Meet Hillary Yip, the 14-year-old entrepreneur
By Seher Asaf
While most teenagers are scrambling to get ready for school in the early hours of the day, Hillary Yip begins her mornings by dedicating two hours to developing and refining her own tech business.
At 7am sharp, the 14-year-old CEO is already immersed in the day-to-day grind of running her own language-learning app, MinorMynas, before taking on a full day of schoolwork.
MinorMynas allows kids to learn new languages by engaging in live video calls with their peers. The app has almost 50,000 downloads on the App Store, which is quite a feat in a highly competitive app market notorious for churning out millions of new developments that often end up garnering little attention.
“We began by creating MinorMynas as a global kid community in which kids can exchange ideas and use languages in a way that’s useful, so between classes you wouldn’t just suddenly forget everything you’ve learned,” said Yip.
A trip to Taiwan
The idea of MinorMynas came to Yip about four years ago during a month-long trip to Taiwan where she tried to learn Mandarin. The budding entrepreneur realized that interactions with native speakers made all the difference in the speed of her learning as she was forced, through necessity, to speak Mandarin. She began to ask herself – How can I help other kids trying to learning a new language?
“I wanted kids to be able to learn a new language fast without having to fly to another country,” said Yip.
She realized that the answer lay in bringing the social interactivity aspect of language learning to an online platform. Yip then applied to be a part of the AIA Emerging Entrepreneur Challenge, a kids’ entrepreneurship competition, which she won.
Being in the public eye
Yip, a well-spoken and eloquent ninth-grader, spoke at AmCham’s annual APCAC conference this year. Since the launch of her app, the teenpreneur’s age and early success have earned her numerous public appearances, including interviews with major platforms such as BBC, SCMP, Tedx and MSN. Speaking in front of crowds is something she has learned to become comfortable with.
“I’m pretty excited before the talks, I’m very hyper but I’m also very critical after a talk,” said Yip.
Yip speaking at the APCAC Business Summit in March
As the public face of MinorMynas, she has come up against a fair share of doubters and disbelievers. While young entrepreneurs are often celebrated for taking initiative, they also face a bevy of criticism as they struggle to be taken seriously from their older counterparts. Criticism can rear its head in anonymous comments on social media platforms or even at public events.
“When we do interviews, we always hear some really negative comments,” said Yip. “I know that this can cripple other startups.”
However, as with most successful entrepreneurs, cultivating resilience in the face of adversity is an age-old lesson self-starters learn early in life. The young CEO tries her best to channel the criticism into a valuable learning experience. She says focus, perseverance and listening to constructive feedback in a positive way is the key to overcoming naysayers.
“You need to be strong and clear about what your vision is,” she said.
Work, life and school balance
Yip has been homeschooled since the age of 11, which is right around the time she launched MinorMynas. While she often arranges her school schedule around the demands of her app, ultimately, MinorMynas takes priority.
“Education is obviously something important, but MinorMynas is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If I leave it now, I won’t be able to go back to it in the future. Education is something I can go back to at a later date,” said Yip.
Even though she values real-world experience, she hasn’t completely ruled out the prospect of going to university one day. She says she’s open to it if the university experience could offer something new, unique and valuable.
While speaking at large-scale conferences and doing interviews with major media outlets is impressive for anyone, let alone a teenager, Yip says her friends don’t really talk about it. They are more interested in finding out about the things she sees at these conferences.
“We don’t talk very much about it [MinorMynas]. Around my friends, I don’t want to take up this CEO persona, I’m just Hillary,” said Yip.
Between work, school and spending time with friends, it may seem like the teenager would want a relaxing hobby to wind down, but she has currently carved out time to tackle a 900-page book on democracies. Yip has been passionate about politics since the age of 11.
Parents as partners
How can parents turn the dreams of a child entrepreneur into a growing business? It seems the entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family. Joey Law, Yip’s mother, started her own online bookstore several years ago, which she believes might have inspired her daughter’s venture.
Law says it’s also crucial to help kids identify their passion. Oftentimes parents have well-intentioned efforts to help their children prepare for their prospective careers, but end up ignoring their skills and interests, says Law.
“I think parents should take a step back, just let them pursue their interests. ... Some people take away the creativity and the love for doing what they want. This can be very detrimental for kids,” said Law.
Future of MinorMynas
Four years into the MinorMynas journey, Yip is already looking to expand. She noticed that users of MinorMynas were using it as a platform to teach other skills, like how to code and how to record YouTube videos.
“Languages will always be a big part of MinorMynas. But we would like to shift into being able to provide 21st century skills you can use in real life,” said Yip.
Yip is now looking at bringing in vendors to teach courses like coding and math.
Whether you’re 14 or 44, Yip has some words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs: “My advice is to just do it.”