You might not expect someone as experienced as Mellissa Lee is to be so approachable, but it is perhaps essential in building start-ups to be affable. While currently GetResponse’s Head of Malaysia, Mellissa was also previously one of the pioneers of Zalora, the Country Manager of KakaoTalk Malaysia, and General Marketing Manager at KFIT — and that’s just to name a few of the other roles she’s been in during her illustrious career.
We took the opportunity to learn from Mellissa about what she feels has contributed to her success, as well as gain some insight on Malaysian e-commerce.
From your education abroad, are there any lessons you took to heart that still remain relevant to you today?
Never get complacent. I always did well in school here in Malaysia, and thought that I was quite well-read and educated. Being exposed to a different culture where people my own age could debate world politics, ideologies and policies that I’ve never even heard of was a huge culture shock. Now I make it a habit to keep abreast on what’s going on in the world, and most recently have undertaken a challenge to read 20 fiction and non-fiction books in 2017. I’m on book #12 so far and I’ve already learned so much.
Are you influenced by any of your past experiences in terms of how you conduct yourself with your work?
I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most difficult but intelligent bosses, so I’ve learned a lot from them. There were nights with lots of tears, ranting and wine involved, but I can look back now and say that all those experiences really have defined who I am. In fact, I swear I can still hear their voices in my head sometimes! I find my management style hugely influenced by one of my bosses in management consulting as well.
What attracted you to the startup environment?
The steep learning curve and my natural curiosity for learning more on how things tick. How much you learn and the speed that you learn at in a start-up is unparalleled. In less than a year, I learned the ins-and-outs of incorporating a company in Malaysia, building a P&L, operating a photography studio, and even the most efficient way to pack orders in a warehouse!
Based off your track record, do you have a specific formula for success that you adhere to?
Firstly, never let emotions get the better of you at work. It’s easy to get angry, shout, argue and cry, but never, ever do it in front of anyone else in a professional setting. If you feel overwhelmed, take a minute, take a walk, and come back calm and composed. People will respect you a lot more for it. Also, remember that everyone is human and everyone is trying the best that they know how. Empathy is important.
The second thing is to always be hungry – there’s always things to be done so if you’re done with your work, ask around to see if you can help anyone else. Most of the time, there’s always more work than people. Learn new skills. Push your limits.
Lastly, if you’re managing a budget or dealing with customer acquisition or retention, make sure you know your numbers at the back of your hand. What’s your ARPU? Churn rate? MRR? Just the basics.
From your experience at GetResponse, are there any common mistakes that you see happening with email marketing campaigns?
People using purchased databases. NEVER BUY AN EMAIL LIST. This is not only illegal, but could affect your reputation as a sender with the big boys like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo. Trust me, they know.
Another mistake is not tracking results. So many companies have proudly proclaimed to me that they use Outlook to send their mass emails because its free – and then when asked what their results are, they’re blank because they don’t know how many people they emailed to, how many people opened, how many people clicked, how many peopled purchased as a result of the email, what emails this person has received in the past 6 months, etc.
What’s something interesting about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
My parents believed that they should provide their children with all the opportunities in the world, but eventually they can make their decisions on what they want to do with their life. As a result, I have done 11 years of formal ballet training, I can horseback ride, show jump and compete in dressage (although polo always looked too scary for me). I’ve done 6 years of tennis, 6 years of piano, and I’ve also experimented with tap dancing, jazz dancing, pole dancing, drums, electric keyboard, yoga, Pilates, CrossFit, Barre, Mandarin, painting, English Literature, and many, many more.
What are your thoughts on the current state of e-commerce in Malaysia?
From a consumer perspective, it’s great. We have abundance of choice and the logistics have matured so much over the past 10 years so shipping is reliable and fast. No more waiting a week to receive your items.
From the perspective of an e-commerce business, I would be worried. Disposable income for the mass market is lessening due to our failing economy. Funding from VCs and Angels is drying up — even more so for standard e-commerce models.
The nature of e-commerce is an extremely tricky one; you either stay extremely lean like Double Woot or The Pop Look, you go big like ZALORA or you go international like Wanderlust + Co. I foresee companies that don’t fit into these 3 categories dying in the next 3-5 years.
Have you ever experienced any difficulties being a woman in a position of power?
Only in one position I had a few years ago in a very male-dominated company culture. Not only that, I was in my early 20s then but in a senior management position where my peers were easily 10 years older than me. I wish I could say that I toughened it out and survived, but to be honest, after I learned more about the culture and how things worked, I decided to leave and join something bigger and better.
To me, time is money. I’m a huge believer in automating as many mundane things as possible (marketing automation!) if that means you have more time to use your brain. Machines will replace the mundane, but they can never replace human strategy and empathy. Those are the 2 things you should focus on enhancing in your career.
What motivates you to keep on going?
Good question, haha! Passion in doing what I love, having strong friends and family support, and wine. Never underestimate the power of wine.
Bonus question: Malaysia is such a diverse melting pot of cultures, and we all love our food! If you had to describe yourself as a food dish, what would it be?
Dim sum. I’m actually quite a boring person!
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