Who they are: He Ruiming & Goh Wei Choon
Ages: 33

There comes a time when your Instagram algorithm shifts from serving you perfectly-edited selfies to #adulting content, and the odds are good you’d have seen The Woke Salaryman’s monochromatic comic strips as part of the latter. Comprised of He Ruiming and Goh Wei Choon, The Woke Salaryman has redefined what it means to deliver financial knowledge in a timely, easily digestible, and oftentimes viral manner.

1. Is The Woke Salaryman your full-time endeavour? If not, what are your day jobs like and how do you manage it?

Ruiming (RM): The Woke Salaryman is my full-time endeavour, although I also do run a small content agency as an additional source of income. 

Wei Choon (WC): The Woke Salaryman is a full-time job but I also lecture once a week part-time at the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media.

Before The Woke Salaryman was our full-time endeavour, we both had day jobs, and we’d create content for the page after work. It involved doing work till 2am into the morning each day – pretty intense.

2. What are your hobbies and why do you enjoy them?

RM: I love nature and cycling. I often combine both to do mountain biking or long-distance bicycle touring. I think both nature and bicycles remind you that you don’t need fancy gadgets to have fun, or to keep fit.

ruiming cycling
Ruiming cycling.

Image credit: @heruiming

For bike touring specifically, learning how to push through long distances or making repairs teaches you resilience, and self-reliance – both of which I feel are important qualities when navigating life.

WC: I like cycling for the same reasons as RM, and I also play video games on the side. I like video games because they simulate problem-solving scenarios in a low stakes and fun way. I play a lot of team-based multiplayer games and I get a real kick out of pulling out a win from a very bad situation.

3. What is your favourite movie or TV show on Netflix and why?

RM: I love Attack on Titan for its complex takes on free will versus destiny, as well as the numerous plot twists. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is one of my favourite movies that I sometimes rewatch.

WC: My wife and I have watched the documentary Wild Wild Country three times, and will probably rewatch it again. It’s about a super popular Indian commune that tries to move to Oregon to start a city of their own, and it’s so compelling because you can feel for both sides. I love stories that do that.

The world is often more nuanced than we make it out to be because we need “good and bad” sides to understand what we should do, but often you can have empathy for both sides if you spend enough time with them.

4. Who are other content creators that inspire you?

RM: OverSimplified is a history channel on YouTube that as you might have guessed – simplifies historical events with just the right dose of humour.

I also appreciate How Money Works for his nuanced take on money and the economy.

I’m also a huge fan of Defunctland on YouTube. They make amazing documentaries about theme parks and kid shows, often about how they rise and fall. In the process, we often learn about real-world applications of stuff like supply and demand, which is a central perspective we use for our own stories.

You can get this stuff from economic textbooks and courses and such, but it’s a lot more fun and memorable learning from real examples. I recommend Defunctland’s episode on Disneyland’s Fastpass.

5. How did the two of you meet? And how do you think your personalities gel?

WC: We met each other at Ngee Ann Polytechnic when we were 18/19 years old – we’re 33 now – but we didn’t work together until much later. Before we started The Woke Salaryman together we both bonded over the desire to have a better relationship with money; I would always ask RM about what I should do next when it came to my personal finance.

wei choon and ruiming the woke salaryman

Wei Choon & Ruiming.
Image credit: The Woke Salaryman

We work well together so far mainly because we are good at different things. We have also been friends for a long time. This can sometimes be a bad thing, but because we know each other well, we understand that disagreements always come from a good place of wanting our work to be better for our audience, so we don’t take things personally when it comes to disagreements on how we should execute a story.

6. When and why did you decide to start The Woke Salaryman together?

WC: We saw a way in which social media content and marketing could be executed, but we faced pushback when we tried to do it at our jobs. So we’d built up this itch to start something of our own to put our theories to the test in a place without control. Some of these theories failed, but some worked very well.

There were other factors for us personally as well. I always wanted to give entrepreneurship a try anyway, and I also thought starting my own business one day would earn me more money in the long run. It’s not just about money but I’m not ashamed to say that it was an important factor for me.

7. Which piece of content are you the most proud of?

WC: My personal favourite is a somewhat experimental story we made called Rich People Problems. When we did this it was a departure from the stuff we’d done before, and it was really nerve-wracking for me.

rich people problems thewokesalaryman
A panel from the story Rich People Problems.
Image credit: The Woke Salaryman

I can be quite insecure when it comes to my work and I am my own worst critic, so leading up to publishing this I subjected myself to a lot of criticism, and the closer I got to finishing it, the stronger that resistance became because it was never good enough. Without RM pushing me to just publish it, I would probably have abandoned it.

