Vivian Wang Podcast
[00:00:00] Bryan Pham: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode on the Asian hustle network podcast. Today, we have Vivian Wang. Vivian, welcome to the podcast.
[00:00:09] Vivian Wang: Awesome to be here, Bryan.
[00:00:10] Bryan Pham: Of course! Vivian, tell us more about yourself and your upbringing.
[00:00:15] Vivian Wang: Absolutely. A little bit on me. I grew up in central Ohio in this small suburb called Dublin.
[00:00:23] my first step into everything that Landed does was being a barista at a local coffee shop called Caribou Coffee. I just really wanted those like free caramel macchiatos. So I ended up getting a job there. And then I went to Princeton, studied Public Policy, and had my career start in Finance. Most recently I was over at Gap Inc, advising the C-suite there on various strategic initiatives. A really big one is hiring or course development. And did YCombinator and founded Landed, and I can talk a bit more about Landed, but that’s a little bit on me.
[00:01:02] Bryan Pham: Of course. That is a unique background. So for reference is Dublin near Columbus, Ohio?
[00:01:08] Vivian Wang: Yes, that’s right.
[00:01:09] Bryan Pham: Okay. Yes. That’s a really fun area, but from obviously people’s perspective, I would imagine that the Asian demographic there is very limited.
[00:01:17] Vivian Wang: Yes, it is. And actually, it was interesting that my parents immigrated from China. And when they came to the U.S. They came for their education, but their first jobs were being a dishwasher and waitresses at a local Chinese restaurant. And now they moved around a little bit, but we stayed generally in central Ohio and 20 years later, they’re both now software engineers. With two kids in Princeton. My sister’s graduating next week.
[00:01:45] Bryan Pham: Oh wow. You must. Oh, wow. That’s a big turnaround and congratulations to them.
[00:01:50] Vivian Wang: Yes. and I think really like through my parents’ experience, I learned a lot about the blue-collar workforce, ultimately that is a huge part of the mission of what we’re doing at Landed. And I can talk about that in a little bit, but I came to understand that blue-collar workers, hourly workers, want to have a career. They want to move up the ladder in life. So that helped shape the type of business that I was wanting to build.
[00:02:25] Bryan Pham: Wow. And describe your experience like through your parents’ experience, working at restaurants. Were you one of those immigrant kids that sat at the restaurant and kind of watching their parents work in the corner? What was that experience like for you?
[00:02:37] Vivian Wang: I was a newborn at the time, so I hear all the stories secondhand from them. Both of them, I would say, is a lot more talented in front of the computer than they necessarily were in that context. But I think really, it made me think about a lot of things, right? Because when I was at Princeton, I was studying a lot of Economic Policy and I watched the gig economy, which was characterized at the time by companies like Uber, Instacart, and Lyft. All these companies, commoditize labor. But I think that’s shortsighted when it comes to allowing blue-collar workers to upscale it.
[00:03:19] So that’s really what we’ve decided to build here, but a lot of it was shaped by seeing my parents lived experience, studying it from more of an academic perspective at Princeton, and then seeing it in the professional sphere when I was at Gap Inc.
[00:03:38] Bryan Pham: Oh, wow. That’s awesome to hear. And I think companies are built on a very strong reason that tends to be the one that can weather all those storms. Because entrepreneurship is very tough. And I’m curious too, how did you even put this idea and action together? Does that make something happen? To build this company. Was this something that you always thought about? Was it the environment that you were in that fostered entrepreneurship? How did you develop your entrepreneurial mindset?
[00:04:02] Vivian Wang: Yes, sure. So I’ll back up a little bit and talk about what we’re building and then how we got there. So we’re building at Landed a livelihood platform. So a livelihood platform is this thinking through an economic model that gives workers control over their jobs, their finances, and their education by offering tailored peer-to-peer and B2C advice and opportunities.
