Welcome to Episode 3!
Dr Julian Tan is the current Head of Digital Business Initiatives & Esports at Formula 1, London, where he leads F1’s digital strategy & transformation, global esports business & global ticketing business. And also someone I got to meet while studying in the UK.
I’ll let you into a little secret since you’re reading this post – perhaps somewhat selfishly, I’ve loved how this podcast gives me the “excuse” to reconnect with old friends and Julian is definitely one of them. You’ll find out soon enough because my goodness, there is just soo much to unpack from our conversation! We recorded this way back in May 2020 & I’m still blown away by everything I’ve learned and I’m sure you will too. 🙂
So buckle up & get ready for this ride!
Who is Julian Tan?
Julian spent some of his earliest years in Hong Kong but moved back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for Primary School in Sri Subang, and were some of his happiest years. But unfortunately, all that changed when he moved to secondary school (around the age of 13) because:
Weight, a natural inclination towards rule-keeping & always doing academically well meant that Julian stood out. And not, at least to his peers, in a good way. But you know what I was blown away? It was the way in which Julian handled that challenge:
Wow. I do not know if I would have had the wisdom to do that in his shoes!
The Oxbridge Experience
Julian ended up going to Oxford University to do a Bachelors & Masters in Engineering Science. And in the process, graduating in the top 3rd percentile with First class Honours, being the top engineering student & scholar of Jesus College & the recipient of numerous department and collection prizes.
But soon after graduating, he wrote a viral Huffington Post entitled: A First Class Degree from Oxbridge – So What?. And we explore that article in the podcast and why looking back, he would have wanted to have handled his time in Oxford differently. Which is not to say he “regretted” doing what he did!
Cambridge University was his second chance to get the university experience he wanted, which is where he went to next for his PhD in composites engineering. And we talk about his experiences there as a PhD student and also the age-ago debate of Oxford v Cambridge: are they really all that different?
But all good things must come to an end & as with any “adulting” process, there comes the need to find a job.
Boston Consulting Group, London
Let’s be real. Julian has an academic CV that anyone would kill for. But reality is a bitter pill and as Julian puts it in his May 2012 Huffington Post article, “people rely too much on education being the silver bullet to every conceivable problem.” Even with the grades he had, the rejections kept coming. And we talk about that: the emphasis on education & false myth that the world is your oyster when you have the grades.
Julian eventually ended up at Boston Consulting Group and it was there that he first became exposed to Formula One.
Head of Digital Business Initiatives & Esports, Formula One
Julian, alongside Frank Arthofer, helped to establish the digital & esports division in Formula One. Most prominently to date, Julian’s team was responsible for the Virtual Grand Prix that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic when no other races were being held!
At the end of the Virtual Grand Prix run, F1 Esports achieved a stunning 30 million in views, and up to 85 million when social media is thrown in the mix!
In this STIMY podcast episode, we unravel the genesis of those results. Touching on topics such as:
- The process used to establish the corporate structure for a digital and esports department (F1 had never had a marketing campaign before)!
- What the esports field was like back in 2017;
- How the different F1 offerings were conceptualised e.g. the Pro series v the Virtual Grand Prix races;
- Esport opportunities for gamers like Brendan Leigh (who is now signed on to Mercedes, a F1 team!), even though Brendan didn’t even have a driver’s licence!
- What it was like putting the Virtual Grand Prix races together; and
- How F1 intends to stay ahead of its competitors.
And if you haven’t already done so, go check out one of the F1 races! I did and kudos to Julian and his team, because I was hooked. This, from a girl who has never watched a race in her life. Because the races really were that thrilling! I even have a favourite F1 driver that I now follow – who would’ve thought?
Other Topics Discussed
- The question of identity: Who am I? If I have also been “special” because of my academic achievements, who am I when I enter an environment (like Oxford or Cambridge) where everyone is exactly the same as me with the same background and I find out that actually, I’m not that “special”?
- Does pursuing a PhD differs from that of an undergraduate degree?
- Is consulting at one of the prestigious MBB firms really a “dream” job?
- What qualities should someone have to succeed as Julian has?
Didn’t I say we’d cover lots of ground? 😉
Let us know in the comments below what your main takeaways were!
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories on STIMY, check out:
- Austen Allred: Co-Founder & CEO of Lambda School – a coding school that lets you attend for FREE using the Income Sharing Agreement (ISA) scheme, where you have to pay back only after earning above $50k/year. Graduates of this Y Combinator backed startup have gone on to work in Fortune 500 companies like Facebook, Google & IBM
- Kendrick Nguyen: Co-Founder of Republic – one of the top 3 equity crowdfunding platforms in the US
- Rahul Chaudhary: Managing Director of Chaudhary Group – a 140-year-old family business empire that is currently headed by his father, Binod Chaudhary (Nepal’s 1st & only Forbes billionaire)
- David Grief: Senior Clerk of Essex Court Chambers – has nurtured the careers of many judges sitting at the UK Supreme Court, ICC & ECHR in Strasbourg (including the former Chief Justice of England & Wales)
- Guy Kawasaki: Chief Evangelist of Canva & Apple
- Malek Ali – Malaysian serial entrepreneur most known for founding Malaysia’s top business radio channel, BFM 89.9 & Fi Life
- Sarah Chen – Co-Founder of Beyond the Billion: a global consortium of over 80 VCs that have collectively pledged over $1 billion in funding in female-founded companies
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Episode 3: Dr Julian Tan
Julian Tan: And it was, I would say an age of 13, 14. I remember writing it down on a note like, don't care what other people think, just keep doing what's important to you.
And also surround yourself with people who can support you because at that age, I felt like the more time that you spend with people, you either morph into them or they'll morph into you.
So make sure you pick your company very wisely.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone.
Welcome to episode three of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and I'm so pleased to be introducing our next guest, Dr. Julian Tan.
Now before we begin, I want you to imagine when you were 12 and you're top of your class, you've always been. Winning awards, representing your schools in competitions.
Now imagine being called up during school assembly to receive your award and being booed.
Imagine being singled out for the crime of being... different. Of caring enough about your own studies to actually do well, because that's what happened to Julian.
He was bullied for being an intellect in school. And what I found remarkable was what he decided to do in response.
Julian ended up going to Oxford. Graduating with first class honors in the top third percentile of his year before pursuing his PhD at Cambridge, launching a career with BCG and thereafter, leaving to establish the digital and e-sports division of Formula One.
We will be unpacking all that, including what it was like planning out all of the various e-sports offerings at Formula One in this episode.
Even if esports isn't your thing, I believe that there is so much we can learn from Julian. Things that might even run contrary to what, possibly most of us have grown up believing. That all you have to do is study, study, study, and the world will be oyster. But is that really true? Stay tuned to find out.
Hi Julian, thank you so much for spending this time with me today.
Julian Tan: Hey Ling Yah, thanks for having me.
Ling Yah: You're welcome.
So today I really wanted to just delve into who you are as a person, because you are a Malaysian who has succeeded and just had such a sterling background going to Oxford than Cambridge then BCG before you went to F1 and you are now heading their esports department, which is doing amazingly well and hitting the headlines in this COVID-19 era.
So I thought before we go into all those amazing achievements, we could go all the way back to when you were growing up in Subang Jaya. Could you share with us what it was like growing up and who you were as a person then?
Julian Tan: Sure. I mean, first of all, thank you for the incredibly generous words.
When I was growing up in Subang, it was an interesting experience because I actually had just come back from Hong Kong. I spent, between the age of two and six in Hong Kong, when I came back, I was trying to adapt as well to the new life and, having to learn Malay and stuff like that.
I had an interesting story, I actually interviewed to go into Sri KL, which is one of the most prestigious kind of private school.
I sat for the admission exams, and they were all conducted in Malay. So at that point, I didn't know how to speak any Malay and obviously failed miserably and didn't get to go in. So ended up going into another school instead.
I think it was a normal childhood, I would say in so far as, you know, you have someone coming in and trying to adapt it to this new life.
And I had a lot of fun as a kid. In fact, my primary school days were some of my happiest funnest days. I was a rotund kid at the time, loved my food and made a lot of great friends in school. Terrific people who, you know, some, I keep in touch till this day. I thought what was really interesting though, was the transition from primary school to secondary school was quite a big difference. ,
Standard Six and Form 1 for me when I'd moved from Sri Subang to SMK Subang Jaya.
Ling Yah: And that's when you were 12 and 13 years old.
Julian Tan: Yes, exactly. Um, was a bit of a shock because in Standard Six, , I got along with everybody, everybody was my friend, and then suddenly you come into high school and then you immediately get picked on because at the time I was a little bit overweight.
At that point, I had made a decision that I wanted to kind of prioritize my studies as well. I wanted to just spend a bit more time, learning what I was learning, enjoying what I was learning.
