TIME 2017 Person of the Year: #13 on July 3rd, 2017
It’s been a while since I last published consistently. One of my new year’s resolution is to get back into writing again, and I’m going to try to write once every 1-2 months. To kickstart, here’s my long catch up post on the past 2 years.
After my 2-year stint as Founding CEO of MaGIC ended, I moved back to the Bay Area in Spring of 2016. Founding and setting up the vision/mission for an independent, government-funded USD$28M organization to support entrepreneurs in Malaysia and Southeast Asia in under 2 years was quite an exhausting but rewarding feat, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Here’s our 2-year report and a link to download MaGIC’s Culture Book (our people and culture were one of our biggest success factors).
Summer Travels + Speaking Engagements
I took a break to travel around Europe (Greece, Prague, Hungary, Norway and Germany) in the summer. I attended Mindvalley’s Afest in Greece in May, gave a speech on the “Future of Accelerators and Incubators” at BrainBar in Budapest and spoke at GES in Silicon Valley in June 2016, where I got to meet and chat with (among others) Sec of State John Kerry (again!), Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman in person, right before our respective presentations. You can catch a glimpse of me in this short reel that highlights social entrepreneurship at the summit.
One of my best speaking engagements was for Summit at Sea 2016, which featured many interesting speakers such as Erin Brockovich, Quentin Tarantino, Eric Schmidt, Sonia Sanchez, Esther Perel, John Sculley, Gary Vaynerchuk, etc. It was quite an experience to share the stage and be on a 4-day cruise to the Bahamas with these people.
Ironically, we set sail and lost all internet connectivity on Nov 9, 2016, right after Trump won the elections on Nov 8. Obviously, the ship was full of liberal people from coastal cities like CA and NY… and the election results literally rocked the boat; there was a lot of shock and grieving aboard, especially when people were cut off from outside news immediately after. Most speakers had to address the elections and reassure the audience, which was quite amusing. Anyway, in the spirit of being environmentally sustainable, the organizers announced that this was SaS’s last voyage and will continue to host its annual flagship event in LA, which is quite a commendable move.
Hack Reactor CMO
Around late June 2016, I decided to help out a good friend’s education company and became the interim CMO at Hack Reactor (12-week immersive school for software engineers in CA, TX and NY) for 10 months while they sorted out an internal restructuring. Given that I’m already a small shareholder in NEXT Academy (an education school in SEA) and am now advising Kenzie Academy (a new 2-year tech apprenticeship school in Indiana), edtech is definitely up my alley.
At HR, I was managing a marketing budget of USD$1.6M and a team of 20 people in digital marketing, branding & PR, engineering, product development, sales and enrollment. In addition to providing executive leadership advisory to the CEO and BODs, I helped create the company’s core values, defined HR’s corporate identity & branding, introduced an OKR performance management system and internal brown bag knowledge sessions. I led a company-wide rebranding and change management for a network of schools acquired through M&A, launched Hack Reactor’s USD$1.3M Scholarship Fund (where 50% were allocated to underrepresented groups in tech) and merged the sales & enrollment team with marketing.
However, even as HR remains one of the most prestigious and reputable coding schools in the country, some of the biggest challenges in the crowded coding bootcamp space are the unpredictability in student enrollment (hence uncertain operating income while incurring fixed costs), scalability of a high-quality bootcamp model, meeting federal and state regulations, and transparency in reporting student outcomes that is standardized within the industry (as opposed to manipulated by schools to their marketing advantage), which the new CIRR council attempts to address.
In October 2016, I was appointed as a member of Flexiroam’s (ASX: FRX) Independent Board of Directors. Flexiroam is an International Data Roaming Service Provider, listed in the Australian Securities Exchange, and has over 100 travel industry partners worldwide. Our product, Flexiroam X, is a SIM sticker that allows for international data roaming in over 120 countries worldwide, removing the hassle of changing SIM cards, renting a WiFi dongle or looking for WiFi hot-spots.
We’re still a young company and looking to expand our reach. Please reach out to me if you have any interesting opportunities for partnerships in North America!
Personal Life Events: Get Engaged, Buy a House, Get Married & Bun in the Oven!
In less than a year, Jason and I hit all the major life milestones that would normally take others a few years to get through. It’s no surprise that our wedding tagline is “when you know, you know.”
