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Women on Top in Tech – Monica Kang, Founder/CEO of InnovatorsBox

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Monica Kang, an Asian American entrepreneur based in Washington DC, who focused on empowering people with creativity. Monica is the CEO & Founder of InnovatorsBox.

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What makes you do what you do?

Creativity is really important no matter what you do and it is what keeps me alive. It increases productivity. It allows one to see things from different perspectives and it helps people get through depression. Being creative means being open to possibility and learning to be resourceful, especially when trying to solve a particularly tricky problem. On a personal note, it is what gets me out of the situation where I feel stuck and helps me regain my energy.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I went to a lot of conferences and expanded my network greatly in the past year. Relationship building is one of the most important elements that helps my business grow. I really treasure those relationships. I share the updates of my business with my network to seek out help, feedbacks, and advice. At the end of the day, I have my go-to person who can lift me up through difficult times, give me guidance, and bring out the best version of myself.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

First, the organization or the industry that I was in earlier didn’t have space for me to make as much impact as I do now with my own startup. With InnovatorsBox, I have much more flexibility to create the program based on my own vision and understanding of the industry. The business model InnovatorsBox has combined B2B and B2C. When I first started InnovatorsBox, many people in the creativity field didn’t even think it was possible to have both combined as a service enterprise. If I were to keep my day job while I was working on my own startup, it would have drained my energy and I would have lost my focus and not have thrived in either role.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I have many mentors that I am so grateful for. They have been helping me immensely along my startup journey. However, many of them are not in the same industry as mine. I have mentors in the law profession, real estate, finance; I also have a mentor who is a small business owner, and mentors who have been in the Corporate America for a long time, and or being as independent consultants in their own field. These people outside of my industry help me even better because they give me a fresh view in what I have been creating. As an entrepreneur, you need a broad network of mentors to create your business as you will face all kinds of problems in different facets that by limiting your mentors in your own industry won’t help you solve problems in the long term.

How did you make a match and how did you end up being mentored
by him?

I met many of my mentors through networking events through introductions. Those people are the ones that may not share the similar experience with me. However, they are knowledgeable in the fields that I need guidance or help. People in my support system are also the ones that constantly challenge me and point out my mistakes without hesitation. They may not have the fancy titles but they serve my needs the best. Those with great titles might be the ones that I want to become, but they may not have time to invest in me. Ultimately I encourage people to look for the ones that can provide you with the most practical guidance from different angles and challenge you on a constant basis, instead of the ones with great titles but limited time to invest in you.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

As a minority woman entrepreneur, I have been consciously vocalizing and encouraging diversity in the entrepreneurship ecosystem that I am in. I found myself in extreme minority. As an Asian female entrepreneur, I found that there is very limited number of female Asians in VC world, in business owners’ category, and in board room. Also, the subgroup that I identify myself in- Korean Americans, has even smaller number of people in the entrepreneurship community. Many Asians in the entrepreneurship community are South Asians, Pakistanis, or Chinese Americans. When it comes to statistics, it appears that Asians as a minority group have a pretty high percentage of business ownership, but it is essentially the ownership of mom-and-pop shops, which mostly are restaurants and convenience stores, rather than the innovative business enterprises that our generation have been striving to create.

There are a few challenges that we face as Asian Americans in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and that is why I am very vocal about diversity. We don’t have enough Asian entrepreneurs to begin with, which makes it harder for anyone in this group to pave their startup journey, compared to African Americans and Latinos. Therefore, there are not many people that you can easily find to talk to about many struggles or challenges we face culturally or socially as an ethnic group. Second, Asian community is very divided that some of them are pretty well-off, whereas others are middle class or below. However, the impression that well-off Asians leave to the society makes it harder for people to believe many struggles that first generation Asians face. Another thing is that many first generation Asians in my age group have seen the sacrifices their parents make in order for them to get a good education and live an affluent life in America, so they don’t want to blow away a comfortable life with stable salaries by taking risks like starting a business. This explains why there is a huge population of Asians working for corporate as an “invisible force.” The Asian population is also divided into its subgroups, unlike African Americans. There are Chinese Americans, Taiwanese Americans, Hong Kongnese, Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Southeast Asians etc. Each group has their strong culture and identity, which makes it extremely hard to unite as one ethnic group either on a personal level or on a professional level.

Advice for others? What does it take to be a great leader in your industry?  

It depends on your definition of what a leader means to you. Everyone’s definition is different –many will think leaders are the ones that are the most successful in their profession, the most well-known, or the most affluent. To me, a leader is the one who makes an impact in the community through inspiring and developing people in the community, and that’s what I am trying to become.

