Speech for Commencement 2016 (National University of Singapore)

I never managed to wear my mortarboard and academic gown when I graduated from University. It has also been a sore point for my mom, who constantly laments that she never got to attend my official graduation ceremony...

Thus it is a true honour and privilege that my university (the National University of Singapore) had asked me to make the commencement address this year. 

Feeling slightly nervous pre-speech. It was a true honour to don the honorary University academic gown.

Feeling slightly nervous pre-speech. It was a true honour to don the honorary University academic gown.

Geography Majors, Class of 2016 - Congratulations to all who have received their Bachelors Degrees, Master Degrees, Double Degrees, and Doctors of Philosophy Degrees!

Geography Majors, Class of 2016 - Congratulations to all who have received their Bachelors Degrees, Master Degrees, Double Degrees, and Doctors of Philosophy Degrees!

My parents finally attended my "graduation" ceremony. It is their first time seeing me deliver a speech in public, and I must say that having them in the audience yesterday made it all the more meaningful.

My parents finally attended my "graduation" ceremony. It is their first time seeing me deliver a speech in public, and I must say that having them in the audience yesterday made it all the more meaningful.

 

All in all, it was a memorable experience - and a true honour to be able to share this moment with so many newly minted graduates that afternoon. 

Here's the full transcript of my speech, right below the embedded video link below.

Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, NUS President;
Distinguished Guests;
Graduates;

Good afternoon. It is an honour to share this moment with all of you. Proud parents, impatient siblings, and the newly minted graduates who can’t wait to start recording this moment on Snapchat.

First of all, congratulations. Every single one of you has achieved what I have failed to do. You know, I have never attended my own commencement ceremony. Standing here today is the closest I have ever gotten to graduating officially from NUS. To my alma mater, thank you for this honour.

Today, I will share three epiphanies I discovered about imperfection, intuition, and empathy. I hope that they can be as relatable to you as they have been for me.

The first epiphany is around imperfection. Many of you will be graduating with degrees from FASS, with majors varying from Geography, to Political Science, and Communications and New Media. Some of you may wonder how to link your new degree scroll to your first job. I am not here to tell you that you will have all the answers. You won’t. But always try to ask the right questions. The strength of graduating with a degree in the Arts and Social Sciences does not lie in the information you know, but what you do with it.

I’ll give you an example. I graduated with a major in Geography. Currently, I run the Asia-Pacific division for a software company. It isn’t the multiple readings on economic geography that helps me in my day to day responsibilities. It is the skills I have learnt right here, in FASS, on what to do with information, that continues to carry me through.

A rite of passage here in FASS is trying to “spot” for the right topics for our semestral examinations. Especially important for non-geniuses like myself who are not blessed with a photographic memory. What do you do when your quest for data is insufficient? You ask questions. You spot patterns. You look at the spaces that live between facts. You don’t just remember information, you process knowledge. Remember that information does not exist to perpetuate information, but as tools to interpret the world.

The second epiphany is around intuition. I was a scholarship holder in my first year at NUS. Unfortunately, by the time I got to my second semester, I knew that it would be a miracle if I did serve out my bond.

How did I know I was wrong? I had taken on the scholarship in a blind admittance to the prestige, the job security, and for my mother’s bragging rights at Chinese New Year. I ignored my intuition. Truthfully, I have always been fascinated with technology - and yet, I was about to serve out the first 4 years of my postgraduate life in a career path that was not remotely related to it.

So, I decided to embrace my intuition in the face of extreme uncertainty. Many of my peers thought I was crazy to break my scholarship bond in my first year of university. I had no guarantee of a job. I was going to throw a secure and “planned” path down the toilet. I did not even have a proper resume.

But I did not want to give up. In the summer of that year, I knocked on many doors of different companies. Fortunately, I managed to take on a temporary gig at an advertising agency. Unfortunately, that was not enough for me as I wanted a full-time role. So, my new boss gave me a challenge. If my team and I could win a crucial, million-dollar social media account for the agency, I will get a full-time role with the company.

What carried me through was a thickened skin, a fearless spirit, and a copious amount of Red Bull. But we did it. We nailed the account, and I got my full-time job. That also meant that I had to make many sacrifices. I re-arranged all my tutorial schedules. I borrowed lecture notes from friends. I worked late on weekdays, and studied during the weekends. For the remainder of my university days, I was a part-time student and a full-time wannabe corporate warrior. I was ambitious, and made sure I went after every work opportunity. I did get my promotion, but it also took me 4 years to complete my bachelor’s degree, instead of the standard 3.

