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Nanxi Liu is CEO and Co-Founder of Enplug, a leading digital signage software company used by Fortune 500 companies, banks, hospitals, manufacturing facilities, elevators, and universities. The software enables businesses to distribute visual communication such as dashboards, videos, presentations, safety messages, news, and other content on any digital screen. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles and has offices in Japan, Brazil, Poland, Australia, and the UK.
Nanxi was named Forbes 30 Under 30 and Fortune’s 10 Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs. While in college, Nanxi co-founded Nanoly Bioscience, a venture-backed biotech company that develops polymers to eliminate refrigeration for vaccines and therapeutics. Nanoly received the Outstanding Research Award at the World Biomaterials Congress and is a grant recipient of the National Institute of Health.
Nanxi serves as a board member of CarParts.com (NASDAQ: PRTS), a leading online provider of automotive parts and accessories. Nanxi also serves as an board member of Kindred Biosciences (NASDAQ: KIN), a leading biopharmaceutical company for pets. Nanxi is one of five voting members on the California’s Department of Motor Vehicles’ New Motor Vehicle Board. She serves on the Board of Advisors for Covington Capital Management ($3 billion AUM) and is a Partner at XFactor Ventures, which has invested in over 50 women-founded startups.
Passionate about community service, Nanxi serves on the Board of Directors for the National Foster Youth Institute, After-School All-Stars Los Angeles, and Yes2Jobs.org. She received the 2018 UC Berkeley Sather Gate Volunteer Award for her work in leading a campaign that raised $22 million for the university.
As a producer of the Amazon TV series, The Bay, Nanxi received an Emmy Award. In her free time, Nanxi enjoys playing tennis, snowboarding, and flying planes. She is a concert pianist and has performed live on NBC and ABC.
Nanxi graduated from UC Berkeley with a BS in Business Administration and BA in Political Economy. Nanxi lives in Los Angeles and is a Dodgers fan.
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Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan.
And my name is Maggie
And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.
We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi everyone. And welcome to the Asian hustle. Well network podcast today, we have a very special guest with us. Her name is Nanxi Liu. Nanxi is the CEO and co-founder of end plug a leading digital signage software. The company used by fortune 500 companies, banks, hospitals, manufacturing, facilities, elevators, and universities. The software enables businesses to distribute visual communication, such as dashboards, videos, presentations, safety, messages, news, and other content on any digital screen. Nanxi was named a Forbes 30 under 30 and fortunes 10 most promising women entrepreneurs. In her free time. Nanxi enjoys playing tennis, snowboarding and flying planes. She is a concert pianist and has performed a live on NBC and ABC. Nanxi graduated from UC Berkeley with a BS in business administration and BA in political economy. Nanxi lives in Los Angeles and is a Dodgers fan Nanxi, welcome to the show.
Nanxi: (00:01:20) Thank you so much for having me,
Bryan: (00:01:23) of course went, I want to start by saying that that is a very shortened version of her bile and the full bile will be in sirens.
Maggie: (00:01:30) Yes, we can fit all of Nancy's incredible background in our 32nd clips. So we would definitely include everything in the text.
Bryan: (00:01:39) Definitely. Yeah. Today's a very special episode. Nancy is my hero. I'm so excited to have her on the show. Like. I've been founding girling over here for a while now. And Nancy that's hopper into like, let's talk a little more about your childhood and how you became the person in the yard.
Nanxi: (00:01:57) Okay. Sounds good.
Bryan: (00:02:02) Yeah. So where'd you grow up and, um, what was your upbringing like?
Nanxi: (00:02:04) Yeah. So I was born in China. And so for the first couple of years of my life, I actually lived with different family members, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. So for example, my aunt and uncle in China, when I was a kid, I actually called them mom and dad because my parents were actually in Europe. So basically I was born and then my parents went to Europe. They couldn't afford to take me along. So I just lived with different relatives as is. Kind of, I think a lot of, uh, folks that I know. And then finally, uh, when my parents came to the us, they picked me up or my mom picked me up in China and then brought me to the us. And at that point, by the time I came to the U S I was five years old. And I think I had not seen my dad literally in three to four, four years straight, which is pretty crazy. Um, as. As a kid. Um, but not that I really remember that much of it, but, uh, then went and landed in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is this kind of retirement feeling kind of town and in Colorado. So I grew up in Colorado before, uh, then moving to California for college.
Bryan: (00:03:14) Oh, well, that's awesome. And is your parents when your parents study for a PhD in Europe, right.
Nanxi: (00:03:19) Yeah. So my parents actually had undergrad in China. My dad had a master's in China already, and then they went to Europe for my dad to get his second master's my mom for her first one. And then when they came to the us, my dad was getting his PhD. Uh, and then my mom was then working on her second marriage.
Bryan: (00:03:38) Yeah. And when your parents brought you over to the U S you were living in subsidized housing, was that right?
Nanxi: (00:03:43) Yeah. As many immigrant families do.
Bryan: (00:03:47) Yeah. This is a humble upbringing too. And, you know, congratulations to your parents for raising such a successful daughter, you know? Yeah.
Nanxi: (00:03:54) They're great. Although they will say I was literally, I was definitely a rebellious. Like middle school, high school. I had college boyfriends. So for all the Asians out there, like you have a problem child it's okay.
Bryan: (00:04:12) Yeah. And you know, I want to, we heard it, some other podcast to you that, you know, you started playing the piano as a kid and it was like, basically self-taught that sorta taught you like the discipline and the self hustle. That you try to like roll over it to your entrepreneurship. Can you talk a little bit, a little bit more, more of that, more about that process and that journey you have?
