Dorcas Cheng-Tozun 6/20
Kathy: [00:02:15] Hi, Dorcas. How are you?
Dorcas: [00:02:16] I’m good. How are you, Kathy?
Kathy: [00:02:19] Oh, I’m so good. I’m so good. I wish we didn’t live so far apart. I’d really love to just sit down with you and have tea or coffee or whatever
Dorcas: [00:02:27] . Yes, that would be great.
Kathy: [00:02:32] Yep. Um, your book Start.Love. Repeat: how to stay in love with your entrepreneur in a crazy startup world came out about the time that I was starting to look for resources for entrepreneur marriage.
You know, my background is a marriage and family therapist, and I was looking to niche down a little bit and kind of specialize. And so it’s been about. Two and a half years ago. Is that when your book
Dorcas: [00:02:59] came out? Yeah, that’s about right.
Kathy: [00:03:02] 2017
Dorcas: [00:03:03] end of 2017.
Kathy: [00:03:05] Okay. And when I found that, I was like, Oh my gosh, I have found my soul sister.
And then I read your book and, um, it just, it really resonated with me. So thank you for writing it. We’ll get into that, but. You and I had a Skype chat,
I think it was in November of 2017. And you had a new little baby and I just so appreciated being able to touch base with you. And we’ve had some email conversations since then.
And, um, here we are today minus Ned
Dorcas’s husband. Ned is
very private. She said, and really doesn’t. Want to be interviewed. And I, I understand that, but yeah, he was very gracious to allow you to write as you did.
Dorcas: [00:03:53] And your book was, he was, and, and just to assure everyone, Ned got to read every word of the book before I submitted it to the publisher.
So he knew exactly what I was putting out there into the world and nothing was, um, publicized without his permission. Right. It’s understanding. And, and even though he is. Uh, more private than me. Um, he totally understands that I am, um, wanting to use some of the challenges that we’ve been through as a couple, as a way to support and encourage and help others.
So, um, knowing that it’s going toward a good, cause I think makes him more willing to put some of our dirty laundry out there for folks.
Kathy: [00:04:36] Well, I think you did a beautiful job of. Being vulnerable as Brene Brown would say, you know, vulnerable enough that your readers go, Oh, Somebody else is on this journey, but then you also really did a great job of providing resources and, background information.
What, what prompted you to write the book?
Dorcas: [00:05:00] I needed help for myself. So, at that point, Ned and I had been married for about nine years. He started business school as soon as we got married and then he started his company while he was still in business school. So essentially his company has, Existed, almost as long as our marriage has, and it has defined so much of what it has meant for us to be together and to relate to one another and to figure out how to do life together.
And I just kept thinking, okay, it’s going to get better. It’s going to get better. We’re going to figure this out. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be fine. Um, and it just, you know, there were seasons where sometimes it felt a little bit better and then it would get crazy again and then they get a little better and then you get crazy again.
And, and then by, by year nine of our marriage, we had. Um, finally had our first child. So we had put that off for quite a number of years because the startup was just so demanding on our lives. And there just wasn’t space for us to think about expanding our family, but we finally were ready to do it. We had our first child and it was just brutal because I suddenly realized that there were so many times that I felt like.
A single parent, even though I wasn’t, um, because Ned was traveling a ton, working a ton and it led to a lot of conflict and resentment between us. And it made me realize, I don’t think this journey is getting any easier. Right. And we need help because whatever we’re doing now, it’s not working. And so then I started looking and poking around and, you know, like, like you were saying, looking around for resources and as I’m sure you found, there’s not that much out there.
I mean, there’s a little bit here and there, a couple of the books that have been written on this topic. Um, but, but in terms of like, I really wanted to hear from someone who was kind of still in the middle of it and who, who. Didn’t have it all neatly tied up into a bow and had it all figured out and was on the other side of an exit and was living off of the millions, you know, that they had earned.
Um, I just wanted to know, like, what is the real nitty gritty truth, you know, is what I’m experiencing normal. Um, is there anything that can be done about it or is it just hard? No, and stop and there’s nothing, nothing to do. And, um, and so then I decided, well, since this book doesn’t exist and I happen to be a writer, maybe I can just write the book that I need for myself.
And so I spent about two and a half years researching the book. So interviewed a lot of. MFTs like yourself, um, talked to a number of coaches, executive coaches who work with entrepreneurs and their spouses. And it was great actually, cause I felt like I got so much free therapy out of the process and they were so generous with their time and so kind and giving of their expertise and what they had seen and learned over the years.
And then I got to talk to about 70 different entrepreneurial couples. And I feel like that was really the heart of it, right? I mean, that’s where you really get into the trenches of, of what works, what doesn’t, what is, you know, What is the most heartbreaking and the most encouraging and the most beautiful thing out of this journey of trying to do a startup together and do life together.
Kathy: [00:08:22] Sometimes it’s hard for me to put into words why entrepreneur marriage? Why not just marriage? Isn’t it just any marriage. And I think one of the things that I took away from your book is you did a good job of. Kind of delineating the different risks. And, um, I wanted to read a, a quote from your book, “the allure of an adventurous, fulfilling and inspirational life is something that few of us are immune to, but the entrepreneurial path exacts a cost, almost all of which is personal. Entrepreneurs live at the epicenter of the struggle.
() And you capitalize that struggle) and breathe and bleed every high and low. This inevitably affects their health, their character, their priorities, and their loved ones.” And that would be me and you. Yeah. And you know, as you said, while there are a lot of boards, Mark was part of C12 , which is a Christian peer board.
There was Vistage there’s. I think it was called young entrepreneurs. But there are a lot of resources for an entrepreneur, but even when Mark was in C 12, there really wasn’t anything for the wives. Now I think they’ve
some, and I say wives, I don’t know the statistics, but observations from my own backyard are that the riskier businesses are usually started by men.
Certainly there are lots of women and. Our experiences.
Dorcas: [00:10:00] It does. It does skew male entrepreneurs in general. And then certainly what you’re saying with the higher risk. Yeah.
Kathy: [00:10:07] Yeah. When I read it, of course being a therapist, the sections on communication were all very good, but it was sort of like, yeah, yeah, I’ve got that piece.
But there was a section and a term that I was not familiar with. Um, satisficing, uh, you talk about how Steve jobs and I think Mark Zuckerberg, they wear the same shirt every day and it’s a term. Let’s see your resource was the neuroscientist and psychologist, Daniel Levitan, author of The Organized Mind, mind thinking straight in the age of information overload and he talks about, or how he describes satisficing.
I guess it’s a combination of satisfying and sufficing like suffice is good enough. But it’s one way that people with a lot on their minds. Simplify it.
Dorcas: [00:11:07] Yeah. I mean, the premise is being that each of us, our brains only have so much capacity to process certain things at a certain amount of time. And so if you have a lot going on, you know, that’s why we can only listen to one person talking to us at one time.
And if a second person jumps in and then certainly if a third person jumps in, then everything just starts to get all jumbled in our brain and, and entrepreneurs have. So much going on. Right? I mean, there was no such thing as being an entrepreneur and just wearing one hat. They are at least a dozen hats.
You are doing finance, you’re doing sales, you’re doing admin. Um, you’re doing marketing, you’re doing HR and. It just, it is so much to carry in your mind that the rest of life kind of begins to fade into gray. And it’s those little details of what am I going to eat for breakfast? What shirt am I gonna wear today?
