In a world teeming with entrepreneurs and innovators, some individuals stand out, not just for their business acumen, but for the diversity of experiences they bring to the table. In today’s article, we delve into the journey of such an entrepreneur – Robin Yan.
As the Co-Founder and CEO of Fana, Robin has navigated various industries and cultures, amassing a wealth of knowledge along the way. Our very own Chris from The Bright Founders Talk podcast sat down with Robin to discuss his early life as an immigrant, his professional journey, and the foundation of Fana. Robin’s narrative offers a unique blend of cultural experiences, personal discipline, and a profound sense of community. Join us as we step into the life of a man who seamlessly transitions from being a dedicated parent to a pioneering business leader, and everything in between.
Robin Yan: Early Riser, Old-School Techie, and a Childhood Between Two Worlds
Robin Yan, the CEO of Fana, is a man of intriguing contrasts. Picture this: It’s 5 am, the world is still blanketed in darkness, and Robin’s fingers dance swiftly across his beloved laptop keyboard. “I like getting up in the morning. Clearing out emails from overnight and then putting away the devices,” Robin shared with Chris. The essence of an early bird, he finds solace in his morning routine, a mix of discipline and caffeine, with the added twist of chasing around two school-aged children.
Yet, diving deeper into Robin’s narrative, we discover a fascinating blend of past and present, and the East and West. Born in China, he moved to the suburban U.S. at the tender age of six. The Texas suburbs, painted with images of minivans, soccer practices, and BBQs, formed his backdrop. But it wasn’t just about suburban adventures; there were challenges too. “There’s an element of community,” Robin recalls, “but also that we were immigrants in a country. You’re talking about having to blend into a totally different lifestyle.” Growing up amidst two contrasting worlds gave Robin a unique perspective—one of balancing community with self-identity.
Robin’s boyhood dreams ranged from the adventurous pilot or firefighter to a sports superstar. And although the universe had other plans—steering him towards the entrepreneurial route—it’s evident that Robin’s journey is nothing short of inspiring. His candid reflections echo a sentiment we’ve all felt at some point. As he puts it, “You dream big. And then, you know, you never know.” It’s a reminder that life is less about where you thought you’d be, and more about embracing where you are.
From Texas Suburbia to Global Business Tycoon: Robin’s Tale of Exploration
“The idea was that engineering gave me a relatively strong foundation of problem-solving skills. How to think – this type of skill set is quite useful, no matter what you do.” This insight from Robin, the Cornell University engineering grad, showcases his profound understanding of how foundational skills can be versatile and applicable in various life situations.
Shifting from the cozy confines of suburban Texas to the bustling streets of New York City for university, Robin was ever the explorer. His thirst for adventure didn’t stop at relocating to a contrasting environment; it seeped into his academic choices too. He recalled choosing engineering not because of an ardent passion for it but because it was open-ended. He saw the broader picture – honing a skill set that can be universally applied, beyond the pigeonholes of the conventional paths that careers often thrust upon individuals. When asked about the freedom the U.S. offers in terms of choosing one’s path, Robin emphasized the magic of having an open path to discovery, suggesting its irreplaceability.
But the adventure didn’t stop there. After his maiden venture into the corporate world in NYC, Robin soon found himself setting up an Asian office for a private equity firm in a city he’d never visited – Hong Kong. It’s fascinating to watch the journey of a suburban Texan boy meandering through the world, mastering the blend of his foundational skills with on-ground experiences, and shaping an impressive global career path.
From the Big Apple to Hong Kong Hustle: Robin’s Global Dance with Business
Robin’s journey, with its roots in New York’s gleaming skyscrapers, took an exciting turn towards the dizzying heights of Hong Kong’s skyline. The bustling pace of Asia, especially Hong Kong’s overwhelming density, presented a shift in rhythm for him. Robin reminisces, “Everything is just very, very fast-paced in Hong Kong. You could call up someone you didn’t know very well and say, ‘Do you want to sit for a coffee and talk?’ That was warmly received most times.” But the world of 2023, a post-COVID era, has altered the dynamics of human interaction, where virtual calls have stolen the charm of spontaneous, face-to-face meetings.
Despite the similar nature of the finance and investment world across global cities, it’s the pace and style of working that Robin noticed varies widely. Heading to Hong Kong in 2010-11, post the financial recession, he found a niche amidst the saturated financial market. The challenge? To rebuild and support a business he had invested in. It was in this crucible of Hong Kong’s fierce marketplace that Robin honed skills that would stay with him. He comments on the universal importance of interpersonal relationships, noting, “No matter the industry, it’s all about dealing with people.”
Robin’s adventures did not end in Hong Kong. His role required extensive travels to countries like Vietnam and India, making his life a whirlwind of flights and hotel stays. But the pandemic prompted a pause, a moment of reflection. Landing in London, with the world rapidly changing around him, Robin observed an intersection of community, consumption, and charity, pushing him to innovate. Driven by a desire to create something better, he embarked on a new endeavor, illustrating his continuous passion to evolve and adapt in an ever-changing world.
Empowering Choice in Charity: A Deep Dive with Robin on the Evolution of Fana
Robin sat back, exuding an excitement palpable even through our digital screens. As I ventured into understanding “Fana”, Robin’s brainchild, what immediately struck me was its uniqueness in the charitable domain. “Fundamentally, it is a platform that connects charities, brands, and merchants and consumers,” he began. His observation of existing tools in the market painted a scenario where charities, brands, and merchants were active participants, but the consumer was a passive entity. This was the void Fana aimed to fill. Robin pointed out, “The fact that I round up at checkout, the fact that you plant a tree when I purchase something, I’m never actually asked if that’s what I want.”
It wasn’t just about offering choices. The vision of Fana was deeper. Robin’s eyes lit up as he delved into how the charitable actions of an individual could become part of their digital identity. He mused, “It’s not about who did more. It’s about, ‘Hey, this is an area that you care about, this is an area that I care about.'” It’s about shared values, shared priorities, and the magic that ensues when they intersect.
The conversation took another intriguing turn when the design of Fana’s debit cards came up. Far from the conventional, these cards sported vivid colors and vibrant art. But they weren’t merely about aesthetics. The artwork was community-led, chosen by the consumers, reflecting their choices and beliefs. “There’s no reason that payment cards have to be boring,” Robin asserted, emphasizing that the more impact a consumer makes, the more designs they get to unlock.
Robin’s journey, the vision behind Fana, and the steps taken to bring it to life not only offered a glimpse into the potential future of charitable giving but also underscored the importance of choice, community participation, and shared values. And as our conversation drew to a close, he left me, and undoubtedly many others, pondering on the deeper meanings of choices and the power they hold.