In 1996 while completing her university degree in Toronto, Ivy Wong noticed that a lot of people were using Yahoo mail. A question rose up in her mind like a root bursting up from the ground: why? Little did she know that the simple need to know ‘why’ would be a driving force in her career for the next 18 years.
“I wanted to know Jerry Yang and David Filo’s secrets of success,” says Wong, regarding Yahoo’s founders. Upon graduating, she looked for jobs in Hong Kong and found a listing at Yahoo. It was the pre-digital days and the company didn’t have a site set-up for the market, let alone a local following.
In 1997, Wong became Yahoo’s first employee in Hong Kong, as a sales executive. “In those days, my task was to go around talking to marketers about display banner ads and how it could benefit their business. "The problem was that no one understood digital display advertising and Wong quickly realised that localisation was the way forward.
She worked with the search engine to customise results so when local users typed the word ‘Cookies’ they would get the Hong Kong Cantopop girl band of that name, rather than biscuit-baking recipes as users would expect in the US market. With that line of thought, Wong helped Yahoo Hong Kong build a solid foundation and within three years the local office grew from one employee to 180. As senior director, she engaged with global clients, travelled the world and helped brands set-up digital marketing in Asia.
“I met Jack Ma in his early days when he wanted to buy Yahoo inventory but his financing didn’t go through,” says Wong, laughing in light of Alibaba’s later success. “This period was a massive accelerator for my career because I worked with a lot of top people from around the world and learnt from them.”
Her next fortunate encounter was with the late Sir Run Run Shaw, founder of TVB, Hong Kong’s largest commercial television network. He presented her with a question: how can we get TV online and make it successful? And after a decade at Yahoo, Wong made the move to TVB as COO of TVB.com.
Viewers watching the traditional TVB channel tended to be older or very young and stayed at home during the day. TVB was losing out on the in-between demographics. Wong proposed a ‘catch-up TV’ product called MyTv, allowing viewers to stream content on demand that was built around a community where users could chat about their favourite shows and interact with celebrities from the programmes.
“The traditional broadcast team didn’t like digital because we were affecting their ratings and KPIs,” says Wong. “It’s not easy persuading people and being the bearer of a new idea. But in the end TVB.com was a new business model.” In two years it grew from 200 users to over 8 million, bringing in substantial advertising revenue on par with traditional.
In 2011, Wong went on to become the CEO of Next Mobile, a subsidiary of Jimmy Lai’s company Next Media. Wong helped him grow the digital mobile business by 60 per cent. But a question was forcing its way to the top of her mind: “Should I start my own business?”
“I felt like I’d helped other people grow their success throughout my life,” says Wong, referring to the key people she’s worked with as ‘legends’ of the media industry. “I faced a dilemma but I knew I wanted to build something with my own hands.”
Wong contends that ‘collective media’ will be the next evolution of the industry. She believes individual content creators will define the media landscape and opportunities lie in creating digital infrastructure for this that will help market and monetise the creators and their content.
To “test this idea” Wong launched Viss, an online fashion shopping and social media platform. It was one of the biggest startup launches in Hong Kong in 2013. Users post selfies of the latest fashion they’re wearing and others can purchase the item from retailers via the platform. Users who post photos get a commission, the retailer is paid through the transaction and Viss takes a cut.
The platform has 5 million users and is available in five languages across key Asian markets. It was bought by HMV, and Wong also heads up HMVideal, a new online-to-offline concept store in addition to Viss.
“It’s madness and it’s tiring. I never take a holiday for more than a week because as I rest up, new ideas flood into my brain,” says Wong, who is already starting her next enterprise, VS Media.
She was recently in Los Angeles to meet Makers Studios, an entertainment group that partners with 55,000 independent creators and attracts 9 billion monthly views and 600 million subscribers. VS Media will bring this concept to Asia. Wong says she has signed 20 local Hong Kong bands plus other creative talent in the film industries.
“I’ve been very lucky, and the young generations don’t have the same connections as I do,” says Wong. “I want to help bring them up, support them and build the next frontier of media entertainment in Asia together with them.”
- 2013 Founder & CEO, Vissible Co; founder & CEO, VS Media and chief executive officer, HMVideal
- 2011 CEO, Next Mobile Limited
- 2007 Chief operating officer, TVB.com
- 1997 Senior director, global sales, Yahoo Asia