From hardship to entrepreneurship
He was only 17 when his mother went to prison and he had to work odd jobs to help his family. Today, he's an entrepreneur.
At the age of 18, Terrence Goh had already dealt with more life challenges than the average teenager. He had dropped out of school, his mother got sent to prison and he was forced to take up odd jobs to supplement the family’s income.
While all of that is behind him now – Terrence recently graduated from polytechnic and now runs his own creative start-up – his humble past constantly reminds him not to be fazed by hardships.
At 17, his family was facing financial struggles. It got so bad that at one point, the family of four had only $1,000 left in their household bank account.
It did not help when Terrence, around the same time, decided to drop out of school after six months in junior college.
“It drove a wedge in my family, and my parents thought that all I wanted to do was mess around in polytechnic. I had to take steps to convince them and show my determination,” recalled Terrence, now 21.
While waiting for enrolment into Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Terrence’s mother, who was addicted to gambling, got into trouble with the law and was sent to prison.
Terrence, who has a younger sister, was then forced to take up odd jobs to supplement his father’s wages and manage his family’s finances. He worked full-time as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant for nine hours a day, six days a week.
Despite all his adversities, he was determined to pursue a multimedia and animation course in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
“Choosing [a JC initially] was a safer move as I was not sure about pursuing a diploma. It wasn’t really my priority back then, as problems at home were piling up.
“However, when I was studying for my mid-terms, I had an enlightening moment. I realised, if I didn’t pursue my passion, I probably wouldn’t do it anymore in the future. This diploma was my chance,” explained Terrence.
His interest in technology developed when, at 5, he used a Windows 98 computer for the first time.
“I recall changing the default wallpaper of the computer to that of a mountain lion. I did that by following pictures in the bulky guidebook meant for adults,” Terrence reminisced.
He added: “Later in my teenage years, I toyed around with smartphones and other gadgets to see which model had the nicest user interface design. I discovered my passion in multimedia when I realised how much it had shaped my habits and life.”
As Terrence began his studies in polytechnic, he continued working part-time in the same restaurant to make more money on the side.
“Juggling school and work caused my GPA to slip to an undesirable grade in my first year,” recalled Terrence.
But hitting rock bottom motivated him to work harder. On his days off from work, Terrence caught up with updates in the technology industry.
Things got better when his mother was released from prison and found a job in 2014.
He is also thankful for supportive lecturers who encouraged him to pursue learning outside the classroom.
“One lecturer, Mr Malcolm Yam, pushed me to attend meet-ups organised by different external interest groups and workshops organised by industry professionals,” said Terrence.
Last year, Malcolm recommended for Terrence to apply for the Overseas Merit Fellowship programme. Terrence ended up with a 19-day stint at Syracuse University in New York City.
On that trip, Terrence met Jasper Yap, 23. The two became fast friends and were soon working on a business idea together.
“He was sharing about this software he was working on. It was actually very similar to what I’d learnt in school and from external workshops, such as building application frameworks and systems,” recalled Terrence.
Their ideas took off quickly and the duo are now business partners and co-founders of Yosei Labs, a creative web design start-up that creates unique web or application user experience for companies.
Since they started the business last September, they have worked with more than five companies on a range of projects, such as search engine optimisation, augmented reality development and website creation.
They are now busy creating a new app, KinderSign, with a group of Ngee Ann Polytechnic students. The app, created with the help of Singapore Association for the Deaf and the deaf community, will help affected children improve their vocabulary with the help of augmented reality.
The project is extra meaningful for Terrence. Now that his family’s difficult past is behind them, Terrence wants to help others in need, just like he used to be.
He is also busy making up for lost time with his parents. The now close-knit family spends time frequently with each other.
Terrence said: “I especially cherish my daily breakfast moments spent with both my mother and grandmother. Looking back, I regret that my detour from junior college caused a rift in my family, but I’m just glad that my family is whole again.”