Leap 1: China to France
I grew up in Shanghai until the age of 22. The city was a spectacle of energy, hope, and ambition. But a part of me yearned for a change of scenery before the charm of my city turned stale. After my bachelor’s degree, I decided to leave for France.
Settling in a foreign land was full of both struggle and excitement. Language was the first barrier. But I wanted to find a job in France after my degree. This meant that I needed to compete with French people in a French market. So I was very determined and managed to speak fluent French in two years.
Back in Shanghai, I was working many different jobs to understand what I like. From tutoring, translating, selling clothes at Hollister, to then doing internships at Unilever and Disney… I quickly got interested in consumer brands. But in France, the consumer market was new to me. My only edge back then was that I can learn fast and work hard. That’s when consulting caught my eye. It promised a good salary, a visa, and a fast learning curve. It ticked all the boxes of what seemed to be a smart move.
So I decided to take a leap to work in consulting.
Leap 2: Working in Consulting
I was hired as an associate in a strategy consulting boutique in Paris. The job was fascinating. Company executives came to us for hard questions. "Should we buy the license for this rare drug disease candidate?" "How should we set up pricing for our new green energy product?" "Where should we set up our new manufacturing factory?" We were professional problem solvers.
…Except we were not. The reality was that we change projects every 3 months. We don’t really see our answers getting turned into actions. We suggested businesses to do this and that, but it's always easier said than done. There was a strong disconnect between strategic directions and real changes in businesses.
I want to drive real changes, so I decided to leave consulting and work in something more impactful.
Leap 3: Transitioning into tech
Around this time, friends in the tech industry pointed me in a new direction. The tech industry is fully of smart minds and ambitious young people. Thanks to their referrals, I got a role that’s generalist enough for me to work with different teams, but also allows a high level of ownership for me to get things done.
I joined when there were 13 people in the team. In one year, we doubled our size. I was working closely with founders, and created our first CRM MVP to track our independent customers. I revamped our pricing and worked with engineers on billing automation.
But I never felt confident talking with engineers. And that’s frustrating to me because I’m working in a technology company where engineers build products to make people’s lives better. I couldn’t understand the struggles that the engineering team had. Perhaps because of my consulting background, I really wanted to do something to help them become more efficient and productive. So I decided to learn programming to be able to speak the same language with them.
I was lucky. ChatGPT came out and it was my best teacher. It guided me through all the basics patiently and systematically. I would dump all the questions or errors I came across to ChatGPT. Slowly, coding wasn’t a maze to me anymore. I realised that it was just a logic puzzle waiting to be solved.
Leap 4: Becoming into a solo woman founder
I fell in love with building - to see something live on the web, working exactly as how I wanted it to be. The next step for me was - to build something that’s useful for someone.
In the startup that I was working at, we had major churns due to data privacy issues. Data privacy laws are so opaque. I was so frustrated by talking to legal experts and lawyers that I started thinking: Can I do better? So I started talking to my founder friends and asked them about their pain points in data privacy and compliance. After several conversations, I had the idea to build a tool to streamline Data Processing Agreements for GDPR compliance.
I built a functional MVP, and I decided to take another leap here: quit my job and work on it full-time. It happened naturally to become a solo woman founder. I don’t need a technical partner, and I will be the only person making decision. I can try new ideas very often and execute on them very fast.
I’m just starting my journey as a solo founder and I would love to share my thoughts along this journey! I’m happy to put some lessons learned so far that pushed me forward when I felt indecisive.
- Never set limits to yourself. You can do anything with enough conviction.
- Take risks. If you are taking a less risky path, it’ll be crowded and more competitive.
- Be naive. I want perfection in everything I do, but in the end, it’s stopping me from doing anything because I’ll be my own worst judge. Sometimes you just need to be more naive and put yourself out there.