Rocket to the Moon by Jim Brickman is one of my favorite piano pieces. Hope you enjoy my cover of the song! http://youtu.be/zT4aD4tCN7E
When I was in high school, I learned about The Tech Awards, which recognizes 5 companies each year that have built technology that benefits society. The award is sponsored and hosted by Microsoft, Nokia, Intel, Applied Materials, and The Swanson Foundation (Robert Swanson, founder of Genentech). Winners have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Ted Turner. I thought, maybe one day I’ll build something impactful enough to be recognized by The Tech Awards. 8 years later, it happened. When I got to the 1,200 gala that would announce the winners, I was already thrilled to be one of the nominees. There were five categories and we were in the running for the Young Innovator Award. We met our judges, which included scientists from Genentech, and talked to the sponsors of our award, the inspiring and beautiful Erica Swanson and Judy Swanson of The Swanson Foundation. When it was announced that we were a winner, it was the cherry on top.
In college, I co-founded Nanoly Bioscience with Balaji Sridhar, Mark Tibbitt, and Peter Matheu. We developed polymers that enable vaccines to survive without refrigeration. Rural places with no electricity or infrastructure do not receive vaccines and these are the regions that are most vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. Our goal is to get vaccines to anywhere in the world.
The Ambrosetti Forum, is an annual international economic conference held at the beautiful Villa d’Este in Lake Como, Italy. It is also the best forum/conference/event that I have ever been to. The intimate three-day event brings together leaders from around the world to candidly discuss topics ranging from the world economic outlook to new scientific developments to improving governance in Europe.
This year, I was honored to be a speaker on stage along with Senator John McCain, Former Prime Minister of Italy Enrico Letta, Chairman of Goldman Sachs International Peter Sutherland, Former President of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet, and the CEO of the New York Times Mark Thompson. The Former Prime Minister of Finland Esko Aho interviewed me on stage on the topic of “New Technologies and New Business Models.” Prime Minister Aho was absolutely delightful. Even in the course of our 45-minute on-stage discussion, I learned a lot about leadership from him (at 36, he was the youngest elected Prime Minister of Finland). I discussed how Enplug was able to win customers away from our multi-billion dollar competitor companies by using a better business model and more sustainable technology.
I knew I would be the youngest speaker at this event so I thought, “Why not have fun with this conservative crowd.” I wore a bright pink dress. Before I went on stage, people thought that I was the girlfriend or trophy wife of someone (I’m used to it!). But the benefit of wearing a bright pink dress is that after my talk, people can easily find me in the crowd if they wanted to talk with me. It worked.
It was my first time in Italy so of course, I had to have some fun as well. Thankfully, my best friend and investor, Sabrina Kay, came with me. As a regular visitor of Europe, Sabrina knew all the best things to do in Italy. It was an incredible week of learning and discovery.
And it talks about how to figure out whether a stranger you meet can be your startup co-founder. Check it out here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2014/09/02/how-to-know-if-a-perfect-stranger-is-your-dream-cofounder
The Kairos Society Latin America Summit was held in Medellin, Colombia. It was my first time in South America and I couldn’t have found a better group to explore the beautiful country with. It was awesome to have fellow young entrepreneurs who are also some of my best friends there in Medellin with me. In the 5 days that we were there, I learned some interesting things:
- Medellin is truly beautiful. It’s said that the three best places to visit in South America are 1) Rio, 2) Santiago, and 3) Medellin. I can’t speak for the first two, but I can say that Medellin is a great city to spend time in. The city is situated in the valley so you have mountains all around you.
- Learn to speak Spanish. Most of the people that interacted with that are native Colombians did not speak English. Plan on learning Spanish before getting to Medellin.
- American Express is accepted everywhere. In fact, of all the places I’ve tried using Amex in, more places in Colombia accepted the credit card than took my card in the US. Even the little hole-in-the-wall cafe that we went to in Medellin took credit cards.
- Taxis are very cheap. The 40-minute cab ride from the airport into Medellin cost me $35. Getting to most places around Medellin only cost between $3-$10.
- Colombian bacon is a little taste of heaven. Called chicharron, Colombian bacon is a must-have while you’re in the country. I could have this for every single meal if I didn’t think I would die from a clogged artery from eating too much of it.
