Reinvention with humility & embracing innovation with Lan Tran

Release Date:

You have to pivot or reinvent yourself to stay relevant. This idea gets bandied about a lot these days but there are going to be times in your life and in business where it has to happen.

Lan Tran is a powerhouse in sales and marketing is no stranger to this concept. She has seen the decline of the paper business directory with the advent of Google ads, the challenges of returning to work after raising a family, and the devastating impact of crypto on a local metaverse game studio.

We speak about approaching reinvention with humility, and Lan's observations about innovation and entrepreneurship in tech and Western Australia.

About Lan Tran

Lan Tran's career commenced in sales with Yellow Pages. She found her calling and thrived in facilitating businesses, corporates and government agencies around Australia to brand, market, and advertise themselves. Her time at Yellow Pages set her up with a strong foundation in Account Management, PR and Stakeholder Management. As the top 2% Sales Executive of the 900+ sales team across Australia, Lan was integral to her company's annual strategic sales and marketing planning with senior leadership. Lan has worked across Australia and Asia leading sales teams and brings with her a wealth of contacts and proven strategies that lift an organisation to the next level.

Sales and marketing is a craft and an art form that continue to lead her into different businesses over the years that suited her lifestyle, which has included living and working overseas, a stint in recruitment, and a couple of years home-schooling her child prodigy.

As a skilled communicator that builds genuine and lasting relationships with ease, Lan joined Ninja Software and was responsible for quadrupling the revenue through strategic lead generation and securing industry partnerships. In the last 12 months, with Ninja's pivot into a Web3 game studio, Lan quickly became the evangelist for metaverse possibilities and connections.

She is known in the tech industry as an absolute powerhouse in all aspects of sales, relationship building and marketing.

Unfortunately, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances (crypto winter and FTX crash) the company she was with went into administration a week before last Christmas. This is a raw conversation with Lan about what it means to be a woman in tech, and how she navigates through changes.

Lan has since been appointed as Chief Sales Officer at EXTAG.

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  • [00:01:40] Lan's beginnings with communication studies.
  • [00:02:12] Finding her way to sales.
  • [00:03:24] Yellow Pages vs Google Ads: Embracing new technology.
  • [00:08:46] Before: the dangers of moving too slowly; Now: the risk of moving too quickly.
  • [00:10:44] Reinvention leads to progress.
  • [00:12:01] Reinvention requires humility.
  • [00:13:01] Reinvention after returning to the workforce after raising a child.
  • [00:15:34] Meeting Ninja Software.
  • [00:17:50] The attraction of a metaverse project.
  • [00:19:27] The frustration with the hype around NFT and wanting a product with real utility.
  • [00:20:36] The challenges of getting funding in tech in Western Australia.
  • [00:21:32] Pivoting the entire business model of a company.
  • [00:24:07] The opportunity to cultivate a pipeline for new industries locally.
  • [00:27:13] We need to bang the drum for innovators out there to encourage growth in these sectors.
  • [00:31:38] Don't let 'tall poppy syndrome' stop you.
  • [00:35:29] The greatest loss is that of the potential to build a local communiy of talent and a pipeline for this industry.
  • [00:37:16] Bonus Question: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
  • [00:39:01] Bonus Question: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
Michele Ong

You have to pivot or reinvent yourself to stay relevant.

This idea gets bandied about a lot these days, but there are going to be times in your life and in business where it has to happen.

Lan Tran is a powerhouse in sales and marketing and is no stranger to this concept. She's seen the decline of the paper business directory with the advent of Google ads, the challenges of returning to work after raising a family, and the devastating impact of crypto on a local metaverse game studio.

We speak about approaching reinvention with humility and Lan's observations about innovation and entrepreneurship in tech and Western Australia.

For reference, this episode was recorded in January, 2023, and we speak about Ninja Software going to administration and the release of Western Australia's innovation strategy, both of which occurred in December, 2022.

I'm Michele Ong, and this is STEAM Powered.

Welcome Lan. Thank you so much for joining me today on STEAM Powered. I'm really looking forward to speaking with you today about your journey from sales and marketing through to being a woman in tech.

Lan Tran

Thank you so much, Michele, for having me on. This is pretty special.

Michele Ong

Fantastic. So you've recently been in the metaverse space and we'll definitely get into that, but you've had a pretty twisty road to come from, you know, sales and marketing and meandering your way through to tech via all these other industries and sectors, which is very cool. So I'd love to know a little bit more about your journey and how it led to where you are now.

