Keith Wang Founder Bonfire- Interview
Posted on September 26 2018
Enjoy this insightful interview with Keith Wang, founder of Bonfire - Helping Youths In Asia Suffering In Silence With Mental Illness.
Why did you start your side hustle, Bonfire?
Bonfire was born from a personal problem while working on my first startup, Opinir*. I experienced chronic stress and anxiety while working on Opinir and this journey taught me 2 important lessons.
Firstly, bottling up my fear of failure and shame (of my own weaknesses / circumstances) made me deeply unhappy and it became detrimental to my mental health.
Secondly, I was previously so absorbed with my work and feeling distraught that seeking help never struck me. This took a toll on my life in all aspects, affecting my physical, financial and marital health. It also led to the demise of my first startup.
The end of Opinir marked the start of my discovery and investigation into the problem of unhappiness and its stigmatised connection - mental illness. It turns out chronic stress and anxiety are forms of mental illness and left untreated, leads to depression. I was treading a thin line back then and I told myself to never go back to that situation.
It also spurred me to think about how I could solve this problem at a larger scale with my skills. Since my days at Opinir, I have an earnest desire to help people and change the world for the better. That fire never dimmed despite Opinir’s failure. Instead, it fuelled my desire further.
Hence, I made this my new mission with Bonfire - to empower the most susceptible to find happiness with technology, human expertise and a touch of empathy. And the first group I want to help is youth entrepreneurs.
*Opinir was a customer reviews app for electronics and fashion/beauty shop/products. We were trying to fill the gap Yelp created when they exited Asia a few years ago
Bonfire | Helping Youths In Asia Suffering In Silence With Mental Illness
What inspires you?
People from all walks of life. I learnt that every individual has an interesting untold story and they inspire me in different, profound ways. These are personal stories of kindness, hard work, oddity, creativity, innovation, sorrow, strength and more.
Are there any brands, business’ or business leaders that you admire?
There are many that inspire me in one or two ways but there are two individuals that inspired me in more ways than others.
The first is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. The story of Tony is unusual. He started his entrepreneurial journey as a profit-driven ad tech entrepreneur, became a VC and subsequently invested in Zappos. The dot-com crash forced him to channel all his energy on Zappos, his last few surviving investments. Since then, he embarked on a journey to transform the business that’s on the brink of closure to a billion-dollar business. But what’s more remarkable was his self-discovery journey; over a decade, he transformed his mindset from being profit-focused to passion-driven and eventually purpose-driven. He described his purpose as delivering happiness to the world. I thought, “Wow, we kinda think the same about our passion and purpose!”.
The second is Larry Page, the geek that spearheaded a brilliant culture long before Google became the multi-billion advertising and digital services giant today. It’s a culture where engineers/scientists are well-acknowledged, teams are collaborative, non-political, intellectually engaging and fun-loving - their early team members changed culture/innovation/invention at its core. While the social/corporate structure of Google had changed today, his spirit of innovation, invention and ambition stayed with me.
What would you like to achieve professionally in 10 years?
A healthcare robotic assistant in every home. I’m not kidding.
Any advice for talent looking to set up their own hustle?
We live in a very noisy world. There are tonnes of startup stories and advice out there (including my own) that is either a distraction or insight. Being able to identify them early on is crucial. I will speak from my personal experience.
My biggest asset was my focus early in the game. But not long after, different distractions started robbing me of focus. These distractions come in the form of superficial aspirations - thoughts of huge funding rounds, Googley-like startup offices, media coverage, early retirement in the Bahamas and more. It distracted my mind from what’s most important - problem solving.
Sure, Opinir got some funding but that does not mean we solved problems or made an impact to other people lives. Sure, the drive to have materialistic comfort is important, however, I learnt that it was personally a poor stimulus to solving problems. These lofty thoughts or “external validations” are major distractions to me.
Instead, “internal validation” like a happy, paying, repeat customer or user matters so much more. I’ll never forget how happy I was when I got my first and repeat online order for a homemade food website I created many years ago. The desire to impact lives and create happy, repeat customers has since then become my focus.