Um, what gas station am I going to stop at on the way home? Like those things. Start to not matter. And so, yeah, fine. You know, I’ll just wear a gray tee shirt every day and, you know, eat the exact same cereal every day to simplify my life as much as possible so that I can save the best of my brain processing power for.
My business, but unfortunately I think it’s very easy for family and marriage and spouses to kind of get thrown into that category of, well, this is something I don’t need to put as much time and thought into.
Kathy: [00:12:37] Yeah. And you went on to talk about how
Dorcas: [00:12:41] that
Kathy: [00:12:42] spills over and impacts the spouse because the spouse is picking up all of those pieces.
And I think if that was a term or if I had. I mean, I think at some level I was aware of that because at the time that Mark started his business, we had three children. I think our oldest was in high school. So we had like high school, junior high, elementary. I had a private practice, but pretty much everything…
doctor’s appointments, uh, sports practices, music practice, anything extracurricular? Yeah, lots of things fell on my plate. And some of it, I took on willingly just trying to do what I could to help because I saw his stress level. And I knew that ultimately, this is. Our business, it impacts our family. And I think I wasn’t very good at expressing my needs at that point.
So, you know, it did create some resentment at times, but I think. That term and that concept of, you know, having a term like that and being able to talk about it, then it’s the benefit of labeling anything. Right. When we label it, we can then begin to deal with it. So, well, I just, ah, I’m so appreciative of, of Ned for, um, like it’s at his willingness to, you know, pull back the curtain a little bit on your marriage.
Um, but I also really appreciate how you, you brought in such practical resources. So let me just say at the beginning. Yeah. If you’re listening to this and you have not read this book yet, go straight to Amazon and order it. It’s great.
And you are about to birth another book baby, right?
Dorcas: [00:14:39] Yes. Yes. So I’ll ask about that.
Sure. It does seem an interesting thing. That happens. I think anyone who is married to an entrepreneur will find that your life can not help but be somehow intertwined with the work and the life of your spouse. And, um, so my first book, Start .Love. Repeat came out of my experience, being married to Ned.
And then, um, my second book, which is coming out in, um, July, July 21st is actually a book about the history of Ned’s company, which is called d.Light. So they provide solar powered products for families living without reliable electricity in developing countries. So things like solar powered lights, phone chargers, radio, uh, Even television, um, and fans, uh, for those who live in hotter climates and they recently just in January of this year celebrated the milestone of reaching their 100 million customer.
Kathy: [00:15:43] Wow. That’s
Dorcas: [00:15:45] It’s been an incredible ride to get here. Uh,
Kathy: [00:15:49] We’re to
get into that whole story.
Dorcas: [00:15:51] So, um, moments that felt really great. And I would say maybe more moments that felt kind of awful and many, many, many times that we thought the company just wasn’t even gonna make it. So the fact that we’re here, that the company is still standing, that we’re surviving this pandemic that, um, you know, they’re continuing to make a great impact in the world.
That was something we thought was really worth celebrating. And, um, and also wanting to tell the story of how it happened because social enterprise, which is what the company is right. So a for profit company with a very strong social mission, uh, I think that there are still skeptics out there of whether or not it’s really possible to have that kind of company and to have it scale, to have it succeed.
And so we want to show like, yes, it can be done. That being said, it’s very very difficult. There’s going to be a lot of sacrifices and hard decisions along the way, but, but it’s possible. And so our hope is that this book will probably be more for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs, investors, um, folks in the NGO world, the development world who really want to see a.
A real life 3d story of this is how it’s done. This is what it will require of you. These are the kinds of things that you need to think about, you know, what are all the most valuable business lessons that we learned? So I think similar to, to Start. Love. Repeat, Our hope is to be fairly vulnerable and open about the mistakes that were made.
Um, a lot of the challenges that we had, but to also provide. You know, a lot of encouragement and valuable lessons and practical advice that, that people can take away with them.
Kathy: [00:17:29] Gosh, that is great. I look forward to reading it and look forward to when it’s out. So you said end of July. Okay.
Dorcas: [00:17:38] It’ll be on Amazon.
Kathy: [00:17:39] Oh, fantastic. Well, congratulations. That is, that’s a lot of work on your part.
Dorcas: [00:17:45] Yes, it is. And I have to say, you know, I had kind of mixed. Feelings about it. When Ned asked me to write the book because, um, I think like many entrepreneur spouses, I, I sort of have a love, hate relationship with the business.
You know, love what, what they’re doing. I love the impact they’re having. I love how it brings out the best in Ned in terms of his passion and his desire to make a really positive impact in the world and his leadership. And there are so many things I admire about d.Light and yet. You know, so many of the most painful experiences I’ve had in my life are tied to d.Light.
It has been because of the sacrifices and the choices that we’ve made for the sake of the company. And, and so I wasn’t sure if I was the best person to. To write the book, but yeah. Yeah. But you have convinced me that, um, that, that it made sense in terms of, you know, I actually worked for d.Light for a number of years, still do some consulting work for the company.
I know a lot of the folks who’ve been involved over the years. And so it certainly made it much easier to write the book to, you know, I also did a lot of interviews for this book. Um, so because everybody knew me, it was really easy to get them together. And, um, to hear lots of great stories, both. Good bad and ugly.
And, and then to be able to put that together into a really compelling narrative.
Kathy: [00:19:08] Yeah. Well, I look forward to it and congratulations, like I said, it’s, it is a birth process much longer than carrying a baby. Well, let’s dive into your story. Give us a snapshot of where you are currently, how long you guys have been married, where you’re living, children.
Dorcas: [00:19:30] Yes. So we’ve been married for almost 15 years. We have two kids. Uh, so we have one newly christened, eight year old, he just turned eight and then another son who is two and a half. And, um, currently we live in the San Francisco Bay area. We, this is home for both Ned and me. We grew up in this area, but we’ve, if you’ve read the book you’ll know that we’ve done three stints overseas because of d.Light. So we lived in China and Hong Kong for about three and a half years, and then we’ve actually lived in Nairobi, Kenya twice and just returned from Nairobi last summer. So it’s been a little less than a year since we’ve been back in the U S um, and d.Light is now in it’s, I believe 14th year. And, you know, I mentioned the a hundred million customer milestone. So, uh, on the one hand, you know, d.Light is certainly out of the startup stage. They have about 1500 employees around the world. Um, I think, uh, It does in different regional offices, the vast majority of the work, as you may imagine happens in, um, in other parts of the world.
So manufacturing is in China. Sales are in South and Southeast Asia and throughout Africa, um, a little bit in Latin America and the Pacific and other areas like that. Um, but you know, it also, there are times where it feels like you never leave the startup stage. You know, there’s always risks. I think, especially when you’re working in emerging markets and developing countries, it is so incredibly unpredictable, what can happen, um, or you can get hit by a global pandemic and it doesn’t matter where your business is and it will hit you hard.
Yes, you’re doing or where you are. But, but certainly over the years, we’ve discovered that emerging markets are just. Unstable. And so, you know, and especially because d.light Is global, they’re working in so many different places. It is very likely at some. Um, at least once a year, if not more often, like one of their core markets will be hit with some kind of crisis.
