CEO of her own company at the age of 22; a millionaire at 24; and one of the world's top internet marketing coaches at 25, Fione Tan, cofounder, president and CEO of eOneNet Ltd has come a very long way.
Back in 2000 Ms Tan, a marketing and management graduate, was just another fresh-faced executive putting in the hours at a financial services company in her home country in Malaysia when she realised she wanted more out of a career. "I was fed up with my job. I asked myself if I could see myself doing it for another 20 years, and I couldn't," she says.
When she looked at her interests and what the Malaysian market lacked, she hit on the idea of setting up an internet business, even though she claims that she knows only a little about the internet. "I came back from the US after my studies in 1997 and was shocked to find that there were people who did not even know what email addresses were. I saw the potential and it was only a matter of time before people in Asia would begin to trust the internet and use it. I wanted to be part of that," she recalls.
With that, Ms Tan wrote up a four-page business proposal and set off looking for financing. Not long after, she and her business partner Harrace Lau managed to secure shareholders and a small fund of US$26,000.
That was the easy part, she emphasises. "I spent US$22,000 on our website only to realise later it did not work that way," she says. "I could spend all my money on the website and still come back with zero returns."
"If you keep focusing on the problems you will never find the solutions"
Left with US$4,000 to employ staff, rent an office and pay for renovation, Ms Tan viewed that hiccup as part of the learning process and moved on. "Obstacles will come no matter what you do," says Ms Tan optimistically. "If you keep focusing on the problems you will never find the solutions."
That gung-ho spirit has seen her through many bumps along the road which include, among others, being so visibly nervous at the first seminar she emceed at that a client advised her to calm down, and admitting to a journalist during one of her earlier interviews that she did not understand the technical question she was being asked.
Things have certainly changed. Today, the sprightly 30-year-old entrepreneur is one of the most sought-after internet marketing speakers in Asia. She has also won numerous awards including the Great Women of Our Time in Business & Finance from the Malaysian Women's Weekly in 2007 and Salute the Women of Tomorrow from Marie Claire in 2000.
After eight years and triple digit growths, eOneNet, which provides mainly internet marketing training and services for multinational companies as well as business entrepreneurs, has expanded to Singapore and Hong Kong.
After years of hard work, Ms Tan has arrived at a point where she no longer has to "beg for business". "I'm charging US$500 an hour doing personal consultancy and I don't see why I should talk for hours and not get a guarantee if I get the job. It's a kind of branding as well," says Ms Tan who earned her first million ringgit just two years after founding the company.
In Ms Tan's view, the best things about owning an internet business are having the freedom to work where and when she wants, and being able to sell to an international clientele round the clock.
She says that practical experience, creativity, persistence and discipline are important factors for success. "Above all, this industry demands and at the same time nurtures creative thinking. With the growing market and people spending more time on the internet, all that's left is to find productive ways to improve business results", says Ms Tan.
According to Ms Tan, no formal academic qualifications are required for starting an internet marketing company. However, a diploma or a university degree in marketing, management, IT or business administration plus some years of work experience in sales or customer service would be an advantage. Meanwhile, for people looking to work as an internet marketing professional —a highly sought-after position in advertising, public relations and manufacturing companies, a certificate in practical internet marketing like the one administered by eOneNet.com can be a competitive advantage. She notes also that people may keep their day jobs while developing their own business on a part-time basis. As far as income or revenue is concerned, professionals working for an established internet marketing company can expect a handsome pay package. As for people who choose to go it alone, a single fee for an internet marketing project can reach US$2,000 or more. "That really depends on who the client is and if you are very good in your field," Ms Tan concludes.