Lan's beginnings with communication studies.

Lan Tran

Yeah, sure. So, in term of how I got to where I am, my journey would actually go far as far back as when I studied in university. And I remembered studying communication study because something that I've been quite passionate about is how people interact with each other and how that message is absorbed and the message is not. And so it is, it's an art form, it's a skill, and it's always been my passion. And I studied anthropology. So it is really is about understanding communication in a context of a culture.

Finding her way to sales.

Lan Tran

So then, winding that forward and then I got my double first class honour and I was debating on being academic or going out in the workforce. And then I just thought about the practicality of it.

Being academic means I'll be stuck in this, not necessarily humdrum, but there is a bit of a cycle you go through to get to the next stage and the next stage, and there were a bit of politics that I was sensing. Whereas I'm thinking in a workforce you'll be paid based on your skillset and however much you put in there, you can literally tick it off and then you get recognised for it.

So it's not as hierarchical the way that I perceived it. And so I got out into the workforce and that was an interesting one because with a communication study degree, it is like, you could do anything or nothing at all. You know, it's not like accounting where you become an accountant, and engineering, you become an engineer.

And so, interesting enough, I fell accidentally into sales. So that 'accidental' is because I didn't actually imagine that I would be a salesperson, but it's just something that I do really well at because it involves a lot of communications and also an understanding of how different levers work to make it happen.

Yellow Pages vs Google Ads: Embracing new technology.

Lan Tran

So I worked for, I don't know if you would remember, but Yellow Pages, when it used to be two very thick books. Okay, so this is pre-Google days where Yellow Pages were literally the Bible for businesses. If you run a business and you didn't have Yellow Pages advertising, you can consider that business gone the following year. It's literally that.

And so I worked at Yellow Pages, so I've been with them for 15 years, by the way, and yeah, it's a long time. And what I loved about Yellow Pages is that Yellow Pages back then were known to run the best sales workforce in Australia because the training is rigorous, and also to be in Yellow Pages, you have to be exceptionally talented at communication because you need to be able to reach out to a client and close the sale, do really well, not just closing the sale, but build rapport, trust so that next year the client will actually increase their spending with you based on your recommendation.

And so, that has been a fantastic journey for me, and when you do well in Yellow Pages, you get rewarded accordingly. So, you know, I'd gone on so many incentive trip, company car paid for, and all the little perks along the way.

To give you a context of my biggest learning from Yellow Pages was that for me it is amazing and I could not even see a world beyond the printed directory. And then of course, you got online and I was quite skeptical because it's like, you know, I cannot imagine online taking over this printed directory that we spend a whole year of our precious life creating. But then I actually see the evolution of how online took over. And you can tell, because every year when I go to see my client they said, Lan by the way, I've those Google ads, well, you know, look at the return on investment I've got compared to the Yellow Pages. And so that's when I started listening to the message.

Now, by the time I listened to the message, Yellow Pages was already behind the eight ball. So the biggest lesson I learned back then was that when there's new technology in play, have a closer look at it and see where you would be.

Don't just sit on your comfortable throne. Just because you are earning a lot of money and doing well, doesn't mean that world is gonna stay the same.

And that was a very hard lesson for me to learn because I believed truly and utterly in the printed Yellow Pages, and when I missed that boat, I made a promise to myself that from now on, when it comes to the future and what it could mean, I'm gonna have a very close look at it so I don't miss that boat again, and that I remain relevant in what I provide to the market, and client, and opportunities.

So that pattern is what I applied when I actually went and joined Ninja Software, the company I was with, and they were very cutting edge. The two founders, Alex and John, are incredibly and exceptionally talented. So to me it's like that's ticked the box for me about being relevant. And then because they are very entrepreneurial, even though we provide software consultancy to different company, government agency around Western Australia and also across the eastern states, what we are always about is 20% of what we do, we actually invest in creating our own project, incubate our own project.

So the metaverse that we created was one of that incubation that occurred back in 2021, mid-2021, and then we realised that it could just be really big because John, our CTO, is very much what you call the OG in blockchain technology since 2011-2012. So he understood how far it could go.

So we just pivoted as a company and that how I got myself into the metaverse.

Michele Ong

That's fascinating. Yeah, and it's so true as well because you are looking at where we are now in this burgeoning tech space and you know, I think we're still at that super early stage where people are just exploring. I don't think it's quite at the stage yet where we can get stability in any of these industries.

