Tan Guan Sheng is the CEO and Founder of ITTIFY, a homegrown platform that is bridging the gap between brands and content creators. Most recently, he made it onto the 2021 Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Asia under the Media, Marketing & Advertising category.
Guan himself started out as a content creator on YouTube but soon found out how difficult it was for smaller influencers like him to get noticed by brands.
He launched ITTIFY in 2015 to solve this problem and since then, the company has built a network of more than 6,000 influencers and has developed a software to match them with brands and analyse results from advertising campaigns.
ITTIFY was acquired last year by Malaysian digital media group iMedia, but Guan stayed on as chief executive.
Guan is considered the holy grail among many young and upcoming entrepreneurs but there was no single giant leap that has brought him to where he is now. Instead, it was a series of small incremental steps on a long rocky pavement that landed him here.
As far as Guan has come in his career, he says it is just the beginning.
From Degrees to Digital
Although Guan isn’t part of the “college dropout turned successful” stories, he in fact never studied Media or Advertising. Guan actually graduated from Monash University, with a degree in Banking & Finance. But it was during his university days when he got caught up with the trend of ‘creating cool content’ on social media. That sparked his journey to becoming a content creator, and eventually fueling his fire to build a platform for influencers.
Forgoing his native tendency to start in the banking industry hawking loans and credit cards, Guan jumped right into a digital agency in his first job, focusing on developing social media strategies for brands and working with influencers to create content. From an agency’s viewpoint, he saw issues identifying the right influencers, negotiating costs with them and generating meaningful post campaign reports. On the flipside, he noticed it was difficult for aspiring influencers to get noticed by brands. Many didn’t know how to even charge brands for their work.
Guan believed that more opportunities should always be given to those in the creative scene to succeed. And that’s where the stars started to align for him when he took his idea to a startup accelerator program and built the dream ground up. He was young and super passionate about social media so he knew that even if the idea were to fail, he’d still be gaining priceless experience brainstorming with influencers and gurus in the media industry. This ‘forget fear’ approach propelled ITTIFY into some real traction, where both brands and influencers started to see the value in the product he was building.
As ITTIFY started to scale fast, he began to realise more challenges abound and that the necessity to break down certain walls would require the right tools, or in this sense, partners that had the right drills and hammers. That’s when he decided to partner up with iMedia, a digital media company led by veteran media operators who knew their way around big-spending media agencies and clients.
He’s enjoyed the journey thus far, seeing his business grow from ‘Good to Great’. The first year of partnership, saw ITTIFY’s revenue grow 2.5x. Finances aside, he espouses the aligning values of iMedia and ITTIFY where there’s a strong belief that if you take care of your own people, your people will take care of the business. Since being part of the group and with sales matters on an upward trajectory, it has given him freedom to invest in new game-changing initiatives, such as procuring an elite team of “ITTIFIED” influencers – think like a “Verified Badge” for influencers with good response and engagement rates – to guarantee better value for clients, as well as overseeing upgrades to the tech platform to deliver a better experience to stakeholders.
Unique Palette of Influencers
Malaysia as a culturally diverse country also means that the social influencer industry has a myriad of content creators that serve their particular niche and demographic. It is difficult to find one single media influencer that appeals to all Malaysians, and he thinks that’s where the opportunity lies for content creators to be very focused on their own crafts by connecting to their audience on a more personal level. The social commerce trend is booming abroad, where influencers are the main means of selling products online via affiliate marketing with products that they truly believe in. He believes the next wave of influencers should definitely equip themselves with live-streaming skillsets, something ITTIFY has already started to embark on since the turn of the year with their “ITTIFIED” influencers.
Sleep More, Win More
Despite spending most hours at work (which he loves), Guan works out a healthy balance with sleep, fitness and reading. At the time of the interview, he was re-reading “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker and reckons that quality sleep is something that’s super important which most people overlook. He delves into how understanding one’s sleep cycle and timing is important to understand yourself better. From a personal ambition perspective, whilst proud to be part of Forbes 30 Under 30 for individuals, he’d like to win one for the team. “Is there a Forbes award for the best company we can win? I’d very much prefer that…”
Who are “ITTIFIED” Influencers?
ITTIFY believes in giving more opportunities to creative people to succeed. They started to identify content creators and social media influencers that have truly made their mark via content that is authentic and creative. And having completed over a 1000 postings in just Q1 of 2021, they put together a curated list of influencers called ITTIFIED Influencers. Certified quality influencers that are responsible, creative and authentic content creators. They have good engagement rates, high responsiveness and overflowing creativity in producing content. The ITTIFY tech platform also helps identify these influencers to make sure their following is real and not bought. They have also embarked on a side hustle while maintaining their content creation page, truly an inspiration during these turbulent times.
Here are some of the ITTIFIED Influencers and their side hustles:
I am Alif Muhaimin, a social media influencer, actor, gamer and full time fitness enthusiast. I’d like to say I am an optimistic extrovert and am cheerful at all times. On the side, I discovered that I enjoy making ‘kek batik’ too! It first started from my family recipe and has been refined over time. Kek batik is also known as Malaysian Cake as it carries the hereditary traits of one of Malaysia’s cultures.
I’m Eleena Harris, a dedicated singer-songwriter in the local music industry with over 4 million views on one of my singles, ‘Terlalu Rindu’. Apart from singing, I recently ventured into creating my own small baking business known as ’Eh! Terlalu Sedap’ where I sell Raya cookies and pastas.
My name is Mersie. I’m a Master Graduate Architect but decided to pursue a photography business after 2 years of working in an architect firm as I realized my passion for photography. At JEM studios, we have over 100 unique & original newborn photography themes. We specialize not only in newborn photography but also maternity, family, product, baby & kids.
I’m Aaron. I used to be a cabin crew for Singapore Airlines but now a social influencer. On the side, I decided to take a leap of faith to start up a coffee business back in Malaysia and I am enjoying it! Daily Potion is the First Coffee Joint that serves Hand-pressed Espresso in Malaysia.