And it was an interesting experience because I would say Form one of my high school was quite a tough year in so far as there are a lot of people who felt it was fun to pick on me, this fat kid who liked to study and I became a prefect as well at the time.
So by nature, I'm the kind of person who tends to follow the rules. The rules are there for a reason. So try and enforce those rules, obviously that didn't make me super popular as well in school. So.
It was an interesting combination because in the early years of my high school, I spent doing very well academically, I would say, representing my school at quizzes and competitions and getting these accolades.
And, I'll always remember that between Form one and Form two, when I had done well at these competitions, we usually have an assembly where they give out the trophy in front of whole school that, Julian at one X, Y, and Z, and we're going to give him the trophy in front of everybody.
And I always remembered that every time I went up, I would be met with whistles and boos and, and, um, it always. It is, you know, I have to say it didn't affect me. I'll be lying. It did affect me because I was at that point just wanting to do the best that I could, because I felt like I was enjoying my studies.
You know, I was just doing my job as a prefect and for enforcing the rules. And, uh, that didn't make me the most popular person. Cause I was also a little bit overweight and, and kids tend to be a little bit mean as well. So it was quite formative in the sense that I decided at that point that you know what, I'm not going to care what other people think.
And it was, I would say an age of 13, 14. I remember writing it down on a note, like don't care what other people think, just keep doing what's important to you and also surround yourself with people who can support you because at that age, I felt like the more time that you spend with people, you either morph into them or they'll morph into you.
So make sure you pick your company very wisely. And, , I started to lose weight thankfully in my I'm sort of 14 years old. And, things changed actually when I started to lose weight and, I would say towards the end of my high school experience, things got a lot better, but you know, I think a lot of kids as well in high school get bullied and, I wasn't any one special, I suppose.
Ling Yah: And I was just wondering, did the teachers not intervene and try and do something? I mean, you've mentioned before, when you went up on the stage to get the award you could see in the headmistress eyes, she knew what was coming. Could she not have done something to protect the kids?
Julian Tan: Well, I'm just thinking about what could she have done?
I mean, First of all, she herself wasn't the most popular in school. She was a headmistress in school. She got a lot of ridicule. Her name was Puan Kwan and I'm a huge fan of her till this day. She just did what was right. And kids being kids, you know, they can be very, um, you know just being kids at the end of the day.
But at the same time, it's still hurtful. She got a lot of stick. Not much you can do. I mean, you have an entire assembly of hundreds of kids and you've got a corner of the assembly booing and whistling, there's really not much you can do, I suppose, in that situation.
So you just kind of accepted at the same way I did, I suppose. I mean, at the end of the day, they're just booing and whistling. It's not like they're physically injuring or harming anybody.
Ling Yah: Were you never attempted to try and blend in and maybe be mediocre rather than outstanding in what you were doing?
Julian Tan: You know, it's an interesting question because sometimes I ask myself that question and I don't know.
The answer is no, I never really wanted to blend in
I've always wanted to just be me and just do me and, sometimes that ruffles feathers, but I've in many ways kind of accepted who I am.
And I think a lot of it is upbringing, cause my parents are terrific role models and they have been very accepting of me and oftentimes growing up, I think I've seen a lot of my friends, for example, where they have their parents, you know, placing expectations on themselves and saying that you need to be doing this, this, this you should be studying.
My parents never did that. My parents always gave me the autonomy to decide what I wanted to do. And oftentimes I made I guess, the traditional, the right decisions and, study or, you know, do all of these things.
So it kind of worked out that way, but they always gave me the autonomy to just be me and for example, in an exam, if I don't do terribly well, they wouldn't make any comments about whether I had spent enough time studying or anything like that. They said, or you've just done your best. You've done your best and that's good enough. And so that was always, I think, a big influence in the way I've actually lived my life .
If I've done my best, it's my best. And in that turn kind of accepted, myself that this is me. So I've never really been tempted to blend in.
If I'm like dimming my light like that, for me, it just felt so wrong on so many levels. So I've never been tempted actually, which is an interesting thought, because I know that many, many kids do feel the pressure of conforming because they don't want to get picked on, but I've accepted I think, particularly because of that experience, when I was 13, to just accept that, if you're going to do what you want to do, you're going to ruffle some feathers and some people will not like it. But at the end of the day, you do, what's important to you, I suppose.
Ling Yah: I'm really fascinated about what you say about how you decided that you wanted to just do what you love to do.
And did you talk to anyone about this, or was this just an internal decision that you made when you were 13?
And did you know, what it was that you loved or was it just, I just love studying and getting better at it.
Julian Tan: Um, I knew that I loved studying. I loved learning. And this was something from a very young age.
And I used to watch Bill Nye the science guy religiously every single day on the Disney channel without fail. And I was a huge, huge fan of science and maths because it felt like magic to me. It just felt like if you learn science, you could make all these cool things work. And it was quite magical in that sense.
So I always knew that I liked learning.
In terms of guidance from people, I mean, a lot of people have that influence in my life. I think whether it is my family or whether it's my friends, the people I spend time with, all of those experiences will shape my own preference and my own kind of behavior. But the ultimate decision to do something I've always felt was mine.
And because of that independence or that autonomy, you know, that the ability to say this is mine, I felt very much in charge of my own actions and my own decisions. And if I made the wrong decision, I know it's mine and it's completely okay. Cause I made that decision so I think in many ways it was very much an internal decision from my end to say, I don't want to care what other people think, I'm just going to do what I want to do, but of course supported by the environment that I'm in, right.
Cause I'm fortunate enough to be in an environment where I don't have people telling me what you did was wrong or you shouldn't have done that. so it helped reinforce that kind of cycle in my head, I suppose.
Ling Yah: Did you begin to develop an idea of what you wanted to do when you grew up at the time?
Julian Tan: No, in fact to this day, I'm not sure I know what I want to do.
I've always lived my life in the present I suppose, kind of riding the wave. When I was in school, I enjoyed, you know, what I enjoyed. I didn't think I would have gotten into Oxford to do engineering. I didn't think I would be doing a PhD after.
Certainly didn't think I'd be working in management consulting and never in a million years would I think I'd be working in Formula One in eSports. So I've always been the kind of person who takes things. As they go. And then if there isn't a great opportunity, don't shut myself out to the opportunity to go and experience it.
And if it works out, it works out. If it doesn't, it doesn't and it's okay. Either way. And yeah, you know, I think my whole life has always been like that. It's kind of like, okay, I am here now. What is in front of me? I don't think too far, too many steps ahead. Of course I try and prepare in the immediate future .
And in some ways, actually this is one of the things that I think about sometimes like, should I not have a North star because many people have a North star to say, okay, I want to be X, Y, and Z when I grow up. And for me personally, I've never really had that. I think the closest I've ever had was when I was a kid and I said, I wanted to get into a good university that was kind of my North star.
But beyond that, it's always been what opportunities come up and making the most of it. And I guess having fun. Cause that's the most important thing for me. I only do things and this is a personal way I live my life.
I only do things I enjoy, I don't try it. I know what I like. I know what I don't like. And if I don't like it, I don't spend too much time doing it unless there is a part of me that feels that it's an important part of my being, like working out, for example, I don't really like working out, but I know I have to do it because it's good for me.
But beyond that, I always tend to do things I like. So if it's working out, how can I make it fun? So I play tennis. I love tennis. So, you know, it's, for me, always finding that way to, I guess, a path of least resistance, making sure I enjoy the process. And I always make sure I enjoy the journey more than the destination, because that's where I spend 99% of my time at right.
It's that journey. And once you have achieved something, that's great. You get a high, but that's not life. Life is the journey, not the destination, if that makes sense.
Ling Yah: And so you knew you wanted to get to a great university, but was the journey getting to the university actually fun for you? Normally it's quite stressful.
And how did you manage that whole process, especially when you were in a school where kids who were not caring about the education, they were getting pregnant at 16. So it wasn't the most conducive environment as well.
Julian Tan: Very interesting. So, I mean, my school is a very interesting one because on paper it was supposed to be one of the, like the top government schools, But from my experience, when you hear your stories like, your schoolmate has gotten pregnant at 16 and the bullying and the school was terrible, but it was really, really terrible it, made you wonder.
But anyways, I mean, there was that environment, but I was in my own bubble in a way. I maintained my bubble and whether it was difficult. I mean, I enjoyed learning at the end of the day. I placed no expectations on getting to a good university. So that's the other thing.
I always give it my all, but I try and not have expectations of whether I should get it though, or feel entitled to get something, I think that I put in the hours, if I get it fantastic. If I don't get it, it's okay because I've already done my best.
So in many ways, this story of my life, let's just say, a lot of it has been in hindsight and saying, Oh, it's good because you know, at the time I wasn't necessarily aiming for something.