So it could be political instability, it could be a famine. Um, it could be war. It could be, you know, there’s all sorts of things, uh, or a virus or a virus, or, you know, even, um, could be very much manmade crises like in, um, India, a few years back. They, they, so India is one of d.Lights, core markets, the government decided and announced pretty much overnight that all of their 501,000 rupee notes. So the bank notes, the money would no longer be valid by, I think it was the next day or at most my goodness. And so then you had this mad rush where everybody was going to the banks to try to exchange their old currency for the new currency.
And of course the banks ran out and. People were just sitting on all this cash that they couldn’t use anymore. It was no longer valid. And so, um, so that’s, that’s something that we talk about in the book where, you know, uh, d.Light had been partnering with microfinance organizations to finance their products so that people who are very, very low income could still afford it.
So they, you know, maybe just pay, um, The equivalent of a few dollars a month, and then they could eventually pay off, you know, a larger solar home system let’s say. And, um, and, but suddenly, you know, so they were selling a hundred thousand units a month and then it suddenly went down to zero. they had no money.
And so they couldn’t pay for anything. It wasn’t just, you know, our businesses suffered, but it was many, many businesses that suffered and it was total chaos in India for months on end because of that. So, so I think there, we definitely have this sense of like, we’re not out of the woods and I don’t know that we will ever be out of the woods, you know?
Um, and it’s just kind of the nature of, of the work that, that. D.light does. Um, I think, I think that’s not going to be the case for every startup. Um, but, but this has been our path.
Kathy: [00:23:39] Well, I hear you. And there is something to acknowledging what is and just saying, well, this is how it is. There’s not ever going to be a coast mode.
Our business is assisted living. So the virus also has been of great concern for us so far, so good, but we have fall and winter to go. And there’s a big question mark of. Potential, but gosh, working in so many countries, you just have to be nimble and
Does Ned have people in each of these different countries that are that manage locally?
Or how does that work in the business?
Dorcas: [00:24:28] So that’s something that has become easier as delight has scaled and become a little bit more well known is that it’s become easier to recruit really excellent talent. And so, um, Ned has a great executive leadership team that he works with that are scattered around the world.
And, and then also in each. Um, region, you know, there’s a managing director of, of the various regions and then there are country directors under them. And then like, it just, it goes on down from there. It’s a pretty complex organization at this point, but, um, And what’s great is that, you know, it is, it is all local leadership.
And so there are extraordinarily talented managers and leaders within Africa, within Asia who know the market who understand the customers better than we ever could. And so it’s wonderful to be able to rely on their expertise and to have them contribute in really, really meaningful ways to the team.
Kathy: [00:25:32] Well, let me back up one step. You said that d.Light started when he was he in graduate
Dorcas: [00:25:38] school. He was in business school,
Kathy: [00:25:40] business school. Okay. Like getting his MBA. When you and Ned married, what, what was your understanding of what work was going to look like? Did you know that he was an entrepreneur or even know what that term was?
Dorcas: [00:25:59] Yes. Although, I think I was still extraordinarily naive about what it would mean for us as a married couple. So Ned and I met as freshmen in college. So we had actually been dating for quite a while already. By the time we got married, we had been together for seven years before we got married. Uh, so. So all throughout college, he had, he had shown symptoms of being an entrepreneur in terms of not being able to settle on a major, not really having a clear sense of what do you want to do.
I mean, he was all over the place and I knew he was really bright. I knew he was really hard worker. I knew like he was going to make something of himself, but it was also a little bit concerning because I had my major, I stuck with my major. I graduated with that major. And then I went into that field, you know, and it’s straight path that I followed and his path was nowhere near, straight.
And. And then he, so when he graduated, he, um, graduated with a degree in computer science. He was, uh, just has a real knack for programming. And then, um, also a degree in earth systems cause he really loves studying about the environment and ecology. Uh, and, but he also loved music. So his first job out of college was as an audio engineer programming for these huge sound mixing consoles that are used for like movies, film, production. and it, like, it seems like a great job to me. I was like, it’s stable. It’s well,
this is good.
It’s in line with what you know, and he did it for about six months and then quit with absolutely no idea what he was going to do next, because he hated it that much. I mean, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the company per se, but just, you know, the whole, like sitting at your desk, coding all day, it, it just.
Really killed his soul. Like it sucked the life out of him, but he had no idea what he wanted to do. Um, so at this point we weren’t married yet, so I was like, okay, you go figure it out. And my assumption was, he will figure it out by the time we get married. Um, and, and so then he ended up starting a couple of small businesses with other friends and.
Uh, neither of them really took off. And I think I kind of assumed that it was him getting this bug out of his system and eventually he would settle down and, and then he said he wanted to go to business school, which was kind of, um, really surprising to me. Cause it, it seemed like, okay, he is doubling down on something.
We don’t know exactly what but something in the business sector. So by then, and so we got married, he started business school by then. I. Yeah. I mean, it was clear that Ned really enjoyed being an entrepreneur. He really enjoyed starting new endeavors and that it was something that he was wanting to at least somehow be connected to.
So it wasn’t necessarily the case that he was sure that he wanted to start a company and it was going to be this and it was going to go this way. Um, but somehow he wanted to be connected to the startup world. And, um, but then, you know, while he was in business school, just, uh, joined a class at the Stanford business school, it’s actually, um, a collaboration between the business school and the design school at Stanford, which is called, um, um, Entrepreneurial design for extreme affordability.
So it’s all about how do you take the best design principles in the world? Like what companies like IDO use and apply it to solving some of the most entrenched social challenges in the world for the poorest families in the world. And, um, and so Ned took this class and just. Loved it and felt like he had found his place.
He had found his people. Uh, so they were put into groups to do a class project and he ended up with four other folks, three of whom would go on to co-found the company with him. And then another, uh, engineer would join later. And, um, and they were trying to design a light that could replace the kerosene lantern.
Um, so we’ve made a little bit of a dent in this challenge, but it’s still, you know, around almost one and a half mil. One and a half billion people in the world rely on kerosene lanterns for light access to electricity, or they can’t afford it. Even things like flashlights, very unreliable don’t last long enough.
And so people burn kerosene and it’s terrible and it’s a ton. It makes people super sick. It causes fires and it’s expensive because you have to constantly be replenishing the kerosene oil that you’re burning. So, so their desire was to replace the kerosene lantern. And so they. Built a prototype for the class and out of that, the four of them.
And then plus the one engineer later decided like, Hey, this could be something real. Let’s, let’s try to turn it into something real. And so by the time he graduated in, um, 2007, they had already secured a few hundred thousand dollars in funding and were ready to launch. So, so that’s how it got started.
Kathy: [00:31:21] And what is d.Light exactly. Is it battery powered? So
Dorcas: [00:31:27] it is all solar powered, meaning that all the products are get energy from, from the sun. So they’re charged during the day the products or the solar panel gets put out during the day. And then it charges a battery that then can power a light or fan or.
Or television or a phone charger at night or anytime of day, really. Um, and, and these products are meant to be extremely durable, uh, actually even better quality than what we have here in the U S because you can imagine the kinds of environments that d.Lights customers live in are really tough. You know, they, they have dust and dirt and monsoons and, you know, livestock that can come trampling through.
