Going Against
the Grain

With Tiziana Tan

A serial entrepreneur and absolute #girlboss, Tiziana Tan is pushing past boundaries in a bid to create meaningful impact through the work that she does. We spoke to Tiziana about her journey as she sheds light on what it really means to have grit in the face of adversity.

Tell us a little bit about your business, where it is headed and what is the most interesting part of the day?

“Brain Juice Collective is an impact marketing agency, education, and venture ecosystem. The three parts of our business work together to make social impact accessible and profitable. The aim is to help conscious brands (individuals and organisations) create global impact. We do this through consultancy and executive (impact strategy and marketing), education as well as investment. We are working to strengthen our community-building (B2C) work whilst maintaining our B2B side of the business. The most interesting part of the day varies! I really enjoy working with my team to create and execute on innovative social impact ideas!”

Speaking of social impact, Tiziana recently released a film titled SOUFRA late last year under her social impact film and distribution company, Rebelhouse Asia. As someone who dabbles in the business of creativity, we wondered how she manages juggling between both businesses.

Could you tell us a little more about SOUFRA? What is it about and what is the purpose behind it?

“Our latest film — SOUFRA follows the unlikely and wildly inspirational story of an intrepid social entrepreneur, Mariam Shaar — a generational refugee who has spent her entire life in the Burj El Barajneh refugee camp just south of Beirut, Lebanon. She galvanises the community in the camp to start a successful catering company that they are now expanding with a food truck. A story of hope and the triumphant human spirit. The film has screened around the world in festivals, airlines, cinemas and events. It has also been featured in media like Variety, The New York Times, BBC. Through the camp’s efforts, they have been able to build a pre-school, technical school for teenagers as well as start a microloan programme for women.”

 

Talk about finding love in a hopeless place — Tiziana has personally met Mariam and bonded over common entrepreneurial stories and challenges. Here is the trailer to SOUFRA.

If anyone has ever been part of the production process behind a film, you would know how incredibly long and arduous the journey is. So kudos to you Tiziana, for really sticking it through! When it comes down to getting things done, the harsh reality is that it will not be the prettiest. Long hours, self-doubt and mental exhaustion are all part and parcel of the journey. However, really committing to the project and giving it your all will be rewarding in the end and you will emerge stronger than yesterday.

Seeing how you are the CEO of Brain Juice Collective and the Director of Rebelhouse Asia, it must be rather interesting to be juggling both businesses, how similar or different would you say these two businesses are?

“Both businesses are in very different industries which means I’m always learning new things but the fundamental connection is impact. Both businesses make social impact more accessible and that’s how we integrate all the work we do. It never feels like I’m managing multiple businesses. They are all interconnected and come together in different ways to bring something unique and meaningful for clients, partners and the wider community”

Having said that, what is it really like running your own show?

“The best part about running our own business is being able to play by our own rules, in a league of our own and creating impact the way we want to see it”

Indeed running your own company could be exciting because you realise that there is free reign, but sometimes having so much control with little guidance can be overwhelming.

 

So, as the head and leader of the company, do you ever find it difficult to reach out for help since there is pressure for you to always be the problem solver? How do you ensure that your wellbeing is taken care of in this case?

"I guess this is a constant problem for any leader. You always feel the need to fight fires and make sure everything is perfect. I’m on a constant learning journey to let my team take the lead on different things even if that means letting some small fires burn. Of course, having a strong ecosystem for support and a community that really care about our mission and vision makes it a lot easier to ask for help.”

 

Being a leader, it may not always be easy to ask for help, especially when many people look to you for guidance. Despite that, it would always be good to remember that it takes humility and graciousness to look past a “title” and reach out. In fact, team members will respect that honesty and would appreciate that you see their input as valuable, creating a stronger community and support base.

In many cases, leadership involves getting thrown into the flames, figuring out the process, and learning from the experience.

 

As we actively think about how we learn and apply our knowledge, we were wondering if you think our education system hinders or promotes creativity?

“I wouldn’t say there’s a straight answer for this — it really depends on which stage of education we’re talking about and every institution is different. At the end of the day, exposing ourselves to new learning mediums and experiences is what will allow us to build creativity. I am a strong believer that creativity is born out of scarcity so putting ourselves out there, constantly building solutions for the problems that matter and engaging with the community is what will allow creativity to thrive.”

 

Wow, that was quite profound. It all starts with a seed of an idea, but when the mechanics behind the idea is not properly handled, it could sometimes prevent the idea from being realised. As such, how else can organisations such as yours help students understand the process better and possibly implement it?

“We are working to complement the education system, offering meaningful and unique opportunities for our community to engage and develop themselves. These opportunities come in the form of learning experiences like immersive activities, workshops and creative jamming sessions, paid project opportunities and more.”

 

 

The hands-on approach coupled with giving students more ownership can really help them hone both hard and soft skills. True business is when both parties benefit and an ecosystem of collaboration is created.

 

our passion for your work inspires us, but more than the fun that comes with the job, could you tell us a little about your journey and the internal struggles that came with it?

“Being on a unique path is always challenging. Everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing and how you should be running your business. It’s important to listen to your own voice and at the end of the day, make your own decisions. Of course, setting an extremely high bar for yourself bears a risk of disappointment but also an opportunity to grow and develop. My journey has been full of surprises, challenges, highs and lows. I am grateful for all the opportunities and I know that there will always be challenges.”

 

Having said that, what do you think has been the most significant change in your character/personality?

“I’ve learned to listen a lot more. To my team, partners, customers and the wider community. There’s a reason why we are Brain Juice Collective and not Tiziana Tan Pte Ltd. We may go faster alone but further, together.”

Learning to listen to others and admitting to your shortcomings take a lot of maturity and humility, adopting this sort of growth mindset is healthy because it teaches you acceptance and promotes self-development through constant reflection. In order to maintain balance and not get affected by the noise that comes with going against the grain, perhaps it is important to redefine what success means to you personally.

 

So Tiziana, what is your definition of success?

“My definition of success is being able to face challenges with grit, grace and gratitude.”

 

Well said.

With that, do you have any advice for business owners struggling to get their business off the ground?

“Laugh at the odds and enjoy the ride! Remember why you started and build a strong community that will cheer you on when you’re down and keeps you in check when you’re up.”

As the great Maya Angelou posits, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Stick to your guns, work hard when chasing your dreams and appreciate the small wins.

 

UNDERCOVER is a social series brought to you by VF+c and STATE Creative. Through the series, we seek to impact the lives of our community through authentic stories of inspiring individuals. Each edition, we partner with a social enterprise to shed light on the issues that matter.

For the first edition of UNDERCOVER, we partnered with The Lion Mind, a non-profit organisation (NPO) whose mission is to promote mental wellness and positive psychology through education and partnership with the community. Due to the rise of mental health cases around the world, we endeavour to do our part to normalise conversations around mental health issues through the subjects featured in our campaign.