I met the gorgeous indomitable Shannon Kalayanamitr about half a year ago at Innovfest Unbound, where we were both speakers at the Google Women Entrepreneurship panel. I immediately experienced an incurable case of girl-crush as I got to know this fellow fearless femme founder, and got to spend some time together in person, including bonding over a night of drinks and discussing our girly ambitions to take over the world on our own terms. I’m lucky now to count Shannon as a friend and big-sis mentor and advisor, even working out my own brand, Glam-it!’s, partnership with MOXY and more. Seeing her meteoric rise traversing 44 cities spanning areas of finance, strategy, execution, marketing, business development, eCommerce, and entrepreneurship, it’s impossible not to be awestruck and inspired by this force of nature making her mark in the entrepreneurship and technology worlds.
Here’s some brief background on Shannon:
Shannon’s career trajectory includes management consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers, investment banking at Lehman Brothers, and managing 44 countries as the youngest Director of Singha’s Corporate Planning and Strategy. She came into her own in the private equity space by co-founding Altus and working with clients like GE Capital, Deutsche Bank, AIG, and then with eCommerce players, leading Lazada in its efforts to launch an eCommerce platform in Thailand during the industry’s infancy. These days, she’s leading MOXY, which she co-founded in 2013. It has grown exponentially to become a market leader in Thailand, merged in an acquisition via Ardent Capital in 2014 to consolidate five sites under the MOXY umbrella. Its place today in SEA continues to grow and develop into the leading women’s lifestyle portal for those who want and deserve everything in life. We can have it all.
1. What was your inspiration behind MOXY? How do you define “MOXY”? What is your definition of MOXY?
MOXY’s actual definition is from the1980s, “moxie”, and was Warren Beatty’s description of Marilyn Monroe. The meaning of “MOXY” connotes attitude, determination, courage. MY definition is that it actually means ballsy and gutsy. I returned to live in Thailand when I was 12, with ideas about women’s empowerment, women’s equality. I saw with my friends and peer groups that people generally needed career guidance from crafting their CVs, relationship advice including dating, all very basic issues. My mother was encountering issues with my father’s infidelity and her own limited life choices, that had a large impact in my life. I always liked giving advice or perhaps site case studies/ real life examples, just because I’ve seen so much growing up, so I was always the default go-to girl. But at the same time, I also knew I needed life and career experience, and enjoyed talking to people and learning from them about their experiences. I always had the instinct of giving back, and have been doing charity stuff ever since I was 12. It was from those early days that I knew I ultimately wanted to run a business where it would be all about “women helping women, but I didn’t know exactly how or when. I fell into tech and eCommerce with Lazada, after a period of opening new markets for Singha and cutting my teeth on execution, business development and marketing in some of my own ventures in media. MOXY was rather serendipitous. I knew wanted to sell things to women and cater to women helping women. I wanted MOXY to be accessible to the everyday woman, unlike Net-a-porter, as in to curate a community of women and things that are good for people and most importantly, accessible and attainable. We wanted to offer things that were really good for people from a product and idea standpoint. Fast-forward, and MOXY is a place where women empower and aid other women. We have a determination to do it all --have a life, beautify ourselves, watch out for our career and happiness, be each other’s best friends. When we refer to things as the Moxie way, which we term as #MOXYLife, we do so knowing we’re all a work in progress. MOXY is already a word in existence, and it is a spirit accessible for everyone’s embodiment, and we have the determination to get ourselves to you. We are aspirational, attainable, and achievable all at the same time.
2. You’ve built your business from zero, you’ve been through an acquisition complete with merger and rebranding, and you’re now in a period of stratospheric growth: Can you describe the different challenges you’ve encountered each stage? What has been your biggest personal challenge and your biggest business challenge to date? Are they related?
To cut a long story short, I had three pivotal changes in my life. I started in banking, but decided in the end that it wasn’t for me as it satisfied monetary goals but not my (1) idealistic helping people or (2) my creative goals. So then I wanted to explore a career that would help people and my creativity, so I did an NGO, but it didn’t help my (1) monetary and (2) international global goals. I was gaining professional experience and in each position I took on, I got to learn and do a lot, but didn’t fulfill all of my goals. Then finally, I started MOXY after the Lazada boot camp, and this was the career that was supposed to tick the boxes with all my goals in life.