Um, and wild animals and all kinds of things. And so they need to be really, really tough. And, and so that’s what has made us extremely high quality, but also affordable products that, um, that people can buy and use for years. Um, and, and then in, in the last couple of years, they’ve released. These solar home systems.
So it’s a larger panel that can be installed on a roof. And then it charges a large, larger battery that can then power multiple devices. So, you know, multiple lights, phone charger, radio TV, and then actually people who are living in these extraordinarily rural areas in Asia or Africa or a Pacific Island, they start to feel like.
They are living with the electric grid. Like, it almost feels the same. Like when you have a reliable source of energy that can power, um, that can power appliances for you where you can watch TV. Like everyone else, you can charge your phone. Like everyone else, you can have lights on at night, like everyone else.
Um, it is extraordinarily life changing for these families. And so it’s incredibly inspiring. To be even peripherally a part of what delight does, but yeah, as I’ve been saying it hasn’t been easy at all
Kathy: [00:33:30] has not been easy. So it started about 14 years ago with, did you say five
Dorcas: [00:33:36] founders? Five, five co-founders.
Okay. So tell us about
Kathy: [00:33:40] maybe the early stage where, so you, you, they have a concept. Then comes proof of concept.
Tell us a little bit about that stage, trying to prove this product and being able to sell it and raise money. I’m sure
Dorcas: [00:33:56] it was extraordinarily challenging. So back then, you know, this is 2007, 2008.
Um, The, the idea of social enterprise was very, very new at that time. So most investors were extraordinarily skeptical. Um,
Kathy: [00:34:12] it’s not a sexy product like Apple or
Dorcas: [00:34:16] right, right. And you know, most investors wanted them because the more common model is your primary market is a place like the U S and Europe.
And then you take some of your profits and you siphon that off to help people in developing countries. Right. But, but they were proposing that no, like our core market is going to be what are called base of the pyramid families. Right. So the very, very lowest income. Families in the world who do not have much money, but there are so many of them.
And so it’s actually a huge market and they have so few products that are available to them. And so what the daylight team did really well, I feel like it’s, they invested so much, and this was one of the things that they learned through the design class I took was the importance of field testing and customer research.
So. Every single one of the founders, all five of them, um, spent. Just, I mean, the equivalent of probably weeks and weeks and weeks in the field, you know, in places like Cambodia and Myanmar or Burma, um, in Africa, in Nigeria, in Kenya and Uganda and Tanzania, um, in all these pretty challenging areas that your typical business student wouldn’t necessarily travel to.
They would go and just spend all day. And sometimes even all night with these customers, interviewing them, learning about their lives, observing them, um, trying to really, really understand what is it that you need and letting them tell the founders, you know, what is it that I want? What is it that I need?
What can I afford? What would I want it to look like? What functionality would I want it to have? What features instead of. You know, having us go in and assume that we know because, Hey, we’re for Americans. So somehow that means that we should know more, which is completely untrue. And, and so, uh, you know, I, I went on one of these research trips with Ned and his cofounders.
And, um, I will be honest, that is the only one I’ve ever done because it was so tough and they worked at least 16 hours a day. And you were out in these completely, you know, these very, very rural remote areas. So it’s like no running water, no electricity, no toilets, no. You know, and we’re just out there with this family.
And, um, I was in India in, in, um, which are project and, um, and then when it gets dark, it is dark, you know, the darkest, dark. I have ever seen, like here in the U S we don’t really know what dark is because there’s always lights on.
Kathy: [00:37:06] We’ve had to designate night skies or dark skies to find that anymore.
Dorcas: [00:37:11] Right. And, um, and so. It. I mean, it was very, very profound to be among those families and to see their lives and for, you know, for some of them just how very, very, very tough it is. You know, we come across one village where the only. Real work available was, um, they would just take axes or hammers, um, or even like big sticks and they would just grind down rocks.
And that was the only thing that was like the main job available. And so you see old men doing it, we saw middle-aged men doing it and we saw children doing it. Um, and, and so it, it was extraordinarily humbling and I think it’s. It’s those kinds of images, but also the images of, you know, how much people’s lives change after they have access to solar power and these solar powered products that have really kept us going over all these years.
Um, cause otherwise I think it would have been very easy to give up along the way. So, so all that to say, you know, did a ton of customer field research came out with, um, prototype. Got funding. I think the first products were launched in 2008. Um, during the summer, the manufacturing was a huge challenge in the beginning of where do we manufacture?
Who do we manufacture with? Um, eventually they decided to do it in China, which, you know, China remains pretty much the best place in the world to, to manufacture electronics at an affordable rate and they can do it very, very well. You just need to, you know, work closely with the factories to, uh, ensure that they know, um, what it is exactly that you want.
So, um, you know, I, it’s funny because this whole proof of concept it, I mean, it came in stages and it can. Um, unveiled itself over years and years because it’s like, okay, well first there’s the product design, then there’s the manufacturing. Then there’s the sales. Then there’s the marketing. Then there’s the distribution.
And I feel like every step of the way d.Light has had to forge a path because there wasn’t necessarily a, an already worn road that they could travel and, and it was hard, you know, it was not really possible to figure everything out at once. So they kind of just had to do it step by step
Kathy: [00:39:39] a lot of trial and error.
Dorcas: [00:39:42] Absolutely. Absolutely many, many errors along the way. Um, and, uh, and, but, you know, I think it’s been through a lot of perseverance. I think a lot of humility as well of being willing to admit when we made this mistake, when we made a wrong call, um, when we need to, you know, go back and totally undo things or redo things.
Um, and then, um, and then going forward from there.
Kathy: [00:40:09] So you had proof of concept along the way. It took probably several years. How long would you say before they knew this was viable and maybe raise more money or expand into other markets?
Dorcas: [00:40:27] Yeah, so I would say that first year, 2008 to 2009 was pretty critical.
So that was when, um, the. Uh, initial product came out, which actually was very well received. Um, it was called the Nova and it was a solar powered lights that had, I believe, four different light settings in terms of brightness. Um, it was really. Really solid. I think, um, our team in India dropped it off of a five story building and it did fine.
It just bounced a little bit, and then you could still turn it back on and it worked great. Um, and, but the problem was that it wasn’t very affordable. So it was out of the reach of, um, many of the customers that we wanted to reach. Um, and. At that point financing wasn’t available. So that became over time.
It became clear to us that this question of affordability is huge for, for our customers. But at that time, you know, it was about a $35 product, which is a huge amount of money for extremely low income families that are making, you know, one, two, three at most $5 a day. And. But they did have seed funding, you know, by, by, I think end of summer or around summer of 2008, they had raised about one and a half million dollars in seed funding.
So, so that was enough to give the company runway for one to two years. Um, and, and the product was really well received. Um, but it was just a question of, you know, how do we make it more affordable? And, um, and so then, um, I think it was probably by 2010, you know, and. As soon as the product came out, I think it was very clear in everybody’s minds that there’s something here because when people have the money, they will absolutely go for it.
And people who are able to afford the product and use it, they love it, you know? And so we, um, would go. Do customer satisfaction surveys in various villages. And oftentimes, you know, it’d be something like 95% or more would say that they were extremely satisfied with the product. And so, so there really, I think even from the beginning, wasn’t that much a question of, is there a need or is there a demand or do people like it.
