“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry”, With Yvonne Lo

Yitzi Weiner
Jan 29 · 12 min read
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Becoming a thought leader is a process that takes time to develop and never really ends. There is always room for improvement and provides everyone with something new to learn from, such as your competitors and beyond. For example, as Buddyphones expands into the education industry to serve children in learning settings, I have made it a point to invest my time and energy into attending industry trade shows where I can interact with teachers, administration professionals and education technology leaders to discuss their priorities and achievements. Once you have interacted with several groups of people within and outside of your industry to gain various perspectives and feedback on your work, you learn from their successes and failures to ultimately learn how to take your ideas to the next level. These experiences are important when you are sharing your knowledge as a thought leader with others, as no one is perfect and there is no telling what can transpire when you open your mind to new ideas.


As part of in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yvonne Lo. Yvonne was born and raised in Hong Kong (HK), then traveled to the United States to attend and graduate from Michigan State University with a BA in Business, Hospitality. Her career began in the hospitality industry working for a luxury hotel chain before starting her own catering venture in 2004. During her time in the U.S., Yvonne worked in various roles related to sales and management. After six years, she sold her catering business and moved back to HK to raise a family. While being a stay-at-home mom, she acquired a master degree in International Hospitality Business from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where she received an invitation to pursue a PhD. Instead of the academic world, she chose the trending editorial world of producing food-related articles and cooking videos for a leading social media company. She spent the next four years consulting in the food and beverage industry while in HK.

In 2015, Yvonne teamed up with Petur Hannes Olafsson, founder of ONANOFF, to launch the BuddyPhones line, a series of audio solutions designed exclusively for kids to engage safely with technology. Yvonne is the co-founder of BuddyPhones and managing partner of sales and marketing for ONANOFF.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was born and raised in Hong Kong (HK), but studied and worked in the U.S. My career began in the hospitality industry working for a luxury hotel chain before starting my own catering venture in my 20s. I sold the business after six years to move back to HK and raise a family. While being a stay-at-home mom, I acquired a master degree in International Hospitality Business and received an invitation to pursue a PhD. Instead of the academic world, I chose the trending editorial world of producing food-related articles and cooking videos for a leading social media company. I spent the next four years consulting in the food and beverage industry in HK.

Meanwhile, as a friend, I was intrigued by what Petur was developing in the audio space. The entrepreneurial gene runs in my family and I have always had a love for brainstorming about business ideas and watching them materialize in front of me. Although I know nothing about the consumer electronic world, I could not help but notice the technology demand of young children and seeking safe, durable headphones for my two kids to use during family travel was not easy. We found there was no product currently on the market that was dedicated exclusively to children and wanted to change the way that future generations engaged safely with technology. Taking a leap of faith, we launched a line of headphones called BuddyPhones at CES 2015 to fulfill my family’s needs and offer other parents similar solutions by providing a premium listening experience for young ears.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

Coming from a long line of entrepreneurs, my strengths have always been in brand-building, storytelling and customer relations. I left my comfort zone in hospitality to build upon those strengths, this time with a product line that would not only benefit my family, but hopefully millions of others. By taking that risk, I was able to start a business with my co-founder and explore opportunities I thought I would never find myself in.

As an entrepreneur, you must be able to recognize and build your strengths and be confident in your idea in order to share it with the world. As a thought leader, you must be willing to share that knowledge with those who are listening; your peers, future thought leaders, family, and everyone in between. You never know who you may have an affect on. In my current role as co-founder of BuddyPhones, I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can leverage my experience as a parent and entrepreneurial experience to educate parents on the importance of healthy hearing. My mission is to develop safe audio products exclusively for kids that extend beyond recreational use and at the same time, provide high quality listening for improved learning in educational settings as well.

Being a mother of two young children, I personally understand the struggle of using technology wisely for the kids while at home and in school. As a brand storyteller, I am able to take my personal experiences with BuddyPhones and relate it back to my work, showcasing the benefits it will serve to other parents and their children. For example, I’ve been working closely with IT Directors at schools to help me better understand what the actual needs and problems that schools face are in terms of technology. As a thought leader, you must be able to transform valuable information and create solutions for these everyday challenges, educating others along the way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Coming from a customer-focused industry like hospitality where the customer is always right, it is certainly different in terms of customer relationship management. I was also not acclimated to working in such a male dominated industry where men were the engineers and women were usually the accessory in a consumer trade show. The way I presented myself had to be adjusted and at the time, there was a certain sense of insecurity. Now looking back to my first CES trade show experience, I feel very confident on how I approached potential customers and was able to identify customers vs. competitors. That being said, being a female that is new to the industry gave me an advantage as I was able to face certain challenges from a different perspective. Buyers were refreshed to see a passionate mother talking about the importance of safe audio rather than a salesman selling the features of a plastic pair of headphones. This also influenced me to partner with sales agents who are parents and further understand our brand from an emotional perspective.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As first time exhibitors at CES, we are at the booth and I was trying to catch everyone’s attention, talking to every single person who laid eyes on me. Not knowing whether this person was beneficial to us, I pretty much gave away all information to everyone. I learned the hard way that some of them were actually manufacturers or competitors who were checking us out. Thank goodness for my partner, who had done a lot more consumer electronic trade shows than I did, and we came up with a secret code to differentiate if this person is a real customer or not. Everytime we asked, “Where is Tom?”, the other person will know to stop talking.