Nanxi: (00:04:32) So my parents, when I was six years old, we had somebody that lived in the apartment above us. It was a girl who had a piano. And so I would hear her playing piano. And I think at some point I asked my parents like, Oh, I would love to play the piano. And my parents are. They're working multiple jobs. My mom's coming home late working as a waitress at night, right. It's like, okay, how do we get piano? But they found a piano for a hundred dollars at a garage sale. It had some broken keys, uh, but we got the piano. And that was a piano that I played on for many years, won lots of competitions practicing on that piano, but they got me this piano. And, uh, my first, uh, you know, piano teacher made a huge impact in my life. Uh, her name was violet. Hi. Uh, it says hi, and she spent many years teaching me piano and she charged $8 an hour for piano lessons, which is incredible. Uh it's just, and that was really the only thing my parents could really afford. And so I'm so grateful for that, but yeah, piano was the first thing where it's the connection as a kid. If you put work into doing something, you can see the results and there's no better thing than learning an instrument or. Sports. Certainly for me, it was instrument and my parents couldn't afford any kind of like after school activity. Right. So I go home, I have no options. I just have a piano. So I play piano because they're literally, Lorda other things to do. And I actually enjoy playing piano. So, so play piano. This is, uh, the grand piano that I remember my parents, when I was growing up, they were like, Oh, if you win this like big, he had a competition. We'll we'll finally get like a grand piano. Well, I won that piano competition, but then I went to college, so I never got the grand piano. I wanted it. And so finally of course in my adult life finally fulfilled my own dream of wanting a grand piano. Um, I guess growing up, I definitely learned discipline through. Piano and that you just have to put in time to, to get things, regardless of what it is.
Bryan: (00:06:34) I love that. I hope that it wasn't exactly forced on you. You know, something that you picked up out of interest and passion. Because I think that a lot of us can say that we got, we got piano forced onto us.
Maggie: (00:06:46) I think for a lot of Asian kids, parents porous, piano into that.
Bryan: (00:06:52) Yeah. We can't wait to hear you play one day. You know, probably because already for our listeners look up Nunzio YouTube videos. Hopefully she has some videos of her playing piano,
Nanxi: (00:07:03) the ones from like Collin way back when, but yes, it's, it's my meditation nowadays when I play.
Bryan: (00:07:07) That's awesome. Yeah. I mean, flash forward a couple of years, and now you're at UC Berkeley. You know, you went to Berkeley on scholarships. Congratulations on that. And I want to hear, what about the story about you finding your first company, you know, about the bar situation, how this all happened?
Nanxi: (00:07:25) I would say like throughout my life, all the things that I was, uh, doing leading up to my senior year meeting my Natalie bio-science co-founder at a bar, uh, was I was, I. Diversified myself in a lot of different types of activities. And it was strictly because I love meeting new people and I'm, uh, I guess I have lots of different interests and I wish I could be like some folks they're just like really into one thing. And they, I really, really deeply. Into only one industry or topic. I can never do that. I wish I could, but I couldn't like, I loved music. I love politics. I love tech and the sciences. And so even in high school, I was doing a lot of activities around that and a lot of leadership around that. And so then by the time I was in college, I was sort of used to, if I meet somebody brilliant, I'm like, okay, I have to go and work with them. And I learned just through lots of different organizations and interactions that smart people are in high demand and their attention easily shifts based on who is able to grab their attention the best. Right. And so, uh, for my senior year, while I'm at this bar, um, I, this is actually after a hacking session with a couple of high school friends that I was meeting up with in Colorado. Um, I hadn't seen them in a little bit. And so we were just working on this other random app together and then it was like midnight. It's like, all right, let's go take a break, go to this bar called sundown saloon. In Boulder, Colorado. So we go down super dive bars, like the ones where you have the peanuts and you just like throw the peanut Shaw on the ground and we're sitting there. And I basically like, there's this very tall guy over there at the other side of the bar. And I'm like, Oh, who's, who's that guy. And my friend was like, Oh, he's a famous IO. Kevis. And I'm like, okay, that's not every day that. Somebody will know this random biochemist at the bar. And he was like, yes, this is like the star student star PhD student. And I was like, I have to meet him. And I have no shame. And so I was like, tell him that I want to talk to him. My friend goes over there and is like, Hey, that Asian took over there. Wants to talk with you. And I'm sure he has other things in mind when he comes up to me to chat and he speaks Chinese fluently. I mean, literally it was a genius he's MIT when he was in high school, like co-founder biology, should heart develop the, one of the most efficient ways to remove arsenic from water while he was in high school. He's still getting royalty payments from wider treatment plans for this technology he developed in high school. Absolutely brilliant person who, uh, at a very young age. You know, got an MD and PhD. Um, and so at midnight, at a bar, we were just talking about, uh, for example, uh, cell regeneration and protein scaffolding. All the things that he was working on in his lab. And so I said, all right, I want to talk with you about building a company literally in the next, like 12 hours later. So we're chatting, we've set the foundation at this bar and because I understand smart people, brilliant people always have their attention shifted a lot of people. Aren't just, you know, they, they talk, but they don't follow through. I literally set a time and send him my ad address to meet him. He immediately the. I guess technically the same day since it was after midnight to go and blow the company. So he came over, this was at my parents' house and I was like, all right, let's build a company. You do the science part. I'll take care of all of the business part. And the reason he believed that I could actually execute on this is throughout college.I was building a lot of different apps, monetized, a lot of random projects that I was doing strict. You know, whether it was like a school project. Um, I would take it all the way. I would build something for my, one of my engineering classes, but instead of just saying, okay, submit it for a grade, I would literally go and try to monetize it.
