Winning TechCrunch’s Startup Showdown

Nanxi liu techcrunchTechCrunch, AOL, and 4A teamed up to host Startup Showdown in the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s auditorium. There were 15 ad-tech startups selected from around the country. I was impressed by the caliber of the startups and had a great time meeting their CEOs. I think Enplug was one of the youngest companies there so I didn’t expect to win.

The format was a pitch and then Q&A from the four judges. Then, the top three startups were selected to do one more pitch against each other. The three finalists along with us were Brander and Paedae. Both have compelling products. The audience then voted for their favorite and Enplug came in the lead :)

Here were some of the fellow companies that I enjoyed learning about:

  • Stipple: Founded in 2010. Raised $14.4 million. Stipple’s image-based marketing technology stack detects, recognizes, and identifies the content inside images at scale and enables Advertisers and Publishers to apply interactive curated content, accurate native advertising solutions, and connects organically to commerce.
  • TripleLift: Founded in 2012. Raised $4 million. TripleLift’s templating technology uses high-throughput, low-latency to serve ads and relies on computer vision technologies to ensure each brand’s advertising content looks great on each different publisher’s look and feel.
  • Paedae. Founded in 2012. Raised $12 million. Paedae allows publishers to give game players physical and virtual rewards for reaching certain milestones, and for brands to present their ads as part of the rewards.
  • Blippar. Founded in 2010. Raised from Qualcomm Ventures. Blippar’s technology is bringing “lightning-fast image recognition and augmented reality to mobile advertising.”

I’m looking forward to seeing the successes of these fellow startups!

My piano composition for the Carol Klose Hal Leonard Piano Composition Competition

It’s been a while since I last competed in piano back in high school, but it’s fun to get into “competition mode” again. This is my first time competing in a composition competition. Hal Leonard is the largest music publisher and if I have a chance at getting published with them, then it’s certainly worth trying!

My composition is titled “Hurricane.” Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waniOKXZXgk&feature=youtu.be

Nanxi Liu Piano

How to find co-founders for your startup

Whether you’re trying to find a co-founder for a startup, company, or organization, here’s my experience with this art. To start, the most effective way to find co-founders is if you’ve already established yourself as someone who is a top talent and proven yourself as a great partner in past activities.

GETTING THE CO-FOUNDER YOU WANT
To increase your likelihood of getting a great hustler co-founder, I’ve felt these traits make a positive difference:

  • Make your decision to work with them or not quickly: If you take too long to decide whether you want to work with someone or not, that person will leave for another opportunity. For the dozen or so companies I’ve co-founded, most were with co-founders that I decided to work with within 24 hours of meeting them.
  • Chase: The co-founders that I worked with were regularly approached by others to start companies before I met them. I just happened to chase a little harder to convince them I’m a good partner.
  • Sell, sell, sell: Getting a superstar to work with you is just like a sales process. You pitch, you convince, you come back later if they say no the first/second/third time, and then you close the deal.

PLACES TO FIND THEM
Here are some non-traditional places that I or my co-founders have found co-founders:

1. Word of Mouth
I heard about my co-founder for Enplug, David Zhu, through a colleague when I was at Goldman Sachs. One day at the office, my colleague was talking about this insanely smart MIT-dropout turned professional poker player. This guy sounded like someone I wanted to meet. A few months later, when I was looking for partners to start my next company with, I asked my former colleague to connect me with David. David and I talked on Skype for an hour and he flew up from LA to SF a week or so after. I met with David in person for an hour and told him, “I’ll take a U-Haul and move myself to LA. See you next week.”

2. Craigslist
My co-founders Zach and Alex found each other on Craigslist. They were both UCLA students who had built successful tech products and companies while in school. Zach had a room open in his apartment and was particularly interested in having a fellow techie engineer live with him. Alex saw the Craigslist post and before you know it, they were living together and building apps together.

