Female tech startup founder Yinglian Xie has raised millions of dollars for her global security startup to make it safer to do business online.
Yinglian recently joined me for a special episode of the DealMakers Podcast. Our audience learned a lot about making the leap into entrepreneurship, and the full cycle of bringing your business to the US, and then expanding to raise money overseas and grow on a global scale.
Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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Xie was born and raised in the beautiful Chinese city of Suzhou. Rich culture, with a history dating back 2,500 years.
While mostly an uneventful and peaceful place to grow up, it was also heavily focused on academics. Her parents always encouraged her studies and to excel in school. It was all of her classmates’ dream to grow up to get a Ph.D. and become scientists.
She learned to always seek the best of the best when it came to making decisions about what was next in life. Naturally, this meant choosing to go to the best university in China, Peking University.
While she had little interaction with computers in middle school, her principal and a relative prompted her to try a computer science class, and pursue that as a major. She fell in love with it.
When it came time to choose a school for her Ph.D. Yinglian said Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. stood out as the best place to extend her graduate studies. It was an institution very proud of its pioneers in computer science. She got in and made the move.
On graduating Yinglian was faced with another fork in the road. Should she continue in academia and become a faculty member? Should she simply stay in research? Should she consider hands-on engagement in industry and do something completely new?
Yinglian says she felt she had been locked in the proverbial ivory tower of academics for long enough. So, looking for the best place to take her next step, she found Microsoft.
Microsoft had one of the best research labs. Xerox PARC was moving to Microsoft. Along with their pioneers in the computer science industry.
Real award winners, who would make inspiring colleagues and who would constantly challenge what was state of the art in an industry setting. Among these coworkers, Yinglian met co-founder, Fang Yu.
Among her top takeaways from working at giant Microsoft included the following.
1. Having the luxury of a great lab and freedom to explore ideas
They had an amazing lab. Yet, allowed Yinglian to pursue new ideas to challenge the best that was out there.
2. The challenges of having an impact in a big organization
While the freedom to explore ideas was great, Yinglian Xie also wanted to have an impact on her work. That’s always very hard to do in an organization of this size. You have to get buy-in from so many people. You have to collaborate with multiple teams and compete for the investment in the resources you need.
At best things can move very, very slowly.
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3. Seeing scale in action
One of the most valuable insights of being inside a company the size of Microsoft was certainly to experience the problems and operations at a tremendous scale. You get to see what it is like to work with hundreds of millions of users.
She was able to see first hand what the hardest problems were for big companies like Microsoft and their biggest customers. She got to work on the largest data sets, with masses of computing power to make sense of it all.
Making The Leap In Entrepreneurship
Yinglian and her cofounder worked on AI, machine learning and big data. They wanted to work on a new framework to solve some of the biggest problems out there, work with the largest enterprises in the world, and have an impact on their consumers and the largest possible scale. The idea for DataVisor was born.
To make this happen they knew they wanted to start their own venture from scratch. Yet, despite their great reputations in the space, everyone thought they were crazy for wanting to start up their own business and go at it as entrepreneurs.
Their families, spouses, and coworkers didn’t take it seriously. They thought it was nuts to give up great careers, stock options, handsome salaries and the stability they had built.
They came to the realization that they may not be totally ready and equipped to start a business from scratch. Yet, they also knew they weren’t getting there any faster by staying in their corporate jobs. They had to quit to throw themselves into it and get ready.
They did, and even though their contacts at Microsoft had initially talked about working with them, then pulled back from working with a new startup. They delivered a lot of rejections. They didn’t want to be the guinea pig.
They faced a lot more rejections than the first cold winter. Yet, they fought through and have become a very notable SaaS provider fighting fraud on many levels for the largest consumer-facing enterprises worldwide.
Funding & Scaling
Today, DataVisor has around 150 employees. They’ve also raised around $100M.
They began by reaching out to mentors, past coworkers and friends to get some early seed money and angel investments.
Then Silicon Valley VCs heard they were leaving Microsoft and approached them. They offered even more money than they were asking for. Instead of raising $100k, they got $3M to get started.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Yinglian was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Building networks at large corporations
- Yinglian’s top advice for those considering launching their own startups
- The differences between raising funding in the US and Asia
- The many types of fraud DataVisor is helping its clients combat