Why Jamie Lee went from being a teacher to leading one of Asia’s top tech start-ups {ChangeMakeHer Career Stories Series}

August 11, 2017

Jamie's story is the latest in our exclusive Changemakeher Career Stories, where we interview incredible women creating powerful change in their respective fields about their stories and share their advice on how YOU can do the same. After doing some research, one of the biggest factors we’ve discovered as to why exactly girls tend to shy away from fields such as STEM, entrepreneurship and leadership roles is quite simply that there is often not enough representation. After all, it’s a lot harder to become something you can’t see. So, here at Changemakeher, one of the ways we’re working to change that by interviewing amazing women out there, and showing that you’re just as capable of doing things like them!

So, without further ado, let us introduce to you: Jamie Lee!

Tell us about your story and what you do day-to-day!

I’ve been a teacher for almost all my working life. From teaching financial literacy to schoolkids, to mentoring university students alongside some of the world’s most influential companies, my passion has always been building relationships and helping people grow. That hasn’t changed since I joined Carousell, one of Asia’s most successful start-ups, as their General Manager for Australia. In fact, it’s the main reason why I signed up.

I’ve always told my mentees that the people you work for, matter far more than the brand. When Carousell told me that this new role was open, I’d known its co-founder and some of its employees more than a year through Austern International, the education start-up I co-founded. Carousell had given several batches of our students a great experience of start-up life during their stays in Singapore, and I’d seen first-hand the love and drive that their entire team brought to growing the business. I also knew my direct manager-to-be, JJ, from his time at AirBNB (another Austern partner), and jumped at the opportunity to be mentored by someone whose perspective and skills are immensely different to mine.

Carousell isn’t so well-known in Australia yet, but in Asia it’s gotten so famous that people have started using it as a verb! The online marketplace lets anyone list pre-loved items for sale, but unlike some other platforms it takes its “Peer-to-Peer” label quite literally. Face-to-face meets are the norm, and hundreds of thriving communities of people with similar interests have sprung up on the site. When you buy something, you know you’re dealing with a real person. Your purchases matter.

That experience upended how I thought about the things I buy and value. I’ve loved fashion ever since I was a kid: I ran a fashion blog as a student and always enjoyed shopping for clothes, but never thought about the lasting impact of what I purchased. The first time I tried Carousell, I bought a beautiful blue dress at an obscenely low price. Low enough that I messaged the seller asking why she was selling the dress – and a whole stack of other designer clothes – for so little.

Her answer? She’d recently become a single mother, and needed the money to support her child during this rough patch. I couldn’t look at my spending the same after that.

I’ve been at Carousell for just over two months now. I’m still part of Austern, mentoring our students and guiding the business where it’s needed, but I’m fortunate that the business is sustainable at this point without my day-to-day input. That’s given me the chance to throw myself in the deep and be the “new kid” again – ready to learn and grow.


How did you get to where you are today?
I didn’t get to where I am today through schoolwork or classes. The most important things I learnt came from my mum. My parents got divorced when I was 12 years old. My mum was heartbroken, depressed and devastated, yet she was fearless in raising two children in a foreign country on her own. She soldiered on with such dignity that no matter how tough things got, she still managed to forgive and rise above the mess with a smile. She has never stopped inspiring me with her positive view towards life and her compassion for those who have less than we do. From her, I learnt to look at what I could do to raise others up, rather than at what was lacking in my life.

What advice would you give to young girls looking to get into your field of work?
My journey so far has been filled with epic failures, embarrassing screw-ups and glorious rebounds. Starting a business is incredibly stressful. First, you need to get comfortable at being uncomfortable and get confident being uncertain. Don’t give up just because something is hard. Pushing through challenges is what makes you grow. Second, hire the right group of people. I believe a business’s success is all about people. When you are the leader of a business, you must create a culture of growth. When people in your sphere of influence know that personal growth and leadership development are valued, they become attached to the company and its mission rather than only to their own careers. So, I believe as a leader, your job is to help others do their jobs better. Third, be clear on your “whys” and your reasons for doing what you do. This will help you to stay motivated!

Why do you think women are under-represented in your field and the broader workplace?
Too few women have the courage to speak up and be ambitious for themselves. I always tell my mentees to put their hands up when an opportunity arises. Don’t wait for someone to recommend you for it. I am here today is partly because I have seized opportunities as they rose. In order to do this, I also believe that women need to learn how to negotiate properly - it’s such a crucial skill to have.

Have you experienced any push-back for being a woman in your field? If so, how do you deal with that?
To be honest all of my push-backs have been internal rather than external factors. When I started my first business I was only 20 and I spent a lot of time focusing on negative self talks. I felt like I was too young and inexperienced for people to take me seriously. During this time, I had to learn to rewire my brain and refocus attention to the things that matter because the more attention you give to something, the greater percentage of your world it will occupy. It means I had to let go of the temptation of comparing my life with anyone else’s and connect with people who brings out the positive energy in me.

Who are your biggest inspirational GirlBosses?
I draw inspirations from everyone that I had the chance to meet. However, I truly admire women who love themselves, even if they are not the standard beauty norm. I marvel at women who know how to play up their weaknesses and draw you to their flaws, they make them special, attractive and even enviable.

It makes me sad to see young girls trying to imitate their friends or celebrities to become someone else. We all have our insecurities and believe it or not I have a ton, but it doesn't mean that you have to force yourself to fit in. Your self-worth is determined by you and in the long run conformity won't get you far.

Of course, learning to love yourself “as is” does not happen overnight. I used to dislike the overly sensitive side of me. I cry when others cry, I get over excited and I feel things deeply. But this sensitive part of me allows me to feel "life" Now after several years I am learning to love this side of me that I thought needed to be abolished. Seeing my once perceived “weaknesses” as positive attributes in certain situations allows me to look at myself with more kind and loving eyes So for all the girls who are reading this, I want you to know that you are beautiful and much more valuable than the "likes" on social media. Being yourself is not about winning or losing. It's about courage - the courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable and be seen.

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