[00:04:28] So today we’re working with companies like Blaze Pizza, Panera, all the way up to Jose Andres’ Food Group, The Ritz Carlton. We’re helping all these awesome brands hire. And I guess the way that this journey happened was when we launched in March of 2020, right? So March of 2020 was a really interesting time because it was a difficult year for job seekers across the U.S. We launched on March 14th and I was living in San Francisco at the time. And the entire city shut down like two to three days later. All those alarming news stories were circulating online about the havoc. The pandemic would become vividly real that second week of March, because overnight we saw job seekers pouring into our newly launched job candidate, as a platform by the thousands.
[00:05:25] Like we did no advertising, no marketing job seekers were just finding us. And that made our work extremely urgent. And we decided to start directing all of our energy into building the fastest way for furloughed or laid-off hourly workers to land on their feet with a new job. So now that the U.S. is reopening, we are facing a 9 million person staffing deficit across food, retail, and hospitality, and we’ve helped a bunch of companies ranging from mom and pop shops. Keep their doors open up to these large multi-unit franchise holding groups. And the goal is to help them adapt to that new landscape. So really like the way that we got started we had this idea and it just became so necessary because essential workers were using us to support their livelihoods.
[00:06:20] And then it evolved a little bit because all these stores, to keep open, they need to use Landed to run their businesses. So we have two customers here and both of them have been through quite a roller coaster in the past two to three years.
[00:06:39] Bryan Pham: Oh, wow. Thank you so much for creating the platform for these business owners to use. And in every bad situation, there’s always an upside to it. And fortunately, you were also there to help people who are in need. So out of curiosity, how have the team dynamics changed during the pandemic? and like, how have you evolved yourself and the company to deal with the company post-pandemic?
[00:07:01] Cause we see situations like DocuSign or other companies that grew tremendously during the pandemic. Post-pandemic, now they’re dealing with people who are leaving the platform. How have you been able to shift your team and your culture and your mission to post-pandemic life?
[00:07:15] Vivian Wang: Yes. The pandemic has done a lot for the industry. And when we think about it at Landed, we have three main values and five operating principles that tell us how we need to be running the business regardless of if there is, or if it’s not a pandemic. So the three values are customer obsession. The second is ownership and humility. The third is to embrace the impossible. When we were seeing these thousands of job seekers pour into our platform overnight. We rolled up our sleeves and we were like, now it’s time to go and find our partners on the other side of this marketplace to get them these jobs.
[00:07:58] And at the time it felt impossible. And now needing to staff a 9 million person staffing deficit also feels impossible. But we’re landing tens of thousands of people’s jobs. We’re helping over 300 businesses stay open. So those are our three values. And I think the way that we operate has stayed consistent from our founding to now.
[00:08:21] So operating principles are more like the, how, like every day to day, how do we make hard decisions? It’s great. When the hard decisions are between a good decision and a great decision. And. That’s not always the case. It’s more like we have limited time. We need to do something quickly and need to get something to market.
[00:08:40] So what is the best out of the two? Not optimal decisions. You’re just trying to move as quickly as you can. And the first operating principle is to move with urgency and focus because candidates are relying on us to support their livelihoods. These employers are relying on us to keep their doors open.
[00:08:59] So we gotta just move quickly and efficiently. The second one is macro optimism, and micro pessimism, which means that on a macro scale, we are dedicated to our mission, but on a micro scale, we need to make sure we’re thinking rigorously about everything. The third is to take smart leaps, not baby steps. Fourth is results reign supreme, and fifth is frugality.
[00:09:23] And these are all just super important. I think some of them are informed by my Asian upbringing, but ultimately I believe everything can be achieved with fewer resources and less time, and less money. And that’s how we’re able to brand very efficiently.
[00:09:38] Bryan Pham: I think those are really good core values to have. And it’s almost refreshing because I feel like oftentimes most startups overlook their core values. Like we gotta build fast, we gotta move fast. You gotta hire fast, but you don’t have the system and structure in place. Like you’re gonna feel the pain a couple of years later. As you continue to grow.
[00:09:54] Because people who are entering your company from a later stage to the point where you don’t even know anyone’s names and faces anymore, that’s when your core values will like play into the hand.
