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Meet Vanessa Tan, the Tech in Asia Journalist turned Xiaomi Marketing Maestro

When Vanessa Tan joined the founding team at Tech in Asia as a journalist, she never expected she would one day be running her own team at Xiaomi. Vanessa shares how she pivoted from being a journalist at Tech in Asia to marketing director at Xiaomi, and her experience navigating cross-cultural teams in China and Indonesia.

By SGN | 28 Oct 2021

Vanessa started her career in tech as a journalist with Tech in Asia before joining Xiaomi, where she now leads its Indonesia team as Marketing Director.

Vanessa Tan always had her sights set on starting her own business. Even as an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS), she seized every opportunity to learn, taking up internships and part-time roles across human resources, marketing, sales, and business development.

“I took up internships across different fields because I wanted to know everything about running a business,” Vanessa explains. Her first brush with tech through the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) Beijing programme, where she quenched her thirst for knowledge by attending as many tech events as she could.

“I subscribed to every tech and start-up publication that I could find and attended every tech or start-up event in Beijing,” she laughs. It was at one of these events that she met Willis Wee, CEO of Tech in Asia, marking the beginning of her career with the company as a journalist covering the start-up beat in Asia. Today, Tech in Asia is the largest English-language technology media company that focuses on Asia.

“I found immense joy in covering start-up stories. As a journalist, I met many brilliant start-up founders and tech leaders. What I’ve learned from speaking to them about entrepreneurship and leadership continues to influence me today,” Vanessa says.

 

Taking a Leap of Faith: From Journalist to Product Manager

While journalism was invaluable in deepening her understanding of the start-up ecosystem in Asia, Vanessa still felt that her knowledge of start-ups was still lacking. This inspired her to pivot to product management, where she was responsible for gathering business and user requirements, creating hypotheses, running usability tests, and executing new products for Tech in Asia.

“It was an extremely steep learning curve for me. I shared a love-hate relationship with this role, but my time as a product manager trained and shaped me as a leader,” Vanessa recounts.

For two and a half years, she honed her skills at Tech in Asia before gaining the opportunity to join Xiaomi’s Beijing office in the capacity of product marketing manager in 2016.

“Tech in China moved so fast that I could hardly keep up. Working at Xiaomi gave me the same rush, and I became addicted to the adrenaline of working in the ever-changing Chinese market, which was becoming increasingly open at that time,” she says.

Founded in 2010 by Lei Jun, a computer graduate from Wuhan University, Xiaomi quickly gained market share in China for smart devices and home appliances such as air and water purifiers, smart televisions, and vacuum cleaners. Xiaomi’s well-designed, minimalist smart devices – sold at a fraction of competitors’ prices – quickly gained attention and market share in China and abroad.

Xiaomi expanded rapidly overseas and is now present in all 10 ASEAN countries as well as major markets including Russia, India, Chile, and Japan. (Image source: Xiaomi)

Growing a Tech Community in Indonesia

After four years in Xiaomi’s Beijing office, Vanessa was offered the opportunity to head Xiaomi’s fledgling marketing team in Indonesia. “While I loved my life in China, I felt that I could contribute more in the Southeast Asian market since I had a good understanding of region. At the same time, I wanted to be closer to home; the Indonesia opportunity came at the perfect time,” she explains.

Vanessa and the Xiaomi Beijing team at her farewell party before she joined its Indonesia office.

With over 61 million digital internet users, Indonesia is home to a growing market with a slew of emerging start-ups in the sector. Vanessa shares that many Indonesians are young and highly tech-savvy, and the market was especially exciting to develop innovations for.

Xiaomi Community, a place where Xiaomi Fans can ask questions, discuss Xiaomi products, and get the latest news and updates, was one of the things Vanessa was laser focused on developing when she first joined the Indonesia team. She elaborates that Xiaomi Fan interactions were important as they provided reliable feedback on what needed to be improved and what new technology should be introduced.

“With any overseas stint, the experience is largely influenced by the local culture and the people you meet during your time there. I have always admired how close-knitted families and local communities are – which gives us a good foundation to build a stronger Xiaomi Fans Community in Indonesia,” Vanessa says.

Indonesia’s two million strong Xiaomi Fans community is one of the largest amongst all markets that Xiaomi is present in, and Vanessa shares that the strong community inspires her team to create more advanced products and ecosystems. This has led to her team tripling in headcount within a year. 