But everyone's just pushing out feelers, giving things a go, and just seeing what potential there could be. And that's been what's happened at every stage of technological development. Like when we had Web 1.0, that was the exact same vibe that a lot of people had. It's like, What is this thing? You know? It's like DARPA was using it and universities are using it, what good is it to the rest of us? And it's just picking it apart and just saying, What can we do with this? And having that courage to take the risk of exploring is something that a lot of people are finding right now and fearing at the same time.

And with yourself and your own journey coming from print Yellow Pages and going through all these different industries, it's what's fascinated me about your own journey, listening to your conversation with Whiteark and The Chiefs, it's reinventing yourself a little bit each time because you're having to explore these new spaces and you're having to position yourself, using your skillset, into these new environments and these new domains.

And I find that extremely admirable. And courageous.

Before: the dangers of moving too slowly; Now: the risk of moving too quickly.

Lan Tran

Thank you. Yeah, no, thank, thank you so much for that. I'm glad you actually listened to my interview with James Ciufettelli on Whiteark because that just give you a bit of a background on, you know, how well I did in Yellow Pages and how I was seen by the rest of my peers and also the management team, and definitely at the time when Yellow Pages was doing exceptionally well we were just swimming in our success and you can't really see that world round the corner of what it means.

And what people are going through now with the idea of web3 is a level of healthy skepticism, I would say, because, you know, what you don't know you can actually be skeptical and that's fine. But the thing is that those who actually are figuring it out, trying to understand it, and there is a risk to them because they literally have to move from that comfort area they are creating for themselves and it could go either way as it has been with Ninja. And you know, for us, we took that risk. We went all in. And it could have gone either way.

Yes, our company went down with this whole crypto winter period and the black swan event, but it's at the same time, it's a great rebalancing. It's like a pendulum swing that swing too extreme. There was too much hype around what web3 could be and how much money to be made, and it was too extreme. So the pendulum just kind of swung back the other way, but at some point it's gonna be balancing out and so we still have learning from it and it's something that we could still work on.

And when I say we, it means that even though our company is gone, the people in it, myself, my CEO, my CTO, and my team, we have actually built a learning so that we could actually go to market from the lesson that we absorb for ourselves.

Michele Ong

Yeah, absolutely. It's a trial by fire situation, but it's definitely one that you've had that experience and you've seen how it can grow, but you've also seen how it can take you down.

Reinvention leads to progress.

Lan Tran

Yes. And, and like what you said, Michele, it's a really good, good observation. I would actually say reinvention is something that I acquired and I have learned and have mastered, because ultimately to move forward, you have to drop quite a bit of your old thinking or my old thinking and reinvent myself and be in a very uncomfortable zone to actually embrace what is possible.

But you have to drop off some of those old ideas because your brain is like this room and it's, if it's filled up, it has to be emptied a little so that you can actually let in the new ideas.

Michele Ong

Yeah, exactly. And I was thinking that all of your skills because at sales and marketing, this is all extremely transferable. And when you have had to transition to a new domain and a new space, you said yourself that after the experience with Yellow Pages, you knew that you had to just take the leap, that you couldn't just hang back and be comfortable.

But it's easier said than done for most. So how, how do you break into these new spaces? How have you approached having to go into this entirely new domain and, you know, having to almost start from scratch in those areas?

Reinvention requires humility.

Lan Tran

I'm so glad you asked that question. So I would actually say with absolute humility. And humility because when I was at Yellow Pages, there's a workforce of over 900 sales people, and I was often the top 2% of my organisation. So I was treated like this incredible, very successful salesperson. And it was up there to the point where those in the top 2% will have their photo in every single offices around Australia. So wherever I go, like, oh, that's Lan, the top 2%. So everyone in Yellow Pages seem to know of me.

Imagine that level of accolade, and then reinventing myself and starting all over again in different industry where you are just a salesperson from what used to be a print directory that is no longer. Yeah, yeah, it's completely right. So you just have to accept that and just go, well, that's fine, because then I can always prove it and I can actually always build myself back up.

Reinvention after returning to the workforce after raising a child.

Lan Tran

Now, what is interesting in my career because when you look at my LinkedIn profile, you think, oh, she took a few years off. What's that about? So I actually have a baby. So back in 2008, I decided, okay, it's time and I just gave birth to a son. And basically for me when you actually choose to have children, and this is only my own view, there should be someone guiding that child for the first seven years of their life. You know, the old Jesuit saying "I'll show you the man if you show me the child before the age of seven". But that's an old Jesuit saying, and I truly believe in that, is that if you choose to have a child, which is I'm talking about myself, then I make a choice to be there and guide that child and give it the foundation my child would need to be the best person he could be in his own life.

