Tina Yip: A restless Brand Strategist with an inspiring goal to empower a community of side hustlers.
Written by Edouard Bellin
Two months after having joined a small recruitment firm in Paris to help develop their operations in the United States, I realized that the majority of their business came from shady deals conducted by my boss who also happened to be the CEO of the firm. Unwilling to be part of such a company, I grabbed all the courage I had in me, quit and was back on the labor market. The time was July 2014 and marked one of the most confusing moments of my life.
At the time I was looking for Business Development roles in Europe and the US without a specific industry in mind. I felt lost and without a clear purpose, constantly doubting myself and the decisions I was making about my career. Longing a return to New York after having interned for a ping pong startup over the summer in 2013, I booked a flight on a tourist visa in September 2014 to meet with companies face to face and make my case. During my three months in the city I attended a networking event organized by career community FindSpark which helps connect students and recent graduates with companies, including big names like HBO, L'Oreal and BuzzFeed. Attending the event helped me rethink my early career strategy and land my dream job within three months.
This is also where I met Tina.
Born and raised in Hong Kong and with Canadian citizenship, Tina spoke at one of the panels about her hardships staying in the US despite having received her Bachelor’s from Boston University and having interned at multiple companies. My interest in connecting with Tina was twofold: 1) she was (and still is) working in the digital creative space – an industry I was particularly interested in exploring, and 2) she had had experience dealing with visa issues and fought even harder than most job candidates to convince American companies to take a chance on her and sponsor her visa. Tina combined her determined and hard-working personality with numerous internship experiences from her time at university to make a name for herself in the Advertising space in the biggest market in the world.
This is her story.
Born to be the center of attention.
Trying to place international calls via the internet while living in China isn’t easy. Buggy and interrupted chats due to poor connection often result in frustration and apologetic text messages asking to reschedule. This happens every time I attempt to call my mother, and I was met with the same fate when I tried to get in touch with Tina. While I felt short of options to get this done, Tina wasn’t ready to quit just yet. Given our living 7,375 miles apart (or 11,868.90 kilometers… approximately) and after a few failed attempts to get a Skype call through, she suggested we conduct our informal interview over WhatsApp audio messages. Intrigued by the unusual approach, I went ahead and asked my first question:
"How would you describe the environment you grew up in?"
Tina was quick to respond with a very grateful shout-out to her parents for having built a loving household she described as “very comfortable”. Beside the stability provided by her parents’ occupations and the various travels she and her much older sister were able to tag along on, Tina particularly enjoyed being the youngest in the family: “I liked it because it made me the center of attention. I was THE theater kid and I talk a lot. My mom always tells me that my grandma used to be the person in the family who talked the most, and that I took over after I was born.” She repeatedly signed up for speech competitions and studied acting between the ages of 7 and 17 She loved plays and musicals and filled her schedule with extracurricular activities that included dancing and singing. She was a very active kid – and still is to this day.
Once upon a time there was a chip on a shoulder.
With her older sister attending New York University in the biggest stage-acting market in the world, Tina fell madly in love with the city when she came to visit during her teens. Several years went by until it was time for Tina to apply for college. Excited at the thought of living within subway distance of Broadway, she had thought of New York as a potential location until her sister convinced her otherwise: “When I was applying to colleges in the US my sister said “Consider Boston because I know you’ll be distracted in New York.” Being the little sister that I was I said “Okay!” even though I hadn’t visited any of the colleges there.” Shortly after Tina was accepted at Boston University.
Hailing from Hong Kong to Boston as a fresh new undergrad, Tina initially struggled to nail a particular area of study she felt truly passionate about. She first picked Economics as her major but quickly switched when she realized there was too much math involved. She then gave Hospitality a try by interning at the prestigious Four Seasons hotel as an Operator and in their VIP lounge (I can almost hear Tina’s smooth-sounding voice going “Good afternoon, Four Seasons hotel, how may I help you?”), but the lack of social life repulsed her more than the thought of solving equations for four years: “Physically draining, all you want to do after work is sleep.” Still in her Freshman year at BU, Tina was uncertain about what the future held – like the majority of first years, really. What she did enjoy, however, were the various student organizations she was actively involved with and promoting across campus: “I thought ‘Hey, maybe Marketing is a thing that feels natural to me.’”
Tina transferred to BU’s Questrom School of Business and subsequently began to take on internships after internships partly to build up her professional experience early on, but mostly because she knew she had to:
Finding her calling in a big and competitive pile of mess, also known as Advertising.
While the Marketing space felt like a perfect fit given her sociable personality, Tina was still unsure about what specific role she would build her career upon. She served as the Vice President of Public Relations for her business fraternity Alpha Kappa Si and had had a taste of various disciplines during her internships including Research, Strategy and Account Management. After switching majors, she began interning for former boutique marketing firm Buzz University whose founder David Yarus introduced her to the realm of social media and opened up new career opportunities for Tina to tap into (shortly after, David created the Jewish dating platform JSwipe and recently set up his own agency in New York called mllnnl, which stands for Millennial). Tina became actively engaged on social platforms, joining tweet chats on Twitter and setting up her RSS feed to stay updated on all-things social. “Now looking back, I’m thinking ‘How the hell did I figure all of those things out???’”
