All images by Shiva Bharathi Gupta for RICE Media
Zhou Ze Yang is unlike any 16-year-old I’ve ever met. He doesn’t believe in philanthropy because “nothing in the world comes for free”. The few friends that he keeps close share his hustle mentality. He’s in thousands of dollars of debt.
But the grind never stops. Imagine all the finance and #hustlelife bros you’ve met before. Now imagine all their traits manifesting in a teen who just ended his secondary school education.
Books like Technical Analysis Explained: The Successful Investor’s Guide to Spotting Investment Trends and Turning Points and The Man Who Knew: The Life & Times of Alan Greenspan occupy his time.
Forget puberty. His coming-of-age story involves becoming a multimillionaire.
It’s a fair enough ambition for anyone of any age. Some of us might still be holding onto that dream. Who doesn’t want to be rich?
But no Singaporean 16-year-old is as vocally dogged about it as Ze Yang.
Good Evening Hustlers
I first came across Ze Yang when a friend sent me a TikTok video of his. The next day, another. Then more over the subsequent days.
All the videos on his TikTok account have the exact same thumbnail: A boy’s face taking up most of the frame, frozen mid-sentence. They are all part of Ze Yang’s daily vlogs documenting his grind towards becoming a multimillionaire.
A stoic look is splashed across Ze Yang’s face as he kicks off Day 37 of his daily vlog. “Good evening, hustlers,” he begins, deadpan and matter-of-factly. He starts every video the same way.
In the captions, he includes a happiness rating for the day and a small section revealing the amount of debt he currently has. In this particular vlog, he writes that he’s $7,532 in debt.
The second ingredient in the recipe for a quintessential Ze Yang TikTok: “TLDR, nothing much happened today”.
After a short summary of his day, the video ends with another catchphrase of his, “Remember guys, the grind never ends. Peace.”
In the same way that the phrase “live, laugh, love” has become synonymous with the basic bitch archetype, his platitudes about The Grind are usually associated with men who don’t get that The Wolf of Wall Street is satirical. Basically, get rich or die trying.
We all know someone like this. But hearing them coming out of the mouth of a 16-year-old kid?
It’s inspiring and impressive on the one hand. Ze Yang is self-assured and knows what he wants in life, which is more than what we can say for many his age, or even adults.
On the other hand, it’s this dissonance between his lofty goals and actual execution that draws flak in his comment sections. Many of us want to be wealthy, but none would declare it so publicly and confidently—especially at 16.
I need to figure out why this teen boasts the confidence the rest of us lack.
The Man Behind The Hustle
Ze Yang is wearing a Steve Jobs-esque turtleneck under a navy blue blazer on a hot and humid Wednesday afternoon. On his wrist is a Tissot Powermatic 80 watch. The cheapest watch in this range sets someone back by about $990.
He extends a hand to greet me. A firm handshake, a courteous greeting, and a short introduction follow suit. He carries himself with the confidence of a seasoned businessman—or a veteran insurance salesman.
As he enters the RICE office, Ze Yang gets to work by walking up to every single person he comes across to introduce himself. His enthusiasm bewilders my colleagues. Interviewees are rarely this forward. But he presses on.
This song-and-dance is fine—surely you’ve seen it done so many times at networking events. But Ze Yang is only starting his stint at Ngee Ann Polytechnic for a diploma in Common Infocomm Technology.
Even before he takes a seat for our chat, he has already made his presence known to the entire office. And he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“I find networking extremely important,” Ze Yang offers, shoulders squared upright. He makes frequent hand gestures to emphasise his words.
He declines the offer for a glass of cold water and does not take his blazer off throughout the interview, despite the beads of sweat appearing on his brow. He seems unfazed. Maintaining a professional demeanour appears to be more important to him than personal comfort.
It soon becomes clear that he behaves beyond his age. But according to Ze Yang, he has been this way for as long as he can remember.
On That Grind Since Seven
Ze Yang’s hustle journey began when he accidentally came across an episode of Shark Tank when he was seven. The American reality television series features entrepreneurs pitching their products and services to a panel of investors (AKA ‘sharks’).
One such shark, Mark Cuban, became one of Ze Yang’s inspirations for his multimillionaire dream.
