My Forbes Under 30 Summit Experience
What I learned from the Forbes Under 30 Summit as a Forbes Under 30 Scholar in Boston, MA from Oct. 1–4, 2017.
Right now, I’m 22 — going on 23 come February. When I was younger, time seemed infinite. In elementary school, I thought my parents’ nagging would never end. Naturally, I liked being around my grandparents more, especially my grandfather. He would buy me candy even when everyone else was convinced that it was a terrible idea.
Last week on the east coast, it suddenly hit me just how incredibly finite a lifetime is.
Selected as a Forbes Under 30 Scholar, I was fully sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. to attend the Women@Forbes Under 30: Closing The Tech Gap (“Women@Forbes”) and subsequent Forbes Under 30 Summit (“the Summit”) events there.
It was simultaneously motivating and humbling to hear from, and even meet, people who became millionaires while benefitting society all before celebrating their 30th birthdays. Some experienced accidental fates, but most were diligent and persevered through hardship.
A selection such prominent people, a few over the age of 30, shared their pearls of wisdom with us, budding entrepreneurs, young professionals working in a variety of different industries, and the Forbes 30 Under 30 List-Makers.
Today, I want to pass on that knowledge, so here’s a highlight reel.
At Women@Forbes on Sunday, Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer of Uber, revealed a dash of her personal life — her husband passed away of cancer back in 2013. As a result, she has since not only been tasked with reshaping Uber’s brand image, but also with raising her “mini me,” who is nearly four years old now, without the support of a father.
Beyond that, Saint John offered a few tips for success: bring your whole self, always trust your gut, don’t be afraid to take risks, live your dreams every day, and take care of each other.
Akin to Saint John, Sheryl Sandberg’s husband breathed his last a few years ago. While Saint John’s husband slowly lost his life over the course of several months, however, Sandberg’s collapsed suddenly on a treadmill in Mexico at age 47.
Sandberg, the current Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is the widow of Steve Goldberg, the former Chief Executive Officer of SurveyMonkey, and her Option B about this tragic event definitely helped me grapple with my grief after my grandfather’s death and my inability to return to China with my father to attend his funeral earlier this year due to visa processing issues.
I couldn’t see my grandpa one last time. I couldn’t have option A. So, I opted to “kick the shit out of option B,” which was to stay in the United States and always be on call for my family during that fragile time. Given the time difference, I stayed up all night on WeChat with my family members in Asia and all day in class, at work, and on the phone with my mom still in the US.
Highly recommend Option B to anyone either currently grieving or simply interested in learning more about resiliency as well as the impact of widowhood on women within the international community. It was a excellently researched, incredibly articulate piece that really spoke to me.
At the event, Sandberg also noted that a mission should be emphasized at the beginning of each work meeting, it is critical to make promises that can be kept, and thinking of people as each having voices that are authentic as opposed to having brands as corporations do is important.
Another highlight for me from Women@Forbes was Amrita Saigal’s introduction of Saathi, a company she co-founded to produce fully biodegradable menstrual pads out of banana fiber.
In lesser developed nations around the world, women are still skipping a few days of school each time they menstruate, which eventually results in many of them falling so behind that they drop out entirely. Or, they are using materials as rudimentary and unsanitary as mud and bark as pads.
To mitigate these issues, Saigal has strategically begun selling her fully biodegradable pads in India at a higher price in more developed regions and at a subsidized rate in impoverished areas, where she has also set up parts of her supply chain to increase local employment.
Moreover, since banana tree bark, from which banana fiber is extracted, is simply discarded once the batch of bananas are harvested by farmers, Saigal’s business has made a complete waste product useful while providing farmers with an additional source of income.
Others, including John Scully, the Chief Executive Officer of Apple, also encouraged young women to become more involved in the Technology space at this event held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Summit itself was broken down into several “Stages,” including the Discover Stage, the Impact Stage, the Tech Stage, the Capital Stage, and the Create Stage. I chose to attend the Capital Stage initially and swapped into the Tech Stage for Tuesday.
During his talk, Dalio spoke about the various phases of life: learning, where you are dependent on others, working, where others become dependent on you, and the last phase, consisting of helping others become successful.
I was earlier in line waiting for Principles, but when Dalio ran out of both copies and time to sign them later, he personally announced to everyone still in the queue that they could leave their contact information for him, and he would mail them signed copies after the Summit.
This seemed rather impromptu because those around him, likely his assistants and Forbes employees, were rushing to find paper and pens for everyone to jot down their information.
