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The Ecommerce Exec as Dad: You'd Wish Shopee PH's Big Boss Was Your Father, Too

He eats hotpot with and reads to his kids.
IMAGE SHOPEE/MARTIN YU
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It’s no secret that, in the race for ecommerce supremacy across Southeast Asia, Shopee has become a dominant force. Stacked up against its main rival, the Tencent-backed ecommerce platform has been racing ahead, having been the most downloaded app across the six biggest markets in the region last year, and recording stellar growth in average monthly active users and total time spent in-app. 

In many ways, Shopee has already overtaken its biggest competition, and considering that it’s a relatively new player in the ecommerce landscape, having been founded only in 2016, its triumphs are all the more impressive. While regional systems and strategies certainly helped, there’s no doubt that local management is also key in the platform’s success.

Photo by Shopee.

In the Philippines, the responsibility of overseeing the company’s operations falls on 37-year-old Martin Stevenson Yu. The director for Shopee Philippines graduated magna cum laude with a dual degree in economics and applied science from the University of Pennsylvania and used to work for Credit Suisse in Singapore and London before joining the ecommerce company.

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Yu, who is married with two kids, balances work and family life just like everybody else. “During weekdays, I find time around the day to really call and connect with my family,” he says. “I have to travel for work, and when I’m away from them, we can spend hours on video chat because I really want to know how their day went and what made them happy or sad that day. I want them to know that I am always excited to hear about the little, seemingly mundane things that happen in their lives.” 

Esquire Philippines caught up with Yu ahead of Father’s Day to try and figure out what a busy ecommerce exec like himself is like as a dad, how fatherhood changed him, and how he’s planning to spend the special day this year. Excerpts:

Esquire Philippines: What was it like when you became a father? What changed in you? And what sort of adjustments did you have to make in your life?

Yu: I’ve always wanted to be a dad, and when I married my wife, I was sure that she was also going to be a wonderful mom so I was very excited when my sons were born. Who wouldn’t be? It’s the greatest feeling ever.

Photo by Shopee / Martin Yu.
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What really changed is my perspective that I was ‘ready’ for it, because I’m not sure if you are ever really ready to become a parent. I still wouldn’t trade it for the world, though. I know that I am where I want to be because of my family. One thing that I did get right though was being sure that my wife would be a wonderful mom. She truly is.

What would you say is your parenting style?

I am permissive—I talk to my sons like a friend because it’s how I truly enjoy communicating with them and getting to know what excites them or scares them. As a Dad, those things really matter to me. What’s funny is this dynamic also translates to me being really happy to share with my sons my own interests and hobbies. These interactions with my kids are truly the best parts of my day.

What are the most important lessons you are teaching your kids now?

I feel thankful that my own father is a really great Dad—every time I need to think about what a good dad would do, I always ask myself what my own Dad would have done. It never fails to steer me in the right direction, and I thank my Dad for being the guiding force that he always would be. 

My sons are still very young—they’re five and eight—but I think it’s never too early to teach them the most fundamental values that will make them good people. This includes respecting the people around them, especially elders, and treating everyone with kindness as much as they can.

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I also want them to learn how important it is to spend time learning and excelling in the things they enjoy doing and to learn from problems that they encounter. 

Photo by Shopee / Martin Yu.

Please tell us about a typical day in your life.

I start the day with my wife and kids by eating breakfast together. Before I’d bring them to school but for now, since they do online classes, I help them prepare for that before I get on with my meetings and start replying to emails.

My typical workday starts at 10 a.m., and, like a lot of us, zoom calls, long meetings, and communicating with my team take up a lot of my time. I truly believe that part of being a good parent is showing my kids the value of hard work and doing a part for the community. 

Shopee has played a big role in keeping many Filipinos afloat since the pandemic started—from getting people their essentials safely to helping MSMEs thrive during this time, and not just survive. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to lead a team taking on this mission, and I don’t take it for granted.

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Once I finish my workday, I make sure to eat dinner with my family and engage in playtime with my kids. Like most young boys, they like to wrestle and run around the house playing tag, and I am unabashedly quite happy to indulge them in that. I also help them with homework and make it a point to read books with them. 

My days are quite long, so I try to get enough sleep as much as I can. The good part is doing these fun things with my family helps me deal with my everyday grind and I do my best to balance things out as much as I can—and my wife has been great. I am very thankful that my wife is the kind of mother that she is.

Photo by Shopee / Martin Yu.

What would you do if you on a dream parent-child bonding activity?

As you can tell by now, I love having fun with my kids and playing games are a big part of our bonding time. We play sports and a lot of video games, especially with the lockdowns.

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Another fun thing that we do is story time: we create our own world based on how our day went. This is one of my most favorite things to do with my kids because it’s a good excuse to be childishly creative and they love it as well. One of our all-time best stories is our pet fish going to space on interstellar travel. I really hope these are the memories that my kids bring with them as they grow up. 

Traveling with my family is something that I really love doing. We like going to the beach a lot, and we also enjoy going for long drives with several stops along the way. I take it as an opportunity to pique their curiosity and teach them about exploring the world. 

What would you say are the most difficult aspects of being a father? As a counterpoint, what are the most rewarding aspects of it?

Difficult aspect: Work and work trips take up a lot of my time, and one difficult thing is that whenever I see my kids after an extended trip, it feels like they’re always a bit bigger, and a bit older. It’s how I know they’re growing up so fast, and this drives me to dedicate a lot of time and effort to raise them to be better people. I want them to have the right values to navigate the world as the best versions of themselves, and I really want to get it right. 

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Rewarding Aspect: Seeing them actually grow into happier and more mature people each year. I truly remember each of those little and big moments that I felt this: the first time they smiled, the first time they walked on their own, the first time they won in a school sports competition. There are moments in my career that I felt accomplished, but all that is trumped by the feeling of seeing my kids smile when they see me after a long day.

Photo by Shopee / Martin Yu.

How are you planning to spend Father's Day this year?

Given the current pandemic situation in the world right now, I am blessed enough to spend Father’s Day at home with my family, safely. Just eating a nice meal with them with my kids’ favorite food—they love hotpot with meatballs—is more than enough of a Father’s Day gift for me. I can’t ask for anything more.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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