Today I invite you to Phnom Penh to meet the coolest and most badass – Sokcheng. We knew each other years ago in Hoi An at Young, Wild, and Living Green Program. The program aimed to support young leaders to lead environmental initiatives and promote eco-living approaches. From that time, I have never everr everr stopped being amazed about her. Though we are at the same age, her wisdom and stories have inspired me a lot. I started writing more since we met, and she was my biggest supporter of all time.
1. Hi SokCheng, could you introduce more about yourself to the readers? (Where do you live? What do you do? What are other special things you wanna share with the readers – your nickname, your interest…)
I’m the Co-Founder and Chief-Editor of a website called up Wapatoa.com. I’m based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I’ve always been here. The website aims to talk about self development in many different formats, including written articles, comic explainers and videos. We will try to do animation soon, I think, but that will be in the future. And what we do is bilingual. It’s primarily in Khmer, but we also have it in English. Actually, most of the audience actually prefer to read in English, it’s mostly like 50/50 or 60/40 based on the topic.
And anything interesting about me that I want to share… Oh, my God, I’m a boring person (laugh). Oh, no, I guess what is interesting is that I’m very lazy (laugh even harder). Yeah, I think that’s very shocking to many people to know even right now.
After lunch, I would just sleep in our office and I’d ask my colleague to go get me stuff, buy me snacks and stuff like that. It’s like, how can you be writing about self-development when you’re so lazy? Yeah. So I think that’s one interesting thing about me. I’m very lazy. I love to sleep.
- So how do you answer the question I am lazy still writing about development?
- You know, if you want to learn how to not be lazy, you should ask someone who is lazy but still productive. You shouldn’t ask someone who has never been lazy because they will never know how to answer. If you want to learn to be better, you have to ask people how they got better. You cannot ask someone who has always been better. That would be my answer.
If I can be lazy and earn money and still, like, run my own company then. Yeah, maybe there is a way for you too!
2. Which were the key factors that led to your decision to work in the Entertainment Education field?
It’s like when you find your soulmate, for example. If someone asks, OK, what are the key factors that made you find your soulmate, how would you answer that? Maybe breaking up with your ex, going to parties, swiping on Tinder, changing your taste in people, all play a part in meeting your current soul mate.
So I think in the same way, I found what I like to do in this job and this company as a result of so many things. You know, our exchange program also was a part of it. And every small thing when I was doing it, it was totally unrelated. Like I was doing DIY, I was blogging, I was going volunteering, camping, I was hanging out with artistic people, doing environmental conservation work. All of those things come together and become this website, because in our website we talk about all of these developments: reading, studying, working, and whatever.
Yeah, but one, that is the external factor.
Also, a big part of it is an internal factor. So me and myself, you know, I remember when I was in grade 10, 11, so I was like 15 or 16. That was when I moved to Phnom Penh. Before that I was living in Sihanoukville. It is another touristic province, near the beach. So my childhood was there. Then, I moved to Phnom Penh and, you know, I started to realize, oh my God, I’m unhappy. I’m so sad.
Yeah, like teenagers, I felt so insecure. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was so poor. I didn’t know, the future. I was so angry at people. I was so jealous, blah, blah, blah. So I had all these problems and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to talk to. Of course, I didn’t talk to my parents about my problems. So what I did was I started reading books, like very bad translated self-development books and then I learned about the Internet.
I started reading websites as well as reading self development books in English. So 80% of the stuff I read was very bad, but 20% was really good. And that content helped me become better, happier, helped me learn skills to cope with life and growing up. Really, that was something very touching to me. I always wanted to share what I learned to others. I think you also have that in you. Hmmm. So you get it.
So I think internally it was that and externally it was all the great people that I’ve met, all the experiences that I’ve had. At one point they just came together!
3. What does your lazy-productive day look like?
I would like to give an explanation first. Last year I was working a lot.
We had the idea of building Wapatoa during 2017. At the time I met Alix, the co-founder, and we had the idea so we saved up money to start a new journey.
2018 was when we started Wapatoa. You actually came to Phnom Penh during that time, and you saw us in the very beginning. 2019 also, I worked a lot. That’s very not me. I’m lazy. But because, you know, it’s a start-up, you really need to work so hard to make people know about you. Also, because you don’t have much investment or money, you cannot outsource it to other people. You have to do it yourself. So you see, we were doing everything on our own. So I was working a lot.
The good thing was we started to get noticed. Projects and invitations were coming. Therefore, I did a lot of interviews and talks. My day would be like working eight hours a day, six days a week. Also on the weekend, the Sunday, I had to go talk somewhere, sometimes pretty far away. It was a lot of work. I had a burn out partly because of it. It was really bad, you know, no matter how much you like something, if you do it without free time, you will start to hate it.
So the solution for that is to cut down my work, so I can have time to do other stuff because, you know, your life is a lot more than just your work. Mm hmm. So that’s just the explanation (laugh).
