Rebel with a Cause: Defying Stereotypes to Become a Social Commerce Pioneer
By Alysse Soll, President NewModel Advisory, LLC and WiST Board Advisor
WiST talks to women and men in sports and sports technology who embody a more diverse and inclusive workforce, setting the benchmark for their peers and future generations.
Rebel with a Cause
Betty grew up pushing the boundaries of the Asian American stereotype. “There is a stereotype of Asian women. We are nerdy. We are quiet. We are weak. This was not me, ever. I was a rebel. I grew up in LA with Asian American kids who had gang swagger, we were tough and would not be pushed into a corner.”
Betty recalls, “Because I excelled at math and was valedictorian of my high school, I was told ‘be a doctor’ or ‘be an accountant.’ Growing up with that stereotype is what drove me to rebel, to go where I wasn’t supposed to, or expected to. Instead of the doctor or accountant route, I went into music and entertainment. At that time, Asian Americans in entertainment were few and far between, which is still
She lives the internal and external realities faced by many Asian Americans. “First generation Asian Americans, like me, have their own struggles. Our parents were raised with a completely different set of rules, and we need to balance our cultural heritage with our American ideals. Also, the workplace remains inherently biased, especially against Asian American women.” Betty believes that examples she sets for herself, her team and her family can level set those biases in their orbit.
Social, Not Solitary
As Chief Marketing Officer for FEVO, Betty’s task is to promote the vision and the reality that e-commerce shopping is more enjoyable, rewarding, and fun when it is social, not solitary. FEVO is an e-commerce company that has created the Social Cart, making shopping a social event.
In Betty’s experience, “When I go online to buy things by myself, it’s kind of boring. Whether it's retail therapy or buying tickets for an event, I want to make it more fun, so I take screenshots, I send links, I text my friends, I make it into a shared experience. Before FEVO, I had to generate conversations outside of the e-commerce platform. With FEVO, I can bring the social experience inside the
e-commerce platform. This is the key—you are turning what was once a solitary shopping experience into a social group experience.”
The ability to have conversations within the e-commerce platform is a game changer for anyone who wants to plan a social event or group outing, or purchase a block of tickets to a sports event. “It’s the gamification of e-commerce. A sports team can reward consumers through incentives to bring their friends into the e-commerce conversation. Merchandise discounts with tickets, groups sitting together but purchasing separately, special game day experiences—are all a unique part of the FEVO experience. Who doesn’t want that?”
Know Your Superpower
Betty is the first to admit that her superpower is the ability to negotiate and advocate—for others. “I can negotiate your car rates and your contracts. You have a goal and I want to help you reach that goal.” As importantly, she knows what her superpower is not—negotiating for herself. “It may seem counterintuitive, but I had to learn that while I am great at negotiating for others, I am not great at
negotiating for myself, simply because it is difficult for me to take the emotion out of the equation. I will gladly pay a lawyer to negotiate my own contracts. I have learned this is the best way to help myself while helping others.” Know what your superpower is and what it is not.
Q and A with Betty Tran
WiST: Your professional journey reads like a novel…waitress at famous Beverly Hills watering hole meets entertainment exec who sets her on a path to success in the music industry. Please, tell us the story!
In high school through my senior year at UCLA, I waitressed at a local music and entertainment watering hole, the Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills. I worked day shifts, nights shifts, whatever it took to earn my keep. I got to know the “regulars” who were influential entertainment executives.
One day, in my senior year at UCLA, I arrived late to work and Jim Gianopulos (now Chairman of Paramount Pictures) pulled me aside and asked me what I wanted to do in life. Honestly, I hadn’t a clue. I loved music…maybe a DJ? Jim asked me to email him with some thoughts and so I did, immediately. Shortly thereafter, I was meeting with HR at 20th Century Fox and scored an assistant position in the music department, working in music for TV and film.
One of the projects I worked on at Fox Music was a remix of the TV Show “24” theme music. Kiefer Sutherland, the lead actor, wanted to remix the title music into EDM (Electronic Dance Music), which was an underground movement I knew well. Soon thereafter, the hottest EDM DJ at the time, Armin van Buuren hitched a ride with me to his headlining performance at Coachella 2005. On that ride, Armin
agreed to do the remix and I produced it. The Longest Day became a huge hit and I got promoted on the spot!