So I did take time out and with that time out from Yellow Pages, I traveled as well. So lived and traveled overseas, went and lived in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and had different experiences. But then when I came back to Perth again and settled back in Perth, Yellow Pages, I would never go back to not because it was a bad company, but because I saw that it was no longer relevant to what society's wanting or needing. If it's not working, then I have to be more relevant.

So then I started looking at different industry, but because I took time out, as you probably may be speaking to a few mothers on your show, you'll find that women do suffer from being seen as irrelevant because they've taken time out and it doesn't count that you've actually chosen to look after a child and that you are raising a child. You're just seen as someone who dropped out the workforce and therefore you can't go back to the workforce on your level because you are as good at the last year you were working, and if it's been over seven years ago or however many years, you're irrelevant.

And so that what I unfortunately found when I got back to Perth and basically I had no network because, you know, I had been working in Sydney as well.

So then I thought, okay, what industry could I go in? And so I actually worked at a 3D audio-visual company, and it's one of the best audio-visual company that's in Perth. They're a small business, but they truly believe in creating incredible audio-visual solutions for businesses. And I admire that. I admire anyone who put their best foot forward and actually just do the best and give the best they've got to provide a solution, and I absolutely love it. But the thing is I just knew in the back of my mind that it's still not quite my calling.

Meeting Ninja Software.

Lan Tran

And so when I actually come across Alex through a networking event and, you know, Ninja software back in 2019, they were suffering from their own success.

They have so much word of mouth businesses that they keep on getting more work. So they bring on more people. But then of course, you keep on having to get more work in to keep those people employed and paid. It's obviously a massive challenge for them. And so it's almost like, you know, serendipity and synchronicity that we actually come across each other in a networking event and that was his challenge. And I was actually thinking it's time for me to leave 3D Audio Visual. So in my mind I thought, I need to actually just take that leap, and start looking at what I can do next that is more relevant. And then of course, within a week of me resigning from 3D Audio Visual, Alex just reached out, cuz he's met me before, he's seen the way I operated, and he said, look, really want to bring you on board, can't really afford you, but tell us your rate, and then we can work with it.

So, I mean, but that's the kind of I think what it is, Michele, is that you make your own luck, and that if you are providing a service and you are relevant, organisation that didn't know they need you once they actually see a bit of you, they go, that's what we're missing. We don't know we were missing that, but we see that now and it's clear as day that's what we're missing and we don't know if we can afford her, but we'll just put it out there. And that's the courage that Alex, as a CEO of Ninja Software has, is that he recognised there is a gap. And he recognised there's someone, but he just hasn't seen it.

And so when he saw me in that environment, it's exactly that. So that's how we kind of like got together, it's from a place of mutual respect because I saw what Ninja had created and also John, the CTO, it's just that chemistry, you know, how the way people fall in love, it doesn't have to happen with couple, but the way people fall in love with--

Michele Ong

You just build that rapport and that connection.

Lan Tran

Yes, yes. And so that's, that's really how I got into Ninja. And from there it's just this perfect harmony of how we work with each other, knowing each other's strength and respecting that as well.

The attraction of a metaverse project.

Michele Ong

That's amazing. So I wanna rewind a bit because once you actually joined Ninja, you said that Syndicate was one of the things that they were incubating as an idea, where they were trying stuff out. So what attracted you to that vision of that specific incubated project because metaverse is just nebulous and a little bit different to the SaaS kind of business model that they have.

Lan Tran

Yeah, no, that's another very perceptive question. So when I joined Ninja, that was back in 2019, and I could actually see the way that Alex and John think is that they're always looking at what's happening out in society and they're always looking at how they can create our own project.

Just like the Atlassian model, you create your own product and you can scale up massively because they're very entrepreneurial. So it wasn't just the Ninja Syndicate that they worked, at the time when I joined, it wasn't even in the picture. They were incubating a project that was gonna compete with Uber, which is to be a fairer model for drivers to make a living globally.

When there was COVID, they were actually working on a solution called Flubar, which is this device that could actually read temperature, thermal sensing, and also you can use it for security of the building. So, they were creating different solution based on what they could see around the corner as a need.

So that excites me because it literally speaks to what I've learned in my time at Yellow Pages, is don't be comfortable with where you are and the business you've got. Always have an eye and an ear out in the marketplace, and that's what they had.

The frustration with the hype around NFT and wanting a product with real utility.

