Kai Yuan Neo
CTO & Co-Founder of Project We Forgot
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Caring, Focused, Smiling.
If you would be an animal, what would you be and why?
Tiger: strong, poised, and gentle
Tell us a bit about yourself and your current venture.
Project We Forgot helps families manage dementia with a family-oriented care tool and an online caregiver community. I chose healthcare because it is one of society’s most fundamental needs, and senior care is an increasingly acute problem, especially in Asia. Dementia is one of the biggest problems among older adults, and my co-founder Melissa has over 10 years of experience as a family caregiver for dementia. I am Singaporean and grew up in Hong Kong and the United States; I have lived in Singapore full-time since
If your life would be turned into a movie, what genre would it be?
Where did you get the entrepreneurial spirit from?
3 primary sources: Apple, Stanford, and How Asia Works by Joe Studwell.
I was first inspired to create products after early experiences with the iPod. I thought: “How can we create more functional and beautiful products for everyday life?” I was drawn more to tech businesses (e.g. hardware and software creation) than others (e.g. F&B, distribution) because I sensed modern technology was changing our world and had huge potential for profit.
I am greatly inspired by my peers at Stanford and in Silicon Valley. These people act on their beliefs and start movements to drive change through any means, including political rallies, crowdfunding campaigns, and software applications. Business is the vehicle that powers this change. If our peers can create successful companies, why can’t we?
I am further motivated to build companies because of a book about modern Asian development: How Asia Works by Joe Studwell. Joe clarifies why some countries develop and others do not: 1) Capable and responsible government, and 2) Export-oriented local
enterprise moving up the value chain. I believe I can drive biggest change through the private sector at this stage in my career.
What does your regular workday look like?
2. Combination of meetings, coding, planning
3. Meet a friend for dinner
What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
1. Work full-time on solving a problem that I believe needs solving
2. Create jobs, increase wealth in my country and region
3. The personal challenge and excitement of building a business
What is the most difficult thing about being your own boss?
I began my startup journey with a co-founder that decided after 3 months he could not come full-time. I felt alone, vulnerable, and depressed. I persisted and rallied family and friends to help. I could not pay salaries and felt deeply indebted. People came and left depending on their priorities. One day I met my current co-founder Melissa, and we soon joined forces. Since then many more employees and volunteers have come and gone.
A leader’s greatest challenge is convincing herself and all team members that the mission will succeed, even when success seems far away. When the company experiences tough times, its leaders need to keep the dream alive. The phrase “being your own boss” omits
one’s responsibility for other employees. This responsibility only grows, and it often feels like everyone else is your boss.
What motivates you the most?
The prospect of figuratively returning to where I was before starting this company - working a respectable job with good pay, but feeling anxiety for not realising a greater purpose. Our journeys only end when we give up, and I never wish to disappoint myself.
What is your favourite quote?
“Exceptional people are not normal.”
My close friend Justin shared this when I expressed concerns about my behaviour. I am strict with my time - I almost always leave parties early, attempting to sleep by 10pm and wake up by 7am daily. I eat the same food and wear the same clothes every day. I respond
to non-urgent messages only at the beginning of the day. Some find me strange; I do what I need to do.
What’s your personal manner of balancing work and life?
This article (https://techcrunch.com/2014/12/24/rethinking-work- life-balance/) I read in 2014 changed my perspective on work-life balance. I agree with Blake: work and life are artificial distinctions - it is all life.
I currently have 3 goals. 1) Enjoy close relationships with family and friends, 2) Relieve stress on families caring for dementia, and 3) Understand and encourage entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia.
I prioritise my basics to be most productive: sleep 9 hours a day, exercise every morning, see family and close friends regularly. All other time is prioritised to fulfill the above goals - primarily through Project We Forgot.
How do you “recharge your batteries”?
Book time for self-reflection. This usually involves tea on the balcony on Sundays.
Name the top 3 mobile apps, websites that make your work and life more effective.
Deleting 3 types of apps has made my life more effective. I used to check these apps regularly, and without them my life is more focused and present.
1. Social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram. I do not need to know what the majority of my friends are doing all the time, and I keep in touch with close friends over messaging apps.
2. News apps such as the New York Times and TechCrunch. I do not need to know the
latest Trump tweets or gossip in Silicon Valley. Headlines express short-term opinion, and more important are long-term trends, which I can read about in books and online.
3. Fitness apps such as Apple Watch. I find fitness data not actionable unless one has a medical condition or is a serious athlete. Those looking to maintain standard fitness do not need detailed tracking and monitoring. My Casio frees me from another distraction on my phone.
What is the best advice you have received, and that you still follow?
高处不胜寒 (gāo chù bù shèng hán). In high places, one cannot avoid the cold.
My dad is passionate about Chinese culture and shared this when I was growing up. I didn’t think much of it until I started making more decisions and charting my own path. It reminds me that it is normal for leaders to feel lonely when defending their beliefs. One must not shy from the “cold” when making controversial decisions.
What do you value most about being an EYES member?
At the first meeting at my first EYES event in Kuala Lumpur, as I sought to find my place in the group and understand its culture, a sharply-dressed handsome frenchman François walked calmly to the front, gathered everyone’s attention, and as if a rocket launched, yelled ONE TWO THREE! Without hesitation, everyone blasted in unison: EYES!
This repeated for about 5 minutes.
Beyond the energy, I value our diverse perspectives and common values. My only EYES event so far has been the KL event, and I am inspired by the quality of our leadership and the humility of our members. In one room are people that have built and led organisations
big and small, in all kinds of industries, that have cultural context in every continent. Despite these successes, EYES members are humble enough to share their deepest vulnerabilities, failures, and shortcomings freely with one another. These are the kinds of friends that I want to be around and learn from.