The Future Is Now: Melinda Lee Of Stage TEN Media Networks On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up E-Commerce
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Recognize your abilities and be confident in them. It’s part of you and who you are.
After you’ve gotten through stressful periods at work, over and over again, realize that even if you’ve never done that exact thing before, you can figure it out. When you realize that you have that ability, you know you’ll get through it — like you have so many times before.
As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melinda Lee, President of Stage TEN Media Networks.
As President of Stage TEN’s media network, she leads its media division which includes business and editorial operations, studios and content production units, and is growing the live interactive content network by launching new content formats, partnerships and business models.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My parents immigrated with my sister to the United States from Taiwan. When I was younger, I didn’t have many Asian female role models besides my older sister and mom. I learned English from TV, and Connie Chung was a trailblazer for me. She was a successful Asian woman that I could see, and because I could see her, I could dream of growing up to be like her. My problem was that I didn’t know anyone at all who was in media nor did I have “friends of a friend” who could introduce me to anyone that was even adjacent to that world. My parents, out of fear and love for me and my future, pressed upon me that I did not have a chance in media. My parents dreamed of me going into medicine, law, or engineering to have a better life. Reflecting on this time of my life, it saddens me that career paths were narrowed down to just 3 areas. But, I think it’s a common story for parents of first-generation Americans who have hopes of their children experiencing the American Dream. My parents were so brave and sacrificed a life they knew for me and my sister and I am forever thankful that they made the decision to come here.
Wanting to please my parents, I went into law but ultimately left after only a few years. However, in my short stint as an attorney, I was so lucky to clerk for Judge Anne McDonnell. In my career, I have been fortunate to work for quite a few female trailblazers and she made an incredible early first impression on me. While I don’t identify with being an attorney anymore, the experience taught me new ways of thinking and set the foundation for where my career has led me.
I’ve had an unpredictable path to get to where I am today. My first career change was leaving law to go work for MTV Networks as a freelancer. A friend helped me do a very nerdy analysis on comparing the pay cut with the value of an upward trajectory in a field I wanted to be in, then we added a happiness multiplier to the calculus, and the risk/reward calculus worked out for me to take the leap. This was my first media role where I learned about music and content rights, international businesses, and launched new media initiatives. I affectionately term this period of my career my ‘career college’. After that, I moved into the business of creative and content in the tech start-up space, started my own company, and then went back to legacy media companies, but this time with a twist — I found myself getting hired for new divisions that needed to be built up and grow quickly. I set up digital businesses for publishers when they were transforming from print to digital, and I also led initiatives for digital video studios when publishers ‘pivoted to video’. I eventually ended up at BuzzFeed and led their content initiatives and strategies for their brands. Side note: BuzzFeed’s culture reminded me so much of MTV’s culture back when I first started. It felt like I had circled the globe and came back home with lots of traveler’s tales to share. And now, I’m at Stage TEN where I get to combine my experiences in media, tech, content, and launching new initiatives into the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Every new role gives me a new ‘most interesting story’. I get to work on launch initiatives where we need to show quick but real growth in new areas. These are exciting and intense situations that are defined by the people working on the project so it’s a unique experience every time. Most teams are a combo of exceptional people, solid good contributors and not so exceptional people to varying degrees. The interesting stories originate in the dynamics of people’s wok styles during the goal alignment process across the organization.
I have too many stories, but a recent one is that a few other Melinda Lee’s in the world have reached out to me to connect on career and business advice on Linkedin. Not to get too meta on this, but these other Melinda Lee’s are doing some really great work in sectors like health and sustainability. I’m actually on the board of advisors for Parcel Health, which was co-founded by their CEO, Melinda (Su En) Lee. These other Melinda Lee’s are interesting and inspirational in their own right.
Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
My team and I develop new content formats with Stage TEN’s technology — we create interactive and shoppable live streams. Stage TEN’s breakthrough is our low latency live stream technology that makes it easy to create, distribute and make live streams interactive and shoppable. It lowers the barriers to entry so that anyone who has access to a phone or computer can create a live stream and connect with their audience or community. Our technology enables people to distribute their live streams to not only their social media platforms but also to their own websites so they can own their audiences and generate income. Anyone can make a great idea into a live stream and immediately connect with their audience from anywhere.
