Friend of Ben: Bernadette Balla

Last week I got an email from a blog reader who said she was 24 years old and had recently moved to San Francisco from Malaysia to pursue an MBA. In her email she said Malaysia is not friendly to ambitious women, nor is it friendly to entrepreneurial thinking. Moreover, there was an expectation that she should either become a prostitute or "find a man and become a wife." She started reading this blog from Malaysia and, hearing about my own adventures as a young entrepreneur, found inspiration in the possibilities that can await people who go off the beaten track. She wrote about me in her business school application, was accepted to Golden Gate University, and as of two days ago, is now taking night classes at GGU and interning at a technology company by day.

I asked Bernadette if she wanted to have lunch at my favorite crepe place down the street. We talked about the challenges of adjusting to a Western culture that’s more individualistic, confrontational, and brash than the East. We talked about what it’s like to live in a place where you don’t have roots — forming deep relationships is tough. We talked about the lack of a "guidebook" for aspiring young entrepreneurs.

I’m extremely impressed with what Bernadette has already done. She escaped an oppressive culture, defied expectations of what a young woman can or should be, found a place to live and place to study in a foreign country (Silicon Valley no less), developed fluency in English (along with Malaysian, Indonesian, and Cantonese), and most important, is being proactive in reaching out to people who can help.

I’m certain there are many Bernadettes scattered across the globe…But they do not have the good fortune of growing up in the most entrepreneurial region in the world (like me), or perhaps the resourcefulness to leave family and friends (like Bernadette). How can we help those equally deserving people?

When I got home I introduced Bernadette to some people I thought she would like knowing, sent her some book recommendations, and promised to help in any way I can. I expect we’ll hear a lot more from her in the coming years…

Bernadette — Go for it!

2 Responses to Friend of Ben: Bernadette Balla

  1. Bernadette says:

    Ben, I did my undergrad here tho, so i was familiar with the western culture. I went home and had this culture shocked and then came back here to work for a year, then finding myself in GGU. Really, i’m not that impressive. And really should thank my friend Dawn for mentioning you 4 years ago and to my professor for directing me to you.

    You’ve been great to me. Smiles.

  2. Vivek Sodera says:

    Wow, what a small world. I know Bernadette as well (from Xoom). And don’t think I forgot about the comment you left on my blog…I’ll get to it when I get a chance to take a breath.

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