I wasn't saying okay. I have to get into Oxford. Quite honestly, if I didn't get into Oxford, I will be completely okay with it as well. If I didn't get to a top university, I'd be completely okay. Because I know that I have a second chance. Like if I didn't get in the first time round, potentially get in the second time round.
And it's also at the end of the day it's only one part of your life as well. Right? So, the process, I wouldn't say it was hard. Of course it's hard work, but it's not hard in the sense that I was enjoying the hard work I was, you know, enjoying the process of applying and the thrill of going for the interview, for example, in KL and just having fun during the interview and just saying like, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. And thankfully it worked out.
And I remember when the email came in, actually it was Thursday night. My mom was behind cooking dinner and I got an email from Oxford, opened it up, and couldn't believe that I got in it.
I literally could not believe that I was probably one of the happiest points in my life, because at that point, you know, that was my dream as a kid. That was my goal, but I set no expectations on getting it. I think if it happened. I wouldn't believe it if it happened and it happened.
So, you know, it provided one of the happiest moments of my life. So for me, I think it's important to always say, give your all and expect nothing. And you can always live a happy life, I suppose, living like that.
Ling Yah: And what was it like, do you remember just entering Oxford and just being there? Those first few days and weeks.
Julian Tan: Magical.
Magical because I'd done a bit of traveling before, I've been fortunate enough that my family has brought us on holidays and stuff like that, but that was the first time I'd lived alone first and foremost.
And secondly, we were living in college. So my first year we were living in Jesus College and it's a 15th century institution.
So, very, very historic. Beautiful architecture, medieval architecture, completely new experience. It was exhilarating, very scary. Cause obviously it was the first time you're living abroad. And you know, I think as most kids are growing up, you're always afraid when your parents say I'll send you to boarding school.
And I was one of those kids, I didn't want to be sent to boarding school, but this was like being sent to boarding school because I was on my own, you know? There were a lot of emotions because I think with anybody who was entering university for the first time and living on their own, it's something that we all can kind of relate to.
You're kind of out there, you're experiencing a new experience. You're living on your own as a new country and new culture. you have certain expectations as well, how you want to live out your university life.
So all of that played out and it was fascinating because I also went from being top in my school in A levels and my whole life actually, to an environment where everyone was the same.
Everyone had the same story. Everyone was at the top of the school. So we were all like, no one was special . Everyone was incredibly brilliant. And so trying to find your niche, you know, I think most people as well, when you're in this environment, you kind of lose your identity a little bit because it's some part of the identity that is also bound to how good you are in school.
Like for me, that was, I was a smart kid. And then when you lose that, you kind of lose a sense of the identity as well. So the first year was tough because of that.
Having to discover that you are not your labels. And just again, reverting back to what got you there in the first place, which is just doing what is important to you. What do you enjoy?
And I think going back to those first principles were quite enlightening, I suppose, because you kind of lose it along the way right when you're so focused on, okay. Get A's, get into Oxford. You kind of lose how you got there, which is you actually really enjoy the topics and you actually enjoyed the learning.
So it was nice to go back to that. It was an interesting one, cause I think a lot of people I've spoken to as well, a lot of foreign students came to Oxford or my college, a lot of them echoed the same thing. They felt like they lost a part of their identity and it can be quite a big thing in someone's life, right?
When you've lived your life a certain way. And you've having to repivot that in some ways it was an interesting one.
I would say the first six months in particular were very tough, but somehow I found that I'm actually not too bad, I can hold my own. I found that, if I put in the hours and if I go back to actually enjoying the work, that it reflects in the results.
And so I started doing a lot better and, academically at Oxford, I was very strong and I enjoyed my work. So yeah, it worked out well, I suppose.
Ling Yah: Could you give us an idea of the hours that you mentioned, because it's not easy. You have far shorter terms than normal UK universities, you pack it in. You've got intense two to one supervisions, people constantly studying, everyone is brilliant. What were your hours actually like?
Julian Tan: So I'd say that the structured learning hours that are mandated by the school is actually not that much. I mean, you have like a couple of hours of lectures and then you've got the supervisions tutorials.
In between, you'll need to kind of work towards the tutorials. But a lot of it was my own personal choice, where I spent a lot of time studying. Too much time studying.
to give you an idea-
Ling Yah: It's rare to hear people say that I spent too much time studying. It's always the regret - I didn't spend enough time.
Julian Tan: I was on the other end of the spectrum for sure.
I spent ooh, a lot of hours. I'd wake up at eight, go for lectures, come back, have a bit of lunch and then I'd study the whole afternoon, have dinner. I'd say on average, I would be doing easily 12 to 15 hours of learning a day. And on weekends at least six to 10 hours a day. And it started off as I liked this subject and Oh, Holy crap, there's more to learn here. Oh, they didn't cover that. What is this?
And there was a bit of that, but then there was also an element of, I need to be studying in order for me to get the results, because I find that the more I kind of poke these questions, the better I do in exams.
And then, you know, the identity crisis kind of thing helped me to, almost fall back on, you know, actually I can do this. This is who I am. I'm kind of like a capable, intelligent person. So there was a little bit of that playing in my mind.
So I spend a lot of time doing that. And because I had spent a lot of time doing that, I missed out on a lot of other parts of university that I felt was again, in hindsight, really, really important because university is not just about learning.
And the real world doesn't work like a classroom. So a lot of it was in hindsight because at the time, my head was in the books. I was just, you know, had one thing that I wanted to do.
And that was the study study study. And I didn't make use of the other opportunities .
I was part of a couple of clubs, but that was a box ticking exercise completely. It wasn't because I was truly exploring my passions. It wasn't. It was okay. I had these grades and I need to do these number of clubs.
Let's just do it. I need to get this position. So there was that.
And then the social aspect of it for me suffered a lot because I was spending so much time studying that everyone else was going out and having fun and going on picnics and clubbing and stuff like that. And there are elements of that for me, that I just personally don't enjoy like clubbing.
I just, it's not my thing, but you know, other social activities I missed out on, which I felt was a big shame because , and I always say this, if I were to do it again, which I thankfully had a second chance to do it in my PhD, which is kind of half the reason why I wanted to do my PhD as well to have that second chance.
But I would do it differently because no one tells you going into university that actually the experience of going to university is as much about what you learned from books, but also as much about what you learn about yourself. And you can really learn about yourself when you are not out there exploring different things.
So I got great grades at Oxford and did really, really well academically, but I missed out entirely on this other side of things, which I felt like well, it wasn't a balanced way to develop your personality or your professional personal life.
But also, it just felt like a huge chain because you travel halfway across the globe only to spend it in your bedroom. Like what are you doing?
So I felt a bit of regret and I don't like using the word regret because it was a decision. It was the right one at the time. But I did feel like I could have done it a little bit differently and I felt like, yeah, I'm going to do it a little bit differently.
So I applied for my PhD, which was one of the facts, obviously, not the only reason why I want to do my PhD, but one of the reasons why I felt like, yeah, I could actually do it again. And I did it very differently. Had a blast.
I would say that my years in Cambridge were some of my most fun years and from a kind of like doing the things I didn't manage to do in Oxford, I might actually do in Cambridge.
So it's kind of like okay, chapter closed. I managed to do it and I had a lot of fun and I felt like I grew a lot as well. So that was important to me.
Ling Yah: So it was interesting for me was that you actually wrote an article in 2012 in the Huffington Post where you actually stated how you looked back and you wish that you had not spent so much time studying exactly what you said earlier. And I'm wondering when that realization actually hit you, that you would have rather you'd get it differently.
Julian Tan: Um.
Ling Yah: Did it come when you were finishing Oxford?
Julian Tan: It came after. And it came a few weeks before I wrote the article.
So I wrote the article as I was feeling it, which I think in some ways made the article more powerful. Cause people could actually like resonate with it. Cause I was in the moment, that was genuinely how I was feeling.
It was definitely a hindsight thing. I think it's something that's been brewing in my mind and when you're in that situation, it's hard for you to actually take a step back and actually think, is this the right decision? And then have the courage to repivot the way you're doing things, because when you're so set in doing something, it becomes a routine, becomes comfortable.
So I was certainly not in that position , when I was in the middle of it to actually say, okay, this is not the right way to be doing it.
For me, at least personally, I didn't feel like it was the right way for me, but I was too deep into it to actually do it.
But post I was like, you know, on reflection. Yeah. I could have done things a little bit differently.
Ling Yah: On the flip side, I mean, like you did more than better. I mean, you were the top three, you got first, you got many collection prizes. All These things surely would have contributed to your later career as well.
Julian Tan: Yeah, it has.
Ling Yah: To what extent would you have wanted to change when these grades were so important, creating that foundation to continue to do what you're doing now?
