This the first part of our 5-part Challenge Accepted series for International Women’s Day 2021. This week we feature Dorothy Fong, the Founder and CEO of idotyou, a one-stop digital marketing agency. We caught up with Dorothy to find out why she started idotyou 20 years ago, how’s she’s sustained the business through it all and what her unique business philosophy is.
After graduating in computer science in 1994, Dorothy Fong started off her career in the IT solutions scene and worked for companies like CyberTouch and HT Consulting that enhanced her tech skills. However, she soon found herself stuck in a vicious cycle of coincidences – more than half of the companies she joined, would close operations for various reasons.
Determined to eventually be her own boss, Dorothy said a silent prayer to God, of her dream to manage her own company by the age of 35. However, her experience and confidence helped her achieve the dream half a decade earlier and in November 2001, she started her own company called idotyou.
The birth of idotyou, according to Dorothy, was purely out of luck. Although this speaks more of her humility, her business did in fact start due to an existing demand of mobile ringtone content.
Since then, idotyou as an agency has evolved and each pivot taken toward growth was guided by Dorothy’s intelligent analysis of emerging trends and innovative mindset.
When the ringtone business became more competitive, she started operating her own SMS shortcode, working with brands such as F&N and Drypers to reach customers directly.
It was in 2008 when things really changed for idotyou. With the rise in consumer digital products and faster, more accessible internet allowing platforms such as Facebook and Google to reach more people, Dorothy was certain that this digital space would be key for advertisers and marketers moving forward.
“We were lucky to have good relationships with platform owners who would train us on how to use new technologies and then pitch its possibilities to clients,” Dorothy said. “Businesses such as Facebook, Google, and even Twitter were willing to work closely with us and train us, and we were quick to pick it up.”
Growing into an agency brands trust
The team at idotyou, according to Dorothy, has always been lean. But that hasn’t stopped them from going after big clients.
‘Think big, start small, build deep’ – inspired by Pastor Edmund Chan’s words, this is the philosophy Dorothy always stood by.
“Despite being a small team, we never shied away from approaching big brands as potential clients but because we were small, I knew that we would have to start with something small and make a great impression,” Dorothy said. “In the real world, most often we only have one chance to make an impression.”
With brands such as McDonald’s, Tesco, L’Oreal, Panasonic, IPC Shopping Center, durex, Digi, Maxis and more on their list of clients, it proves that Dorothy’s philosophy and approach has worked for the business. However, she says having a ‘hero’ from the client side is just as important for them to execute work that would get noticed. “If their mind is closed, there’s no platform for us to shine,” she added.
According to Dorothy, trust is the main element in her relationship with clients. To her marketing is common sense and it involves lots of observations, thinking and then putting the pieces together.
“I am a problem solver and when clients come to me with a business problem, I get excited to find ways to combine creativity and technology as a means of solution,” Dorothy said. “I always make sure my solutions are also practical and relevant to bringing tangible sales.”
A Hands-On Leader
Every Sunday for the last 15 years, Dorothy’s routine includes playing 2 hours of badminton and now she’s even gotten a coach to train her and her badminton friends. She also added cycling in her outdoor sports recently. “I enjoy social sports and I get easily bored when there’s no social element to the physical activities I participate in,” Dorothy said.
Her preference when it comes to sports extends to her leadership style as she admits she’s always been more of a hands on person. As a leader, the typical managing from an office while sitting down, isn’t her style. Instead, she gets involved in the execution side of things whenever possible.
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe the first time around in 2020, idotyou was asked to pivot entirely to remote selling. Luckily even before COVID-19, Dorothy was already observing the live e-commerce trend that was rising and in 2019, she started Polka Dot Digital, a one-stop social commerce agency.
Now the agency conducts live e-commerce via Facebook at least once a month for its clients.
In July last year, idotyou helped organise Malaysia’s first-ever Virtual Beauty Festival via Facebook for L’Oreal. The festival was hosted by international beauty experts and local celebrities and brought together eight luxury beauty brands such as Lancome, Biotherm, shu uemura, Urban Decay, IT Cosmetics, Kiehls, Giorgio Armani Beauty as YSL Beauty.
The festival was so successful that the client had made a month’s worth of sales within 24 hours.
Advice to budding entrepreneurs
As a successful entrepreneur who has sustained the success of her agency in an ultra-competitive industry for almost two decades, Dorothy says she has three key advice to budding entrepreneurs in any industry.
- Love what you do
“As cliche as this advice may seem, you really need to get into what you love to do instead of getting into it because of the money,” Dorothy says. “When you love what you’re doing, you’ll not only enjoy the problem solving part but also do it well and the rewards will come.”
- Prepare for the worst
“You must know what you’re getting into and be prepared for the worst so you’re mentally prepared to handle anything else,” Dorothy says.
- Be quick to innovate and evolve
“The technology and consumer trends are evolving very rapidly,” ” Dorothy said. “In order to stay competitive and stay in the game, focus on the one thing you are good at – in our case is digital marketing services – but keep innovating and evolving in how to deliver it and make it better.”
Proudest Work Achievement
It would be the 12 years of labor with McDonalds,” Dorothy say. “Being a small, unheard agency, I’m proud of what we contributed to the brand.”
In a macro level, Dorothy says she is most proud to be leading a humble yet recognised agency, especially by her clients and partners who really appreciate the work they do.
Dorothy also added that she doesn’t spend too much time thinking about her competitors either because the market is big enough for opportunities and clients recognise the difference in value they bring with their attitude.
“All in all, it was those ‘David vs. Goliath’ moments we’ve had that made me a proud CEO,” Dorothy said, recounting her 20 years of growth.