Those were very, very clear. It was just a question of how do we make it affordable and how do we get it to them? Because distribution is certainly. And goodness, really challenging question and as well as sales and marketing and even just letting people know about it. Right. Cause also at that time, solar was a really new concept in, um, in emerging markets.
And, and so a lot of time was spent just explaining to people. This is how it works. Um, You know, it’s different from what you’ve seen before. I promise you it does work, you know, but, but it’s hard. It can feel really, really risky when you have a limited amount of money. And somebody coming in and saying like, Hey, look at this brand new technology.
Um, and you just. You don’t know. Right. And, and so to convince people to take that risk, I think to find those early adopters were probably one of the greatest challenges, but once the market started to get seated and people could see like their neighbors or their friends or their family members were using the products and the products were lasting and working well and really making life better for them then, um, then I think there was just no question.
There was absolutely no question in people’s minds. And so then I believe it was in 2010 that that d.light Launched its second solar powered light, which was about half the price. Um, or even less than half the price of the original Nova. It ended up being about like a 12 to $15 product. Um, and so then that started to get into a newer segment of the market where more people could afford it.
Um, but I would say it really wasn’t until. Even more recently than that. Um, in 2016, uh, delays from the beginning, they had always wanted to have a $5 retail, solar light. Wow. And it was just really, really hard to get down to that price. Um, especially back in 2008, 2010. Um, and so to some extent, we just had to wait for the technology to improve.
Like, so the cost of solar has gone down significantly since 2008, the cost of LEDs, which is, you know, the light source has gone down. Even the batteries, the cost of batteries, the quality of batteries, um, all those things have, um, Have become more affordable, which then of course makes the end product more affordable.
And I think, you know, we’ve just had some fabulous product designers who have worked for d.light And worked really, really hard to try to cut every cent possible out of, um, the cost of, of. Building the product and yeah. And so then, um, so then delight is able to pass that savings onto the customer. So it wasn’t 2016 that they finally finally were able to launch a $5 solar light.
And then that starts to become extremely affordable. Cause even the family who is making one to $2 a day can consider making a $5 investment in something that will pay for itself. Really quickly, because then you don’t have to buy kerosene anymore. You don’t have to worry about the health issues. Um, a lot of shopkeepers use, uh, daylight products to light up their shops and then there’s shops can stay open for longer and then they can sell more goods and make more money for their family.
Or like farmers can work later into the night if they need to. And so it actually helps enable all of these income generating activities that. Boost the overall quality of life for the family. Um, and then inspiring. Yeah. And then I think another huge thing in the d.lIght story has been this question of financing is that, you know, they started working with microfinance organizations in India.
And then, um, when do you like started selling these larger home systems that I was talking about? So those are of course are going to cost more money. Um, but, but they have built. Financing into it. Um, so in, in Africa, the, it is very, very common to use mobile money. Which we’re just starting to do here at the U S but we are actually years behind Africa.
So I’m, so in, in Africa you have, um, vast numbers of people who do not have access to a bank. They don’t have bank accounts. You know, it used to be that the best they could do for savings was to put money under the mattress. Right. And, um, but now with, um, a lot of people having, I mean, almost everybody has a mobile phone and then.
More and more people are getting access to smartphones, but even with like a very simple mobile phone, you can, um, there are companies now that have set up, um, systems so that you can basically turn your phone into a bank account. And store money on, on your phone and you can use it to send money to other people.
If you need to pay other people, you can go to the store and pay with your phone, um, and you can pay your bills with your phone. And so, so that’s the infrastructure that d.light Is using now where people pay through their phone. And, and so they just pay a very small daily rate of about 25 cents. That covers the cost of operating the solar home system.
And, but also the money that they pay on a daily rate or, you know, they could pay ahead if they wanted to, that goes toward paying off the cost of the system. So at some point, usually within one to two years, they own it and they no longer need to make payments. And so then they just have access to electricity, free electricity, um, for years.
And they become important people in their community.
Yes, yes, very much so. Um, so they become ambassadors for d.light. They, some of them have become salespeople for d.light and have done a wonderful job of earning commissions for their family. Um, as well as, you know, it allows them. To open up businesses, they could charge other people’s phones, like it hosts events.
Um, so it, it becomes really invaluable for these families. But, um, but I think, you know, at, at this point there’s, and maybe all along there just hasn’t really been a question of, um, will this work or do people want it, it’s more just like, can we do it, can we do it in the right way and get it to people? Um, and can we find people.
Educate them and sell it to them in a way that they can afford.
Kathy: [00:49:24] Yeah. Oh my goodness. So inspiring. And they’ll never run out of customers for sure. Along the way then, or in this early stage of the business, what your work was very different. You were, what were you doing for work?
Dorcas: [00:49:41] Uh, well, when Ned first started d.Light, when he was in business school, I was working in the nonprofit sector.
So I worked in the nonprofit sector for a number of years. And then I think right before we moved to China, I was working for a local County government, actually doing affordable housing here in the Bay area, which. So many years later, unfortunately it’s still a huge problem in the Bay area, but, um, yeah.
And so then when, when he asked me to move to China with him, obviously that work was not something I could do any longer and the place that we were moving to in China, uh, city question, Jen, at that time, it’s actually developed quite a bit since we were there. Um, but. Aside from manufacturing related jobs, there wasn’t that much available.
And I didn’t want to teach English. That’s something a lot of foreigners do there, but I didn’t want to do that. And so then, um, I ended up joining delight and, and working for them as their head of HR and global communications. Um, So that was my first startup experience was working with my husband on his new company in a foreign country.
Kathy: [00:50:51] Oh my goodness. How far into your marriage or where the business was that move to China?
Dorcas: [00:50:57] Yeah, so we had been married for three years and then the business had been going for about a year and a half.
Kathy: [00:51:06] Okay. And from your book, was this the time that was really. Became really kind of a crisis for you?
Dorcas: [00:51:16] Yes.
Yes. So being in China was an extraordinarily challenging time. I think there were a lot of factors that went into it. Um, one was just being in a new place. It was my first time living in a country, outside the U S uh, I’m Chinese American. If folks are listening to this and can’t see me. Um, so I think I went in assuming like, It’s fine.
I’m Chinese, they’re Chinese. It’ll be no problem. And, and then I got there and realized that being Chinese American is nothing like being, um, a Chinese national and, and certainly they felt the same about me. And, and so a lot of the Chinese nationals that I ran across in intention just were not particularly kind to me.
They were very harsh about my inability to speak Mandarin. I grew up speaking Cantonese, which is a different Chinese dialect. Um, but you know, didn’t matter what mattered was that I couldn’t speak Mandarin and, you know, I didn’t understand the customs or the norms. Um, I couldn’t read totally illiterate when it comes to Chinese.
And, and so. Yeah, people just treated me like an idiot. Cause they looked at me and they saw somebody who on the outside looked like they should know what they’re doing and I didn’t, and it drove them bonkers. And um, and then also the fact that I was with, um, my, my husband a lot. So Ned is a tall white guy.
And, um, it just is not commonly seen there or, um, or if you do see a Chinese woman with a white man, um, really the only circumstances under which that happens is if the woman is his interpreter or his secretary, um, or his mistress. So, um, so I was treated accordingly. So people would come up to me and ask me to interpret.
Or, uh, or they would, you know, try to get me to do grit and work for them or, or they would make assumptions about Ned and my relationship. And it was just, it was not even considered a possibility that we could actually be married. Wow. That was really hard. That was how
Kathy: [00:53:35] you felt on the outside on every level.
