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Home » Blog » How to create an impact from where you are

If you can unlock a way for people to continue finding their purpose, how much better would our society be!!

Well, the actual question is, “Do you live a life from a space of creating an impact, and if you do, what kind of impact are you creating? This time on The xMonks Drive, Vanessa Liu, The ‘velvet hammer’, joined us to explore what it means to live a life of impact. Here is a transcripted version of the conversation we had.

The Seed Of Impact 

Gaurav: What impact can a woman have on the family, or in society? 

Vanessa: The way I look at the role models that I had in my parents was the way you look at work. So if you have work, you should work hard. And this is how you develop a foundation, and then people can take you seriously. Especially for my mother, I never questioned whether or not I should be working when I was older, because my mom was working, my father was also working in the family businesses. But my mother was really driving a lot of the work that we were doing. Witnessing that, it was engraved in my heart that the expectation is that I’ll definitely be contributing in some way, by coming up with something of my own and doing something that’s purposeful outside of the additional responsibility, like raising a family, which is also so great. 

These expectations one should never take for granted. They instill in us the importance of education, the importance of using that so that you can have the tools to build things that were part of the default script. “Okay, you are going to get the best education possible. And with that, you are going to figure out what it is that you are going to do. Alongside of finding the right person to settle down with and have a family.” So the notion of working and also living was ingrained very, very deeply.

Creating An Impact With Business

Gaurav: What’s your definition of business?

Vanessa: Business is about solving problems. It is about identifying the needs of the customers, whether they are individual consumers or enterprise customers, and figuring out what is necessary for them to be able to achieve whatever outcome that they are looking for. That is how I have always looked at business. The reason that I was drawn to it may be because of my problem-solving attitude. 

I am not the type of person who read the business section of a newspaper growing up. I only became interested in business when I realised it could be a tool to solve basically some of the most pressing challenges that we are facing, not only in our society but in our day to day living as well. And so after having studied the sciences for a long time, I decided that I did not have the passion that my professors had, enough so that I could pursue a PhD in the sciences. I decided to start thinking about where it should lead. And I was always thinking a lot about the problems that are facing different economies. Why is it that some countries are just impoverished, while others are much wealthier? And what is it that you can do to bridge the divide? And I realised that actually, economic development could be the solution for a lot of these types of disparities. And so I looked at it as a problem-solving tool and how to use that to make things better.

Gaurav: What was that moment in your life, where you thought that business is not only about making money, it’s not only about being on the right or being on the high of calling yourself an entrepreneur or an investor but moving towards creating an impact?

Vanessa: I felt this when I first entered business. I decided to go into business, to go into management consulting as the first step while being somebody who had no background in economics or business administration. I was researching the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at that time. So I had an idealistic thinking about the atrocities that had happened in the former Yugoslavia that were now being prosecuted in The Hague. And this was towards the end of my time, when I realised, “I thought law would be the vehicle that I wanted to have an impact with.” But instead, I found myself quite dissatisfied with the fact that the original problems were not being addressed. 

But the underlying factors made this situation happen in the first place, and I started talking to Buford Alexander, who was a partner in the McKinsey office in Amsterdam. And he started telling me about the work that they do and introduced me to a few partners in the office. And I remember meeting one partner who was on his way to being the head of the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, another partner, who had just come back from a stint at being the Minister of the Environment, and yet another partner, who was spending some of his time on the International Olympic Committee. Then I thought, “Is this business?” I didn’t think that this was business. But it was, because they were applying their skill set and they were able to address the challenges that they saw around them. And so, that’s when I decided that I want to do what they are doing when I am farther along in my career.

That’s what started my McKinsey career, and I ended up staying so long because I loved what I was doing in media and innovation. But towards the end, I realised, “Wait, if I really want to create more impact, it’s not just about advising companies, it’s also about building.” And that was when I decided to leave to become an entrepreneur. 

I teamed up with a business partner. I was just excited by the fact that I was going to be starting something from scratch. And did that for six years, we launched two companies, one called InsideHook and one called Fevo. InsideHook is now in the hands of the RealClear Media, whom we sold it to and Fevo is a Series C venture-backed company that is all around co-op commerce. And we power the group ticketing for 80% of the sports teams in the US. I’m really proud of those companies. But towards the end of the time, I remember thinking, “Okay, in the first company, I did great publication. But at the end of the day, I’m helping affluent men learn how to spend their money. And the second instance is helping people entertain themselves.” That was what drove me to SAP when I decided I want to work with women and people of colour, and help them get access to funding and network, which they normally wouldn’t.

