International Women’s Day Edition: The ’00s—Ms. Lai Shan Ru

This is 1 of the 11 interview features as part of our International Women’s Day Special Edition.

By Sara Chia (21S03G)  

In 2018, 24 from Singapore made it into the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list. Out of the 24, one was Ms. Lai Shanru—co-founder of the widely successful cashback platform ShopBack. Having started as a relatively small platform with a limited number of merchants, ShopBack now boasts over 5 million users across the Asia-Pacific.

Despite her young age and the risks involved, Ms. Lai took the leap and is now a prominent figure in Singapore’s entrepreneurial scene. As one of ShopBack’s co-founders, she more than perfectly fits the bill of the International Women’s Day 2021 theme, which focuses on “women in leadership”.

1. What accomplishment in your work or personal life are you the proudest of?

Being part of the team that built ShopBack and made it what it is today, with an amazing team of people driven to add greater value to our customers and merchant partners going forward!

2. What barriers did you face while starting up and running ShopBack? How did you manage those setbacks?

One, having to lead teams and execute in areas that I sometimes had zero prior experience in. I did my best to learn as fast as I could, from reading articles, bouncing ideas off my other co-founders and teammates, and just trying new initiatives and learning from them whether they succeeded or failed.

Another [barrier] was educating users in our various markets about ShopBack as cashback was a very new concept in this part of the world (SEA). We focused on delivering a good customer experience that would encourage happy customers to refer their friends to use ShopBack too, and also used relevant marketing channels, like PR and influencers for instance, to build up our credibility.

3. In your opinion, does a glass ceiling exist for women in Singapore in your sector?

No, in my personal experience, I find that there are equal opportunities regardless of your gender or background. It ultimately boils down to your ability to learn fast and make things happen.

4. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to somebody looking to start up a business?

Find strong co-founders and initial team members that complement you (in terms of skill sets) and that you can work well with—I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the team in driving a business from zero to one.

5. Is there a particular female figure who inspires you?

Sheryl Sandberg. She’s achieved amazing success in business while at Google and Facebook, while devoting time to speak up to advocate for more female leaders in the workplace, [and] managing to raise a family in the process too! She’s also managed to overcome some serious personal hardship with the sudden death of her husband.

6. Did you have any female mentors along your school and career journey? If you did, how have they shaped or impacted you?

I never had any female mentors, but many female teammates here at ShopBack have inspired me in their drive and dedication to get things done and push themselves outside their comfort zones to make a greater impact for our customers.

7. Lastly, does the International Women’s Day 2021 theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, apply to you? If it does, how so?

Yes. I think it’s more difficult for women in leadership to continue growing their careers, should they decide to have children, since they tend to have a bigger responsibility in their children’s lives (just take giving birth and nursing for example). It would be great to give women more support in order to have more of them in leadership positions, as having more women in leadership can definitely drive better outcomes for companies given the value they bring to the table.

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