Julian Tan: Yeah. I mean, this is why I don't like the word regret because I don't regret it in a way, because like you say, yes, I didn't get that kind of balanced experience, but at the same time, I got terrific results which have been, a big propeller to, other parts of my future career or future development development.
So for me, I think that, yeah, I don't regret it. It's more like, Hey, it's a learning. It's like, okay, I could have done it a little bit better, but guess what? Even though I didn't do it, I still got all of these, great results, which have helped me a lot. So. Yeah, it's more of, yes. I would say it's more of a learning and seeing how we could do it and applying that learning later on, because at the end of the day, no decision is going to be perfect.
Ther are going to be pros. They're going to be cons and it's what's important to you at the time. So yeah, you're absolutely right. That's exactly the reason why I don't like to use the word regret. Cause I don't regret it. It's just part of it. And it provided a learning for me.
Ling Yah: So you then spent four years in Cambridge on a PhD funded by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. And during that time you did it over again. And I was wondering if you could give some select examples of how you ensure that there was a better balance while pursuing a PhD?
Julian Tan: Great question. I mean, The PhD experience as well, it's very different from an undergrad experience.
The experience of a PhD is I would say more like a midway point between traditional school and work. You know, you have a little bit of routine where you're working.
So I always made it nine to five, I'm working and then beyond that I don't have to work. So I had a lot of flexibility around that.
And the other thing is with a PhD, you have that flexibility because it's your project. So you can decide, okay, between 12 and two today. I'm going to go out and play a tennis match and come back, you have that flexibility to do that.
So there's certainly an element of having that autonomy of your own time. But also I think a big part of it was just the awareness, I suppose.
I was aware having, my Oxford experience, that this is something that I should be keeping a lookout for, and trying to develop relationships, develop opportunities outside of my core PhD work, which I managed to do and find joy in.
So I think a big part of it was awareness. There was an intent behind it. Having gone through that experience, I suppose.
Ling Yah: And people tend to always ask the question Oxford or Cambridge, which is better, which tends to not really be the question rather the experience of how they actually different since you've been in both, could you share how they are actually different?
Julian Tan: They are very similar. They're the same. No, I mean, again, I think the experience I had again is different. I had an undergrad degree. In Oxford in a PhD experience in Cambridge. And I enjoyed my PhD experience more than I did my undergrad experience is how I tend to describe it.
But as a city, Oxford offers a little bit more because it's more of a city, you know, you have more entertainment, there's more food outlets. Although Cambridge has really gentrified in the past couple of years as well.
I mean, I think my experience in both have been very good different, but yet very similar in that I was teaching at Cambridge as a PhD student.
So I had insight into how the labs work, how supervisions or tutorials worked. And there was very, very similar systems. There's also very similar in that you have very hyper competitive, very smart individuals who in many ways are also just as lost as everybody else, you know? So you have that similar dynamic.
You have the collegiate system. I mean, it's very similar. They're two different places, they're two different cities. So they offer different things in that respect. Yeah, and I think both great institutions. I enjoyed my time, in both in different ways. I think everyone has got a personal connection as well to the university, or their Alma Mata, it doesn't matter what university it is really. It's your first university. And you'll always have a very special place in your heart because that's where, some of your formative years as well, were being experienced.
So for me, it's Oxford, for other people, it's their own personal Alma Maters and I think that is quite beautiful. It's quite beautiful that everyone has their own personal connection to an institution and that institution can have such a profound effect on someone's life, in the future as well.
Ling Yah: And during that time, were you in Cambridge, you also started being a columnist for Huffington Post and you were quite prolific.
You posted a lot of things. And what amazed me was that you didn't hold back on what people might call very sensitive topics. You were talking about, like the MH370 disaster. You're talking about the Bible seizing debacle. And I just wondered about the thought process behind it and whether you were ever worried that you would get backlash over something that was so sensitive.
Julian Tan: I oftentimes think back to that version of Julian, I think. Hmm. Maybe you should've thought a little bit more because you know, in many ways, what you write, whether it's a Huffington Post article or a Facebook message or a tweet. It's on the internet. So it's that forever and as an individual, things change, right?
You evolve and you grow and sometimes your perceptions change. Well, it's interesting because when I read back on a lot of the articles I wrote, when I was at Huff post, most of them, I would say I still resonate with. I think it came from the heart. All of my articles came from my heart and how I was feeling at the time.
And it was as much a therapeutic exercise. I was almost like this thing for everyone to kind of read, but also because a lot of people resonated with similar views. Sometimes they didn't agree, but you know, sometimes they did. And I felt like that was an interesting thing.
When I first made my first article on the Huffington post, I thought, oh, what a great opportunity to write for the Huffington post.
Not many people have that opportunity. So let's just write about something that I personally feel at the time and I wrote about, um, the title of the article - I could have chosen a more PC title - I was, I think, why are Asians so antisocial, something like that. And I explored how I felt really.
Or how I felt other people viewed Asians, myself, being a little bit quieter, you know, we just have a different culture. So coming into like a British culture, you're going to have differences there. And I just explored that a little bit. And then that article did very well, a lot of people started sending messages and I think it went viral as well.
And then it just kind of built on that. And then I suddenly had a platform where I could write about literally anything I wanted and the editor would trust me and publish it. She was, um, terrific editor, actually. She hardly ever got into the weeds of my article and whatever I wrote.
So I had a platform, there were some current issues that obviously, you know, I didn't agree with. So I used that platform to kind of voice those opinions. And again, it wasn't about anything apart from just like, that was how I was feeling. And I felt like it was an outlet and a platform to kind of raise some issues, whether you agreed with it or not.
I had my own opinion and stated my opinion. And kind of going back to when I was in high school it's kind of like, just don't care what other people think, but I think it's a little bit dangerous with the internet. You want to be careful about what you post just more generally.
Ling Yah: And at that point time, did you have a better understanding of what you wanted to do after university?
Julian Tan: You mean after Oxford or after to Cambridge?
Ling Yah: After Cambridge?
Julian Tan: Um, no. Well, yes and no. I mean, I would say I had more of an idea after Cambridge than I did after Oxford.
And I think that self exploration definitely helped, you know, having the space to do that. And, um, the opportunities to do that. I think towards the end of my time at Cambridge, I knew what I didn't want to do.
So that, I guess in many ways that it's almost as good as doing what you want to do.
At the time I knew I didn't want to go back to academia. I didn't want to have a career in academia. It was after my first year of my PhD. I said, I didn't want to have a career in academia because of the pace, because of the specialism, I didn't want to just be doing one thing.
I wanted to be in lots of different things and it's okay if I don't go to that nth degree in depth, I think that's fine. So I felt like consulting was an interesting career option. McKinsey, BCG, Bain came to Cambridge, did a lot of these career talks and mingling and I got to , you know,be exposed a little bit to that industry, thought it was interesting. It offered an opportunity to pursue a career in London, which I felt was an interesting proposition and yeah.
And I applied for it. Thankfully caught a position and then towards the end, I knew that I was going into consulting, but the broader scheme of what it is is I want to do. I still, yeah. I didn't know at the time. And I'm not sure I still know it today. Yeah.
Ling Yah: Were you never tempted to move back to Malaysia because you were quite passionate about Malaysia. You wrote about, you know, everyone must go and elect and that whole process of what it was like to vote outside.
Julian Tan: Very much so. I was as certain as I could be that I wanted to go back to Malaysia. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had no idea what that was but I knew that I wanted to go back. I wanted to do something. No idea what.
But at the same time, this opportunity came up, working in London. And when I took a step back, sort of thinking about maybe a little bit selfishly, I suppose my own professional career, I felt like having the opportunity to work abroad in the first few years of your career can only be a good thing, whatever that is, because at the time I still didn't know what I wanted to do.
There wasn't a specific opportunity in Malaysia I would say that jumped out at me and necessarily lured me back. So it was kind of like I have this job in London, that is a great opportunity for learning. And then I have this not sure what I'm going to be doing in Malaysia. I am just going back in Malaysia and figuring something out.
I just didn't feel like it was the most prudent thing to do at the time. I do think that I definitely want to come back at some point. It's difficult. You know, when I was at Cambridge writing those articles, I would say in many ways that was a certain idealism in my head. And most people, I think at the time as well, they had this picture of where Malaysia was going to be and where they'd like to see it going.
And for a brief moment, we saw maybe a change of tides. And, I guess as with age and as with experience, it tends to realize that actually it's never a straight storyline, there are twists and turns and every in everything and, um. I think it's not as ideal as you think it is, you know. Even the answer that you think is the right one poses, its own problems.
It poses its own challenges. There is no perfect idea. And it's about, can you still maintain a level of idealism and fighting for, or standing for what you believe in, but at the same time also recognizing that there's a wider reality out there and that you could also be in many ways, just speaking from your own bubble, you don't have that full picture of everything.
