Lance Qian

Scaling a retail art marketplace.
Strategy Manager

How did you get here?

I joined McKinsey & Co for 2.5 years out of uni and had a fairly typical path to get there doing Comm/Eng which left plenty of space for internships. I interned at McKinsey before joining full time through its digital program and learned a lot. During my time in consulting I took on a weird and wonderful range of projects before focusing on consumer/retail and tech.

What options were you considering?

I took my time and spent a couple months exploring my options (partially because the private equity opportunities will be knocking on the door quite early). There were a couple that I’d considered, including chief of staff roles at start-ups, internal strategy teams, and investment roles.

I felt that after a 2 or 3 year stint in consulting you end up with a very nice general skill set. From there, I really wanted to build deeper, operational knowledge in the areas that I found interesting which were consumer tech businesses.

On top of that, the open offer to boomerang back into consulting after a few years out (at McKinsey at least) meant that it would be a perfect chance to try roles in companies that you’re unlikely to get exposure to back in consulting (e.g. smaller companies that can’t afford to splash cash on a team of consultants).

How did you make the decision to take your current role?

Honestly I was tossing up between two opportunities right up until a couple weeks before I was meant to start. In the end I decided on Redbubble because it sounded like a super interesting business (I mean.. any artwork printed on any product definitely intrigued me). I’d also spoken with the exec team in depth so knew there would be a lot of opportunities for development and freedom to pick & choose projects that I liked.

What are you doing now?

I’m the strategy manager for RB group which includes Redbubble and TeePublic (a US based subsidiary). It’s a (very) small strategy team of 2, so I have been looking after a portfolio of work that includes improving customer loyalty, and adjacent revenue opportunities.

What does your day to day look like?

Day to day the role is probably only ~50% strategy by design so that there’s more exposure to the operational parts of the business. This can include setting up cross functional ideation on experiments that could improve loyalty, working with the product managers to design the tests, build it into their roadmaps, and analyse the results. Other days could be more similar to traditional strategy, like supporting the exec with target setting for a 3 - 5 year aspiration.

What do you love about your job?

In many ways my role is similar to working as a consultant, in that you’ll likely be partnering with a particular function on a defined project, helping them work through some key questions, and synthesising the answer so it’s easily understood/supported by the rest of the business. Once the project is done (which could be anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months), you’ll move onto something else.

What I’ve found enjoyable (and different to consulting) is the amount of control you have over the scope of projects you can choose to take on. Often these have come from casual conversations that I’ve found interesting and subsequently made a case for why I should spend my time on it. Extremely low odds you would get sent to a mine 5 hours from the nearest city for next Monday morning…

Also, working within an informal culture has been awesome. No one particularly cares or wants a buttoned up powerpoint pack with 50 appendix pages, as long as you can explain the thinking clearly. The freedom to choose projects has also been surprisingly high. With the team being so small, you’re able to pitch for and set your own scope of work (no more over-scoped projects / under-staffed teams to fit the budget).

What do you not love about your job?

One thing to keep in mind is that the nature of internal strategy means that the majority of projects are limited to within the company’s vertical (as you'd expect). I'd try to intentionally pick a vertical that you’re more than vaguely interested in!

And as much as we deal with data in consulting, the trusty excel just doesn’t quite meet the mark anymore for companies that generate so much data. It’s been a learning journey to depend on a great, but over stretched team of data analysts while I very (very) slowly learn SQL.

What advice would you give someone deciding what they should do?

Take your time when looking for roles. Internal strategy (or any role in a smaller company) can vary a lot and that’ll have a big impact on your overall experience and development. You’re also likely in peak demand after having spent a couple years in consulting, and so it’s a good opportunity to see what’s out there and try something different with little risk.

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