Now to the routine. So I work a lot from home, as you see in this room. I think in a week I go to the office once or twice only. We stop having an actual office room. Now, we have a desk in a co-working space and just go there whenever we want. So I go there once or twice only.
So my day… I would wake up at 5:00 to watch a Dharma talk. I really like listening to this Vietnamese monk. I love him so much. So I would watch his talk. Then, I would meditate, get myself ready and eat breakfast.
I will start working at 9:30. Yeah, and I do what we call deep work. This really has changed my way of working. So basically, you just work very intensely for a set period of time, and then you take a break, and then you do it again. Because sometimes you’re at the desk for eight hours, but you’re so distracted that you don’t get any work done. Deep work trains you to be very focused, so you can work less!
I work 45 minutes without distraction and take 10 minutes of break and repeat. Yeah. So I work and then I have lunch, and then I take a nap, and then I get back to work! The workday usually stops at 4 or 4:30. So normally in the day I work for four to five hours very deeply. And after that, I either sleep, or I bike around, go out, have fun, come back, watch some videos and then go to sleep. I think that’s my work life. I like it. It’s very chill (smiley emoji).
4. Could you elaborate more about your work. What do Wapatoa and you aim to achieve? Also, what do you like and don’t like the most about your work?
Yeah, that’s a very good question, because some people actually think that if you have your own start up, if you create your own job, then you will like everything about it. That’s not true at all. Whatever you do now will have some things you hate. There will be some things you like. You can never find a perfect job even if you create it yourself. I haven’t seen anyone have a perfect job yet. Unless you’re very rich and you pay people to do whatever you don’t like. But for the average people, there’s nothing perfect.
Really getting to know yourself and asking yourself, “OK, is it worth it?” If the bad is much more than the good, quit that job. If the good is more than the bad, then OK, you can continue your work.
So about this work in particular. Right now we have a few activities lined up. Our mission, in general, is to help people become better, become more critical, become more socially competent to talk to other people and stuff like that.
So the first step we do is to tell them how to do that based on our research and experimentation. For the past three years, Wapatoa has been working on this first step. Starting from now, we want to do more, kind of mentorship, kind of meet up with them and have a group of people who support each other, that’s the second step. Sometimes you know what you should do, but you don’t have the motivation to do it, so having a group might help. We actually want to take the second step this year. But because of covid, it has been postponed. But, yeah, that’s our mission on the user’s side.
We’re also very passionate about helping content creators. In the past two years in Cambodia, so many content creators are popping up, like a lot of young people are creating their own content, which is very good. But most of them are very early in building content. Some have audiences, like thousands of followers, but they don’t know how to make money out of it. They struggle to make it a full time job. So they have to take another job and do it as a hobby, you know.
So my co-founder has the idea of building a collective to help those content creators. Right now, we’ve been testing it for half a year already. The way it works is that Wapatoa is the middle person. We help content creators by giving them money, as well as guiding them. So right now we have three companies in the collective. Yeah, like two startups and one influencer. We’re giving them monthly funding, not too much, but not too little either. The money is like seed-funding, to help them survive and grow! I’m also working with a local youth group, Young Eco Ambassador, to train a group of young people who are learning to make content about the environment, especially on the Mekong. I’m meeting them every week with training and assignments. It’ll be a three-month training and it’s fun so far!
So those are external work. I handle the content department, which is internal work. I work on writing and researching. We have two other teammates who convert my articles into a comic explainer and voice-over videos. My teammate, Uddam (artist name: Pen Kuro) is very great in making comics out of very long articles. He’s very talented. So he’s doing that. And then another teammate, Sattya is recording my articles and turn them into videos! And in the future, we may convert it into animation, but that takes so much money; we don’t have the money to do that yet!
So out of all of this work, I think what I like the most is researching and writing. Like I realize, even if I don’t get paid, I would still be writing. It’s just something maybe… yeah…. if Wapatoa falls down, I will go get a job, but I will still write. It’s something in me. So that’s what I really love.
What I hate. In order to get money from people, you have to prove that you are good.
So in our business model, we don’t get money from the users. Even if the users love us, they don’t give us money yet. Yeah, the people who give us money are the companies and NGOs that sponsor our website. We have to prove to them that we’re good enough so that many people are reading us!
With the companies, they don’t think that much about your content. They ask you about numbers, engagement, time spent on website, etc. They ask you how many million people read your website. So that is very hard for me, because if you focus too much on the numbers, you can do something very unethical. You can use click bait, fake and shocking information, and not so meaningful content because most people love shocking stuff.
So writing my kind of articles right now, it means not many people will read them. It’s very hard to talk to the brands and let them know that. Sometimes they focus on the quantity rather than the quality. Only a few partners are listening and they understand. It’s a struggle to do these two things at the same time. Yeah. A long, long answer (laugh)
5. What are the key turning points/the key milestone/memory which you are most proud/happiest about your career?
Yeah, that is a very interesting question. I never thought about it before. You are so very good. It made me think a lot (haha).
