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Thai Entrepreneur Shares Her Story (Broke to Business Owner)

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

For the past 4 years, I've been interviewing people all over the world on what advice they would give their younger selves. I compiled the top 3 main insights I wish I knew as a teenager into a book called: It's the Depression for Me: 3 Ways to Make Being a Teenager Suck Less. It's a relatable resource that helps young individuals improve themselves. GenZ is loving it, take a look at the reviews for yourself.

The story you're about to read is from one of the women I interviewed while traveling and interviewing people for this book series. Vanessa Goncalves is a young chef living in Bangkok Thailand. A few years ago, she was so poor she could barely afford water. In our conversation, she talks about the exact moment she knew she must make a change.

Instead of complaining like her coworkers, she decided to take action. It paid off, as now she is the owner of a growing cooking school in southern Thailand.

I hope you find some inspiration from Vanessa's story. It doesn't matter where you come from or where you started, it is always possible to make your dreams a reality.

Vanessa Goncalves

September 2018, Thailand

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Vanessa worked at an international school as a teacher's assistant. She drove an hour and a half each day just to get to her workplace. She grew tired of waking up at 5 AM, and getting home at 6 PM, doing the same job over and over. Vanessa didn’t want to settle for a life like that. She had taught some cooking classes before, so she figured she could teach her own classes. Eventually, she told her employer that she wasn’t coming back, and she went to start her own cooking school for kids. Vanessa starts by sharing what that huge life change was like when she first started.

Vanessa: It was really a risk, but if I didn’t take the risk then, how would I know? I figured I’ve got nothing to lose.

I started with just 10 students, but currently, I have 180. Next term, I expect 220 students. It’s more than what I ever expected, and it’s continuously growing. I won’t stop pushing myself. I currently have five people working for me, and I’m the youngest of them all.

Maeve: How long have you had your company for?

Vanessa: This is my second year. Relatively, I still have nothing… I want to have an actual school because many people have asked me if I have a class site. I don’t have enough money to pay for a fancy office. I’ll start with this, but once I get enough money, I will start a school, an actual school. One big goal I have for my company is to expand to Phuket, Chiang Mai, or even overseas.

Maeve: When you were younger, did you know that you wanted to teach cooking classes or have your own cooking school? Vanessa: No, not really. In my family, no one can really cook apart from my dad, but he was never really home. I had to eat terrible food because my mom couldn’t really cook well. I was frustrated because I wanted to eat good food, so I spent time exploring in the kitchen. It resulted in many bad dishes, but a few came out good. I never went to school for cooking, I learned by experience and practiced a lot.

Maeve: Would you consider yourself successful?

Vanessa: I think everyone has a different definition of success. For me, I think it’s--I don’t know, I want more. I want more for myself, but for now, I’m satisfied with what I have achieved so far. I think I’ve come a long way from where I’ve started from my first job where I worked as a teaching assistant and only got $320 USD a month. I still remember that.

I knew I had to put up with it just to have something. If I quit and went to a better school, they would pay me more like $633 USD. I had to go step-by-step though. You can’t jump from one to ten, you have to walk up the stairs one step at a time.

After that, I stayed in school for two years. I wanted to be a real estate agent. However, that didn’t work out because if you don’t have enough connections, you don’t have a database, which means no clients. It was a total fail, I remember I spent all my money on that and then had no money to pay rent. I had to call my landlord to ask, “Can I pay you next month?”

I had no food. I didn’t want to ask my family because I knew this was a big lesson I needed to learn the hard way. I had to drink tap water [very unsafe in Thailand] because I couldn’t even afford 1 Baht (0.03 USD) to buy water from the machine downstairs. It was really tough, I felt like I was going to cry a lot.

Luckily, I got a job at another school. My pay went straight to rent. I better go slowly, I thought. It took about 2 to 3 years to get to the state where I am now. Like I said, I got really sick of living like that, so I started doing my own thing.

Maeve: What did you learn from that experience of not having enough money?

Vanessa: I don’t want to be in the same situation again. It’s never easy when all you have to eat is boiled rice with salt. I had to eat that for three meals a day. I wanted sushi, but I couldn’t afford anything, I didn't even have 1 Baht (0.03 USD). Usually, I have coins around the house, but I didn’t have anything. Nothing until I got paid. It was difficult.

Luckily, I could borrow some money from a friend to go to school. The school bus picked me up from my house, and there was lunch and a snack at school, so it was alright. It wasn’t easy though, and I never want it to happen again.

This is why I work so hard to get what I want. I always push myself to find more schools to work with. My goal for next term is to have two more schools, and then hopefully, the term after that I will have even more schools.

Maeve: Is there any other advice you want to share with teenagers?

Vanessa: Take risks; don’t be afraid of taking risks. You could discover something that will change your whole life. I’ve met a lot of people that complain about their work and about how they’re not happy. When I was with all those teacher's assistants they were not happy, they just complained all the time.

I complained too for a while, but then I took action. They said they would do this or that, but some of them were there for 16 years. They are never going to change. All they need to do is to take action and to do something. That’s their life though; you need to spend time making your own success.


For more insights and stories like Vanessa's, check out It's the Depression for Me: 3 Ways to Make Being a Teenager Suck Less.

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