I am a high school senior studying in the UK. My mother is from Asia and father is American and thus have always felt a sense of responsibility to give back to my home country of Myanmar. Therefore, after my first visit to Yangon 2 summers ago and seeing the quality of education many students attending monastic schools receive, I decided to use my passion for computer science and programming to create audio podcasts to teach basic computer literacy. These podcasts are currently being used by students at 5 monastic schools in Myanmar, we also work with the non-profit solarleap and myplace. We are currently building an interactive digital platform so that students can learn basic skills via an app on their smartphones. We have now formed a company called GirlsforCS for these programs. I also co-founded a media organization called Discuss for Change, where we write about inspiring stories from around the world and we receive around 500 views a week.
Is there any story that inspired you to start your own initiative? Describe it.
Being in Myanmar and seeing the hardship many families there were experiencing inspired me to want to do something about it and thus I founded GirlsforCS.
The discussions I was having during the summer of 2016 with my friends about the political landscape in the world inspired us to start Discuss for Change.
What is one thing you find to be true that most people would disagree with?
That if you put your mind to something and work hard towards your short term goals you will achieve success. Many often say luck plays a part, which is true but if you don’t take advantage of your luck and don’t work hard you will likely not achieve success.
What were some of the biggest lessons that has impacted the way that you work? What was the lesson, and what was it like before and after?
Managing a team – in the beginning, I always just gave team members things to do from the list of stuff that needed to be done. However, over time I found that the best way to work as a team, to make sure everyone is valued and to utilize other’s best skills is the see the good in others and make sure they are doing something they love (They are driven by the work because they enjoy it, work shouldn’t be a burden).
If you were to do (some venture) again, what would you do differently?
I don’t really think I would do things differently because the journey I took has allowed me to learn so much, I wouldn’t trade anything for those lessons. But the one thing I would do more earlier on is to ask more questions and speak to more people so that I could learn more earlier on from other successful entrepreneurs.
Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
Concentrate on your users and customers, don’t let anything else distract you.
And which was more rewarding: making your startup a success, or being able to continue keeping it successful?
I think to me what is most rewarding is seeing that others find the programs we run at GirlsforCS helpful and seeing others enjoy using our platform and reading our articles on discuss for change.
How did you develop key partnerships?
Always being kind and companionate. Persistence has really helped and thinking from our partner’s perspective and seeing how we can both get what we want from each other.
How did you get funded or what creative strategies did you use to collect fund?
For GirlsforCS we founded a social enterprise to fund raise to build our education podcasts program and platform. Our social enterprise raises funds by running an art competition in Monastic schools in Yangon and we print the artwork on bags to sell. With the profits, we use to pay for volunteer teacher salary at the schools and the platform. We also used the money we earned from our internships to fund the hosting.
For Discuss for Change, we have used the money we earned from our summer internships to fund it.
What habits helped make you successful?
I love reading and so I spend most of my free time reading a lot and programming.
What mindsets helped make your successful?
I love working so to me working is fun. I also love to talk to other people, share ideas with others and learn from those around me!
What was your biggest mistake?
Not realizing that things change during the process of building the product and you have to be willing to accept the changes to be able to ensure that product puts the humans(users) first. I have to say in the beginning I was really focused on following the initial plan but over time I saw the importance of changing things to ensure the users were put first. This is something I have been doing throughout the process of building the education learning platform for GirlsforCS. (agile development process)
How did you deal with failure?
I looked back and analyzed what I did wrong and from that made a list of things I want to improve on in the next quarter and got my team to judge my improvements. I do this to try and also encourage others in our team to do the same because to me failure is always a good thing because you learn so much from it.
How did you learn from failure?
I often look back on what happened that think about what I did wrong and how I can improve from it. I normally write out the area that I need to focus on improving and let my teammates judge based on the timeline I set.
What was unexpected?
The amount of support we got and the number of people we didn’t know actually using our product was amazing to see. We were also pretty shocked by how many of our users actually gave us suggestions and wanted our site to succeed.
What did you learn?
The importance of sharing, listening and learning from each-other and the importance of compassion and humility in gaining respect from others. – the things I ways try to do is to make our team feel valued and inspire them to be driven by the work.
What would you have done differently?
Really I don’t think I would do anything differently because throughout the whole process and even today I have learnt and am learning so much!
If you could time travel back to day one of your startup and have 15min with your former self to communicate any lessons you’ve acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heart ache, what would you tell yourself?
I would say to make sure to keep 3 things in mind:
- Focus on the humans (users) to build the best product – don’t let anything distract you from that.
- Be willing to adapt and change to keep up with the market.
- Respect and make your team feel valued, you won’t be able to do anything without your team being committed to the same goals.