Like Cuban, Ze Yang developed an interest in business at a young age. While Cuban sold garbage bags door-to-door when he was 12, Ze Yang sold sweets and snacks to his schoolmates at age 11.
He would sneak out of his house at night to get them at a cheaper price from a convenience store near his house. The next day, he would sell them at a small markup, but still low enough to outprice the 7-Eleven outlet next to his primary school.
“I did not earn much because I did not have a high profit margin. I probably only earned around 80 dollars in total.”
With the extra money he earned, he started investing the following year. Before he even hit his teens.
Everything he learned about investments, he learned from his father (who runs an air conditioner cleaning service) and a finance blog. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the prospect of being able to multiply his capital by 10 or 20 times. The volatility of the market made the world of investments seem even more alluring.
Between the ages of 12 to 13, Ze Yang started investing in stocks, though he doesn’t specify which. At 15, he started investing in cryptocurrency. Currently, his crypto portfolio is worth $100, spread across USDT, Shiba Inu and Solana.
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Tunnel-Visioned On Success
None of this is revealed on his TikTok. The more I speak to Ze Yang, the more I realise he prefers to be shrouded in mystery.
“I’m not a people pleaser,” he asserts. He knows he owes answers to nobody other than himself.
Fixated on his goal and determined to achieve it, he doesn’t let anyone convince him otherwise. Especially not strangers commenting on his TikTok videos. He tells me that he stopped looking at comments two weeks after he started posting.
“TikTok is very toxic. The videos are so short that viewers won’t be able to know the whole story. It’s hard for them to judge the person in the video accurately,” he says.
Crouched safely behind the veil of anonymity, the commenters take liberties to knock him off his supposed perch. Comments can get vicious, forgetting that he’s barely of age.
They make fun of his daily updates that frequently come with “nothing happened today”. The cruellest ones go as far as taunting his looks and suggesting that he has a mental disability.
They demand some kind of proof, some actionable takeaways from his videos. But Ze Yang doesn’t want to grant them that satisfaction.
“Based on what I’ve learnt from people during networking events, people aren’t kind to those who are unknown in the industry. This can demoralise someone.”
Besides, the hustle he’s chasing isn’t one where he’s willing to drop out of school to pursue an idea.
“I’m focusing on school right now because being the best at things I know and doing well is vital to my success,” he offers.
Ze Yang explains that when he says nothing has happened that day, he means it in the context of the long term. When nothing happens, it’s part of his struggle in his long journey to becoming a multimillionaire.
The End Goal of the Hustle
It is not difficult to see how this 16-year-old is fashioning himself after Mark Cuban.
As Cuban mentioned in an autobiographical essay published on Forbes, he taught himself programming on his own.
Ze Yang mirrored the same path. Inspired by tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and advice from his uncle, he knew that coding would be a vital tool in the future. At the age of 12, he taught himself the basics of Python from YouTube tutorial videos. He’s now learning advanced techniques on websites like Brilliant and Skillshare.
Like other entrepreneurs, it would seem like Ze Yang prefers to run things on his own terms. He has been fired from or quit three jobs in the few months between secondary school graduation and his polytechnic education. Interestingly, it matches Cuban’s own track record of being fired from or quitting three straight jobs after graduating from university.
But there’s an end goal to the hustle. All Ze Yang wants is to be rich enough to try anything and be anything.
With hypothetical riches, he plans to give back to his family, friends, a particularly important teacher, and himself. He also wants to invest in education for less fortunate countries. Lastly, he wishes to use the money to explore all his interests, which lean on the expensive side.
The genuine optimism and wholesomeness behind his motivations remind me that he is, after all, only 16.
At an age where our lives have barely begun, the idea of being able to do anything and everything seemed possible. Over the years, we eventually realised that achieving everything we want in a lifetime is simply impossible.
But Ze Yang says that the thing that will allow him to circumvent this reality is simple: Money.
Eloquence Is Key
As it turns out, getting rich is all he wants. Things get murky when I try to dig under the surface.
Ze Yang says that one of his inspirations and motivations for wanting to be a multimillionaire is to spread knowledge.