Lan Tran

Now when Ninja Syndicate for Supremacy, that metaverse game that we created, when they came up with that idea it is from a vision back in April, 2021, where Alex and John was absolutely frustrated with the hype around NFT.

People were paying millions and millions of dollars for ape picture, rock picture, pussy cat, the whole lot. And I said, this is a scam, right? And they said we have to actually reverse that mentality and create an NFT that got real utility. So when people buy it, it has value and function and it can actually move around with utility. So how do you create that? Well, if you create a game, and then that NFT is an asset to be playable in the game, then that's your utility right there.

So that started from that and just, just the way they think is so clever that when they actually start talking to me and exciting me with the vision of where it could be, I was just absolutely profound because that is so new to me. I didn't come from this metaverse space, I didn't understand it, but I could understand the vision and I could understand where it could take us.

The challenges of getting funding in tech in Western Australia.

Lan Tran

So, when we actually, sold our utility tokens, we did a sale, a 24 hour sale, and we sold the tokens to the crypto community. Within 24 hours, we actually sold over 2.5 million USD worth of utility tokens which-- in Perth, it is really hard to actually raise funds, get angel funding, anything at all is very hard. And you might be lucky you get 50,000 after you pitch and pitch and pitch six or seven time in the course of eight month. So you can imagine how hard it is. Unless you are pitching a product that is actually servicing the mining industry, you have no problem getting money. But anything else like metaverse game, anything at all, impossible. But what we were able to prove is that you could sell, if you create a very good product like a metaverse game and you sell the utility token, it's a great way to actually build up from that project.

Pivoting the entire business model of a company.

Lan Tran

So when we actually sold over 2.5 million USD worth of utility tokens, we thought, This is it. No looking back, let's actually pivot into a game studio because this is the product that we're waiting for to make it happen.

And it was the most exhilarating period of our Ninja life because we've been building and working, you know, tirelessly to create this robust referral system where clients, word of mouth clients are coming to us, our existing client are increasing their spend with us. And then we literally pretty much close that particular side and just service our legacy clients. So clients who have been with us for a long time, we don't just like throw them off, but we look after them still, but we start saying no to other referrals and new. It was a very strange experience because for me, as a salesperson, you don't say No to new opportunity. No, no, no, no.

So it's absolutely weird, but our team who are mainly devs, absolutely love it because it's about, you're not being dropped into a different project, you're not doing what they may consider boring because sometimes the SaaS product can be boring. Whereas this game space is so infinitely exciting. And also most of the dev in Ninja are gamers. So for them to actually be paid to create actual features inside a game is exciting. It was, um, In saying that, I just want to let you know, it was very scary for me when we pivoted from a software consultancy, which is about sales and marketing that I know so well, and I build this network, into a game studio that is servicing the global market, my role also pivoted, and I actually have to reach out to other people in the crypto space to try to bring advisors on board, work with gaming guilds, and work with other people in the crypto space that I, at the time, didn't have a lot of knowledge on, apart from John giving me advice, but I just picked up and learned along the way.

Michele Ong

Yeah. Absolutely. That must been very intimidating.

Lan Tran

It was actually. I think it was one of those things that on a level of comfort, I was very, very uncomfortable. But I get the principle of relevance. I get the principle that is web3 world. It's the world that we're moving into. It's scary today, but it's nowhere as scary as if five years from now the people have moved into that world and irrelevance is creeping in again for me.

The opportunity to cultivate a pipeline for new industries locally.

Lan Tran

So for me it is about going ahead with it and also for me, it's also understanding that it is an obligation for me to share that message with school age students, people that is yet to enter the workforce because, my gut instinct tell me that they kind of get it, but that they just can't quite pinpoint where they could fit into the the scheme of things, and my obligation is to say, well, where you could possibly fit in is, think of this: there's a game studio, metaverse game studio, there is employment opportunity in this space because as we move forward to web3, we're gonna need people that is not just software developers, not just artists, but story writers, fashion designers, architects you know? So it's, I get excited by that because I'm sharing a very optimistic but positive message that the world is your oysters, but you have to open your eyes and look at it and say yes or no to what could be for you at the end of the day.

Michele Ong

And it, it's something that's so exciting, especially because realistically we are a very isolated part of the world, and in terms of the business opportunities and the work opportunities that are available here, you know, you do tend to expect that if you're in tech or in big tech or in games, you have to move away.