And I did that successfully for a couple of them. And so that was sort of my data to. Demonstrate, Hey, I will make things happen. And so then once I got back to Berkeley, we were just working remotely on Nanoly , which is we wanted to develop a polymer that, uh, limiting its refrigeration for vaccines. Uh, and so every single day, while remotely, you know, we've got at the time, I think we were using. Skype. I know Skype is not more, but at the time of using Skype and every single day, we would just have milestones. I said, you focus on the science. I will get all the funding for it. And, uh, and that's what we did.
Bryan: (00:12:00) Wow. That is quite honestly,
Maggie: (00:12:07) that's incredible. I love how you just kind of pointed out that when you spot brilliant people, you have to meet them. I think for a lot of people, especially when they're not familiar, you know, just like getting their smells out there, they feel intimated, but I love how you have that hustle, mentality and love. You kind of just jumped right into it and said like, I have to meet this person to be
Bryan: (00:12:24) honest with you though. When I saw your article like six or seven years ago. I made a goal one day that I wanted to talk to you face to face, because I also want to meet very talented and smart people. You know, I never thought the day would come now, like six years later, but here we are, you know, super excited for that.
Nanxi: (00:12:41) That's awesome. Okay. So what's the next six year goal because you're going to achieve that for sure, right?
Bryan: (00:12:48) Yeah. I don't know. Well, we'll see. The next step is talking to people like you and growing Asian that's network, building fostering, supportive community. Because I think that, you know, for the Asian community, it's so important for us to have people on how people as leaders look like us and sound like us sort of break there. And obviously you're hearing your story. Like six years ago really broke me. There. There's a memory like right flashback from six years ago, I just moved to the Bay area as a software engineer. And I was like living with six other roommates, piloted roommates and like the small house. I'm like, man, I'm making six figures I can't boarding L's and such. So I was looking for like starting companies, starting to put ideas. I remember your article came up on Facebook or something. And I saw that immediately. I said, it's a 24 year old, successfully built two successful companies right now. I show my roommate, family. I want to meet kernel in a, I want to like do business with her one day. I don't know why I'm going to do with her, but I want to meet here and one day, and here we are and this, yeah. Yeah. So you're definitely a very inspirational, you know, and, you know, flash forward a couple more years, I, you started in input, you know, with five letter co-founders and LA this time, or what was that process like? I know you guys pivoted a couple of times, there's a lot of hard lessons learned, uh, through to startup, but I want to hear more about it.
Nanxi: (00:14:08) Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So my senior year I start Nanely bio-science. I get a funded, uh, we, we get grants both from the government and universities, institutions, foundations, uh, and as well as VC. And so we had a funded for four years. And at the time I was serving as CEO, my senior year of Natalie, bio-science all the, uh, folks we have on the team all had PhDs or NDAs, except for me, the CEO, which is kind of ironic And so I quickly realized that my skillset was kept for what we needed at Natalie vital. So I handed the reigns over to my amazing co-founder Dr. Apologists red, hard to run the company. Uh, and at that time, right. Before graduation actually. I mean, I have a funny graduation story too. Um, I meet my co-founder for in plug and so I was actually already running nationally, but, uh, it had the funding it needed, which I, I helped get it there, but we had a lot of R and D. That was needed and that wasn't my expertise. And so I wanted to make sure I was using my time wisely for skillsets and knowledge and experience that I could apply towards the company. And so when I met my co-founder for employee, I was like, Oh, this is much more of my background. I want to go and do imply. And so I meet him for 45 minutes in person by the end of the 45 minutes, I knew I wanted to start imply with my co-founder David. And so we, we started and I, I moved to LA a week later and to start in Enplug, and this was really right after leaving Berkeley.
Maggie: (00:15:44) I like ha like 45 minutes, the next 12 hours, just like
Bryan: (00:15:54) a week later. I love it. I love the fact that he hears no mental blocks and has this only bad. You were almost born with like, just like not being the imposter syndrome, not feeling the fear and just wanting to go for things out of curiosity, like. Did your parents pasta that or something that you foster in your own?
Nanxi: (00:41:16) I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I didn't feel like I had anything to lose. I think having grown up in China and still visiting my relatives in rural China, where there's no running water, it's still pumping water out of Wells. It's just like, you know, I got a roof over my head. I have college education. Um, I. If, if it doesn't work out, like there's a friend that's going to let me crash on their couch. Right. So there's all of these things where I didn't, I didn't have a family that I had to take care of our kids. And so, because of that, it's like, why not? Um, I'm really have nothing to lose. Yes. The alternative is doing investment banking, um, at a fancy firm and getting paid that, but I didn't, I didn't grow up with any money. And so having money. And I was still pretty happy, a very happy person. And so because of that, it was like, actually I just care about building something fantastic and great and impactful. And that made a lot, uh, that I cared a lot more about that than money. So when you take and remove some of these fears, Uh, fear of failure, because again, if I failed it's I didn't think it was that bad. I'll just go crash at a friend's place and go find a job. Doesn't seem that bad. Not making any money. Well, I never had any money to begin with. And so that's okay. Um, and removing those barriers, made it a lot easier for me to dive into things that I really loved and people that I really wanted to work with.