Some of the advice I learned along my way is being patient. You can’t and won’t get to where you want to be in a short period of time. It takes a long way and it’s a marathon. Always assume good intent from people and learn from people. Always be ready to learn. Be sure to be sustainable and take care of yourself. You can’t burn out and you need to work strategically and smart, on the basis of working hard. There is no work-life balance as an entrepreneur, so you need to know how to balance your energy. Seek out mentors and gather people who can help you get to where you want to be. Be consistent in your deliverables or service. I particular don’t agree with people saying “fake it till you make it” about confidence. I do think you need to prepare yourself enough to feel confident as you walk into a meeting. Preparation gives you confidence and it builds up.


To learn more about InnovatorsBox, please see https://www.innovatorsbox.com/.

We are a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write us here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.


This article was co-written with
Sophie Tianying Li.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianyingsophieli

Sophie Li_imageSophie Tianying is a woman advocate, with a professional background in accounting and finance. She has working experience in New York, London, and Dublin in various sectors including banking, public accounting, and FinTech startup. She has devoted herself in UN Sustainable Development Goal in gender equality by starting women initiatives in STEM education, global women mentorship and spotlighting minority women leaders in the tech industry in Asian Entrepreneur Magazine.

Callum Connects

Mikyung Kim, TV Commercial Producer

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Mikyung Kim is a savvy producer who runs her own TV and print production business, based in Hong Kong.

What’s your story?
I am a TV commercial and print producer working with advertising agencies and brands to bring their communication needs to the screen. My background is in film production and I started my career in Hollywood working with Oscar winning directors Michel Gondry and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Before starting my own company last year to produce content directly with agencies and brands, I was with Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong for nearly five years as the Senior Producer and Head of TV running the film production department.

What excites you most about your industry?
How it’s constantly evolving! Every day is different and it’s certainly never boring. I love that it’s a creative industry and that my job involves talking to people with creative minds on how we can bring a story on paper to life. It’s exciting that the advertising industry places high value on the creativity and effectiveness of content. I’ve produced a few commercials that creatively push the envelope with fun and sometimes wild ideas that have converted into positive brand awareness. Ever heard of KFC Finger Lickin’ Good…Nail Polish that yes, tastes like chicken? https://www.adweek.com/creativity/kfc-just-made-edible-finger-lickin-good-nail-polish-yeah-tastes-chicken-171245/

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Seoul and raised in Hong Kong until graduating from high school at HKIS. I spent my university years in Boston at Emerson College and worked in Los Angeles at Anonymous Content and Partizan Entertainment. But on a brief visit back to Hong Kong in 2010, I decided to move back and continue my career here, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is my home so it will always be my favourite city for business and for me personally. What I love about Hong Kong is that while I am based here, I can actually work with agencies and brands from anywhere in APAC. If I need to attend an important meeting, I can just hop on a quick flight easily. I spent most of 2017 working in Seoul with Korean agency Cheil and Samsung, and currently I am working with Japanese agency ADK and Toyota based in Singapore.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Fake it until you become it,” from Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Worth a watch. This helped me early in my career when I felt like I was under qualified for the job I was in. I learned to fake my confidence and fake a powerful body language until I truly felt that confidence became something real. It was nerve wracking at first but it worked and now I don’t have to fake it.

Who inspires you?
My friends. Noelle who worked part time jobs while being a full time student to pay her own tuition while we were in college together. Osti who is a lawyer focused on supporting developing nations and a board member of Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Vanessa who runs a real estate company, co-owns the gym Crossfit Asphodel, started a health foods business called Quo and NGO The Keep Moving Project to promote wellness in our community. Cathy who will be the first Asian woman to direct a big budget superhero film starring Margot Robbie with Warner Bros and DC. And too many more to name!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
5.2 million plastic bottles are thrown away in Hong Kong every day. Plastic pollution is a major issue for the environment and we as responsible citizens can do our small part by reducing our consumption of unnecessary plastic. I do mine by having a water filter at home and carrying my own reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I love the brand Hydroflask because the stainless steel material keeps water hot or cold for hours, so I don’t feel tempted to buy a cold water at 7-11 on those hot, humid days we have here.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
About five years ago I purchased my very first stock and put one month’s salary into it, which at the time was a lot of money for me. Knowing how that stock has performed now, I would have put all my savings into it.

