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“It does not feel right in the beginning, until you gain momentum.” – Tan Lay, Video Marketing Consultant

“The video is not the product” – We did not expect to hear this at all from a video producer.  But after Tan shared with us the insights about the traditional film industry and today video marketing production, we are completely convinced. Tan only started his entrepreneurship journey after settling down in Finland for six years. Before that, he worked for a TV production company and struggled with the language barrier. However, instead of complaining, he accepts the fact that without Finnish, he shouldn’t be hired as an employee in a Finnish firm and moved on to set up his own business.

Quentin Tarantino had awoken something always within me that I’d just forgotten to notice

I started my career in film and TV. I thought of myself as an artist and never wanted to have anything remotely to do with marketing. Of course today I’m a content marketing consultant.

I was born in Rangoon, Burma and moved to the UK when I was two years old. After growing up in Manchester, film entered my life while I was at college in Newcastle. This was in the mid-90s and I was studying computing, several years before the dotcom boom. Sometimes I wonder what kind of career I would have now if I had stayed on that course.

But I didn’t stay on that course because in the first year while I was sitting around working on my computing assignments, a girl told me she had to watch a movie for homework. This had such an effect on me. I thought to myself, ‘Wow! Some people get to watch films for homework!’ A few days later, I switched courses. I left the IT building full of boring dudes and immediately felt very much at home in the Media building full of artsy girls. And I got to watch films for homework.


It was fun to watch movies and analyze them but soon I realised I wanted to make films, not just critique them. Pulp Fiction had just been released and it completely changed my life. I fell in love with Quentin Tarantino and he had awoken something that was always within me that I’d just forgotten to notice: the need to tell visual stories. I remember when my dad brought home our first VCR, I was so excited when I saw the ‘Record’ button on it. I pressed it and got ready to act out a scene in front of the TV until my dad told me it was for taping tv shows. I had thought it was a camera!

After college, I moved to London in 1999 to become a filmmaker. I worked in bars and pubs, temped in offices and worked as a host in tourist spots to support my real work: making my own short films. I even moved to Los Angeles for a little while trying to make something happen in Hollywood. As it turned out, I got my first real industry job back in Manchester when a friend hooked me up with a gig editing video at the local television station. This was the first time I had gotten paid to do something I loved. And I never wanted to change that.

From editing, I moved into camera operating, writing, producing and directing.

And now, since this is ‘Entrepreneurs of Finland,’ I think it’s time to bring my story to Finland and entrepreneurship. While working in London I met a girl from Turku whom I fell in love with, became my best friend and gave birth to my 2 children. And also brought me to her homeland which I had never heard of. When she first told me she was from Finland, my response was, ‘I think you mean Sweden.’


Watching the video should be the beginning of the journey, not the end

So we moved to Helsinki in 2010 and I got a job creating content at a TV production company. The language barrier became a problem. I was shooting Finnish people speaking Finnish which I did not understand but I was supposed to ‘direct’.  And then I had to edit the footage and once again without any idea what people are saying on screen. My contract was not renewed.

I finally realised I have to start my own company. In 2015, I registered as a sole trader to do video production. Being in Finland and not speaking Finnish, this was the only way to go. And I was fine with it. If I don’t speak the language, I should not be hired as an employee in a Finnish company. There is nothing unfair about that.

When I started, I was purely a producer but I slowly started to notice the fundamental difference between making movies and making social media videos for business clients.

When you’re making a movie the end goal is for people to watch it (and perhaps be entertained by it). The movie is the product. The selling part is getting them into the theater. For marketing video, the selling should begin after the video ends, compelling the viewer to take some action. Unlike the movie, the online video is not the product.

I noticed that a lot of video producers don’t differentiate between online marketing videos and Hollywood movies. Even brands and companies don’t always realise that the videos should not be made just for watching. You shouldn’t expect people to come and watch and that to be the end of their journey. Watching the video should be the beginning of the journey.


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I was shocked to meet ‘Marketing Directors’ in large corporations who didn’t understand this. They wanted to make videos to sell products but their vision ended with people watching the video. I started to realise there might be a need for a role where I can help people align video strategy with overall business strategy. I started to do less producing, more strategy building and started calling myself a video marketing strategist. I started building a video marketing consultancy.

And I’m still doing it today. Making a successful movie versus making a successful online video is different in that one online video gets you nothing. You have to think of it as a campaign. So as a video producer, you have to adopt a mindset different from that of a traditional filmmaker. You have to think about not one but 10, 20, or hundreds of videos because it’s your catalog that matters. Businesses must have a solid long term strategy and it should be the same for building a social media marketing campaign.