Not only did Dalio speak about helping others become successful, he’s exemplified it by going above and beyond to send students and young professionals free copies of his book when he didn’t have to.
While Dalio’s hedge fund is seen as a success today, he didn’t shy away from discussing the days when he was considered a failure. At one point, Dalio recalled going so broke that he had to borrow $4,000 from his father to pay the bills. At the time, he lost many clients and even had to lay off employees who were his friends.
He credits this rough patch for pushing him to change his decision-making strategy and entire thinking process, which led to the development of Principles. He emphasized that his book, however, doesn’t list principles that are universally applicable. Rather, Principles is intended to help the reader come up with his or her own set of personal principles.
A few speakers after Dalio came Olaf Carlson-Wee, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Polychain Capital, a cryptocurrency hedge fund with $250 million AUM. Carlson-Wee found out about Bitcoin back in 2011, and purportedly “went down a rabbit hole” with it from there.
After discovering Bitcoin’s existence, nothing else seemed to be as interesting to him. Therefore, he wrote his undergraduate thesis about cryptocurrencies and chose to become the first employee at Coinbase upon graduation.
But unlike the majority of us, who take a cash salary and perhaps equity compensation with our benefits, Carlson-Wee requested that 100% of his salary be paid in Bitcoin.
At the time, Bitcoin was not widely accepted, and this continues to be the case today. To survive, Carlson-Wee negotiated with his landlord for his rent to be paid in Bitcoin and tried to convince all of his friends to accept Bitcoin in exchange for meals. While his proposition may have seemed low key insane to accept back then, with a much higher market value now, I bet none of them regret it!
The next day, before I was off to attend the Tech Stage, Daniel Boulud, chef and owner of the Michelin 3-star restaurant Daniel in Manhattan, provided me with a signed copy of his Letters to a Young Chef.
I binge read Boulud’s book on my flight back to San Francisco, and it was much more relevant to any young professional than the title might suggest.
The path to success as a chef is not incredibly different from that of any other career. It requires the same level, if not more, of sheer willingness to grind.
I also enjoyed the embedded letter from Dominique Ansel, who used to be one of Boulud’s pastry chefs but has since struck it out on his own.
When I was at NYU, Ansel actually came to a club on campus to speak about his business, and I was able to not only try a cronut but also his amazing cookie shots without waiting in the usually hours-long crazy line that his very successful bakery is known for always having.
At the end of his book, Boulud even offers a few recipes!
Julissa Arce, the undocumented immigrant who became a Vice President at Goldman Sachs before leaving for Merrill Lynch and then transitioning to the non-profit space, was at the Summit as well with copies of her My (Underground) American Dream. There was also Lisa Randall, a Harvard University professor, with her Dark Matter and The Dinosaurs. Both are now books that I also hope to finish soon.
Then, Sophia Amoruso, Founder of Girlboss Media, discussed how she started Nasty Gal with upwards of $300 million in revenues after dropping out of community college in her early 20s. While Nasty Gal ultimately filed for Chapter 11, and she sold the business off, Amoruso’s work is still quite remarkable, and there’s even a Netflix show about her.
Whitney Wolfe, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the dating app Bumble, noted she left Tinder to found Bumble after a sexual harassment law suit that was settled, but also introduced Bumble Bizz, the professional networking feature that Bumble released a mere day before.
Although I’ve retired from my days on dating apps, I’ve been swiping Bumble Bizz non-stop since I downloaded it, and I keep running out of people to swipe, so please join me on the app!
Karlie Kloss, one of the highest paid supermodels in the world, and a current student at my alma mater, shared her passion for coding and the scholarship program she started for girls in partnership with The Flatiron School and several other organizations, which is called Kode with Klossy.
Unlike most of the other self-made success stories, Kloss was shopping at a local mall in Louisiana at 15 when she was first “discovered.” From there, she’s walked at fashion shows around the world and become the face of brands ranging from Victoria’s Secret to Swarovski. Yet, Kloss hasn’t ended her career with modeling, so when you find success in one area, consider using that as a platform to catapult your success into other realms too.
Beyond the speakers, the Summit also featured morning workouts with Lindsey Vonn and Amar’e Stoudemire, a music festival headlined by Zedd, a lunch with Kendrick Lamar, a food festival, all of Fenway Park reserved for an evening bar crawl, a hackathon, and other incredible events.
I have fewer than 8 years before I’m 30 years old. What about you?
No matter what age you currently are, given our finite lifetimes, what kind of infinite legacy do you plan on leaving?
As Sandberg put it well, “the world needs your leadership.”