Though of course to attain all my goals – things were not going to be easy, my partners and I divided and conquered, with one focusing on operations, another technology, while I focused on business development and marketing. The first challenge of course was getting the money and initial capital to start, then trying to run a business day to day while carving out a differentiated positioning, and on top of it, providing the best offering to our growing base of targeted customers. The biggest struggle throughout was working with my team and figuring out what we needed, keeping a balance while optimising with our current resources with scaling in mind. Branding was key for MOXY from the beginning. We believed that with the crowded space it was, we had to invest a bit of time and effort in branding which had to do with the 3 P’s – Purpose of MOXY, Positioning, and Personality, so people can define us. This became our strong suit as this showed immensely as we had to rise to the challenge of acquiring customers and generating buzz online. On top of that, we excelled in offline in terms of celebrity, bloggers and influencers. For me, people and resources drive every organization and navigating the delicate and sensitive issues are inevitable whenever people are in the mix. Amongst my team and working with my colleagues including the dynamic of my former bosses, this included navigating difficult strategic crossroads, butting heads, and emerging more self-reliant and trusting of my own judgment. One of the reasons for the acquisition, was to join a team who had stronger experience operationally, financially, and in terms of best practices. I brought branding and marketing strategies, business development and female empowerment to the mix. My biggest struggle, though luckily short in duration, was the mentality of being the new kid coming into a new organisation, not entirely confident of the agenda and the things I wanted to push, as the dynamic of the team was new.
As shown in many studies, women have an innate tendency to question and the need to prove to ourselves in what we do. We want to see whether we can do it before we go charging in, whereas men go in commanding their price and are already confident in their ability. Ever since I got into my “groove”, it has been an amazing upward trajectory every single month. I have a great team, MOXY DNA, and culture, a great product offering and NOW we have just closed a merger with Bilna, a large women’s eCommerce player, #1 in the mothers and babies category in Indonesia, and things are happening! Everything makes sense, but ultimately it’s always a people issue. Our team has grown to 450 people over night and, our revenues are more than doubling, and now we will be ranked amongst the top the ecommerce players in SEA (currently in contention are Lazada, Zalora, and MOXY).
3. Has there been a point in time in your life where you encountered some female-specific barriers? How did you overcome these?
Yes and no. When I started at Lehman Brothers in Bangkok, there was a whole BSD (Big Swinging Dick, (reference from the book Liar’s Poker) mentality. I had a group of four girlfriends, where we were all thrown into this male-dominated culture, and we took it to another extreme where we created our own culture with our heels and stilettos. SITC (Sex in The City) came out around the same time, so we had the swashbuckling camaraderie with heels and culture on our own terms. Now, I definitely feel in the tech industry, VC industry, it’s very similar in terms of how you see very few women. At Lazada we were all led by men. It’s great that guys are very numbers focused, but many of them miss the big picture.
And these are very women-oriented industries! There’s also this double-standard that exists in terms of how men and women are perceived. When men raise their voices and change their tone and say “You’re an idiot” it is being authoritative and aggressive, whereas with women we are labeled “emotional” even when we raise our voices slightly or voice the same sentiment. On top of things, many people do not understand what I do, in my specific field of business development and marketing, it is labeled as “fluff”, because “soft skills” aren’t considered substantial, though people fail to realise strategy is key to execution and creating a competitive advantage to swiftly navigate through a crowd. I’m a CMO with kids, but that doesn’t mean I can’t balance my time and prioritisation or that I don’t want to be a CEO. I don’t need to be “called a CEO” or the “head of the family” to be leading the company or the household, since I know I plug a hole, and am right where I need to be to aid the company. Just because I don’t ask for it doesn’t mean I don’t want it (the right job with the right title), it’s just that I don’t need it. There is a little bit of condescension or an assumption and attitude toward women that I’ve experienced in that the expectation is that I can’t or won’t do something without having asked – I realize that is also my issue so now I ask or request or just do it. I’m a huge and vociferous advocate of women and as a whole women are very resourceful in our own right – but it starts with Yourself. Feminism or gender equality just means everyone should have equal rights or be equal in all areas. I believe that is something that we all should have at the very least.