Technologies oftentimes marginalize underrepresented groups because access is more difficult and there is a vicious cycle where people then don’t see themselves represented in emerging content formats. And we all know that you can’t be what you can’t see. We know that it’s normal to see diversity in life and we are committed to reflecting this in our content.
How do you think this might change the world?
We have created a whole new way for people to experience commerce. The definition of commerce will even expand beyond shopping and encompass all value exchanges. When we look at content coming from APAC countries that entertain and delight audiences with shoppable live streams, we see how they can connect communities and provide a shared experience with opportunities for value exchanges. The more accessible and inclusive content is created and then distributed across many platforms- social media platforms, creators’ own sites- the more possibilities for new worlds to emerge and new ways to exchange values.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Content really has the power to influence and inspire people to act. Content creators have a responsibility because they have the power to influence the world in good and bad ways. Content has its consequences and technology allows one to customize their consumption of it. Having defined brand values, and commitment to moderation practices — not just from the brands, but from the community and technologists — is an important practice. We’ve seen so many horrible unintended consequences of ad models that rewards massive scale and attention — we need to learn from this.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Now that live streaming is no longer a trend and is now part of a balanced content strategy, audiences are realizing that interacting with the live streamer is more than just commenting. Now they are exchanging things that have value credits, donations, gifts, etc. This value exchange mindset is already there for Gen Z, gamers, and Gen Alpha. These are communities that will lead widespread adoption.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Stage TEN has over 200K users and the well-known creators and personalities that use our creator tools bring their followers to experience the real time interactivity on our player. So there is an organic marketing strategy just by using our Pro and Mobile Studios.
We wanted to reach a broader audience of creatives so we went right to the source — VidCon 2022. We met with creators firsthand from all over the world and took them live using our Mobile Studio app. They were able to interact, play games with the audience live and experienced the power of Stage TEN for themselves. While at VidCon, we also partnered with The Phluid Project, a brand built on creating gender-free clothing and accessories to sell their products live.
We brought our technology to creators in their true environment so they could see themselves in the live commerce space while doing what they do best- creating content. The Mobile Studio app spoke for itself after that.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I don’t even know where to start on how many people have helped me along the way. Each and every person who has worked on one of my teams has helped me get to where I am today. I’m so grateful for my mentors early on in my career who I met at MTV Networks, my former boss at Meredith (DotDash), and investors/business partners from my media company, ZenCat Productions. All these amazing people generously gave me their time, advice, and feedback on how I could be better at what I do.
A moment that stands out is when I was looking to leave law and find my way into the entertainment industry. I didn’t have access to anyone in media, but it was my dream (not my parents). I was an early adopter and signed up for AOL when it was still dial-up. I lived in entertainment and TV chat rooms looking for anyone who was in the industry that I could connect with. They had a directory where you could look up other AOL members and I did a search for entertainment executives and 5 people popped up! I wrote all 5, and miraculously 3 people responded. 1 of those 3 was an attorney who worked at Nickelodeon. After a few months of correspondence and answering my many, many questions, he agreed to meet me and told me about a freelance position at my dream company — MTV Networks. I took the leap and left my gig as an attorney for a freelance role in the rights and clearance department for a VH1 show called “Rockstory.” The show was canceled a month later and I found myself without a job. Luckily, I had made enough of an impression and they offered me a staff role on a different project. Even though I was making even less than what I made as a freelancer, it was the start of my career in the industry and a dream come true. Thank you, Keith (“Zurcheke”), for being an ally to someone like me.