Dorcas: [00:53:38] Yes. And then we were, of course, very much cut off from our family and friends. Back home. And I was, you know, I still don’t know if it was unnecessarily, so, but I was pretty paranoid about, um, You know, cause the, your communications are very much monitored when you were in China. Right? So like emails are read, phone calls are listened to, um, and so it just made me really paranoid.
It’s not something we’re used to here and I didn’t know how to handle it. Um, and so then it made me feel like I couldn’t talk openly with people here in the U S about. How hard things were in China that I wasn’t sure if I could freely complain about some of the ways in which I felt oppressed. And, um, and so then it became.
Extremely extremely isolating. And there aren’t a lot of expats that live in Schengen just cause it’s not very expat friendly city. So it’s really hard to make friends. And then on top of all of that, there was the stress of the startup and the startup is really, really struggling at that time. You know, there’s one story.
We tell in the book where, um,d.Light had received its first container order, which was a huge and momentous victory and we were all celebrating and it was this, you know, Super exciting, a milestone that we were reaching and we were thinking, okay, this is it. Do you like, it’s going to take off now.
Cause it had just been little orders here and there and suddenly it’s like, okay, we’re sending, uh, you know, um, 20,000 units to East Africa. This is great. And then, you know, everyone worked their butts off to, to finish the products on time to get them on the ship. And then about two days later, we found out that.
There was a bug in the code of the, um, of the circuit. Such that it would drain the batteries and batteries before the products could even arrive at destination. And so by the time the products arrived in Tanzania, which is where they’re going. Um, they would, they were going to be dead, completely dead, like would not even turn on.
And, um, it, so it turned from celebration to total crisis
Kathy: [00:55:52] mourning.
Dorcas: [00:55:53] Yes. Cause there was a sense of if our very first container shipment has a 100% failure rate, then the company is dead. You know, like our reputation is shot. A brand is shot. Like we, everything that we are trying to build this company on, it’s going to be destroyed.
And so there were weeks of just. Panic outright in the office of what do we do? Do we like, you know, what’s this out to see there’s only so much you can, you can’t exactly go like call the ship back because it has tons of containers for other companies and other products. And, um, You know, so, um, I don’t want to ruin the story, but I will say that we were essentially saved by a miracle.
Kathy: [00:56:41] Wait and read the book.
Dorcas: [00:56:43] I know, I know, but it is one of the, several times over the life of d.Light that I, it honestly feels like we were saved by a miracle. So it was like, Some paperwork snafu that had nothing to do with us, led to the container, getting stuck in the middle East. And so like, couldn’t even make it to East Africa.
And it was stuck in the middle East for so long. Um, and at such high temperatures. Right. So you can imagine like inside a container, you know, outside it’s maybe a hundred degrees, 110 degrees. Inside the container, it could get up to like 130, 140, not good. That is enough to fry. Pretty sure. The battery. So, um, so the, so the products were going to be dead no matter what, even without that bug.
And, um, and so it may have been the first time that we all celebrated, you know, the product’s dying. It was like, you know, they died before we thought they were going to die. Um, but it wasn’t a natural concept. And so then we were able to recall the container. Fix up all the products fix the circuit, put in new batteries, shipped, reship it out to the customer, and they were actually working when they arrived and the customer’s happy anyways, so that, um, it was those kinds of things that we were dealing with in our first year, living in huge, huge.
And it was like, Things like Ned would go into the factory in the middle of, I mean, they were like, the factory would be going 24 hours a day and to try to help get the, um, the units out faster, you know, even people who had nothing to do with manufacturing or engineering would go in and work on the, on the factory line to try to help out, um, And then certainly there’s always the question as is the case for almost every startup of managing cash, trying not to run out of money, um, hiring new people, um, you know, it’s and like hiring new people in, in new countries.
So we were in China, Ned’s business partner was starting a sales office in India. So he was doing hiring in India and dealing with all kinds of stuff there as well. Um, but it’s just, there’s so much newness and so much uncertainty and so much, we have no idea what we are doing. I mean, every day was an exercise in not knowing where we were.
And so the stress of all of those things, of the business of, um, being isolated in a foreign country of being treated really poorly by the Chinese nationals, um, It, it just, um, it became too much for me. And so less than a year after we moved there, I crashed and burned and had, um, just fell into a very, very deep and dark depression.
And I think there was a lot of anxiety in there too, because it got to the point where, um, I had. I basically couldn’t work. It was really hard for me to interact with people. I didn’t even want to leave our apartment anymore because I felt like just stepping outside the door was not safe. Somebody was going to start yelling at me for something that I didn’t even know I had done.
And so it, it was extraordinarily difficult. And, um, and it was one of those moments where it felt like, okay, now you’ve got to choose me or you’ve got to choose the business. Um, and I think at that stage in our marriage, It still seemed to me like these dichotomous choices were a real thing. Um, I have come to understand since then that it’s usually not so black and white.
Um, and unfortunately it does for a lot
Kathy: [01:00:21] of startups. You know, we refer to them as the mistress sometimes because it’s, that, that business gets more attention and time sometimes then the spouse
and more love it can feel like how
did you guys address that? How did you meet that crisis?
Dorcas: [01:00:45] Well, it became apparent that remaining in China was not sustainable for me, that I was just going to completely lose my mind if we stayed there for too much longer. And also, you know, you can imagine in a place like Schengen, there just weren’t many resources in terms of like therapists and counselors and support groups. And I mean, there just wasn’t anywhere for me to go.
And so we were on our own and we didn’t even really have friends that we could turn to and. But then Ned felt like he had to stay in China for the sake of the business, that, that the office in China wasn’t strong enough yet in terms of its own management and leadership for him to be able to step away.
So thankfully I do have a very creative, uh, And innovative husband. And so he was able to find sort of a middle ground, a compromise that worked for both of us, which was, um, after, I mean, it still took a while for it to come to fruition. So about eight months after I first crashed in our apartment. Yeah.
Yeah. It was a long time. Um, he. Found a way to sort of finesse the business strategy, such that he could justify opening a new office in Hong Kong, which is just across the border from Schengen. And, um, and then he could. Commute, still commute into Schengen if he needed to, but we could live in Hong Kong. And, um, if anybody’s ever been to that part of the world, you’ll know that Hong Kong because of its long history as a British colony feels completely different from mainland China.
So. The vast majority of people who live there speak English and Cantonese, which is the language I grew up with. Um, it’s a much more, uh, cosmopolitan city, you know, seeing a Chinese woman and a white man together is nothing like nobody will even blink at that. Um, And, and there’s just a lot more there in terms of like, I could actually find a therapist in Hong Kong and I did, I started, I started seeing a therapist almost as soon as we got there and, and it was a lot easier to make friends.
There are lots and lots of ex-pats from all over the world who live in Hong Kong. Um, and we could find. You know, a good, really good church community, which we had a lot of trouble doing in China, which didn’t even really feel safe to do in China. So there were just so many more opportunities for community for support that were opened up to us in Hong Kong.
And yet. That could still continue to support the Schengen office. Um, so we, we moved to Hong Kong and ended up living there for almost two years and wow. And that was a really positive experience. I mean, by the end of it, I could. I admit that we were both ready to come home. That was, you know, we had started our family soon after that, but we made some lifelong friends in Hong Kong who were still in touch with Hong Kong is actually where I started my writing career.