On August 8, 2016, I got engaged via a surprise Amazing Race proposal on a trip back to Malaysia. We decided to make each other’s platinum and rose gold wedding bands from scratch in a 10-hour workshop in SF. It’s such a meaningful way to seal our commitment to each other, as they reflect not only who we are but what we’ve created together. We melted my mom’s old gold ring and added copper & silver to make my band exactly the color I wanted. The hand forging process reinforces the ring and makes it stronger than commercially molded rings. The only thing we outsourced is for a professional stone-setter to set the pink sapphires. All this ended up being cheaper than buying in the store. Here’s a clip of our memorable workshop experience with Adam at DIY Wedding Bands in the Mission, San Francisco, which we highly recommend.
On November 8, 2016, we bought a house in Rockridge, Oakland, just as I was sailing away on a cruise with no phone or wifi connection to the Bahamas (stressful times!). But all ended up well. Then, we spent Christmas in New Zealand with Jason’s family and I fulfilled my life-long dream of hang gliding over Queenstown!
For our wedding festivities, we decided to host a destination ceremony on a private clifftop villa in Bali, Indonesia. We were also a little ambitious and wanted to surprise our wedding guests with a “dancing with the stars” dance performance to Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud (the song Jason proposed to me with). Neither of us had any professional dance background, and we started learning the choreography via YouTube videos until I obtained 2 micro-fractures on my ribs on one of the lifts! After a few more tears, falls and many frustrating days trying to learn the routine on our own, we hired Alexis Massey at Soho Dance and flew down to LA twice for two 10-hour bootcamp-style lessons. We recorded the lessons and trained between 6-10 hours/week for about 3 months to finally feel comfortable performing this to our guests.
We managed to turn our amateur selves into somewhat decent dancers for 1 night. Here’s the video of our wedding first dance on May 9, 2017! We’re living proof that anything is possible if you put your commitment to it (and continue to practise while still in pain from the fractures)! Let us know what you think 🙂 If you’re interested, here’s the highlight reel to our wedding in Bali and a clip of Jason’s rendition of 500 miles at our second wedding celebration in Kuala Lumpur on May 27, 2017. Tatler Magazine covered our wedding in Bali and also called it the Top 15 Best Weddings of 2017 in Malaysia. Thanks Tatler too, for honoring me on the Generation T list.
Back in the Bay Area in July 2017, we got pregnant almost immediately. We’re expecting our little peanut at the end of March 2018 and couldn’t be more excited to find out that it’s a girl. I’ve always wanted to raise a strong firstborn girl, being one myself.
Part of a Tipping Point: Speaking Up on Sexual Harassment
Ironically, shortly after we conceived peanut, stories of sexual harassment rocked the tech world. Susan Fowler’s February essay on Uber’s mistreatment of her was the first of the lot (which also inspired me to self-published), and it took several months before The Information published accounts of 3 women against VC Justin Caldbeck’s unwanted advances on June 22, 2017. On June 30, 2017, the NYTimes ran a larger piece on 2 dozen more female entrepreneurs who spoke up about sexual harassment in tech.
Among the stories, one of them was of Dave McClure’s “inappropriateness” towards Sarah Kunst. Shortly after, Dave made a half-hearted public apology in a blog post entitled: “I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry,” where he seemed to have generalized and minimized the severity of his behavior. His post solicited a major response from the 500 Startups community and others who knew Dave personally. It made me really upset that some were condoning his behavior, having not known the extent of his “inappropriateness.” I decided that it was now or never to tell my side of the story about what he did in 2014.
On July 3, 2017, I published a very detailed account on my personal blog. It caught on very quickly and soon made the front pages of CNN, BBC, CNBC and other major media outlets from North America to Europe and Asia. I like this piece from HuffPost and my interview with First Classe on why it’s tough for women to speak up. I’m grateful that my piece, which also offered constructive ways to improve on harassment policies, created a wave of impact and inspired other women to speak up too (thank you for your emails and messages). I’m particularly heartened to have heard from many men who have daughters, who thanked me for speaking up for the future of their daughters.
