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Entrepreneurship

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

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings

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Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@malcolmABM

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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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Pam Weber, Chief Marketing Officer at 99Designs

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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.)

Pam Webber is Chief Marketing Officer at 99designs, where she heads up the global marketing team responsible for acquisition, through growth marketing and traditional marketing levers, and increasing lifetime value of customers. She is passionate about using data to derive customer insights and finding “aha moments” that impact strategic direction. Pam brings a host of first-hand startup marketing experiences as an e-commerce entrepreneur herself and as the first marketing leader for many fast-growing startups. Prior to joining 99designs, she founded weeDECOR, an e-commerce company selling custom wall decals for kids’ rooms. She also worked as an executive marketing consultant at notable startups including True&Co, an e-commerce startup specializing in women’s lingerie. Earlier in her career, Pam served in various business and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MBA from Harvard Business School. Pam is a notable guest speaker for Venture Beat, The Next Web, Lean Startup, and Growth Hacking Forum, as well as an industry expert regularly quoted in Inc., CIO, Business News Daily, CMSwire, Smart Hustle, DIY Marketer, and various podcast and radio shows. You can follow her on Twitter at @pamwebber_sf.

What makes you do what you do?
My dad always told me make sure you choose a job you like because you’ll be doing it for a long time. I took that advice to heart and as I explored various roles over my career, I always stopped to check whether I was happy going to work every day – or at least most days :). That has guided me to the career I have in marketing today. I’m genuinely excited to go to work every day. I get to create, to analyze, to see the impact of my work. It’s very fulfilling.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I had a penchant for numbers and it helped me stand out in my field. This penchant became even more powerful when the Internet and digital marketing started to explode. There was a great need for marketers whose skills could span both the creative and the analytic aspects of marketing. I capitalized on that growth by bringing unique insight to the companies I worked with, well-supported with thoughtful analysis.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?
I’m not sure this is relevant to my situation as I had been a marketing leader in various start-ups and companies. I took on the role at 99designs because I was excited by the global reach of the brand and the opportunity the company had to own the online design space. I especially liked the team as I felt they were good at heart.

The challenge I’ve faced in my time at 99designs is how do I evolve the team quickly and nimbly to address new challenges. The work we do now, is very different than the work we did a year ago and even the year before that. There is a fine line between staying focused on the goal ahead and being able to move quickly should that goal shift.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industry or did you look for one or how did that work?
There is no one I’ve sought out or worked with over my entire career as my “mentee” needs have changed so much over the years. There are many people who have helped me along the way. For example, one of my peers at eBay, who was quite experienced and skilled in marketing strategy and creative execution, taught me what was in a marketing plan and how to evaluate marketing assets. As I have risen to leadership positions over the years, I often reach out to similarly experienced colleagues for advice on how they handle situations.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
I learned early in my career that it rarely hurts to ask for advice. So that is what I have done. Additionally, there are people that are known to be quite helpful and build a reputation for giving back to others in advisory work. Michael Dearing, of Harrison Metal and ex-eBay, is one of those people. I, as well as countless others, have asked him for advice and guidance through the years and he does his best to oblige. Finding mentorship is about intuiting who in your universe might be willing and whether you are up for asking for help.

That being said, generally, I have found, if you are eager to learn and be guided, people will respond to the outreach.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I generally look for a good attitude and inherent “smarts”. A good attitude can encompass anything from being willing to take on many different types of challenges to working well amongst differing personalities and perspectives. Smarts can be seen through how well someone’s done in their “passion areas” (i.e. areas where they have a keen interest in pursuing).

I try to hire those types of people because in smaller, fast-growing companies like many of the ones I’ve worked in, it’s more often than not about hiring flexible people as things move and change fast.

Once those people are on my team, I try to keep them challenged and engaged by making sure they have varying responsibilities. If I can’t give them growth in their current job or in the current company, I encourage them to seek growth opportunities elsewhere. I’d rather have one of my stars leave for a better growth opportunity than keep them in a role where they might grow stale.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity. When I am hiring, I am constantly thinking about how to balance the team with as broad a range as possible of skill sets, perspectives, etc. to ensure we can take on whatever is thrown at us, or whatever we want to go after.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I’m going to assume a great leader in my industry to mean a marketing leader in a technology company. I think a great leader in this industry is not afraid to learn new tricks no matter their age – it’s the growth mindset you may have heard about. I have a friend who inspires me to do this – she purchased the Apple Watch as soon as it was available, and was one of the first people I knew to use the Nest heating/cooling system. She’s not an early adopter by most definitions, but she adopts the growth mindset. This is the mindset I, too, have sought to adopt. In my field of marketing, it most recently has meant learning about Growth Marketing and how to apply this methodology to enhance growth. Independent of your industry, I think a growth mindset serves you well.

Advice for others?
I have been at 99designs for 3.5 years. During that time we’ve invested in elevating the skills and quality of our designer community, we’ve rebranded to reflect this higher level of quality, and have improved the satisfaction of our customers. Our next phase of growth will come from better matching clients to the right designer and expanding the ability to work with a designer one-on-one. We have the best platform to find, collaborate, and pay professional designers who deliver high quality design at an affordable price, and it’s only going to get better. I’m excited to deliver on that vision.

Pam Webber
Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs
Twitter: @pamwebber_sf

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