- Nightlife 7 days of the week. We were there from Saturday through Wednesday. Each night, there were plenty of activities, even on the days we consider to be off-days. We went to a hip bar/lounge/club on Monday night. Tuesday night, we went salsa dancing.
- Prostitution. We had prostitutes approach our group while we were going out in the city. We learned that prostitution is widespread in Colombia. According to the law, prostitution and brothels are legal in designated “tolerance zones.”
Here are 5 books that I read in one sitting because they are that hard to put down.
1. The Fault in Our StarsI don’t usually read fiction, let alone young adult novels, but this book was something else. It’s a timeless book for anyone of any age. It was appropriately named Time’s #1 fiction book of 2012.
The Fault in Our Stars shares the beautiful story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year-old with cancer, and her crush, Augustus Walters. It’s a love story that makes you laugh, cry, cheer, and everything in between. You follow the unveiling of Hazel and Augustus’ relationship from the first time they meet in the basement of a church to their adventure in Amsterdam. They approach their situation of being sick with such honesty and heartbreaking acceptance. For anyone who has had anyone close die from cancer, this is a story that will certainly be relatable and cathartic.
2. How to Sweet-Talk a Shark
Milken Institute hosted an intimate event of about 100 people to attend a fireside chat with Governor Bill Richardson that I attended back in October. I didn’t know that a big part of the event was Governor Richardson talking about his new book. Out of guilt of not having a copy of the book, I bought a copy at the event. And it was a good choice.
The book is co-written with Kevin Bleyer, who is an Emmy award-winning writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart so you know the book will be funny. The book covers the tough and entertaining negotiations that Governor Richardson had with Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and North Korea’s Kims. Sure, the book is a bit self-promoting, but it’s interesting to hear for example about how Richardson upset Hussein because the former had the bottom of his shoe’s sole turned towards Hussein when he was sitting down. I also enjoyed the story about how Governor Richardson’s relationship with former President Bill Clinton became icy after Governor Richardson chose to endorse President Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton. Admittedly, Richardson says that saying, “No,” to Bill Clinton is pretty hard.
3. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
This is the best business book that I have ever read. So much so that I encouraged all my teammates at Enplug to read it and made copies available to everyone.
The author, Ben Horowitz, is best known for being the second part of top-tier venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz. What’s lesser known is that Ben was CEO of Opsware, an enterprise software company sold to HP for $1.6 billion in 2007. The entertaining and advice-filled book details Horowitz’s struggle building Opsware. He shares how he was able to keep his teammates at his company through times of long and strenuous struggles, where there was no clear financial exit in sight. Unlike the glorious stories of overnight successes into billion-dollar company, The Hard Thing About Hard Thing is a much more grounded and honest narative of the ups and downs of building a tech company. It’s a book that anyone that is part of a team that is building a startup will find useful. Ben reminds us that building a successful company is a marathon, not a sprint.
The author, Sophia Amoruso, is the CEO of Nasty Gal, a $100 million+ revenue e-commerce female clothing company based in Los Angeles. From being part of the LA startup ecosystem, I had heard her name countless times. Finally, I got to learn about her story from #GirlBoss.
Sophia has the most unexpected story to tell: she went from community college drop-out who was caught shoplifting to successful CEO all before she was 30. From her stories about hitchhiking from truck drivers to sitting with the CEO of Michael Kors and remembering how she used to steal Michael Kors products, Sophia tells the story with complete and refreshing bluntness. This is a women who grew selling clothes on eBay to a top e-commerce clothing company and shares her journey in intimate detail. I love her if-you-want-it-then-go-get-off-your-ass-and-do-it attitude. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to pursue entrepreneurship, but are holding back for whatever reason.
5. A Thousand Splendid Suns
From the author of Kite Runner, A Thousand Slendid Suns is one emotionally draining book, in a good way. The part of the book that talks about the two main female protagonists plotting against their abusive husband got my heart of pounding so hard that I had to put the book down for a second and catch my breath.
