My name is Yin Lin, and I am the Co-Founder of SheWorx. We’re a global collective for ambitious female entrepreneurs. What we’re doing is connecting female entrepreneurs with investors and advisors who accelerate their business. We’re in New York, London, Singapore, Tel Aviv, L.A., and San Francisco, and we hope to be in many other cities very soon.
Tell us about your background.
My background as a first generation immigrant has really impacted my work ethic, and the amount of persistence that I have. My father emigrated from Fuzhou China to the United States. So I am Fujianese, or ‘F.J.’ as some Fujianese would say. And we had a family restaurant, like most Fujianese families did growing up. Every hour that I didn’t spend in school was working in the restaurant, doing everything from making eggrolls to making General Tso’s Chicken, sometimes twelve hours a day on the weekends, and I never had a vacation. Growing up, I was very resentful of this experience, but looking back, it’s the best entrepreneurial training anyone can get. While my family was very risk averse – you know, coming from a foreign country, risking everything, spending money to get here – they wanted me to have a very stable career in finance, law or medicine. A very stereotypical immigrant family. But I started my career as a teacher, and now I’m an entrepreneur, so I clearly haven’t gone down the path my parents’ would; but I’ve been able to find success because of the work ethic, persistence, and a strong sense of struggle throughout all of my life. So any issues that come my way aren’t that big of a deal, compared to the risk that my parents had to take to get here.
What are your top accomplishments?
My top accomplishment as a community organizer and connector is really the relationships that come out of the connections that I make. People finding investors, finding advisors for their companies, that turn into meaningful results for their business, but also personal progress. My personal top accomplishment is running now five marathons, and this year completing my sixth marathon in Sydney Australia. The goal is to do one on every continent, so by 2020 I hope to be running Antarctica. And last year, I really challenged myself by completing a triathlon for the first time. Through this process I learned how to swim, and just pushed myself on a completely different level. And I always find ways to do that throughout my life because I find that’s the best way to grow and progress as a human being. And most recently, at SheWorx, we received praise from Melinda Gates on her personal social media account, so that was a very exciting public acknowledgement of our success and progress so far.
How has your background influenced your success?
What has impacted me the most is the risk aversion mindset of my parents. Despite being immigrants and taking the biggest risk that anyone could have taken in the world, to be in this country, they expected my to live life the safe way. To not do anything that was out of the ordinary, and to not do anything that would make me exceptionally successful, but just moderately successful. And I’ve really worked hard throughout my life to change that mindset.
One of the ways that I have been able to do that is to continuously push myself out of my comfort zone. Because I believe that when you’re uncomfortable, that is when you are able to grow. So last year, signing up for a triathlon, as a forcing function to learn how to swim, was one way that I pushed myself into the uncomfortable zone. I have always had a fear of water, and I trained five days a week – four days with a dear with a dear friend who coached me personally and then one day by myself. Every time I stepped into the pool, I was literally living in my fear. And each time, there was a hesitation. And that pause was the pause that many people take before they take action in life, because there’s this period in your head when you’re ruminating over, ‘should I do it, should I not, what’s going to happen if I do?’ And the more I trained, that more that hesitation period decreased. Eventually I was able to dive into the water, swim half a mile in open water in a lake in upstate New York, and finish. 40 minutes, but I finished.
Every time you have experience like that, you break out of what you think you can do, break out of what you think is safe or risky, and you continue to redefine that for yourself, over and over and over again. Female entrepreneurs experience this every time they have a conversation. When you’re an entrepreneur, you start with an idea, and that idea means nothing to anyone except you until you can convince someone else that it matters. And that point from ‘just an idea’ to ‘it matters’ is a big step for a lot of people, and if you can’t overcome the uncomfortable conversations that you have to have – the rejections, the negative feedback, the ‘this is a stupid idea’ conversations – your idea will continue to be just an idea. And so this is why I believe that everyone, especially those who are risk averse, need to train themselves to be uncomfortable. Because ultimately, when we are living in our fear, that’s when we are operating at our highest potential.
