You need grit to get through the entrepreneurial journey. Startups are a roller coaster of ups & downs.
I’ve been on that roller coaster. And I think being there for an entrepreneur during those tough times can be one of my strengths.
I spent most of my career in consumer, so I lean towards consumer and B2B2C products. I love products with a strong community angle, because I’ve always been a community-builder. But I don’t want to rule anything out. Innovation can happen pretty much anywhere.
The best consumer companies reinvent the way we live. The art is in understanding the user, creating a kernel of delight, and having the resilience to ride out the storms. Consumers can be fickle — in love with a service one day and over it the next. It's a tough space that requires a founder with a lot of grit.
Growing up I wanted to be a comic book artist. I told my parents, “I’m going to be a graphic novelist.” But they’re Asian, so they said no and refused to pay for art school.
I got to Stanford and took my first computer science class. I just fell in love.
I’m very transparent. I can’t help but say what I’m thinking.
I originally planned to be an engineer — I had actually already signed an offer — and then I got the call to go and interview at Google for the Associate Product Manager program. And I remember thinking, “I want to be just like these people.”
My first boss was Marissa Mayer. She built the Associate Product Manager program at Google and I was in the third class of APMs. I was there four years as a PM on Google Maps, and I learned a lot.
Then one day someone showed me Polyvore. I was just an early user who fell in love with it. I wrote an email with some suggestions and ended up as Polyvore’s first PM. Eventually I became VP of Product, then CEO.
Somewhere along the way the other founders came to me and said, “We’ve always thought of you as a cofounder, so we’ll just call you an honorary cofounder from now on.” What an amazing and generous thing to do. It’s always meant a lot to me.
As a CEO, I think I was good at two things. One was culture: building a culture where the team felt really empowered. Then on the product side, I’d say I had a strong sense of user empathy and some UI design sensibilities.
We eventually sold to Yahoo. I was really happy — we’d brought the team on this crazy journey of ups and downs, and we made it. It was a great outcome.
Startups are really hard. I know that from personal experience. A million variables have to line up for things to work out, and sometimes it feels like everything that could have gone wrong is going wrong.
I met Roelof in 2012 and he said, “Hey, maybe you should come and be a VC sometime.” And I said, “Noooo…I would never do that. I’m a company builder, I’m a team leader, I want to do it with my own two hands.”
But the idea of leveraging what I learned over eight and a half years of toiling — and it really was blood, sweat and tears — to help other entrepreneurs? That’s really exciting to me.
I’m personally interested in AR and VR. I think those are the next big platforms post-mobile. Timing is the question.
I love spaces that others underestimate. For example, products that target the female consumer. Women control 80% of household purchasing power and make 80% of healthcare spend decisions, yet are often underserved. That equals opportunity.
In my first interview with Marissa she told me, whenever she’d had to choose between two paths, she always tried to pick the more challenging one. And that advice has stayed with me. It drove me to go to Polyvore when I was happy at Google. It drove me to be CEO when I was VP of Product. It drove me here, right?
I don’t think I quite fit the traditional mould for what a CEO is supposed to be like. Personality-wise, a certain set of skills, being introverted — none of those things are your classic CEO. Figuring out how to lead in my own style, authentically, has shaped me tremendously.
The strength of an introvert is that, if you don’t like the spotlight on yourself, you put it naturally on your team.
Do a few things well. No one is good at everything. You have to figure out the one thing you’re really good at and just work your ass off.