Maggie: (00:17:33) Wow. I love that mentality. Yeah. And we'll have to know, like the business strategy of end plug, as well as the marketing strategy, because we understand that when you had first started unplug, you were actually going like door to door, kind of knocking on everyone's door, asking if they would be interested in
Bryan: (00:17:49) something like this and starting from like the whole process installation as well. It's pretty insane.
Maggie: (00:17:53) And how has that shifted over time?
Nanxi: (00:17:55) Yeah. So initially when I met my co founder, David, the, the idea is that we would go and build a network of screens that were smart screens that would recognize who is in front of the screen and serve advertising and content. And so we started building that out and realized, wow, CapEx is really. Really huge for this kind of company. We'd have to go and raise money to be able to install screens everywhere and support it with advertising dollars. And we realized we really don't enjoy selling ads. It's very competitive to sell ads against a Google or Facebook. And without a home advertising, it's hard to measure and track conversion. So how do we convince advertisers to renew? Uh, but then we realized that what we're really good at is software. So initially when we were trying to build this network of smart screens, we needed a software to be able to control remotely where all of these screens were showing, be able to show social media feeds, be able to show that restaurants, Yelp scores and positive Yelp reviews be able to have people take Instagram photos, hashtag that location's name or tag that location, same and show up on the screen, the TV screen in that location. Right. And so we're trying to find a software to do that. We realized. All the existing digital signage software was really expensive, very, very difficult to use, uh, had just built decades ago, not modern technology at all. And so initially it was, we were building a solution and we were the first customers of our solution. So we weren't trying to build digital signage software as the end product. We were just building it for ourselves to use. And then slowly our customers realized the software that we built to remotely control screens. Was way better than, you know, trying to sell advertise. And they were like, we just want to use your software. We don't need to do to install a screen. We have screens in our business. It's just give us your software. What do you want for the software? And we were like, Oh wow. We don't really think about like charging for, for the software and we love building product. And so that was a lot more fun to sell software and a product than to sell advertising. And so we really shifted to then selling software. Initially we were selling the software to restaurants and bars where they would show digital menus using our software, or they would show, you know, like a fun jukebox game or Instagram, the social, social media feeds. And then we shifted to being able to show content and elevators, showing dashboards and metrics inside of corporate offices, uh, showing, uh, financial data. Uh, information inside of banks or universities. And so that's actually where most of our market is today, which is our screens power. The screens you see in elevators inside of banks, universities, hospitals, manufacturing, facilities. And that pivot was because this is what we're really good at building, but also what we enjoyed building. Uh, and this is where these customers are willing to pay a lot more. Or what we're building then some of the initial D one V two of our products.
Bryan: (00:20:54) I love that. I love how you start to help you pinpoint your value proposition that you're proposing and nationally made it more scalable.
Nanxi: (00:21:03) So story, uh, of what happened over the course of like five years and narrowed it down to like a couple of content's it's a multi-year project to make this happen.
Bryan: (00:21:14) Yeah, we all, we understand talking to a lot of people on the show of the entrepreneurial journey is often very difficult and very lonely. You know, luckily you have found very strong co-founders along the process. Can you quickly talk about any kind of mistakes that you made along the way in terms of hiring or just, I want to hear the story about how, about how you even became CEO of imply. Cause that's pretty unique in its own.
Nanxi: (00:21:37) Yes. Yes. So I had, uh, there there's a team of five co-founders and really, I almost actually think about it as like eight or nine because we, uh, from day one had some amazing engineers be part of our team that are still part of our team today. And in fact, one of the, two of them, one is our CTO Justinda and the other is our chief software architect, Bruno. Uh, and so when we first started, there was no titles. It was all of the co-founders of we're going to do. Some kind of specific task and there's so much to do with digital signage that we really didn't need that many people with different skill sets to manage different aspects of the business. And for me naturally, it became finance strategy, uh, fundraising, uh, sales. So all the business side piece. And so I was doing that. And then eventually I think it was somehow just very naturally to set up our events. So you will, you'll be CEO. Okay. All right. I guess now or less let's do that, but there was a very humbling experience, uh, less than a year into building the company where my co-founders one day just sits me down. And I was like, Nanxi, we don't think you should be CEO. And I was like, you know, this came out of the blue and I was like, you know, what, if you don't want me to be COO? No, no worry. It's all good. I didn't really know the reasons why, and we weren't, we were married like we're 22 years old at, at this point. Like most for all of us, this was like our first job. We didn't really understand. Management and all of that. And it was basically a very small thing where we were, we hired somebody to run sales and my co-founders thought that the sales person preferred somebody else as the CEO. My co-founder, uh, and so then they were like, Oh, we think Davis should be. Uh, the, the CEO and I was like, sure, David's awesome. He's my co-founder, he's the one that, you know, first told me about the idea of happy to give the reigns to him. So handed the reins over to him for a little bit, and then a month later, like, wait, Nancy, we need you to be CEO again. You made a big mistake. Can you, can you be. Would you be willing to do that? And I was like, alright, sure. For me, I think I'm so glad to have that experience because one, I think it's always good to be reminded of, you know, we're privileged to be at any kind of position we are and never to tie our ego any into any kind of position. For me, it was always about, I just want to build the best company. I don't care about what my title is. Folks think I am better suited for another role. I'm happy to do that, but if they think I should be sealed and then great. And it was nice to go through that formal exercise of evaluating who do we want as CEO, but it happened in a very, like probably not the most professional way of approaching how we select a CR Lennox co-founders but it certainly, it that's, that's how it happened. And, uh, and we we've learned a lot from that experience, which has maybe don't choose a CEO based on who, your employee, somebody you randomly hired one.
