Founder of Youadme, Zhi Ying Chai (centre) with her Cambodian colleagues
I took off for Cambodia with a team from Singapore to better understand the market and here’s what my Cambodian taught me.
My journey in tech only began after graduating from Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media. Fresh-faced and ambitious, I joined an agency to provide creative services to help businesses market and drive user engagement.
Despite running on the creative route, the company operated on the traditional model that many businesses were familiar with.
Besides, I also quickly observed that most of these businesses were not understanding the changing behaviours of consumers who are always well-connected online, and I wanted to help close this gap.
From arts to tech: A change in medium
While there were pragmatic reasons behind my decision to go into the tech scene, I quickly realised that tech was also an excellent platform for showcasing my creativity. I craved creation and engaging with my imagination to tell stories.
Tech was able to help me quickly find my audience and allowed me to resonate with them. A change in medium only affects how one’s skills are applied, and no matter the industry, there is an opportunity for creativity to be expressed.
In today’s world, expressing our creativity in varying magnitudes is key to improving our lives, and there is a lack of platforms for which creativity can be demonstrated and shared.
Trained in the arts and with the opportunities given to me in the technology scene, I was set on helping others tell their stories and bring people closer together with their communities.
Accessibility was important to me, as I felt that nobody should experience the kind of hurdles and bad experiences I did to achieve and express what they wanted. My team was aligned with me on this front, and we set out to create a platform to make this happen.
From Singapore to Cambodia: A new journey of learning
After some deliberation, the team onboard decided to venture out from Singapore into the region. We set our sights towards Cambodia, a market in which we have some experience with some clients.
Then, we had noticed that more Cambodians were turning to entrepreneurship, with many of them quick to jump onto the digitalisation trend, progressing perhaps even faster than Singapore. The youth were well-connected to different social media platforms and were putting out creative marketing ideas to promote their business.
We saw as an opportunity that different players in the market were openly willing to experiment with new technologies or new platforms.
Eventually, after much thought, I took off for Cambodia with a team from Singapore to better understand the market. It wasn’t easy at first, as I did not speak the local languages, and I could only converse in simple English.
I was also physically away from family and friends in a foreign land that not many women would subscribe to as the first choice for an overseas stint. As our company had just started, I had to go through some months without a salary too.
Adapting to the new environment proved to be a challenge for most of my team, as they eventually left and returned to Singapore, leaving me there with just one other member to manage the company.
The biggest challenge, however, was the working culture. Over there, the women I worked with within the tech scene were very active and often more than happy to speak out for themselves. They actively ensured that they were heard, which contrasted with my experiences in Singapore.
From my conversations, this respectable difference could be due to the multiple responsibilities that most women in Cambodia had to juggle, including raising their children and running the household by themselves without any extra help.
This has made them more outspoken about their wants and ideas. While their outspoken nature surprised me at first, I grew to find this determination to have your voice heard in a male-dominated industry as something we can all learn from.
This determination was especially crucial to be seen and heard for a company in a new market. I also spent a lot of time learning and understanding from the locals, so I could better leverage the team’s strengths bundled with my creative knowledge to create a more effective platform for our community of users.
After many months of hard work, we finally launched YouAdMe, a social commerce platform to connect brands to loyal customers.
Tapping into the social media habits of the society, this platform also allows the customers to show their support for their favourite brands while also helping entrepreneurs and brands to receive the benefits of marketing from the customers’ content.
Our platform has become the bridge between brands and customers, allowing their creative voices to be heard and showcased.
The successful launch of YouAdMe was well-received by many. On the international stage, I embodied the same confidence I have learnt from the Cambodian ladies I worked with and pitched our solution on several professional platforms.
We won awards with the team’s hard work, including the 2018 ASEAN Pitch Fest Cambodia and the 2018 Singapore MAS ASEAN Top 10 Innovative Fintech.
Lesson brought back to Singapore
Today, I work remotely with my Cambodian team of 30 to assist 1,500 traditional businesses on our platform of 250,000 users.
Many of my team members are women who have to deal with the everyday stresses of life on top of their work. Despite these challenges, their contributions have been greatly significant and are always deeply appreciated.
If anything is key to my own growth so far, my constant travels between Singapore and Cambodia have opened my eyes to observe the people I’m designing the platform for.
YouAdMe aims to connect the businesses on our platform with their consumers directly, so it is vital to listen to the needs and wants of both ends. Within our team, local sentiments are expressed by our members, which we consider with mindful analysis and market research.
As Women in tech, we need to remember to make ourselves heard on our terms. It might be uncomfortable to assert yourself at first, as I was when I first started.
Yet, as the extraordinary ladies in my Cambodian team have taught me, the path to success requires stepping out of the comfort zone. To achieve the things you want and find your voice, you must listen and be comfortable with the discomfort of finding your voice in the industry.