Advanced in technology has become a double-edged sword. While it has been able to connect us from opposite sides of the world, it has also caused potential barriers between people through the distraction of a screen. Crystal Wong Kruger had enough of that. As the Founder for her early-stage EduTainmenTech (education, entertainment, and technology) startup LIOHAN (Living In Our Here And Now), she’s all about empowering families to bond, learn, and create together through shared novel experiences.
What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?
“Incredibly, I only learned about Asian Heritage Month last year (and I’m not the only Asian North American I know who has only recently learned about this!) Coincidentally, after a lifetime of seeing my Asian identity as secondary to the culture around me in Canada, I started to reflect deeply last year on how I identify myself. Learning about Asian Heritage Month and hearing other voices like mine has helped me in my journey to re-finding myself.”
“Not only did growing up in an entrepreneurial environment shape me, so did the magic of hospitality, how to show people an incredible time, and connecting over diversity instead of being divided by it. So, Asian Heritage Month is really important to me. To me, it’s a statement that we are a diverse group of people who have beauty and richness in our cultural traditions, languages, foods, and more, that go deeper and broader than what we may experience in the day-to-day of Canadian life. As a parent of bi-cultural/bi-racial children, it’s also an opportunity to help us celebrate our family’s history. At times, my young children have consciously denied they’re anything other than ‘human’, meaning they were losing a feeling of connection with their cultural heritage.”
“Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, I always loved our annual carousel of nations so I suppose that would have given me a concentrated feeling of Asian Heritage Month over a weekend. As a teenager, I was involved with traditional dancing at our local Chinese Canadian association and I always loved the opportunities we had to share our culture with the wider community. I have fond memories of being dressed in elaborate dance costumes—with ‘fairy hair’ standing majestically 6 inches above our heads! Those experiences were really meaningful to me because I could feel the warmth and appreciation from the people in our audiences, many of whom were not of Chinese descent. These were times to shine, to be a part of something one doesn’t typically see every day walking down the street. These moments were meaningful because most other times, I’d try to blend in as much as I could with the dominant culture around me. And though I felt that I fit in just like everyone else, I know that wasn’t always the case,” explained Crystal.
“I’ve often been the only Asian in the building let alone the room. My brother, being the only person of East/Southeast Asian descent in his high school, was known as ‘the Chinese kid’. I got used to being seen as others chose to see me because of their experiences and beliefs about what Asians and Chinese people ‘are like’. That was something that my family, upon immigrating to Canada from Hong Kong in the 70s, wanted to address. Not because they wanted to combat negative stereotypes, but because they knew the richness and beauty in our culture that others did not have access to. Instead of taking on the stance of fighting for recognition, they came from a place of excitement and generosity.”
“My parents immigrated to Canada to pursue business degrees, opened their own grocery store, and a couple of Chinese restaurants. Perhaps a bit stereotypical for the times. What we did differently was we wanted to share and celebrate our well-loved traditional dishes and high cuisine with others who at the time were used to Canadian-Chinese food like chop suey and chicken balls. I suppose my parents followed the old adage about connecting to people’s hearts through their stomachs. So, it’s important to have both a sense of inclusion with society as a whole while also holding onto special traditions and perspectives that connect us to others throughout history and other parts of our world.”
Why and how did you start your business?
“Like many entrepreneurs who have found their calling—their life’s work—there’s a bit of me that’s in my startup. I came up with the idea for LIOHAN (Living In Our Here And Now) when I suddenly found myself juggling a hectic schedule of chauffeuring my young children to different extracurricular activities seven days a week!”
“I realized I was becoming like my parents; either working away from my kids or being present in the same space but mostly distant. That is, I was watching my children grow up quickly before my eyes, often through a viewing window from the parents’ waiting room during a gymnastics or music class. I longed for a better way to grow with them, where I would also learn meaningful things relevant to my life as an ambitious career-minded adult. And I thought, there’s got to be a better way,” said Crystal.