In breaking my scholarship bond, and working at my first job, I learnt that a strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test. I learnt that it was important to embrace your intuition in the face of uncertainty. Intuition is not a random feeling. It is a force of nature. Your intuition is the culmination of experiences you had, just like the back of a tapestry. On the surface, it might seem random, knotted, and frayed. Nothing might make sense. But only when you turn the back of the tapestry over that you can see the art of your life - the colours, the texture, and the patterns that make a tapestry a beauty. A strong intuition will transform your life into a masterpiece.

The last epiphany I want to share is around empathy. Life will constantly throw you curveballs. I joined Samsung as the regional social business lead for APAC after my first job. It was a glorious moment for me, but I was soon retrenched from the job after a few months, thanks to a corporate restructure and leadership changes.

I remembered protesting the redundancy - I could not believe that I was getting retrenched at the tender age of 23. But everything happens for a reason. After the redundancy exercise, I took some time off. I was depressed but I did not lose faith. I adapted to the change, and got a new job at Twitter thereafter.

What did I learn here? I learnt that the higher you rise, the harder you fall. But the harder you fall, the stronger you will rise. My sense of renewed empathy made me stronger. I learnt that kindness goes a long way. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle you might not be aware of. Don't be afraid, because everyone starts from somewhere and no one is bulletproof. Don't just treat someone how you want to be treated, it is always better to understand them as people and where they are coming from. Don't be afraid to ask for help, have a mentor in life who you can always trust, and you know has your best interests at heart. Treat challenges as opportunities to get more wisdom, and never see kindness as a weakness.

To conclude, I would like to share an anecdote that inspires me daily. This anecdote is from a TED talk by James Cameron on curiosity. You might know him as the award winning director of Titanic and Avatar. To date, both films have been the highest grossing films of all time.

To paraphrase his fabulous talk, he shares that NASA’s motto is how "Failure is not an option." Truthfully, failure has to be an option in art and in exploration, because it is risky and requires a leap of faith. In the greatest achievements of the world, no important endeavour that required innovation was done without risk.

To the class of 2016, as you graduate on this momentous day, you may ask what you can do to change the world. Changing the world starts with changing yourself from within. Ask yourself what you can do for the world, and change the world by filling the needs in others. Success is not a pursuit, it is to be attracted in the journey you take in order to be the person you become.

So, be bold, be daring, and don’t be afraid to fail. In whatever you're doing, failure is an option, but fear is not.

Congratulations again for completing this remarkable milestone in your individual journey to happiness and success. Enjoy this moment, you have worked hard and truly deserve it. I’ve said enough for today. Now, go forth and conquer. Thank you.

Brandwatch APAC - Leaders (by Forrester) in 9 months!

Building a business in Asia Pacific is fascinating, challenging, and mentally stimulating - I relish going to work every single day because we are creating something new in this incredibly diverse region. There's always a new perspective, a new lesson, a new horizon - and learning every single day on what we can do better in the realm of solutions involving social data keeps us on my toes.

WE ARE LEADERS IN APAC!

Forrester has ranked us as Leader in the first ever APAC-specific Forrester Wave: Enterprise Social Listening Platforms

To say that we are chuffed is an understatement. I am grateful for my incredible, small team in Singapore for inspiring me and our clients in-region every day. Also, I would like to say a special thanks to the various Brandwatch offices around the globe for their continued support. To our clients - thank you for your belief in us, and walking with us through this journey so far. Let's keep at it together!

#GameOn

Looking back on 2015...

Birthdays are moments where I get a lot more introspective. Time is a funny thing — what mattered to you a year ago does not matter now, and what never mattered to you a year ago means the world to you now.

In 365 days,

  • I left Twitter; a company which I've dreamed to work for since the earlier days of social media - an experience which I miss, and will never forget. 
  • I started a new, incredible cross-functional opportunity with Brandwatch (it's the best in class social intelligence product out there, but don't just take my word for it; give us a go!) to grow its business in Asia Pacific.
  • I moved to multiple locations within Brighton (2x) and London (2x, finally settling in Pimlico).
  • I made a new home in Singapore (my first loft!)
  • I value quality over quantity of my fermented beverages now.
  • Thanks to a medical situation; the fragility of life hit me harder than ever before; reminding me to value the loved ones in my life who have been my rock.
  • I became a godmama to Rachie's beautiful baby girl. 
  • Embarked on my all-new Freeletics journey (thanks Ivan for being my virtual buddy!)

