In Conversation With Yanie Yanson

I recently had the pleasure to run into Yanie Yanson at a special perfumery class taught at Shanghai's Condé Nast Center of Fashion & Design by Givaudan.

We first met several years ago when she was still working at an agency and side hustling her blog. As a female entrepreneur who I had previously interviewed for work, I was extremely curious to see where her professional life was taking her a year on. Keep reading below for Yanie's inspiring words of wisdom. 

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Can you briefly walk us through your career story?

I started off as a fashion intern in New York for a Korean American fashion designer who was dressing stars like Julia Roberts and Madonna. I received a scholarship by my university at the time, which helped me travel to Milan and France in addition to NYC. Following on from this, I completed a masters in fashion, it gave me an educational opportunity to travel between Shanghai and Paris. 

Because of the business scholarship, I was supported to attend Parsons or FIT to study fashion or design, so found my own way to enter the industry.

It wasn’t until I got to Shanghai that I was recognised as an influencer with significant monetisation. I worked with brands that had larger budgets and it went on from there. Back in my day influencer wasn’t a mature term or career path, it was just a fun hobby.

How were you able to successfully establish your agency Pompom?

Pompom rebranded only several months ago, and now it is a boutique creative agency of eight people. I strongly believe everyone in Shanghai can do PR as it is based on execution but a creative agency is about thinking creatively and strategically. We try to see more of a visionary, see what the fashion and cultural trends are expecting from advertising, videos and editorials. We created Pompom to help clients amplify their brand’s image and now 95% of the brands we work with are international brands. 

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What experience based advice can you offer aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in starting their own agency or becoming an influencer?

It has to come within, it has to be an intrinsic passion not an external interest. You have to ask yourself if you would be a blogger even if the money was not much? Would you do this for fun? Often you will have bad months when there are no gigs, but you have to believe in yourself and focus on what sets you apart from the other bloggers. 

Being a female entrepreneur in this industry in Shanghai at this current moment is invigorating as we are celebrating feminism and all thing women empowerment. I feel very lucky to be a woman and working as an entrepreneur today.

You have to identify your niche in the market and think of innovative ways to use that as your strength. A year and half ago we created a localised adapted campaign for one of our clients where we invited and managed over 75 KOLs and celebrities to participate at this super brand day resulting in 35% increase in sales on Tmall. This is an example of the KOL campaign pushes we specialise in.

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In terms of China marketing, what trends are currently on your radar that you feel brands should be watching?

One of them is KOLs, which are divided into three different tiers and much more fragmented than before. Red (Xiao Hong Shu) and Douyin are two of the hottest platforms for brands to watch out for. Red has over 70 million users and Douyin has around 100 million users and fans registered on the app.

Another factor for brands to bear in mind is localised content, this is very important in China. We offer brands a service to support them in localised content campaigns whether it is an H5 campaign or aimed at Dragon Boat, 11/11 or 5/20 festivals etc. 

How has blogging in China evolved since you started your platform?

Blogging has really evolved since I started my platform, people are doing such crazy things now from using drones to high tech make-up. The industry has changed a lot, photography was essential seven years ago but now it’s about movies, film, qualitative live streaming etc..

What's your trick for staying relevant as an agency and influencer?

As an agency I have seen that if you produce good stuff, you get paid well and you have a great reputation in the industry. If you do good work, people will notice this and the message will spread.

As an influencer, it is important for you to stay with the trends, to adapt and stay relevant to your audience. For example, the Marginalist is going under a little reconstruction, I am changing it back to the original name which was Yanie Yanson, my fans are more aware of my name and found it hard to recognise the Marginalist. I actively take feedback from my fans, to constantly improve myself and my brand and make it more personable.

Not sure if you know this but I my hair has had a few drastic changes over the years from being very long once upon a time to very short and fuchsia which expresses how my style has changed. My clients have also evolved with my style, it is important to always stay true to yourself and your style. 

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In Conversation With Shaun Rein

Aside from networking, LinkedIn is a great tool for exploring industries you're interested in developing further in or, entering. Based on you behavior, its analytic system pushes new content to your feed which enables discovery.

Which is how I ended up seeing Shaun Rein's books about China on my updates stream. Turns out Rein is also the Founder and Managing Director of management consultancy China Market Research Group.

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With an impressive track record as an author and entrepreneur, I decided to reach out to see if it would be possible for Rein to share his story. Keep reading for his in his own words account of how his career intuitively happened.

When you picked your education path did you already plan on coming to China? 

