Make improvements, seize opportunities
Published on: Monday, February 10, 2020
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[The thoughts and views of Carousell Malaysia country head Tang Siew Wai (pic).]

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I have always been passionate about technological solutions that can solve real world problems.

Of all the things I love doing, I have an inherent drive for building better solutions that serve the needs of the communities I live or work in.

When there’s passion plus strong conviction, I can almost always make things happen; and I’m a strong believer of that. Hence, I make it my life mission to pursue meaningful work that energises me.

For example, I pursued a software engineer role in Maxis after graduation (back in 2001), and I was fortunate enough to be part of the team that rolled out a first-in-market mobile plan that did away with access fees.

Another interesting example was when I decided to pursue a career in Huawei when it was relatively unknown in Malaysia (way back in 2005) and to add to the challenge, I was a “banana” (ie a Chinese who can’t read/write/speak Mandarin). 

It was a risky but exciting career decision (at that time) because the company had no proven track record in Malaysia and I had to build my department from scratch. 

The challenge was tougher than I imagined but such high pressure environment pushed my limits and even made me acquire Mandarin speaking skills, a language that I had always struggled with.

How do you think your industry will evolve?

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance, we will see it being increasingly applied to personalise user experiences, from newsfeeds to suggested replies; perhaps even recommending travel packages that suit user needs.

AI is already central to the ecosystem Carousell operates in, to make the selling and buying process on our online marketplace easier and safer for users. 

For example, our AI helps minimise the time and effort involved in listing an item for sale by using visual recognition to identify the item and offer the user market price recommendations plus all the relevant product information they need.

We all know about the industrial revolution; what are your thoughts on technological revolution?

Technological changes are already happening in our daily lives as we speak. 

For example, in terms of media storage, we have progressed from discs to flash drives and now cloud storage, which all seems pretty natural and logical. 

In my view, it’s an ongoing technological evolution because we are always moving forward and pushing our limits to do better.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?

We see scams as an industry-wide problem that affects many online businesses in Malaysia. 

I feel strongly that, as a company, we have a responsibility to address this issue and create a safer space for our users.

At Carousell, we use a combination of AI and human moderators to protect users from scams and listings of illegal items. 

AI is essential for screening the high volume of data to detect scam patterns and red flags. 

As scammers evolve and find new ways to cheat the system, AI in turn evolves to recognise new ones so it can block phone numbers, devices and/or IP addresses of scammers based on sophisticated algorithms. 

Meanwhile, human moderators at Carousell will review items that are ambiguous, providing context that is not presently possible with AI.

How do you expect policies on climate change to impact businesses in the future?

I reckon almost all of us possess some items that we no longer need or use. That’s what Carousell is about, giving underused items a chance at a second life. 

This means not producing something new from scratch, thereby reducing waste. In our view, selling and buying second-hand isn’t just savvier; it’s also a more sustainable way to live – something the world needs.

Some may say that the delivery of items do contribute to the carbon footprint because most online purchases will involve delivery. 

However, when you deal on Carousell, you are connecting with people and communities that are close to you (depending on your search radius). 

This provides the option for users to meet up to deal instead of just solely relying on couriers to ship the items out.

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

At Carousell, we dream of a world where people intuitively sell their under-utilised items to benefit others instead of letting them go to waste, and where people buy these things as a smarter choice. 

Few years ago, it was unimaginable for people to ride on a stranger’s car but this has already become a norm in our daily lives now. 

I believe five to 10 years from now, people will shop from the wardrobes, storerooms and garages of their friends, neighbours or people in the community for what they need, as their primary choice.

Currently, there’s still some negative connotation associated with “second hand” but that is gradually diminishing and become increasingly acceptable by the market, especially among internet-savvy working adults in Malaysia.

In time, I envision a world where people can buy second hand as a natural, smarter and more meaningful choice.

Best piece of advice you ever got on your career.

“When you do not have the resources, you just gotta find ways to be more resourceful.”

I believe that people will see the results of your conviction, the genuine passion that others can see and hear – this is what makes people believe in you. This defines me as a person.

Most-admired business leader? Why?

It’s definitely Bill Gates because he takes risks that few people in this world will. 

Since young, I was inspired by his stories of taking chances and making sound business decisions. 

Perhaps the most important lesson that I learnt from the books about him is that we can’t always wait for everything to be perfect in order to proceed; sometimes, we just have to seize the opportunity, go for it, and make improvements along the way.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced and what did you learn from it?

When I was working with Huawei during the early days (back in 2005), I faced a situation where no distributors wanted to carry the brand due to the negative perception of “Made in China” products then. 

Stand-alone was not an option as Malaysia was not a priority market due to its small volume. 

To get around this, I forced myself to be more resourceful and look into non-conventional methods of distribution and fulfilment for telecom operators. 

It was a risk, but a calculated one, and it paid off as it proved to be the key to the brand’s market penetration and differentiation. 

This accomplishment made me the youngest executive to be promoted as a country lead for my product line, and only the second non-Chinese national to assume such important role at Huawei.

Another challenge was not being able to speak Mandarin properly during my early days in Huawei.

There were many occasions when people laughed at my attempt to speak Mandarin, but I believe that – even with my poor command of the language – they could feel my conviction and many people were more willing to give me a chance. 

Such an environment made me push myself harder to acquire conversational Mandarin, and I was glad that I took the challenge.

At Carousell Malaysia, my challenge now is to change the negative image of second hand items because most people still perceived second hand as inferior but cheaper products, a tradeoff between quality and price.

What was the most outlandish business proposal you have ever heard of?

I believe there is no such thing as a bad business idea. It’s more about asking if it’s the right time to do it, to consider whether we are solving a customer or user issue.

Instead of seeing something as a bad idea, I always try to understand where it’s coming from, consider the motivation and priorities behind it.

It may be a unique idea when seen through a different perspective. 

For example, we had an intern who suggested we should sponsor a major football club because it’s super popular and has the same red colour as Carousell. 

In his eyes, it was a great investment but I have to consider if it’s right for us and whether it’s aligned with our mission. – The Sun

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