And there is a reason why things transpire the way they do.
It would be more effective to kind of dig into why it has happened the way it has happened and trying to understand a perspective that maybe you're uncomfortable with. And I think a lot of the times as it is with politics, there is always an apprehension or a reluctance to understand the other side, which I think is a missed opportunity.
And I think as I've grown up, I suppose, those sorts of elements have come into play. And the idealism that I had, that this is the right way, I've kind of tried to get a better understanding, a bigger understanding on why things are the way they are so that I can help inform where I think they should be.
So when I wrote those articles being very passionate, but coming back, I mean, I was definitely in that head space of like, this is where it needs to go. Where I am now is maybe, I don't know, not accepting, but I'm more maybe people will call it jaded. Maybe I'm more jaded.
Ling Yah: I wanted to go back to the whole consulting thing. Was consulting the only career that you were considering at a time, or were you exploring something else?
Julian Tan: I was exploring three things.
I was exploring consulting.
I was exploring engineering. Cause my PhD is in carbon fiber laminate so I wanted to work in a tennis racket. A quick sports equipment company like Wilson or head in the engineering department was exploring that.
And then I was exploring academia a little bit.
There was one time in my time at Cambridge that was exploring politics that I thought, Ooh, maybe this could be interesting, but I have a good friend of mine, actually, he works in politics. And so I have almost secondhand insight into how it works and the things that they do and just felt like it wasn't, yeah, it wasn't the best fit for me. You know, I think that there are many parts of the job in politics that it's just very nasty. This is really, really nasty. And, yeah, , it's unfortunate that it's the case, but yeah, I was looking at those few things.
I would say consulting was at the top of my list because again, perpetuating where I was. Not knowing where I wanted to go.
First it helped me open up my options because I was kind of specializing into one area with my PhD and I wanted to broaden that up and consulting offered me that.
Ling Yah: And so what was interesting is that you wrote another article in May 2015, where you chartered your whole journey to trying to find a job after Cambridge and how that was actually surprisingly, really hard.
So could you share with us why that was so when you had pretty much the perfect CV?
Julian Tan: I think that a lot of people, particularly in my position, you are accustomed to hearing people say, ah, don't worry about your job.
Focusing on your studies, do well, get good grades. You worry about the job later. It will come.
And it wasn't the experience. There was a very harsh reality, you know, seeing that actually it didn't work that way. The world didn't work that way. And it's a little bit jarring because for me, at least I lived my life thinking that way.
I'd lived my life, almost expecting that it will be a no brainer that it will all be easy, but it's not the case at all. That's not how the world works. And nobody tells you that, which is one of the biggest mistakes a school or your parents or your anybody really, people going through school do is not expose your kids, your students, that that's not how the world works.
I know you want them to study, but that's not true, you know? So it was very jarring for me because you'd go through as everyone does, by the way, everyone does you go through this process of interviewing, getting rejected, interviewing and getting rejected, no matter how, because it's not just your results. Your results are important in helping you get that kind of first look.
So, if you have a good CV, you're past the first round, but that's only the start of the entire kind of job hunting process, right? And ultimately there are a lot of different factors. Skill is one of them, cultural fit is all of the things that also are kind of out of your control.
A lot of it is out of your control, the economy. I mean, you know, there are so many things that you cannot control that if you come in thinking that all you have to do is get good grades and you get a job, like.,You're not, that's not how it's going to work.
So for me, it was realizing that that was the case. Being a little bit angry that nobody told me that. Everyone sold the dream that that was how it was to be.
So I felt like, Hmm, there's a little bit of like dishonesty here, but, uh, it didn't matter. I mean, that was the reality that was in, I had get good grades.
Ling Yah: Do you know what you were lacking or what they were looking for that you didn't have?
Julian Tan: No, I mean, I think it's nothing personal, because I think especially now when I'm hiring for people as well, there are a lot of different factors that come into play when you hire someone.
It's not just the skill. It's how you connect with the person, which is a very, very subjective thing. And interviewers can put it down to, and I had a couple of times, he said, Oh, you're not structured enough, but I know that that's probably not, it's not the only reason, right?
That's probably another reason that maybe it might be too sensitive for them to say. We just didn't gel with you. And a lot of times the job is that. Whether you can gel with someone, because when you think about it, ultimately you're finding someone who you're going to be working with on a regular basis.
You need to be able to get along with them in a way. Um, you need to be able to feel that chemistry, it's a bit of like forming a relationship. So there are a lot of these elements that is not so straightforward.
Of course it starts with filtering out people who don't have good grades and then you're left with people with that potential.
But then next is exploring that person. How do they think, what kind of a person is he or she. A lot of subjective things that I think the job process tends to try and put some structure in, but ultimately it's still a very subjective thing. So I never really took it personally.
I never felt like, Oh, this company didn't choose me, they didn't like X, Y, and Z of me. I never thought of it that way. I always accepted that there was going to be a degree of subjectivity. I mean, eventually as with most things, as I've learned in life, if you keep at it, you'll get it eventually if that's what you really want, that is what you've set your mind to. And you really want it, like, just set your mind to it. You'll get it eventually. If it's not now, you'll get it eventually.
Ling Yah: And you did get your dream job, which was with BCG. And what was that like just entering there and having your first professional job after such a long career, if you will, as a student?
Julian Tan: I think first it was definitely my dream job at the time, but in hindsight, I always think, Oh, what an odd thing to want to be a management consultant because most people, when they grow that on to be an astronaut, I want to be a doctor, and then here I am like, Oh, my dream job is in management.
I thought, how did that even come about? I think a big part of it is the literature that you're exposed to in university, when these companies are selling the dream to you, you get so sucked in that you actually tend to forget. Hmm. Such an odd thing to want and yearnand then strive for, but you're in an environment where everyone is yearning for a job like that and it's a hyper competitive job. Only like a very, very small percentage of people who actually get it. So you actually feel a little bit special.
And so then it feels like a dream job. I mean, I think that in hindsight, it's an odd thing to say. That's definitely how I felt at the time, but you know, my experience at BCG has, and I can only have nice things to say about it because it was the most formative two years I've had from a professional sense.
My four years at doing my PhD was terrific. I learned a lot, but during that one and a half to two years at BCG like, in terms of my professional skills, the high pressure situations that you're put in, the people that you're interfacing with, high level, senior management that you are helping to advise, those sort of experiences first are not normal for a fresh graduate.
That is a very unusual position to be put in, but it presents a situation where you either do really well, which thankfully I fell into, or you aren't able to adapt. And so, the reality of the job is that if you don't perform you're out, we have an up or out system in BCG.
So you either get promoted or you get fired essentially or asked to leave. So it was a very high pressure environment. Pushing myself or pushing everybody, pushing people in this environment to their limits, to prove whether they can survive. And in that process, you accelerate a lot of the learning, a lot of the professional skills and a lot of things that you need to learn in order to kind of, I guess, do well in a job.
So, I think that it was a challenging time, but I always tell people I don't hesitate. If you have an option to join a management consulting company straight out of university, just do it because the kind of the first are the learnings that you get second, the platform the springboard that it provides to your career, even if you don't see yourself working there your whole life, the springboard that it provides.
You know, at one point it was almost every day that was having a headhunter reach out to me. And I think that's a very unusual situation to be in offering you your next move. And they were very interesting moves as well. So I think in that vein, I have only great things to say about BCG, but it is a tough, uh, working environment.
You know, you're traveling every week. You're working with senior management. And you're fresh out of university. What do you know about advising these companies, and then you're trusting your own process. I think trusting your own process that you are there because yes, you may not know the industry as much as these people have spent decades in it, but you are a smart individual and you can figure things out.
And actually you can provide a perspective because you're not in that environment. You're not conditioned to thinking in a certain way. You can bring in a fresh perspective. And I think all of those different elements, it helps to build your own confidence in yourself and your own skills. So, yeah, I mean, I made some really great friends at BCG and um doing incredible things in their career going on.
So I think as well, the alumni network is also very strong in that, in that respect.
Ling Yah: And you started to specialize in things like strategy and digital transformation. Was that something that just fell in your lap or was it something that you were naturally drawn to.
Julian Tan: Fell on my lap. Ling Yah, as you will notice, I don't plan my life.
Ling Yah: It feels good. I go,
Julian Tan: Yeah exact- no, honestly, that is it.
Or sometimes you don't even get a choice, particularly with BCG when they staff you on projects. Yes. You get to state your preference. But a lot of it is dependent on what projects are available.
So, many, many times, way too many times, I was put on a project that I didn't really want to be on, but there you go.
I had to make do with it. And yeah, very much fell on my lap. Yeah.
Ling Yah: And when you were in BCG, that was the first time that you were exposed to F1 and worked with them. What was that like, because eventually you moved over to F1 on full time.
