Five Questions with Filmmaker and Entrepreneur Siok Siok Tan

About Siok Siok Tan

Siok Siok Tan is a filmmaker, entrepreneur and a honorary geek with a deep passion for great storytelling in the age of real-time web.

Siok is an entrepreneur who has built Kinetic ONE, a social video platform in China with channels focused on youth culture, fashion and lifestyle as well as parenting.

Siok’s latest film project is Twittamentary, a documentary about Twitter, the popular microblogging tool. Leveraging the power of social media, Siok crowdsources the stories and videos for the project.

Siok previously worked as an executive producer for Discovery Channel in Asia. The shows she produced have clinched more than a dozen awards and nominations at the Asian TV awards and the Golden Bell Awards.

Siok has also been a visiting lecturer at the Beijing Film Academy, where she directed a documentary about the Beijing Olympics with the assistance of her students.

Siok holds a Bachelor of Arts degree (Honors) in Comparative Literature from Brown University, USA.

Five questions with Siok Siok

1. How did you get to where you are today?

I started my career as a TV producer, and over the years have shifted to being a filmmaker and now a digital media entrepreneur. 

What transformed my career was when I went to China in 2008: I went from being a traditional TV producer to becoming a part of the startup community in China, shifting to digital media and new ways of storytelling using new platforms and new technologies. I’ve also been a mentor at Chinaccelerator for the last seven years, and at MOX since the beginning of the program.

2. What advice would you have for someone looking to get into your space? Alternatively, what advice should they ignore?

In digital media, one of the most important things is the community. Some people think entrepreneurs are lone geniuses who come up with brilliant ideas alone in their rooms, and that’s how companies are born. I don’t think this is the case. I think ideas, ventures and opportunities come from collaboration.

My first piece of advice is to become a part of a creative, innovative community. Then your opportunities will multiply. When you are friends with creative and innovative minds, they’ll come to you, or you’ll be constantly in conversation and new ideas will be born as a result. 

Don’t try to become a genius at innovation. Be a “scenius”. The idea is to become an active contributor to a community: an innovation scene, a digital media scene, whatever scene you want to get into. Be a thoughtful collaborator, a generous mentor, and the opportunities will come your way. The best way to do it is to volunteer, to help out. I have received big, career-making opportunities by volunteeringfor example, mentoring and helping out with the MOX community. 

3. What have you learned about building a great company culture?

Culture is about helping people become who they want to be, in a structured way. With every team member, your job is not only to get them to do their job, but also to give them space to become who they want to be. It’s a good way to build a good company culture, especially in a startup where people tend to play multiple roles, where boundaries and parameters for jobs are much more fluid. 

I tend to say “yes, and” instead of “no I don’t think that would work.” I say, “let’s try,” as a way to encourage participation. Though the ideas are very rough or incomplete, this way of communication allows us to improve on the ideas as a team.

4. What excites you about the future of technology?

That everyone can become a creator. It’s exciting because everyone can, to a certain extent, tells a story and has a voice. 

Because I’m a storyteller, I’m always interested in the collective background of the human story. The first story we had for the CoronaVideo project is from a 4-year-old, recorded using the family iPad. I think it’s very inspiring that we can learn from a 4-year-old. That a child can be a creator and a maker is the most exciting thing about technology.

While most of the world is under lockdown, we need to take hold of the humane aspects made possible by technology. People are using technology for good, to share stories of hope and humanity even in very dark times.

5. One habit that has the most impact on your life

I’ve been taking and sharing a photo a day for almost seven years. I’ve gone from being not a photographer to being a known photographer, to being a published and prize-winning photographer.

Making something every day is my practice. My advice would be to do one thing every day that will change your destiny. One small thing that’s within your control. For example, for the CoronaVideo project that I’m working on now, I ask one person for help every day, either to connect me to great stories or to partners who can help find great stories. 

Don’t focus on things that are beyond your control, such as external events or whether people like you. Right now in the middle of a global pandemic, startup founders are facing a lot of uncertainty. You can’t control the pandemic or the state of mind of the investors or even consumer habits, but you can work on one thing every day that you can control, and that will create opportunities. 

Bonus: One important truth that few people agree with you on?

Sometimes it’s better not to go viral. Sometimes it’s better not to have instant, quick success. Because in the long run, that makes it harder for you to achieve your purpose. 

It’s tempting to do the quick thing. It’s hard to think long-term when economically it’s a stressful time. 

Sometimes the instinct is to do the quick way, but good things take time. That’s probably my message to entrepreneurs and creators: always go back to your inner compass, to why you are doing this. The odds are long, it’s always hard whether you go viral tomorrow or never go viral, whether you exit in 12 months or never exit. The thing that should guide what you do is still why you’re doing this. 

As a filmmaker, I think my most valuable skill is to have a unique point of view. People who create tend to look at things in a surprising way, to pay attention to things that are neglected or skimmed over. As entrepreneurs and dent makers, your unique point of view is among your most valuable contributions to the world. 

Don’t be in a hurry to go viral. Stay true to your true north: your purpose as an entrepreneur and a creator.

Extra bonus: One cool thing

Pay attention. Take a long walk and pay attention to things you normally don’t pay attention to: the people you encounter, or a particular sound.  

Pay attention to something beyond yourself, beyond your startup, beyond your project of the moment. If you want to, create something out of it: take a picture, write a note, sketch something. Even if I’m in a bad mood, or I just had a terrible meeting, I find that taking a walk and paying attention to something outside of myself help transform my perspective.

Paying attention also makes you the coolest person by a long shot. Cool people are interested in other people and in the world beyond themselves. They are not self-obsessed; those are the fake cool people. Cool people are always open to learning something new about themselves and about the universe.