20 Asian American Game Changers in Technology Start-Ups
This was previously published on LinkedIn here.
Thanks to the support and positive feedback for 20 Asian Americans Dominating Technology Start-Ups, I thought I would update the list for 2016. As in anything else, when we see others similar to ourselves succeed, it gives us more encouragement to pursue a similar dream! In my previous post, I forgot to mention David Liu from XO Group, a tech pioneer in New York who has similarly inspired me. Thank you to Winnie, Audrey, Barry, Monica, Brian, Carter, and Khánh for recommending other individuals who I missed in my research.
I’m excited to present my list of current Asian American leaders from up and coming technology companies. Some of the leaders I mentioned in my last article have changed roles, like Jess Lee from Polyvore, some are considered the next start-up unicorn, like Chieh Huang from Boxed, while others have unfortunately failed. As a reminder, the criteria for this list were simple: be a founder (with an active role) of a company that has not been acquired and has already raised a Series A round of capital.
From fintech to healthcare and all the way to fashion, these ventures are shaking up the tech world. These leaders have the power and ambition to change the way we think and live. Read on to check out the Asian American leaders who have left an imprint in technology in the past year.
Alejandro is the co-founder and CEO of Lantern, a mental health startup focused on improving emotional well-being through personalized programming, guided exercises, and conversations with coaches — all via a mobile app. The team at Lantern realized that if they could deploy cognitive behavioral therapy online and connect users to remote coaches, they could achieve results similar to face-to-face therapy in far less time and at a fraction of the cost.
Previously, Alejandro was a founding team member at Huddler, where he was responsible for growing the platform from zero to over thirty million visitors per month. Alejandro was also the first sales and business development hire at Trulia. Before Trulia, Alejandro was an early employee at consumer technology companies like eBay and NexTag, working on both product and business development. Alejandro graduated with degrees in psychology and economics from Stanford.
Alex is the co-founder and CEO of Giphy, the largest repository of animated GIFs (Graphical Interchange Format). Giphy started as a searchable trove of GIFs free for public use. Since then, the company has built robust APIs (application programming interfaces) allowing them to reach billions of people through messaging platforms as well as technology to automatically create GIFs from live video. Currently, more than 100 million people view these GIFs on a daily basis and they get over four billion hits from its API.
Alex started his career at Intel as a hardware engineer and was an early architect of interactive television. He then joined some friends to start the world’s largest CD trading company, Switchouse, which had over 1 million users. Afterwards, he managed future technologies at Paul Allen’s R&D lab, directed music videos at MTV, designed a TV for GE, created a Y Combinator backed startup called The Fridge, a private social network that was acquired by Google, and most recently served as the Vice President of Technology at Artspace, a leading ecommerce destination for contemporary art. After years of jumping from gig to gig, he decided to take a sabbatical — that meant training in Brazilian jiu jitsu, in which he holds a second-degree black belt. When he wasn’t kicking ass, Alex was writing code, creating software that could comb Tumblr, Imgur, and other websites and organize the videos under searchable keywords such as “cat” or “puppy. During this time he became a hacker-in-residence at Betaworks where he launched Giphy. Alex has been named one of Business Insider’s Top 25 most influential technologists in New York. He graduated with degrees in philosophy and computer engineering from the University of Washington, fine art from San Francisco Art Institute, and graphic design from Parsons.
Bobby is the co-founder and CTO of Snap (previously called Snapchat). What started as a way to send private, personal messages is now a platform for users to create stories, play around with branded filters, interact with celebrities, and keep up with the most recent news. Their products empower people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together. Their app has nearly 100 million daily active users with over 10 billion video views per day.
Bobby and his co-founder Evan Spiegel worked together to develop Future Freshmen, which was designed to help high schoolers, parents, and counselors deal with the stressful college admissions process, but it didn’t take off. With a third fraternity brother, Reggie Brown, they then launched a disappearing photo app originally called Picaboo, which also got little traction. Due to that, Bobby took a coding job at Revel Systems. After rebranding Picaboo to Snapchat, the service grew popular with high schools students. Bobby is currently considered the 1250th richest person in the world, with an estimated wealth of $1.8 billion. Bobby graduated with degrees in mathematics and computational science from Stanford.