Vanessa also worked with Shou Zi Chew (pictured right), who was the Partner and President of International at Xiaomi before leaving to join TikTok as its CEO.

“The main challenge of managing a rapidly growing team is learning how to ensure that the whole team stays bonded, and how to motivate each teammate to reach their maximum potential,” Vanessa says.

As a leader in tech, Vanessa is passionate about building a diverse team culture. She firmly believes that it encourages the development of more robust thought processes, stronger growth, and better outputs at work. She echoes that the pandemic has led her to adapt in her communications with the team to continuously affirm and recognise the efforts of her teammates.

This includes flexible work arrangements so long as the output is not compromised and taking breaks whenever necessary – a leadership style that has remained unchanged since the start of her career. “You need to trust your teammates to deliver on their work. If you sweat the small stuff, you’re going to be miserable in the long term thinking about them,” she says.

A Sweet Treat Away From The Hustle Of Tech

With workplace boundaries blurred as a result of work-from-home (WFH) measures, Vanessa shares that it is difficult to expect to have the perfect work-life schedule every day.

“There will be days where you have to put in extra hours at work, and others where you’re able to spare more time doing things you love with people you love,” she says. She advocates adopting a fluid mindset to achieving work-life balance over time.

As a leader, she advocates for her team to start their day by listing three goals to help prioritise work, thereby preventing ‘overdrive’. “It boils down to priorities and discipline – once you know what your priorities are for the day, you follow up with discipline to see them through,” she says.

Vanessa shares that as professionals, knowing when to switch off, rest, exercise, spend time with loved ones and learn something new is also important. For Vanessa, her interest out of the office lies in baking.

“I love making cupcakes with fillings. I would typically bake them when someone new joins the team so that they can give out these cupcakes while introducing themselves,” she says.

“I also create bakes for my teammates’ birthdays, based on my understanding about them and their personal preferences.”

Vanessa’s Beginner-Friendly Banana Chocolate Chip Loaf

Tech expert by day, bake expert by night – Vanessa shares her beginner-friendly banana chocolate chip loaf recipe for a therepeutic weekend to recharge in the kitchen. Here’s the recipe (bakes one loaf, one 9” cake, or 16-17 cupcakes):

Bakes one loaf, one 9″ cake, or 16 – 17 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 160g or 1 ¼ cups All-purpose flour
  • 100g or ½ cup Sugar
  • 4.8g or 1 teaspoon Baking soda
  • 2.8g or ½ teaspoon Salt
  • 3 to 4 Very ripe bananas
  • 125ml or ½ cup Vegetable oil
  • 2 Eggs
  • 75g or ½ cup Chocolate chips (or walnuts or pecans too)
  • 10g to 25g Chocolate chips (or walnuts or pecans) for topping

 

Instructions:

  1. All ingredients can be prepared the night before except the fish, which should be marinated before serving.
  2. Finely julienne carrot and white radish. Place radish in water with ice cubes for 15-20 minutes to remove any bitterness or spiciness.  Drain well and set aside.  Keep chilled in fridge.
  3. Prepare other ingredients as per above instructions.
  4. Dressing: Place all dressing ingredients together in a clean bottle, shake well and set aside.
  5. To make the crisp flakes, cut won ton skin into 1cm stripes and deep fry quickly till light brown, remove onto a kitchen napkin to drain of oil.  Cool and set aside. This can be prepared ahead of time and stored in a container.
  6. Marinate the fish with a 2 tbsp of dressing for 30 minutes before serving, this is to cure the fish, gives it more taste and tenderizing effect.  Kept chilled in fridge.
  7. To serve, arrange all salad ingredients and jellyfish attractively on a larger platter and the marinated fish in the center.
  8. Mix the dressing well and pour over salad.  With all your guests, toss the salad together with chopsticks and say out all the auspicious meaning of Yue Sang ritual and shout ‘low hey’ for good luck and prosperity!  Sprinkle sesame seed, chopped peanut and crispy flakes.

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About Vanessa

Vanessa is the Director of Marketing for the Indonesia region at Xiaomi. Before assuming her current position, she led product PR and product marketing at Xiaomi HQ, where she was instrumental in helping Xiaomi build a global presence. Prior to joining Xiaomi, Vanessa was a journalist and product manager at Tech in Asia. 
If you share similar passions about gadgets, start-ups, and baking, connect with Vanessa here.

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