- Cheah Wenqi cofounded a media company with three university classmates.
- After seven years, Cheah left the company because of burnout.
- She is on a career break and plans to travel for a year and a half.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Cheah Wenqi, the 28-year-old cofounder of a Singapore-based media company. This essay has been edited for length and clarity. Business Insider has verified her employment history.
I was in my third year at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore when I cofounded a media company with three friends.
It wasn’t really a conscious decision to start a company. Instead, it started off as a school project for one of our classes.
Some of the videos we worked on for our class went viral, which is when we started thinking about creating our own platform. All four of us had a passion for telling local stories, but at the time, there weren’t many career opportunities in this space in Singapore.
We just wanted to be able to do what we love and be able to earn from it. So we decided to turn the project into a company named “Our Grandfather Story” and began pursuing it full-time after graduating in 2018.
Over the next seven years, I worked on video producing, editing, and leading the content team. In the last three years with the company, I headed the product growth and development team and worked on developing our YouTube page. Our team grew to 50 employees and our best-performing video, about a Singapore restaurant which serves pay-as-you-wish meals, has surpassed 9.7 million views.
Thinking about my personal journey
All this time I was also thinking of my personal journey. I was a student when we first started and had not made myself a ten-year plan or anything like that.
After around five years on the job, I started thinking about what’s next. I wanted to be more intentional with my career.
It first started seeding in my mind during the pandemic, during The Great Resignation. They say that resignations are contagious, but I told myself to hold on — I wanted the decision to come from within and not because I was being influenced by others.
My mother’s passing from cancer in 2022 also affected me deeply. She loved her work as a human resources professional. She worked throughout her sickness, even when she had an IV drip attached to her.
Many people of her generation work towards retirement and only then start thinking about their bucket list.
But her passing just at the cusp of retirement was not what motivated me to make the call. It was more the observation that her last 10 years of work were a lot more meaningful to her. In those years, she switched between work and rest. That’s the kind of relationship I realized I wanted with work.
Burnout also played a role
When you own a business, the work almost never ends. Being a founder, there was a lot of flexibility and I could take breaks when I really needed one. But my mind was always working, even on vacation days.
On the weekends, I would worry about what I needed to prepare for the week ahead.
My personality and the nature of the media industry also played a role in my burnout. TikTok never sleeps, Instagram never sleeps — in fact, it comes alive when everybody else gets off work. I was constantly looking out for the next idea, the next story, and the next video.
What made me finally decide
I felt comfortable leaving my job because I am debt free, have no loans, and no family that relies on me. I’m lucky to have reached the perfect timing where I don’t have kids of my own yet, and my father and others in the family are still healthy. I live in my parents’ home, so I don’t pay rent and don’t have a housing loan.
My parents’ supportive reactions also struck me. My dad said he would do the same if he was in my place. I had also discussed the idea with my mum before she passed and she didn’t even ask me why. She just asked me where I would travel to.
I quit my job in December 2023, seven years after founding Our Grandfather Story. I’m still a member of the board and own my share of the company.
I’m currently in Singapore, but I bought a one-way ticket to Japan and I fly out at the end of February.
I have no plans to return to the company or get another job any time soon. The next year and a half is about traveling to Japan, China, and Central Asia and really taking it one day at a time.