And the idea of Ninja and other businesses trying to cultivate this space here and giving other people opportunities here without having to move across the world, it's, it's enticing, it's exciting, and it gives people so many more ideas for what they can do with their skillset.

Lan Tran

Oh, you, you've just nailed it. You just nailed it because one of the problem that Perth, Western Australia always face, and it's gotta be ongoing until the metaverse become a reality, I believe, is the brain drain. It's like if you don't have those opportunity for all the brains that and all the amazing skills that are out there, They will have to move and what we've actually created was that here you don't have to move and you can actually work in this space because we are gonna close that gap through the metaverse space.

So in term of saying brain drain, now that our company's disbanded, some of us will need to actually consider moving to the eastern state or moving overseas because the opportunity is not here for the skillset that we have. So it's unfortunate.

Michele Ong

it is really unfortunate and the timing as well is so terrible because just before Christmas as well, Western Australia released that innovation strategy plan for the next 10 years, and it's meant to incorporate technology and development and entrepreneurism and it was like so close. We're so close yet so far.

Lan Tran

Yes. I think that you are right. The timing is a bit of a twist of irony. But I guess it's, you know, it's the curve ball, right? At some point you just go, well, that's the curve ball, and wow, that just hit me right straight in the guts.

Michele Ong

So given your experience in tech in general as well as locally, what sort of observations have you made about innovation and entrepreneurship this area that you could share?

We need to bang the drum for innovators out there to encourage growth in these sectors.

Lan Tran

So what I observed sitting from Ninja, I have the benefit of working with cutting edge technology and with a team that is on a world stage, is incredibly smart and capable. And that's not just my view because we have actually spent a significant part of last year traveling around the world, and just the kind of feedback people have about our game, how well we've launched it, how impeccable it is, and the standard of it. The feedback is actually from our technology peers across the world.

So what I have observed about the innovation in Western Australia is that there are pockets of true innovation and there are unsung heroes. And when I say unsung heroes, There are quite a few people who haven't heard of Ninja until that story in the West Australian about us crashing like a comet that crashed to the earth, and they were just blown away, like, oh my God, you've created this, and this, and this, and we haven't heard of you.

And the problem with innovation in Western Australia, is that it's a massive challenge because I can see government is trying to do something about it by injecting funds here and there. The only problem is, it's still about who you know.

So unless you have someone who is a drummer like me in the organistion that beat the drums, say, listen to us, look at us, look at us, no one hear about it. No one hear about innovation until someone beats the drum.

It's just the same when I was working at 3D Audio Visual, a lot of people didn't realise that 3D Audio Visual was the only Australian business in the world in 2018 that won a massive award for the 3D audio-visual solution they created in UWA. The only Australian business to have won that global award. I just get blown away, you know, like people didn't realise that we have that level of innovator, that passion. So I think it's really important there is someone you know that can beat the drum.

And I actually think, Michele, that what you are doing is actually helping unearth that because who's gonna hear it unless someone like you promote it.

Michele Ong

Yeah. And yeah, thank you for saying that. But it is one of the reasons why I started this because the people I knew who were working in all these fields are doing amazing things and nobody knows about them or what they do and knows that these things exist and that we are working in these areas of technology and science.

And I went, that's a real shame because only their colleagues are aware of it. And it's the kind of thing where these are the kinds of developments that we're having that are eventually gonna impact society on a greater scale, and people just aren't hearing about it. And if they don't hear about it, how can you make it happen and make it happen faster?

And yeah, that was just one of the things that made me think, well, yeah, something needs to happen about this.

Lan Tran

Actually, I'm in admiration that you've taken the time out, analyse what's going on, interview them, because I actually feel that that's how voices are heard in the end because, sometime there is a lot of echo and how do you actually really go down that funnel and extricate that real innovation and crystallise it and actually raise it up to a standard.

And I, I think it's really important that you continue what you do, and there are some programs that are doing it, but you can never underestimate the value what you're creating.

Michele Ong

Yeah, absolutely. And it makes me think back to another thing that you mentioned on The Chiefs where you're saying that you really do have to sit on top of the food chain for others to listen. Otherwise it's like yelling into the void and, yeah, it's, it's so relevant because, you know, in terms of representation, to access and accessibility to making STEMM more available to everybody, not just to the people who are studying it or working in it. It's one of those things where we do need to raise all those voices in order to make sure that, we can actually get heard. But it's getting to the top of the food chain that's the hard part.

