I'm a Harvard CS & Econ student, startup investor, and Elpha's First Ambassador – Jessica LiFeatured
What’s your name and your current role? If you’re a student, what are you studying?I am Jessica, a senior at Harvard studying applied math, economics, and computer science. After graduation, I am joining Morgan Stanley’s Global Technology Investment Banking group. Where’s the place of your origin?I was born in Indiana (when my parents were graduate students at Purdue), grew up in China, and came back to the US (where my parents had found jobs in New Jersey) in late elementary school. How many years have you been in tech?My parents are both electrical engineers, so I grew up with a strong fascination with technology. In late middle school, through the encouragement of my parents (immigrants from China) who have always been strong believers in personal financial empowerment, I started public markets investing, where I found my interest and strength in evaluating technology from a business angle. I quickly became very engaged with investing as I felt it was a challenging but stimulating blend of being contrarian and innovative while being data driven, evidence focused, and grounded. In high school, I continued investing as well as my more technical pursuit of the field when I did computer science research on risk extinction models and solid state physics. Now in college, I study computer science and conducted research in the field of autonomous driving. Outside of school, I also became involved in tech startups, including Luxe (acquired by Volvo) and investing in tech/supporting tech founders through Rough Draft Ventures (General Catalyst), Romulus Capital, Female Founders Fund, and Global Founders Capital. After graduation, I will be moving to Silicon Valley to cover tech companies in investment banking at Morgan Stanley, where I also spent the summer working on tech IPOs, including Sonos, Domo, and Bloom Energy. What’s something that you’ve done that you’re proud of?Something recently that comes to mind is my senior honors thesis. For this, I worked with Nobel Laureate Oliver Hart to study foreign direct investment bargaining in China, an application of game theoretic mathematical models I found fascinating and on a topical topic area close to my own roots. The process of completing over 100 pages of research practically entirely on my own from start to finish was incredibly difficult but also made me appreciate the details and nuances as well as iterative, persistent thinking and work that go into the finished research product. It was a true culmination of my college experience and the diligent, creative thinker I have become through the rigorous but rewarding coursework and other learnings I have had at Harvard. What’s your “aha” moment in deciding what do you want to do professionally?When I was working in venture, I listened to pitches and had conversations with incredibly brilliant, innovative, and driven founders. I realized that being in venture is one of the coolest roles: being around and adding value to the most talented people creating disruptive, impactful, society-changing products, concepts, platforms, and companies.In the short and medium term of my career, I want to develop more analytical and operating experience to better be able to support founders and have the entrepreneurial empathy to develop genuine relationships with startups, but eventually, I do want to end up in venture and create a meaningful impact in the industry and ecosystem. What’s your definition of success in life or in your career?I think so frequently people measure success based on socially accepted, standard benchmarks. In high school, people measured success by which colleges they were accepted to. In college, people measured success by whether you went to work for Fortune 100 companies in a hot industry, major city, and coveted role. After college, people’s paths start to diverge: not better or worse but just different. At this point, people have trouble grappling with the lack of a clear next step or given ladder to mindlessly climb for the next milestone or trophy. For some time, I did define my own success through some of these external, arbitrary markers that ended up creating lots of meaningless stress and internal conflict. Now, I am beginning to realize that my own definition of success is when I am happy to go to work and not just waiting for Friday. Moreover, I want to feel that what I do has a positive impact on the company and the world. What’s something that you’re working on to improve about yourself?I am trying hard to find balance and making sure I do 1 thing for myself each day. I try to be more mindful of taking some time, even if just 20 minutes for a run or bike ride, to do something purely to make myself feel more empowered and enhance my mental and physical wellness in the present moment. Overall, this creates a positive feedback loop and virtuous cycle where I can more efficiently and happily do my remaining to dos and avoid burnout in the long run. Tell us about someone who has inspired you a great deal. Who was it and how did they inspire you?My dad has always been the biggest inspiration to me. He grew up incredibly poor in China and overcame endless hardships to come to the United States and create a better life for my brother and me. For my whole life, he has been the most dedicated, hard working, and responsible person. My drive and motivation comes from his role model and inspiration. How do you celebrate your wins?I always first take a moment to appreciate (mentally or in writing/communication, depending on what is most appropriate) the people who had helped me get to this place. It is a great chance to experience and share gratitude, which can be a deep, non-fleeting source of happiness. I then take a bit of time to just take in the moment, feel the happiness, and celebrate myself and team before planning what is next. So frequently we rush into the next thing without taking an important moment to re energize, reconnect, and reflect. Doing so helps us enter a better mentality and understanding to more effectively tackle the next challenges. What do you do when you aren't working or studying?I love staying active, especially running or biking. I also love making new smoothie recipes, going on food adventures, reading, and traveling with my family in China. What is one piece of advice that you’d share with the Elpha community?My biggest advice is to define yourself by your interests rather than your strengths. If you define yourself by your strengths, your entire sense of self-worth and identity is tied to the status of your uncontrollable environment. With an unsuccessful interview, a negative performance review, a bad exam grade, your perceived value and your claimed future vision are shattered, leading to constant identity crises, disappointment, and volatile experiences. Instead, go back to your core instincts, what you gravitate toward in the absence of expectations, and what you do when no one is watching. In this way, find your true interests and define yourself by those - the way in which you craft your confidence, sense of self, place in the world, and vision for your future will be much clearer, grounded, stable, and exciting. Jessica Li is a senior at Harvard, studying applied math, economics, and computer science. She is completing her senior thesis research on foreign direct investment in China under Nobel Laureate Oliver Hart. Outside of academics, she teaches advanced macroeconomics at Harvard, does research on autonomous driving technology, serves as a venture fellow with Rough Draft Ventures (General Catalyst) where she’s helping launch a biotech fund, interns with Global Founders Capital and Romulus Capital, leads the Female Founders Fund college fellows program, serves as head of business development for fintech startup Rialto, serves in advising capacities for several companies in YC’s W19 cohort, blogs on Medium (check out Profiles in Entrepreneurship!), and volunteers with UNICEF and Harvard College Children's Stories. In her free time, she enjoys training for races, yoga, food adventures, podcasts, and comedy TV shows.