Tania Yuki - Social Climber

28 Jan 2016

Author: Simon Webster

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Tania Yuki has taken the New York tech world by storm with her social media analysis firm, Shareablee, and credits her Australian upbringing with her fearless approach to business.
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A bite from a redback spider might cause most five-year-olds to scream, panic, or at least burst into tears. But not Tania Yuki. 

“I remember seeing it happen and holding my hand incredibly still because that’s what my kindergarten teacher had told us to do, otherwise the venom would go to your heart,” Yuki says.

“I explained to my mum what had happened. She screamed and called the ambulance. I remember standing there with my arm above my head, thinking, ‘don’t shake it, don’t shake it’.

“That’s what’s beautiful about Australia. You’ve got crocodiles, sharks, dangerous snakes and spiders, and you just have to chill about that. 

“That attitude has become really helpful in business. You don’t have the same things trying to kill you, but you have lots of other things trying to kill you, and you can’t freak out every time you get bitten.”

As the founder and Chief Executive Officer of a tech company in New York City, Yuki has had plenty of opportunities to test herself in the big jungle of the business world.

She set up her company, Shareablee, in 2012. It’s a social media benchmarking and analysis firm that helps companies analyse and improve their social media content through a purpose-build online platform. And not just any companies: Shareablee’s clients include some of the biggest names in business.

“When companies like Ford try to talk to their customers on things like Facebook and Twitter we try to tell them how they’re doing and whether they’re doing it better or worse than a competitor like Chrysler,” Yuki says. 

Already Shareablee has 70 employees, a new office in Manhattan and along with Ford, a client list including Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Time Inc, Conde Nast, major US television broadcasters and the National Basketball Association.

“We’ve ensured we’ve worked with the very best companies early on and the ones who believe in innovation and being the best in their category,” Yuki says.

“If you can help the leaders in their category, or help those close to being number one in their category become number one, it really helps build your momentum.”

Why do these companies need Shareablee? “Because social media is freakishly hard,” Yuki says. “Even for publishers, who are in the content business. 

“They’re suddenly posting 30 to 50 times a day to platforms like Facebook and Twitter and trying to keep track of whether they’re posting enough, are they posting too much, are they better off posting short, long, which articles are best, how do you get people to click, how do you get people to engage, who is their audience? Shareablee answers these questions.
“There are so many moving pieces and it’s a very new skill.”

As a business founder, Yuki has had to learn some new skills herself along the way. “There are so many surprises around every single corner,” she says. “Early on you can see your company five or 10 years from now, with 1000 employees and 10,000 customers, but at the same time you’re doing the payroll and taking out the trash. It’s really humbling and eye-opening. 

“It’s been a big stretch, and a good stretch. It’s pushed me to test myself.”

This wasn’t the future the young Tania Yuki had pictured for herself growing up in Sydney’s southern suburbs.

The daughter of immigrants - a Croatian father and a Japanese mother - Yuki learnt from an early age about the value of hard work.

“My dad owned and managed cabs,” she says. “A lot of my childhood involved waking up in the middle of the night because a driver had locked himself out or been in an accident. 

“My parents worked hard and instilled that quality of really going above and beyond to make sure their business kept running. It’s a tough business, taxis.”

Yuki dreamt of following a different path. “From when I was five until my early 20s I was very focused on being an actor,” she says.

With roles on Australian television shows such as Home & Away in her teenage years, Yuki may well have achieved that dream had she pursued it, but it wasn’t the only string to her bow.

Yuki left the academically selective public Sydney Girls High School with a NSW Premier's Award for Overall Academic Excellence. 

“That was weird, because I really wanted to be an actress,” she says. “But I hate losing. I love competing. Anything I do I want to do to the best of my ability, and competing gives me a way of measuring stuff, I guess.”

An arts-law degree at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) culminated in an honours thesis that focused on legal rights management in the digital age, and Yuki toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer, specialising in media law. 

But clerkships with some leading law firms convinced her that law wasn’t the right fit for her, and in 2005, while working on her thesis, Yuki applied for, and received, a grant that opened up new possibilities.

The Emerging Artists Award, from independent filmmaking hub Metro Screen and the New South Wales Film and Television Office (now known as Screen NSW), gave Yuki the funds to make a short film, which qualified for the finals of the Australian short-film festival, Tropfest.

“I thought, wow, directing is really interesting,” she says. “There are things you can do that drive your outcome and determine your fate, which as an actor you don’t get to do.”

A production role on a documentary took Yuki to the US for the first time, and she quickly realised this was where she wanted to be. 

“I realised how much exciting stuff was happening in digital media and it opened my eyes to all the things I could be doing,” Yuki says.

Soon, she was moving to New York, and landing a job with the independent film company, Killer Films, specialising in product placements.
Over the next five years, three more roles in digital marketing, measurement and analytics followed: Head of Content at the online content distributor Roo Media; Senior Director, Cross Media and Video Products at digital media analytics company comScore Inc; and Vice-President, Advertiser Solutions at Visible World, a company specialising in targeted television advertising.

Then she was ready to go it alone. “At comScore I was exposed to people who had started tech companies,” she says. “I was in this company that had been built from scratch by some really brilliant people and it ignited in me a ‘gosh, if they can do it, I can do it’.”

Yuki saw a gap in the market and Shareablee was born. Two rounds of funding have helped: US$750,000 led by the venture capital firm Valhalla Partners, and including New York angel investors and Australian venture capital firm Artesian Capital in 2013; and a further US$6 million from venture capital firms SoftBank Capital and Valhalla Partners in 2014.

Her awards have included a Great Mind Award from the Advertising Research Foundation and being named by Fast Company and Forbes as one of the 12 women driving digital in New York. Shareablee's awards include the 2015 Unilever Foundry Award, which recognises outstanding technology innovation in start-ups.

Being a woman in the male-dominated world of technology has proved no barrier.

“I’ve never been a guy doing this so I don’t know whether it’s harder or easier,” Yuki says. “Trying to second-guess whether I should be communicating differently because I’m a woman or if people perceive me differently is just too hard. I’m just doing the best I can.”

However, in her early days in the US Yuki did note the lack of female role models in her industry. So in 2008 she established Wimlink, a network connecting female technology and media professionals.

Shedding light on successful women in tech is crucial to encouraging more women to enter the field, Yuki believes.

“I can’t tell you how many women reached out to me through Wimlink and said it was so great to hear your story because we always hear about how hard it is for women. 

“It’s completely doable. People don’t realise how doable it is.”

When it comes to advice for young women, Yuki says: “Forget about things you can’t control, like gender and height, and just focus on being really good at the work and figuring out what you love doing.”

In the future, Yuki sees her company solving bigger problems as social media becomes more important for businesses. “I feel we’re just getting started,” she says.

She credits her “boatloads of persistence” as the most important personal quality that has driven her success, and says the achievement of which she is most proud was moving away from her Sydney comfort zone to New York.

Yuki’s Australian upbringing, she feels, helped give her the courage to sit at the same table as some important players.

“Coming from Australia I firmly believe no one’s better than anyone else. It’s really about how hard you’re working and the quality of what you’re trying to do, and I think that helped me not be afraid," Yuki says.


“We don’t believe in status or hierarchy in Australia, and that’s helped me have conversations at a high level and not feel I was too junior. 

“The education system in Australia is fantastic and I went to a school that taught you to question everything, and not put anything down until you’ve got to the bottom of it. That’s very helpful when you run a company.”

As for her acting ambitions, Yuki doesn’t believe she’s forsaken a creative life for a career in business. On the contrary: “I think business is intensely creative. It depends on how you see it.”
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