So I think one of the most memorable memories is in 2017 when we had the idea of Wapatoa. In April or May of 2017, I was with the co-founder, Alix. We’d met through another project but became friends after. We were on a car ride to Siem Reap, so we started talking a lot. I had my blog and she knew about it. I told her I wanted to make it bigger, but didn’t know what to do. Maybe something about literature, maybe something about Google or whatever.
And she was like, oh yeah, that’s a good idea. I have this idea, blah, blah, blah. We talked the whole way for four to five hours. It’s crazy that we had the same idea before meeting each other! For me that was when I was like “Wow, something can come out of it”. A good idea will come out if you continue to brainstorm. So I think that is very memorable because I felt like I was not soulless anymore. I felt like I had a direction to go to.
Another memorable thing is very cliche. But when we first signed a big one-year contract in 2019 with BRED Bank Cambodia to make content about Financial Literacy for 12 months. It was a very big contract. It’s the first time, like a proper, proper company trusts us enough to sponsor our content. So I think it was very fun and very memorable for me.
6. What would you wanna share with others besides your work? Interest/ long-term passion/sharing/quotes…
Well, I think, you know, I used to be a very good reader, but not anymore. For example, last year because I was depressed, I really did not find any fun in reading. It was so sad. Right now, I’m picking up reading again. I read self development books for my work and I read like Buddhist spiritual meditation. My goodness, that’s just for my brain. And I read comedy, that’s it!
Right now, my new interest is DIY. Being an environmentalist, I have been trying to cut down plastic and waste and all that. So we have done that. We are OK with that. Right now. I am in the stage of trying to not buy too many things. But I still want stuff (laugh). I still need a laptop stand, I need a wallet, I need a Kindle case. So what I try to do is make those things myself.
Before I was reading and writing as a hobby because my full time job was something else, like interpreting or teaching. So in order to relax, I read and wrote. But now, since it’s a full time job, to relax, I have to do something else. Researching, writing, and running a startup about digital content take a lot of your brain! I have to use my brain a lot to strategize, think critically and write! So for my hobby, I tend to go for something less mentally-taxing and more physical.
That’s why I’m getting into DIY now! Cutting cardboard, designing used materials and making leather goods are very fun for me. My younger brother is also having his own handmade skincare products online shop like coconut oil, soap and stuff like that. I like helping him with packaging, mixing products, putting stickers, and stuff like that. They just need my hand, and my physical energy more. It is fun for me. So that’s my interest right now.
7. I know you started working in the field for the last three years, since the project is still small and Entertainment Education is unfamiliar with others. What would you wanna share with our readers who wanna pursue their career in new fields & embark on a new journey instead of choosing working at a company?
First of all, I acknowledged that I had the privilege of financial support. My family doesn’t require me to support them. I only need to take care of my own life and my business. Some people find it hard to start a business because they have to support their family financially. Secondly, I do have the network. Through my volunteer work, I had many chances to meet cool people. Lastly, I am privileged to be educated. I have 15 years of education behind me. If you don’t have those privileges, it’s okay. You still can bear what you want in mind and when you are free, you can focus on building that up, little by little.
For the one who is ready to start their business, my first advice is to stop talking and start working on it. If it’s a website, do it. Test it out, experiment with it. Do it for one year, or two years to see how things work. My second advice is to take care of your finances. Well, it isn’t the advice you often get from people. But believe me, you are going to be broke in the first to three years of your entrepreneurship journey. You’d better decrease spending and start saving. You might have to sacrifice on some of the luxuries you like to enjoy. You can tell yourself “I am saving up for my dream. I am saving up so in the next one year I will not feel insecure.”
That’s it ^^.
8. Some ending words for our readers, especially young people who are still finding what they love to do.
If you dont shape yourself, the world will shape you.
In terms of career, passion isn’t something that you discover, but something that you build. In order to love who you are, be what you want to be, shape yourself. Do you want to be kind? Do you want to be curious? Do you want to be more disciplined? Do you want to be more useful? Then, do that.
You don’t wake up one day and be kind. You work towards being kinder.
If you don’t, the world will influence and shape you. Well, then your life would be such a waste, wouldn’t it? Passion is what you love to do, you explore, you find the activity, you practice, you become good at it. You enjoy it because you become good at it. Then it becomes your passion.
That’s why for whatever you explore, try to stick with it for at least six months. Do your reflection often and ask yourself if you enjoy doing it. If yes, do it, build it, master it and go on.
Even with my writing skill, I wasn’t born with it. During high school, I was more into science like Maths and Physics. But when I was 17 or 18, I knew some good bloggers. I felt that they were cool and I’d like to try it out as well. In the beginning, it was very bad. But after two or three years,I became better at it. I enjoyed it. So to me, writing isn’t something I was born with, but something I discover, something that I build consciously, one line at a time.
So my last words are “Don’t wait, explore and build your passion.”
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Behind the scene, we had so much fun doing this talk. The more we talked, the more we saw things crystal and clear. I do like the way SokCheng shared everything in deep.
I wish you all best, SokCheng. Stay cool as you always are nhaaaa!