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Ten Years On From The First 30 Under 30: Simon Smallchua

Ten Years On From The First 30 Under 30: Simon Smallchua

From dancer to website designer to agency maverick, Simon Smallchua had taken an incredible journey en route to becoming senior digital strategist of Visual Jazz back in 2010.

Ten years later, we’re profiling Smallchua and the other recipients of our inaugural 30 Under 30 awards.

Don’t forget to place your vote for the 2019 30 Under 30 awards, so you can give the next generation of up and comers their opportunity to be recognised and honoured.

Today’s interview with Simon Smallchua chronicles the circuitous path he took towards the world of global marketing.


Then: senior digital strategist, Visual Jazz

Now: VP, global marketing, Lexer

Simon Smallchua (formerly Small) made his break in the digital and creative realm when the break dancing studio he was a member of needed their website rebuilt.

He had no experience with computers at the time, but was still able to rebuild the site within a week.

Shortly after, he started his own agency, putting together a business plan at the age of 19, and launching the digital and branding agency, Friendly Design.

After three years, it was acquired by Fnuky, where Smallchua was appointed as head of strategy, overseeing social media, web development, search, eDM, TV, mags, media planning, PR and events, all as integrated communications.

In 2009, he joined digital creative agency Visual Jazz in Melbourne, and his star continued to rise from there, undertaking speaking engagements for top companies like MySpace and Hitwise.


What did it mean to you at the ripe age of 26 that you were chosen as one of B&T’s 30 Under 30?

I was surprised and honoured as I was nominated by one of my clients. It helped with my confidence and forced me to take stock, I was working with brilliant people and had so many great opportunities.

How do you think being nominated affected your career, if at all?

At the time our agency (Visual Jazz, now Isobar) wasn’t getting a lot of media coverage, so it was a nice tiny bit of profile for us.

I believe it contributed to getting us into Asia’s 40 under 40 in Campaign Asia, judging awards and getting to present at TED in Brazil.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since then?

Other than getting married and changing my name from Small to Smallchua?

I’ve been technology agency side since I was 19, so the biggest change has been moving client-side 2 years ago, moving to Marketing software company, Lexer.

I’m now responsible for Global Marketing so my role has shifted from pure technology strategy for big brands to building a global brand (focused on USA) and lead pipeline.

Oh yeah… Now I start at 7am, so I can connect with my team in NY and LA.

What words of wisdom would you have shared with your 26 year old self back then knowing what you do now?

  1. Don’t be allured by traditional creative/advertising clients – they will struggle to leverage technology
  2. Double down on customer data – it will become the lifeblood of every organisation
  3. Look after yourself – don’t burn the candle at both ends, stay fit, eat healthy and meditate
  4. Be patient – organisations will change and improve, but slowly

What are you most proud of?

Seeing people in my team evolve, grow and go on to achieve greatness.

Whether it’s doing consulting from Byron, heading up strategy at the best agencies in China, Singapore or NY, launching their own businesses, managing events around the world or setting global strategy for big brands like Uber.

Nothing is more rewarding than seeing someone understand themselves, work hard to grow and become better than you.

Interestingly presenting at TED Global had always been an aspiration of mine, and while it was awesome (and scary), it has quickly faded as an important milestone in my life.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that face young people in advertising, marketing and media these days?

Like many other people in this series have said, staying relevant.

Things are changing so much, while there are fundamentals that don’t change, nobody knows what’s actually going on.

To make it even harder “experienced” people have lots of wisdom to share and lots of baggage. You need to find great mentors and build an open trusting two-way mentoring relationship.

Conversely, what’s the biggest opportunity for those under 30 now?

The workplace has changed so much, becoming a much better place to work, learn and improve the world.

There’s a growing focus on output and outcomes, less on ego, hierarchy and process – that means some client-side roles will be as fast, challenging and fun as agencies.

More broadly, organisations more genuinely care about their staff and the world we live in – social enterprises, open cultures and diversity were rare or smoke and mirrors back in the day.

Finally, access. You have unlimited access to information, resources, people, technology and more – enabling you to learn and find opportunities if you put in the hard yards.

What can the industry do better to attract and retain young talent?

Hire on potential, not just experience. Treat them firm but fair. Constructively develop them. Help them get their best job. Be realistic.

Sell good work, it’ll deliver value, be more meaningful and sustainable. Promote ethics, diversity and good honest work, not ego, fame and burning the candle.

Entries for B&T‘s 30 Under 30 Awards for 2019 close 1 week today people! For all the details and to submit your entry, click here. Tickets are also available for B&T Bootcamp, a day of speed mentoring and masterclasses aimed at up and comers in the industry.

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