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April 30, 2017

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Not giving up was worth it

Speaking of his work, celebrated architect Frank Gehry, the creative force behind the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum and the new Parisian landmark, the Foundation Louis Vuitton building, once said that if we knew in advance what we'd have to go through, we'd probably never go ahead and do it.

Even masters have moments of sadness and doubt, not to mention regular people. Yet perhaps that little extra measure of rebelliousness and commitment makes all the difference.

Exquisitely made up and dressed in a white dress and black high-heeled shoes inlaid with crystals, Anny Chan moves among a gathering of guests. Otto2 Artistic Aesthetics, the organization she founded 11 years ago, has moved to a new headquarters in Taichung, overlooking the National Opera House 27 floors below. Through the mist, the opera house's curved walls appear somewhat surreal.

Like the surreal detours on the entrepreneurial road, Chan could never have imagined what would transpire before she experienced it herself. Otto2 is currently Taiwan's largest children's arts education institution, spanning 140 direct operation and franchise branches in Taiwan and China, with bases as far off as Changchun in Jilin Province and Yinchuan in Ningxia. Last year it achieved a turnover of NT$160 million.

Chan has just returned from Shanghai. Having finally gotten regional rights and franchising models squared away, business in China has taken off, and the organization is projected to reach 200 branches sometime this year. In order to keep up with it all, Chan must spend three weeks out of each month across the strait in China.

Despite everything looking fabulous on the surface, Otto2 only managed to break even last year, finally crawling out from the NT$90 million of debt accumulated three years ago.

Asked to speak to the defeats she suffered at first in the mainland market due to strategic miscalculations, Chan recalls her changes in attitude. "Back in 2013, I thought I could push through anything, but now I can own up to my weaknesses and tell my team what I need, so as to change the belief that 'I can handle it all,'" she says.

Her confidence was justified, though, as she saw Otto2 through the financial crisis and established over 30 branches in Taiwan alone, yielding NT$100 million of revenue.

Son's Special Needs Spark Venture

Chan got into business out of personal interest, having worked as a curriculum planner and training center manager for Mitac Computer in Taipei before moving to Taichung with her husband. It was there in Taichung that she founded Songlin Education in 2000 with NT$2 million in capital, partnering with Da-Yeh University and handling student recruitment and curriculum planning in the outreach department.

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