Turns out, it did really well, and I learnt an important lesson about self-censorship. I am often right about my shortcomings as a storyteller, but I’m also often wrong, so just try your best, listen patiently to your own feedback, but put the work out there anyway.

RM: Some of my favourite stories are those I write about my parents. 

There’s a story about my dad insisting that he give me as little financial help as possible. There’s one about why I moved out of the family home in my 20s. There’s one about the challenges my dad faced during the 1997 financial crisis, and one about my mom having a stroke.

the woke salary man mum stroke comic
A panel from the story Stuff I Wish I Told My Mom Before She Got A Stroke.

Image credit: The Woke Salaryman

I like to think these stories may possibly help people untangle their complex relationships with their parents. Often, money plays a big role in these stories.

8. How do you keep a topic like finance interesting and fresh for your readers?

WC: Some topics have more longevity than others, some topics hit hard for a short time and die quickly, and some topics have seasonal appeal. Even if you’re a really good content creator with an amazing content sense, you can’t always predict what’s going to be relevant in the future.

I think the key to constantly making the same topic interesting is to be able to cross-reference with other metaphors, stories, and memes. So you can borrow relevance and interest from other topics that people find fun/relatable. Some examples would be comparing personal finance to DOTA heroes, or spending time outdoors, or using a metaphor about paths.

dota strength hero dota the woke salary man

DOTA references to explain personal finance. Image credit: The Woke Salaryman

It helps that we live and breathe this stuff for fun anyway. When RM and I meet up socially we spend most of our time talking about the hard stuff like supply and demand, social agency, entrepreneurship and how it is like soft stuff like Attack on Titan, cycling, Game of Thrones, PokeMon etc.

9. Do you have any advice for those aspiring to be content creators?

WC: It’s a very Woke Salaryman thing to say but I think the most crucial barrier and factor aspiring content creators tend to gloss over is money – how are you going to sustain being a creator, especially full-time?

Going viral is not easy, but it’s not impossible either, but if you truly believe your content is a force of good for the world then you might want to think about how you can sustainably create content so you can also pay for the necessities in life. I find that this is the key to being successful.

It’s not even about being rich, it’s about being able to find win-win situations so you can be fairly compensated for creating content, and creativity is important for not just the content creation side, but also the business model side.

My “boring uncle” advice is to think about money in the front end so you won’t get any surprises from money later on.

10. Where do you see The Woke Salaryman in the next 3 years? 

We just hope we don’t go bankrupt and collapse lol. It would also be great if we can give our colleagues useful work experience so that they’ll be in demand when they eventually leave the company.

11. What’s the difference between The Woke Salaryman of today and how it was at the beginning of 2019? 

wei choon and ruiming giving talksWei Choon & Ruiming giving talks these days.
Image credit: The Woke Salaryman

RM: When we first started out, I was the main writer. Because I was pursuing the Financially Independent, Retire Early (F.I.R.E) movement, the content tended to skew towards that demographic. 

As our audience became larger, we made a conscious decision to become more inclusive because we recognised not everyone was pursuing F.I.R.E. Wei Choon started contributing stories of his own too, and it’s worked out well for us so far. 

It’s good to have F.I.R.E and non-F.I.R.E perspectives because they round each other out.

the woke salaryman marshmello plushieOther developments include merch like The Woke Salaryman’s marshmallow plushie. Its stern, judgemental gaze is meant to deter you from spending beyond your means.
Image credit: The Woke Salaryman

12. What do you think is the best financial purchase / decision you made?

WC and RM: Lasik for sure!

13. If you had only one piece of advice to give to millennials or Gen-Zs, what would it be?

RM: Work on your earning power. Acquire in-demand skills. That is the single best investment that you can control, and you can make. The more money you can command, the more you put into the financial markets. 

14. What is the top finance question you always get? 

RM: Some variation of “What should I invest in?” is one of the classics. 

Also: “What is good to buy”, “What to buy now”, “Is now a good time to buy?”

15. Any current social issues you think deserves a greater spotlight right now? (e.g. pandemic-related, politics-related)

RM: Media literacy. I think online media, short-form content and social media algorithms have made echo chambers stronger than ever. The result is extremism and the villainisation of opposing views.

Related links:

The Woke Salaryman’s website
@thewokesalaryman Instagram

This post is part of our larger feature on content creators. If you’d like to be featured, or have a nominee in mind, please drop us a note at group@thesmartlocal.com.

Cover image adapted from: The Woke Salaryman


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