It’s an understatement to say “life is tough” when you grew up in the only Chinese family in a Los Angeles ghetto, with drug dealers, gang members, and criminals as neighbors. But it was reality for Rosaline Koo, the 52-year-old founder and CEO of ConnecXionsAsia (CXA), a Singapore-based startup building an online employee benefits platform that it hopes will shake up the industry.
Koo’s father was an illegal immigrant who landed in Mexico from China and swam up the coast to California. Her mother escaped during the Communist Revolution in 1949, leaving behind her then-husband – who was later killed – and two children. Her land was seized by the government, and Koo’s grandmother was sent to a labor camp. One of a few Chinese kids in an all-black neighborhood, Koo was bullied and beaten up, and retaliation often wasn’t an option due to her diminutive stature. “I had to learn how to rapidly judge situations, to decide whether I should fight or flee for my life,” she says.