Cover Photo: Courtesy of Kimberly Wan

Former national ice hockey player Kimberly Wan co-founded a software-as-a-service business in 2016, which is thriving today under her unfaltering leadership

"Honestly, I would love for things in my life to be perfectly balanced, but they're not," declares Kimberly Wan, whose chuckle does little to diminish her vastly impressive life achievements so far.

At the age of six, Wan was a competitive figure skater, eventually trading her figure skates for ice hockey skates and sticks in her teens. When she was just 12, Wan made it into the Malaysian Book of Records for being the youngest female to achieve the highest skating level in Malaysia. Even starting a business at the age of 22 wasn't intimidating enough for her to give up on her sports goals at the time.

You get the picture: if millennial overachievers had a patron saint, Kimberly Wan would be a formidable contender for the role. 

Today, the inspiring 27-year-old is CEO and co-founder of Otomate Me, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business that equips SMEs and organisations with the digital tools needed to automate critical customer communications and other recurring manual tasks for optimal efficiency. Read on to learn what drives this unstoppable female boss.       

What first got you interested in ice hockey? 

My background was actually in figure skating for about a decade, from age six to 16, and I competed professionally too. I would stay back after my own figure skating training to watch the hockey players train. With figure skating, my parents supported me and the sport. I wasn’t sure how they would react to my going into ice hockey. I used my own savings to buy my first pair of hockey skates, and it started from there.      

What qualities would you say sports and entrepreneurship have in common?

The biggest similarity is resilience. I define this also as the ability to take feedback to make yourself stronger. As a sportswoman and a business owner, we’re always in a position to get feedback from either our coaches or customers on which areas we've done really well in, and where  they want to see more improvement. 

Learning to take that feedback early on and apply it has really helped me to look for a solution rather than getting offended. At times you might be tempted to think, "But I’m already doing so much'"; learning to accept feedback has helped my mindset in business.

Team dynamics is another similarity. In ice hockey, every player has a role to play so we have to work together to perform on the ice. That sports-based philosophy of collaboration and teamwork is really what I’m striving to incorporate within my own company.

See also: Former National Figure Skater Turned Photographer Annice Lyn On Lessons From Behind The Lens

We're taught to just say yes and figure it out later, to take those opportunities. But I've found that saying yes to everything takes away from your own time to think deeply.
Kimberly Wan

Why is it important for a business to have personalised and effective communication with customers?

Every day, we are inundated with all kinds of messages over WhatsApp or email. It's really crucial for a business to implement personalisation in their communications to capture and hold attention when they’re trying to communicate with their base.

What is Otomate Me's value proposition in a nutshell?

We differentiate ourselves in the kind of communication that we automate – high stakes mission critical communications. If the recipient, for example, doesn’t respond and act on that piece of communication, they lose something, maybe they lose out on an event invite or a submission deadline. So it's very important for these kinds of communication to break through and personalisation with our tool does exactly that. 

Whether it is insurance, healthcare, F&B, or logistics, every single industry has got a manual process when it comes to communication. Otomate Me takes away the stress of repeating that manual task. 

More: Meet Catherine Lian, Managing Director Of IBM Malaysia

What do you enjoy most about running your own tech business?

I'm not trained in software, but I'm in this space because I’ve learnt a lot and I have a fantastic business partner who complements what I bring to the table. What I’m excited about is the prospect of disarming technology and making it more accessible and approachable to our customers. 

My personal hope is that the path I’ve chosen will also inspire more women to go the distance and also build great companies. It is possible once you try. Not everyone will have the same starting point but if you persevere, you’ll be much farther along than where you are now. 

What works for you when it comes to work-life balance?

When I was younger, I would say yes to a lot of things. We're taught to just say yes, and figure it out later, to take those opportunities. But as I've grown, I have found that saying yes to everything takes away from your own time to think deeply because you just don’t have the time and you’re always fixated on doing the next thing.

So, I’ve learnt to say no more often, which has been really helpful.

What's on your reading list or Netflix watch list right now?

I’m currently reading a book called Principles by Ray Dalio. It gives you a set of guidelines on how to think about decision-making, how to explore and look at all the data and make those right choices based on set principles that you craft for yourself. It’s quite a long read and I’m about 20 per cent through it.

I like to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine because it makes me laugh, it’s easy to watch and you don’t have to follow the story all the way through.

What words of wisdom would you give to younger self today?

The long version would be that life is really full of unexpected experiences and surprises, some of which we can control and some of which we can’t. I would tell younger Kim to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And everything that I hope for is within reach.

The short version would be to take chances and make mistakes. 

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