365 days ago I would have never expected any of this to happen to me. When I stopped planning (& started living a bit more), serendipity became my best friend, and the domino effect began. I'm happier, healthier, and recovering better from the impediments that have plagued me.

Here's to finding happiness in the simpler things.

Here's to the next 365 days. I'm ready.

Adapt or Die — Building Ecosystems of Hardware & Software

An asteroid did not kill the dinosaurs, because the dinosaurs murdered themselves first.

Their journey to extinction begun with the violent volcanic eruptions off the coast of India, triggering the massive storms and temperature changes that enveloped the planet.

These magnificent beasts started dying out in the aftermath of climate change, with their final coup de grace capped by the asteroid’s impact off modern day Mexico. The nail in the coffin for these magnificent beasts was their inability to adapt to a dynamic environment.

Adapt or die - this phenomenon is not just applicable to the dinosaurs, but can also be applied to corporations and people.

Today, technology has been the great disruptor and equaliser in the re-distribution of power and longevity for services, products, and accessibility.

Facebook may not be worth its weight in years, but it is worth around US$299 billion - a valuation that is much larger than traditional titans. Even at US$19.35 billion, Twitter has a larger market cap than The New York Times(US$2.2 billion), Burberry ($5.93 billion), and Tiffany & Co ($10.62 billion) combined. 

But it may be too early for these newly-crowned tech titans to rest on their laurels. The winds of change have quietly started, with new, agile platforms gaining user traction by presenting new solutions or services that these tech titans do not cover.

Stand-alone social platforms vs social hubs

The rise of messaging applications will dominate the social landscape in the next year. Presently, the top four messaging apps have eclipsed traditional social platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn in terms of monthly active users (MAUs).

The current kingpins of the messaging landscape include WhatsApp (900 million MAUs), Facebook Messenger (700 million), Tencent’s WeChat and QQ Mobile (600 million each), Viber (250 million) and Line (220 million).

The reason is simple - messaging has become an ecosystem of services for users, beyond the simple act of sending text messages in 160 characters via SMS.

Messaging apps have now introduced the capability for users to conduct payment transactions, consume rich-media branded content, partake in artificial intelligence, and even play in-app games.

The innovation in this messaging experience first started in Asia-Pacific.

The foremost messaging apps in this region first developed such ecosystems not just to make the whole in-app experience particularly sticky for users, but also in response to the mobile device as the first (and in some cases, only) device for many in-market users.

Line, which has a stronghold in countries such as Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, was the first messaging app to introduce an in-app App Store amongst the messaging players in 2012.

Since then, they have continued to innovate at scale by allowing users to book taxis, listen to music, watch TV, make payments and play games within the Line application.

WeChat, a messaging app which is popular in China, India, and Southeast Asia, similarly allows users to make grocery deliveries, track their fitness, apply for personal loans, and even feature in-app commerce stores for brands - all within one application.

Not to be left behind, Facebook Messenger has achieved a growth spurt in 2015 thanks to their laser-focused strategy to add new layers on top of the core messaging platform.

In August, Facebook introduced a Messenger App Store which allows users to install apps for photos (PicCollage, Pic Stitch), audio (Sound Clips, FlipLip Voice Changer) and GIFs (a GIF keyboard), to provide a richer media experience.

This was subsequently followed by the introduction of a Virtual Assistant “M” within the platform in September, an artificial intelligence feature which allows users to text “M” to make restaurant recommendations and reservations.

With the introduction of personalised recommendations and increasing relevancy for users through machine learning, the monetisation strategy through tie-ups with retail and small-to-medium businesses is huge.

Think messaging is just about connecting with your circle of friends? Think again - for 2016 promises to herald even more exciting innovation in how users will use these apps as a hub for their everyday activity.

Hardware to capture software

Developers will not be able to build businesses and monetise their in-app audiences from just an app as easily as before. Fundamentally, user discoverability continues to be a huge barrier for developers as cost-per-install for applications increase across digital advertising platforms.

In the meantime, while the sheer volume of applications available has increased (twice, to 1.5 million active applications available in the US App Store), the number of user downloads year-on-year (at approximately nine app downloads per month) has not changed.

With more choice, increased cost in user acquisition and unchanged user habits, the landscape for developers who want to monetise their apps through App Store revenue looks bleaker by the year.

Already, more than half of the top 20 apps in the App Store globally (Facebook, YouTube, Messenger, Google Search, Google Maps, Instagram) do not generate any App Store revenue directly, but rely on monetisation and building businesses outside of the App Store.

