CEO Series

Deng Yuying, The Singaporean Woman Who Transformed Her Back Pain Into A Startup Venture

Entrepreneurship has always been in Deng Yuying’s blood, and along with co-founder Andrew McDonnell, they are the creators of Altizen, a startup reinventing the sedentary lifestyle with the world’s first smart standing desks.

Despite her youth as an female entrepreneur in Singapore, it would seem as though her entire life had been gradually building up towards this destination, and this is the story behind it all.

A Life Of Challenges

Some people find their wind halfway through life, but for Yuying, she credits much of her success to her family history. Her parents built a nursing home up from nothing and began with just 1 resident – her grandmother. As a child, Yuying recalls that many a weekend was spent at that “dusty old colonial building”.

“Having seen their struggles from the early days, I learnt that building a business requires not just foresight and planning, but big dose of resolve, determination and hard work.”

Motivated by challenges, she dove headfirst into a major one – accepting a job in Hong Kong right after graduating law at King’s College London. Hong Kong was far from a comfort zone, with her home in a “rat-infested alleyway in Sheung Wan, and [her] working 15-hour days with 3 meals at the desk”. 

It was also here that Yuying began to experience her first back troubles, a problem shared by her colleagues.

On the upside, she laughs that she got to experience things few did – from racing typhoons amidst flying debris flying, to conducting training seminars to a roomful of senior executives.

Her 4.5 years there gave her the much-needed boost, and she went from zero to capable of “conducting conference calls in Cantonese, and running diligence exercises on rickety fishing vessels in China.”

Her Business Heart Starts Beating

As soon as she started to feel it, she started a pursuit of her MBA at INSEAD, and along the way, found herself being headhunted by Skadden Arps, a top US law firm.

“The high 6-figure salary was very tempting – it would have enabled me to pay back my entire MBA loan within just 4 months,” shares Yuying, but it was not the path she had decided on.

So biting down on her resolution, she took the pay cut to return to Orange Valley Nursing Home, where she served as Vice President and later, Lead Consultant after the Home’s sale to an investor.

It was during this time that Yuying became a mother, and the back problems resurfaced.

“At times, the pain was so bad, I could hardly bend down to change diapers.”

“Prolonged sitting at my desk aggravated my back, and so I started to stand to get work done.” Whilst researching solutions, Yuying came across  standing desks.

“My first experience with the desk was almost magical – while I was standing, I could work for longer with less pain, and felt more focused and energetic than ever before. I started to realise that it’s not natural for people to spend hours and hours seated and hunched over a flickering screen.”

Using them also revealed the shortcomings of existing designs, she shares, such as their clunkiness and lack of reminders to make standing a habit. All of which inspired her to create Altizen.

The Altizen Leap

For Yuying, it was a daring, but not impossible one.

Her experience in healthcare gave her a portfolio in e-commerce. Starting in Shopify, the enterprising founder’s experience as a lawyer also played a part in team management. Working with a wide-range of companies, she was used to operating under stress to understand industrial idiosyncrasies.

“This rapid learning experience helped me acquire new knowledge like product design, materials and ergonomics to figure out the initial prototype of Altizen. Working overseas honed my language abilities, allowing me to establish effective relationships with factories and sub-suppliers in Taiwan and China.”

Her partnership with co-founder and fellow back pain-sufferer McDonnell also panned out well, with him taking on operations and sales while she oversees product development.

Co- founders Andrew McDonnell and Deng Yuying / Image Credit: The Altizen Team

“I designate 2 types of days, one being an internal work day and the other for meeting customers and partners.” When in the office, Yuying shares how sets a reminder light to go off every 30 min on her Altizen desk, so that she “remembers to take a break in between tasks”.

“To keep my energy levels up, which dip especially after lunch, I cycle between standing and sitting every 30 minutes.”

Finding The Right Guidance

“[When I began], I wish someone could have told me that it’s alright not to engage in the multitude of activities the start-up world offers, the hackathons, pitches and coffee with venture capitalists.”

Altizen at the Rise Conference 2016 / Image Credit: The Altizen Team

However Yuying found herself spending more time speaking to customers, working with her engineers, and flying to Taiwan to meet her staff.

“But at times, I felt myself questioning – was I focusing on the right things?”

It was only when the team successfully shipped Altizen to customers and received positive feedback and referrals that she realised, they had been right to focus on the product.

Today, Yuying finds her guidance in 3 women she is proud to call friends – Rosaline Koo of CXA Group, Anna Gong of Perx and Violet Lim of Lunch Actually.

“While they each have their different strengths, they share two things in common: an absolute passion and commitment to their vision, and an unbelievably down-to- earth manner.”

Image Credit: The Altizen Team

On last thoughts, Yuying hopes to share these advice with her fellow entrepreneurs –

“Aspire to be like a conductor in an orchestra.

Understand the capabilities of each team member, know how to extract the best performance from them, and meld this together into that beautiful melody of a start-up that you are creating. When you have a good team working in sync towards a common goal, that’s half of the battle done.”

You can check out their Facebook page or Altizen site here to view their smart standing work desks, now with a 25% launch promo.

Featured Image Credit: Deng Yuying