The last thing I’ll mention is that every year I also do a marathon, because every time I cross the finish line, I have a broadened perspective of the world. And I have a new set of possibilities for myself. At first it was just completing one marathon, and then it was doing one marathon in different cities in the US, and then it was multiple countries, and now it’s completing a marathon on every continent. And so our vision for ourselves continues to broaden and expand as much as we allow ourselves to. And so my parents’ vision for me – while great and safe and would have led me to a great life – is not the vision that I believe I have the potential to fulfill, as an Asian American woman who is leading a movement for female entrepreneurs around the world.
What are your thoughts on the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles?
With respect to the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles, we‘ve really leveraged all of the principles of P.O.L.I.N.G.® to build SheWorx. We identified a problem, took action right away to remedy that problem, and then as we were getting responses from the community, we took more action in response to that data so we could serve the community even better. And all along the way we were solving our own challenges as female entrepreneurs and working to build a community around folks who were having similar issues. And the goal all along was just to serve the people that were coming to us and to take as much action as we could with the time constraints that we had to serve the community. And eventually we decided to work on it full time, because there’s so much momentum and so much excitement around what we are building. We really wanted to commit our all into it and make the huge impact that we know that we can make globally.
In summary, we leveraged the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles of understanding our ‘Priorities’, helping ‘Others’ along the way, ‘Leading’ by example, ‘Inspiring’ others, identifying folks in our ‘Network’ that could help us scale, and ‘Growing’. And that’s what we’ve been doing since day one, when we started about a year and a half ago.
How has your background posed a challenge?
The situation where my background is an issue is – every single day in the tech ecosystem. As a female entrepreneur, we represent a small minority of folks who are actually getting funded, who are getting business deals, compared to male entrepreneurs. The investor landscape in the startup ecosystem is 96% male. 7% of venture capital funds actually go to female entrepreneurs. So when I met my co-founder Lisa Wang, serendipitously through a mutual friend, we naturally started talking about the experiences that female entrepreneurs were having in the ecosystem.
She, as a female founder with a male, 37-year old co-founder, going into meetings and being disregarded as someone who was secondary to the white male, who was always considered to be the CEO. Or encountering VC’s who leveraged their power dynamic position to take advantage of females – like getting invited out to drinks, and then subsequently having the VC follow her back to her hotel and refusing to leave, until she had sat down on the curb and waited for his Uber to come. And seeing that interest that he had in this company magically disappear after that situation.
I’ve heard many of these stories as someone who is helping early stage companies raise venture capital. So naturally we thought there has to be a better, stronger community for women to support each other. That was the start of SheWorx, and that was the start of us bringing together our mutual female founder friends, eventually introducing mentors to lead these events, and then scaling to a global movement in six cities in a year and half. We have a reach of 20,000, in a very short amount of time. So that truly speaks to the demand for what it is that we are creating – a community of ambitious entrepreneurs who are just serious about supporting each other and making progress in their business.
Who have been your biggest influences?
In terms of influences, I would say that my father has made the biggest impact on my life, because he was the one who made it possible for us to be here in the first place. I came to the United States when I was six years old, and the trajectory of my life completely shifted from the life trajectory of someone in a rural, peasant village in China. Every time that I think about a challenge that I have or a struggle that I encounter, I think about my father. And although he is not with us today, his spirit and his work ethic and his drive continues to live with us. Nothing really compares to the challenges that he had to encounter, and so I use that as a way to litmus test the problems that I experience in life and really just give myself perspective. There is nothing that I will ever encounter that is that difficult. Any rejection, any horrible experiences that I have, just don’t compare to having to pack everything up and come to a new country and figure it out with no money in your pocket.
And the other influences are the many authors who I digest on a regular basis. Seth Godin is up definitely up there. One of the most impactful books that I read recently is ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankel. And Victor Frankel was a holocaust survivor. He went through four different concentration camps, and at each of those camps he was able to find meaning in life in the worst of situations, and was able to observe people who were able to find meaning in life and those who couldn't. And those who couldn't find meaning very quickly perished. I think that everyone should read that book because it’s a way to give yourself another set of perspectives; a way to re-frame your problems, because at the end of the day, you are the one who can define what your problems are and what your narrative is, and we should always seek to find the most inspiring narrative for our self, because that’s the way we can push ourselves to the next level. And the most magical thing about human beings is that we can create stories and we can make them real. We make them real by believing in them and convincing other people to believe in them. And that is the best practice for life if you want to create a big vision for the life you want.