Maggie: (00:24:44) Oh, what a story? Um, I just wanted to say, I love just your mindset and I think we often get so tied up with like titles and names and stuff, and we often forget. What that North star is, why we're in it in the first place. Like, what is our purpose and building this company. Right. But I love how you were, you know, you were just pretty much like, you know, whatever is best for the company. I'm willing to go with it.
Bryan: (00:25:06) And, you know, we heard from your other podcast too, about your challenges to be a female founder, you know, how you noticed that, you know, you have to try and like much, much harder it, uh, fundraising or getting their respect or something like that. I want to hear more about that. You know, we are all about. Uh, flipping and empowering women in our community. And just by hearing your piece of the story, we want to inspire other female founders do take action, create dome latency and companies.
Nanxi: (00:25:34) Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things I'm really grateful for it are my best friends are all amazing female founders. They are the crew that I spend a lot of time with. There are incredible, they're inspiring. They run all sorts of different companies across industries. And I'm just so grateful to have that because we have that shared experience and we have each other's back. We know what we go through on a daily basis. Certainly when I started fundraising was really hard. Every person knows pitching. So different than who they were and the other founders, tech founders, especially that they were used to seeing. And I want to give a lot of credit also to my co-founder our CTO Justino for at the time, I think she was like one of like two or three female, um, CTOs in the Los Angeles area of, uh, of, uh, A tech company. And so she, uh, is incredibly accomplished and how she is able to manage, um, the engineering team and just recruit top talent. I want to also give her a big shout out, uh, but certainly throughout the journey every single day. And I think for women who want to be in leadership roles, We don't feel it from like, as young as we can remember the extra hurdles we have to overcome. And I credit my mom for being able to, you know, kind of be giving me a really realistic picture of the world, which is you just, you have to, you have to work harder. Sadly, um, but make sure along the way that you make it easier for any other woman that comes and wants to, uh, go in the path that you have already moved down. And so, as a young girl, I am very grateful. My mom would share lots of stories with me about successful women, everyone ranging, um, from, uh, Amelia Earhart, um, to Condoleezza rice. My mom was a big. Fan up kind of Lisa writes who was like, look at her, she plays the piano and then became very of stick. You too. You play the piano. Maybe you can be secretary of state. You don't, that was the bridge seat belts. Um, but I'm so grateful because stories, I think impacts people a lot. And my, so when I was growing up, my mom filled my world with successful women. So I never actually felt like there was no successful woman out there. Um, and I, I think she did it intentionally. Um, and, and. And, uh, it, it made a really big impact because I could see, Oh, look at all these different women accomplish in all sorts of different industries. I have a sister who's 18 years old. She's a freshman at UC Berkeley. And similarly, I tried to fill her world and remind her of all the successful women, uh, that, uh, have been in history and are still alive today so that she knows that it's absolutely possible.
Bryan: (00:28:20) I love that. It's a great older sister mentality and just,
Nanxi: (00:28:25) I'm a tiger sister for sure. With her sister.
Bryan: (00:28:30) Definitely. I do want to shift the focus a bit too, and, you know, talk a little bit more about the stuff that you're working on right now. And I think I saw an article recently. I'm not too sure, but when a company is under your portfolio, they went IPO recently, is that right?
Nanxi: (00:28:42) So, yes, I'm involved in a couple of different specs. Uh, I know, uh, this is something that I think has become very popular and hot recently. So I'm a seed investor at risk investor of us, uh, of a $450 million spec that I appealed a couple of weeks ago. And just very, very excited about the whole team Joseph who's also a UC Berkeley alum is the CEO and a friend that I've known. Uh, for a couple of years, actually, I met him when I was hosting, uh, an alumni event at my house for UC Berkeley. And he was one of the attendees. And so I always joke, you know, you never know where you're going to meet your future co-founders or business partner.
Bryan: (00:29:24) Wow. That's, that's amazing. And let's dive deep into that a little bit more because we're looking at you, right. You know, you're a CEO and plus, you know, you're doing all these different things and you currently manage a fund as $2.5 billion. Is that correct?
Nanxi: (00:29:38) Oh, no, this is so, so this is I'm, I'm just, I get to be one of the seed investors. I'm not doing the hard work. The hard work is done by management. Um, I'm on the board of a couple of publicly traded companies. And as a board member, I say it's it's management that does the hard work as a board member. I'm there to support, ask the questions and be a resource for management, of course, representing. You don't have to say like the cheesy thing, representing shareholder interest, which is what we do, but it's such like legal jargon at the end of the day, it's being a board member. That's making sure that we've got the right team in place to build a really successful company.
