Yang Liu | VC to Entrepreneur
Co-Founder at JoeyWears
This blog is part of Life in 360, a blog series featuring the stories of inspirational women entrepreneurs around the world. Womentum is all about empowering women entrepreneurs in developing countries. Learn more about us here.
We traveled across the pond to England and sat down with Yang to learn more about her startup JoeyWears, a high-performance men’s underwear company.
Womentum: Can you tell us more about your background?
Yang: I was raised in China and went to school there. After I finished university in just 2 year, I joined a mobile app startup, as the first hire of an all-female founding team. I worked at the company, building the product and learning the growth hacking mentality. I was excited by the entire startup scene, but we were all expected to take that traditional finance or consulting position. After leaving the startup, I took another position at an U.S.-based consulting firm that was founded by female founders as well. It was impressive to see how female leaders were impacting the world but, after that experience, I realized corporate / consulting wasn’t for me.
Right after, I hopped onboard an early-stage smart IoT hardware company that was backed by Foxconn, the largest manufacturer in the world. They provided us with a lot of support that allowed us to scale and grow quickly. I was flying between China and Silicon Valley, juggling between different time zones while dealing with manufacture until I decided to moved to London to be with my fiancee.
Through my experiences, I came to learn a lot about growing startups, but not about managing companies that were beyond the early stage and had to deal with large budgets, scale, and more. That was when the opportunity with 500 Startups arrived. It is one of the largest early-stage seed funds and best accelerators in the world. I was lucky because they had recently launched the office in London when I moved there. They had a program, Distro Dojo, that focuses on post-seed stage growth and I knew that was the perfect place for me to be. I managed the program for a year and we directly invested in 18 fast growing companies across Europe. I learned so much about scaling businesses that I got itchy to do it myself. So that’s when I decided to take the jump and start JoeyWears.
Womentum: What are some the differences that you see between the San Francisco and London startup scenes?
Yang: The ecosystem in London has matured in the last couple years. There are now more unicorn companies. The big difference I see is in terms of embracing failure. In my opinion, people in London aren’t comfortable talking about failure due to social pressures, but in America the process is more important than the results. Another difference is in the willingness to help people. In San Francisco, you never know who would be the next Mark Zuckerberg so everyone is working hard and sharing resources. But in London, there’s more community pressure and less collaboration.
What stage of the business lifecycle are you in?
Yang: We started six months ago, and travelled to three different companies to determine the materials that we are going to use. Traditionally, underwear is made with cotton, but ours is made from tree root fiber, which is regenerative. Many cotton manufacturers produce harmful chemicals that go into the rivers in developing countries, so our goal was to find a more sustainable fabric, which we found in Austria. We’ve made 20 prototypes and finished one round of product testing with 100 men. Soon we will be launching a Kickstarter campaign.
Womentum: How are female entrepreneurs treated in London?
Yang: I’m also Director of SheWorx in London — we focus on promoting female entrepreneurs and connecting them to funding sources. Fundraising here for females is difficult due to social gender stereotypes. There is definitely a strong movement to promote female founders but it will take time. For example, at 500 startups, we had a diversity department that pushed for investing in more underrepresented founders and was in the process of raising a micro-fund for that purpose. Although the proportion of female founders in the UK is still smaller than in the United States, we have seen a lot of women within SheWorx start businesses later on in their lives as compared to in the United States.
Womentum: What keeps you going when you are facing challenges as a founder?
Yang: I had a tough month in December. People used to question why I was leaving my position at 500 Startups to start my own company. Then people found out that I was not doing a tech company and thought I wasn’t “cool” anymore. I went through a period of self-growth so now I just follow my own instincts and opinions and ignore the judgement of others. It’s especially important to filter out what other people say.
Womentum: What advice do you have college students who want to be entrepreneurs but aren’t sure where to start?
Yang: When I was in university I knew that I wanted to start something. But at the same time, I now know that starting a company is really hard. If you don’t have any experience, it’s even harder. If you are almost graduating, take an internship in corporate and a startup and see which one you like better. Remember that working at a traditional industry like in consulting isn’t bad — it’ll be a good experience and will help you build your network. Find ways to build a network to help you achieve success when you start your own business.
Also, find your own pack. Find people who are at the same place in life as you are and share your drive. These people will inspire you to keep going when things get tough and give you advice when you need it.
JoeyWears will be launching a Kickstarter campaign mid-April. Be sure to check out their website if you are interested in supporting them.
Want to support women entrepreneurs in developing countries that are in need of funding to start or grow their businesses? Check us out here.