To capture and retain an audience, ecosystems should be built off hardware, with re-engagement and monetisation through software.

Xiaomi, a relatively young Chinese technology powerhouse, sells most of its devices at cost-price or make very low margins off hardware to capture market share in China. Already, Xiaomi is China’s No. 2 smartphone maker, with over 130 million MAUs and with users using their handsets 115 times a day.

Most of their revenue is driven through their developer community, with improvements to their user interface “MiUI” and the Mi App Store. Xiaomi now makes a plethora of devices such as handsets, tablets, TVs, cameras and even air purifiers.

Software is great for building audiences and distribution, but it takes a combination of both hardware and software to build an ecosystem that can be monetised for the long tail. Businesses such as Airbnb and Uber would not have achieved their unprecedented success today without the brokering of physical goods with distribution through software.

The Hunger Games: Facebook and Apple

“King Zuck” continues to be a shrewd investor in the development of technology. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s acquisition of Instagram at US$1 billion was soon eclipsed by his acquisition of WhatsApp for US$19 billion some two years later.

Facebook may be the king of the multi-app world now (Facebook Mobile, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Messenger), but the world will not be enough for the King.

Zuckerberg is aiming for the stars - and has made a bigger bet on virtual-reality (in particular, immersive content experiences) and machine learning (the Facebook Artificial Intelligence labs) as the future.

To reinforce their commitment, Facebook made a US$2 billion bet on Oculus to invest in the development of the virtual reality sector. The Oculus Rift headset might seem cumbersome and unfashionable to some, but it really is Facebook’s step in finally owning a device (and all related iterations of that) where users could use to connect with each other.

Facebook had very nearly missed the boat for mobile - an oversight which Zuckerberg had admitted, but moved swiftly to act upon, and they would not make the same error again.

It is no surprise who Facebook takes its cues from. Apple, the most profitable company in the world, has sold over 700 million iOS devices since 2007, is responsible for over 9 billion photo uploads to the iOS photo stream, has built a formidable software ecosystem (capturing over 79 per cent of the public sector enterprise market) , and still remains as a brand users will pay a premium for. For instance, more than half of new device activations on Christmas Day in 2014 were iOS devices.

 

Apple is rumoured to be planning an electric car for 2019. Although no authenticated photos of the vehicle - dubbed Project Titan - are available, designers around the world have done their own mock-ups of how they think it should look, including this Italian rendition. Photo: teratime.it

Apple has ventured beyond the Mac to create multiple operating systems - all ecosystems in their own right - such as the Apple TV OS, iOS, Mac OS, and the Watch OS. The TV OS could very well be the bedrock for a smart home, the Mac OS as the fundamental for the Enterprise software market, the Watch OS as Apple’s first foray into owning your body as a “wearable” OS, and finally, the iOS as the ecosystem in a user’s pocket.

Adapt and disrupt yourselves, or you will be extinct

Millions of years since the sun set on the age of the dinosaurs, the data that connects why titans fall sing a similar tune - if they do not adapt or disrupt themselves, someone eventually will.

Ten years ago, the tech titans of today were a breath of fresh air for users to communicate like never before. A decade later, they may not always have their day in the sun if they do not move quickly enough to build stronger ecosystems or to disrupt themselves.

With Facebook making investments into drones and internet coverage, Apple quietly (or not so quietly) working on an Apple car, and new developments such as the explosion of messaging ecosystems and rich-media content, such innovation will only mean that the consumers will truly be the winners - through more accessibility, choice, and convenience.

Imagine if this innovation stretches to more than just the communications industry - but overlapping into sectors such as health, energy and education. The future for technological disruption is bright - and what we see today is really just a hint of what is to come.

Now, that is exciting. I simply can’t wait - can you?

This post originally appeared on South China Morning Post's "The Next Big Thing" — Innovation Section

Join the Brandwatch team in Singapore - we're hiring!

No, you don't need to know how to do the flamingo pose to join the team. However, flexibility is always encouraged and appreciated!

No, you don't need to know how to do the flamingo pose to join the team. However, flexibility is always encouraged and appreciated!

It is an incredible blessing to be able to love what you do. I love getting involved in technology, advising clients on social intelligence, and being able to grow a great team. Fortunately, I am able to do all of that at Brandwatch - a real family that highly values contribution, character, and fun.

