Alumni Story | Yakun Liu’s Lifelong Learning Journey

February 03, 2023

Liu Yakun is an alumna of the 2014 marketing programme at the XJTLU, a postgraduate student at Imperial College in the UK, and now works at ByteDance.

Building Momentum and Empowering for life

When asked why she chose XJTLU, IBSS alumni Yakun Liu’s response was "I like to try many different things. For me, XJTLU provides me a great range of things to choose from. Also, at XJTLU that extra sparkle in my personality proved to be a great advantage.”

At the time, YaKun selected BA Marketing as the most suitable major for her. In her view, Marketing was not only a job she could do well, but also could become an integral part of her life. Whether looking for a job or a promotion, she tries to market herself and her personal brand to a wide network and increase the opportunities available to her.

Dr Ellen Touchstone was one of the teachers in Yakun's course at XJTLU, and she used real-life examples to explain her subject to marketing students. When starting out, Yakun had a tough time and her starting grades were not ideal, however her dedication and commitment paid off and her grades improved from 60+ to 80+. The results of this hard work inspired her to continue on her quest with Marketing.

Other teachers also provided Yakun with strong support during her further studies, giving her the knowledge and confidence she needed to pursue multiple internships in different industries during her time at university. These included internet companies, banks, a journalist role for a Suzhou TV station, as well as translation roles for Victoria's Secret and China's New Voice.

Each of these unique experiences allowed Yakun to explore a broader perspective.

"It's easy to have a dream, but not easy to start a dream business"

One Cheongsam is a modified cheongsam clothing brand that Liu Yakun started in collaboration with five other student partners during their undergraduate years seven years ago. The opportunity to start the brand came from seeing a comparison picture of Kate Middleton in a dress and a Chinese woman in a cheongsam. This picture sparked a number of ideas within her team, who agreed that despite the fact that the Cheongsam is actually very good at highlighting the strengths and charms of a woman's figure, this clothing style is generally limited to special occasions only.

With this issue in mind, One Cheongsam was born. Their idea was to combine the culture of East and the West in a range of cheongsam that would appeal to a younger market and allow women to wear them with Chinese confidence and charm.

At that time, the six founders from different universities worked together day and night across the eastern and western hemispheres, regardless of the time difference. Step by step, they learned to start their own business and solve the tough problems they encountered. The hard work eventually paid off, and they received relatively positive feedback, with some mainstream media (including Tencent, Sina and a North American Student newspaper) covering their brand. Later on, a local cheongsam company in Suzhou also extended an invitation to One Cheongsam to collaborate.

"Unfortunately, we didn't keep the brand going because everyone in our team got too busy with our work and studies. But the experience was invaluable to me and inspired me to continue experimenting with entrepreneurship and innovation when I was a graduate student. " Yakun said.

Step out of your comfort zone and embrace reality

Overcoming challenges at XJTLU campus made Liu Yakun more confident, both in furthering her postgraduate studies at Imperial College (IC) London and in embarking on a formal career path.

"Having experienced the international learning environment at XJTLU, I wasn't under much pressure to study at IC and it felt like I was in my fifth year of university," she said.

During her postgraduate studies, whether it was writing her dissertation or giving lectures in class, the learning experience provided by XJTLU helped Yakun to complete her coursework with ease. At the same time, she was so impressed by XJTLU’s learning environment, which encourages students to experiment on their own, that she collaborated with her classmates on a start-up project and designed a product that eventually won her a prize from Imperial College.

After graduation, Yakun joined a foreign company in China, and was "accidentally" given the role of project manager within the marketing department. For her, the job was a coincidence, but she believed in "seizing opportunities when they come" and did not feel that she would be unable to take on such a key role right after graduation. Despite being the youngest member of the team, her boldness and straightforward communication method let to success in the role.

Later on, Yakun decided to pursue work in a different industry. In her opinion, people are now increasingly dependent on a wide range of mobile apps and the self-publishing industry is booming. The pandemic also brought significant change to people's lives with the development of more online offices and classes.

On this she said, "Going online is an inevitable trend and will definitely increase in the future."

After deliberation on this trend, Liu Yakun joined ByteDance and is now responsible for AI project management for the overseas business platforms TikTok and CapCut. She has to manage vendors for projects such as voice text interchange in different languages, as well as multilingual recognition to provide the data needed for AI models. Based on these projects, her algorithm engineers build AI models to help the app to automatically generate subtitles or use AI to help with translation.

After joining ByteDance, Liu Yakun paid great attention to improving her time management and doing the best she could during working hours. Her fast-paced work has helped her learn to complete work delivery by prioritising the most important goals when faced with multiple linear operation tasks.

"My colleagues around me are very good at what they do. By learning a lot at work at the same time, I can improve my own abilities alongside my colleagues." Yakun said.

The road ahead requires you to face constant challenges 

From the launch of her business during her sophomore year, to choosing an entrepreneurship-related major in graduate school, and to the accumulation of experience after work to lay the foundation for her future business, Yakun believes that she continues to move forward on a constant road of challenges to overcome.

"I respect and love the differences between people, and I am willing to tolerate and embrace such differences. This trait has allowed me to see so much the world and people have to offer."

Her own upbringing has given her an inclusive streak. Yakun advises that it is important to experiment more during university, to keep going through trial and error, and to really try what you want to explore for the best experience. Internet hearsay can sometimes be biased, and most people's opinions are not always applicable to your own situation. So be sure to make your own way, don’t set limits for yourself, be open to experimentation and embracing change.

February 03, 2023