Wendy the person, and Xiaxue the blogger.
Many of you would have heard by now, the news that Clicknetwork dropped Xiaxue aka Wendy as a host for their channel.
I’ve said my piece via FB comments about how I feel their official statement is both misguided and hypocritical, but today instead of dwelling on that matter, I want to talk about Wendy, the person, and Xiaxue the blogger (In writing this post, I realized they are inextricably linked). If you are one of the woke crowd that is currently intent on lynching her … I suggest you tune out.
I have been friends with Wendy since 2004 (16 years). Then, I was studying in London, and had just embarked on my first business, an online men’s gift shop, Gadgeit.com.
A business partner of mine, recommended we use blog advertising to market our site. And mind you, back then, bloggers were divided into two camps. The “puritans” (those who refused to trade their written opinion for commercial gain) and the “pragmatists” (those who saw no issue with it). Wendy fell into that very small 2nd group of course.
She hailed from a humble (but loving, kudos auntie yipmomo) background (maybe can be PAP MP, yes this is for you trolls), and she decided to sell advertorials for a paltry $300. No brands at all were using blogs as a medium at that time, because they feared backlash (Funny how we seem to be going one full circle, but that’s life right?).
I was not a blog reader back then, and was skeptical … but hey it’s only 300 bucks right. Worth a shot.
That advertorial by wendy resulted in hundreds of orders for Gadgeit.com. It was so successful, it actually led to the demise of the business, as we could not fulfill all of them in a timely manner. Back then, no ninja van ok, it was business partners on deck, making deliveries across the island with our personal vehicles.
LOYALTY, a lost value
After graduation, in 2006, and with that experience in tow, I decided to start a blog advertising company called Nuffnang.com (A subsidiary of our parent company, Netccentric). I reconnected with Wendy, brought her out for lunch, and offered her a small stake in the Singaporean arm (5%). I did this for a couple of other leading bloggers at the time. In total, we gave out 25% of our local companies (In Singapore and Malaysia). This was again way ahead of our time, because back then giving away equity in your business (i.e., Stock Grants/Options) was not common.
In truth, this was meant to buy “loyalty”, but I have since learnt, that Wendy’s loyalty was never for sale, and seldom (within reason) in question.
As the years went by, our business grew. Nuffnang went from strength to strength. At our peak we had 1 million bloggers in our database, hundreds of bloggers regionally under contract, and serviced many global brands.
The entire landscape changed and took on a life of its own. Let me describe how:
-> Nuffnang was the first entrant into the influencer marketing space (in South East Asia), and as we seemed to be raking in the dough, competitors started hopping on board. Many of them approached our stable of bloggers, and enticed them with bigger sums of money. They did so, by purely “investing” capital into them. They offered larger payouts than what even clients were willing to pay just so they would jump ship. Many bloggers did. Its kind of like how these tech startups like grab are simply throwing money to acquire customers and marketshare. When this failed, they smeared us, spreading rumors and fake news about Nuffnang’s conduct and ethics. For example, they would say, “Oh you know, Nuffnang is actually taking a bigger cut from the client than they are tellin you.” Lies of course, but they worked wonders in discrediting us. And a lie told over and over again, soon rings like the truth. We denied them strenuously, and countered with facts, but we could not do so every instance, as frankly we had a business to run!
-> When we started in 2006, I remember carrying my bag pack around and knocking on doors of clients. I felt almost like a door to door salesperson. Established brands were late into the game, it was all the SMEs who could not afford mainstream media options who tried blog advertising first. This slowly changed, and it morphed into the scene you are familiar with. Today, global brands are aggressively engaging influencers, spending significant coin on them, and many clients are “befriending” these influencers to get ahead in their careers. As a representative agency, this was a problem for Nuffnang, because many brands and their marketing executives tried to “bypass” us, despite us having commercial contracts with the bloggers. Many influencers took up deals by themselves, bypassing Nuffnang as partners. You must remember, we spent significant resources helping these influencers grow. Dedicated talent managers, salespeople, and community team members to organise events where they could meet and network, ad ops executives to run manage campaigns.
Wendy was the biggest of all these influencers. She had started out that way, and continued that way. She was constantly approached, and cajoled. Many of her influencer friends tried to sell her the idea she could make more money outside of Nuffnang, and they would also tell her stories about how Nuffnang was failing our talents. “Clients” who befriended her and PR’d her, tried to do the same.
Nuffnang never had any commercial agreement with Wendy like the other hundreds of influencers regionally. She maintained a small stake in the local company (5%), that did not pay any dividends, and it was an outright grant, meaning that even if she had left and worked with another partner, she could still keep it. She had no foreseeable value in it.
And yet, whilst many contracted talents, jumped ship in spite of their contracted obligations, the one influencer who did not was Wendy. This was definitely not the norm, and it has made a lasting impact on me.
There is a particular movie scene from Jerry Maguire that I like to reference.