What career advice would you give your younger self?
To my younger self I would say, “Don’t think about what you say to people. Think about how you make them feel.” Because we meet hundreds of people, thousands of people in our life, but we only remember those who make us feel certain feelings. Hopefully, we aim to make them feel positive feelings. Inspire, love, energize – all of the positive things that we want to see in the world. As someone who meets tons and tons of different types of stakeholders in the tech ecosystem, those who are memorable are those who can make me feel something. And this is the most powerful way to build strong relationships with those around you. That network is what determines your success in life. So just continually focus on how you can create those feelings in people, and part of that is really refining the stories that you have to tell.
We are all fascinating human beings; we just have to package it the right way. I recommend that everyone take a storytelling class. Listen to podcasts like ‘The Moth’, where you hear people sometimes talk about inane life situations, but they make them so fascinating, and they make you feel so many different emotions. When we can make an everyday thing, like brushing our teeth, feel so inspiring – that’s when we have won. And so I would say, ‘aim to do that for everything that you say to people you encounter. And not just to make yourself memorable, but to inspire, and to make other people have a better day.’ That’s really the most important part of being human. To connect and make other people feel great.
What is the value of iD?
The value of the iD community is – democratizing mentorship. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to amazing mentors and inspiring people. But through a platform of where you can listen to stories of people you aspire to be, you can start to connect on a different level with those individuals. And I believe that inspiration is the most important thing for growing human potential. Because seeing is believing. Roger Bannister ran a four-minute mile before anyone thought it was possible. But after he ran that four-minute mile, thousands of people were able to do it. So just think about that. Every time someone breaks a record, as an individual with that background, everyone in that community understands that it’s possible. When we have the first female president, I am sure that the number of women politicians will dramatically increase.
As investors see more and more successful female entrepreneurs starting, scaling, and exiting companies, more people will be pushing money towards women’s way. And that gap that we see will start to close much faster. As human beings, we are driven by stories, and stories of possibilities. And when we don’t see those stories, we don’t think it’s possible. It’s harder to, but there are people throughout history that have pioneered the way for other people to take those stories as their own, and use that as a foundation for their belief in what they think they can do as someone of that background. So that’s the most powerful thing about a platform like this, it’s democratizing what’s possible for humans around the world.
What does 'community' mean to you?
To me, ‘community’ means a place to belong and to trust other people. Because when we are able to belong, that’s when we have a strong sense of self, and self-confidence to do the things that are challenging. And when there is trust, that’s when magic happens. In the startup world, when an investor meets with an entrepreneur, they’re investing in their human potential. Trusting that they can execute on the story that they’re telling the investor. But if there isn’t trust, it doesn’t matter what you say to the investor; they’re not going to believe it, and they're not going to trust that you’ll carry through on your words. And so, that’s why I believe that everyone needs to find their community and feel that they belong, and that they have a network of folks who trust them, and that trust will magnify into returns on their career progress and their personal progress.
I encourage everyone to create community around them. Around your life goals, around your identity. We all have the potential to do this. I create community around my immigrant identity, by hosting a monthly group of immigrants who go around and tell their stories so that we then can connect on this shared experience, and build trust with each other. I also think that immigrants tend to be some of the most hard working, inspiring people that I ever meet. I create a community around my goals of reading, by creating a book club. So this allows me to reach my goals by having that social pressure and social accountability. That’s so powerful.
And running groups. Whenever I have a ten, fifteen mile run, I always do it with other people. Because it’s very hard to do on my own, but everything is easier when you do it with a community. And so, as an individual, you should feel empowered to create community and to add value to those who you are bringing together. And not enough people do this – so if you do this, you’ll be in the top 5% or 1% of people who do this and create so much value for the people who they bring together.