3. Airplane
My co-founders Zach and David met while sitting next to each other on a Southwest flight. Zach accidentally tripped on David’s bag as Zach was boarding his flight. As a result, he apologized and decided to sit next to David. The conversation basically went like this (if shortened in a few sentences):

David: Hi, I’ve built security software and am starting another company. I also made millions of dollars before I was 18 playing online poker professionally.
Zach: Nice. I built 2 Top 10 Downloaded Education Apps in the Mac App Store last year while I was in college.
David: Let’s work together.
Zach: Sounds good. I’ll drop-out of UCLA today and join you.

A week later, we all moved into one apartment to work together.

4. School
Except for a few companies, I found most of my co-founders in schools I attended. For example, for one of the products I was building in college, I reached out to a guy named Ryan who I hadn’t talked to since freshman year. He was known as the ultimate computer science nerd (that’s a compliment) living on our dorm room floor. I sent him a Facebook message that was basically, “Hey, I haven’t talked to you in a few years, but I remember that you were super smart. I’m building something and I want you to built it with me. Want to meet up for coffee?” We met up the next day and started building the product.

5. At the bar
After a random hack sesh with my old high school friends, Marcus and Alex, we went to a bar to relax. While drinking a Blue Moon, I noticed an attractive, tall guy standing on the other side of the room. I pointed him out to Alex, who them told me that Mr. Tall Guy was a biochemical genius that already had quite a number of successes under his belt as a twenty-something year old. It so happened that Alex worked in the same lab as Mr. Tall Guy. Alex jokingly said, “I’m totally going to tell him you have the hots for him.” Since I have no shame, “I said, go for it.” Mr. Tall Guy comes over and we start talking. The next day, we meet up and started a biotech company together that would eventually win Intel’s Top Social Innovation Award.

BOTTOM LINE
I found co-founders by just always keeping an eye out and being pretty aggressive with selling them. I’ve never found co-founders on a co-founder dating site or co-founder networking event. I feel like the top talents don’t need to go to those places to find great partners. If they’re so good, they’re being poached left and right by people or they’re already working on something cool. You just need to convince them that what you’re doing is cooler.

2013 in Review

I definitely think I’m getting old(er) when time flies by so quickly and suddenly, I’m in my mid-twenties (23 now!!). 2013 is going to be one of those years I look back on and say, “that was certainly a year to remember.” The best parts of 2013 were the new friendships I made and the stronger connections I built with old friends. Life is made beautiful by sharing it with people you care about. In addition, here were some of my other highlights:

1. Enplug: My tech startup in LA grew to 30 full time people a year after starting the company. We moved from working and living out of a house to leasing an entire floor of an office building. Our social billboards, AURA, expanded from LA to 30 more cities. Our team had an exciting time doing photoshoots and interviews with Fox News, Wall Street Journal, Inc., Fast Co., LA Business Journal.

2. Nanoly Bioscience: My biotech company in Boulder, Colorado, also added additional teammates on board who in a few short months, generated some awesome results. In September, we won a grant from the Colorado Technology Association.

3. Europe for the first time: I was invited to speak at Monaco’s first major tech conference and had the pleasure of having dinner at the Prime Minister’s house and meeting Prince Albert. I spent a few days in Monaco and then went to Nice, France for another few days.

4. Europe for the 2nd and 3rd time: In June, I was selected as 1 of 100 entrepreneurs/innovators to be part of British Airways’ UnGrounded 11-hour flight event from San Francisco to London. On the flight, teams of 4-6 entrepreneurs competed against each other to come up with ideas to get more young people involved with technology and science. Our team, InIt, was 1 of 3 winners. When we landed in London, we got to attend the G8 Innovation Summit where our team’s proposal was presented to the United Nations. At the summit, we got to meet Prime Minister David Cameron and Sir. Richard Branson. In October, I was a speaker at the Milken Institute London Summit. It was my first time being involved with the Milken Institute and I have to say that it was one of the best experiences that I was fortunate enough to have in 2013. Michael Milken has done an excellent job in establishing Milken Institute as a premier think tank. Following London, I was invited by the CEO of Relativity Media, who is someone I really look up to, to travel with his team to Geneva, Switzerland, and then Cannes, France. It was my first time in both cities!