Another funny, but mortifying story was during a buyer’s meeting and I did not know how to perform a specific function of the headphones. I kept pressing one button and it did not work. Everyone in the room starts pressing the button and I kept pressing and holding until I was almost shaking. Later I find out that I need to lightly press the button instead of press and hold. That meeting was of course an epic fail and I was so embarrassed that my mistake cost us a valuable opportunity. From that moment onwards, we test every single mode, charge every product and rehearsed every line to ensure we are overprepared to anticipate any challenges that could take place during a meeting. Always be prepared no matter what.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

Being an influencer is to create content that allows a tailored audience to evoke certain feelings toward another entity: a brand, an individual, etc. They have a specialty for impacting one’s purchase decisions and mostly communicate their personal opinions.

A leader is one who has influence over others, but is more respected as an authority figure. This person is typically more seasoned and can effectively direct a group of people to meet certain demands.

A thought leader is more well-rounded and inspires a larger population of people with their knowledge and personal experiences. Thought leaders are influencers and leaders merged into one, individually affecting others in a way that evokes change and innovation.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Becoming a thought leader is a process that takes time to develop and never really ends. There is always room for improvement and provides everyone with something new to learn from, such as your competitors and beyond. For example, as Buddyphones expands into the education industry to serve children in learning settings, I have made it a point to invest my time and energy into attending industry trade shows where I can interact with teachers, administration professionals and education technology leaders to discuss their priorities and achievements. Once you have interacted with several groups of people within and outside of your industry to gain various perspectives and feedback on your work, you learn from their successes and failures to ultimately learn how to take your ideas to the next level. These experiences are important when you are sharing your knowledge as a thought leader with others, as no one is perfect and there is no telling what can transpire when you open your mind to new ideas.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

When you are a thought leader, you are also establishing a credible name for yourself and/or your brand. This may lead to lucrative business opportunities such as larger investments, notable partnerships, increased revenues and so much more. As BuddyPhones tries to break into major retailers, we have been faced with plenty of rejection and it’s usually due to the same excuses: our category has not been performing, it’s not an area of focus, or they aren’t seeking changes. As a thought leader, you need to inspire those involved in your business ventures to look beyond what is currently in front of them. Get them to see the bigger picture on how your product, brand or service can represent the future of this sector.

By taking advantage of the opportunity to teach others, you will find yourself developing your own lucrative opportunities and will see almost immediate growth, both in profits and trust from the people around you. More passionate, driven people are also key to helping your business grow.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Being a thought leader in your industry means delegating properly to achieve a desired outcome and trusting the team around you. You must be able to outsource in the areas you feel weaker in so that you may improve, yet focus a large portion of your time on what you know you excel at.
  2. Find your village. Surround yourself with like-minded people, from employees to investors, so that you can earn trusted guidance when expanding on your ideas and become capable of inspiring others in your field along the way. Being a thought leader involves an enormous amount of pressure at times, so it’s essential to have a reliable group of people to turn to in the face of adversity.
  3. Maintain your integrity. Being a thought leader comes with heavy responsibility, so you should always stay true to your values and individual beliefs. In business and in one’s personal life, it is okay to disagree with others, but any conflict should end in a productive resolution that everyone can grow from.
  4. Find your strength and let it shine. If you’re going to follow your passion, do so wholeheartedly.
  5. Be bold in your decision making. You never know what opportunities may follow after you take that first leap of faith.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I am deeply inspired by females who emerge from being the underdog to inspire people around them to do things that they never thought possible. There are so many of them currently paving the way for others that I can’t choose just one. I do believe that a thought leader does not need to be famous or might not need to preach their vision to convince people. It is often their silent action and struggle that influences by example and they might not even know they are a thought leader themselves. These are the most admirable people, the ones who don’t seek gratification, but are simply going through their everyday lives inspiring others from within.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

There are certain terms, such as “influencer,” whereby various people have different meanings for and can be represented in a variety of ways. These terms have a higher chance of being easily overused in today’s society. However, one can differentiate a thought leader from those individuals as they are more recognized and are likely helping address a real problem within their industry. Their solutions are also usually permanent and leave a lasting impact on individuals and organizations. Thought leadership requires time and patience to gain the trust of others, understanding on how to communicate ideas effectively, and these individuals simply cannot be avoided as their concepts stand out above the rest.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Family and friends are the pillar of your success and do not abuse them. Be thankful for your success and the people that help you along the way. You are called a leader because of the people, and without them, you cannot lead.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I want to let every woman out there know not to be bound by social norms. We are also born to lead! If I could, I would dedicate a national woman’s day for the people of Asia. In Europe and the U.S., people are more outspoken about women’s rights, but in Asia, it is still a very male dominated world. My dream would be to increase the awareness worldwide.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“She conquered her demons and wore her scars like wings.” -Atticus

It reminds me of how far I have come and the strength that lies within me is due to my own perseverance and ambition.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Martha Stewart or Drew Barrymore

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@ylohk

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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