Bryan: (00:30:17) Yeah. Yeah. Let's quickly talk about being a board member, because I know this topic has it's really 24 into the Asian community in some ways it's like, wait, how do you move a board member? What not? Can you quickly talk about what is a board member and how do you become a board member essentially? Cause when we talk about entrepreneurship, really CEOs, founders, CTOs, but there's never the conversation about, okay, what's the board. Why would we need a board and how to get, how do you even get on a board? You know,
Nanxi: (00:30:45) Yes, absolutely. So I actually never really thought about boards and the power of a board, because again, I had, my parents were teachers and then engineers, I didn't grow up around a business community at all And so I learned all of this sort of on the job and a person I want to credit. Um, to giving me this idea of, I should be on boards is my ex boyfriend's mom. I'm still really good friends. So I don't make, I'm still good friends with all my ex-boyfriends and there, yeah. Way there they're all amazing people. But, um, my college ex boyfriend's mom, she's an amazing business woman. And when I was like 25 years old, she was like, you should be on public company boards. And I'm like Mrs. Reed, thank you so much for believing in me. But I think generally people who sit on public company boards, they're 50, 60 years old. It's just, you know, They're much older. They've been CEOs of these massive companies in the past, and that's traditionally what it's been there's legislation now that is shifting the demographics, um, and encouraging boards and management to be open to now more diverse, uh, members. Uh, but that was sort of my introduction to boards and to be like, Oh, well, what's so interesting about boards. There's a couple of things, which is that you are the ones that are, um, managing management. So there's the CEOs and. The CFO's the CEO's right. But who's managing and watching the COE value this year. It's the board and the board is of course representing the rest of all the shareholders for a public company. You have boards for non-profits, you have government boards, uh, you have, uh, public company boards. And so I served on all of these. Um, it started out the first board I served out of course, were my own company boards. And then the next one that I got was, uh, nonprofit boards. Um, which was lady Gaga, uh, foundations, youth advisory board. And now it's such a Cree eyeopening experience for me about what it means to be a board member of a nonprofit. And then, um, then I was 24 years old, uh, when Covington capital, which manages about $3 billion, they reached out to me. And they said we would love for you to be on the board of advisors for us. And then I was looking at the other board of advisors and it's all people who have built massive companies like, uh, one of the other board members. He was the president, uh, at, uh, Disney TV. And. And just super impressive. And I was like, wait, I'm 24, are you, are you sure? And I was like, what's the catch? And they're like, there's no catch, we'll pay you a lot of money for attending each of the meetings. And so for public company boards, to give you a sense, oftentimes the compensation for, um, It is powerful. And I think I mentioned compensation because I think it's one where, uh, it demonstrates boards are really significant, uh, positions, uh, with a lot of influence in a company, both on defining the strategy of the company, which means, you know, how do you speak to your customers? Um, uh, But also, who are you hiring in the company and what does diversity look like? And culture look like in your company. The borns I'll get involved with that, but boards, you get paid a couple hundred thousand dollars to be on boards of companies, um, for, for public companies generally. Um, and so one of the legislation that has come out of course, um, that we've heard a lot of conversation, uh, In our community is basically the requirement. Now, not only to have a minimum number of women on boards, but also, uh, folks who are diverse or from minority communities. And so, uh, I think that is going to be really, really impactful for improving the lack of diversity currently on public company boards. Right.
Maggie: (00:34:31) Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. And, you know, I would love to know your. Serving on boards of different companies while running. Um, your own company or how do you manage your time and how do you make sure you're allocating time to, you know, your prioritized, um, tasks every day
Bryan: (00:34:51) and your mental health?
Nanxi: (00:34:53) Yeah. Uh, it's actually so important. I think for folks to, to realize that I tell my sister this too, I have lots of free time. I'm going to Colorado on Thursday and I'm going to be celebrating my step-mom's 50th birthday. I'm going to be taking the weekend to just hang out with family. And I take a lot of me time, just time where I go out and play video games. I go spend time with friends. Uh, I go out to, to eat. I make sure I sleep and exercise. Those are really, really important. I think. I actually believe when people find time for themselves and make sure to craft times and not feel guilty about it, they'll actually be more productive and get things done. Um, and so even though I'm involved with all of these different organizations, I really do have lots of time. Um, and for example, like my boyfriend, Jonathan, he, when we first started it, he was not convinced that I was, that I had lots of free time. He was like, you're never going to see me. No. It's like, no, actually I met, I will always have it time to see you and it'll be you that ends up. He's like, no, there's no way. Anyways. It ends up being that, which is that I, I really do actually prioritize above anything, health, health, and suspending spending, fulfilling time with friends and family, um, above everything else. If we take care of ourselves and our health, um, then we can really take care of business.
Bryan: (00:36:16) I love that out of curiosity now, like how you built enough systems and processes in place to like, be able to delegate that and great time for yourself.
Nanxi: (00:36:25) Yes. And I think even in the early days, uh, it never, things never feel like working that always helps. So window, when do things not feel like work things don't feel like work when you're doing something you're good at that. You enjoy. And so as much as possible, I try to make sure that things, I work on have a lot of impact, and it seems like I'm getting lots of things done, because if I'm really good at this one thing, and I can knock it out in like an hour, but somebody else might take like five hours to do it, then I can do that kind of task. For many different organizations and be able to get things done that others might take way longer to get done. Right? So my output at the end of the day is the same, but I don't need as much time. And so things with strategy, fundraising, product finance, those are things that. I'm good at building teams I enjoy doing and can evaluate. And so things that I'm not good on that would take me way longer. And I don't think I could be involved in multiple organizations if I was doing that. For example, in the early days, of course, everyone on the team was coding and building, uh, the initial lines of code. But now if I'm not good at that, if I were told to go and build this new app for M plug. I would never see any of my friends because that's not my core competency, but you telling me, Hey, we want to build this next product feature. And we need the outline of all the scenarios and the user experience. That's when I can come in and say, okay, this is how I think it should look. Uh, and I will sketch it out and design it. I can quickly, uh, dry it out and I love doing it and get it done a lot faster, um, and then hand it over to the engineers to go and build. And so that's, that's how I think I've been able to do a lot of different things for different organization, ends up being the same thing, strategy, business, finance, fundraising, building team.
