Q&A: Krystal Choo, CEO and Founder of Social Messaging Platform Wander


Like most entrepreneurs, Krystal Choo knows the ups and downs of starting a business on your own. The founder of Wander, a social platform that connects people based on common interests, Choo launched her first company during university and by the time she was 27 already had four businesses under her belt.

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One did well, two not so much, and the fourth, Wander, is chugging right along she says, “growing 20% week-on-week organically.”

 
 

Through both failure and success, Choo, a once precocious child who taught herself HTML coding and JavaScript at 12 and was earning money designing websites by 15, remains unwaveringly optimistic and moving forward.

“I am good at making a lot of mistakes. I am also good at picking myself up after I fall. Other than that,” she said, “people generally say I am energetic, candid, annoying, and inspiring.”

Well, there’s the entrepreneurial mix, eh?

 
 

Branding in Asia recently spoke with Krystal Choo about business, entrepreneurship and how things are going with Wander.


What have you been up to lately?

Life gets increasingly exciting over time. I’ve been building up Wander – a social platform where people can belong and gather over common interests. We’ve been very active improving our apps on iOS and Android, and by popular demand, building a new web platform for desktop chat.

I’ve learned that two things matter most: timing and people. In business, timing is everything. A few of the things I’ve built were too early; one was too late.

I’ve also been talking to different communities across South-East Asia to see how we can enable them, and the cultural nuances across the region have been illuminating.

At the same time, I’m personally delving deeper into the research, thinking and methodology behind deep learning, and fleshing out how we can build an AI that would better facilitate multiple synchronous human connections.

In my free time, I’m reading more about transhumanism, cellular anti-aging, and operational effectiveness in agile companies. Lastly, I am learning French now and getting back on track with fitness.

How is Wander doing in terms of membership? Is it making money now? What are the prospects going forward?

Wander is growing 20% week-on-week organically and we’re looking to start our campaigns to build and enable communities in the region in the next month. We’re excited to be launching our desktop web version soon, so people can connect with each other on any device they choose easily.

We aren’t intending to monetize right now, as we don’t want to be using our community channels for advertising purposes. However, we are very excited about how we will monetize next year, in a way that doesn’t affect our community’s delightful Wander experience. I’m sorry I can’t say more about that right now.

I think entrepreneurs should talk to many people about the idea, take the useful criticism, accept the encouragement, throw out the toxic stuff, and very importantly, take care of yourself and your sanity. The rest will come naturally.

Personally, I’m also working on Future Flock, which is a one-day workshop aimed to empower women within organizations. Over these years as an entrepreneur, I’ve picked up on a few skills that I’d love to share to help other women, in whatever position they are in professionally so that they can maximize their potential and remove limiting belief.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but the skillset is transferable across many job functions, and a lot has to do with personal values to drive the actions and results you want to see in your life. I’d like to see many of my fellow women step up to the challenge and reap the rewards of it to create a more equal and technocratic future for our next generation.

You describe yourself as a specialist in “advancing human connection in virtual environments.” Tell us about that.

There are three complex pieces here.

The first is understanding human connection –in the realm of non-romantic, social intercourse, and the drivers, motivations, and rewards of these interactions over time.

Next is the environment people can collide in, to experience more serendipitous moments. Chat, video and other media are just platforms. As technology progresses, we will move into environments that stimulate different senses.

I’ve learned that two things matter most: timing and people. In business, timing is everything. A few of the things I’ve built were too early; one was too late.

Last is the actual technology behind this; what has been done before, what is currently available, and what will be available as computing hardware and GUI improves.

What I’m trying to do well is putting these variables together across time to not just project what may be, but what could be, so that we as a society can make them overlap in a positively impactful way.

What was the inspiration behind starting Wander and what’s happening with it these days?

People have 1000’s friends on our social networks; people we’ve collected over the years. But we aren’t interacting in a way that is genuine anymore. Broadcasting our lives isn’t rewarding us – in fact, Instagram has recently been shown to be the most destructive network out there.

Wander is a place where you can be yourself, meet new people without agenda, and chat with them in a way that’s authentic. People are multidimensional, and Wander gives everyone that opportunity to be themselves – all the different dimensions of themselves – through chatting in various groups that they feel comfortable in.

We have over 1000 open chat channels, free for anyone to join.

We’re focused on making the user experience more holistic so that we can create more virtual friendships and communities that aren’t transactional. So we’re really pushing hard to get our web platform up, talking to communities all over the region, and listening to Wanderers about how they’d like this platform to evolve and serve them better, and acting on what we’ve learned.

