The Ryersonian: What did you want to be when you were younger?
Pham: I wanted to be an architect. I went to school for architecture. I love art and sketching and I love building and that was my first love.
The Ryersonian: So you didn’t you want to be a digital strategist when you were five years old?
Pham: No, no — I’m an introvert. So thinking going out pitching to people and going out pitching and talking to people all day long was not my idea of a dream job.
The Ryersonian: Then how did you get into digital marketing?
Pham: So, basically what happened was I started a forum when I was 17. It was an environmental non-profit when I was 17. It was in Vietnam actually, I was here but I ran the campaign with WWF and UNESCO and ran it across the country in four different cities. So I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know how to write proposals or to pitch or how to get funding and of course how to market it. So I had to learn.
The Ryersonian: Did you go to school for digital marketing, then?
Pham: I went to U of T for architecture and sociology but I never finished. With Kwinmedia, I met my business partner who had the same interest for marking online and we started working together. We both wanted to focus specifically on data. To be honest, I’ve met most of my friend online. So a lot of my friends living in L.A. or Dallas or London.
The Ryersonian: Where did you grow up?
Pham: I grew up in Vietnam and it was a very different experience because it is still a third world country, right? So I grew up…very very different from what you see here today. I experienced a lot of different things. It taught me a lot to be honest. But I have always lived in a city. I don’t think I could survive in the country.
The Ryersonian: And what are your parents like?
Pham: My parents — they were very quiet, they are kind of minimalists so they don’t tell us what to do, they let us do whatever we want, they let us have our own voices. It’s funny: when we were five I used to to chat about politics and business and they would always ask us,’What do you think about this?’ They never used to tell us to read books even though we had lots of books lying around, we just picked it up by ourselves.
The Ryersonian: What was one of your favourite childhood memories?
Pham: I think it was that every New Year the first thing my mother used to make us do — well, you have to eat breakfast first — but after we always had to study.
The Ryersonian: On New Year’s? Study what?
Pham: It doesn’t matter. We had to learn, we had to write, we had to read. The first thing you do on New Year’s Day is what you will do all year long, my mother would say. Education is very important in my family.
The Ryersonian: Is that how you came up with the slogan for your brand, “Learn, unlearn, relearn”?
Pham: It actually came from my favorite quote. Also i think it comes from my mother too because she always tried to teach us with the idea that if you want to learn something, you have to make sure, you have to know, how to unlearn. Because if you only know something halfway, it’s more dangerous than knowing nothing at all. I think we need to know the new and get rid of the old. We only have a limited amount of space in our brain so we have to pick the best content and spread it around.
The Ryersonian: Now, as a digital strategist, paint a picture of what your day was like yesterday?
Pham: I spent a lot of time with my laptop (laughs) and had a lot of tea. And I spent a lot of time on email, back-and-forth trying to arrange things with my clients online. I’m working from home at the moment, which is good, because it’s snowing outside so I can work for 16 hours straight without anyone interrupting me.
The Ryersonian: And in the future, what do you see as your dream job?
Pham: To be honest, I really want to just spread ideas. I believe the dream job is not….it’s an opportunity to create your own. I already have a dream job. I can share my ideas; spread them around. At the end of the day, it’s about challenging people to think, getting them together. I don’t really want to teach people, I want to share with people what works for me and they can make their decision to follow it or not.
The Ryersonian: So I have to ask about this outfit of yours. You’ve mentioned before that you love shoes — so what is it about shoes that excites you?
Pham: You know, because I work in tech, people always say if you dress up too much people don’t take you seriously, and so, you know, its my statement. I don’t need to dress down so people can tell that I know what I am doing. It’s my signature. I want to tell people that this is who I am and you will have to deal with it.
The Ryersonian: You have an eccentric outfit on — is there a particular garment that means something to you?
Pham: My tights. I wear pink, blue, green. I can count on my fingers how many times I wear pants. I have people come up to me on the street and ask “Are you Cammi?” and I say how do I know you — or how do you know me? They say they recognize my tights.
The Ryersonian: Okay, last question: Tell me something embarrassing, or one of your secrets.
Pham: Okay. I spend a lot of time on dating sites and people always ask me, ‘Do you have a book?’ I’m like no. I think I’m more likely to sell books online than write one. Because I have the longest profile description ever, so people are like, ‘Do you have a book?’
The Ryersonian: I guess they like your writing!
Pham: They like my writing more than me! I’m here trying to find the love of my life not to sell books.
The Ryersonian will have full online coverage of Pham’s TED Talk and featured speakers at TEDxRyersonU on Saturday, November 22, 2014 at the ROM.