Interview by Howie Rhee '04, with contributions by Vivian Chung. Added March 8th, 2016
I double majored in Economics and Chinese. Duke has amazing study abroad programs, so I went on 4 study abroad programs - Beijing, Florence, New York and London. At the time, I doubt I even knew what entrepreneurship meant while I was in college.
You worked in i-banking and consulting after graduating. Tell us about that experience.
I spent the summer after my junior year interning at McKinsey. I loved it there. I had a lot of fun with my team members.
My first job out of college was investment banking. I worked in the Healthcare Investment Banking Group at Jefferies. I was recruited by a Duke alumni Matt Kim, who was a VP in that group at that time. It was so great to have Duke network up there in New York. They really supported me while I was there.
Locket which was acquired by Wish. Tell us the story of how it got started.
One day while on the job at Jefferies, I was setting up my new Samsung Galaxy S3 and was surprised by how ugly the lock screen was. I did some research into how many times we check our phone and it turns out that we look at our lock screen over 150 times a day!
With over 80 million Android users at that time, it seemed like a huge opportunity. No one was innovating the smartphone lock screen in the US at that time. So, I convinced myself that I'd do it myself! I told myself that even if I failed, I'd at least be the first one to try it. So a couple weeks later, I put in my 2 weeks notice. I pulled together a team of few friends (most of them from Duke) and moved into a 2 bedroom apartment where we worked and lived, along with 3 dogs and a hamster! We lived on hotdogs and ramen for the first few months before we got funded.
Tell us what your business is like these days. What do you spend your time on, and who is your target customer?
At the moment, I'm not working! I've been traveling around for the past 6 months. I'm slowly getting ready to start my next thing.
Thinking back to when you were a student, were there things you wished you'd done differently to prepare for your career? And what did you do as a student that you are glad you did?
I wish I made more friends at Duke! Even now in San Francisco, a lot of my closest friends are Dukies. Wish I had more of them.
I'm glad that I studied hard, which got me some great internships and my first job, but if I were to do it all over again, I'd spend less time in the library and more time hanging out with friends or participating in activities or clubs.
For students that are thinking of starting a company, but thinking about getting work experience first, how would you help them analyze that decision?
I think it is a great idea to have some work experience before starting your own business. It helps you understand what it is like to be working for someone -- what it is like to work for a great or bad boss. That way, you can also decide what kind of a leader you'd like to be and what kind of culture you want to build at your company.
I also think that starting off your career with a brand name company helps you build credibility which can help you raise funding or hire talents if you were to start your own thing.
A lot of students get stuck on the idea they need to do something incredibly high tech like create the next Google or Facebook. And a lot of them think they need to keep their idea a secret. They might look at a business like yours and say "it's not a technology innovation" and say "if I tell someone my idea, why don't they just steal it and do it themselves?". How do you advise students that are thinking in this way?
If the idea is the only important factor that someone else can easily just execute it, maybe it's not such a defensible business model after all. I personally believe that ideas are cheap -- but execution is not. I'd recommend against keeping your idea secret. I think you lose more than gaining by doing so.
Tell us what types of things your role entails. What are you responsible for?
At Locket, I've been wearing a lot of hats. My role also changed as the company grew. I was responsible for a lot of things -- fundraising, hiring, managing team members, creating strategies for the company, helping with business development or sales, and product management. Sometimes, when we didn't have a CTO, I led engineering stand-ups (which I was horrible at)
Tell us what it’s like to live in the Bay Area. What’s the vibe like out there for an alum?
I LOVE San Francisco. Most of my friends out here are Dukies :) Either I've met them at Duke, or met them out here.
Anything else you would like to share with students?
It's amazing to see how much time and resources Duke is putting into create entrepreneurial environment for Dukies. I hope you take advantages of all these great events and network opportunities with alumni!