Gwen Yi Of Tribeless Shares Her Experience
As a board game enthusiast, one of my favorites has to be We Not Really Strangers (WRNS). It’s a card game launched in 2017 that facilitates honest connections with the group you’re playing with.
Most card games these days are just for laughs, while WRNS gives you the chance to be as raw as possible to the “strangers” around you instead.
By the end of the game, it felt like we all imbibed each other and it was quite a meaningful experience.
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered a card game like WRNS made by Malaysians called The Empathy Box.
Made by Tribeless, a training and consulting company founded by Gwen Yi, it teaches empathy.
The cards in this box are a tool to facilitate a safe space for empathetic group conversations, and they personally helped Gwen when she stepped down as CEO of Tribeless.
Started from dinners
Tribeless and The Empathy Box were never what Gwen had in mind, although she always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur.
4 years ago, her mental health took a dip and led her to drop out of university studies abroad and return to Malaysia.
“In this space of pain and loneliness, I was trying to figure out what to do with life. And then I started to organize dinners, ”she shared with Vulcan Post.
“It was just a fun thing that I did and never for profit. But if you do attend, there was a rule: no gossip.
Gwen wanted to break the flaw in conversation that we are used to, like how are you, how do you work, is your business good or not.
These dinners became a regular part of Gwen’s life, and she also realized that people started to open up more and make deeper connections during these sessions.
It’s what inspired her to turn those meaningful experiences into the Empathy Box, though she’s far from a natural loveseat in person.
“You wouldn’t know how to say it, but I really suffer from great social anxiety. If you put me in a room full of strangers, I’ll be the one who sticks around and only talks to my friends, ”she confessed.
However, she had always wanted to talk about things beyond the surface level with others, so these cards were her safe space to share her stories with others and vice versa.
Accept a hard truth
Although the concept existed 4 years ago, Tribeless was not registered as a company until February 2018.
Gwen had also taken on the role of CEO of the company, but she was very new to the startup world. Titles like founder and CEO didn’t mean much to her at first.
When they launched the first version of The Empathy Box, they were receiving orders from 22 countries, which she personally remembers as a very stressful time.
“I didn’t know how to do order processing, distribution, manufacturing, sales, human resources and everything. But my co-founder and boyfriend, Shawn, knew exactly what to do at the time, ”she recalls.
The more she worked with him, the more she realized that he was much better than her as a CEO. But it wasn’t the reality that Gwen found easy to accept at first.
It took him 2 months to fully agree to relinquish his role as CEO to Shawn, during which their relationship ran into conflict.
She described going through an almost existential crisis because that’s when she realized her identity was so closely tied to the business, to the point that her mental health deteriorated.
So she must have asked herself many honest questions to understand why she clung so badly to the title of CEO when it did not suit her.
Founder = / = CEO
Growing up, Gwen Yi had always admired her parents, who were both entrepreneurs with their own businesses, which brainwashed her into believing that she was on the same path of leadership.
“I kept thinking, all this time, I thought I was that hot CEO-entrepreneur-woman. How is this not only wrong, but I am the cause of the failure of the business? “
“Part of me was dying, but part of me was dying for this business to survive,” she realized.
After a year of power struggles between her and Shawn, they reached a sweet spot when Gwen finally let go of her ego and admitted that she needed help.
“My ego was huge, you couldn’t say a bad thing to my face. But when I learned this ability to take criticism and have difficult conversations, it transformed our power struggle relationship into what it is today.
Today Shawn manages Tribeless’s internal work such as management, technology, legal and accounting, while Gwen manages external work such as partnerships, clients and training.
Since Shawn took over in November 2018, Tribeless has doubled her income and Gwen now has full confidence in her leadership.
They also reached out to businesses, international nonprofits, and a nationwide campaign of kindness that reached 750 schools.
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This interview was conducted as part of our new Vulcan Post video series, Open Book.
Gwen’s Story is the second chapter of our new venture, and you can watch the video interview here:
- You can read more about Tribeless here and The Empathy Box here.
- You can read more about the other Malaysian startups we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Gwen Yi, Founder of Tribeless
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