Interview with CEO, SmartUp – Deborah Tan-Pink

1. Tell us about your role in SmartUp?
Actually, I’m wearing 2 hats right now at SmartUp. Even though I’ve been promoted to co-CEO, I still retain my responsibilities as the Global Head of Content. As the latter, my job is to help our clients transform their training content so that it becomes engaging microlearning. As co-CEO, I look after the day-to-day operations of the business, talking to potential partners and clients to expand our presence globally, and work with my team to ensure that SmartUp is top-of-mind when people talk about agile learning experience platforms.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
I spent some 12 years doing lifestyle content before deciding to make the switch to tech. I was lucky enough to find a role at SmartUp that marries my experience in content with a tech platform. The learning curve was definitely very steep but I like the intellectual challenge and I still derive great satisfaction from learning something new about the industry.

3. How do you think technology is changing the HR Sector?
Exposure to technology and disruption has definitely shaken things up in the HR sector. It is a sector that’s going through a lot of re-energizing! Not only do HR professionals have to be extremely tech-aware, they now have an opportunity to see their roles through very different lenses. Technology has made it possible to automate the mundane admin stuff and this in turn has made time for HR to really focus on the humans in an organization. And I like how a lot of companies are doing away with the term “Human Resources” and using words like “People”; this really means so much because it says that we are more than just faceless minions. People actually matter!

4. How has E-learning helped in optimizing the development of HR professionals?
I would first have to qualify that not all eLearning are created the same. If a HR’s idea of “eLearning” involves emailing a PDF to everyone in the company, that’s not really an evolution. Also, if we are still measuring people using metrics like “time spent staring at your screen”, we are also not tapping into what eLearning is bringing to the table.

I would say that a HR professional is truly enlightened when they recognize that Learning can be done anytime, anywhere, in any format that best suits the individual. Some people may still prefer a mechanical way of learning – going to workshops, reading books, etc. and that’s perfectly okay. What digital can now do is help a HR transform a piece of learning into several formats, be it a blog post, a podcast, a slideshow, an animation, or microlearning.

5. How does creating a piece of knowledge and sharing or exchanging can contribute in better employee engagement and development?
When an employee takes what he’s learned, reworks it into a format that resonates with him, and teaches it to someone else. Teaching and doing are crucial in engagement and development. Taking personal responsibility and activating curiosity make it easier to drive people to learn. Ownership is very important – so if everyone is just sitting there expecting to be spoon-fed content, you’re not going to get very good results.

6. How can your platform help in improving employer-employee relations?
SmartUp is a co-learning platform that lets our clients become “WeWorks of Learning”. In each unique ecosystem, they are able to share knowledge to private social groups. People will find that they are able to learn and create learning on a platform that allows them to leverage on each other, mingle and network in a positive and safe environment. SmartUp helps employers build up the environment so that employees feel motivated to engage with the content in it.

7. “E-learning is the future of education,” what are your views on this statement?
eLearning is NOT the future of education. You’ll constantly hear things like “AR is the future of education”, “AI is the future of education” … but at the end of the day, the only thing that determines the future of your own education is you.

8. What advice would like to give to the upcoming HRTech Start Ups?

The tech is your ticket to the party but it’s really your talent at dealing with people that’s going see you going home with someone at the end of evening.

9. What work related hack do you follow to enjoy maximum productivity?
I don’t see my professional and personal times as separate. If I need to do something personal during “work hours”, I just go ahead and do it. If I need to get a job done on my days off or on a vacation, again, I just do it. I think the more you obsess with “work-life balance”, the less you’re going to feel you are ever going to achieve it.

10. How do you prepare for an AI-centric World?
By knowing that no matter how ambiguous the world gets, I am always going to be ready to adapt, change, invent, and do something different and unpredictable.

11. What are the major developments you are planning, in recent times?
I’ve just co-founded a content agency that specializes in learning content. is for corporates and organizations that need some help with transforming their old, tired training into something fun and engaging. We already know our way around different learning systems and authoring tools so what better than to offer this expertise to customers who need to give their learning content a facelift!

12. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
We run on a very lean team at SmartUp and this is only possible because everyone isn’t afraid to hustle and get involved with clients. I tend to hire people for their adaptability and flexibility – I like generalists because I believe that, at the end of the day, we need to be able to look at all parts of the organization and tell ourselves, “Right, here’s how it can work better.”

13. Which Book are you reading these days?
I’m reading “The Courage To Be Disliked” – the choice is kind of funny because anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really give a damn about being Ms. Popularity. When I first joined SmartUp, I told my co-CEO Frank Meehan that I was reading Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k” and he said, “I think if anyone needs to learn about not giving a f**k about anything, that person would not be you, Deborah Tan.”

Deborah Tan-Pink CEO, SmartUp

Deborah Tan-Pink has spent 12 years in women’s lifestyle publishing and was the launch editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Singapore. In 2013, she left magazines to set up a content agency with 3 partners, doing content for brands, newspapers, and magazines. She joined SmartUp in 2017 building learning around digital transformation, entrepreneurship, disruptive tech, and innovation for customers around the world. Her podcast “Humanizing Learning” can be found on both Spotify and Apple Podcasts.


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