Emily is the co-founder of Asian Wonder Women (AWW), a tight-knit, 1,800+-strong community of remote women entrepreneurs, creators, coaches and more.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Subscribe to Hatched in Asia to stay up to date with must-know women founders, creators and creatives in Asia. This interview was originally written and shared through Sarah Khan’s newsletter.
Emily is the co-founder of Asian Wonder Women (AWW), a tight-knit, 1,800+-strong community of remote women entrepreneurs, creators, coaches and more. She’s also known as The Fang Girl on YouTube, where she candidly speaks about travel, nomad life, and remote work.
Having moved from San Francisco (where she’s originally based) to Singapore right before the pandemic, Emily is no stranger to the ins and outs and struggles of relocating for work. She shares this first-hand experience and expertise in the two newsletter communities she runs: the Asian Wonder Women, a weekly newsletter where she curates interesting travel and digital nomad visa tidbits for members; and Option Asia, a resource hub for anyone interested in moving for job opportunities in tech.
Before taking the leap to quit her 9-to-5 to run AWW full-time last year, Emily had various full-time roles building user communities in companies from fintech to Google and OmniSci. Below, Emily shares:
- When she knew it was time to leave her 9-to-5, and why climbing the corporate ladder no longer interests her 🪜
- Practical steps on how she prepared financially for self-employment 👣
- The realities of entrepreneurship that no one talks about (hint: don’t buy into the romanticized “quit-your-job” tales on Instagram!) 👀
- What’s next for Asian Wander Women 🔮
How would you describe what you do today?
I would characterize myself as a travelling entrepreneur. For so long, I’ve battled with this identity of being an “entrepreneur.” Perhaps it’s the humble Asian in me, but it initially felt weird to identify as something so foreign.
Was there a definitive moment when you knew it was time to leave your 9-to-5?
I was so conflicted when deciding to leave my company—not many people know this, but the decision took three months for me to come to. I’m quite swift when making decisions, but because this decision meant leaving Singapore, my community, and basically starting from zero income, I had more to think about. My pay and fringe benefits were great, I liked the people I worked with, and it was a marquee brand company (this is what we call “golden handcuffs”, my friends.) In a practical sense, it didn’t make sense for me to leave.
Yet, I had a longing to try my hand at entrepreneurship. I didn’t like the current work I was doing; it was a lot of “putting out fires” and not building anything, just fixing. After an overdue session with my older sister (who is trained in executive coaching), she asked me if I wanted my manager’s job. She noted that this was the trajectory I was working towards if I stayed on. It was a hard no, and the next day I put in my notice to resign.
Also, I just want to say that being “a corporate girlie” is not a bad thing. Don’t be fooled by Instagram or the romanticism of quitting your job to pursue your passions. It’s a hard road ahead and I knew this going in. Having a stable 9-5 is preferential to some and my views on it may change when I have more responsibilities. At this point in my life, given my savings, my confidence in my own capabilities, and my yearning to try my hand at something else, I left because it was now or never.
How did you prepare yourself (mentally, financially, emotionally) for that next chapter?
I did two things: 1. Prove I was able to make money in other ways and 2. Save up $10K as a travel fund that I could tap into as needed.
It was eye-opening for me when I realized I could get paid for content collabs, affiliate marketing, or through my work as a consultant to other companies. Although not as stable and consistent as a monthly paycheck, this changed a lot of my perception of how money could be made and what kind of career trajectory I wanted. To be honest, I don’t care about climbing the executive ladder. I want to make an impact with my work and be happy with the work I am putting out.
“Although not as stable and consistent as a monthly paycheck, this changed a lot of my perception of how money could be made and what kind of career trajectory I wanted. To be honest, I don’t care about climbing the executive ladder. I want to make an impact with my work and be happy with the work I am putting out.”
$10K was a lump of money I could tap into for travel, housing, and other costs associated with being location independent. I was also trying to make sure I had income streams opening up—I did this by pitching to companies I wanted to work with and seeing if they were interested in content partnerships. This amount is also subjective per person (some may be comfortable with more or less, depending on your lifestyle and needs), but it was enough for me to feel secure to take the next step.
What has that transition been like? What’s rewarding and challenging about it?
What has been difficult is the delayed gratification: knowing that all these projects I’m working on could amount to nothing. There’s also a bit of fear that I’m behind in my life, whether in terms of income or life trajectory, especially when I see my friends steadily buying homes, having children, and settling down. But I know it’s not time for me to settle down just yet. I will resent myself for never trying what I set out to do.
