Editor's note: This column has been updated to provide attribution to original sources.
Leaving Taiwan completely broke, and growing up poor in the United States contributed to what Ricky Yean calls "mindset inequality." The CEO of Upbeat wrote about his experiences in a Medium post.
"One example of a poor mindset is to minimize conflict because [mistakes are] costly and opportunities are hard to come by," Yean wrote. "It's been a challenge putting my ideas out there and defending them. I often hear about people having intelligent conversations at home with their parents. I never ate at the dinner table because we didn't have one in the one-bedroom apartment that I shared with my dad. You can imagine how this translates to pitching your startup. The idea of putting my grand idea out there and vigorously defending it to investors (who try to tear it apart!) was new and counter-intuitive."
When Yean was eleven, he moved to the United States from Taiwan with his father. The only job available to immigrants who couldn't speak English was manual labor and his father was in his 60s- so Yeah started working at fourteen.
Like most young kids, Ricky was angry and rebellious. "I was angry that we didn't have money," he said, "Angry that I didn't have a nuclear family with a mom and a dad all living together. Life wasn't fair."
His attitude changed when his mother, who hadn't emigrated with them, visited from Taiwan and he saw all the sacrifices that she made to be with him. "I decided then that I didn't want her to worry about me or have to work harder to earn more money to come visit me," Yean explained. "That's when I started working. And studying harder in school."
"I took the money I made, and instead of helping to pay the bills, I paid for a few SAT classes at Elite Education Prep in my neighborhood," Yean wrote. This investment paid off: He persuaded his counselor to let him take an Honors English course his junior year, then AP English his senior year. Yean was accepted into Stanford, and received a significant financial aid package, which allowed him to attend. He majored in Economics at first, then switched to Science, Technology and Society, which led him to entrepreneurship.
Yean started working on side projects at Stanford and one of the those side projects became a startup that got funded by Y Combinator. "We raised money and built Crowdbooster to profitability," he wrote, "Now we're building PRX, which is an even bigger idea to offer PR services on demand."
Even though he graduated Stanford, interned at Eventbrite, and is now building his own company, Yean still feels the effects of his childhood. "A poor founder tends to be less confident," Yean explained. "My mom, who didn't go to college, used to say 'We're not meant to be successful, so what you've achieved is good enough!' Compare that level of confidence to a kid with successful parents who'd say something along the lines of 'If you can believe it, you can achieve it!' Now imagine walking into a [venture capital firm] having to compete with that kid. He's so convinced that he's going to change the world, and that's going to show in his pitch. You can't just muster up that confidence on the spot."
Yean found some ways to manage this disadvantage. "When you're poor you don't think like a successful person and that holds you back," Yean wrote. But he was at Stanford, surrounded by so many impressive people. "I started looking at successful kids and thinking 'How would that person solve this problem?' and I try to behave the way I think they would."
In situations when he feels unsure of how to act, he imagines, "What if I'm already successful? What would I do then? How would I act differently?" And then he does what his future successful self would do, because the "inequalities that live in your mind can keep the deck stacked against you long after you've made it out of the one-room apartment you shared with your dad."