Bowen Pan

Product Manager - Facebook.

“Zero to One” is a term used in Silicon Valley to describe starting a business from scratch with absolutely nothing and quickly turning it into one that goes on to become very successful. It’s also the title of a best-selling book by the legendary US Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel.

For Bowen Pan the concept had real meaning as he watched his parents as first generation migrants establish a new life in NZ which started from nothing but through their hard work and enterprise eventually created opportunities for him. It instilled in him the value of hard work from an early age.

Arriving in NZ not speaking any English and understanding how isolating that can be became a teachable moment for the young migrant about the importance of helping and supporting others when they need it.

“My mum sat in with me on my first week at school. It was quite daunting at the start not being able to communicate with anyone. But after about six months, with the help of kind teachers and a lot of self-study, I had gained basic fluency in English and my time at school became a lot more enjoyable as a result.”

After a while, not only had his English improved but others began to see his leadership skills emerge and friends began to encourage Bowen to seek roles such as a class rep.

“It was an early lesson for me about not only being able to help individual people but realising that you can scale that approach up in many different ways.”

Arriving at Westlake Boys on Auckland’s North Shore and quickly adapting to its dual values of discipline and hard work, Bowen began to thrive in an environment where students were streamed and exam marks were made public for everyone to see.

Despite being named Dux in his final year, and placed third in NZ in the national scholarship exams, Bowen said he still found the transition to University daunting where he enrolled in a conjoint Bachelor of Engineering & Property.

“I was used to being the smartest kid in the room and suddenly I was one of hundreds of really smart kids in the same room and I quickly realised that simply working hard wasn’t going to cut it anymore.”

Quickly finding his tribe as part of the Spark (now Velocity) programme where students form teams to launch start-ups and are able to compete for lucrative funding prizes, Bowen met Geoff Whitcher who was spearheading the new programme. He points to Geoff as playing a key role in mentoring and encouraging the young entrepreneurial talent emerging from the University at the time.

“Spark was probably the most influential thing that happened to me while I was at University; in fact it fundamentally altered the course of my career plans. Geoff really expanded my horizons and saw potential in me before I saw it in myself.”

It was while at university that Bowen founded uniFriend, a pioneering social network in NZ that would eventually be eclipsed by Facebook. What was all the more ironic was that at the time, Bowen had no idea that six years later he would be working for the social media giant himself.

Graduating in 2008 and quickly finding himself caught up in the worst economic recession the world had experienced since the Great Depression and with graduate roles in short supply, he was able to secure a role as a business analyst with Deloitte. This was followed by roles at Trade Me launching its daily deal offering Treat Me and co-founding LawSpot, one of the world’s first non-profit online legal aid services (now part of the Community Law Centre) before landing a product management role at Dropbox.

Securing an opportunity to work at Facebook in Silicon Valley as a Product Manager, Bowen led the team that incubated a number of successful commerce products, including Facebook Marketplace. Bowen is now focused on new product initiatives in Facebook’s Video and Gaming division, a role most teens would think of as career perfection.

Along the way Bowen also managed to complete an MBA at Stanford University, including spending time at its highly regarded, where he was named as one of 17 Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni who will go on to change the world. No pressure!

Summing his career up to this point, Bowen says he has tried to live by the philosophy encapsulated in one of his favourite quotes.

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift, the work of life is to develop it and the meaning of life is to give your gift away.”

He says his own twist on this approach is that it’s not only about discovering your own gift, but also helping others to discover theirs.

As Auschwitz survivor and author Viktor Frankl put it so well in his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning:  “The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.”