Um, it’s where I met my first writer, friends, got some of my first articles published and, and so it ended up becoming a really, really special experience. And I think the fact that Ned, you know, it’s funny, like. And I think sometimes in the world of romance, you know, you hear talk of grand gestures. And I don’t know that most people would think of it as a grand gesture, but, but I’ve always seen it as like, that was probably one of the best grand romantic gestures then, then has ever done for me in terms of he knew how much I was struggling.
I knew how important the business was to him. And yet he basically rewrote their business plan so that he could find an out for me. Yeah. Um, so that I could be well again and, um, While also, still doing his business. So he wasn’t ready to let go that, but, but the fact that we were able to make it work, I think, um, it was a huge turning point for, for the business.
But for us as a couple in recognizing that, you know, like you said, it’s not necessarily one or the other, you don’t always have to choose. Sometimes you can find a compromise that actually does work for both of you. And, um, and I think it was for us. Built this really strong sense, just a greater sense of partnership and of mutual sacrifice that it wasn’t just, you know, I’m the one who’s giving up everything for Ned and his business, but also the acknowledgement that, yeah, there’s a lot that Ned’s willing to give up for me too.
There’s like, he’s willing to. Open a new office and make all these hires and spend all this company money. And, you know, I can talk about it now because it’s been so many years, you know, for a while, we didn’t really want to talk about too publicly in case Ned got in trouble. But I mean, he did a lot so that we could be in Hong Kong and, um, and I could kind of get, get a fresh start.
Kathy: [01:05:41] Well, and I’m so grateful for his wisdom and being able to do that and for your courage in asking for what you needed, but, and even to write about it in your book, I love again that you were so vulnerable because talking about depression, anxiety is, is not easy to admit to have that vulnerability, but thank you for sharing that story.
I think it illuminates also another one of the challenges of why entrepreneur marriage is harder than some, because had your marriage not made it, that would have had an impact on the business. Whereas somebody works for doing whatever they do. If they go through a divorce, it doesn’t affect their job.
But, uh, a business could lose, you know, if they have to split the profits now with an ex-wife or ex-husband, that changes the growth trajectory
a lot. And certainly, you know, the, the health and wellbeing of the entrepreneur is going to be deeply impacted if they have a crisis in their family. Um, and so even.
Dorcas: [01:06:59] You know, some hard nosed venture capitalists admitted to me, like, yeah, I want to know what’s going on in the personal life of the entrepreneurs that I invest in, because I know that there is a direct link between how well is your marriage and family doing and how well is the business going to perform?
Because if I’m, if the entrepreneur is really, really struggling at home, right. I mean he or she can’t help, but you know, bring that into the workplace.
Kathy: [01:07:26] Absolutely. I hear it over and over, over from entrepreneurs that say much of their success is because of their spouse and their support and whether they physically work in the business or whether they are there just helping to manage things at home or carrying a second job until.
The business is profitable. Just many ways that the spouse is vital.
Dorcas: [01:07:51] Yes. And I really, really hope. And I’m, I know you tell this to them as well, but I just really hope that they, they let their spouses and family members and friends and other supporters know, and that they thank them for the role that they’ve played in allowing, um, the entrepreneur to.
Pursue their dreams and to build this business, um, because that, it makes just such a, such a huge difference. And, you know, even though I would say my time working with d.Light was pretty limited. Um, that’s another thing I’ve really appreciated about Ned is that he’s always said, you know, this is your company too.
You helped to build this company to, you’re essentially part of the founding team. And even when I wouldn’t have. Said that about myself. Like he’s, he’s willing to say that very freely and, and it it’s very affirming of, you know, even though a lot of what I did for delight was behind the scenes and wouldn’t ever be considered officially part of the business.
It’s still essential. And I think that’s the case for, for pretty much every. Entrepreneurs.
Kathy: [01:08:55] Oh yeah. And so great that he can verbalize that now. And just to reiterate that, you know, if someone is listening and you haven’t given appreciation to your spouse, You know, pull your head up above the water long enough to, to look around and see the things that they’re doing.
It’s you’re right. That’s there’s been some research done on, um, successful entrepreneurial couples and showing appreciation. It is huge.
Dorcas: [01:09:28] Yes.
Kathy: [01:09:28] Yeah. Dorcas. I am mindful of the time. I have a lot more questions. I think I said before I hit record, you know, I could talk with you for hours. It just is so refreshing to have this kindred spirit.
So we might have another one. I w I wanted to talk some about, um, personality and you talk about that in your book. And that may be a whole episode because I too think that that’s very important.
But I want to ask you this just as a way of bringing it back to the entrepreneur marriage and knowing that you and Ned have really worked at it.
And we haven’t gotten into that piece, but you guys did get into some coaching and you’ve done different counseling. What do you guys do to maintain the fun friendship and intimacy in your marriage and what are some things you’ve learned to do over the years?
Dorcas: [01:10:28] Yeah, well, I think one major shift that I had to make from earlier on in our marriage, um, was the recognition that if, if I wanted to have fun with my spouse or, you know, Maintain our friendship and our intimacy that it wasn’t just going to happen by itself.
I think I, for many years just thought, well, it’ll just happen. You know, we can be spontaneous. Yeah. And it just, it sounds so great. Right.
Kathy: [01:10:58] Initiated.
Dorcas: [01:10:59] Yes. Exactly. Uh, but, but the reality is, and I think, especially when you have a startup in the family, is that there, there’s not much room for spontaneity and both of you are so tired and overstretched.
And so I have really come to appreciate the idea of intentionality and it does take a little bit of the spark. Out of things, but make it necessarily any less fun or any less important. Um, so four years now, Ned and I have been doing weekly date nights. Um, I have to say we have not been keeping it up during the pandemic because we’re stuck at home with two young children and no one does.
And I feel it though. I mean, so this is probably the longest we’ve gone without a date night in years and I, I feel it. And, um, so, so we would, um, yeah, every, every week, um, try to go out and this was even before we had kids, we would do a date night and, and really try to be present to one another, not, you know, not answer phones, not check email.
Um, and, and I think that those, and not only that, so it’s something. It’s one thing to be sitting across the table from each other at dinner or watching a movie together, but this is another to really use that time. Well, so we’ve also, um, we will intentionally use that time together to check in with one another and, um, And to ask, you know, cause it can be very easy to fall into a conversation of talking about the business, talking about my work, talking about the kids.
Um, but we really try to use that time for each other and, and for our relationship. And so we, um, for a long time have, have asked one another, the question of, you know, during this past week, what have been. Your highs and what have been your lows. And it’s a really, really simple question, but yeah, I love it because it actually opens you up to so much more, you know, you start with the listing of like, Oh, this is what happened and this is what, but then it leads to, and this is how I felt about it.
And then this is why I felt that way about it. And then this is, you know, why it’s important to me. And this is what I think I’ll do going forward, but it, it takes the conversation in. Uh, really, um, it can go in many different directions, but it also goes deeper. And I feel like every time we have one of these conversations, there is kind of a new aspect of Ned that gets revealed.