WiST: How did you navigate the leap from music to sports?
My path forward has never been a straight trajectory. My goal has always been to lead, not to follow. When I spot an early trend that has the potential to become mainstream, that’s when I leap. So, it’s no surprise that my move from music to sports was not a clear path…it was a combination of strategy and serendipity. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith to get to the next rung.
Music is and has always been a great source of inspiration for me. Music is all about community—and you can find your music community no matter how niche or how mainstream. When FOX purchased MySpace in 2005, I recognized that digital and social (Napster and Facebook) were going to be the new drivers of music, changing the business model, and opening up access to all kinds of music both niche and mainstream. Digital marketing was going to be at the heart of this revolution and I wanted to be a part of that.
In 2005, I joined ADD marketing, a lifestyle street marketing group. I focused on guerilla marketing and publicity for high profile productions and events and community management work. This was the eve of social media marketing and these “physical” street marketing events were the precursor. Get right into the
hearts and minds of the consumer. Down and dirty and successful.
In 2008, I was recruited to Evolve media, one of the first ad networks in existence. This was digital advertising in its infancy—home page takeovers, ROS [run of site] website advertising, and rollovers [mouse over an ad to expand] were all the rage. Of the many websites we accessed at Evolve, lifestyle and sports—particularly non-mainstream sports like MMA [Mixed Martial Arts]—had extremely strong
followings. I saw how MMA leveraged digital marketing to reach new audiences via social media and realized that is the future.
Like music, there is a raw energy in sports that sparks relationships and brings people together—as fans and communities. When I got to FEVO, I saw how every vertical I have worked in—music, guerilla marketing, digital advertising, and sports—have all come together under the umbrella of social. And the leap of faith continues.
WiST: FEVO is a cutting-edge company, blending a user’s social community with e-commerce decision-making across a variety of lifestyle verticals. Where does sports fit in and what does its strength in this model say about the future of sports in the digital age?
FEVO’s universal Social Cart is what makes the e-commerce experience a social event. Sports, by nature, are social events. Whether you are a marathoner or a basketball player, you are part of a social community. Whether you are a spectator at the Boston Marathon or attend a Houston Rockets game you are a part of a social community. Sports properties want every opportunity to deliver value to their fans and consumers and want to access as many of them as possible. FEVO allows them to do that.
When a FEVO customer (let’s call her Betty) goes into the platform to purchase a ticket to a game, Betty acts as the influencer who brings her network of friends to participate in the transaction. The more ticket buying friends Betty brings into the transaction, the greater the rewards for Betty and her network. This is a virtuous cycle; Betty and her friends are rewarded for their transactions with incentives that make their experience on the FEVO platform and at the game better. This is social clout at work.
At the core, FEVO works with sports teams to identify which incentives are most valuable to their fans and consumers. Incentives are inventory types—tickets, merchandise, parking (for example)—which can all be purchased by an individual within a single cart transaction. That single transaction can be linked to a community to make it a social transaction. In this way, a sports team transaction can go from one to many. FEVO brings people together.
WiST: You met with career success at a fairly young age, a senior executive leading teams by age 27. You have continued to grow into a full-fledged CMO of a tech first company. Looking back on your earlier days, what lessons would you have shared with your younger self?
Patience with yourself and empathy for others are the most important attributes a good boss and team member should have. But when you are young, and quickly climbing the totem pole, you don’t often know how to embrace either of those critical ingredients. In fact, those words may be completely absent from
your vocabulary—as they were from mine at that time. I ascended quickly because I was smart, plucky, and extremely hardworking. I expected those around me to operate in the same manner and would get easily frustrated if they didn’t.
I learned some hard lessons early on in my career. You can’t bulldoze your way to success. This is the quickest way to alienate the very people you are trying to align. As driven as I was, I needed to take a step back and give both myself and others the chance to breathe, to consider the best way forward and be prepared to learn from others, not just dictate to them.
I hated to fail, and when I did, I took it very personally. But failure is a gem, never to be taken for granted. Mistakes bring fear and panic…but these mistakes are a blessing in disguise.
I learned patience when I had my three sons. Each son is completely unique, yet together, we comprise a family. This experience is true in the workplace, where each person is unique, but they, too, are part of a family.