5. Japan for the first time: From Tokyo to Osaka, I am so thankful for being able to explore Japan for a week. One of the most interesting things was getting to see sumo wrestling practice at a temple.

6. Singapore for the first time: I had the honor of being a speaker at the World Entrepreneurship Forum in Singapore. It was fantastic meeting entrepreneurs from around the world and getting to see some of my entrepreneur friends from the US there too. Singapore is such a stunning city: I visited their Botanical Gardens, went to the top of Marina Bay Hotel to hang out by the huge infinity pool, explored/stayed at 4 different hotels, visited old family friends, and went to Universal Studios.

7.  Viva Las Vegas: I went to Las Vegas in what felt like every other month. Whether it was for industry forums or CES, it was great to see a thriving new tech city. I went on the very fun Zappos HQ tour and of course, (legally) gambled for the first time. One of the cool experiences in Las Vegas is also trying lots of different hotels. I’ve stayed at Circus Circus, Stratosphere, Mandarin Oriental, Rio, Wynn, Palms, and Cosmopolitan.

8. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation: Being on the Youth Advisory Board for the Born This Way Foundation allowed me the opportunity to work with at-risk youth. One of my favorite activities we organizing donations for the LA Youth Network, which gives housing and support to homeless youth.

9. UNICEF’s Chinese Children’s Initiative: As a Board Member for UNICEF CCI, we organized our first annual fundraiser, which raised over $60,000 in a single night! We are using the funds to build safe housing for children.

10. Infobitt: I’m proud to be an advisory of Infobitt, a crowd-sourced news site founded by Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia). The site had a very successful beta launch and I know 2014 will bring continued growth to the innovative internet company.

11. Reading: I enjoyed a number of entertaining and thoughtful books in 2013. I hope to continue going through my long reading list in 2014.

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Read it!
  • Blink: I was hoping it would be better.
  • Bossypants: I really wanted this book to be funny, but I fell short.
  • 50 Shades of Grey: It makes for a fun, light reading.
  • Lean In: I highly recommend this book to all women.
  • The Fault in Our Stars: I don’t usually read fiction, but I heard so many good reviews of it that I gave it a shot. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, especially for those who had someone close fight cancer.
  • How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Written by former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, this was so surprisingly funny and informative. Two thumbs up.

12. Music: My friend Ben and I finally reunited again and produced our 2nd song together. This time, it was a fun classical music + electronic music mix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCSEspQhmN0

What was I doing at Intel?

Can’t tell anyone yet! But I hope to share with you soon :)

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Group photo! The crazy thing is I met three of the seven people in Boston last year. I’m thrilled to be surrounded here with some incredible entrepreneurs and innovators.

I'm wearing the suite that the engineers where when they are in the facility that makes the Intel chips. The rooms are apparently the cleanest in the world!

I’m wearing the suite that the engineers where when they are in the facility that makes the Intel chips. The rooms are apparently the cleanest in the world!

We’re in the Wall Street Journal!

Our team is so excited to be featured in the Wall Street Journal! It was interesting to see how articles are published in the WSJ. We interviewed with the journalist a few weeks ago and had a followup call this weekend. The photographer came to our house yesterday to take photos (and enjoyed a nice BBQ dinner with us!). We’re looking forward to making a team trip to the newsstand to buy every issue of Wednesday, July 31st’s Wall Street Journal! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324170004578638002403132048.html

I’ve read some of the comments of people saying that it’s a horrible idea etc…, but we’ve been living together for over a year now and I think it’s one of the best decisions we could have possibly made as a small and growing company. If you come by our house, it’s not like a frat party with footballs being thrown around and a keg in the corner. The house is very quiet throughout the day with people working hard at their desks. People are professional with each other and treat each other with respect. We’re a company building a great product, but we think of ourselves as a family first.

Enplug Wall Street Journal