Tania Yuki On The Value Of Direction

Tania Yuki is Founder and CEO of Shareablee, an two-year old start up that provides actionable social media insights for top brands and publishers. Originally from Australia, Tania oozes ambition. She's bright, driven and has the ability to focus on what matters.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was quite little I wanted to be an actor, so I started acting when I was five and continued right through to my early 20s before realizing that it probably wasn’t what I was meant to be doing.  

I was in Home and Away and Escape. I was doing a lot of very forgettable Australian drama. The last one I did was on a production by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation called Blue Water High.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
W.B. Yeats, Jim Morrison, Richard Branson and George Clooney. 

What single book had the greatest impact on you?
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P Seligman. It talks all about the impact of how you perceive situations and how you perceive the world. It gives you a lot of different filters for you and for the people around you. 

When do you go to bed and when do you wake up?
Most nights I go to bed between 12am and 2am and I’m usually up most mornings by 6am. 

What is your favorite time of the working week?
It’s the couple of hours cranking that I often do late at night. I concentrate most clearly late at night, partially because there’s no interruptions, but also because I lock into a really good productive zone then and it’s when I’m most creative. 

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
It was definitely not a conventional career path. When I attended law school I was still very much doing roles on Australian television and I thought I still wanted to be an actor.

Right around the time when I finished studying I decided that I wanted to do something different, so I brought the two together and went into media and entertainment, which evolved into producing and then focusing on online content.

The only thing in common throughout my career is an infatuation with storytelling and what that means. My piece of that narrative has been very different throughout the years and I think the only common thread is wanting to understand the impact of content on a story.

Now it just so happens that I’m much more involved in the post-analysis and understanding audience behaviors, which seems far removed from where I started. Probably the best advice given to me was when I moved to America and that was: forget what you believe you do and forget what you believe you want to be when you grow up and just do what interests you. That way you’ll gravitate towards your strengths and not worry about any of the details. That brought me to analytics and measurement, which I never thought I’d be in. I had celebrated completing my last advanced maths course at university and somehow managed to gravitate back towards something that was there. So who knew?

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your industry?
I was an intensely competitive academic student determined to do everything perfectly and would be really disappointed for long periods of time if something I did wasn’t perfect. That was my thing. So just getting over that and realizing that you trade perfection for stuff that’s actionable, useful and that you can move ahead with. 

When we launched Shareablee, we’d get out our first proposal and wonder if it was right. But in reality you just have to do your best and be okay with uncertainty.

What we cloak in perfection is an unwillingness to be wrong and a lack of trust that if it’s wrong you’ll figure it out and make it better. When you’re starting a business you can’t be right all the time. If you waited to be right, you’d never get off the ground.

What motivates you?
I’m happiest when I’m building and making things.

The work that I’m doing now really motivates me; trying to put together the big marketplace POVs on what’s going on across all social channels in any given category.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Hopefully something I haven’t done yet, but right now I am probably the most proud of just re-doing everything and moving across the world.  

I grew up in Sydney where I knew everyone and there’s such a comfort and such inertia in that. So I think making the step to move to the States was big. Now that I’m here I realize that coming to America isn’t such a big deal, but it sure is when you’re in Sydney. Leaving everything behind, not having a safety net and connections, not having any friends but doing it because it felt right. It would have been very easy to stay.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
I try really hard. It’s not a sexy answer but I think I try a lot harder than most people at lots and lots of things. I’m just really committed to doing stuff that I believe is valuable and good. 

I work really crazy hours. I constantly push myself to do the best work possible. I don’t necessarily think it comes down to skill. If you’re willing to make that extra call or ask for something a few extra times that the average person would be uncomfortable asking, I think that’s what makes the difference in the end.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Do stuff that you find is fun.

What do you believe are the personality traits of great leaders?
Leaders need to have a vision: The ability to see the world as it is and as it could be and not be freaked out by either. 

Integrity: Never asking your team to do something that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. The further up you get the more you have to delegate. I think it’s great to be a good leader and it’s great to be supportive but people won’t follow you if they don’t truly believe that you would be willing to do the same kinds of things you are asking of them. 

Just because you jump out of your cloud and pat people on the head and say, “Good Job!” that doesn’t cut it. Even if you’re inspiring, even if you have vision, I believe people will also need to believe you’re in it with them. 

What do you believe is the secret to rising to the top?
Most people will say a little bit of luck was involved, but luck happens to people who do the work and put themselves in a position where opportunity can see them.

I think the biggest reason people don’t get what they want out of life is they don’t know what they’re asking of life. And they don’t really know what success looks like and they don’t really know who they want to be. And then when they don’t arrive at this place, they feel let down by it. 

I believe you steer unconsciously in the direction of your focus and if you want to be the CEO, or you want to be anything, then you’ll do things a little differently to how you would if you just ‘want to get ahead’.

The people who I have the most respect for are the people in my company who are also the “CEO” of our company. They are looking around and seeing what needs to get done and they are treating the business as if it were their own.

Not everyone has that perspective and depending on where you want to end up, you’ll make decisions, conduct yourself and you’ll learn things that you know you’ll need to execute a certain job. I think otherwise you’re just fumbling and waiting for opportunity to knock. But how would you know it was an opportunity if you didn’t know what to look for?

What's next?
We’ve been going through a very accelerated rate of growth on all fronts: lots of people, lots of new partners and lots of questions around scaling. Now we’ve come out of that initial blur of growth it’s about taking a step back and thinking about where we want to be 1, 2, 5 years out and starting to take my own advice in figuring out how to steer us in the direction of that focus.

With a startup, when things are going well you’re in execution mode and you’re in survival mode and you manage to meet your monthly, quarterly or annual goals. But you know our space evolves really quickly so taking enough time to take a step back and see what’s coming is really important.  

I’m really interested in what’s going on with cross-platform research. Much of the conversation has been this platform or that platform, now it’s your total social audience. I need to continue to think about how we should be investing in innovation so that we’re ahead of the curve and don’t fall behind.


As told to Caroline Hugall at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Broadway, on Tuesday 7th October 2014.