Graduates were not common in Lim Qing Ru's extended family. The idea of running a business was unheard of.
While her parents did not object to her working for a start-up after she graduated in philosophy, the 30-year-old co-founder of live chat text support service Zopim knew they were concerned.
"I come from an average lower-middle-class family. My mother is a housewife and my father is the sole breadwinner, working in the technical line," she says.
Things began looking up after Zopim was acquired by customer support firm Zendesk last December for a reported US$29.8 million (about S$37 million). As one of the five co-founders, Ms Lim is now a multi-millionaire.
But the pressure was huge. As with all start-ups, the pay was low, there was little social life and work took up almost every waking moment. Friends told her she looked older than she actually was.
She had panic attacks sometimes.
"I felt like I was having a heart attack. I couldn't breathe, my heart was beating very hard, and the only thing I could think was that I hadn't written my will yet."
Describing herself as a perfectionist, she said that as an entrepreneur, "the problems you face are uniquely yours". She began to doubt her own problem-solving abilities and grew depressed.
Fortunately, the low period passed. "I allowed myself to brood over decisions I had made. As an entrepreneur, you have to be an eternal optimist, even in your darkest hours."
She feels women have a better way of addressing problems.
"I like to tell my team that I don't have all the answers. Men see this as a weakness, a vulnerability. I see it as a way of telling others that problem-solving is a team effort.
"Of course, I've worked out possible solutions in my head, but I want the team to tell me what they think. Often, I find that their feedback helps me improve what I've already thought of."
To women who want to become entrepreneurs, she says: "No one can give you courage, ambition or what you're interested in. Only you yourself can take this journey and work it out for yourself."
Now the Asia-Pacific head for customer support at Zendesk, Ms Lim, who is single, is thinking about putting her money into useful projects.
"I want to re-invest, but the projects must benefit society and other people. So I'm taking my time to look around too."
This article was first published on July 13, 2014.
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