From Singapore to Down Under: An Alumni’s Guide to Being the Wizards of Aus

In our second ‘the Alumni’s Guide to The Galaxy’ series, Singaporeans Ian Ling and Shamane Tan share their personal stories and insider’s tips to navigating the work and business landscape in Australia.

4 December 2020 / By SGN

Getting Right into The Game

Home may be where the heart is, but Australia is where Singaporeans Ian Ling and Shamane Tan came across new opportunities – Ian as an entrepreneur, and Shamane as a cyber risk specialist. 

Ian, who knew he wanted to start a business since he was 16, founded Kurin Organics, a start-up which retails luxe detergent and handwash. Shamane is the Chief Growth Officer of a cyber security firm, Privasec, where she develops and executes strategies to promote the industry’s growth.  

For the Brisbane-based Ian, his adventure in Australia took off after he graduated from the University of Queensland (UQ) with a degree in business management when he felt that his time in Australia had only just begun.  

Australia, to him, was a land of opportunity, and his chance came when he identified gaps in the laundry detergent industry. Ian grasped the opportunity and co-founded a startup called Kurin Organics with his business partner, Leong, to sell customisable plant-based designer laundry detergent. 

Ian (second row, middle, in white sweater) together with Leong (in light blue, next to him), and the rest of the UQ iLab Accelerator Program 2020 cohort. 

“We were extremely fortunate to have forged deep friendships with other founders and mentors,” he shares, as he and his business partner secured a place in an incubator programme by the University of Queensland.

As for Shamane, who holds a degree in computer engineering from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, she moved to Australia because she wanted to push herself beyond her comfort zone. 

Cyber risk communications expert Shamane (middle) in an interview at the RSA Conference 2019 APJ at Marine Bay Sands after her talk. She believes in building genuine relationships with people around her helped to build up her brand.

Her ride there had a bumpy start; she relates a time when she was passed over for a job there because her would-be employers had doubts about her ability to fit into a Western society. Some people also told her she did not know what she was getting herself into moving to Australia, and that she would be “eaten alive”. However, “I was determined to prove these people wrong, that I can succeed in a different environment”, she says.  

Building A Business with A Strong Foundation

Shamane is often invited to speak at industry conferences such as the Cyber Security Asia 2019 conference (above) in Cambodia. In the last 12 months before the pandemic, her speaking adventure covered 8 cities and 6 countries. 

Shamane went on to show the naysayers she was made of sterner stuff. She not only rapidly rose to become Chief Growth Officer of Privasec, but also received many accolades such as earning a place in the 40 Under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australians 2020 list. She is also the author of a book, Cyber Risk Leaders. Making that move abroad has opened many windows of opportunities for Shamane, as she has since “had more than a thousand coffees with different industry leaders over the years”. Highlights from her kopi connectionsincluded one-on-one time with luminaries like Brigadier General Gregory J. Touhill, the first federal US government Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to be appointed by President Barack Obama; Steve Katz, the world’s very first CISO; and Theresa Payton, the first female Chief Information Office for the White House.

You can catch Shamane’s Tedx Talk about how she overcame her feelings of inadequacy when her detractors did not think she could make it.

Shamane, who is now based in Sydney, shares that her top tip for navigating the corporate landscape in a foreign country is to build genuine relationships with people. “Despite having to build up a brand-new network from scratch in Australia, I focused on building strong and deep relationships which ended up carrying me really far in the years to come. Word of mouth helped establish my brand,” she says. 

She adds that diversity in thinking and embracing cultures is also key to helping people adjust to new workplaces in a foreign country. 

“When working overseas, it is important to entrench yourself in the society by learning about the different cultures and embracing different perspectives,” she points out. “This will help you rise above the Asian bamboo ceiling and also overcome the stereotype that others might have of you.” 

The Journey Is A Marathon, Not A Race

As for those who hope to follow Ian’s footsteps in setting up your own business, he advises aspiring entrepreneurs to “bide your time and do not rush in”. First, he mentions, is to find the right people to work with, and then find the right product to enter the market with. 

Ian (left) with Shane Chidgzey on the night that Kurin Organics won the Shane Chidgzey’s Young Entrepreneurs Prize 2020. 

“Leong was my first housemate in Australia and happened to have a PhD in Biochemistry and came from a family background in consumer goods. He came on board, and the rest was history.” Ian co-founded Kurin Organics after graduation and applied for one of Australia’s most prestigious accelerator programme, UQ iLab Accelerator, to gain as much hands-on knowledge and experience as much as he can about startups. 

“I put in every effort to connect with someone. One of the toughest challenges of being start-up founders is having to know and to do everything by ourselves. In the earlier stages, it’s really having to draw on personal connections to learn from people who are masters at their trade.” 

Like Shamane, he too emphasises relationship-building. “It is from meaningful relationships and being there in their time of need, am I able to receive aid in return,” Ian confesses. At the end of the programme, he not only forged a strong camaraderie with the people he met there, he brought on Kim Giliam and Ran Heimann as board advisors, who are both globally established founders and experts in their fields.

“The entrepreneurial community both in Singapore and Australia are very supportive of one another, as we have experienced or are experiencing the same challenges, and understand what it means to be supported.” Ian stresses on the importance of surrounding yourself with mentors, coaches and the right support system. “The University of Queensland embraced Kurin Organics in its entirety – they have never been concerned about who we were, but who we could be and achieve for the greater good.”

Trusting Your Own Instincts and The Process

Ian and Shamane’s success did not fall into their laps. They share what they think are the qualities needed to make the most out of every opportunity. 

Ian delivering Kurin Organics’ first batch of anti-bacterial handwash to Brisbane locals.

It helps to have a never-say-die attitude. “Learn to be comfortable to fail a million times and pick yourself back up again,” says Ian. 

His other advice is to “be adaptable and stay laser-focused on the end goal”. He brings up the example of how when COVID-19 struck and Kurin Organics could no longer access the raw ingredients to make laundry detergents, they were forced to pivot their business model to producing plant-based, antibacterial hand soaps. 

Adding to Ian’s wisdom, Shamane says one needs to have teachability and seek feedback to improve. 

Shamane was generally conservative and considered herself an introvert when she was younger. She believes one needs to “have an open mindset, agility, courage, pro-activeness in saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities.” Her innate streak pushed to step out of her comfort zone, and she encourages others to do the same.

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