Bryan: (00:38:18) That's amazing. I think your sense of awareness really shines through. No you're fully aware of who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are. I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, as you're going through your journey, that's something that you first base is like, your very limitations are literally like, Oh, what am I good at? What am I data? And when you're basing that, how, what was going to remind as you're like evaluating yourself and sorting things out, did you. Write in journals. Did you raise your whiteboards? Did you just sit there and think, or do you have an executive coach tell you, like, how'd you figure all this part out because that's not easy by the way you make it sound so simple, but in actuality, you got to go through some hardships to really see how you function as a person.
Nanxi: (00:38:57) Yeah. Uh, I would credit there's a lot of organization. I was a part of in high school. Cool. Um, I guess just growing up, being very good, open to feedback and taking feedback and not taking it personally. Um, and the willingness to give feedback, encourages other people to give feedback. And then when you hear this feedback, then I think that's where you constantly improve. So in my early days it was piano, piano. You get immediate feedback, right? You play around, no, your teacher says. You played a wrong note, uh, and, and you need to do this better, that better, right? Like it's totally. Okay. So I think as much as possible if people put themselves in a place where they receive feedback, that helps a lot. Then in college, it was being part of lots of different organizations. It was, uh, being part of student government, where there are different political parties at Berkeley. There was liberal party and the very liberal party. I was part of the liberal party. I was elected to be vice president for our student body. And so I, uh, felt like I was never doing anything right. Because I would receive feedback from the other party about everything I was doing wrong, but it's a humbling experience and you learn you, you can start seeing other people's perspective and then you start. Being more critical and evaluating your own work. But at the same time, I had my other party saying, Hey, this is what your you're doing correctly. Uh, so in a startup environment, the best people to give feedback are really your team. And so do you make it easy for your teammates, your employees, your co-founders to give you feedback. And are you a person that is open to that? So clearly, um, when we started employee feedback was very, very open communication, right? Enough that my co-founder was like, we just don't think it should be. CEO, right? Like super artists, like immediately when they want it to happen, they shared it. But then when they changed their mind, they immediately said, Hey, we want you to, and so I was always receiving feedback from my co-founder and I had the benefit of having four other co-founders. Um, all of us started the company together. Uh, we, we actually weren't friends. We didn't really know each other before starting the company. And so because of that, it was easier to take emotion out of it. It wasn't like, you know, somebody that you grew up with who was saying, Hey, like, I just really don't like these lines of code you wrote, I think you organized it and not a great way. And you'd take it personally because as a person, you know, for a long time, right. For us, it was always business. Like we're sharing this because we want what's. Best for the company. It never felt personal. And so I think that's a really good places to get feedback. And that's where growth for me happens. A lot of where I need to work before I was told in my early days, my co-founder said you, um, you are a workaholic in a very unhealthy way that makes everybody else feel like they can't take any time off. And I was like, Oh, wow. Like, so now, I mean, like with him, like it's very shifted away from that. You used to be that I would always want to do these engineering sprints where it's literally like three days of like nonstop. You don't stop coding until you've finished this thing. And my co-founder is like this isn't college where you have these hackathons, you can do that. These are like professional people. And like, you can't just like have them be away from their family. Right. And so I got immediate feedback and I adjusted. I adjusted to, to this feedback. And I was like, all right. Yes, my co-founders are right. But it was definitely, it's still a process. Um, my CTO, Justine, she gives me feedback all the time, still every day, and I really appreciate it. And it'll be like, uh, it'll be like, Nancy, I have this taken care of you don't need to get involved in this. Or it's like, Nancy, I need you to be like, involved in this aspect. Can I get help? Right. And so I'm, I'm grateful for that. And. Uh, I, I try to stay really open with feedback and I tell my little sister this too, she's she's, uh, in a business fraternity, the same that I was part of at Berkeley, where, you know, there's some hazing involved and I'm super pro hazing because I'm like you're receiving feedback. People are yelling at you because they're telling you what you're doing wrong. And it's better for people to tell you what you're doing wrong earlier than finding out like way later in life.
Bryan: (00:42:59) That's one way to look at it.
Maggie: (00:43:03) I mean, on the topic of team and team building, can you talk about the, the culture that you've built within your team and your co-founders? Because I we've heard a couple of podcasts before. And you mentioned that you guys have really built like a really strong culture within your team, just eating lunch every day together, eating dinner, all of these retreats and everything. We'd love to know how, like, how you brought your culture.
Nanxi: (00:43:24) Absolutely. We made a very much a family oriented culture, which means, uh, now, so anytime we do any kind of team activity, the whole entire family for that teammate is involved. They can bring their spouse, their partner, their kids. Um, we pre COVID. We did a team vacation to Mexico where we said, we'll pay for you to bring. Uh, a plus one, whoever that may be, and it was a pure vacation, literally like we had, we had a new employee who was trying to, at the time, he was like, ah, I don't, we're going to have like team meetings. Nope. He was like, Oh wow. Like literally it was just full on vacation. We just hung out with the team. And so for me, it's very much, our culture is. Hey, if you're spending half of your waking life, building something with people, you should enjoy working with those people, you should find it fulfilling and have fun and feel like you're growing. And so we really try to build that into our culture. Uh, I think a lot of the things come from come from myself and our CTO, uh, as a leader of the company, which is that. We both really care about continuous growth. And so we're always pushing ourselves and our teammates to go explore things outside of work, too. So we support our teammates. If they do competitive beach volleyball, we'll go support them there. Um, one of our teammates, uh, Hey Zeus, he is a nationally ranked Yu-Gi-Oh player. And we had him, uh, teach the entire team how to play Yu-Gi-Oh right. So we really try to be supportive all around, recognizing that work. Isn't just one thing that shows up in your life during certain periods of time, but it really does kind of spread out throughout your life. And we want to make sure that it's always positive as much as possible.