The story follows two Afghan women from their birth, one in 1959 and one in 1978, and how their very different upbringings somehow led them to eventually live under the same roof and share a husband. Laila is raised in an intellectual, middle class family. Mariam is raised by a single-mother who had her out of wedlock, a disgrace that would come to define Mariam’s future. After the Taliban rises to power in Afghanistan, we learn about how women’s rights are virtually eliminated: women cannot walk unaccompanied by a male relative; they cannot go to school; they cannot work outside the home; whipping and other punishment of women in public for disobeying any rules. We share Laila’s disbelief when she realizes that she went from a girl that all her friends said would become someone great to having all her dreams taken away because of the misogynist rules.
If not to walk into the shoes of a woman living in a very different society, this book serves as a powerful reminder of how there is still so much progress that needs to be made in our world.
I had an incredible time hosting LA’s Women in Tech Night out! From the CEO of LA Film School to the Senior Partner of Ogilvy & Mathers, we had amazing women in attendance. The event was completely sold out and an absolute success. Here’s more on the event: http://www.begreat.co/events/37/la-women-in-tech-night-out-by-nanxi-liu
I’m very thankful to be included in LA Business Journal’s 20 in their 20s for 2014. My answers were summarized in the article, so I’ve included the uncensored version in this blog post :)
What led you to start your own company? A combination of rebellion, curiosity, and boredom led me to do startups. I started building things throughout my time in college. My friend introduced me to my now co-founder, David. I met David for about an hour to just chat and share ideas. I make decisions really quickly so afterwards, I did what I thought was the most logical next step: pack a U-Haul with all my stuff and move to Los Angeles to start Enplug with David.
Where did you get the startup money? My co-founders and I first funded everything from guilt-free and interest-free funds called our bank account and personal savings. After we built a prototype display running Enplug software and got customers to sign up, we went to entrepreneurs that we admired and asked them to give us money. They gave us $2.5 million.
What was the biggest challenge? Determining whether to build our internal applications for our teammates on iOS or android. We have very passionate developers on both sides so it ended with a compromise. We made everything web-based.
What was the most important lesson you learned? Work with people smarter than myself. In past companies that I’ve started, I worried when things broke because I knew I would have to fix it. With Enplug, I don’t worry when things break because there’s 34 other people there to fix it.
How many hours a day do you put in? 24 hours. I dream in Enplug. On days when I don’t dream about Enplug, I work about 17 hours. I’m single and don’t have kids so I think this is acceptable for now. My co-founders are in the same position so it’s easy to get really into work.
Does your youth lead to awkward situations, such as when you supervise older workers? The Enplug teammates that I work with who are older than me are always smarter and more experienced than me so I don’t need to supervise them.
Will you start another company? Absolutely. My co-founding team at Enplug work so well that we’ve already made a pact to work on our next companies together. We’re thinking wireless energy transferring, unless pCell does it first, or an alternative high school focused on entrepreneurship.
Could you ever work for someone else? I work for my teammates, clients, and investors every day. I love getting them results.
What do you do to relax? Work….out, but mostly just work. I play the piano and enjoy composing music. Netflix is also really good-I’m a big fan of Archer and Family Guy. A lot of us ride motorcycles so we’ll go racing down PCH.
It’s been almost two years since I took a U-HAUL and moved my life from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I was going to start my next company with 4 people I had never met. One was a professional poker player; another built two top 10 apps as a college sophomore; another was a self-taught programmer who built a commodities trading management platform; and another was a tech guru who ran hacker sites. Today, David, Zach, Alex, and Navdeep are my co-founders, housemates, and best friends. We’ve grown to 35 teammates just in our LA headquarters. We now have teams in San Francisco, London, and Slovakia. Maybe we’ll get Enplug software up into space in the next two years.
Our design team made a lovely 60-second video (we’re the short attention span generation) about Enplug and our team. Enjoy!
TechCrunch, 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!
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
Whether you’re trying to find a co-founder for a startup or organization, the process is more of a science than an 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 THAT YOU WANT
To increase your likelihood of getting a great hustler co-founder, I’ve felt these actions make a positive difference:
- Quickly make your decision to work with them or not: If you take too long to decide whether you want to work with someone or not, that person will leave for another opportunity. For all the companies that 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. To convince them that I’m a good partner, I had to chase them down for multiple coffee sessions.
- 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.”
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.
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.
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 hacking session 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.
I found co-founders by always keeping an eye out. When I found someone I liked, I would aggressively sell them on working together. 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.
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
Can’t tell anyone yet! But I hope to share with you soon :)