4. How would you characterize life outside of MOXY, or would you describe your life as one big amalgamation of #MOXYlife? You are your brand. Is it sometimes hard to draw the line, and is there one?
I get asked this a lot. To take a step back, a lot of people don’t understand the word branding, and it’s something I have to explain a lot. It’s not as easy as a pat marketing catch-phrase or a throwaway term. Branding is three things: Purpose, Positioning, Personality. Purpose - we’re here at MOXY to make women’s lives easier, Positioning – who’s it for? MOXY is targeted at 18-45 women in Southeast Asia, as helps us accurately target and cater to our audience and it is our guide internally for all things we do from the hiring of people, merchandising and product selection, and even reaching out to partners with companies like you (Glam-it!). Personality - it goes back to our name in that yes, we are substance but we are also fun! We’re about life. Lifecycle as opposed to lifestyle. Getting into college, dating problems, first job, first pet, first apartment, first kid, everything. We want to be there for their firsts. We’re there for the ups and downs and it goes back to our purpose which is to enable women to have it all. Hmmm, the question of Work-Life balance - you and I are actually similar. I spoke about work first, as work helps feeds my family as well. Work hard through the week, whether it be in Bangkok or off in Jakarta or Singapore or whatever city is required, from speaking events to client dinners to investor meetings, then my day-to-day job requirements in between, then I need my weekends entirely shut off to the world to focus on my kids and boyfriend, and he too has a massive crazy schedule. There’s also a friend balance, it’s interesting how you can shut off all the noise of just annoying and irrelevant people, and try to make time for those you really care about. You really have to plan your days and routines in advance, compartmentalize.
During a typical day I wake up at 730AM to play with the twins before I head to the office. By 9am I’m at work and I leave by 7.30pm latest to spend time with my kids. Friday nights I reserve for friend or date nights with my boyfriend and I try not to go out during the week, but that’s difficult as there’s always work stuff and events.
If I’m traveling it’s 24 hours work, 150% work, and when I do, my kids are “Skype Babies” but they love it. In terms of the line, there isn’t one. I am MOXY, and everyone on our MOXY team is MOXY too. I’m not the only brand ambassador as I consider every single person in our team part of this #MOXYlife and “MOXY-ness.” Actually, it’s movement at this point. We all live and breathe it. Melissa, our Creative Director, will ask “is this picture or feature or product MOXY?” and if not we will mox-ify it!
5. To many who don’t know you from a business or a personal context, you are the girl who has it all going on. Bluntly speaking, how do you deal with haters?
When I was younger, haters were my inspiration to do better. They made me do so well. I was made fun of when I was younger because I couldn’t speak Thai properly. I’m fluent now. I felt all my friends were more attractive. Even when my first boyfriend broke up with me, I had a revenge fantasy so I would be amazing and he wouldn’t ever be able to turn me down – I found out later that I didn’t even care anymore when I ended up doing well. I had a couple of setbacks in life that just made me work harder. Was always the underdog where people would underestimate me, fly under the radar then BOOM! Fast forward, now that I’ve achieved much more in my life, I’m much more comfortable in my own skin, spreading the love, sharing advice. And if someone has a problem with that, that’s their problem, simple as that.
Thanks, Shannon, so much for your time. You embody MOXY so much it’s insane, coupled with that “take no prisoners” approach” and that “Glam-IT” quality (yes, you have that too!) I adore. I can’t wait til I see you in Bangkok, Hong Kong or somewhere else in Asia or the world next, and definitely for our next Skype Date. I’m so excited to see Glam-it! Products and GlamPact available on MOXY (MOXY.co.id , MOXY.co.th ) in 2016 for the girls in Southeast Asia who deserve to have it all now!
Twitter: @bkkshannon IG: @bkkshannon