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Senior Vice President of Marketing at HappyFresh on Why “If It’s Easy, Don’t Do It”

May 27, 2022

David Lim shares pivotal moments of his career, from following his curiosity to steering marketing at Southeast Asia's fastest-growing online grocery platform

Fortune favours the bold. This adage sums up David Lim’s story of when HappyFresh’s recruiter came calling and opened with: "Hi, have you heard of HappyFresh?"

“No, absolutely not.” 

“It’s something like HonestBee” 

“Something is wrong with HappyFresh’s marketing,” he thought. “I feel very disturbed when I see a problem and I’m not fixing it.” 

One thing led to another and he flew to Jakarta for the first time in his life and the rest is history. Since then, HappyFresh has become one of the fastest growing online grocery marketplaces in Southeast Asia with a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. 

David is now the Senior Vice President of Marketing at HappyFresh and in this edition of Middle Matters, he shares the pivotal moments of his career from pursuing his curiosity to discovering the nuances of the SEA region.

Choosing the Harder Path

“Everyone wanted to be a banker. It was a prestigious job with a lot of glory and fame. So I did that for one and a half years and realised that I was very, very burnt out. It wasn't really what I expected.” 

David realised early on in his career that this path was not for him, so the first step in the right direction was to work at Ernst & Young. First in the tax planning department and later in business development. Being in the marketing world sparked his interest and before long, he joined Singtel and then stepped to the other side at Starcom MediaVest by joining an agency. 

“It was a very tough two years, but when it gets tough, then you get to learn the most”.

When Scoot, winner of Marketer of the Year engaged David to work for them, he described it as the “marketer’s dream”. He spent two years there before HappyFresh came calling with a fresh new challenge. 

For a man that thrives when the going gets tough, it was no surprise that he stepped out of his comfort zone into the agile world of startups. 

Navigating Southeast Asian Markets

David’s experience with Scoot opened up his horizons to various markets and regions. The biggest insight he gained was how different regions respond to various stages of the purchase funnel differently. 

Although most South East Asians may click on an ad and purchase it right away, he observed that the Indian market responds differently. “The interesting part is that when we serve a performance marketing ad to our target audience, what they can do is they can print out that ad, walk into a tour agency and say, ‘I want the same price’,” David remarked. 

While this online to offline connection is unique to India, it only scratches the surface of the uniqueness of Southeast Asia. 

Nurturing Talent 

According to David, a first-time manager of a high-performing team needs to focus on building a high level of trust and openness. 

He explains that the fast pace of startups can create tension and misunderstanding. Issues are often compounded by the challenges of remote working environments, where it’s harder to read non-verbal cues or casually approach a colleague for clarification. 

“When you don't have that high level of trust and openness, we don't even have to move to the next step of talking about doing good work.”

Additionally, they also need a change of mindset. He notes most in the beginning often focus on tasks and output instead of direction and objectives and are too used to being individual contributors. 

“In every team, I always say that there should also be someone that isn't executing much and this is usually the leader. [They] should have a calm personality, always taking a step back to look at the overall big picture, observing the conversations and the discussion to spot the gaps, the pitfalls and really make sure that the 360 campaign strategy ties in together very, very well.”

What’s Next?

David recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer behaviour and preferences. Two years ago, programmatic buying was king; today, no one is looking at ads. He’s intent on revisiting strategies to stay sharp when it comes to this new marketing landscape. 

Reflection questions

Change and progression are interwoven into marketing and leadership as disciplines. Establishing a comprehensive skill set is an excellent way to prepare for the next growth phase. 

  • In what ways can you build on your experience to prepare for your next role?
  • How are you building a safe space for team members at all levels to communicate freely?
  • In what ways can you shift your focus from execution to strategy?
  • How are you stepping up your leadership skills to meet the demands of remote work?

Post-Credits with David Lim

“I say if it's easy don't do it. Because if it's easy, anyone else can do it and then it doesn’t become something out of the normal or special anymore.” 

This mentality follows David both in and out of the workplace as he is currently training to compete at Ironman. He believes that pushing oneself in something so demanding also stretches one's capabilities at work. 

“It's also kind of like validation or a reminder to myself that I am human after all. So I do feel pain. I do feel like giving up. And that constant reminder of when you are about to give up on something, what do you do? Which part of your brain or mind do you activate to push yourself further for the next, say, 30 minutes?”  

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