Curtis is the founder and CEO of Luxe, an on-demand valet parking service that eliminates the headache of finding a parking spot. The company does more than just park the car, it can also refill the gas or have it washed. Once the driver is ready to leave, he can tap a button to have his car returned by a Luxe valet. Luxe was chosen as one of the top 10 most innovative companies in 2015 by USA Today.
Curtis was previously an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Lightspeed Venture Partners and before that he was a VC at Summit Partners and Advanced Technology Ventures. He has held product management/marketing roles at Skype, Google, Groupon, Zynga, and YouTube. He has always had an entrepreneurial bent. At 10 years old he was passing out business cards in his Los Angeles neighborhood, and from there began selling Cutco knives door-to-door. After that he started a plumbing business and worked in a car shop. Curtis graduated with a degree in economics from the University of California Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania — Wharton.
Curtis is the co-founder and CTO of Amplitude, a powerful user behavior analytics platform for mobile and web. It makes user data available to everyone in a company (including product managers and marketers), not just data scientists.
Before Amplitude, Curtis worked at Sonalight, a voice recognition start-up that was incubated through the Y-Combinator program. He also previously worked as a front-end engineer for the Google+ Photos team. Curtis graduated with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and was a 2-time winner of Battlecode, MIT’s largest programming competition.
David is the co-founder and CEO of Hollar, which aims to put the dollar store experience online with most goods starting at just $2. They sell consumer goods such as makeup, coffee cups, decorations and jewelry. Hollar is attempting to replicate the experience of rummaging through bins and finding must-have items, which David considers the most appealing aspect of bargain shopping. Since Hollar launched last November, sales have grown every month, 80% of its orders come from outside of California and New York, and just six months after launching, the startup reached $1 million a month in online sales.
Prior to Hollar, David was Vice President of Marketing & Business Development at The Honest Company, overseeing all online and offline marketing, including branding, customer acquisition, customer retention, and business development. Prior to Honest, David served as Head of Acquisition Marketing at HauteLook, which was acquired by Nordstrom. He has also served in senior roles at eBay, Yahoo, and MySpace. David graduated with a degree in business administration from UC Riverside and a MBA from the University of Southern California.
Dug is the founder and CEO of Duo Security, a cloud-based two-factor authentication company. The Duo platform enables IT teams to create policies and automate enforcement of their networks while tracking the security profiles of devices trying to access their systems.
Dug was previously a co-founder and chief security architect at Arbor Networks, which protects 80 percent of the world’s Internet service providers and was acquired by Danaher. He is the founder of a2geeks, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting Ann Arbor’s startup/geek community as well as a co-founder of the Tech Brewery, a tech incubator in Ann Arbor. Dug has been featured on Crain’s Detroit Business 40 under 40 list. His first experience in business was watching his father run a liquor store in the Washington, DC area. He graduated with a degree in computer science from the University of Michigan.
Eddie is the co-founder and CEO of Point, the first financial technology platform that allows homeowners to unlock their home equity wealth without taking on new debt and gives investors access to a new asset class — owner-occupied residential real estate.
Previously, Eddie was the co-founder of TrialPay (acquired by Visa), Yub (acquired by Coupons.com), Metails (acquired by Buy.com), and TXN (where he currently serves as a board member). He was also the 3rd Product Designer at Facebook, helping to establish and implement various growth strategies. He graduated with a degree in computer science from Harvard.
Eric is the co-founder and CEO of Opendoor, an online home selling service aimed at streamlining the sales process down to a few days. Each year, 5.5 million Americans sell their homes, struggling with the brutal process of real-estate brokers, open houses, and the uncertainty over just how long the deal will take to close. Opendoor aims to change all of that by using technology to appraise the home and purchasing it on the spot (taking a 8% fee on average). Opendoor was recently listed by Forbes as one of 25 Next Billion-Dollar Startups.