I have learned to understand my teams’ personalities and the best way to pull the levers that motivate each team member. This approach engenders empathy. What works for one team member does not work for another; one size most definitely does not fit all!
In my present role as FEVO’s CMO, it is my job to keep the train moving: removing roadblocks and obstacles so that the team can do their jobs. It is critical to allow the team to have balance and motivate them to be passionate about their work. They need to know they are respected, recognized and supported.
It is important to learn that your journey up the corporate ladder is not just a measure of your success, it is a measure of how you successfully manage the teams who participate in that journey. While I wish I had known all of this when I was a younger boss, I am thankful that I had the journey to bring me to a place where respect and appreciation are a two-way street.
WiST: Mental health and self-awareness play a critical role in your life. Can you take a moment to share how you came to define these as guideposts for your personal and professional life?
Mental health and self-awareness are so important. I had my three sons in rapid succession at age 26, 27 and 28. I was operating at full sprint in my dream job and I was on a mission to take care of everything on my plate. Before I knew it, I was 33, getting divorced and still trying to keep all those plates spinning in the air. Being overwhelmed with no outlet is a recipe for disaster.
During this period, I learned that my “get-it-done-at-all-costs” work style was generating a negative feedback loop. I was going through an extremely difficult period (divorce can be like death); I was not asking for help and others were afraid to offer any. I was humbled when I learned that the hard charging Betty was considered mean and tough and that is not what I wanted my legacy to be. I was more than that. I wanted to be more than that. So, I got help.
Therapy is a life saver. Therapy is about transparency. You can share with a good therapist what you can’t share with friends or family. You must get it out versus bottle it in. I went through a major life change and I needed assistance to reboot and reposition my outlook—about myself, my family and my work. Truly transparent and honest dialogue with trusted sources is what helped me climb back.
There is great pressure on women to ‘do it all.’ For single mothers, the pressure can be overwhelming. When you are the breadwinner and the ‘go to’ at work and at home, it is extremely humbling to learn how to openly admit you just don’t have all the answers. You need to build a support system, you need to ask for help, you need an unbiased outlet for discussion, you need to heal, and you need to help yourself so that you can help others.
WiST: You are a first generation Asian American. Can you share some pieces of your life growing up in LA, and how you and your family navigated this experience?
My parents emigrated to the United States from Vietnam and they settled in LA. My dad worked at the post office and my mom was a manicurist. They did well, they worked, they saved, they purchased a house and lived their version of the American dream. I grew up completely bilingual and did the translating since my mom struggled with English.
In the LA neighborhood where I grew up, there were very few Asians. In elementary school I hung out with the two other Asian girls because there was strength in numbers. During the ‘80s and ‘90s in LA, gangs were prevalent and they were race-based. Since I hung out with the Asian kids, I was part of that
group—that gang—and you had to be tough. In high school there were gangs all over campus. It was not unusual for a kid to get shot in the cafeteria. I was not aware that I was being subsumed into this gang culture until one night a dear friend of mine was shot and killed at a party. My parents came to pick me up
and were completely despondent. In their eyes, they survived the Vietnam war. They made the arduous trip to the US to establish a better life, to live their American dream. They gave me this gift and I was squandering it. I decided then and there that I did not want this to be my life. That moment defined me.
I got a job at the Grill on the Alley and reset my course. While I was always a good student, growing up in LA, there were other things I was more interested in than academics. That thought process quickly changed when my guidance counselor convinced me that as valedictorian of my high school I could go much farther in anything I wanted to do if I had a college degree under my belt. I was accepted to UCLA on a full scholarship where I majored in communications and biological anthropology. Who knew that bioanthropology—the study of people, language, culture—would become so influential in my future decision making?
You grow up fast in LA, in any big city, really. My parents retired to Texas and with my three boys, I made the move to Austin for my role at FEVO. Knowing my boys have space and safety and can operate at a slower pace is especially important. They don’t need to grow up too fast.
A Parting Word from Betty
Young women need to know they can rise from rock bottom. They can create a support system and a circle of trust. Believe in yourself.
A special thanks to Betty for sharing her journey with the WiST community. Believe in yourself! Inspiration comes in all forms.
Join the WiST community at www.womeninsportstech.org
Check out FEVO at https://www.fevo.com