Yakun Liu is a 2014 alumna of the BA Marketing programme at International Business School Suzhou (IBSS) and a postgraduate student at Imperial College London. Now, she works at ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok.
Marketing for life
“I like to try many different things,” Liu says about choosing IBSS for her undergraduate degree. “For me, XJTLU provided a great range of things to choose from. Also, I’ve always been good at meeting new people, and at XJTLU it helped me make some great connections, which has helped me in my career.”
At the time, Liu selected BA Marketing as the most suitable programme for her. She believed marketing was not only a job she could do well, but could also 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 her opportunities.
When starting out at university, Liu had a tough time, and her starting grades were lower than she’d hoped. However, her dedication and commitment paid off and her grades improved from around 60% to 80%.
Her teachers provided Liu with strong support during her studies at XJTLU, giving her the knowledge and confidence she needed to pursue multiple internships in different industries during her time at the university. These included internet companies, banks, a journalist role for Suzhou TV, as well as translation roles for Victoria’s Secret and China’s New Voice.
Each of these unique experiences broadened Liu’s perspective and eventually led to her starting her own clothing company.
Finding the right fit
One Cheongsam is a modified cheongsam clothing brand that Liu and five other students created during their undergraduate programmes seven years ago. The inspiration 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 a flattering style of dress, it 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 positive feedback, and coverage in some mainstream media outlets, including Tencent, Sina and North American Students Daily. Later on, a local cheongsam company in Suzhou also extended an invitation to One Cheongsam to collaborate.
“We decided to close the company because we were getting 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,” Liu says.
Step out of comfort zone
Overcoming challenges at XJTLU made Liu more confident, both in furthering her postgraduate studies at Imperial College 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 Imperial College London and it felt like I was in my fifth year of university,” she says.
During her postgraduate studies, whether it was writing her dissertation or giving lectures in class, the learning experience provided by XJTLU helped Liu to complete her coursework with ease.
Remembering the lessons she gained from XJTLU’s learning environment, which encourages students to experiment on their own, she collaborated with her classmates on a start-up project and designed a product that eventually won her a prize from Imperial College London.
After graduation, Liu joined an international 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 led to success in the role.
Later on, Liu 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 says: “Going online is an inevitable trend and will definitely increase in the future.”
After deliberation on this trend, Liu joined ByteDance and is now responsible for AI project management for the overseas business platforms TikTok and CapCut. Her team of algorithm engineers build AI models to help the app automatically generate subtitles or use AI to help with translation.
“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,” Liu says.
From the launch of her business during her third 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, Liu believes that she continues to make the most of her opportunities.
By Peixin Yang
Edited by Alex Mackrell, Xinmin Han and Patricia Pieterse
Photo courtesy of Yakun Liu