James Tan

James Tan


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James Tan’s message to those who wish to follow in his footsteps is very much based on personal experience.

Information correct at the time of receiving the award

“The best piece of advice that I can give to recent University of South Australia business graduates is just get started,” he says.

“You already have a good corporate career waiting for you because you are a graduate of the University of South Australia, so why not take some risks and go out and start something of your own?”

In James’s case, the risks have included co-founding an e-commerce company in China in the recovery phase of the recession that gripped the world a decade ago, when even seasoned business hands were being cautious and finance was difficult to raise.

That company, 55tuan, in its new iteration is now Nasdaq-listed as WOWO and is one of the largest social e-commerce sites in China, with 5000 employees across 200 cities.

James has since become Founder and Managing Partner of Quest Ventures, a leading venture fund for companies that have scalability and replicability in large internet communities.

It is recognised as one of the largest early-stage technology investors in artificial intelligence, e-commerce and marketplaces, entertainment, finance, food, insurance, logistics, media, property sports, and the Islamic digital economy.

The company has offices in China and Singapore, and to date has supported more than 30 companies across Asia.

James also serves as trustee and board director on many organisations and companies, presents regularly at major conferences such as Global Entrepreneurship Week, guest lectures at universities in Asia and the US, is a sought-after mentor and is prominent in business media.

He is a former finalist in the Telstra Sensis Australia China Alumni Award for ICT and New Media as well.

In a recent interview, James was asked what traits he looks for in people launching start-ups.

“We work with a diverse group of founders in Quest Ventures, and consistently the founders who are great have a mix of street-smartness, a healthy dose of ruthlessness, and are very intelligent with respect to their sectors,” he says.

James looks back on his studies at UniSA with fondness and says he continues to apply what he learned in his Bachelor of Business Administration.

“During the day I find myself reaching out to books that were given to me during the bachelor’s period; refer to them, get inspiration from them, and some assurance that the decisions I have made are grounded.”

He is very positive about the support he received as an offshore student, saying it was every bit as good as that offered to those studying on campus. The academic component also inspired him.

“Our lessons were intensive at night, followed by equally intensive group discussions after the lessons, and then also equally intensive self-studying after that.”

James subsequently was awarded scholarships from the Singapore and Chinese governments to complete an MBA at Tsinghua University.

Now based in Beijing, he remains proud of his Singaporean roots and of his nation’s remarkable business achievements.

But life need not only be about business, even for someone involved with the frenetic world of technology and start-ups.

James is a keen photographer who has shot commercially, has been featured in magazines such as ComputerWorld and Readers’ Digest and is represented by a professional agency.

He also loves to backpack around Asia and volunteers in marine conservation as a scuba-diving and dive-safety instructor.