“I want to be able to explore different industries and share that knowledge. I do not believe in a world where people are confined by knowledge, where people have to find all sorts of different backdoor methods to get paid. I believe that it is only fair for someone to know the best path moving forward for their careers.”
It’s noble, inspirational even, that such a young person could have such big upstanding dreams. But his answer only elicits more questions.
What are these backdoor methods he refers to? How does exploring different industries as a multimillionaire help shine light on other people’s paths?
Most of his answers are similarly vague. He likes to use broad analogies and conceptual language to bring his point across.
He uses just the right buzzwords and talks in big-picture terminology. Sometimes, he skirts around things so much that there isn’t much substance to what he’s saying. Not unlike the entrepreneur or finance bro archetype we’re familiar with.
In embodying this archetype, it has cost him literally and figuratively. As he shares in his TikToks, he was $7,000 in debt at one point. Most of this debt, which no 16-year-old should have, comes from his endeavour to act like a successful entrepreneur.
Where Does All the Money Go?
He spends on what he calls “investing in himself”, such as books and services. He has read through titles ranging from self-help, like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, to technical books like Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. He estimates spending $600 on these books.
He has spent about another odd $300 on premium subscriptions to educational websites like Brilliant and Skillshare.
$5,000 of his debt comes from his watch collection.
The Tissot Powermatic 80 watch he wore the day we met is only one of six he keeps in a luxurious-looking watch winder box. The winder box, he says, is necessary to keep his automatic watches powered when he isn’t wearing them.
The rest of his debt is unaccounted for.
He also expresses interest in luxury cars, although he has yet to accumulate enough capital to splurge on those.
He prefers older hypercars—the Laferrari, Porsche 918 Spyder and the McLaren P1, for example. He pays attention to car auctions and researches them in car forums and YouTube videos.
In the most recent auction he watched, a Bugatti Chiron Profilée was sold for more than $1,400,000.
“As a car enthusiast, I see ‘soul’ in an internal combustion engine. The way it drives, the way it handles, its imperfections and especially the way it sounds is vastly different from, say, an electric car, which is monotonous in comparison. Nothing wrong with electric cars, but this is the beauty of vintage cars.”
Beyond the way he speaks and the way he dresses, even his interests are better aligned with someone in their 30s or 40s. Instead of partaking in the pleasures of youth, the hustler lifestyle seeps into every aspect of his life. Even when he can’t afford it yet.
Even in his personal relationships, he seeks out others with similar hustlegrind mindsets.
“I do not make a lot of friends. I am very selective about my friends,” he declares.
“My friends all have the same hustle mentality. They all have the discipline to do and to work for what they want to achieve. Those are the people I try to stay with and network with.”
That’s the grindset mentality for you—friends become networking opportunities.
A Future of Young Hustlers
Ze Yang is the result of a culture that rewards ambition and lofty goals with fame and money. His worldview has been shaped by role models whose definition of success is never-ending work with the dangling carrot of wealth. Is this what happens when Singaporean kids get convinced by FIRE lifestyles?
The extent to which he subscribes to the ideal of success that emphasises material success, ambition, and logical decisiveness, is frightening. But impressive, nonetheless.
His hustle has no endpoint.
“I don’t think I can stop at any point. Resting is for recovery but stopping signifies the end. I don’t think I would want to stop. Why stop when you can achieve so much more?” he says.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think he adopted the toxic characteristics people often associate with finance bros.
His motivations feel wholesome and genuine. The hustle he describes is honest hard work instead of cutthroat competition with others. Sure, he puts up a front to the detriment of his personal finance, but it comes from a place of naivety instead of class condescension.
Clearly, there are some materialistic aspects that he could tone down on—but these are his mistakes to make.
Putting aside the brashness of his business persona, it is heartening to see a teen be so determined to chart his path. As someone in my 20s, I’m less certain of what I want from life than he is.
Plus, it’s too early to make a judgement about his future. It would be unfair to write him off when he has so much of his life ahead of him.
His determination to succeed has also won over his parents’ support.
“They told me to go for it. Having a goal and a dream is the first step, and many people already don’t take the first step. It is a good start. They are fully supportive of me doing this.”
If he makes it, it’ll be a success story for the ages. But before then, all he wants to do is do well in school and get through National Service. Like any other Singaporean teenager.