I try to remember to say thank you to all my mentors (many are now my dear friends), but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to give them their due. Once someone on my team asked me how I keep going — especially when we are launching new initiative after new initiative — and I realized that much of my drive to keep going and to be the best version of myself comes from wanting to pay all this wonderful goodwill forward to others. There is also a big part of me that never wants to let those mentors and sponsors who believed in me down.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m not sure I’m a person that could really tell you that. I operate off of the following values — try to be kind and elevate those who lead with kindness to others, treat others with respect for who they are, promote empathy, look for and reward humble excellence, acknowledge and honor those who have been generous and helpful to you in the past, seek feedback on how to be better, pay it forward to people that share similar values. Hopefully, these values bring goodness into the world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Your brain is not fully done developing until your late 20s.
- This explains so much of the decision paralysis I had when I was in my 20s. I used to feel like some decisions were life or death when it came to my career. Now I see the same behavior in mentees of mine who are around the same age I was. Time and self-assessment are keys to developing into someone you can be proud of. And time is the one thing you can’t turn back and you can’t rush.
2. Sometimes the “right” decision is the only outcome.
- This is related to the point above. When it comes to career choices, sometimes we feel like we have to choose wisely or else our lives are ruined. But if you step back and really reflect, you might actually see that either decision is the right one. Nothing irreversible will happen if you choose either decision. You will be learning new things and have yet another experience to draw from so don’t agonize over making the “right” decision when you don’t need to.
3. Recognize your abilities and be confident in them. It’s part of you and who you are.
- After you’ve gotten through stressful periods at work, over and over again, realize that even if you’ve never done that exact thing before, you can figure it out. When you realize that you have that ability, you know you’ll get through it — like you have so many times before.
4. The system is set up to reward those with privilege.
- Even though I knew I was a minority, I didn’t understand how much harder I needed to work to get to the same place as more privileged folks. I believed that the workplace was a meritocracy and I learned this isn’t always the case. So I created a toolkit to strategize, build resilience, develop wisdom (hopefully), and watch and listen to others. This allowed me to be more effective in the workplace and also be a better version of myself. It’s important that if you manage others in the workplace, empower those who don’t benefit from inherited privilege. We can change the system for the better.
5. You can make your future self proud of yourself now.
- We are all works in progress. But if you can imagine the version of you looking back at yourself now, would you be proud of the choices and actions you are taking now? We can’t see the future, but I’ve found this framework helpful in guiding me towards making decisions and being the person I strive to be.
You are a person of great 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.
Inspiration can come from anyone. I often find myself in conversations about measuring our content with a goodness metric and wishing that a goodness app existed — where ethical decisions, concern for moral consequences, care for the well-being of the community and individual rights, empathic actions, and equity are all factored into the algorithm developed. Technology and algorithms could weigh moral decisions, human dignity, ethics, empathy, and equity above factors like shock, hatred, outrage, and disgust. Ethics would be designed into the platform and place that generates good content, shared communal ethics and meaningful value exchanges could result.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
Facilitators have used this quote as a north star in offsites we’ve created in the past. It’s a great foundational statement for how a company culture should be built. Yes, goals and outcomes are important but how you achieve them is even more important. Treating people and their experiences with respect goes a long way in aligning incentives and just makes for a more positive journey to experience together.
Beyond work experiences, this quote has meant a lot to me personally as well. My mom passed away recently and for the last 10 years of her life, she suffered from dementia. My mom and I had a daily routine for at least 15 years where I’d call her every morning (before work) and night (after work) so she could keep track of the time of day. Through the years, my mom gradually wouldn’t remember that I had called her the day before. Eventually, she’d forget that I had called her at all. But she was always happy when I called because she felt like she hadn’t spoken to me in a long while. Every time I called, her mood would change to happiness and she’d ask me the same questions over and over again with the same excitement each time. She forgot what my answers were but what was consistent was her happiness and excitement. I don’t think my mom ever forgot the feeling that she experienced during our previous calls and it helped her quickly jump into a happy mood. As time passes without her here, I’m left with a finite set of memories of my mom. As much as I try, I don’t fully remember the questions that she asked me over and over again or my answers but, one thing I will never forget is how her happiness on these calls made me feel, which was and still is great. Thanks for this unforgettable gift, Mom.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
The Future Is Now: Melinda Lee Of Stage TEN Media Networks On How Their Technological Innovation… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.