What startup hustlers can learn from this 23-year-old high school dropout

Prisca Akhaya
What startup hustlers can learn from this 23-year-old high school dropout

e27 spoke with Eibhlin Lim, a 23-year old Malaysian journalist and author of a collection of interviews with startup industry leaders called the Phoenix Perspective about her inspiring journey in presenting another side of startup life — the behind-the-scenes stories

For a person who just turned 23 this year, Eibhlin Lim has already published an acclaimed book called The Phoenix Perspective. Her achievement does make us reminisce back to our 23-year-old days, thinking what were we doing all those time with all the energies we had.

But it’s always easy to look at someone and judge her on her present success, not knowing the whole story if how she got there.

High-school dropout

We all heard a tale of successful dropouts like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, and undoubtedly has questioned ourselves at one point whether school is really worth it. However, what drove Eibhlin to make such a bold decision was certainly not purely out of rebellious acts out of a flared-up creativity a classroom cannot sustain. It was charity.

“I wanted to build a digital journalism for disadvantaged youths,” she simply summed up her high-school dropping out background five years ago.

Being a Malaysian, for sure her family didn’t just happily embrace her decision. “I had just completed my IGCSE examinations and scored the highest number of straight A*s in my year group. I also had a scholarship offer to pursue my A Levels at an international school in Penang. But I passed on them,” she explained why her family and friends all thought she was crazy.

Giving up her scholarship and ignoring the negative comments, she started the workshop and ran them in two orphanages in Selangor, Malaysia.

And as her guts predicted, the workshops were a success.

International recognition

The workshops that Eibhlin ran had garnered some international interest over the premise of the workshop itself and its impact on youths.

“I was selected as the first and only Malaysian to attend the Thiel Foundation Summit. It was an invites-only event for young entrepreneurs and change makers in San Francisco, organized by the co-founder of Paypal and Watson University, a US social entrepreneur accelerator,” and this was how her startup journey began.

“I got a chance to meet many incredible individuals such as Tom Chi; the creator of Google Glass, Phil McKinney; the former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Hewlett-Packard and many more. I remember feeling incredibly starstruck when I first met them. I had the opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them better. That was when I discovered most of them came from normal upbringings and some even had to faced and overcome challenges and setbacks such as homelessness, illiteracy, and bankruptcy before they achieved success,” she recalled.

At that time, Eibhlin realized that her skillsets were limited to journalism only and she needed to improve to be able to continue her digital journalism workshop to really make a difference. “I want the youths who joined the workshop to be able to utilise the skill they learn from joining the workshop and make money, but given the way media outlets are still struggling to search for   I a sustainable source of revenue even in Malaysia, I thought that just teaching these youths how to write stories and share them online might not be enough to prepare them for the changes happening in the journalism landscape,” she explained.

Eibhlin then decided to put my digital journalism workshop on hold and go back to school. But the gap years she had taken made her too old for admissions to some schools while her family could not afford the tuition fees for the other schools that were willing to accept her.

Using what you’ve got

Despite her drive to come back, Eibhlin discovered that she couldn’t return to school. “That was one of the lowest periods in my life,” she said.

At her lowest, she simply thought back to the good times she spent in the US meeting all those wonderful people. So she wrote.

“I wanted to relive the time I had in the States. And then, all of the conversations I have had with these incredibles that I met while I was in the States came back to my mind. I made their life journeys a drive to pull myself up,” said Eibhlin.

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Soon enough, she started a blog and post her writings in it. She organically shared the links to her posts to family and friends.

To her surprise, her writings were able to reach beyond her close circle. She started receiving requests from fellow youths to share more stories like the ones she wrote.

“Today, it became Phoenix Newsletters,” she shared about her online email publication, that serves more than 7,000 high school and university subscribers.

Rising from the ashes

“Back then, I thought to myself: If they could overcome all these and still make it in life, then I too will get out my current situation eventually,” said Eibhlin.

Her newsletter quickly raised interest of a big publisher, who has track records publishing best-selling biographies of top entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, Robert Kuok, and Li Ka Shing. However, she found out that her book will be sold at a steeper price.

Once again, Eibhlin dared herself to break the obvious, even if turning the publisher down means she lost the chance to support her single mom with steady money.

“I knew that most students I was working with would not be able to afford it. I turned their offer and decided to self-publish the book instead,” said Eibhlin.

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Just in July this year, Eibhlin managed to publish her book, The Phoenix Perspective.

The Phoenix Perspective contains her conversations and interviews with top innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers from Malaysia and around the globe, such as the co-founder of Skype, creator of Google Glass, and the youngest female to sell a company in the US. What makes it special is she added the life lessons she has learned from them.

Just like the tale of the mythological bird Phoenix, which was born out of ashes, she managed to rise from every failure and setback in her life, and it brings her to the day where she’s a book author inspiring young people in her community.

To more young people doing what they love

Eibhlin admitted that in her book, she decided to focus on more entrepreneurs and innovators. That way, she said, young people who read her book can be inspired to get excited about startups and technology.

Currently, The Phoenix Perspective has been bought by more than 700 high school and university students in Malaysia as well as around the globe. Beyond youth community, her book has also garnered attention from entrepreneurs and CEOs who come back for more copies as gifts for their teammates and friends.

“One local entrepreneur from Sabah, Malaysia, has bought a total of 20 books,” she shared.

At a relatively young age, Eibhlin has had a taste of what it’s like to rise above something that you don’t have control over and use what you’ve got to survive.

Her story is nothing new, and it is centered in the cycle of passion, struggles, hope, and victories that keep on turning. Not a startup hustler herself, her fight to tell stories of failures and successes that make the seemingly glamorous and achieving individuals more relatable and humane should be given a platform to reach more and more audiences.

Let’s all channel our inner Eibhlin.

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Image Credit: The Phoenix Perspective

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