Bryan: (00:45:04) Yeah. Until he's East. I want to meet him because I used to play a lot of UVO as a kid. And I use the wind tournaments as well. So I'm not sure if I was ranked or not, but it didn't help with my sense of strategies in some way, it was like what I need to do, what I need to do to win, you know? And yeah, I definitely want to meet him then I think it is great that you're building and your family culture, because I think that's the one thing that people always underestimate is as leaders like your vision and your personality is shine throughout the entire company. You know, like how you feel about something it's like. Oh, sure. And the company, you know, is you're insecure about something else. You want a company you're coming to us in an initial at a company, you know, and I think it was amazing that it's just a reflection of who you are as a person, you know,
Nanxi: (00:45:51) completely. I, I think everything down to even the vocabulary people use, um, the, certainly the team activities, whether people feel comfortable giving feedback or not all comes down to, you know, the, the leaders, how do the leaders interact with one another and with their teammates.
Bryan: (00:46:08) Yeah, definitely agree. And you know, as we're winding down the podcast, I'm kind of curious, like, what are your goals next year or two years? Three years. Plus it always seems like there's finding time to add more impactful things into tear, your awesome resume or any, like what, what are you seeing yourself the next couple of years then? I have one more question after this, the button STS, but that's that's later, right? Chris
Nanxi: (00:46:36) definitely have a couple of different goals. So I'm bottles, of course, with different companies ranging from our public company is to my own company. I invested in a TV show that I hope comes out this year. It's, uh, almost all Asian cast. Super excited about it. The first season, uh, is already, I was called drama world and it's with a bunch of actually amazing, um, tech founders, uh, alongside myself, our producers on the TV show, including Kevin Lynn, who's a co-founder of Twitch. And you tend as a competitor, YouTube. They brought me in to be one of the producers. We're super excited about this show. Uh, and then of course there's some of the specs I'm really excited for the stacks and the company is that we will buy a with the stacks. Um, and then outside of that, I actually have a couple of really fun travel plans with friends. So with people getting vaccines and different countries opening up, there's a couple of checklist items. So climbing, Mount Kilimanjaro, uh, going to Patagonia, um, going and doing a national parks road, uh, around the U S are a couple of things I'm looking forward to.
Bryan: (00:47:47) Can we that, and we're looking forward to your show too. Just let us know. We'll help you. Um, but yeah, I slipped the last second to last question is I want to hear about your thoughts and Aaron and Estes.
Nanxi: (00:48:00) Oh, I mean, so actually for implied, we have a bunch of different ideas because with NFTs, you can now show like digital art, right? You can have a specific digital art tied, um, And, and knowing that this is like your special, unique piece of art limited edition and having it appear on screens. And so of course we have an art app and plugins. So my NFC exposure right now is all around art and digital, of course, all of it like digital goods, but specifically art. I think it's the future. I mean, it makes so much sense, you know, you had back in the day that. The baseball cards. Um, and I suppose you could sort of hoard these baseball cards, but it might be harder to, you know, forge these digital goods.
Bryan: (00:48:45) Um, yeah. And for our listeners asking these are non fungible tokens. Okay. That's right.
Nanxi: (00:48:51) Yeah. And I'm excited about it, everything kind of blockchain related. Um, I actually have this giant Bitcoin piece of artwork in my, in my pool room. Do you guys want to see it?
Bryan: (00:49:05) We do it rounds to this podcast. Yeah. The reason why I brought it up because I'm like wait and plug and you, it sounds like you guys are a match made in heaven, you know? So I just want to hear your thoughts on that. But I think
Nanxi: (00:49:17) absolutely. You, you nailed it and we are, we are working on it.
Bryan: (00:49:21) Yeah. We're looking forward to hearing more about that when he's ready.
Maggie: (00:49:27) Yeah. Likewise. And so we have one last question for you, Nancy, and that is one, one advice. Would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Nanxi: (00:49:34) I would say you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So be thoughtful of who you spend time with.
Bryan: (00:49:40) That is really good advice. And that means that I'm sorry, man.I will walk you out of my life. Just kidding.
Nanxi: (00:49:57) I co-founders my team, my friends, uh, incredible people like you, Maggie and Brian, like, I am just grateful that I feel like on a daily basis, I'm inspired. I am motivated. Um, and, um, So grateful to be able to interact and learn from the people I I get to meet.
Bryan: (00:50:15) Yeah. Definitely are
Maggie: (00:50:16) grateful to have you on this show. And how can our listeners find out more about you online Nancy?
Nanxi: (00:50:22) Well, you can find me on Instagram. It's at Nancy Lu. Uh, you can find me on LinkedIn. Uh, and I use Twitter a little bit, which is all on the auntie Lou at am. Exci Liu.
Maggie: (00:50:37) Awesome. Well, it was amazing hearing your story today. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Nancy.
Bryan: (00:50:44) Yeah, we're so excited. I mean, thanks for inspiring me all those years ago and opportunity to meet right now.
Nanxi: (00:50:50) Thank you so much. Thank you.
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