My framework for categorizing the degrees of sexual harassment also made it to Jonathan Sposato’s (co-founder of Geekwire, PicMonkey, and WeCount.org) new book: Better Together – 8 Ways Working with Women Leads to Extraordinary Products and Profits. It’s awesome that such a respectable male leader like Jonathan see the fact that employing and empowering women is damn good business.
I think the women who spoke up in June & July 2017 were part of a huge tipping point that led to the October 2017 #metoo movement and a watershed moment for other industries as well: in media, entertainment, sports, politics, academia, and pretty much anywhere there’s a huge imbalance of power between men and women. So much so that TIME magazine named “The Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year 2017!
There’s a photo wall in the Dec 2017 printed edition of TIME that features 61 women who broke the silence on this topic. I was #13 on July 3rd, 2017. It’s surreal to be featured next to Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, but more importantly the hotel worker, former dishwasher and strawberry picker, the latter group being the most inspiring to me considering those are the people who have a much smaller voice in the line of work that they do. I’m gratified that the tide has changed for the better and society is finally beginning to place more awareness on how it treats women all around the world.
Non-Profit Organizations Worth Supporting
Not wanting to stop with all the positive momentum, I started supporting a non-profit called Project Callisto, led by Jess Ladd to make sexual harassment reporting safer and more approachable to victims. They’re currently hiring and actively fundraising from individuals and organizations to expand their scope from college campuses to tech and entertainment. Please reach out if you’d like to be involved.
Apart from Callisto, I’ve also been supporting Illuminate.org. Their flagship project is The Bay Lights, one of the largest pieces of public art in history, which became a permanent installation as a gift to the State of California on January 30, 2016. You can dedicate a light to someone on the Bay Bridge for $100 (tax deductible). Their next public art project LightRail, is a two-mile long work of public art by SF artists George Zisiadis and Stefano Corazza that brilliantly reflects over your head the real-time movement of BART and Muni trains beneath your feet on Market Street.
Looking Back on 2 Years…
Professionally, I’ve learned that culture and set ways at a startup is largely driven by the founders and cannot be easily changed by any outsider, no matter how senior. I’ve also learned that it’s tough to “market” something if you don’t truly believe in the product, or have little control over its quality or performance. A few things remain true – if you keep being resourceful and keep hustling, it will get you far. Speed to output is better than a slow pace to perfection, especially at a startup. Never underestimate a random connection – it could lead to something meaningful in the future, you just never know. Be kind and respectful to everyone you meet, never dismissive!
I’ve learned not to be afraid of public judgement if you have a story to share that could make a real difference, where impact can be far-reaching and long-lasting. Stay vulnerable and authentic, but don’t speak or write when emotional. Ignore trolls – the more you respond and let them get to you, the more they win, you lose. Ignore and they’ll soon be silent.
I did not get to writing that book I wanted to write. It’s interesting how much you forget and what you initially thought was interesting no longer feels the same as time passes. Someone once told me, if you’re really excited about an idea, wait and see how you feel about it in 3 months. If you’re still stoked, don’t waste time: pursue it. If not, move on.
I did not get to starting that company I wanted to start. I’ve accepted being OK with not running another company for the next few years. I’m so grateful each day to have met the man of my dreams and married him. And how precious time is when you’ve finally found someone. I’m perfectly contented to focus on my personal life for a bit and do not feel guilty about not pursuing all the opportunities that was laid out for me right after MaGIC, although I miss being on a larger mission and leading a team. There will always be a time when it is right for me to pursue those ventures again.
For now, I am incubating the biggest startup of my life: my little peanut, and nothing can describe the immense love, anticipation, exhilaration, anxiety and responsibility all wrapped in one. I’m learning that one of the greatest gift a parent can give to its unborn child is good health (immune system) and a happy mom-dad relationship. I’ve learned how uninformed and misinformed people at large have been about pregnancy and child-birthing experiences, and how (the risks and rewards) of medical options available to us are not properly communicated. I’m grateful that I have the time and resources to research and figure out with 100% confidence what’s best for my family.
Most of all, I’m very thankful that my wonderful husband, Jason has taken a sabbatical to spend this special time of our lives together, before the arrival of our little one.
Next Post: New Side Ventures & Positions in 2017
In my new post in the new year, I’ll be announcing a couple of new exciting side projects that I’ve been working on, along with a few new positions. Stay tuned!