In conversation with: Zean Vo on being among Forbes’ 30 under 30


Zean Vo is a BA(Hons) Design Communication alumna from LASALLE College of the Arts. She is also co-founder of AI-powered fashion commerce app Browzzin, a platform described by FashionNetwork.com as ‘shaking up the industry’ by enabling ‘every fashion snap to become a shoppable billboard’. More recently, she added a further accolade to her title – a Forbes 30 under 30 Asia honouree.

Born and raised in Nha Trang, Vietnam, Zean came to Singapore to study at LASALLE in 2008. Upon graduation, she took on a variety of roles including gallery curator, commercial photographer and art director before joining Zalora as a regional project manager. In 2017 she co-founded Browzzin, the first fashion social and shopping app for fashion lovers to discover, shop and share outfit looks.

The year 2019 marked numerous career highlights for Zean with Browzzin rewriting the rules of retailing and influencer marketing within a short amount of time since its founding. It was a finalist at the Drapers Award, an industry-recognised platform that applauds outstanding design and innovation in fashion, and was distinguished as a ‘Top 50 Tech Company’ at Intercon Dubai, a pre-eminent technology conference that counts industry leaders from over 45 countries as attendees. The app also drew international attention from the likes of The Financial Times, WWD, Metro and The Times, while Zean herself was selected to attend the Obama Foundation Asia-Pacific Leadership Programme, joining 200 other emerging leaders and prominent speakers to discuss capacity-building for local communities.

Video courtesy of The Obama Foundation.

It seemed hard to top a year filled with such accomplishments but in April 2020, Zean did just that by being named as an entrepreneur to watch on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list. Recommended by industry veterans for disrupting the status quo and vetted by an acclaimed panel for qualities such as excellent leadership, sound business acumen, innovative thinking and steady company growth, Zean bested some 3,500 other nominations for her seat in the prestigious hall of fame.

A fitting milestone for the 30-year-old who was thrilled and humbled by the announcement. “What’s next? I pondered over this a lot and realised that such recognition comes with even greater responsibility,” Zean said. “This achievement is increasing my motivation to create more impact and challenge the status quo of fashion retailing.”

Image courtesy of Browzzin

In the not-so-distant future, she has set her sights on further improving the artificial intelligence technology of Browzzin, which currently assists users by recognising and searching though over three million fashion products and tagging these automatically to brands on users’ photos. She is also laying the groundwork for several new apps aimed at helping retail partners recover from the COVID-19 economic slump.

But what is a day in the life like for an entrepreneur who is always on-the-go in two fast-paced industries, fashion and technology? For starters, it isn’t all glamour. The self-confessed workaholic pulls an average 15-hour shift, splitting her day between two main tasks.

The first is collaborating with data scientists, engineers and designers to enhance the user experience (UX) of the app, where improvements are made with the user always in mind.

“Our team believes that great UX solves problems, evokes emotions and leads to brand loyalty, which is something any business wants to achieve. That philosophy is deeply engraved in me, thanks to the education I’ve gained at LASALLE,” said Zean.

Secondly, she also blocks out several hours a day to work on strategic planning for the company. “I am so thankful for the experience of working on projects independently during my time with LASALLE. Looking back, this has helped me to combine critical thinking with creative-making, enabling me to be both a thinker and creator.”

As with any business, there are bound to be peaks and troughs but Zean takes it in her stride. “Startups are really exciting. There is always something new to solve and while it can feel like an onslaught of issues — from unstable products, hiccups in processes and systems going down, to managing finance and always being prepared to pivot the business model — it is also a thrilling roller coaster ride,” she said.

Zean credits her team as the backbone of Browzzin. She makes it a point to check in on their physical and mental health and see how she can help them excel at their work.

“I wouldn’t have achieved this alone. I have an exceptional team which helps me to make this happen,” she emphasised. “My key learning from being an entrepreneur is to step up and be a strong, positive and authentic leader. Especially in a tech startup environment where time is crucial, making quick decisions and being agile is imperative. You just need to be more right than wrong as nobody can be 100% correct all the time.”

As changemakers paving the way for the next generation, Forbes’ Senior Editor for Asia, Rana Wehbe, applauded 2020’s list makers for inspiring optimism. “They are a resilient and energetic bunch who are facing challenges head-on and actively working for a future that matches their aspirations,” she added.

Zean has this piece of advice for her juniors and aspiring entrepreneurs at LASALLE. “Have a positive mindset, take action and be kind. Being an entrepreneur is tough and sometimes can be lonely so we need to be our own cheerleaders. Only by facing challenges will we grow and become better versions of ourselves,” she said. “Also know that kindness is the beginning of many great ideas to solve problems and serve the community. The world needs more of this in particular right now.”