[00:10:04] Vivian Wang: Yes. And so someone told me early on when I founded Landed that when you know, things are going well, that’s the feeling of, you’re just literally trying to hang on. You’re trying to run as quickly as you can to keep up. You’re not gonna feel like you have anything under control. You’re just gonna feel like the demand of the market or the product is just like pulling you forward.
[00:10:26] And you’re just like, grabbing onto the back of just like a car. And, I think what I found was 18x last year which was exciting for business growth. And they made this analogy of Legos, so you have a set of Legos and it’s a limited set of Legos. You have a limited team that’s able to help you build things with these Legos. And over time you have to give them away. And I think that’s been a challenging part because every founder wants to control every single aspect of their business to perfection. And that is just simply not possible.
[00:11:03] So as you’re growing the team, you have to give away Legos. You’re gonna have to teach people on your team to give away Legos too because the instinct is to want to control everything then you presumably know the outcome, but as soon as you start giving that away. You need to build that trust with people on your team and let them build what they need to build. And then let them manage their team to build what they need to build. So if in a startup that is a super high growth, you’re gonna feel like your job is changing every month you’re giving away new Legos, you’re getting new Legos.
[00:11:45] So I think that’s like an exciting thing. That’s why people love joining startups because there’s like unlimited new problems to face.
[00:11:53] Bryan Pham: Yes. That’s one of the most rewarding and exciting things about being an entrepreneur. It’s like you’re in a fast-paced environment, not knowing what you’re doing. Half the time just praying that you’re going in the right direction. But your answer is so far, it’s like every textbook startup culture, everything I read in these books. So everything you implemented, company values, scaling, delegations. I think you’re doing everything right. And that’s awesome to hear.
[00:12:18] And I wanna shift to focus back on yourself and hear about what it is like being an Asian American woman founder in the tech space? Because we read a lot of articles and see a lot on the Asian Hustle Network about underrepresentation, not seeing enough C-levels, and not seeing enough Asian American women founders. What has been your experience like being in San Francisco fundraising, and building a team? And we know that the venture world could use a little bit more diversity there. But I just wanna hear about your experience, what has that been like?
[00:12:47] Vivian Wang: Yes, I learned, I’d say two main lessons about the fundraising experience. And I always like to think of myself as a founder, and I love seeing other Asian Americans and other women in the space, but I want us all to be thought of all on an equal playing field. And so like the way to, I think that people need to approach fundraising and building teams specifically on the fundraising side. I learned a lot of lessons from fundraising. Now we’ve raised like 8.5 million dollars and recently a 7 million seed.
[00:13:25] So it’s been really exciting, but I made a ton of mistakes along the way. A big takeaway is that when you’re fundraising, it’s a conversation, it’s not an interrogation. You need to be having a conversation with investors. You should be asking them the same. If not more questions than they’re asking you, especially if you’re getting to know them in those initial coffee chats.
[00:13:49] I feel like a lot of founders just think of fundraising as such a monolithic task, but all fundraising is finding people that you’re gonna bring onto your team and you are gonna have them on your team forever. I think the second lesson is you need to think about the roadmap of where your company is going.
[00:14:10] So you’ll break it out. You might not have a 10-year plan, but you probably have the next six to 12 months of insight into what you’re looking to build in the early days, all of our product sprints were like two-week product sprints. That’s how quickly we were moving. And when you think about the roadmap of where your company is going, it’s not just a product, it’s also your go-to-market. It’s your hiring, it’s your sales, marketing, everything. So you need to stack your bench with investors who are going to be able to help you. In those areas on your roadmap.
[00:14:46] So if you’re thinking about, if you have product-market fit, if you’re trying to scale a sales team, if you’re developing pricing models, if you’re looking to get business development intros because you have a laundry list of these companies, you want to become your customers, figure out what that roadmap is, prioritize them. And then, go and find the investors that are going to help you check those boxes.