Investing In The Aging

Gaurav: Given a choice to you, which area would you like to invest your time, money, energy, hopes? What’s that one cause that you would like to stand for?

Vanessa: I have decided to devote the next phase of my career to older adults. It is an area of thought so much about especially being in the diversity, inclusion, equity field over the last few years, I feel that ageism is the most accepted form of discrimination, especially in the workplace, and in our society, and something needs to change with it. This is an area that I’ve been interested in ever since I was studying in college and I was doing Alzheimer’s research. And I was also volunteering in a nursing home. And I saw firsthand just how people who are older are treated, especially in the society where there is such a premium place for the youth. And I want to change how ageing is perceived. 

This might be being selfish because, in 15-20 years time, I will be there. And I’m just thinking about the types of services and products that I would like to see, and also, more importantly, how I would want to be treated. But I do think that there is so much that could be done. 

When you think about companies in the past, they usually just gave out retirement packages, and you sailed off into the sunset and you didn’t have a role anymore. That is such a shame. We have grown up in a society where people who are older, our elders are truly our elders, our source of wisdom. That is what I would like us as a society, especially in North America, to recapture. Many of us come from those types of cultures.

Let’s embrace what ageing is going to be, of course, there will be demographic shifts. And by the time 2060 rolls around, there is going to be close to 100 million people over the age of 65, just in North America alone, in the US alone and these types of numbers are really staggering. If we look at aging societies like Japan, for instance, or parts of Europe, you will see the greying of those populations and how they are handling it. I think that there’s so much more of a need to address that.

About The Speaker

Vanessa Liu is a technology innovator, a business builder, and a digital media entrepreneur. She’s been creating, launching, and re-launching businesses for a long time. Vanessa has over 23 years of experience as a serial founder, operator, strategist, and investor at SAP, Trigger Media, and McKinsey, and has a proven track record of value creation. She supervises SAP.iO’s North American Foundries in New York and San Francisco, including programmes focused to women and diverse-led B2B business IT companies, and has recruited and accelerated 70+ enterprise software startups in her role as Vice President of SAP.iO, SAP’s early-stage venture arm. Vanessa was previously the Chief Operating Officer of Trigger Media Group, a $22 million digital media company.

InsideHook (a digital media firm and a men’s lifestyle brand) and Fevo (a women’s lifestyle brand) are two of Trigger’s portfolio companies she co-founded (SaaS technology for group experiences at live events). She began her career as an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company’s Media and Entertainment Practice, with offices in Amsterdam, London, and New York.

Vanessa is a Non-Executive Director of Appen Ltd. at the moment (ASX: APX). Bounce Exchange (Wunderkind), Crave Global, Grata Data, GroundSignal, Kable AI, and Narrativ are among the start-ups in which she is an advisor or investor.

Frequently Asked Questions

What impact can a woman have in society?

One should never take the contribution expectations for granted. They teach in us the value of education and the importance of putting it to good use so that you can create things that were not part of the default script. “All right, you’re going to acquire the best education you can. Make a decision about what you’re going to do.

How can we create an impact in business?

“Is this a business?” I wondered. Vanesa didn’t think this was a business transaction. But it was because they were putting their skills to work and were able to deal with the problems they encountered. As a result, I decided that when I am farther along in my career, I want to do what they are doing. That’s how my McKinsey career began, and I stayed for so long because I enjoyed my work in media and innovation. But, as I neared the finish, I realised, “Wait, if I truly want to make a difference, it’s not just about guiding firms; it’s also about constructing.” That’s when I decided to leave to pursue my dream of being an entrepreneur and making a difference.

What is the definition of business?

It is the nature of business to solve issues. It’s all about understanding the demands of customers, whether they’re individual consumers or business clients, and determining what they’ll need to attain whatever goal they’ve set for themselves. That’s how I’ve always approached business. It could be because of my problem-solving approach that I was drawn to it.

Why is investing in aging important?

When Vanesa saw how individuals who are older are treated, she wanted to change how ageing is viewed, especially in a society where youth has such a high value. This may be self-serving, but we will all be there at some point. Consider the types of services and products you’d like to see, as well as how you’d like to be treated.

Who is Vanessa Liu?

Vanessa Liu is a digital media entrepreneur, a technology innovator, and a business creator. She’s spent a lot of time building, launching, and relaunching businesses. Vanessa has a strong track record of value creation with over 23 years of experience as a serial founder, operator, strategist, and investor at SAP, Trigger Media, and McKinsey.