Hillary Yip was born in Hong Kong in February 2005. Less than two years later in California, Apple announced the first iPhone, ushering in the era of the smartphone and changing the face of innovation forever.
At just 12 years old, Hillary is way ahead of the curve, but what she represents will become the norm within a decade—a generation of entrepreneurs who grew up in the age of the smartphone. A generation for whom having the world accessible from your pocket is as commonplace as running water, and reaching for your phone when you’re bored, curious, hungry—you name it—is second nature.
This new normal surely informed Hillary’s thinking when she had the idea for a language-learning app, MinorMynas, at age 10 when struggling to learn Mandarin. The platform, launched in May this year, is a children-only community that encourages kids to video-chat with others around the world, making language learning more fun and interactive.
We caught up with the precocious entrepreneur and her mother at this week’s Jumpstarter conference to talk tech, rebellion and getting investors to take you seriously when you’re younger than Facebook.
Why is this style of language learning appealing to children?
If you look at traditional methods of language-learning, kids are being stretched to the point where it’s not fun anymore. You’ve got exams, dictations—we hate it! MinorMynas is all about letting children learn a language through genuine chatting and making friends with other people. Just think about how you learned your native language from your parents—you learn by picking it up through chatting. My ambition is to build a kids’ society where there are no language barriers and we can get to know people from around the world.
What do you attribute the success of MinorMynas to?
To my mum. She’s taught me to be curious all my life and to challenge the status quo. She’s been a rebel her whole life! I really look up to her in this case, but I don’t think she expects the rebelliousness from me.
You don’t seem like a rebel to us. You seem like every mum’s dream
You’ve got to be joking! I can be a nightmare for her.
You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of curiosity to innovation
Curiosity is when you take something and challenge it. We are all born to probe and ask questions, to have this innate curiosity, but the way we’re brought up can kill it. The way we’re taught in schools kills so much of our curiosity. I guess that’s why creativity is so valued now, because we need people who can challenge the status quo and create things that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
Is that the benefit of being so young, having a fresh perspective?
Yeah, that’s the great benefit of being a kid. Adults have been through so many experiences that can change the way you look at the world. For us kids, we just take things as they are.
What were some of the challenges you faced taking MinorMynas from idea to reality?
The biggest challenge is getting people to take you seriously. Because kids have a lack of experience, people believe this to be a disadvantage. I guess it’s a double-edged sword, because when you have less experience you don’t have as much wisdom, but it means you can come up with new ideas.
Who are some of your entrepreneurial heroes?
Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s a lot blunter than most people, which is something I love. He won’t sugar-coat things so you always get a straightforward answer from him—that’s something I really admire. Gary Vee is the guy who will provide value no matter what situation he’s in, and that’s something I aspire to.
The theme of the panel discussion you contributed to at Jumpstarter was “Imagination Has No Age Limit”. That’s a sentiment you must agree with?
I do. Imagination is where you picture an ideal world and take steps to achieve it. You can do that at any age—there’s no limit to dreaming. The only question of an age limit is when people ask if you have the capability to take an idea and make it real. I actually think everyone has the capability, it’s just whether they take that extra step to go and do it – that’s the million-dollar question.
Your business vernacular is impeccable. How did you learn to talk this way?
Hillary’s mother, Joey Law: She has a hack. She listens to Gary Vee’s podcast at night before she goes to sleep.
Hillary: Mummy! Don’t tell people that!