Eric previously founded Movity.com, a location data analytics company that was acquired by Trulia. Before that, he founded RentAdvisor which was acquired by Vertical Brands. Eric started his career in real estate by buying homes while he was still a college student and still owns about 100 rental homes today. He graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Arizona.
Jason is the co-founder and CEO of Sift Science, the leading machine learning fraud detection solution for online businesses. Sift Science uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automatically surmise whether an attempted online transaction or interaction with a business is authentic or potentially problematic.
Jason previously served as CTO of BuzzLabs, a machine learning startup acquired by InterActiveCorp. Prior to that, he was an early engineer at two Seattle startups, Zillow and Optify. Sift Science was incubated through the Y Combinator accelerator program. Jason graduated with a degree in computer engineering from the University of Washington at age 20.
Jeff is the co-founder and CEO of Neumob, a service that helps mobile app developers get their in-app content to users 40 to 400 percent faster.
Jeff’s background includes executive roles at CDNetworks and BitGravity, a HD video delivery network. Before that, he helped start the CDN industry as an early employee of Akamai where he conceptualized, developed and launched products that revolutionized the content delivery space. He also has experience at Accenture, Sprint-Nextel, and Neustar. Jeff graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland.
Jie is the co-founder and President of Material World, a fashion community for luxury resale where people discover and shop from each other’s closets. They help sellers make money from their closets and buyers score amazing designer deals. There is also a prepaid debit card for luxury shoppers called Material World Fashion Trade-In Card that works through the Discover Card network.
Born in China and hailing from the Midwest, Jie started working in fashion as an International Marketing intern at Shopbop. She joined Ralph Lauren to head their Global eCommerce Business Development and DIgital Strategy and helped launch their first international ecommerce site. From there she moved to J.Crew as Director of International Marketing to help with its global ecommerce launch. She graduated with a degree in engineering science from Smith College and a MBA from Harvard Business School.
Jon is the co-founder and CEO of Prosperworks, the world’s first zero input CRM for Gmail. Prosperworks sells sales management applications that are closely integrated with Google’s cloud applications including Gmail, Drive, Sheets, and Calendar. ProsperWorks currently has 63,000+ companies using its services.
Previously, Jon was the CEO and founder of Twurler, a mobile app that gives users a frictionless way to tag emotions on Facebook photos and discover the content they really care about. He was also CEO and founder of DNA Games, which leveraged its big data optimization platform to “find the fun” and successfully grew Casino City into the #1 casino simulation game on Facebook with more than 20 million players. DNA Games was eventually acquired by Zynga. Prior to that, he was CEO and co-founder of Bazaar Advertising, a marketing services platform that applied high frequency trading techniques in the delivery of pay per click ads to online advertisers. They created the #1 channel by volume and quality for personal finance, insurance, and mobile advertising leads through paid search and was eventually acquired by Epic Media Group. Before Bazaar, Jon was the Head of Global Business Operations for Yahoo! Search International. He began his career as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch’s Technology Group. Jon graduated with a degree in industrial engineering and operations research from the University of California Berkeley.
Kuang is the founder and CEO of Captricity, a cloud service that extracts and integrates structured data from paper forms with 99.99%+ accuracy. It uses a combination of computing and brainpower to read information on paper forms dozens of times faster and more cost effectively than manual processing. Initially founded for public service organizations and rural health clinics, it now serves large enterprise and government clients.
Kuang landed on the idea for Captricity while conducting research for his graduate work in rural health clinics in Uganda and Tanzania, where he experienced firsthand the importance and difficulty of transforming data from paper forms to computable formats. Interested in developing data management systems to help low resource organizations better serve their disadvantaged clients, Kuang began creating algorithms to speed up the process of converting paper data into electronic records. Kuang was born in southwest China and moved with his parents to the Midwest when he was 9. Kuang is on MIT Technology Review’s list of 35 innovators under 35. He graduated with a PhD in computer science from the University of California Berkeley, and has a BS in computer science and a BA in the comparative history of ideas from the University of Washington.
