for?
KRYSTAL: This is an interesting question. [long pause] I’m grateful for the people in my life. I see patterns in things and I think the reason why I have achieved any kind of success is because I have been quite articulate. There are a lot of smart people who aren’t articulate and their ideas don’t see the light of day. Having the ability to speak and write well is a combination of what my parents had done for me as a kid – my dad used to read to me and correct my English, while my mum would go to charities and drag home really heavy bags full of books… I’m so thankful for their efforts.
WY-LENE: Parents make the most sacrifices for their children.
KRYSTAL: It has taken me a long time to feel this way. As a kid, you see all the bad stuff, and only on hindsight did I realise how much my parents had sacrificed for me and how difficult it was for them. Actually, a lot of things that I do, are motivated by guilt… and gratitude… I can’t decide between the two.
WY-LENE: Do you plan to have kids?
KRYSTAL: It’s hard to plan that sort of thing, but I wanted four kids last year.
WY-LENE: How about this year?
KRYSTAL: This year, I want a cat. [laughs]
WY-LENE: Do you have any pets?
KRYSTAL: I have 3 birds at home.
WY-LENE: What breed are they?
KRYSTAL: I have a cockatiel and two lovebirds.
WY-LENE: Do you talk to your birds?
KRYSTAL: My birds talk to me. They’re part of the family, so sometimes they eat with us, shower with us, and run around the house.