At 23 years old, we know everything we’re supposed to know to live a happy and successful life

It took me a while to reach this point where I’m proud to call myself a marketer because I feel it’s always had a negative connotation. It’s not something kids say they want to be when they grow up! But I’m ok with it.

The way I see it, if you have a product that can bring a positive change to people, I want to make sure people know about it. I love the way Seth Godin put it: “You need to be famous in your circle.” When it comes to the word ‘famous,’ people think about Tom Cruise or Beyonce. It’s not about that kind of fame. It’s about your community and the people you seek to serve; do they know who you are? That’s the kind of fame I wanted to create for my clients.

Of course, once I started offering this to other people, I realised that I needed to start building my own online presence; I didn’t want to be hairdresser with a bad haircut. So I started developing my own personal branding strategy. First, I categorised online content into three groups: video, audio, and writing. I decided to make use of all three channels; making vlogs, recording podcasts and writing articles.


I started a Youtube channel interviewing startup founders and I have a plan to start vlogging my work life in the near future. I have about 10 episodes of my podcast on iTunes and Spotify; I call it a micro podcast (15-minute episodes) and I discuss ‘Business Philosophy and the Things We Forget to Notice.’ And I started to write articles on LinkedIn.

Most of my content revolves around my core belief which is that by the time we’re around 23 years old, we know everything we’re supposed to know to live a happy and successful life. The problem is simple: we forget! We get distracted by the world and the barrage of information that gets thrown at us every day. We forget the fundamental things we already know and spend the rest of our lives trying to re-learn it. So the main purpose of my content is for me to remind myself of the obvious things I already know — and anyone who finds it useful can join by watching, listening or reading!

I tried to learn to say no to good ideas

One of my favorite quotes is from Charlie Munger: ‘Good ideas are often more dangerous than bad ideas’. I very much agree with this because bad ideas are easy to spot, therefore easy to discard. Good ideas are dangerous because you want to do them all! So I tried to learn to say no to good ideas and stay disciplined and choose one thing to focus on. It hasn’t been easy but I’m definitely improving at saying no to good ideas. (Saying no to bad ideas should be a given.)

This also means saying no to taking on new work. It sounds like a foolish thing to do when you’re still starting out but in the long run, I believe it will be worth it. I think a common reason for failure is not spending the time to choose the right people to work with. I forced myself to narrow my focus to only one or two things that need to be done. Doing this has brought some good results so far so I’m planning on sticking with it and not get distracted by the good ideas that will surely come tomorrow and the day after tomorrow…


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Whenever you choose, it never feels right in the beginning. It only feels right after you gain momentum. It’s human nature to doubt and question ourselves all the time. We should all be aware of the idea of paralysis by analysis and avoid falling into situations when we get so lost in the process of analyzing and evaluating choices that we become unable to make a decision. It’s really important to just choose and be committed to that choice. What works for me is setting a period of time during which I’m not allowed to evaluate the decision, or change or quit.

The same in business; when you offer too many services, I don’t think it works. Especially in the beginning, I think the successful ones focus on one service or product — like those cool little restaurants that only have four dishes on their menu. And they’re all delicious!

Theoretically, there is no limit on how much you can earn

As an entrepreneur, I have the freedom to decide how much I earn. Theoretically, there is no limit, if you want to make more money, you just do more.

As an entrepreneur, I’m always working, which can be both good and bad depending on the situation. Sometimes I have to go out on a Sunday morning at 6 AM and sometimes I stay at home all day on Wednesday. So I don’t really have a regular schedule to follow. Also, like now in July, everybody in Finland is having a summer holiday but I’m still working. So in terms of family life, sometimes I am available at a time when they’re not expecting me to be, and vice versa. You just have to find your own balance.


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4 activities I do every day

1. Read

If I’m not successful, it means I’m not reading enough. Books – not internet.

2. Learn to be comfortable with the word “sell”

I think many entrepreneurs believe that having a good product is enough. But I don’t think so, especially in 2019, we need more than a good product to succeed. We need to sell it.

3. Improve communication skills

Thinking is the thing that humans do. Clear thinking is of utmost importance and the way to clear thinking is by first learning to communicate clearly.

4. Keep a Journal

I try to keep a daily journal to track how my time is spent. I can use it to evaluate my work, to grow as a person, to learn from the past and to navigate the future.

Tan Lay is a video marketing producer and consultant who is passionate about telling stories visually to generate meaningful outcomes. He is a Burmese-Brit who started his entrepreneurship journey in Finland after he moved here with his family. Tan Lay is building his online personal brand by creating content about the topics that fascinate him considerably – “Business philosophy” and “The things we forget to notice”. Check out Tan’s website for more information about his work. 

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