Lan Tran

I'm glad you pick up on that message that I put out there because, people might see me as positive and idealistic, but at the same time, it is actually rooted in reality. You know, you can sing a song, you can actually do so many things, but they don't take you seriously until you actually get on top of the food chain and then suddenly you just say one sentence and someone actually act on it.

And I think that's really important. So, can't emphasise that enough.

Don't let 'tall poppy syndrome' stop you.

Michele Ong

And I'm just wondering cuz a few of the other guests, especially the ones who've come from overseas to find work in Australia they mentioned often 'tall poppy syndrome'. I had no idea that was a thing until I moved here. And why does it exist? And, you know, I have to wonder if because some of these things that are happening, we don't hear about them, is it because they're afraid of tall poppy? Is it something that is concerning them that stops people from wanting to kind of say, oh look, I'm here. I'm doing this thing. It's really amazing, because they're, you know, tall poppy.

Lan Tran

It, it's actually an interesting imagery of the tall poppy syndrome. There's one thing that I, I strongly believe in is that, you make your own opportunities and that you will be swiped sideways potentially for creating such sensation because you, you're just out there and you keep on creating, but at the same time, you need to still keep on moving.

Because when I was working back in my Yellow Pages day I definitely worked very hard for my success, but the way I did it, people thought I actually achieved it quite easily. They didn't know the amount, of hours I worked, you know what I mean? It's like everything, you know, work life balance? What's that? And they just thought, wow, she just seemed to keep on going on these trip and keep on doing so well, what is that? But I, I realised that I may not make enough time to be and hang out with people, and people go, Oh, is she a bit snobbish. They create a little bit of story about you. And all I can say is that, it is what it is. If you have a skill and you have a talent, so what if you are a tall poppy, you know? And yes, you get cut down at the knee some point because that to some degree does happen. And even when you'd look at our company and what happened going into administration before Christmas. I woke up one morning, and I realised that we were like, um, I forgot the story of the guy that was imprisoned in a cave with his father and then they actually make these wings to fly--

Michele Ong

Ah, Icarus.

Lan Tran

Icarus. Yes, Icarus, thank you. It's Icarus. And I feel that we're almost like that, is that we built these wings to fly into the metaverse and we did potentially flown a bit too high. But how would you know how high you've flown unless you just push it. So we did push it, you know, and it's like, okay, lesson learned and that's it. So tall poppy, the same thing. Just grow as high as you can. might try to chop at the knee and sometime you might just get past all that.

Michele Ong

Exactly. So in my head, like, going to administration, it's such an absolute shame because you've built up this intellectual property, you've built up this framework and infrastructure. Is it something that you can rebuild?

Lan Tran

I, ultimately, I believe the capability of the person is always within them. And that, whatever you create, whatever you put out there, you can rebuild. However, it's whether you have the ability to actually get back up again and give it another go.

So for us, definitely we're all capable as a team. We were incredible and yes, we can do it. But you do need a bit of time just to get back to the level where, we would be able to consider the option because end of the day, we put everything in there, our heart, our soul, and basically we just got really badly wiped.

So yes, it's possible, but it's just a matter of time.

Michele Ong

Time, reflection, regroup.

Lan Tran


Michele Ong

Make it more sustainable next time.

Lan Tran

And all, and also timing as well. Because web3 is still, is still shaky, and there's still a few cowboys. So, you know, there's good and there's bad. So then next time the pendulum would've been a bit more centered, and yes, that may be in a better place to be.

Michele Ong

Yeah. Just have to wait for things to shake out a little bit more.

Lan Tran

Yeah, that's right.

The greatest loss is that of the potential to build a local communiy of talent and a pipeline for this industry.

Lan Tran

I would like to also say something that you've mentioned that is such a shame that, what we built, what we created, the infrastructure, the team and it just, you know, disbanded. That part yes, is absolutely painful, but I think the greatest shame is actually the industry that could have been because we have the metaverse industry that no one else has really tried to do from Western Australia. Built all this talent that we've got in and have outreach program to university and schools where we're actually bringing in kids who are passionate about What's in it for me? For the metaverse? What can I do?

So we have that whole network of kids and interns that we were bringing into Ninja. And that opportunity, it could have spawned into different little metaverses because they would've come in, they would've picked up something and they would've gone out to the workforce elsewhere and run it, and share it with other people. So that to me, was a massive shame because, that could have been a game changer in term of Western Australia being a powerhouse and the place that is actually saying, we've created a metaverse and look at what Perth is doing. So that part is the part I really want to reiterate.

Michele Ong

Yeah, it, yeah, that is absolutely one of the biggest losses, like the potential is that loss.