And, um, and I think that’s part of what it is to keep it fresh and interesting, right? Is that we are very complex human beings. And no matter how long you have been married to somebody, I would bet that there is always going to be something about them that you have yet to discover. And so to have that sense of curiosity, about one another of like, huh, I’m sure there’s more.
And so to ask this question, each other, um, you know, the, I mentioned this in lStart.Love .Repeat, but the New York times had published this list of 36 questions that you can ask somebody and it’s designed to be, you know, if you’re dating someone, it helps you, it’s supposed to accelerate the, getting to know you process.
And so it’s these very, um, deep questions that, that normally we would not ask somebody that we’re dating, right? Like, what are your greatest fears? What are your greatest hopes? How do you feel about dying? You know, those, those sorts of things. Um, and. And even people who have been married don’t necessarily know that about one another.
So there were a few date nights where Ned and I took that list of questions and we asked it of one another. And again, there were all these new things about each other that we discovered, and we were both like, Crying by the end of the night, but in a really good way, you know, talking about just things that were so important to us and so close to our hearts and, um, and those kinds of conversations don’t just happen.
Those conversations don’t happen spontaneously. And so I have really held onto those moments as being extraordinarily precious in our relationship. And those are the kinds of things that bind you together that it’s like knows me, like nobody else in the world. No, it was me. Um, and, and I think it’s the same for him.
And, um, and so that, that’s kind of the glue that holds us together, even when the forces of, you know, stress and trying to raise kids and the business and all this stuff, like those things, it can feel like it’s trying to pull us apart. Um, but, but if we have a strong enough glue, then, then that can, um, That can really keep us together through all those hardships.
And I think it also really helps that Ned and I, the foundation of our relationship is friendship. So we started off as friends before we dated. And, and so, yeah. It has been true from the beginning that we’ve never been able to take ourselves too seriously around one another. Um, and, and so I think that that really helps too, as just being able to laugh at ourselves, being able to laugh at one another in a kind way.
Um, and, and just finding, finding the humor in, um, I don’t know. I mean, you all know that the startup life is it’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s, it’s stressful and it’s crazy and it’s meaningful, but there are times when it’s just ridiculous to be able to laugh at those moments. Right. I mean, HBO was able to make a show out of it.
Right. Because it’s just it’s um, yeah,
Kathy: [01:16:33] not take it too seriously or too personally at times,
Dorcas: [01:16:37] right. To
Kathy: [01:16:38] just know sometime last night at dinner. Uh, Mark’s phone rang and he ignored it the first time. And it wasn’t a number, a number that he recognized. So it rang again. And his mom lives in an independent living.
I don’t, I think we both thought we’d better answer it. So he took it and I don’t even know how this person got his number, but it was conversation as we’re trying to have dinner about something that was work-related and.
There was a time when I would have been irritated. Uh, but I was able to let it go.
There are things you learn along the way you learn. What’s important to pay attention to and, and have conversations about setting boundaries about different things. Yeah. What you said about friendship. You know, I hear a lot of people talk about soulmates. They just believe, you know, they’ll, they’re looking for their soulmate and soulmates are, they’re not necessarily born, they’re developed as we intertwine.
Like you said, all those pieces over the years and keeping curious with each other on a parting note, what would you say to your prelaunch selves? Knowing what you know now.
Dorcas: [01:18:04] Oh, okay. I think, can I just give my prelaunch self my book?
I don’t know. I mean, it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing, you know? Cause I. On the one hand, I think there is some grace in how clueless I was, because I don’t think I would have jumped in with both feet in the same way, because I am a person who lives with a lot of fear and anxiety. I am not. A risk high risk person like, like Ned is, which is probably why we’re a good balance for each other.
On the other hand. Yeah. I think, you know, if I had to know something before it all started, I think it would have been more about myself, um, that I did not fully understand. There were very, very clear warning signs even before we moved to China before. Ned started d.light, um, that I was prone to overworking and burnout.
I was prone to depression and anxiety. Um, but I ignored all those warning signs and I didn’t take them seriously. And so, as a result, I, there have been many times along the way that I have pushed myself way too hard, um, or been too hard on myself. And it led to a very high cost for me emotionally, for sure.
Um, but I think also, you know, the toll that it took on Ned on our marriage, um, some of the ways that it’s kind of impacted even our family today, um, you know, it’s not like I have said goodbye to anxiety forever. It’s something actually I still live with today, but I wish, I wish I had known that more about myself and that had paid attention to those warning signs.
And I had learned. Better what it meant to pace myself. Um, you know, I think when you’re, cause we started this when we were in our twenties, I think at that time it’s so easy to feel invincible and to feel like nothing can take you down. And yet there’s also this odd urgency of, you know, I need to accomplish everything before I’m 35, which is totally ridiculous, you know, 35 now.
And like, no, there’s still so much life to be lived, you know? So, so I think that that kind of longer perspective would have been really helpful, but what I’ve listened, I don’t, I don’t know if I would’ve. Next question was, yeah. I mean, I think I just, I had such a strong image of who I wanted to be, whether I really was that person, but I, you know, I wanted to be the go getter.
I wanted to be the person who could do anything, I set my mind to. Right. It’s like what we tell ourselves, that’s what we tell our children. And, and to come to this place of recognizing that. I have a lot of limitations, but it’s okay. It’s okay that I have limitations. I can still do a lot. I am still a whole person, even with my limitations.
Right. Um, it’s been an extraordinarily painful journey to get to this place of being able to say that and truly believe it. And, um, and I just, I would have loved if I had had a little bit more awareness of that at the time, but, but it’s also a hard truth. And so when you’re 20 something, you don’t want to hear that, um, And it may just be something that you have to learn through experience
Kathy: [01:21:24] that may be so, and I think you and I have a common interest in, um, you know, there was a, I guess you would call it a fable, village.
Somebody a villager noticed a dead baby floating down the river or a baby floating down the river and they go to rescue it. And pretty soon there’s more babies and they’re trying to rescue all these babies. And somebody finally says, why don’t we go upstream, see where all these babies are coming from.
I think you and I have a deep passion because of what we’ve been through to try to go upstream to provide resources that may save some of the pain. I think if we’re going to grow, we grow because we hit challenges, right? So we’re going to face challenges, but are we equipped to do it? Um, the personality piece may be something that will come back to if you’re willing to have another conversation, because it’s one that.
Uh, Mark and I both feel very deeply that the more you know yourself and that goes for the entrepreneur and the spouse. Um, the more tools you have healthy tools for growing
Dorcas: [01:22:46] well.
Kathy: [01:22:47] If someone wants to get a hold of you, reach you, what is the best way to reach you Dorcas?
Dorcas: [01:22:53] Yeah, there are many ways to reach me.
You can come to my website, which is Chengtozuncom. I’m also on social media, on Facebook, on Instagram, on LinkedIn and Twitter. Um, so any of those, I took all those regularly and I love hearing from folks. So please reach out.
Kathy: [01:23:12] I will put those in the show notes. I want to thank you again today for your time.
Thank you again for sharing your story and sharing this book. And I hope it is a great piece of hope and equipping for couples who are starting their journey a little earlier in. So
Dorcas: [01:23:36] let’s talk again. Sure.
Kathy: [01:23:38] This was delightful. I couldn’t resist that anyway. Thanks again so much Dorcas.
Dorcas: [01:23:47] Thank you, Kathy. Bye bye.