When it was just the 5 co-founders and two engineers, it was easy to maintain our fierce, productive, and fun culture. But as we grew to 10, 15, then 20, and now 30 full-time teammates, we recognized that we needed to actively think about making our teammates happier. We did activities that we thought people would enjoy like ice skating because that’s what we thought “built team culture.” We were wrong. Building team culture isn’t about scheduling a group activity somewhere nearby for the sake of doing a regular activity. Building culture is all about the little things and random adventures that we get inspired to do together. Here’s an article that I wrote that got published on Inc. Magazine about what we did to truly make our team happier and more productive: inc.com/young-entrepreneur-council/8-affordable-ways-to-make-your-team-happier-and-more-productive.html
It’s not every day that you get to meet a Grammy-winning and multi-platinum songwriter. So when I met Pascal Guyon at a friend’s dinner, I immediately told him that I wanted to work together on a song. We met up the following weekend and wrote a song from scratch. Every instrument and every note was written in this 4-hour time period. We wanted to write a uplifting pop song. Both Pascal and I played the piano parts that you hear in the song. Next step: getting someone to write lyrics to the song. We think the song could go well with rap or more lyrical melodies. Have an idea? Let me know!
Click below to hear the song or go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8HdRKGz9OQ
Hope you enjoy!!
In the 2 years since we started Enplug, we’ve tried a lot of different team activities, some cliched and many unconventional. We’ve gone ice skating, attended concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and thrown beer-pong fueled house parties. Here are the ones that were a home-run for us:
1. LAN Parties
As a tech company, we love to let our inner Nerd out. A LAN (which stands for Local Area Network) Party is when people gather together in one area to play multi-player video games together on computers. Our game of choice is Counter Strike.
We create two teams: Good Guys vs Bad Guys. The Good Guys have their computers set up in our big conference room and the Bad Guys are grouped in our main work area.
We hold LAN Parties about once a month on Fridays after work. We order lots of pizza and snacks because the games will last often until 4am.
LAN Parties have consistently been fun because people from different teams than one another (like sales and engineering) get to hang out and work on a “team.” This activity is great for startups because you don’t spend money on it other than food and drinks.
2. Basketball Tournament
Several Los Angeles tech companies came together and organized a basketball tournament. Participating companies include Hulu, Shopzilla, The Honest Company, and of course, Enplug. Preceding the tournament, our teammates had basketball practices after work and on the weekends. Both male and female Enplug teammates played in the tournament. Our team has a lot of athletic people (including a few who played college basketball) so it was fun for everyone to go out and watch Enplug basketball pros show off their moves. Everyone on our team wore Enplug shirts to the tournament. We certainly had the biggest and loudest group of people cheering on the sidelines.
3. Beach retreat
Our teammate, Brenna, had a house on Laguna Beach. She kindly offered up the house for a weekend retreat for any teammates that wanted to go. The evenings were complete with Charades and Scrabble. The afternoons consisted of lounging in the sun with mimosas.
4. Ski trip
One of the advantages of being in California is the ability to swim in the ocean on one weekend and go skiing the next. We took a trip to Mammoth with a dozen teammates. We carpooled the 3 hours there and all crammed into a 3-bedroom hotel suite. This trip contrasted from the beach retreat because instead of lounging, this trip was all about bringing the daredevil in each of us. After some persuasion, our teammates agreed to take the gondola to the top of a treacherous slope. Double black diamond. Everyone came out alive and less fearful of heights.
5. Weekend brunch
Did I mention that 1/3 of our team live together in a house in Bel Air? Yup, we’ve been doing this since we started the company. Even after we got a nice, spacious office, many of us stayed living together because it’s so much fun. We have a teammate, Colin, who is a phenomenal chef. Every few weekends, he will invite the entire company over for a multi-course brunch. From blueberry pancakes made from scratch to lightly seasoned Canadian bacon, the meal is nothing short of gourmet. There’s nothing like waking up on Sunday morning to a table full of favorite breakfast items and surrounded by your teammates. We crowd around the kitchen table and toast to a great way to start the week.
EnplugEmails are a series on my blog of actual emails sent to my teammates at Enplug. I’m sharing these because it may give other startup founders ideas.
Before the end of each year, everyone at Enplug nominates and votes for one another for the Enplug Awards. We started this award game the first year that we started the company and it’s been a fun tradition ever since. It’s a reflection of our culture to always keep things entertaining! The awards this year ranged from “Most likely to have 10 kids” to “Most likely to give you a ride home from jail.” Here’s the email I sent out:
Subject line: SoCalTech’s Top 50 Startups and the Enplug Awards
On December 29th, I sent out the winners:
The EnplugEmails series on my blog are real emails that I’ve sent to my teammates at Enplug. I’m sharing some of these emails because I thought they might be useful to other startup founders. Here’s the latest one:
Subject line: The New Unicorns of 2014
The list of all the private companies that reached $1 billion valuations in 2014 was published on VentureBeat today. Thanks, Jessie, for sharing it with me.
There were 17 companies in total this year that reached the milestone. Investors call these companies “Unicorns” because of how rare they are. Thousands of startups are founded each year and only 17 hit a billion this year. And one is a customer!
- $1.1 billion
- Founded 2009
- Actifio is an enterprise technology company with a radically simple copy data virtualization platform.
- $1.1 billion
- Founded 2008
- AppDynamics develops application performance management (APM) solutions that deliver problem resolution for highly distributed applications.
- $1.2 billion
- Founded 2007
- AppNexus provides trading solutions and powers marketplaces for Internet advertising.
- Received $1 billion in funding so…valuation is at least $1 billion
- Founded 2008
- Cloudera is an enterprise software company that provides Apache Hadoop-based software and training to data-driven enterprises.
- $1.56 billion
- Founded 2003
- DocuSign employs cloud-based e-signature technology to allow users to sign and send documents online.
- $1+ billion
- Founded 1996
- Good Technology is a pioneer and world leader in secure mobility solutions for businesses.
- $1.63 billion
- Founded 1997
- Intarcia Therapeutics is a biopharmaceutical company developing therapies for diseases that require long-term chronic treatment.
- $1.3 billion
- Founded 2004
- Jasper powers the Internet of Things across more than 1,500 enterprises, millions of devices, over 100 mobile operators and 6 continents.
- $1+ billion
- Founded 2006
- Kabam is a mobile gaming company developing free-to-play core games available on mobile devices, the web, and other platforms.
- $1.5 billion
- Founded 2007
- Lending Club is the nation’s leading online credit marketplace, using technology to lower the cost of the traditional banking system.
- $1.38 bllion
- Founded 2007
- Protecting individuals and enterprises, Lookout predicts and stops mobile attacks before they do harm.
- $1+ billion
- Founded 2012
- You know what it is.
- $1.39 billion
- Founded 2007
- New Relic is a SaaS-based software analytics platform offering app performance management and mobile monitoring solutions.
- $2.5 billion
- Founded 2006
- $1.12 billion
- Founded 2013. Fastest growing SaaS company in history.
- Yes, it’s the same Slack tool we use every day to chat with each other.
- $1+ billion
- Founded 2007
- Sunrun is a provider of residential solar electricity and solar power service.
- $5 billion
- Founded 2010
- One of Enplug’s big customers…so I’m sure you know this one.
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!