[00:15:13] Bryan Pham: I feel like when people look for investors nowadays, it’s just whoever’s gonna give the most money first, you’re in, you know. But I just want you to say that again because that’s true. When you’re finding investors, it’s not just their money that’s gonna help the company grow. It’s their insight, experience, and knowledge. That’s both sustaining you for a little bit, right? Because as a first-time founder or second-time founder, you’re always gonna run into things that you don’t know.
[00:15:35] And you’re gonna have to rely on your bench and a more formal term for your bench is your future board, right?
[00:15:40] Vivian Wang: Yes, to your point, just reiterating that money is just as green as any other money. If you have investors who are going to give you money, there are gonna be other investors.
[00:15:51] There’s so much money out there. So if you’re looking to raise money, make sure that money’s going to help you more than just money. Because ultimately, if you’re thinking about scaling a, for example scaling a sales team, you’re also looking to potentially make your first head of sales higher.
[00:16:10] So make sure that the investor understands the stage of your company because the flip side of that is hiring when you’re hiring leaders to your team, make sure that they know how to grow that size company. The number one thing that disqualifies someone from becoming head of anything at Landed is when someone asks what will my team look like as soon as I join? And I’m like there’s currently no team. You’re gonna be the first person to do this. And I’m looking for you to tell me what type of team you need to hit our OKRs to hit our objectives and key results. I have these goals and I’m looking for leaders on the team to help us get there.
[00:16:54] So similarly, when you’re talking to investors, you don’t need an expert on how to go take your company public, that’s for later. Look for the investors who are gonna be able to help you hire that head of sales to help you develop your initial, go-to-market strategy and look at their portfolio companies because the best and go and reach out to those founders in their portfolio companies, they should help make intros and ask them what it’s been like to work with them.
[00:17:22] It’s very similar to a job interview. And rather than you being the one who’s being interrogated, think of yourself as the one who’s interrogating them. Cause you have limited spots on your bench. You have to make sure that they’re filled with people who can compliment you.
[00:17:39] Bryan Pham: Yes. I agree with that statement a lot. I couldn’t agree more. You want people that can help you and fill out your bench and give you the knowledge and everything. And also one more thing, too, like your cast space is limited, right? Because in every round you don’t wanna give up a bolt ton of equity to people.
[00:17:55] And they also have thought they have to pull their weight and pull their value. And that’s really, that’s a really good tip. And I can’t help but realize. Your company, you started this in March 2020, and the answers you gave, it’s really good. So I’m curious, like, how did you become the person you are today?
[00:18:10] Was it, did you like, do like mentorship programs at Princeton? Did you do other companies before you started Landed? Because these are really good answers. I’m just really curious about how you became the person you are today?
[00:18:24] Vivian Wang: Yes, I think that one of the things that were so helpful at the beginning of my journey was joining YCombinator’s accelerator program for a bunch of early-stage companies to get together and build their companies in parallel. And then it all culminates with this thing called Demo Day, where you present your company and all your awesome growth, hopefully in front of a bunch of venture capital firms. So I think that what YC taught was, and this is a tip for any new founders out there and something that I had to adapt to because I had worked in finance. I had worked at large like 10,000 plus person companies at Gap, Inc.
[00:19:05] I joined this early at Matterport, which is a virtual home tour company, started the business operations team there, and last year went public, which was super exciting, but I’ve been in all these different worlds. And I think it’s really easy to think that the playbook for a large company is the same as the playbook for literally a one-person, three-person company. And why he taught well. Thinking about your metrics and keeping yourself honest about your metrics, because then everything else flows from that.
[00:19:41] And so a helpful tip for founders hopefully is like really single in, on the most important metric you’re trying to drive. There really should only be one. And that one probably should be revenue, maybe user growth, but revenue tends to be the most important one, removing all the other noise.