Julian Tan: It was interesting because F1 has never been a client of BCG.
The opportunity to work at F1 was because my boss, Frank Arthofer. He heads up our digital department. He was from BCG and when he got the job to head up the digital department and the consumer licensing department, he had to set up the digital department from scratch.
So, I guess he needed someone with a consulting tool kit, who was able to do anything, basically, you know, who is not specialized, we can just get stuff done.
And so he put up a job advert within the London office saying, setting up a new digital department at Formula one.
Just a little bit of context. In 2017, formula one was bought over by a company called Liberty Media. They're sort of like a private equity company from CVC.
And as part of that acquisition, Uh, Liberty Media made it a point to actually put in corporate structures into Formula One to actually help it scale. And what that meant was we were setting up, you know, the marketing department, the research department, the digital department, and all of these from scratch.
They never existed before, which is wild to think about, you know, Formula One as a sport, never even having a marketing campaign before ever. Never having any research done. You know, I think a research department to doing research done, and I think those elements had to be built from scratch.
So I joined at that time to help set it up, help Frank define what the digital strategy is, what the initiatives are, where are we and benchmarking us with the rest of our peer set.
And where do we want to be and what are the initiatives to help us get there? What is that roadmap, et cetera, et cetera, you know, defining what the initiatives are, who's going to be leading what.
So that was my initial secondment. My secondment was to come in to help him set up the digital strategy and help support that digital transformation.
And then I was very fortunate in that as, you know, we're setting something up from scratch. It was like working in a startup. A lot of new things emerged. And so there were certain projects that I was very deep in purely because there was nobody else in the company who was stepping up, I suppose, to take the lead.
Esports as a prime example was a new initiative that was sanctioned by Sean Bratches, who was our MD in commercial, who has now left, but he sanctioned that project. We had announced it to the world, to the market in end of July. And the tournament was supposed to start in August.
So we had a few weeks to set everything up.
And when, I mean everything, I mean, everything. We didn't have an idea on what we were going to do. We didn't have an idea on what even esports was. I think at the point, not many people knew what it was certainly within Formula One, and it didn't have any leadership at all.
It was just running. It was not good.
So Frank one day sent me an email and said, Oh, would you just go into this project and help to set up a bit of structure, how to set up a process. So I came in, first starting with putting a project tracker in place, which I think has helped a lot just knowing what is it you need to do and keeping track and setting miles as blah, blah, blah.
And then what quickly evolved into this fast-growing thing. And yeah, and now sits under me. And I manage that business. I've got the team, we've got terrific partners working with us on this project. Performed really well. So yeah, like most things in my life, Ling Yah. I, I literally-
Opportunity comes up, let's ride the wave. I always ride the wave. And see where it takes you.
And I like gaming. I used to play a lot of video games when I was younger, but definitely not a gamer at all would say. Having to come into this world , I certainly wouldn't have thought that I would be heading up an eSports division in Formula One.
Yeah. it's all serendipitous.
Ling Yah: So it never crossed your mind that you want to work with Formula One. You just happened to be an opportunity that you just happened to take.
Julian Tan: Yeah. I mean, the job advert came out. I was on a project up in North Hampton and with BCG. It was an industrial goods project. I was working on a pricing piece for toilet bowls and radiators and pipes.
So at that point, I'm stuck in the Holiday Inn with, uh, by the way, I got bed bugs in one of the nights when I was in the Holiday Inn up there. So I was in the Holiday Inn, working on pricing, toilet bowls, and then this opportunity came up. I'm like formula one or pricing toilet bowls.
Let's try it. So I just submitted my CV.
Got called back forward for an informal chat and met up with Frank at the time. He flew over from New York and had a chat with him in the Hyatt. Next to the BCG office over tea and yeah. And then he decided, yeah, he gave a couple of weeks and he had interviewed a few other people as well.
And he decided that he'd give me the position.
Ling Yah: And what was the esports field like at the time? I mean, even now it's not fully developed as there are very few people who have gone in, but back in 2017, what was it like?
Julian Tan: I think specific to SIM racing, which is the genre that we operate in with any sports, because sports is a, is a massive industry.
And I think there are elements of eSports that have really matured. And at that time was pretty much matured.
But for some racing was very nascent in 201. It7 was growing, definitely not growing at the speed that we're seeing right now. And a big part of it is because Formula One has entered into this space.
It was kind of new. And I think nobody really understood it. But people knew that there are, you know, young kids and a younger demographic video gaming and into esports. And the thesis was we as a company or as a sport, we've got an aging fan base and it's not a secret formula. One has an aging fan base.
So how can we start to build that new pipeline offense into our sport?
And there are a lot of initiatives that we've launched and e-sports is one of them. One of the core initiatives that we launched to kind of help us reach that new generation offense, that younger, more digitally savvy global growing audience.
And that was the thesis . Literally.
Build our capabilities here. Speak to a new audience, diversify a product set. I mean, fast forward two and a half years later, you're in a situation where nobody wants to be in, we've got almost all sports going dark because of COVID-19, but, you know, because we have had the courage to invest in eSports back in 2017, we suddenly have an asset that we can leverage and utilize to keep a couple of lights on, I suppose, for our sport during the time where all other live sports have, um, gone dark.
Ling Yah: And I think that's one of the main benefits of this pivot is also accessibility, because like you said, that lots of the younger ones just don't have that opportunity to even go and watch a live race. Whereas with this, they can just log on to one of their online platforms and just watch and give comments if you're connected.
And I'm aware as well, that it's also given opportunities, not just for the watchers, but also the people who are driving us all like Brendan Leigh, he was 19 year old and now he not only has been winning his virtual races, but also had a chance to actually race in an actual race car.
Julian Tan: Yeah.
Ling Yah: So do you imagine that that's the new opportunity for youngsters? You can become a racer from being a gamer.
Julian Tan: You know, accessibility is such an important part of our program because the reality of our sport is we are not in an accessible sport. We're not accessible in the same sense of say football. You can pick up a football and play in your local field.
You know, you can't just jump into an F1 car. So actually the ability for us to use gaming and eSports, one to break down borders into our sport to give fans. One, the ability to experience even 1% of what our drivers do by gaming, using the wheel, the pedal and simulator and gaming in that fashion, helps to provide insight into our sport and break down barriers in that sense.
We're able to, through our e-sports program, help get millions of people into Formula One through gaming. I'm in a different kind of way change lives like with Brendan Leigh before he was a kitchen porter, and now he's a professional driver for the Mercedes F1 team, um, professional esports driver.
And like you say, also being able, and I think this is the other thing that's very unique for us because within formula one, our esports proposition is There's a very high overlap between the virtual and real world. So the blurring of lines, from gamer to racer to real life racer actually can happen in our world and the fact that Brendan Lee took part in his first ever single seater race last year, finished fourth in his first ever a single seater race.
And he didn't even have a driver's license.
I think that is an incredible story for us. Um, you know, I think for us esports is more than just a competition. It's more than just a virtual competition where people video game against each other is, as you say, it's about breaking down borders into our sport, increasing accessibility into our sport, finding a new supplementary form of content. It's still racing, but because it's such a realistic form of racing, it is virtual racing, you're still able to kind of create something really compelling from that.
It's, like you say, it's, it's a blurring of lines between virtual and real. As you've got this new grassroots into motor sport, there's just so many opportunities for us to use e-sports in a positive way for our sport, which is why we see it as a core pillar to growing our main sport.
Whereas if you were to ask them about the strategy about some other eSports, for example, well, maybe their objective is they don't have that objective. Their objective is maybe to sell more games, for example, get more people to play their games so that they can sell more things and make more money.
Whereas for us, e-sports actually forms a core part of our strategy to open up the sport of Formula One, to create longevity in the sport of formula one, to, build our expertise in different areas so that we can, in situations like this, thankfully have something that we can, that we can go out with. So, I think that, it serves a wider purpose beyond just I guess, a tournament that is meant to drive people to play a game and purchase the game and buy things in the game.
Ling Yah: And I would love to talk about what you're working on right now, which is the Virtual Grand Prix, which is pretty incredible because I mean like when COVID started- it was just terrible - it started going and affecting the world and all these Grand Prixs started being postponed, being canceled. And, you know, you only had five days to understand it.
To kind of put together your first ever Virtual Grand Prix in Bahrain. And what was that like? Just putting together all these things, knowing that this was probably going to be your main platform to reach out to your fans for the foreseeable future.
Julian Tan: To be honest, the thought process around a Virtual grand Prix actually started when the first announcement came out with the Shanghai, the Chinese Grand Prix, when it said it would be postponed because the situation was actually, I think pretty contained in China at the time, but really, really bad at the time.
