With a degree in Commerce, it was logical for Foong Yuh Wen to work in the financial services sector. That’s exactly what she did after returning home from overseas upon graduating. But she soon found her job as an equity research assistant at an investment bank to be tedious.
“I felt so bored and miserable,” she recalls. “I dragged my feet to work every day. I thought to myself, is this it for me? I couldn’t see myself doing this for even another year.”
So she did something rather radical. She left her steady nine-to-five office job to try her hand at acting and singing. But after two years of struggling to make ends meet as an entertainer, she went back to a regular job — except this time she enjoyed her work.
She became a business analyst at Cradle Fund, a government agency that funds start-ups.
Her stint there made her fall in love with the start-up culture, so much so that she ended up forming her own start-up, SushiVid, an online platform that matches brands with social influencers.
Now in its third year, SushiVid has helped thousands of influencers obtain sponsorship from brands across the region.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
I really didn’t set out to become one. I was just happy to be part of the start-up culture. The decision to make that leap happened when I was helping another start-up raise funds.
The investor I was talking to asked me what kind of start-up I would like to be involved in and said that he would fund that instead.
He said he wanted to fund a start-up where I was either the founder or co-founder. I was grateful they had that much faith in me but at the same time it felt very surreal.
Still, it was too good an opportunity to miss out on. How often do you have people offering to fund you for whatever it is that you want to do?
HOW DID THE SOCIAL INFLUENCER CONCEPT COME TO YOU?
I used to be an actress but that was before the YouTube era. Many of the challenges I faced as an actress are the same challenges that today’s influencers face.
It’s almost the same thing except the medium has changed. You’re not performing for TV or movies but for YouTube and social media. But as with actors, influencers are constantly chasing for gigs and for payment.
I remember waking up hopeful, taking the time to put on a face full of make-up to go for castings and waiting for the phone to ring only to be disappointed. SushiVid allows influencers to find opportunities in the comfort of their homes! I would’ve loved that. If I were starting out again today, perhaps rather than aim to be an actress I would have just aimed to be an influencer.
WHY DID YOU NAME YOUR COMPANY SUSHIVID?
I just named it after the food I was having on the day I decided to form my own start-up.
WHAT ARE THE KEY PLATFORMS YOUR CAMPAIGNS RUN ON? IS FACEBOOK THE MAIN ONE?
We don’t run anything on Facebook directly. We only share stuff to Facebook after they’re created on Instagram, Blog or YouTube. For now, Instagram is the big one. Images are so much easier to deal with compared to YouTube videos.
Even when it comes to videos, it’s much easier to create an “Instastory”. But YouTube is good because it’s search-friendly.
ARE BLOGS STILL RELEVANT?
They’re good for long-form content. If you own a restaurant and you’re targeting tourists, I’d say go for blogs. It’s just logical for me. Whenever I travel, I will search blogs for what to eat there, not videos or social media. So blogs are still good for certain things.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FAMOUS BRANDS YOU’VE WORKED WITh?
For local brands it’s Shopee, Lazada, FashionValet, Zalora and other e-commerce portals. For international brands, we’ve done work with Panasonic, Tag Heuer, Revlon, Lafarge and DBS Bank among others. We have a lot of clients. Over the past three years we’ve done campaigns for over 400 brands. It’s quite unbelievable actually.
WAS IT HARD GETTING THE INFLUENCERS ON BOARD?
At first it was because it had to be done manually. I had to reach out to the influencers one by one. I secured the involvement of 100 of them before I had the confidence to start the company. Today, we have over 5,000 influencers on our platform.
WHAT ARE THE KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF A POWERFUL INFLUENCER?
Talent, tenacity, discipline. but also kindness. It’s important to be grateful for the opportunities given to you. Once you start getting big-headed and difficult to deal with, the sponsorships will dry up.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MICRO-INFLUENCERS?
I love micro-influencers. They are hungrier and will go the extra mile for our brands. In some ways you get more bang for the buck. You can work with 150 micro-influencers for the price of 10 big influencers. We define micro-influencers as those having more than 3,000 followers on Instagram or 1,000 subscribers on YouTube.
HAVING EXPERIENCED START-UP LIFE, WOULD YOU EVER GO BACK TO BEING AN EMPLOYEE IN A COMPANY?
It would be a nice break for me to not have to worry about next month’s payroll. But I love my life today. Yes, despite the hardships, the mistakes, the learning curve, the stress and the sleepless nights. The small successes and sense of accomplishment make it all worthwhile.
I remember being miserable for many years, going to work aimlessly, and crying a lot. I didn’t see any meaning to my life back then. I’m really lucky to have found my true calling. I feel happy even having to work on Sundays. It just doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s amazing!
HOW DO YOU KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH THE START-UP WORLD WHICH IS MOVING SO FAST?
I don’t think I’m really up-to-date with the start-up world. For example, I know close to nothing about cryptocurrencies or blockchain. But I do read books. I spend at least 10 hours a week reading books. I get a lot of inspiration from reading.
DO YOU HAVE COMPETITORS AND IF SO HOW DO YOU STAY AHEAD OF THE PACK?
We do have competitors. Social influencers are a big thing now. The way to stay ahead is to simply focus on our strengths. It’s a new industry and everyone’s still exploring how to make it work. Even in the US, there’s no one clear winner in this field.
So for me, the way forward is for us to chart our own course and do what we think is right. And learn along the way, of course.