[00:19:59] Most of the stuff doesn’t matter until much later than you think. The one that I was stuck on at the beginning was brand. I was like if we’re consumer-facing in any way, then we need to make sure that we have a great brand presence. We’ve built a community and all these things come along with that. But then when I was in YC that the answer was. Don’t worry about any of that stuff. You don’t have the bandwidth to worry about. Any of that stuff. You are one person. So go and focus on revenue and do unscalable things to get to the revenue number, because that’s gonna force you to learn.
[00:20:41] And all those other secondary metrics are gonna follow from the primary one. So I have a fun example of this, this is it was anti-everything I had learned at Gap Inc, which is so focused on brand and consumer experience. But our first website was something that our very talented intern Audrey put together in one day using various free design tools. I think Canva, Figma, Clip Art, Google, just a bunch of random stuff, put on a website. And when I first looked at it, I was like, wow, this is nice, but it’s not like professionally designed, but that remained our website for a whole year and it did its job. That was the year we 18x in revenue.
[00:21:20] And so I think a lot of it was me throwing away and just simply ignoring some of those best practices that I learned in different settings and adapting and holding myself responsible for those metrics. And of course, I have an amazing network from YC, like other founders, whenever I have any questions, I just ping them. I’m like, Hey, what do you think about this? What did you do here? And having other folks and other companies that are going through the same challenges on the same timeframe as you are, is so helpful because then you can learn from other people’s mistakes and connect with other people who are a couple of cohorts ahead of you they’re a year or two ahead of you.
[00:22:04] So they probably have made several of the mistakes you’re about to make, and you can just learn from those and avoid them. So it’s been just a culmination of that community. A lot of that great training that they gave us and cutting the BS. Focusing on things that are hard to focus on because they’re not vanity metrics, it’s cold, hard numbers. And then also an amazing team. As my team is great. That’s how I’m able to be a solo founder because I have such an amazing team that just is invested in the mission and helping grow Landed.
[00:22:39] Bryan Pham: Yes. And being a solo founder speaks volumes about your character because it’s very hard as a solo founder, right? Any statistically solo founder is like don’t do so hot after a couple of years, but I think that you’re a rising star, right? And regarding your website earlier, too. It just reminds me of the MVP model. Where’s a Minimum Viable Product and it works. But I’m pretty sure your website’s fully revamped now and I love it.
[00:23:03] Everything you have said so far regarding culture, building your company, finding mentors, finding a board, building out your products. Very like fundamentally spot on. So I’m super excited about the future of Landed.
[00:23:15] Vivian Wang: Thank you. Yes. We’re super pumped. And we’re hiring too. So if anyone who’s listening to this is looking to break their way into the startup world. If you’re excited about what we’re doing, definitely shoot me a DM.
[00:23:29] Bryan Pham: Definitely. We’ll make sure we include that in the show notes. But probably one of the last two questions I wanna ask is a personal question. And we know for a fact that the startup world is quite brutal. Can you talk about your moments of doubt, where you doubted your decision or you felt you were extremely lonely? Can you talk through those experiences and like how’d you overcome them?
[00:23:48] Vivian Wang: Yes. I think of those moments of doubt and vulnerability. If you found your company for the wrong reasons, it’s gonna be really hard to get through those moments, because if it’s money-oriented, you can make more money by not being a founder, probably. You can probably have a much push for your life with a lot less work.
[00:24:11] So going back to your first principles, like why did you found the company? Make sure that it’s a good reason. In that, your livelihood can withstand it. Your way of life, however, you want to live your life. And so I think that in those moments of vulnerability in Dell, I came back to first, like super supportive, like a network. So talking to people, it’s just talking about it with other people. Everybody has gone through it. And something I like to use is this prioritization framework for myself.
[00:24:44] So similar to how you would be prioritizing things in your business. I prioritize things in my life. And so for example, there’s this idea that you have to be a truly hardcore founder, a lot of the vulnerability and self-doubt comes from looking outward and seeing what a Paragon of a perfect founder looks like.