So we were thinking, okay, we're in this situation, can we do anything on esports during that weekend? And we actually scoped out an idea to run a virtual race on the Shanghai circuit for that weekend. And, um, you know, I think things very quickly escalated.
In a few weeks later we had an announcement on the Friday of the Australian Grand Prix that the Australia Grand Prix would be canceled.
And that further postponements are coming into place so we're like, okay, we really need to think about a solution that is scalable because the solution that we had come out at that time was not scalable. It was that stand alone solution for the Chinese grand Prix weekend. And we had to move very quickly thinking, how can we scale up this solution?
We're very, I guess in many ways kind of going back, nobody would have expected we were in this situation, but we had invested in a product back in 2017 that we had spent two and a half years developing. We have it, right. How can we use it to bring some good, I suppose, in light of this terrible situation.
And, yeah, we moved very quickly, came up with a proposition, a solution, an online solution where everyone connects, you know, remotely needs to figure out the tech. You need to figure out the production, need to figure out the coordination, there's a huge amount of dependencies and put on something like this.
So those five days to kind of set up that first kind of Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix was. Very very busy, but we were only able to do that in that short amount of time, because we had invested in this product for two and a half years. We had invested in getting all of the teams involved, we had invested in all of the teams, having their own e-sports divisions within each team.
Not all of those, all of those different elements helped accelerate the proposition of the Virtual Grand Prix.
So yeah, you know, I think it was five very, very busy days. Put on a terrific show and it's been growing from strength to strength. We started out with two F1 drivers in our first Virtual Grand Prix. This weekend at Monaco, we had 8 current F1 drivers participating and yeah, it's been a lot of fun.
I think at the end of the day, it's about giving the driver something fun to do whilst we deliver some racing action, some lighthearted racing action for our fans during a time where they would have otherwise had racing action because at the very core of sports, and I think kind of going back to first principles, like sports and entertainment is about providing fans, consumers, an escape.
It provides them escape. It provides them relief. That's why people watch sports to be entertained, you know, inspiration. And we felt that if you're not able to do that in the real world or the situation, esports still can provide that sports and esports have a lot of similarities. So we felt like that was a very strong opportunity for us to leverage our esports product, to deliver that kind of lighthearted relief to our fans.
Because I mean, right now, it's an incredibly difficult time. I think that if we can bring some smiles or some laughter to people as they're staying at home, playing a part to combat this virus, then you know, that's certainly a good thing.
Ling Yah: And I want to draw on the element you've mentioned of fun because it's very clear, you've drawn a clear line saying that this Virtual Grand Prix is for entertainment purposes only. Whereas clearly it's drawn from the earlier established two and a half years ago, pro series, where you've got all your Brandon Leighs coming up and they essentially run the same platform. Same idea.
So why was there that distinction saying that it's only for entertainment?
Julian Tan: I think there is an acknowledgement that for the pro gamers, they are the best in the world on the game. So their entertainment is slightly different in that people will tune in because they want to see amazing racing on the video game, which you can't replicate in real life.
You know, all of the cars are equalized, the drivers are more risk-taking, so you'll get more incredible moves. So you'll see a crazy level of racing with that proposition.
Whereas the virtual Grand Prixs, the thesis for that was actually, how can we use racing to bring the fans, racing between the F1 drivers, if they can't do it in the real world.
So that's more centered around the personalities, more centered around the people that our fans want to see racing against each other on a video game if they can do it in real life.
There is an acknowledgement that these are professionals when it comes to and the best in the world when it comes to driving real life formula one cars, but they're not gamers, right. They're not gamers. You kind of expect them to be performing at the level of a Brendan Leigh for example who's, you know, that's what they live, breathe. It is like asking Brendan Leigh to jump into a real life formula one car, and then expecting, you know, him to matching a Charles LeClerc.
So thing being acutely aware of that. And, um, you know, I think we shaped our Pro product with the acknowledgement that these guys are not professionals. These guys are racing drivers who will pick up a video game. And there are certain things that is transferable because they're driving on a wheel and the pedal but ultimately is a completely different platform.
So one, you're doing a disservice to the fan because they're not going to get a high end competition because these guys are not gamers. We have a race before the Virtual Grand Prix centered on the pro gamers. If you want to watch high end gaming, you can watch that.
But if you don't want to, you can watch a personalities race for fun. And, It would be doing a disservice to our fans, it'd be doing a disservice to our drivers. Ultimately, you kind of expect that of our drivers, they are not professional gamers.
And then third, you're doing a disservice to, you know, I think to the operations of it all because when you start to pivot towards something that's more professional, the requirements that are needed for like professional esports is much, much higher.
You know, the fact that with our Virtual Grand Prixs, we can rely entirely on in game adjudication. If you did real, if you did a professional, e-sports you couldn't because the in game adjudication, it's not esports level. So you need real people adjudicating the race, like in the real life race, for example.
So from a resource perspective, operations perspective, you also increase the complexity for not a lot of benefit.
We were very clear about the positioning of the product and knowing what it was serving. It's for the fans to get them see their drivers race for fun.
So we positioned our product that way. Yeah.
Ling Yah: And what really fascinated me as well was that, I mean, a lot of people write about this as well, that you try and make it as realistic as possible.
Like in the Monaco Grand Prix, I was watching it, and you even introduced wet conditions and going to the tunnel and going out again, which is definitely something that is a challenge.
But at the same time you have other things, like for instance, the cars never get damaged. So then you have drivers just being completely reckless. And I was reading the comments. Everyone was going, why is there no damage? Why is there no damage? How can you allow this to happen? And there was so much anger there.
So, how did you guys decide what to introduce and make it real and what not to?
Julian Tan: Well, I think kind of going back to the kind of product it is, these guys are not professional gamers. So we didn't want to introduce damage because if we introduced damage and Monaco, especially as a race circuit, nobody will be finishing.
Well, not nobody, but you know, you would have chaos everywhere and you'll have a lot of, uh, DNS, and it just wouldn't be a nice show at the end .
No fan would want to watch that anyways, right. So like I said, we have got two propositions. We've got the professional gamers. When damage is on, it's the most realistic you can get. You want to watch that kind of racing, watch that. It's just for the Virtual Grand Prix and then the Virtual Grand Prixs is for fun, right?
It's not meant to be a replacement of real life racing. It's not meant to be a replacement of anything. Its own product. People can enjoy it for what it is. And yeah, I completely get, you know, I think that people want to see some damage so that things don't, you know, don't kind of ricochet off walls and stuff like that.
But at the same time, I think it's important to remember what the implications of a decision that will have on the wider race. I mean, one, we wouldn't want to be in a position where we have many people who have been disqualified or who do not finish because of that decision, that one doesn't give the fans something great to watch.
Like imagine if let's say half of the grid, for example, is wiped out and then you're just watching 10 cars, it is just not fun. And then the headlines that will come out from that, like it's not a productive outcome for anybody. So, you know, I think people have to acknowledge that these guys are professional racing drivers.
They are not professional gamers. And yes, there's crossover, but they're still completely different platforms. And this is not the purpose. The purpose is not to give you a replacement for the real life race cause you can't, right. You can't do that. It's about having a bit of fun with our F1 drivers and people can actually, you know, can resonate with them.
I mean, I always take comments on social media, particularly with a pinch of salt, because it's always the most vocal people and we always take note of it. We're like, okay. That is something to take note on, we'll see how we can evolve it. But in this particular case, yeah, it's a difficult one.
There's no right answer. I do know that if a hundred percent damage, it's not the right answer. Is it 25%? I don't know. But, yeah, we chose zero. It is what it is. We might evolve it. Who knows.
Ling Yah: And picking up the idea of social. I mean like you have had incredible response.
I think when you first started you had around 30,000 viewers and you are now peaking around 400,000 viewers, And even on Twitch where the drivers will actually show what the perspective is from them, like Lando Norris had over a hundred thousand at one point. Is this kind of viewership something within your expectation or is it just completely beyond what you thought you were going to get.
Julian Tan: Yeah beyond. Yeah. I mean, to be honest, I think that we knew we'll perform strong because you've got people at home. They want to watch the live race. They want to watch live sports. And in the absence of being able to watch any live sports, you've got something like this to kind of keep people entertained.
But, um, yeah, no, I mean, the numbers that we are seeing with the Virtual Grand Prixs, they are. You know, many, many times bigger than any other e-sports activities that we've done in the past. Which I think is a great thing because it shows that people are enjoying it, they're resonating with it.
Ling Yah: And do you think that this kind of thing will be continuing to stay once you manage to get your actual real life racers back on? Because I mean, I noticed that you're putting more and more resources into it.
For instance, the prize money has gone from 300,000 to 500,000. So clearly you feel that it's a main pillar of the F1 business now.