“I knew I had to stop the cycle of the type of relationship I had with my own parents growing up. We lived above our restaurant for a while so I know the difference between being around your parents a lot and being ‘close’ to them. In a culture where parents often work all the time and leave their children under the care of grandparents or a hired nanny (I loved my ‘apaw’), I knew they didn’t realize they should question how they were doing things. Of course, I understand why they were always so busy. I can only imagine how challenging and scary it must have been to immigrate to a completely foreign place and have to create a new life on my own, away from the rest of my family and familiar culture.”
“I fully appreciate all the sacrifices they made just so we could have what they hoped would be a better life. But to me, a better life should never come at the cost of a broken home—the pressure of their lifestyle contributed to my parents’ divorce when I was eight—or distant relationships with one’s children. Distant relationships are what I’ve been witnessing all around me,” explained Crystal.
“People glued to their screens during family dinners in restaurants, parents and their children living parallel lives without truly connecting. I always hesitate to say this out loud as I understand it sounds presumptuous. Rather, it comes from a place of empathy. It’s become a cultural norm where ‘family night’ is often dinner and a movie. If families are more interactive together, it’s often with other families around so that the kids play with other kids and the adults hang out with the adults. I imagine this is the ‘norm’ not only in my culture, but also in many others Asians and non, alike.”
“So given all the digital distractions and hectic lifestyles I saw, I wondered could we use modern technology and knowledge to help families like mine create genuine moments of deep connection throughout their busy weeks? To make this an even longer story, my Asian Canadian experience showed me how it felt to be misunderstood and that there’s beauty in things we don’t understand. Even when we’re aware of our biases, they can hold us back and cause interpersonal issues. Because of this, I started creating in-person events called ‘parent-child dates’ where I connected people over surprising things they don’t fully understand. Through testing and witnessing how families reacted and connected over our unique activities, I saw the incredible difference we could make. Parents told me, with emotion, that they connected with their children in ways they never imagined before they experienced what we created. Because I had to figure out my own culture as an Asian Canadian, it gave me more confidence in figuring out my own way to parent that could be different from how I grew up.”
“And that is a long short story of how I created my EduTainmenTech (education, entertainment, and technology) startup. We’re now focusing on delivering the experiences through multimedia content via an app and the beta version soft launched on Family Day 2022. It’s all about bringing people together through shared novel experiences that are both entertaining and memorable. By showing families different knowledge, culture, and ideas—by helping them embrace and celebrate things they might have previously found ‘weird’—they can develop a connection, appreciation, and understanding of each other that’s deeper than they ever thought possible.”
What roles does your heritage play as an entrepreneur?
“Appreciating diversity and the value of other perspectives, and balancing humility with confidence. At times, I find it challenging to lead a startup in western culture where the norm often is about boastfulness and ‘faking it until you make it’. Still, my cultural upbringing makes me want to stay small and quiet. My life growing up as a visible minority in Canada makes me want to blend in and not attract unnecessary attention,” explained Crystal.
“It’s a constant internal conflict with myself, and while I believe I’d be a better entrepreneur if I didn’t have these hangups, I know I wouldn’t relate as strongly as I do with our audience if I didn’t. I keep myself going with the belief that my struggles will result in a much more impactful solution in the long run.”
What is one of the biggest and/or most difficult lessons you’ve had to learn as an entrepreneur?
“Fear may keep you planning and procrastinating over details until you think you can minimize the noes, but what you really should focus on is seeking yesses. Yesses only come when you test, ship, deliver, and put yourself out there. So do it early and keep on doing it.”
“Find ways to give value early and give people continual reasons to love what you create. It’s easy to get caught up with your grand vision and want to wait until you can deliver everything you imagine. Be humble and ship what you can, and the world will discover the beauty of your creations in time.”
This piece is part of Startup Canada’s wider campaign to celebrate and honour Asian Heritage Month. Find more entrepreneur stories such as Crystal’s in our full list of Asian entrepreneurs who are shaking up Canada.