[00:25:08] In reality, there’s not one type of perfect founder and there is absolutely no perfect founder. Everyone has a unique story and path to getting where they are. And if you look at you’re like, okay, I’m not hardcore enough because I’m not eating 99-cent ramen for five years in a row in my basement. Like you can feel bad about yourself. You’re like maybe I’m not hardcore enough. You have to ignore those types of visuals that are propagated by social media, and it’s imperative to go back to those strong, like the mission that you have for your business.
[00:25:45] And you have to think back before you start your company and throughout those moments document, like how the existence of your company will make the world markedly different in 10 years. So in the beginning, I thought, okay, with us, every single blue-collar worker, there are 90 million of them in the U.S. There are 2.7 billion worldwide. Every worker is going to be able to come onto Landed and know that every aspect of their life will be taken care of. Somebody is watching out for them like a security net for their livelihood. And that is something that doesn’t exist today.
[00:26:23] And the fact that Landed exists will mean that can happen. So when I have those moments, you can go back to that picture that you painted. I’m a very visual person. And I imagine that picture and it keeps me focused and it keeps me moving with urgency because I’m like, okay my problems are not as big as this problem that I’m envisioning. I need to work through these so I can quickly get back to the task at hand, which is making. This picture I painted for myself and for the team and the investors that we brought on who believe in this mission. We need to go back after that.
[00:26:59] So Yes. Combination prioritizing you and also painting that picture and making sure that picture is something that you are still invested in. You might not be still invested in it, in which case that’s fine, pivot. Like we’ve pivoted in the past. And but at that moment you need to reflect on that and modify it to fit something that you can be excited about. And that’s gonna pull you out of those moments.
[00:27:25] Bryan Pham: I love it. It’s so organized. , as you’re talking, I can visualize what you see and do. So I’m excited for what’s next for you, and I’m excited for what you are building and continue to build with great passion and congratulations for everything.
[00:27:39] Vivian Wang: Thank you. Yes, it’s super exciting. And I love what you guys are doing also in supporting the Asian Community. I think there need to be more Asian founders and we need to support each other too. To talk about those moments that you just mentioned.
[00:27:55] Bryan Pham: Yes. So we have one more final question, Vivian. And that question is if you can give one piece of advice to aspiring Asian American women founders, what advice would that be?
[00:28:05] Vivian Wang: Yep. I think my one piece of advice would be. Before you jump into anything, sit down and make sure that what you’re about to jump into is something that you are so passionate about, that you want to spend the next, like five to 10 years working on that thing, because like those are the that’s the value point. And then go to your operating principles of what is the environment that you need to help you be the most successful there.
[00:28:34] So, is it that you can only quit your job once you have funding? Maybe that’s your appetite. Maybe your risk appetite is more and you’re willing to just jump into it and figure things out because you have a difference like you’re okay with a different lifestyle, whatever it may be. Just figure out that prioritization in your life.
[00:28:55] And if you have a co-founder figure out their prioritization, does family or friends come before the company, or does the company come before family and friends? Everybody has a different answer to that. Just make sure that you’re okay with their answer and that they align. And then make sure that you have that really strong picture of where you’re trying to be and where you’re trying to make the world a decade from now.
[00:29:18] Bryan Pham: Awesome. Yes. That’s a fantastic answer.
[00:29:21] Vivian, how can our listeners find out more about you and contact you online?
[00:29:25] Vivian Wang: Yes. So you can find me on Twitter and I can share my Twitter there, but you can just search up Vivian Wang on Twitter, Landed, and I should pop up. And you can also find me on LinkedIn and DM me if you’re working on any cool things in restaurant hospitality or marketplaces. I would love to chat. And also we are hiring across all of the different roles. So please reach out to me there too.
[00:29:51] Bryan Pham: Awesome. Vivian, thank you so much for coming to the podcast today.
[00:29:55] Vivian Wang: Thank you so much, Bryan, for having me.
[00:29:57] Bryan Pham: Of course. Can’t wait to keep up with your successes and maybe have you come back to the show sometime in the future.
[00:30:02] Vivian Wang: Sounds good. Thank you
[00:30:04] Bryan Pham: Thank you.