In it, Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) is now an independent sports agent, and works a football player’s father hoping to manage his son. The old man gives him a firm handshake and says, “Hey you know I don’t do contracts, but what you do have is my word, and its stronger than oak! *cue cowboy music*”
Later, Jerry is betrayed, and left out in the cold. Stabbed in the back. Betrayed. What happened to “Stronger than oak?”, must be ikea oak. It’s not like I want to be cynical, but this is true 99% of the times, and it is even so if you have a contract!
I do not recall even having any major discussions of note with Wendy about more money. I spent hours on the phone with countless influencers who wanted to renege on their contracts. They aired their grievances with me and my team, telling us how they should be earning more, or how they were unhappy with our service, emotionally blackmailing us … basically anything and everything to get out of the contract so they could bite that bigger carrot that was dangling outside.
This does not mean she did not question me or the way the company was running. In fact, the conversations I had with her, often occurred the day after her mahjong sessions with some of her blogger friends. She would confront me and say, “Qiu Qiu said you guys are taking a larger cut than you are telling us.” … is this true? I would take time to explain the true situation, and she would continue clarifying with me, before being satisfied. She seldom asked about earning more money, always asked for her “friends” first and foremost … and was satisfied once she had looked me in the eye and I had answered her truthfully.
There was another instance, when Gillian of Clicknetwork told her she suspected, Reelity TV, our new youtube channel, was buying fake views. By this time, I was CEO and less involved in the day to day affairs of the company. Wendy asked me pointblank, “Are you buying fake views? Cos that is not ok.” I did not answer her immediately, and simply said, “I do not know, not under my sanction.”, and went back to investigate. I called my Reelity TV partner into the meeting room and asked him, “Are you buying fake views?” He told me he was … and I told him to stop, because that was not in line with our values. He did, and the matter was resolved.
I am spending alot of time on “Loyalty” as a topic, and quality. But the reason why I am doing so is because it is increasingly becoming a rare and forgotten value. I am well aware of blind loyalty, but I challenge you to have an argument with me and see if you can make me bend my opinion easily. I am my own man, and sometimes I will agree with you, other times I will not. Its the same between me and wendy.
However, in my mind, Loyalty should be at the heart of every relationship. Even wild animals have loyalty to one another. A relationship is but a meaningless facade of niceties without it.
I guess this is where we segway to the next quality Wendy has as a person.
This recent cancel wendy fracas is really nothing new for me. Just like everybody else, in fact, anybody reading this article. We ALL have opinions. We all have our points of view, and they seem like the most important one in the world.
The truth is, many of these opinions we individually hold may not be so popular. So we go around self censoring ourselves, trying not to say the wrong thing in front of the wrong person. We wait for somebody else to jump into the pool, and see if its a pool of hydrochloric acid, or well just a way to cool off.
Many of my friends are like that, and well, all I can say to that is to each his own.
Wendy is different. Contrary to popular belief, she does “consider” what she wants to say very carefully. In fact, she does copious amounts of research before writing an article or filming a video. It starts off as an irritation for her, like an itch, and she is super kaypoh … so she needs to find out more. She then does copious amounts of CSI, and digging, before spilling the beans. In honestly, a very comprehensive and well sourced manner. She would make a good PHD student.
There are so many reasons why people may hate her for it. They disagree fundamentally, they disagree with her delivery, they disagree with her nose job, they disagree with her courage. But then for everyone who disagrees, there are many more who do in fact see her point of view. Many who are willing to look past her delivery and understand what she is saying.
And no, these people are not mindless drones, uneducated singaporean rednecks or the equivalent (brainless xiao mei meis). These are people who resonate with her authenticity and genuineness and have been doing so for years.
It is precisely because, she does not belittle this group of people, that she has influence. With everybody else, it seems the more vocal you are, the more “right” you are. But many a times, Wendy has spoken truth to “fake” power, and the “silent” majority have been with her.
It takes far less courage to be part of an already vocal movement, than it does to give voice to a quiet one.
An example of this is supporting the PAP today. It seems its not popular to vocally support boring guys in white, who lack showmanship, but make up for it with results. You must be a mindless drone if you do. My answer to that. Read this article.
Conclusions – Why am I writing this?
So you may ask, “Ming, why are you writing this? Your friend in trouble right? Scared ah?”
That cannot be further from the truth. I am writing this because I have been inspired by her. And have always been. I am inspired by her courage, and for always being true to herself. For defending views that may seem unpopular, but really are not. They are just not addressed. For advancing conversations in other directions, ensuring the other side gets heard.
Stop being childish, you cant cancel xiaxue, just by sitting behind your keyboard and making online police reports. She has got me, and her other friends behind her. We will give her strength, we will pick off where she left off if she gets tired. We will also be the ones to keep her in check if she is wrong, and I would do so publicly, because you know what, that’s just the kind of people we are. Straight up. Love us or hate us, we’re here to stay.