As a board game enthusiast, one of my favorites has to be "We are Not Really Strangers" (WRNS). It's a card game that started in 2017 that allows for honest connections with the group you are playing with.
Most card games these days are just for laughs, while WRNS gives you the option to instead be as raw as possible for "strangers" around you.
By the end of the game, it felt like we'd all memorized each other, and it was quite a meaningful experience.
I recently discovered a card game like WRNS by Malaysians called The Empathy Box.
Made by Tribeless, a training and consulting company founded by Gwen Yi, it teaches empathy.
The cards in this box are a tool to create a safe space for empathetic group conversations, and they were a personal help to Gwen when she stepped down as CEO of Tribeless.
Started from dinner parties
Tribeless and The Empathy Box were never what Gwen set out to do, even though she always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Creating a Safe Space for Honest Conversation Using Cards Only / Photo Credit: Tribeless
4 years ago her mental health took a leap, prompting her to quit overseas university and return to Malaysia.
“In this room of pain and loneliness I was trying to figure out what to do with life. And then I started throwing dinner parties, ”she told the Vulcan Post.
“It was just a fun thing I did and never made a profit. But when you did, there was one rule: no small talk. "
Gwen wanted to break the standard of conversation we're used to, how you do it, how you work, whether your business is good or not.
These dinners became a staple of Gwen's life and she also realized that during these sessions people opened up more and made deeper connections.
This inspired her to transform those meaningful experiences into The Empathy Box, even though she's not personally a natural conversationalist.
"You won't be able to tell, but I really suffer from great social anxiety. If you take me into a room full of strangers, I'll be the one to stay on the corner and only talk to my friends," she admitted.
However, she has always wanted to talk to others about things beyond the surface, so these cards were her safe place to share her stories with others and vice versa.
Accept a hard truth
Even though the concept was here 4 years ago, Tribeless wasn't registered as a company until February 2018.
Gwen had also taken on the role of the company's CEO but was very new to the startup world. Titles like Founder and CEO didn't mean much to her at first.
When they released the first version of The Empathy Box, they received orders from 22 countries that she personally remembers as a very stressful time.
“I didn't know how to do fulfillment, sales, manufacturing, sales, human resources, and everything. But my co-founder and friend Shawn knew exactly what to do back then, ”she recalled.
Shawn and Gwen / Photo Credit: Tribeless
The more she worked with him, the more she realized that he was much better at being CEO than she was. However, this was not the reality that Gwen initially found easy to accept.
It took her 2 months to fully accept giving up her position as CEO to Shawn, during which time their relationship was at odds.
She described an almost existential crisis as she found that her identity was very closely tied to the company until her sanity worsened.
So she had to ask herself a lot of honest questions to understand why she held onto the CEO title so badly when she wasn't fit for it.
Founder = / = managing director
Growing up, Gwen Yi had always looked up to her parents, who were both entrepreneurs with their own businesses, which led her to believe that she was destined for the same path of leadership.
“I kept thinking, the whole time I thought I was this hot CEO entrepreneur. How is that not only is that not true, but I am the one who is making the company fail? "
“Part of me died, but part of me died so this company could survive,” she realized.
After a year of power struggles between her and Shawn, they hit a sweet spot when Gwen finally abandoned her ego and admitted that she needed help.
"My ego was huge, you can't say anything bad to my face. But when I learned this ability to take criticism and have tough conversations, our relationship of power struggles changed to what it is today."
Today Shawn takes care of Tribeless's in-house work such as management, technology, legal and accounting, while Gwen takes care of the external work such as partnerships, clients and leading training.
Since Shawn took over the company in November 2018, Tribeless has doubled its revenues and Gwen now has full confidence in his leadership.
Shawn in a session with a group for The Empathy Box / Image Credit: Tribeless
They also reached out to businesses, international nonprofits and a national friendliness campaign that affected 750 schools.
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This interview was conducted as part of our new Vulcan Post video series Open Book.
Gwen's story is chapter two of our new company, and you can watch the video interview here:
- You can find out more about Tribeless and The Empathy Box here.
- Here, you can find out more about other Malaysian startups we've written about.
Featured image source: Gwen Yi, founder of Tribeless