During her Sophomore (second) year at university she developed a particular interest in the Tech and Innovation space after participating in a Startup Weekend event. From Boston to New York, campus work and boutique shops to global Advertising corporations including GREY and Arnold Worldwide, Tina kept busy and accumulated a total of 10 internship experiences over the course of her undergraduate program. She networked A LOT to make opportunities happen for herself and ultimately chose Social Media as her post-graduation career. Over time she has maintained close relationships with many of the people she had the chance meet then. Socializing was a natural skill for Tina. She was meant to work in Advertising, and Advertising was meant for her.
About a month before graduation Tina connected with award-winning digital creative agency R/GA for a potential internship. Her future Manager, however, was envisioning a bigger role for her: “You’re not an intern” he told Tina, “I think you’re a full-time employee and I’m gonna make a position happen for you.” A few weeks went by until she received a call from R/GA while at the bank with her parents: “Hey, we made it happen! I found a role for you – you’re gonna come in as a Community Manager full-time.” A week after the call Tina officially graduated and kicked off her career in the Big Apple.
Six months into the job, Tina was left on her own the majority of the time due to her boss’s absence from their NYC office to oversee their Austin location. She managed to learn by failing and figuring things out any way she could. She loved her time at R/GA and to this day remains immensely grateful for the opportunity to have joined their team. She was, however, fresh out of college and fancied a mentor she could continuously learn from.
She went on to join McGarryBowen as a Junior Strategist and subsequently became a Strategist at Brooklyn-based agency Big Spaceship. Working with such well-praised Advertising firms helped her find and leverage her creative side.
This one is for all the hustlers out there.
Having interned and worked for such a large pool of creative agencies and joined various organizations including match-maker for marketers and startups StrategyHack, Tina realized that many of her coworkers and professionals she had connected with had very interesting projects that they were working on outside of their workplace. She imagined a platform that would support all the lonely hustlers by giving them a shout-out with articles to acknowledge their work. (Sound familiar?)
She started by launching a blog she called Side and Seek and worked with an illustrator to creatively draw out the people she would interview and write about. Due to other paid opportunities, however, the illustrator could no longer spare the time to work on the blog. Although management of the platform became less and less frequent, Tina never lost her passion for it. She knew she was onto something that could impact the lives and attitudes of many, and wanted to find the right medium to communicate it across communities.
Beyond her own interest in learning more about others, one of the perks of interviewing people was the chance for Tina to get better at asking very thoughtful and insightful questions which, as a Strategist, is a very important skill to have. And as podcasts slowly made their way into our daily commutes, she thought she could leverage this growing trend and combine her love for the mic with inspiring stories of ambitious hustlers. She never stops experimenting:
Refusing to start this new initiative on her own, she wine-and-dined her friend John Matson to help launch and co-host the show. In addition to leading digital strategy for travel co-working space Voyager as their Digital Director, John is also an active musician, serves as Co-Director for monthly speaker series Startup Grind and sits as a Founding Member of the nonprofit alliance NYC Innovation Collective. He also once took part in #The100DayProject: “John and I have great chemistry on the podcast. We have been partners since day 1 and he has been killing it on the production side – from fleshing out the idea to finding a producer and our recording studio.”
Rebranded 5to9 (www.5to9.xyz) as a “platform for the side hustle generation who make their bread in a 9 to 5 job and fulfill their dream in a 5 to 9 hustle”, John and Tina have now published 10 episodes since their launch in October 2016 and are beginning to add more impactful diversity to the brand with workshops and events running across New York.
Tina was also interviewed by Randi Zuckerberg – sister of Mark Zuckerberg – about side hustles.
What's next for Tina?
After having spent two and a half years at Big Spaceship and having overcome a few additional visa struggles, Tina was just recently brought on as a Senior Strategist at creative and strategic lead agency Berlin Cameron in New York while still focusing on growing 5to9’s potential and impact.
One particular hustler whom Tina was quick to praise towards the end of our WhatsApp conversation (made up of 59 audio messages… from Tina alone) was Tina Roth-Eisenberg, also known as swissmiss to the blogging community (same first name, ironically). Founder of the global breakfast lecture series CreativeMornings (I have personally attended two of their events while in New York), founder and CEO of temporary tattoo startup Tattly and creator of Brooklyn-based co-working space Friends Work Here, she does not have a full-time job per se and instead fills her days with many different activities and operations: “That’s the kind of career I look up to. I really relate to that. I mean, I love being a Brand Strategist and I love being in Advertising. I’m learning every single day and I’ve treated my job as a school, but there are many other sides of me I also want to express.”
From hosting brunches and various events of her own to setting up workshops and interviews, Tina spends her 5 to 9’s connecting with inspiring and ambitious individuals over their side projects and hustles.
I am honored to have had the opportunity to praise her own.