Shant Oknayan, recently appointed General Manager of Global Business Solutions across the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) at TikTok, explains why he took on this role and where he sees the platform going in the region.
What will your new role at ByteDance, encompass, beyond TikTok?
As the General Manager of Global Business Solutions across the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT), I will be working closely with ByteDance’s clients and partners while leading the business, sales and marketing strategies across all of ByteDance’s portfolio in the region, with a particular focus on TikTok.
As the digital ecosystem in the region flourishes – coupled with the particular times we are in, given Covid-19 – we are exploring different opportunities to enable our business partners further. The company is growing rapidly and ByteDance has so many great platforms, solutions and capabilities which represent a variety of different potential opportunities to pursue.
I am working closely with the team to determine what our region’s consumers – who are among the most digital-savvy globally – are looking for and how ByteDance can enable them further. And not just in terms of platforms and solutions, but in terms of support to the community and to local businesses. It’s early days yet, but there are some exciting things to come. Watch this space.
What drove you to take on this role at ByteDance, following your years at Facebook?
The work I did and the time I spent at Facebook were among the most rewarding of my career. I like to believe that I played a key role in driving [Facebook’s] business partnerships in the region and building the overall ecosystem we currently have in place.
And it is that love of building and problem-solving that made the prospect of joining ByteDance so exciting: a paradigm shift in the way content is created and consumed, a different audience set leveraging the platform and how to make that relevant to businesses. The possibilities for creativity, innovation and marketing excellence are just so exciting: the team and I are passionately exploring how to drive business value for our client and agency partners. It’s truly Day 1 (one of our values) in our journey!
How do you expect this new job to be different?
In one word, hustle. As we are at the start of monetizing our platform, we are still building the foundations and pillars required. No task is too big or too small, and we are constantly exploring and pivoting. The only constant is that the team is focused on creating business value for our partners, while continuing to deliver a great product experience for our users.
How do you think your experience as an entrepreneur contributes to the way you manage your roles in larger corporations – at Google, Facebook and now ByteDance?
Fundamentally, there shouldn’t be a significant difference in how any organization functions, be it a startup or a large corporation. Not in today’s world. A company that isn’t agile enough to rapidly look at data, draw out insights, create a hypothesis, prototype, test, push to market and gather data to look at it and pivot/disrupt itself accordingly, is, in my humble opinion, doomed.
Obviously, some organizations are more like startups than others, and I believe ByteDance in MENAT is one of them.
Do you sometimes miss the entrepreneurial ecosystem and if so, why?
Whether it’s ByteDance, the corporate ecosystem, or the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it’s about people. In all my previous roles, I always found a way to bring the dynamism and creativity of startups into the way we worked within the organization and with our partners. That’s not going to change.
On the flip side of that, both ByteDance and I are very committed to supporting local entrepreneurs – and that takes and will take many forms. So, no, I don’t miss the entrepreneurial ecosystem, because I keep experiencing it in my daily professional life.
What are the first actions that you’re planning to initiate?
I’m going to sound like a broken record: the first focus is always people. Hiring the best ones, talking to the right ones, and, importantly, listening to the ones that need our support. And that’s what I am focused on right now.
We have quite a few positions we are looking to fill with superstar talent. A lot of conversations to be had with clients and ecosystem partners and a lot of insight and feedback to collect and build on. The goal is to have actionable business insights fueled by the right team and partners to turn them into something impactful both for consumers and brands.
What are the main challenges that you foresee for ByteDance, and TikTok in particular, in the region?
I would say that the most important barrier we will have to overcome over the next few months is identifying and hiring the best talent. We are growing really fast and are heavily investing in a diverse and passionate team to hustle and continue developing our offerings here in the region. It’s a very exciting time for our team, and we are grateful for and humbled by the growth we are seeing.
How do you plan to answer these challenges?
By keeping our eyes and ears open and actively searching for the best talent out there. We have a lot of openings at the moment and are going through a rigorous process to ensure we expand our team with people who share the same values as us.
You have deep expertise in e-commerce. So, is your appointment signaling that ByteDance is looking to expand this side of the business, and if so, how?
E-commerce is rapidly growing in the region and globally, as more digital companies flourish and larger companies undergo a digital transformation. However, it is too early for us to say whether we have any plans to look at e-commerce opportunities. My focus at the moment is to work closely with clients and partners by leveraging TikTok’s marketing solutions portfolio.
How do you characterize TikTok’s growth in the region in terms of audience, and how do you think you can engage the business community further?
We are seeing a paradigm shift in the way people discover and consume digital content; people are signaling with their thumbs, their cameras and their voices that they want positive emotions. To laugh, to be inspired, to be amazed. And TikTok lends itself well towards this shift, given our mission to inspire creativity and bring joy.
This represents a real shift in the way businesses will need to communicate and present themselves. My job will be to help businesses understand this shift and to embrace it, become part of it, and ultimately build relationships with creators, consumers, and communities through it.