Start: Up

“Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand.”
–Baruch Spinoza

They started up.  In a new land. Starting up essentially with nothing.

She started up. Again, again, and again.

She is determined.

“The scientists at Emotiv have done the impossible: created a brain-wave-reading headset that lets you conjure entire worlds using nothing but your mind — a breakthrough that could be worth billions. Now comes the hard part.”

“It is a jigsaw puzzle still being put together.”


They had seemly started, down.

There were the chants: “Slit eye,” and graffiti of “Asian go home.”

Go home to where?

“Something inside me stiffened.  There was the gathering of resolve, and a small voice said, ‘I will bypass you’.”

She couldn’t do it: stay in the safe and the now known suburbs of Melbourne, her home in her second startup life. She couldn’t stay in the comforts of the provincial.

It was a different gift from the sea, not of the kind of Anne Lindbergh‘s vision.  Rather, she realized “It’s okay to be an outsider.”  It has its advantages.

Start: UP


Tan LeFieldMarshal Rational, (birth year: 1978) is an Australian telecommunications entrepreneur, businesswoman and the 1998 Young Australian of the Year. Tan migrated to Australia, being a four-year old Vietnamese boat refugee with her family in 1982.  Her current company, Emotiv Lifesciences, is trying to do something thought very difficult to obtain: a device that reads a person’s mind and controls physical object in the real world.  START: UP.

It’s not entirely true that Le started with nothing when her family departed from Vietnam. She had a bottle of poison. Her mother kept the bottle and little else on the small, calamitously overcrowded boat on which she, 4-year-old Tan, and Tan’s younger sister, grandmother, aunt, and uncle fled the Communist government in South Vietnam in 1981. At first, they had felt lucky to have avoided being captured and jailed. But floating in the South China Sea, they weren’t so sure. Pirates were chasing the hapless vessels and picking them off one by one. Hence, the bottle of poison: Tan’s mother was determined to grant her children a swift and relatively painless chemical end if their boat should be overtaken. “She didn’t tell us about any of the horrible stuff, but she didn’t have to,” says Le. “You see the fear on people’s faces, and you know.”‘

Growing up in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria Australia, she devoted her considerable energies and talent to community services. At the age of 15, she joined the Vietnamese Community of Footscray Association, which was established to provide training and find employment for young Vietnamese Australians. Within three years, Le was made President. She proceeded to establish a number of new training and employment initiatives, as well as a programme to provide counselling and refuge for Vietnamese women. Finally, she turned the Footscray Association into the Australian Vietnamese Resource Centre, regarded today as one of the most effective Vietnamese community organisations in Australia.

Fieldmarshals are bound to lead others, and from an early age they can be observed taking command of groups. In some cases, they simply find themselves in charge of groups, and are mystified as to how this happened. But the reason is that they have a strong natural urge to give structure and direction wherever they are – to harness people in the field and to direct them to achieve distant goals. [Please Understand Me II]

As a student, Le also organised several cultural events that have helped to promote multiculturalism in Melbourne. She mobilised the community to support fund drives for charities, and recorded tapes of Vietnamese newspapers for the Victorian Association for the Blind.

Meanwhile, Le was awarded a KPMG Accounting Scholarship in 1997. She graduated with a Commerce and Law degree with honours from Monash University in 1998 and was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in early 2000.

Some of her positions included: Member of the Australian Citizenship Council, Member of the Centre of the Mind (Australian National University), Member of ‘A Fair Go For All’, the National Committee for Human Rights Education in Australia, National Ambassador for Aboriginal Reconciliation, National Ambassador for National Youth Media Awards and Patron of the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Programme.

Le was also appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for Australia to China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and Viet Nam in the late 1990s. Subsequently she has travelled to Asia under the sponsorship of the Images of Australia Unit (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).

‘Tan commenced university studies at the age of 16 and went on to complete a Bachelor’s degree in law and commerce in 1998 at Monash University.  Start: UP.  Tan cofounded and ran SASme, a pioneer in providing SMPP platforms to telecommunication carriers and content aggregators, and one of the companies responsible for the creation of Australia’s SMS application market. Tan helped grow SASme from its humble beginnings to a thriving company with thirty-five employees and multiple locations worldwide. Tan has also worked with one of Australia’s leading law firms, Freehills. In 1998, Tan was named Young Australian of the Year and voted one of Australia’s 30 Most Successful Women Under 30. At the age of twenty-one, Tan was a Special Ambassador to the United Kingdom as a guest of the British High Commission and Foreign Commonwealth Office, a Goodwill Ambassador for Australia in Asia, and a Patron of the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program. Tan has been an Ambassador for the Status of Women since 2001, and she’s also been appointed to a number of prominent Boards, including Plan International Australia, Australian Citizenship Council, National Committee for Human Rights Education in Australia, and RMIT Business in Entrepreneurship.’

Tan Le sold SASme and founded Emotiv.   She taken all of her resources and energy to start and grow Emotiv Lifescience, a Sydney-San Francisco Start Up. Start UP, again.

Innovator and entrepreneur Tan Le is working to transform brain research. She creates innovations that expand and improve the way our brains are studied and understood. Her ideas may help detect brain problems earlier, enable better learning and accelerate research to unlock new treatments for neurological disorders. Le co-founded Emotiv Lifesciences, a company pioneering first-of-its kind portable electroencephalography (EEG) technology, a new brain-computer interface and a platform for sharing crucial brain data globally. Large-scale participation in collecting and sharing brain data is now possible through Le’s EEG’s headset that records brain activity. Researchers send experiments out over the Internet, and participants complete designated tasks while wearing the headset, which has sensors that pick up the brain’s electric signals; it can already detect the wearer’s thoughts, feelings and expressions.

They [Fieldmarshals] cannot not build organizations, and cannot not push to implement their goals. When in charge of an organization, whether in the military, business, education, or government, Fieldmarshals more than any other type desire (and generally have the ability) to visualize where the organization is going, and they seem able to communicate that vision to others. Their organizational and coordinating skills tends to be highly developed, which means that they are likely to be good at systematizing, ordering priorities, generalizing, summarizing, marshaling evidence, and at demonstrating their ideas.  [Please Understand Me II]

“I am afraid of privilege, of ease, of entitlement.” — Tan Le

There are other companies making mind-reading devices — pick off pieces of the market. “Emotiv faces some crucial decisions it absolutely has to get right,” says Stephen Prentice, an analyst at Gartner who has sampled the company’s device.

Le admits that such challenges are real. But once consumers give the headset a try, she predicts, a lot of the doubts will themselves be vaporized, and demand will snowball. “We see it becoming a totally ubiquitous device, allowing you to interact in a seamless way with everything else in the world,” she says.

That grandiose strategy reflects the intensity and outsize ambitions of Emotiv’s founders, and especially of Le. Her entire life has been a string of hard-won, improbable triumphs, and she is loath to lower her standards to anything less than spectacular. Going all in with Emotiv doesn’t scare her.

“When you start with nothing,” she says, “you don’t get attached to a lot of things. You end up unafraid to push outside your comfort zone.”

Other Fieldmarshal Rationals include:  Muriel SiebertJerry BussJohn AdamsIndra Nooyi,William Pitt, the YoungerEllen Sirleaf and Joyce Banda, and Margaret Thatcher.

6 thoughts on “Start: Up

  1. Benno December 12, 2013 / 7:04 pm

    Fantastic courage and story. Just one of the most inspiring and stirring personal stories I’ve been privileged to hear.


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