And we're, we're doing so well in space and in engineering and all the mining and resources, but all of these skills are also transferable into all these other different areas that we can definitely cultivate.

We'll get there.

Lan Tran

That's right. That's right.

Michele Ong

Yeah, absolutely. All right, so we could probably start to wind up into some of those other questions that I always love to ask of my guests.

Bonus Question: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?

Michele Ong

So which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?

Lan Tran

Yes. That's a good one. Tintin. You know, the Tintin comics, Asterix and Obelix. So when you say which, I would have to say both. What I love about Tintin, so now that belies, you know, it's actually talk about which generation I belong to, Tintin. But it talks about this Tintin, traveling to different part of the world and there's stereotypes of what happened in Egypt, what Egypt's about, in China, what China's about. And that I think is interesting because it picks up a perception of how different part of the world is seen from a Westerner, a French perspective. So that is a really good book that I love. The one that I love about Asterix and Obelix is again about a very olden time where, you know, these Gauls are living their best life with one common fear they have, is the sky falling on top of them.

And it's funny right, but I'm thinking, you can laugh at that joke, but you look at some people around you and they do have that one fear that to you is kind of funny, but to them it's, it's irrational. Thank you. irrational. Because it's like unlikely to happen, but it's a real fear. And I think it's actually a great analogy for the fear we have of our safety net that we're in career-wise.

It's like you don't want to leave it because you know it's equivalent to a sky falling on top of you, but it's irrational because it hasn't happened to Asterix and Obelix, so how can it happen to us. So, those are, yeah, my two absolute favorite series.

Michele Ong

And that really must have spoken to you in anthropologist.

Lan Tran

I didn't put that connection, but you're right, it started my journey.

Michele Ong


Bonus Question: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?

Michele Ong

And lastly, what advice would you give to someone who wants to, well, because you've done a lot of things, what advice would give someone who wants to kind of go the direction you have, or get into the work that you're in, and what advice should they ignore?

Lan Tran

The one biggest advice that I would give anyone who's looking at the metaverse or technology is keep an open mind. There is no be all and end all moment especially with technology. It's forever evolving.

I actually seen that in Western Australia with some technology businesses as well. They think they've actually hit the hype technology and they stop and that's dangerous. So that would be the advice I give them.

And also it's really important, whatever you do career-wise and in life is to seek a mentor. Because a mentor will help keep your eyes open to ideas and opportunity, and also in turn, be a mentor to someone.

I don't even think it should be a choice. I think it should be an obligation that there's so much wealth of knowledge that each of us hold in ourself from what we do, that it is an obligation to share it with someone else. You can save someone a lot of time because you give them the advice. They may say yes or no to your advice, but at least they've been given the option to reflect on it. So that would be my advice. The one I say ignore, I think it's really hard because every person has a different way that make them tick.

So it's really hard to say which advice to ignore, sorry, I can't give you an answer today.

Michele Ong

That's okay. That's not a problem. It's such a personal sort of thing and yeah, as you said, people don't have to receive it or use it, but making sure that they have information and they can kind of use that to inform their own choices.

Lan Tran

Yes, definitely.

Michele Ong

So, well thank you so much Lan, for speaking with me today. It has been such an amazing conversation, learning about your journey and your path in finding and reinventing yourself so, it, it's just been absolutely wonderful.

Lan Tran

Look, thank you so much, Michele. I feel very privileged that we are still here today to talk about that journey because definitely it's an interesting STEAM journey of the metaverse. And now what happen next? So I would just say watch this space because I'm talking to quite a few exciting organisation and, who knows, I might come back and start spreading the love.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. That would be wonderful.

Lan Tran


Michele Ong

So if people would love to know more about you and what you do, where can they go?

Lan Tran

Oh, they can just look out for me on LinkedIn. So I'm most active on LinkedIn with my messages. Also, I'm starting Twitter, but obviously, uh, LinkedIn is where I'm a bit more active with what I've learned and my messaging and um, just reach out to me. I'm a pretty friendly person and I will respond to some capacity.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. Yeah. So thank you so much, Lan. This has been absolutely wonderful and yeah, I hope you have an amazing rest of your day.

Lan Tran

Thank you so much Michele, and you have a lovely day.

Michele Ong

If you enjoyed this conversation, please let me know. Subscribe to this show, leave us a rating, and share this with your geeky or geek-curious friends. You can also support STEAM Powered on Patreon under steampoweredshow, the link for which also be the show notes. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you next time.

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