You launched your first company right out of university as well as a few others. Like many small ventures, things didn’t work out as hoped. What have you learned along the way and what pushes you to keep forging ahead?

I’ve learned that two things matter most: timing and people. In business, timing is everything. A few of the things I’ve built were too early; one was too late.

I think we are now at the sweet spot with Wander. It took me 10 years to learn that. In life, people are everything. The right team, the right investors who align with the vision, the right friends who support you, the right partner to walk with you. I’ve only just learned that. And mostly, you have control over both time and the people you choose.

It is both naive and one of the most beautiful things about human nature – the discoverers, the explorers, the creators. Founders are a tiny subset of that.

I’m most grateful for what I’ve learned about myself – I see patterns easily from seemingly disparate, large sets of data and I can distil this into a clear path ahead to be shared. I am a pretty hardy person and I get up fast. I think I’m just too hungry. So this makes me a very impatient person; I’ve accepted that.

My biggest motivator is that I love life. There are infinite possibilities and so many ways we can improve things. I’m unreasonably excited about the future. I would hate to waste any potential I have not trying to create it. That would make me angsty. So really, I think it’s angst avoidance.

You once referred to founders as being romantic, saying “We believe in an ideal that doesn’t yet exist, and we want to create.” Can you talk more about it?

It is pragmatic to see things and people for what they are and mold our behavior to fit the system. However, it is merely us molding ourselves to our perception of the system.

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I think founders are romantic because that perception is not necessarily grounded in the past or present, but rather that the existing framework can be built on, or modified entirely. Ergo, it is incredibly romantic to see how things could be. We take on the exciting mission of creating this possibility, this alternate reality, as small or as large as it may be.

Only a romantic could devote their work, their life, to making something with no clear outcome, merely for the possibility that it may work and change something.

It is both naive and one of the most beautiful things about human nature – the discoverers, the explorers, the creators. Founders are a tiny subset of that.

One problem entrepreneurs face is finding others that share their passion for building something that may or may not succeed. What has your journey been like with that aspect and what advice would you give to entrepreneurs stuck in solo building mode?

Passion is not sustainable. You need a deep-seated value or belief that drives your purpose of building something. Passion doesn’t survive the hard days, not for founders and not for teams. Purpose is what lasts. Along the way I’ve had people plain laugh in my face, then turn around and tell others all sorts of things about me. I think at some point you have to accept that disagreement and its consequences is a normal human facet.

The Wander app

Still, I think I’ve been immensely lucky in my Wander journey. The vision is clear and attracts the right people. And then as a leader, you have to take the responsibility of reminding them about why they are riding on the back of a lion in the first place.

I think entrepreneurs should talk to many people about the idea, take the useful criticism, accept the encouragement, throw out the toxic stuff, and very importantly, take care of yourself and your sanity. The rest will come naturally.

You’ve been quite candid about your previous experience with clinical depression. How do you feel that aspect of your life has affected your professional path?

Yes, I think it’s imperative that I talk about it to contribute to the breaking down of that taboo. The experience gives me a lot of strength. Dark days professionally cannot compare to dark days then. So there is a sort of quiet confidence, not in being this wild success necessarily, but in knowing that I can weather whatever storm comes my way.

Only a romantic could devote their work, their life, to making something with no clear outcome, merely for the possibility that it may work and change something.

It’s also given me a deeper compassion for humanity. The unseen struggles are the worst, and so many people are suffering quietly. Also, the threads of human connection back then kept me tethered and alive. I believe in higher purposes – there must be a reason why I went through all that for so long – so I suppose, one could clearly see why the hell I’ve thrown my life into building a social platform for people to connect authentically in an age where devices seem to alienate all of us.

You’ve been involved with outreach projects for those that suffer from depression. What are ways that people can get involved?

I think there are a few things people can do. Don’t offer advice if you haven’t been paralyzingly depressed. Listen and be supportive – sometimes support just means sitting beside someone in silence.

Don’t stay away. It feels natural to avoid someone who’s depressed, but being there, treating them like they’re normal without ignoring their pain, encouraging them to hang out with you or go for a walk – these things help. Don’t be afraid to offer help, whether it’s to help manage a bit of their lives, or to take them for professional help.

Lastly, talk about it openly, with compassion. This is the only way society can be more accepting and loving to those who need it. No one chooses to go through hell while still alive. Thank you for asking this very important question.


 You can learn more about Wander at www.wander.chat.

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