In the mid 1990s I spent time teaching at Trinity College of Quezon City in the Philippines. While I was there, I met many political and business elite who told me they were trying to figure out how to deal with China's rise. They were not particularly concerned about Japan's rise which was the country that preoccupied American thinking in the political and business establishment. 

I then went to South Korea to teach at an English language and also found the elite there echoed the opinions of the elite in South Korea. As a result, I decided that I needed to focus on China's culture and understand her people as well as possible. 

I did not know if I would become a professor or a diplomat or a movie star (I was thinking about doing action movies in the Philippines) but I knew that no matter what I did I needed to have on the ground experience in China buttressed by some academic knowledge. 

How did you make the jump from entrepreneur to research at a venture capital & private equity firm? 

I have always considered myself an entrepreneur. Working in a large organization never held much appeal for me. I always wanted to create something that no one else had and to push back against the naysayers and critics. 

I started an event planning company in Montreal, Canada that organized 3000+ person dance parties which did pretty well.  It was definitely a better experience than working at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs as many of my peers did. I also started an English training company in Tianjin, China which failed miserably. 

But failure was a great learning experience as well. 

After starting these two companies, I decided it would be fun to go into venture capital. At Inter-Asia, I was in charge of education and IT investments, as well as ran research and due diligence operations. I think to be a good venture capitalist it is good to have entrepreneurial experience as you can help the entrepreneurs running your portfolio companies expand easier if you have been there and done that. 

I quite enjoyed venture capital but missed working in a more operational role. I had also never really worked in a semi-large company so that that might be worthwhile. I saw WebCT and wanted to invest in it, but they instead asked me to run China, Taiwan and South Korea. I thought it was a great opportunity so decided to leave VC and join them.

In 2005 you founded China Market Research Group, where did this idea come from? What does the firm do?

After we sold WebCT to Blackboard, I was not sure what to do next. I thought about going back into venture capital. I decided instead to open CMR basically to do angel investing. 

China was still a relatively unknown quantity to Western firms at the time, so as soon as I set up the shingle for CMR, big brands started calling me for help to do their China strategies. Apple called. So did Lane Crawford. As a result, I decided to change CMR's focus from investing to strategy consulting (I ultimately spun off the investing part of CMR into a new entity called CMR Capital that takes care of my personal investing).

In other words, I did not set up CMR to become a consultant. Basically the market demanded my services. Companies were looking for more tailor-made, and more insightful strategies that those offered by McKinsey and BCG. They often had bad experiences with the big consulting firms. 

I saw that they had the money to pay and the demand and thus built up CMR this way. It has been a fun 13 years. 

You’ve written three books about China, The War for China's Wallet: Profiting from the New World Order, The End of Cheap China & The End of Copycat China. Could you tell us how you got in to publishing, what was the writing process like and how was the market reception? Any surprises? 

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Like with CMR, I sort of fell into publishing. I did not originally have a plan to do this. I wrote a few comments on blogs and then suddenly BusinessWeek called me and asked if I was interested to write a semi-regular column for them. I did that, and then ultimately for CNBC and Forbes, to get my ideas out and as marketing CMR.

Then one day a big publishing house asked me to write a book. I submitted a proposal 4 days later. They accepted the same day and then gave me a 3 month deadline to write the book - that is what became The End of Cheap China.

I found that writing a book is an incredibly solitary exercise - you write something in 3 months that people still review and think about years or decades later. That puts a lot of pressure to be clear and cogent. 

I love writing books. Because all the books have been successful I get engaged to give speeches around the world. That to me is amazing. I have spoken in South Africa, France, New Zealand, Canada, all over the place which has been great to meet people and see new cultures. I am very lucky. 

For a reception standpoint, typically the business community and those who know China pretty well have been supportive of my work, except for Silicon Valley who crucified me for my book The End of Copycat China where I predicted China would become an innovation nation. Well, now it is pretty clear my predictions were spot on and that China is 2-3 years ahead of Silicon Valley in terms of innovation.

I always feel like I am in the tech Dark Ages when I leave China to visit the US or Europe. 

For professionals who are aspiring to be an industry expert or enter the field of management consulting that you currently are part of, what advice or lessons learned can you offer?

The best advice I can give it to start your consulting career in a generalist role, don't specialize too early in your career. It is only after you have worked for a few years that you really start to understand what you are passionate about.

It is also critical to get a good mentor so make sure you know the training you would get in a consulting firm, typically bigger ones are better than smaller ones (except for CMR which I think has the best training in the industry). Make sure your boss is a good person who is interested in training you for the long-term.