With that in mind, I am thrilled to announce that we are hiring a new regional team in Singapore to manage demand from existing multinational clients. We are already successfully operating in New York, San Francisco, London, Berlin and our headquarters in Brighton, and it is time to replicate that success for our new office. 

One of our first key hires would be a regional senior account management role. As one of the first members of the new Singapore operations, your expertise and contribution will make an impact in driving our success in APAC. We value people who are collaborative, commercial, and creative. We want you to be an advocate and an expert of the Brandwatch suite of tools, and be the champion of your client needs. If you fancy a challenge, and to work with a great team of people from around the world, click here to apply. (If you know anyone who could be a great fit for the role, feel free to refer the Jobvite link on to them too!)

Take a look at how the Brandwatch culture is like!

#NowYouKnow

Goodbye Twitter, Hello Brandwatch

We do the best data visualisation + command centers in the business.

We do the best data visualisation + command centers in the business.

Work was never meant to be a singular goal to pursue. I have been fortunate to hear my calling in my work by listening for the quiet whispers from my heart. Twitter was a pivotal part of that journey, which has immersed me in how technology has enabled and redefined how we live, work, and play.

To part Twitter, after close to 2 years of being a part of the flock, is both a sombre and exciting moment of transition in the work I have chosen.

Getting Twitter swag for this fan girl was just like Christmas arriving much earlier than usual

Getting Twitter swag for this fan girl was just like Christmas arriving much earlier than usual

This was the first photo I took at my orientation at Twitter HQ when I first joined the flock. Today, looking at that photo brings back a deluge of memories - of people, experiences, lessons, and progress.

But every new beginning is some other beginning's end - and this time, I will not save anything for the flight back.

One month ago, I embarked on a new journey as the Vice President of Southeast Asia for Brandwatch, with a mandate to open our new office based in Singapore and grow a new team here. (BrandwatchCampaign Asia-PacificSouth China Morning Post, Marketing Interactive).

This new beginning has filled me with a new fire. I'm excited, I'm cautious, but I'm not afraid - because failure can always be an option, but fear is not, and no important endeavour that required innovation was done without risk.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first month at Brandwatch, which had been a whirlwind of activity and learning. It has been fantastic to work alongside the different teams in Brighton, London and New York, to understand our product, and get excited about our roadmap. 

Special thanks to my manager, Bryan, and the rest of the management team GilesAzeemWill, and Seb for their support and the opportunity to grow the business at a very exciting juncture of our company's development. To say that I am thrilled is an understatement. If you are interested in checking out some of our excellent content, case studies and thought leadership, click here.

Plus, I had an epic first day at work watching my new team winning at The Europas! (The Europas are the premier awards for Europe’s hottest tech startups, and is founded by Mike Butcher, Editor at Large at Techcrunch. Thanks for the invite Mike!) 

P.S. I was really excited to get my new name cards. Well, name cards are like a badge of honour in Asia, but these cards are drop dead gorgeous. Probably the most substantial cards I have ever carried - thank you Moo Cards! If you are wondering about the different colours - each employee gets a special name/colour. Mine, tellingly enough, is #WineRed.

Check out the full list of folks on our site now. I am currently the number one employee in Singapore. Hopefully it would not be a #ForeverAlone situation for much longer.

Want to join us on this journey? Reach out at @BrandwatchJobs. We're over 300 people spread out across New York, Brighton, London, Berlin, Stuttgart, and now Singapore! 

#NowYouKnow

#NowYouKnow

Genesis, Generate, Genius and Generosity

The bird dares to break the shell, then the shell breaks open and the bird can fly openly. This is the simplest principle of success. You dream, you dare and and you fly.

The bird dares to break the shell, then the shell breaks open and the bird can fly openly. This is the simplest principle of success. You dream, you dare and and you fly.

In the 14th century, genius was derived from the latin word "gen" - to be born, and to come into being. Genius was also first referenced to as a person's unique guardian spirit - our life's guide in all that we do.

What is interesting as well is that Genius shares the same etymological roots as Genesis, Generate and Generosity.

World Domination Incoming was my motto since 2011. Now it's time for a fresh and meaningful start. My theme for 2015 and beyond is Genesis, Generate, Genius and Generosity. It is a reminder to myself about new beginnings, an anchored purpose, being a creator, and remembering where I came from.

I admit, I have not been extremely diligent in writing as I did before. Writing requires discipline, clarity and the idea that you really shouldn't take yourself so seriously - or your word as the gospel. Here's hoping that I can write more.

To genius, to genesis, generation, and generosity.