Robin is the co-founder and CEO of Operator, which connects shoppers with human experts or “Operators” whom they can chat with about a purchase. It gives shoppers the expert personal service they’d expect from an in-store employee, but doesn’t lock them into shopping at just one physical location. Half of all activity on Operator is now automated by bots.
Previously, Robin was the General Manager of Asia Business Operations for Zynga through the acquisition of XPD Media (Zynga China), where he was founder and CEO. Prior to that, he was the Director of Social Media for Verizon Wireless. He is also well known for being a prolific angel investor through Time Machine Ventures. He was an early investor in Twitter, Square, Foursquare, and Xiaomi. He graduated with a degree in economics from Columbia University.
Sarah is the co-founder and CEO of Lever, a collaborative hiring platform that engages an entire company in the sourcing, vetting, and closing of top-tier talent. Lever’s software helps companies post job descriptions, collect applications, conduct interviews, and analyze job candidates in a way that weeds out bias, allows collaboration in hiring decisions, and helps tech leaders think about their next hire in broader terms.
Before starting Lever, Sarah was a product marketing manager for Google and worked with Marissa Meyer. She taught herself how to program while growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. She graduated with degrees in product design and mechanical engineering from Stanford.
Tien is the founder and CEO of Zuora, which provides everything a company needs to power a subscription business. Zuora’s billing, commerce, and finance solutions help companies build subscription business models by establishing, cultivating and monetizing recurring customer relationships.
Tien was born in Taiwan and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He grew up in the 1970s in the gritty Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where as a teenager he managed to build a simple accounting application for his father’s insurance brokerage. He joined Salesforce as its 11th hire and rose to chief marketing officer and then chief strategy officer. Tien left Salesforce because he recognized that the world was about to change dramatically with a huge influx of cloud services and that it needed a platform for tracking the new way companies recognized revenue. Tien graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Cornell and a MBA from Stanford.
Tim is the co-founder and CEO of NerdWallet, which provides unbiased information to consumers about the financial tools they use. Founded as a credit card marketing website, NerdWallet offers comparison shopping tools on financial products including: healthcare, mortgages, life insurance, banking, credit cards, financial services and wealth management, small business tools, and college loans.
Previously, Tim worked at hedge funds JAT Capital Management and Perry Capital. During the 2009 global financial crisis, Chen lost his job during a wave of layoffs on Wall Street. He then launched NerdWallet with $800 and didn’t take any outside capital for six years. He is currently serving on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Advisory Board. Tim’s parents moved from Taiwan to study at the University of Oklahoma and subsequently moved to Atlanta where he grew up. He graduated with a degree in economics from Stanford.
Tri is the co-founder and CEO of Munchery, an on demand meal delivery service on a mission to bring high quality, healthy food to people everywhere. Munchery’s meals (which cost between $10 — $15) are locally sourced, freshly prepared by personal chefs, and then delivered cold to customers. That makes it easier for the company to deliver a large number of meals over a wider area without fear of food spoilage. The company is currently in four cities — San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle — and is now the largest single kitchen producer of freshly prepared food in the cities where it operates.
Previously, Tri was the Director of Engineering at GetActive/Convio. He came up with the idea for Munchery after struggling to find the time to cook healthy meals for his family while balancing a busy work schedule. His harrowing story escaping from Vietnam as an 11 year old is a must read. Tri graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in both electrical engineering and computer science from MIT.
Victor is the co-founder and CEO of Thunder, which is enabling creative relevancy for programmatic advertising. Thunder powers ad creative production and versioning for advertisers, agencies, and publishers across the globe. It was named one of Forbes’ 100 Most Promising Companies in America.
As a kid growing up in Southern California, Victor was fascinated by the Internet revolution in the late 90s. The companies coming out of that time inspired him to start a few of his own — selling custom computers, websites, and even ads. He was honored in AdAge’s 40 Under 40 while still in his 20s. Victor graduated with a degree in economics from Yale University, where he also founded Thunder.
I’m sure I’ve missed some stellar entrepreneurs. If so, please add them to the comments below.
Disclosure: Social Starts is an investor in Thunder