×

    Q&A: Christina Teo, Tech Industry Vet and Founder of Startup Asia Women

    By Bobby McGill - May 2, 2017
    Q&A: Christina Teo, Tech Industry Vet and Founder of Startup Asia Women

    A tech industry veteran who has held corporate roles at companies such as IBM, Acer, 3Com, O2 and Yahoo! Singapore, where she was the first GM, Christina Teo knows the ins and outs of the tech community.

    After 27-years chiefly spent working abroad, Teo recently returned home to Singapore to care for her aging mother. While settling back into life at home she decided to put her years of experience to use by founding Startup Asia Women, a support group for women in the startup community.

    Branding in Asia recently talked with Christina Teo about her return home, Startup Asia Women, the “Sis Code” and the influence of gender in the business world.


    You worked abroad for 27 years before returning to Singapore. What are some of the more remarkable changes you’ve seen back home and what has been the biggest adjustment for you?

    There is more diversity now which is encouraging for a Singaporean like myself who has been away for so long. (Though she did return twice for 15-month stints, one to work with IBM and the second as GM of Yahoo! Singapore). Going to events, and at my own events, seeing a good mix of expats or spouses of expats or foreigners who have made Singapore their home (some who have been here longer than me) with locals is definitely motivating for me.

    Knowing that foreigners want to try very hard to get PR here does instill some sense of pride. Suddenly Singapore is bigger -not just in size but its mindset- and it is more attractive as a place to stay.

    I believe, as women, to ask “what will it take” and develop that will be a better approach than simply pointing a finger at disproportionate rights. I am sure even for men, nothing is quite handed to them. They too need to compete to get to the next level.

    Actually, I would not have returned if it had not been for my aging mum. I needed a good reason to stay.

    People are very busy and I came back to no network so having to plug into society all over again. The cost of living is high. Some things do remain the same. Singaporeans may have gotten more affluent over time, but the corresponding ratio of myopia may not have diverged as much.

    I chose to focus on startups after months of being back (it was not an immediate choice) when I saw that the government was pretty hell bent on making this work with real actions and initiatives.

    And in the startup arena, I get to meet people who dare to get out of their comfort zone to make something of themselves and for others. In that, I have found my own comfort zone. When I was living in New York, my experience was there are no losers. People could talk to each other and share and connect and not judge you. That’s my experience and it appears not to be everyones. I find some of that in the startup scene here.

    You created Startup Asia Women to get more women into startups. What is the benefit to them in joining startups and to the startup community? Is it more difficult for women in the tech or startup world?

    I am scouting and sourcing for true startups -those with design thinking, with scale, solving real problems- that I can help to take to the next level (not on my own) while inspiring more women to embrace startups and start one. Having a community means there are more resources, networks, and experiences to tap – way bigger than myself.

    I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others. When I was intrigued by crowdfunding, I set up an event inviting different verticals to explain what each vertical is about. I believe too many people are not in the know and if women want to be successful, they must be in the know. Through such activities, I have gained access to more resource -the benefits of – ‘putting yourself out there’ – which will, in turn, be useful to our members eventually.

    I want to demonstrate as a woman, a corporate professional that it is not too late to start a startup. As a community builder, it is equally important for me to go through the journey myself and test the eco-system out for real for myself.

    It is true that generally women may lack the exposure in tech. Therefore, business ideas that are conceived may not be bold enough or tech enough to be sustainable. There is still a little of ‘doing what’s safe.’ Many are social minded, which is good, but one would be concerned if it could scale.

    If you take a quick survey on Linkedin, you will find many women as co-founders, particularly younger women, and there you will probably find women who have a team to have some kind of direction, vision to flourish in. You will also find most female co-founders running the marketing and/or operations portion of the startup.

    I find that solo women founders may limit themselves in terms of pivoting to something bigger. Plus the daily challenge of wearing many hats. The very strength of a woman sometimes is also her liability. The ability to multi-task can sometimes mean they are not able to focus and therefore not able to keep to aggressive timelines of getting their startups off the ground.

    I have mentioned in social media posts that women are privileged. Even though we may be fewer in numbers, the fact is we have each other to lean on but we can also call upon men who are more than eager to help us.

    And big brands such as Cartier are giving a lot of recognition to women for taking bold leaps of faith to change the world with some stunning startup ideas put into serious actions. The challenge is we need a lot more. But every woman who is a mum will share that it is not quite possible for them to put their startup above their family.

    Before you’ve said that the traits you value in women are “intuition, resourcefulness, the attention to detail” and that you were surprised when you returned to Singapore with male pitchers. Can you talk more about that and how you view the influence of gender variables in the business world?

    Maybe this is old school thinking but I used to witness women being more persuasive in business. Men could be quietly brilliant but a lot of sales/marketing jobs and biz dev were assumed by women in my world. Therefore when I saw male pitchers (90% of pitches are made by men here and perhaps in the region) being very crisp, precise, passionate and effective, I was rather impressed. This tended to be the younger generation in their 20s and 30s.

    I have also gotten to know a number of them more deeply and am impressed with the leadership they have with their teams as well. I guess this means women have more to catch up with.

    It may be that men have the advantage of having a stronger “bro-code” than we have with a seemingly non-existent “sis-code”.

    Our male “opponents” have gotten stronger. I don’t view the world as the battleground for gender, therefore, I am more a proponent of people working with their strengths. When it comes to qualifying suppliers, partners, working out the supply chain process, planning the team’s workload, managing the timeline, I still see more women excel in this. It is almost instinctive that a woman would stop at nothing to get something done (generally speaking) as in they will find ways when they experience roadblocks.

    This is what I mean by resourcefulness. A kind of thinking out of the box and that requires some intuition of how something else could be connected to the issue at hand even when it does not appear evidently so.

    Another perhaps maternally instinctive is for women to delve into a process with almost immaculate detail (again generally speaking) – figuring out what could potentially go wrong and being quite relentless in revisiting the process when disrupted. It isn’t that men can’t do this but it may not be their preference or comfort zone.

    The very strength of a woman sometimes is also her liability. The ability to multi-task can sometimes mean they are not able to focus and therefore not able to keep to aggressive timelines of getting their startups off the ground.

    I am biased when it comes to talking about gender variables in the business world (as a contrast to non-business) – particularly in urban cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. I encourage the thinking that we are privileged, that we can have access when we want to, that we can find our way to being empowered. This may go against the grain of popular write-ups and postings.

    In the business world, for me, it is about drive. If a woman has the drive – coupled with articulation and boldness – I think she can break even more walls, get even more attention and help.

    None of us work alone so if there is any gender variable at all, it may be that we use different ways and access different networks. It may be that men have the advantage of having a stronger “bro-code” than we have with a seemingly non-existent “sis-code”.

    I believe, as women, to ask “what will it take” and develop that will be a better approach than simply pointing a finger at disproportionate rights. I am sure even for men, nothing is quite handed to them. They too need to compete to get to the next level.

     

    Get more brand in your diet

    We never share your info, we only share ours.