How do you unwind?
Exercise is essential in my daily life to help clear my head and de-stress. My go to is a workout at Crossfit Asphodel, running outdoors, yoga and hiking. But a glass of red wine and live music at Soiree in Soho on Sunday night works pretty well too!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
One of the best trips I ever took was to the island of Lombok in Indonesia. Two girl friends and I did a 3 day 2 night hiking and camping trip to summit the Mount Rinjani Volcano. It was physically challenging but mentally relaxing. There was no cellphone reception, no distractions, we had the company of nature and nights with skies full of shooting stars. It was pretty magical. We then went to the Gili Islands for a few days of scuba diving, yoga and sitting on the beach doing nothing but sipping on coconuts. That was pretty relaxing too.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Essential reads for every working woman and/or man who wants to know how to support the working women in their life.

Shameless plug for your business:
I am a TV commercial and print producer that can plug into an existing advertising agency or brand team to produce their communication needs. Many advertising agencies these days are scaling down so they have creative directors and account services but may not have an in-house producer, so I can fill that gap by becoming a part of the existing agency team. For brands that want to produce content directly without involving an agency, I can also bridge the gap by bringing my production knowledge in-house and working as part of the marketing/brand team and liaising with the other departments in the company such as product team and ecomm.

How can people connect with you?
They can email me at [email protected]
or visit my website at mkimproducer.com

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Renne Ballard, Owner of Renée Ballard Communications

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Renne Ballard runs a social media agency working with business women, helping them find their business’s voice.

What’s your story?
I began my career in PR/communications ten years ago in Australia, after arriving home from two years in Dubai. In Dubai I was working for Emirates Airlines as a flight attendant and flying around the world non-stop for two years. This really sparked my interest for how people communicate. I started out as a community manager for an online advertising company, then moved into the corporate world of outdoor advertising, managing internal and external PR and communications. After having a baby four years ago, I decided to leave the safety net of corporate, and stride out on my own. I now run a social media agency and I specialise in working with business women, helping to find their business’ voice so they can use social media to achieve their business goals.

What excites you most about your industry?
I love the open accessibility online provides. It’s free for businesses to get online and connect with their target audience. Twenty years ago, advertising and PR was insanely expensive and quite elitist, but through incredible platforms like Facebook or Twitter, any business can connect with who is looking for their product/solution. Social media is particularly effective for small businesses because they have the edge when it comes to authenticity and a clear voice.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m in Hong Kong because I’m a trailing spouse. I know it’s such a daggy term, but I love it, it makes me sound so dedicated to my husband! Alas, we came to Hong Kong for my husband’s work. He’s the Design Director of Asia for an international retail design agency. We’ve been here for almost two years and it’s been a huge learning curve in terms of business and culture. We love the fast-paced nature of Hong Kong and the fact that everything is open late – it suits me perfectly because I’m nocturnal.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
That’s easy, Hong Kong. It’s the perfect blend of start-ups and mothership-sized institutions. I love the small business side, watching the collaborations between workshare spaces with galleries, networking groups and foodies; it’s a hothouse of creative partnerships here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
When you’re are feeling scared about your next step, lean in and feel the difference. Is it fear mixed with excitement? Or fear mixed with dread? Always go with the former and cut loose the latter.

Who inspires you?
I love Tamara Mellon (Jimmy Choo founder). She has created multiple empires and she never stops trying new business models and pushing her limits. It helps that I love shoes too.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I just turned 40 years old. At best, I’m probably halfway through my life. It makes me constantly question, “Am I where I want to be?”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have asked more questions to the people I looked up to, and listened less to the people telling me I won’t achieve my goals.

How do you unwind?
In this day and age, it’s scandalous to say, but I love sunbaking. At any chance, you’ll find me poolside, laying in the sun in a trance-like state.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Northern Danang in Vietnam. We were there at Christmas, at the foot of the mountains and it was beautiful. Heaps of wildlife and jungles and enough five star resorts that I was never parched once.

Everyone in business should read this book:
‘The E Myth’ by Michael Gerber. It’s an oldie but a goodie because it succinctly outlines how to transition from a one person operation to a global business like McDonalds. Once you see how important systems and processes are, you can recognise shambolic companies a mile off.

Shameless plug for your business:
Renée Ballard Communications is a social media agency that works with business women who are ready to make social media work for them. We create effective, powerful social media strategies that are tailored to the people who will be breathing life into them. We hand on heart promise to never use annoying, marketing buzzwords and that we value laughter above everything else.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected] or www.reneeballard.com or +85296670115

Twitter handle?
@ballard_comms

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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