As an undergraduate, Tiziana Tan found herself in the common work experience catch-22: As she was a greenhorn, she was only delegated menial tasks during internships, but this in turn perpetuated her inexperience. Determined to create better opportunities for herself and her friends, she decided to start her own company even before completing her degree in marketing and corporate communications.
“There was nothing to lose. Since I was a 21-year-old living with my parents, I knew that even if my business failed, I wouldn’t become homeless. To me, the alternative of potentially being sucked into a corporate hamster wheel was worse,” she says.
Along the way, she was introduced to community-building and social impact by her husband. This made her realise that she was not only interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, but also driving social change.
“He got me to read more, do more and build our own brand of impact. The learning experience and sense of fulfilment fuelled my belief that this was what I’d love to do for as long as I can.”
So, Tiziana decided to combine the two. Now, the 27-year-old owns a company that offers consulting and marketing services, and co-owns another that produces and distributes films that “drive social change”. And when she’s not running her businesses, she imparts her skill sets: She is also an adjunct teaching mentor and faculty adviser at Singapore Management University. She opens up about what exactly spurs her ambition and the challenges that she has faced along the way.
Doing more when doing good
Tiziana makes sure that her creative agency, Brain Juice Collective, inspires social impact through education and innovation by holding various workshops and offering a digital service that helps businesses pilot new ideas.
“We empower brands with ideas, tools and strategies to create meaningful impact that’s also profitable,” she explains.
Her other company, Rebelhouse Asia, has made social impact documentaries that have been screened at film festivals, independent theatres and even on board Singapore Airlines. Storied Streets, a documentary that explores homelessness across America, was also available on Netflix for a period of time.
However, just because she’s doing her bit doesn’t mean she thinks enough is being done. To her, Singaporeans can do more for social change simply by broadening their perspective.
“It’s more than a thematic conversation or initiative helping seniors, low-income families or people with mental health issues. It’s also not the sole responsibility of those who have the resources to help. We should see it as a culture that will set the stage for greater impact in work and life.”
And her youth is an asset to her diligence – being young just means she has time to accumulate experience.
“I definitely think being young means I have a lot more energy to run the race. I don’t know what I’d be like when I’m older, but I’d say that I am bold when it comes to taking risks, and I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and do the work.”
Laughing at the odds
Much as her intentions are noble, the journey hasn’t been easy and Tiziana has had to navigate through some challenges over the years.
“The most painful lesson I’ve learnt is that you can’t avoid people failing you and vice versa. That said, you can’t give up. The greatest fulfilment comes from personal growth, both yours and others, so in some sense, it’s a pain and a joy,” she says.
“Growing an A-team that believes in the vision as much as you do is also one of the toughest things any entrepreneur has to face. I have hired, fired and started from scratch a couple of times.”
Not that she lets these hurdles discourage her. As it is, on top of running two companies, she’ll be resuming her role as an adjunct teaching mentor and faculty adviser at Singapore Management University in January next year. In her role, she will facilitate activities and workshops to help students cultivate skills such as brainstorming and pitching.
Check out her Instagram page and you’ll see that her bio says “laughs at the odds”, which means to cheerfully continue even when one has the odds stacked against them. She candidly lets on that this tenacious spirit comes from a disdain for losing.
“It’s not so much about proving others wrong as it is proving myself right. It has always been quite difficult for me to give up on something, sometimes to the point of inconvenience,” she muses.
However, she makes sure not to get too hung up on success. After all, it’s the ability to not be too attached to things that allows her to keep going.
“I still turn on my ‘go mode’ when I need to, but these days, I don’t take things too seriously. I have a ‘treasure trove’ of wins to lean on, and regular reflection on my strengths and weaknesses allows me to formulate a strategy to snap out of any self-doubt.”
Her advice to women who want to start a business that creates social impact? It’s just to keep striving.
“Laughing at the odds is doing it even when things don’t seem to be in your favour. I always remind myself to just enjoy the ride and be humble – you should never feel too self-important to do anything.”
Here are Tiziana’s three tips for building meaningful relationships with people.
“Relationships start with conversations, and the best conversations are the ones where you genuinely connect, lose track of time, and even miss calls and messages for. Listen, ask questions, remember things that were said, and bring that into the next conversation – people really appreciate those gestures.”
“For me, work and life are integrated, and who I show up as in my personal relationships is the same person that shows up at work. I connect with people in the same way no matter where I am, share about my life (appropriately, of course), crack the same type of jokes and speak authentically. If people don’t like you as you are, then so be it – you wouldn’t be comfortable putting up a front long- term anyway.”
“Whether it’s discussing collaboration opportunities or simply bouncing off ideas, whatever you’re trying to steer the conversation or relationship towards requires both sides to give. If you share first, it’s more likely that the other person will share too.”
This story first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Her World.
PHOTOGRAPHY Vee Chin
ART DIRECTION Adeline Eng
HAIR Peter Lee
MAKEUP Lolent Lee
CLOTHES TRIA The Label
JEWELLERY Alexandra Alberta