Stephen Mai on shaking up the media landscape

From heading up marketing at Vice and Ladbible to recently founding his own media brand, Woo, Stephen Mai has made a name for himself by subverting industry norms

Stephen Mai’s CV reads like a who’s who of the youth media brand world. A multi-hyphenate creative, strategist and marketer, over the last decade he has made his mark on the likes of i–D, where his development of the magazine’s digital presence resulted in 1000% growth; Ladbible, where he transformed the brand’s reputation for clickbait; and Boiler Room, where he launched the award-winning culture and film platform 4:3. All during a time of huge uncertainty and upheaval for the media industry as a whole.

Mai’s obsession with how we consume content and the role of media brands dates back to when he was growing up in Australia as a child of immigrants (his parents were refugees from the Vietnam War). “In many ways television, pop culture and media raised me. My parents were always working, I had my grandparents, but there was this big cultural disconnect because at home I was living in almost a different country,” he tells CR.

As a child he dreamed of being an animator for Disney, or later on working for MTV, but it was an industry that felt far removed from his reality. “I remember speaking to my dad and he said, ‘People like us, we’re not allowed to do that, so you should study accounting, or become a doctor, or a lawyer, or something’,” says Mai. Taking his father’s advice on board, he opted to study economics but quickly realised it wasn’t the right path for him and switched to media and culture studies.