Before she became a self-made millionaire, Fresno State alumna Jenny Q Ta was a 6-year-old girl who came to the United States from war-torn Vietnam on a fishing boat.
Ta faced a harsh childhood in Vietnam in the 1970s, and her father, who as a prisoner of war, only saw her a handful of times as a baby. Ta’s mother brought her only child to America hoping to escape to freedom.
But success didn’t come easy. Ta was in a foreign land and knew little English — she didn’t fit in right away with the other kids at school.
Almost 40 years after leaving her birthplace, Ta is a self-made millionaire living in Southern California. She founded a full-service broker dealership on Wall Street in 1999 and acquired a full service investment firm in 2005.
“When everything became tough, it gave me the strength I needed to become the entrepreneur I am today,” Ta said. “I believe there is a motivation behind how a person is raised. If you are ambitious enough, with support from friends and family, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Ta went to McLane High School in Central Fresno and graduated from Fresno State in 1991 with a degree in information systems.
By age 29, she had enough money to retire. But she wasn’t satisfied. Ta felt that she was on the verge of her greatest accomplishment yet.
On a routine morning stroll along the sands of Huntington Beach in 2010, she came up with Sqeeqee (pronounced squeaky), a social networking site that was launched this year.
“It was like a light bulb hit my head,” Ta said. “I picked up a twig and started drawing in the sand, and the ideas just started coming out, kind of like a songwriter. I drew the blueprint on the sand.”
But she was unable to take a picture of the blueprint, because she couldn’t find her phone.
“I ran back to my car quickly, because I was afraid somebody would wipe away what I did on the sand, but my phone wasn’t there either,” Ta said. “I tried to find a pen, but there were none. I looked at what I wore, and it was white. I found a marker in the glove compartment, so I ran back to the sand and copied the blueprint to the T-shirt.”
Sqeeqee works with a concept called “social networthing,” a term coined by Ta.
Users can use Sqeeqee to create a profile and communicate as they would on any other social network — the difference is Sqeeqee users can get paid by advertisers. Users can also buy and sell photos that are posted on the site.
Ta’s work ethic can be traced back to her Fresno State days, where she took heavy course loads in order to graduate in three years.
“Every semester I would load up 19 to 23 units,” she said.
In her final semester, Ta was almost unable to take the last class she needed, because she didn’t have the prerequisite. She was intent on avoiding a fourth year, so she made her way to the dean’s office to negotiate.
She promised to get an A in both classes if she was allowed to take both classes the same semester. The dean didn’t buy it at first, but Ta persisted.
“He was keeping an eye on me,” Ta said. “If I bombed the first test, he would have kicked me out, but he didn’t.”
With an A and a B in her final semester, Ta avoided the dreaded fourth year of college.
Following her graduation, Ta quickly learned real-world realities.
After working for a global financial services firm known as Sheersham Lehman Brothers, she said minority women are not given an opportunity to grow and move up the corporate ladder.
Ta wasn’t willing to wait years to see if she would get a chance to move up.
Instead, she felt she was better off making her own way, so she went on to create her first broker dealing company.
When she later transitioned from a financial company to the creation of Sqeeqee, Ta used her background in technology.
“The transition wasn’t difficult,” Ta said, “but it was a big leap from Vietnam to Sqeeqee.”
Ta said she never forgets where she came from. She credits her early childhood for giving her strength, but also thanks Fresno State for helping her find a thirst for education and growth.
Her advice for aspiring millionaires is to “always run.”
“I always lived a fast-paced life,” Ta said. “I would always run compared to my peers who would walk.”