Julian Tan: Yeah. I mean, I think that our esports program is definitely growing to be a very strong part of the business. It's performed very, very strongly. We've got great reception. And I think knowing exactly what role it plays in the wider business is important in terms of the Virtual Grand Prix themselves.
I think there will be elements that we've learned that will help inform our strategy going forward. You know, I think things like being able to see the drivers reactions like on Twitch that you just can't see behind the helmet, like those sort of elements that you kind of pull out with gaming and with eSports, I think is an interesting one that we can look to develop further.
The fact that you are doing races online, you know, I think that that was always an expectation with e-sports that there's always going to be a live event element of an eSports tournament. And there many reasons for that, but obviously the situation has forced a lot of businesses to rethink how they do their esports programs.
I think esports is still relatively nascent in the businesses. It's only, you know, we're approaching our third year right now and it's yeah, it's still very nascent, but it's growing very, very quickly as an exciting part of the business.
We have many areas that we still haven't tapped in, whether that's mobile, e-sports. There are a lot of different areas that I think would be interesting to explore.
We've got a tournament in China, the China championship, where we're finding our fastest Chinese gamer to feed into the F1 pro series to be picked by an F1 team.
So, yeah, I think there are a lot of opportunities. Be interesting to kind of follow it.
Ling Yah: And I imagine that when people see how successful you're being, they all want to jump onto this platform as well. So is there an idea of how you can stay ahead of them?
Julian Tan: I think that I oftentimes get this question and, and the response I tend to give is the reality with eSports is the barriers, NGO very low.
You know, you just need a game, you need some rules, you need some prizes, and then you've got an eSports tournament. Which is why like right now it's a really saturated industry. You've got people coming in, particularly in SIM racing. A lot of people are coming in right now.
I think what's important is for, and this is me putting on my consulting hat on, you need to create something that's unique, something that has a competitive advantage, something that people cannot copy.
And, I think that for us, the element is formula one. People can't copy formula one. Formula one is an incredibly magical world. The fact that we can align e-sports and F1 to create something that's unique is very important. The fact that you've got all 10 formula one teams participating, each of them having to own a sports team.
And by virtue of that means that we're able to kind of give experiences. Nobody else can give, you know, your video gaming in your bedroom one moment. And then you're signed onto a Mercedes F1 team or Ferrari e-sports team. And you know, all of a sudden you're trading alongside the likes of Mike Schumacher or train alongside the likes of Valteri Bottas, you know, like those sorts of experiences, no esports competition can give. Because that's unique to formula one.
And so a lot of other esports, I would say, like, they tend to compete with prize money, you know? Okay. Let's give more money, more money, more money. And it does make a great headline, but it's just not sustainable because then you enter into a price war and you know, who wins and all of that.
So for us, give a decent fair prize fund for our teams who are participating. How can we, you know, have them more integrated into this world, create more special moments, special opportunities for our fans and yeah, and this worked so far. I mean, that's our North star, the North star is e-sports F1. Get them closer together, make sure that they are the closest they can be.
And they'll be very powerful.
Ling Yah: Thank you so much for bringing us into your world because it's such a fascinating and new area. And speaking of North Star, do you feel that you’ve found your North Star or your why at this point?
Julian Tan: Um, well, first of all, thank you for having me on the chat. Really enjoyed the chat, but in terms of finding my own North star, um, I have a North star.
And it's not necessarily what people think it is. I think for me, it's- I want to just be happy. I know it sounds so simplistic, but I want to just be in the moment and I just want to experience life as it is.
And I want to keep reminding myself of that. I mean, I feel I've done a pretty good job my whole life kind of living those words by it's something that you tend to get caught up with what happens in work or life, whatever. We tend to forget that. And I think that that for me, is an important part. I want to have fun, whatever it is I'm doing, you know, just be kind, and do your own thing and just be happy. Live in the moment.
Ling Yah: Yeah.
Julian Tan: And just do you, because I think that certainly when I was younger, I'd definitely spent way too much time worrying what other people thought about me. And like I said, I decided at 13, let's not forget this. Forget that. And just be happy. Cause at the end of the day, you're doing all of these things, looking for success is for what? Is to be happy.
So you can shortcut that process immediately and making that decision.
Ling Yah: And do you have an idea of what kind of legacy you wanna leave behind?
Julian Tan: Legacy?
No, I don't think about that. Yeah. I don't think about that. I mean, I think that what I want to leave behind is people who I've spoken to are people who I have had the privilege and opportunity to get to know and work with.
I'd like them to have had a positive experience interacting with me. I'd like to know that whilst I'm having fun, other people are also, you know, getting positive vibes as well. I think that I want to be kind to people. I think that's something that people don't talk enough about.
And it's easier said than done sometimes, but particularly to people who are very, very close to whether it's your family, you know, you tend to take a lot of things for granted. So just being for me, I think it's just being in the moment and experiencing life as it is, and just having fun and being a positive influence to people you meet.
Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities that someone should possess if they want to be as successful as you?
Julian Tan: I would say, Ooh, this is hard because it's so personal, isn't it?
I always say success is very, very personal. I think that there's a traditional model of success and sometimes people don't do that and then suddenly, they're happy, but you know, that's still successful in their own right.
I think for me, are a few things. Okay. I think one always give your all in whatever you do, never hold anything back, always do your best. And then in parallel have no expectations. I always go back to that because you can never go wrong. You have zero expectations, but do your best.
You will always be happy and yeah. Don't care what people think about you. Yeah, don't care about that because you just do what you want and have fun, and that's the most important thing.
Ling Yah: Brilliant. And where can people go to find out more about you and follow what you're doing?
Julian Tan: Uh, well, I don't have a presence as such.
I mean, I have my own personal socials. I guess my Twitter has kind of evolved into my work Twitter, where I tweet a lot about my work at present.
I'm in the news, F1.com. Um, f1esports.com. I think a lot of my esports work gets reported as well and I’m privileged enough to get in the Financial Times, you know, Wall Street Journal and New York times.
Yeah. So there's always news bumbling around. It's such a hot topic at the moment. It's on everyone's lips. So yeah. I love to see Formula One out there with the other brands kind of charting our way within the space.
Ling Yah: And is there anything else that you feel people should know that we haven't covered yet?
Julian Tan: People should know that success is personal. You can't live life doing what other people expect you to do. You can't live life, you know, trying to live up to someone else cause you're never going to reach it. You need to just, I think, know who you are. I know this sounds really, really kind of cliche, but like who you are is not your labels.
And I actually listened to a really powerful podcast in the middle of last year that I would say is one of those aha moments for me. It's a light bulb moment and I've fortunate to have a few in my lifetime and it's by Oprah. And she is interviewing the spiritual leader called Eckhart Tolle and it's part of Oprah SuperSoul conversations.
It's called Oprah on the false power of ego. And in there, it's a brief introduction into her kind of exploration of what the ego is, who you are versus who the ego is. And then that podcast actually opened up my eyes. It was a huge aha moment for me to distinguish who it is I am and who it is I think I am, which is my ego.
And it led me down a kind of trail of, you know, picking up the book by Eckhart tolle. And there was a whole podcast of Oprah interviewing Eckhart. I really recommend it, you know, if you have the time to just listen on your way to work or something, it's a very, very enlightening, powerful podcast.
But anyways, I digress. That podcast was very powerful because it made me realize. I knew it already, but it helped me articulate these kinds of concepts in my brain of what is the ego? Who is it I am. Who, who, who am I? And what does it mean to be me? And it leads to happiness and stuff like that.
So I really recommend that podcast. If you get the chance to kind of listen to it.
Ling Yah: Thank you so much, Julie. I'm so grateful you actually said yes to this interview and bring us through your whole life and what it's like, you know, working at formula one and being on the forefront of e-sports. So thank you.
Julian Tan: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Ling Yah. It was fun.
Ling Yah: Thank you for listening to episode three of the So This Is My Why podcast. I would love to know what you thought about it and you can do so by leaving your comments on the review page of your favorite podcasting platform, including Spotify and Apple podcasts or heading over to sothisismywhy.com/episodethree.
You will also find the show that's there: sothisismywhy.com/episodethree and can even subscribe to the mailing list so that you'll know when the next episode comes out.
In episode four, we will be meeting a Hollywood stunt actress who grew up in Detroit, Michigan with a love of theatre. Moved to LA at the age of 22 with a dream, but no job, no connections, nothing.
And we will learn what it was like to build a career in Hollywood from scratch, how she first discovered the world of stunts, secured a place in an invite only stunt training center managed by the world renowned circus trained Bob Yerkes. And what it was like to be, well, beaten, strangled, shot, suffocated and die in pretty much every single way imaginable as a career.
We will be unpacking all that as well as what her future plans are. Big hint - it involves flipping cars. So don't forget to subscribe, leave a comment and I'll see you in episode four.