I want to share with you something near and dear to me, my personal story with my company Yoyo Chinese and the life lessons I’ve learned in the past 5 years running it.
In the company bio page, under my name “Yangyang Cheng”, the one-liner reads “Yoyo Chinese - her first true love”.
I wrote that only half-jokingly.
In many ways, Yoyo Chinese is my first true love.
- It’s the first thing I ever felt obsessed with. When I’m with her, she’s everything. When I’m not with her, everything is her.
- It was the first time I felt so much anxiety and uncertainty about a relationship. I wanted it to work but I was not sure if I was “good enough” or “capable enough” for her.
- It’s also the first time I experienced a heartbreak - when the entire Yoyo site was down for a week and she lost all her memories (students’ data).
Jokes aside, if you’re a Yoyo fan, I hope you’re going to enjoy reading my experience. If you are not (yet), I hope you can also walk away with something insightful.
One evening, five years ago, I was in my house sitting on the floor looking out the window. It was so dark around me and the only light in the house was the light reflecting inside from the street.
I felt so alone.
The only voices I heard were the ones in my head.
“Yangyang, you can’t even afford to pay electricity now. You’re going to be homeless soon.”
The electricity was just cut off because I couldn’t afford to pay my bill for the past 3 months. I had $100 in my bank. I had maxed out all my credit cards. I had sold all my jewelry on Craigslist. My meals consisted of two options: yogurt costing $0.75 or yogurt costing $0.50. Those days lasted for over 6 months and they were some of my darkest days.
Always an educator at heart
I’ve had various jobs in my life, from working as an auditor for a major accounting firm, to being a successful entertainment TV show host - but I’ve always been an educator at heart.
I’ve always been told I was a great teacher. Regardless if I was teaching Chinese at universities, or being a tutor to executives, under my tutelage, students were always able to grasp the language concepts quickly and achieve fluency in a short period of time. And all this despite the reputation of Chinese being such a hard language to learn
But I had a bigger dream.
I wanted more people to benefit from me being me - a teacher who can teach - but, I only have 24 hours a day. So, the only way to achieve my dream was to bring my teaching online so everyone in the world can learn with me any time they’d like.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I posted my videos on Youtube and watched the viewership skyrocket. Very soon, my videos started to receive millions of views and my online students started to ask me if I had any paid content to sell.
That was the moment when I realized that I could actually build a business around what I LOVE. And I did.
I’ve always thought entrepreneurship is sexy. You can do what you love. You are creating something new and meaningful in the world, while achieving financial independence at the same time.
Or so I thought…
Three months in, my savings were wiped out. I took on different side gigs, hoping to keep the business afloat. But I still fell short.
Building my dream was costing way more than I had expected.
Sitting in that dark room alone with only the street light keeping me company, my mental chatters intensified.
“You thought being an entrepreneur is sexy, huh? Look at you now. How are you going to eat tomorrow? You’re just a little Chinese girl with no connections or rich parents. What makes you think you can do it? “
I didn’t have an answer then.
However, five years later, I do.
There to Here
Jump to today, Yoyo Chinese has delivered more than 12 million lessons to over 250,000 students from all over the world.
I have also grown from that little girl who was literally shaking when holding our first small investment check, full of doubts and anxieties, to where
I am now - confidently leading a team of 15, contributing to this beautiful world, my way.
The journey hasn’t been easy. I stuttered every step of the way. But I learned a lot.
Here’s a few things I learned.
To achieve anything in the world, we have to grow ourselves first.
Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. I know that my own weaknesses will eventually become my company’s limitations. At the same time, when I grow fast, Yoyo Chinese will grow fast as well.
So how do we grow?
1. Taking Risks
To me, entrepreneurship is, in essence, creating something new, and all new things involve risks.
Just like what I did five years ago, putting all my savings into my business, I’ve taken on many more risks since.
Each time, I felt like I was thrown off a cliff without a safety net to catch me. The uncertainties and anxieties that came along with taking risks were overwhelming, but I never avoided them.
As scary as it may feel, I always trust that in the end even if I don’t have a safety net to catch me, I can always develop my own wings and learn how to fly.
As a company, we like to try many different new things to see what works.
Adopting LIVE streaming lessons as one of our major way of communicating with students is one of them. For example, Youtube Live (formerly Google Hangouts) allows me to draw more eyeballs by broadcasting our Chinese lessons live and taking questions directly from students. It was powerful and effective, but not very many people were using it because it was very new and seemed very intimidating. You can easily lose control in the process of live broadcasting and you never know what someone will say in front of thousands of other customers.
Giving up control is risky, but it also comes with rewards.
Trying this new format gave Yoyo Chinese the ‘first move advantage’, putting us in a pioneer position of adopting new technology in the education field and we’ve generated lots of publicity because of it.
In the last five years, I’ve been in a perpetual state of taking risks and it’s been working well for us.
By taking risks, we are able to jump out of our lukewarm, complacent life and become original, innovative, and trendsetting.
Here's another example of me taking a risk, by sharing something very personal and very embarassing with my students. :) But I'm glad I took the risk and posted it! I guess people appreciate authenticity.
2. Walking right into the discomfort zone
We all have things that make us cringe, things that we feel so uncomfortable doing. But to grow, we HAVE TO bear the discomfort and walk, not around it, but right into it.
In my business, I hate three things the most. Salary negotiations, negative work performance reviews, and firing people. I hate conflict - it’s in my nature. A mismatch of expectations makes me lose sleep. But there’s no way around it. I have to do it. So, each time one of those moments arises, when I need to step right into my discomfort zone, I say to myself, “sit tight Yangyang, buckle up, take a deep breath, and let’s go”.
It was never as bad as I thought it would be. Plus, with practice and experience, I’ve become better and better at it. Do I looking forward to it? Absolutely NOT! But I fear it less and I handle it better. Once I turn the first time into a second, a third, and a fourth time, the situation is the same, but I’ve become stronger.
3. Sounds cliche, but … NEVER GIVE UP
I do think about that evening from time to time.
I was feeling so lonely and so desperate.
I felt like I was hitting rock bottom.
I was so close to just letting go and giving up...
I’m glad I didn’t.
If I did, I would’ve never seen the beauty of it.
I would’ve never seen the depth and color life has to offer.
And, I would’ve never seen what I see now - a resilient me, who’s a fighter at core, and who has so much to offer in this world.
I still remember the mental chatters that were playing in my head over and over again that evening, “You have nothing, Yangyang. You have no connections or rich parents, what makes you think you can do it?”.
Now I have an answer.
I have ME.
A stronger, deeper ME.
And that’s who I will always rely on.
Thank you so much for spending time reading my thoughts. I really appreciate it.
I’d love to hear more about your life too, if you allow me. Leave a comment below and I promise you I will read it.
Enjoy your life!
-- Your teacher, Yangyang