I Am Generation T: Kathy Gong
She's a fierce feminist and a gentle creative soul. Kathy Gong is also one of China's brightest minds: a chess champion at the age of 11, she has gone on to create multiple startups, including the hugely successful WafaGames, which she co-founded with her partners Radwan Kasmiya and Wu Mingzhou.
WafaGames has made waves on the gaming scene thanks to its distinctive game experiences, cutting-edge technologies and well-rounded, realistic female characters in an industry still rife with misogyny. We speak to Gong about how her emotional turmoil at university set her up for success, and why 'being yourself' is never a good idea.
What’s non-negotiable for you?
The most important thing to me is creativity. As an entrepreneur, it’s everything. Even from a business perspective, you have an idea and create a life from it. Equally, financial independence is essential, as it gives you the freedom to be creative. Since I sold my last company, I’m more financially comfortable—I have choices now, and I don’t need to work for investors. I truly feel passionate and valuable; I finally like the world I live in.
What was your biggest "A-ha" moment in life?
There are two. When I started to play chess when I was a kid, aged eight, I became pretty good and was soon the youngest national champion in China. At the time, I didn’t categorise chess as a game, but it was. Chess is very beautiful for me; it has a simplicity to it because anyone can learn the rules in three minutes—and my love for it set me on the path I am on today.
The second ["A-ha" moment] was when I went to Columbia [University in NYC]. It was a real challenge to learn the language, make friends and succeed academically. I felt really lonely, and it was an emotionally and psychologically challenging time. I was losing confidence and getting bad grades and then I started playing Starcraft online. I became good and made real friends through the game and improved my English. It changed my life. In the mainstream, we have this perspective that gaming is addictive and for losers. But underneath it all, nobody is that strong—we are all humans and vulnerable in some ways. Find something that helps you, like gaming really helped me.
Who’s your hero?
The CEO of Supercell is probably the person I respect the most. Each one of the games they produce is very creative. So many companies make a hit game like Minecraft and keep on living off that forever. But Supercell spends years creating something completely new, and to me that deserves a lot of respect. I love the games they make, and the CEO, Ilkka Paananen, is also one of the humblest people I’ve ever met.
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
I want to see more female gamers and I’m very practical about how we get there. We need more women at the top of the industry, so they can decide who to hire: we’re currently not presenting women as people who can make important decisions and be creative. In a decade, I’d like to be at the top of the industry surrounded by other women at my level.
What do you want to be remembered for?
If I ask anyone to name 10 male tech entrepreneurs whose companies have influenced the world, it’s very easy to answer. But ask them to name one female tech entrepreneur and you get an awkward silence. It’s my not unrealistic ambition to one day be someone they can name.
How do you deal with failure?
I have failed more than I have succeeded; as a chess player you are used to failures from a very young age. My dream from the age of 11 was to become the world champion, and because I only became the champion of China, I can say I failed every time I tried. Another failure was at Columbia: the first two years were tough, I failed, got a C, and couldn’t understand what the professor was talking about. I felt like an idiot. Later, as an entrepreneur, my first startup was a failure too. All this taught me failure is a very common, it’s a daily thing, and not anything special at all. It’s important to remember that failure will always happen more than success, and that hundreds of failures are equal to one moment of success. If someone only talks about success, they’re not being honest.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…
Probably just contribute this daily extra hour to doing things I normally do now, which are working, spending time with family, learning and exercising. I guess I split my time between my loved ones (my heart), learning (my brain) and exercising (my body).
What advice would you give to a younger you?
Just keep running. The views of the journey are going to get better, more beautiful and interesting as your age grows, especially for women.
Ask people to name one female tech entrepreneur who changed the world, and you get an awkward silence. It’s my not unrealistic ambition to one day be someone they can name
— Gong Xiaosi (Kathy)
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Life is a marathon. Patience gets your further than passion.
And the worst advice?
Just be yourself. "Yourself" is the character we choose to build. It’s a misconception to think it’s something one is born with. The path of just being yourself narrowly leads to close-mindedness, self-defence and stubbornness.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you...
It’s time to grow up.
What’s the secret to success?
There is no shortcut. The hardest path is almost always the right path.