A (wine)glass half full with FloLab's first friend, Cindy Yang
On July 17th 2018, before the word “FloLab” had even crossed our minds, we sat in a little cafe on Torenstraat waiting to see if anyone would join us for our first ever meetup called “Healthy Coworking”. In walked Cindy Yang, fresh off the boat from Houston, Texas.
Cindy has been an intrinsic part of FloLab ever since, from advising our business plan to painting the FloLab walls. And, having only been in the country for two weeks before she met us, Cindy’s new journey has paralleled our own as she navigated the new challenges of the local job market and running her wine import business remotely.
In part four (parts one, two & three) of our collaborative series with photographer Tara Shupe, Emma had the immense pleasure of interviewing our very first Friend of Flolab, to discuss the vast changes she has weathered; from security and structure to uncertainty and opportunity, and how to ride that entrepreneurial wave.
Where are you from and how did you come to be living in the Hague?
So I was born in Tianjin, China. I moved to the U.S. with my family when I was about eight years old and grew up in Houston, Texas. My husband Gareth and I had always talked about living abroad, even before we were married. Gareth is Australian and he had already experienced being an expat in Houston where we met. We both really love to travel, have new experiences, and two months after we got married, we found out that Gareth had this job opportunity to come work in The Hague.
Neither of us had ever been to The Hague, only to Amsterdam. But we decided that it was a really exciting opportunity to come and live in Europe. So we sold our house, packed up all our stuff and moved to the Hague. It all happened really fast - we got married in December of 2017, found out about the opportunity around February the following year, then on April 25th we flew over here to start looking for housing.
What’s the biggest difference between Dutch lifestyle and life in Houston, Texas?
I think one of the biggest changes is not having a car here, and just being able to walk everywhere. In Houston, you never walk anywhere and you really need a car to get around the city. It's really nice to be able to take public transportation - you can hop on a train and go to Paris for the weekend! I love that freedom. In Texas, you can drive for 8 hours and still be in the same state! I’m really enjoying all the walking, cycling everywhere and the many new experiences in The Netherlands.
What was your career in Houston?
So I've had a few career changes. I started off in the financial services industry. I also worked in marketing and communications for a big corporation in Houston. But in 2015, I decided to leave the corporate world to start my own business. My business partner is from Chile and we saw this opportunity to bring in boutique wines from South America to the U.S. market. So we started a wine import business. We built brands, figured out how to market them, found distribution, and we had so much to learn! I didn't know anything about the wine industry, but my business partner had some vineyard connections in Chile through his family and that’s how we got started. I just thought working in wine was so fun and exciting!
I'm now trying to manage the business from The Hague, which is a bit challenging with the time difference and not being able to meet customers face to face. So, I'm also looking at involving myself in different projects here in Europe, because I think it's a good way to get some European work experience. So while supporting the business, I'm also looking for projects in marketing, sales, or business development. That's my main focus for now.
How was the transition from a corporate career to business owner?
I'm somebody who actually likes a lot of structure. And so, it was a huge change for me going from a Monday to Friday, nine to five kind of environment into the wine world where everything was new and unstructured. When I first quit my corporate job, it was really difficult to try to plan out in advance all the hours in the day. I remember, in the beginning, I tried to structure every hour of the day, trying to be “productive” all the time. And then, you quickly find out that's not really feasible.
So I've had a lot to learn on how to deal with all the uncertainty, and also trying to relax into a more flexible schedule. For example, things like telling myself that I don’t have to fill the whole eight hours a day with tasks. I can actually enjoy time to do different things throughout the day and still be very productive at the end of the week.
What has it been like trying to navigate the job market here?
It's been, quite honestly, really challenging. Mainly because of coming here without any sort of network. Then of course not knowing the language, even though the majority of Dutch speak perfect English, some of the roles do require knowledge of Dutch and the local markets.
That’s where being part of the FloLab meetups has really helped me. I’ve met so many people through the community which has really grown my little network here because I literally came here not knowing a single person.
Everybody that I've met in the FloLab community has been so supportive. They've really helped me connect with different contacts, recruiters. They've introduced me to so many different people and I'm very thankful for that. I can honestly say that I feel like I've made really good friends here at FloLab. So that's why I continue to come back every week.
As you know the theme of the photo shoot was to capture you in your workspace environment. What would you say are the pros and cons of where you work?
Oh yeah, the photo shoot was a lot of fun! So my current workspace is just my kitchen table mostly. It's challenging to work at home because you're alone all day. I'm somebody that likes a lot of interaction with people.
Back in Houston, for my wine business - I could go to the warehouse, meet with customers, or work together with my business partner. And here, often I would be alone from morning until night in front of a computer screen. So that's very challenging. I think people look at the expat lifestyle and think its all travel and excitement but at times it can be lonely and difficult.
On the upside, working from home can be nice and relaxing and you can have the flexibility to do different things like cook yourself a proper meal or break for some exercise.
What attracted you to the FloLab Meetups and has being part of that community impacted your life at all?
When I first moved here, I actually tried out several coworking spaces. I went to the free trials but I didn’t get to speak with any of the other members. I didn’t really feel a sense of connection with any of the coworking spaces. But after the first meetup at FloLab, it just seemed like I was having coffee with friends. And that felt really nice.
There are tons of cafes and different places in The Hague that you can go to work. But for me, I was looking for more. I wanted to meet new friends in a new city, which is not easy to do when you come here without a job and without any sort of existing network. I wasn’t only going to a coworking space just to do my work, but to make connections with people in the local city.
What do you think about the FloLab concept?
Well, it's really exciting for me to see you guys grow from day one because I remember when I first met you, it was just an idea for you guys. So it kind of reminds me of my own journey in growing a business. It takes a lot of work. And seeing you guys put a lot of hard work into it over the last year, then finally getting this beautiful space in the end. Also, I see what you've done attracting people from all backgrounds; there are entrepreneurs, freelancers, and also people who are looking for work. Somehow you've been able to connect all these people together.
As a fellow business owner and entrepreneur, do you have any advice for us?
I think one thing I can advise you, having gone through that rollercoaster ride of the entrepreneurship journey, is things are not going to go according to plan. And for me, I was always somebody who was like, I need to make a plan, I need to follow the plan. And when you run your own business, the numbers are never how you project them to be. So I think being able to go with the flow and realizing that many things are not going to go according to plan, and just being okay with that. And also, asking people for help. I think don't be afraid to ask people for help because you will need a lot of help. And you've got a really great community that is here to support you.
Finally Cindy, I would love to know what advice would you give to somebody who is in a similar position to you? Someone who is new in the city, looking for a job and doesn’t know many people and may be feeling lonely or frustrated? What would you say to them?
Yeah, it hasn't been easy trying to find work here and I think I've pushed myself really hard. You feel like you have to fill your days with nonstop productivity. If you’re not busy doing something, you can feel really guilty. Don’t beat yourself up for that.
I would also say if you can then try to take some time to actually enjoy a few things that you love. Maybe find some new hobbies. Like I joined a yoga studio. Back home, I would think going to yoga class during the middle of the day is just such a luxury. But just allowing myself to do those things that I enjoy and just being okay with that has been so important.
If you can have a bit of fun like I decided to go to Brussels with a friend in the middle of the work week! I just decided that I'm here in Europe and I might as well take full advantage. I think people in Europe definitely enjoy themselves more. Coming from American culture, where we only get two weeks of holiday a year - it’s really not enough time. So I'm going to try to embrace that European lifestyle while I’m here!
To find out more about Cindy’s winepreneur journey, visit http://purawines.com/our-story/