Stories of Courage: Anisa Hassan
In this series, we explore the different forms of courage and how each person’s definition of being fearless changes at various stages of their life.
I was born on a Friday, just an hour before my father had to leave for his Friday prayers. Coming from a family of nine other siblings and being the only one born on a Friday, the day was symbolically significant to my parents.
You see, Muslims generally view Friday as blessed, as no other day of the week shares its virtues. It is the day when Muslims gather together to pray in a congregation and they listen to a sermon designed to empower and embolden them with valuable knowledge on how to be a better Muslim.
Growing up, my late father would always attribute my antics and any quirky behaviour as signs of courage because of the day I was born. I could not understand it then, but every time I got selected to take part in competitions that would require me to be in front of a large audience—like a storytelling competition or a televised inter-school debate competition, I would hear him say to my mum, “Dia memang berani sebab lahir hari Jumaat!” translated as “She’s just courageous because she’s born on a Friday!”
These early affirmations that I received became rooted in my psyche. Soon after graduating from the National University of Singapore, I found myself front and centre as a news presenter for Channel NewsAsia. The career was fun, fast-paced and full of perks, but I distinctly remember telling myself that it was not the life I wanted for myself as I climbed the steps leading to Caldecott Hill one morning, at 2:30 a.m.
When I became a mother to a daughter born prematurely, my priorities in life shifted. Unswayed by the ‘lights, camera or action’, I decided to leave my career for a life littered with uncertainties and bereft of any safety net.
I chose to walk into the unchartered territory of entrepreneurship in 2004 and many (including my parents) thought I was committing career suicide by becoming a matchmaker! I was so fearful that my doubters were right, and because my choice would impact my life and those whom I love. It was a defining point when I felt fear the most but summoned the courage to commit anyway.
Fast forward 14 years later, the global dating and matchmaking franchise that I represented parted ways. That crossroad presented another moment for either nerves or excitement. Choosing the latter meant taking that leap of faith and plunging into the unknown once more. Many would assume that starting the entrepreneurial journey a second time around would be a walk in the park, but personal experience has taught me that this could not be further from the truth.
I developed a mobile dating app for Muslims that quickly gained traction in Singapore and Malaysia after we initiated a soft launch. The app, Joompa—a Malay word that means “let’s meet” in English, creates a safe, ethical and inclusive environment for the Muslim singles community to meet. Its inclusive nature also means that Joompa is open to non-Muslims, for them to get to know the community better. An angel investor, impressed by our concept, idea, and traction—invested $250,000 in Joompa. But just as we were planning for our launch, I received heart-wrenching news that my co-founder who was responsible for our technology and development, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
My world was thrown into a whirlwind. My co-founder had been dealt a heavy blow to his life, but I still had a launch to go ahead with, in spite of his condition. There were more questions than answers and the more I thought about it, the more I realised how little I knew.
At that early stage, it was easy for me to become disheartened. Things were slow at the beginning and I felt like I was running in circles a lot of the time. The reality was harder than I had anticipated and I had many sleepless nights thinking of ways to move forward. I didn’t want to entertain my creeping fears, which were thoughts like: What if the funds run dry? What will my investor think of me? What if I have to sell everything I own to make this work?
One of those difficult times brought me to my knees. I knew then that I had to find the courage to be truthful to myself. Where was the courageous girl that my late father spoke highly of? In light of that, I found the true meaning of courage.
Courage is not just the ability to look fear in the face… courage is also about the ability to admit that I couldn’t cope alone—courage is about reaching out to people close to me and asking for help, it is about being willing to receive despite feeling vulnerable, about stopping to rest and letting the tears flow. It is about continuing through adversity, and trusting in the unknown that all will be well. I must admit that the last one is the hardest form of courage for me to achieve.
The road to getting Joompa off the ground is still long, winding and uncertain. But in this tumultuous period, I was referred by a friend to someone who was very keen to help me develop and build a luxury matchmaking platform. We had incredible vibes when we met and I understood that building a brand new platform, unencumbered by previous concepts was the best way forward for us.
We came up with a platform called Date High Flyers, aimed at professionals and high net worth individuals with marriage in mind. We built our service with the knowledge that more singles in Singapore and around the world could benefit from our online to offline (O2O) platform that was safe, regulated and verified.
Sometimes, when life takes a turn for a path that’s easier and steadier, you’ve just got to tune in and accept that new flow in your life. I never imagined that I would be working on two startups within the span of a year. My courage has never been tested as much as in this past year, but I’ve learnt to lean in and rely on the invisible strength that’s always working in me, through me and all around me.
I’ve learnt giving thanks in advance for a new life before it is made manifest, can be an exercise of faith and courage for anyone, especially in times of loneliness, stress and hopelessness.
While both my startups are still brewing with no immediate guarantee of success, I’ll always take a moment, especially on a Friday to ask for more faith and courage to face my future. When I move into a state of gratitude, it is without fail that I come out of the process, much calmer than before, because the emotional signature of gratitude, means accepting that the event has already happened.