What has been rewarding is being able to control my life and my hours. I can travel wherever I want, live wherever I want, take on different projects, and focus on important things in my life.
It seems like community-building is a common thread in your career story. Why is the idea of community so core to you?
I personally hate networking with a motive, so at the beginning of my career in tech, I found it so awkward to start conversations or meet new people. I guess it spurred me to think about how human interactions could be fostered in a more organic, pleasant way. I remember someone who had been inclusive to me at a friend’s gathering where I knew no one. She noticed my initial discomfort and included me in the conversations; that friendliness and kindness was something I never forgot and I wanted to replicate for others who felt that way.
Community in tech was also where I landed—I built user communities for Google, OmniSci, and Stripe. I also realized the importance of belonging, which is what people crave. If you are able to create a community with a sense of belonging and ownership, how could you ever feel lost? I’ve been lost a lot, so this was a great opportunity to build something I felt was lacking in my life. That led me to build tech communities, and now my own community Asian Wander Women.
“I realized the importance of belonging, which is what people crave. If you are able to create a community with a sense of belonging and ownership, how could you ever feel lost? I’ve been lost a lot, so this was a great opportunity to build something I felt was lacking in my life.”
What projects are keeping you busy these days?
My co-founder Ivy and I launching a new podcast for Asian Wander Women this month, so there’s been photo shoots, editing, and recordings happening in preparation for the launch. Currently, I am staying put in San Francisco until the end of the year. This podcast should feel like taking a road trip with your friends; we’ll discuss how we became location independent, how we travel as entrepreneurs, how we view dating and marriage, and share our other life findings.
What’s a surprising truth about entrepreneurship?
No one talks—or wants to talk—about the middle part of the entrepreneurial journey. That’s a phase when you’re not making that much money, you haven’t seen “success” yet, and you’re likely struggling financially and mentally. (Imagine only making a couple of hundred dollars per month while trying to scale your business and simultaneously freaking out because your consistent 9-5 salary is gone.) That’s terrifying.
Add on the fact that everyone is expecting you to be an overnight success. However, it also shows you who your real friends are. I’ve had “friends” smirk and ask me when I’ll be returning to a 9-5, assuming I’d failed, but I’ve also had others who have shown up in meaningful ways like offering me a place to stay or inviting me to remote work with them on their business trip.
Lastly, I believe most people fail due to a lack of structure and motivation. A 9-5 helps implement that structure. When you’re self-employed, however, you are doing it all: sales, marketing, technical support, admin, etc. And the reality is, most people will fail or burn out. I think most successful entrepreneurs have a manic streak to them, which gets them far because they’re laser-focused on succeeding.
What does success or ambition look like to you in this season of your life?
We are in the midst of planning a business summit for 2024 in Taiwan. Right now, ambition looks like planning a killer retreat and summit for AWWs. I hope to bring around 100+ of us together in this space. Success would mean that it’s revenue-generating, garnering the attention it deserves, supported by government and local businesses, and bringing more attention to the work that we’re doing. I also just want to be able to enjoy my entrepreneurial journey while balancing my personal life and happiness.
What’s on your vision mood board for AWW?
Looking ahead, I want AWW to sit at the intersection of travel and the Asian community, especially with travel and remote work. We were most recently featured in the Nomadic Network newsletter by Nomadic Matt and that was a huge win because we’re still a lot smaller compared to the communities out there—our niche community was finally getting the recognition it deserved. I like to think I’m building a media empire and I know that doesn’t happen overnight.
My favourite city… 🏙️
Taipei, hands down. I spent my childhood summers in the city, went to Loveboat (the infamous Taiwanese government-funded cultural program), and have extended family there. Additionally, the food is amazing—I’m such a huge advocate for Taiwan’s tourism and its potential to become a nomad city.
Someone that inspires me…💫
Morgan DeBaun, the founder and CEO of Blavity, a multimedia company for Black millennials in tech, travel, and pop culture. She built an empire on digital media and I’m so impressed by her. I’d like to do the same for Asians and travel.
My go-to beverage while working… ☕
Depends on the terms! When it’s a slow morning and I can leisurely take my time, I’ll take a hazelnut latte. If I’m preparing for war in the morning, I’ll get a large iced cold brew.
My favourite newsletter, podcast/creator… 🧑🎨
These creators are unrelated to anything I do, but I am currently enjoying 21Pell’s content on Instagram. They cut men’s hair, transforming their patrons while filming the before and after. It’s hilarious—I love the energy and editing of their reels.