Inspirational Women Leaders Of Tech: Candace Press of Thnks On The Five Things You Need To Know In Order To Create A Very Successful Tech Company

An Interview With Ming Zhao

Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine
12 min readSep 6, 2022

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Thank each person who helps you along the way. No one can build a successful tech business on their own. Behind the scenes there are dozens of mentors, investors, clients, agencies, and strategists — and that doesn’t even start to include the internal teams who are actually getting the work done. As you grow, it’s important to remember every pair of hands that have helped to pull you up to where you’re standing. Thank them in the most genuine way and remember to congratulate them as they reach milestones of their own.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Candace Press.

Candace leads operations at Thnks, a leading B2B relationship building platform that lets you send instant, thoughtful gestures of appreciation to strengthen your business relationships. She is responsible for operational processes across all aspects of the business to promote efficiency and growth as well as securing new vendor relationships. Prior to Thnks, Candace worked in data analytics and account management — she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in London and moved to the U.S. to pursue my degree in psychology. I was able to combine my interest in human behavior with data, analytics, and statistics. Although I knew I didn’t want to pursue a career in Psychology, I wanted to continue using and applying skills from that field to understand and analyze the way people think and behave. My first job out of college was at a social media analytics company in New York. That’s where I actually met Brendan and Larry — the founders of Thnks — and they decided to bring me on as their first employee when they started the company.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

After building our integration with Amazon we were exploring the variety of items that became available on the Thnks platform to send. We somehow realized it was possible to order a betta fish though Thnks, so we decided to test it out and send one to our office in New York. The issue came when we realized the package was delivered on a Friday — so when we walked to the office on Monday morning knowing it had sat out all weekend we were all expecting the worst. Somehow, the fish was alive and well and it ended up living for about two years after that! We named him Felix, which is Latin for happy or lucky. Felix the fish actually still lives on in Thnks today — people who receive a Thnks will get a follow up email from “Felix” reminding them to redeem their Thnks!

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We were doing an early beta test with one of our investors on our bulk sending feature, and a member of my team accidentally inverted a number on the spreadsheet upload. Put as simply as possible, a unique ID number was swapped with a quantity number, resulting in thousands of Thnks transactions instantly being generated from our investor. Aside from the large charge on our investor’s card, we also had to quickly figure out what to do with thousands of Thnks appearing in recipient inboxes… long story short we managed to reverse the charge and prevent the transactions from actually being delivered, and we can certainly now all laugh about it (investor included). But at the time it’s safe to say that was probably the highest my heart rate has ever been at work. Aside from the obvious lesson of attention to detail, there were more discrete lessons me and my team grew from that day… the biggest probably being extreme ownership — we didn’t sugar coat, we didn’t blame, we acknowledged and went straight to solving the problem. If we hadn’t taken ownership so quickly the outcome may have been far worse.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I struggled when I started working at my first job because it was client-facing and people in the U.S. had trouble understanding my accent. It felt like people were more focused on what I sounded like versus the words actually coming out my mouth. It was really discouraging and was a source of anxiety around public speaking for a long time. But as I’ve continued my career and gained more perspective, I’ve learned over time that the things you’re most nervous about early on in your career can become your biggest strengths — and the things you hate the most initially can become the things you love most. Those are your differentiators! This mentality completely changed the way I felt about myself, my accent and my ability to communicate with others.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you fail to plan you plan to fail”

This was instilled in me from a very young age and continues to be something I try to live by every day. Taking the time to plan and prepare is about making sure you are in the driver’s seat with a clear vision of where you want to get to, why you want to get there, and how you’re going to get there. Of course there is always chance, and things that happen in life that we never expected or that make us feel out of control, but practicing planning and preparation is what has allowed me to stay stable, with purpose and positivity through curveballs and life’s challenges. Planning forces you to consider multiple possible outcomes, which inherently increases your chances of success at achieving the outcome you want most.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Thnks started in part as a response to a lack of gratitude in the culture of our business world. Sending someone you do business with something thoughtful and personalized to thank them for their time seemed inconvenient and more challenging than it needed to be. People choose to do business with people they like, and everybody likes to feel appreciated. Thnks is about small, regular investments in relationships that build your personal brand over time with people whom you will hopefully do business with throughout your career. This approach leads to greater relationship building and helps teams to connect and drive company growth. Thnks provides business leaders with a convenient, timely, personalized and compliant way to share gestures of appreciation in the workplace, and we’ve recently reached the milestone of 15,000 ‘Thnks’ sent each week!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

In envisioning what Thnks would be, our founders, Larry and Brendan, asked themselves, if our client got in line behind us at a coffee shop what would we do? The answer was simple — every time we would buy them a coffee. That’s not a gift, no one would see that as a gift — Thnks is not about gifts. It’s about those small and regular gestures of appreciation that show you care about the people around you in a thoughtful and personalized way.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’ve been shifting our focus to the Vendor side of Thnks — i.e. the different products and services that are available on the platform for users to send as gestures of appreciation. The platform has always been about enabling our users to show their thoughtfulness and gratitude in a seamless way, and sometimes it’s the simple gestures that stand out the most — a cup of hot chocolate on a snowy morning, a meal from Grubhub when you know your client has had a busy week…that’s our bread and butter and where Thnks truly shines. So, one new initiative we are particularly excited about is called Thnks Local — the ability to send someone a simple gesture that is highly localized to them — so think of the “coffee from your local coffee shop around the corner” or the “breakfast from your local bakery.” I’m incredibly excited for this feature to go live and to see the impact it has on spreading gratitude and putting a smile on people’s faces.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I think there’s been great progress when it comes to women in the tech world. I’ve learned over time that your gender, accent, appearance, or anything in that vein can be a benefit because they’ll immediately catch people’s attention. If you can get them to listen and follow up with great information, you’re reversing the idea that people may be judgmental or critical when they first see you and gain more confidence.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

When I first started doing pitches and presentations, I was really nervous about the attention that comes with being one of few women in the room, especially being young and with an accent. That caused a lot of nervousness around public speaking, and as my career progressed and I was sometimes the only woman in management or a board meeting the imposter syndrome came into play. I started to doubt myself and become overly critical, but eventually something switched. In one board meeting where I was exceptionally nervous I reminded myself, “No. I’ve got this.” I now take pride in being a woman in the room with incredible colleagues that are taking the time to listen to what I’m saying. That led to so much more confidence and realizing that my gender doesn’t have to be something I need to overcome.

What would you advise to a tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

I think a great place to start is to really empower your team by sharing as much of your knowledge as possible. Disseminating the information you hold as an early employee is crucial in promoting growth and scale. This is a lot of what I do as the SVP of operations — helping different departments get information out so there are no bottlenecks and processes/information can continue to evolve. Relinquishing some control isn’t always easy but holding onto it doesn’t make you more powerful. Everyone needs to be able to walk through the door you’re holding the keys to. It’s difficult but really rewarding when you’re able to do it and see other people on your teams learning and growing.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

One way would be to have an empathy-focused perspective where you’re able to put yourself in your client or vendor’s shoes. Be curious and think about how they would behave and react to certain things. This is a big part of my psychology background! Another big part of operations is being able to see a clear path from start to finish and find the most efficient way to get there. This can absolutely be applied to the user experience world because you never want a client to feel like there’s been wasted time. Forcing yourself to really listen to your customers and answer the question of ‘what does this customer actually want’ often times allows you to identify and reach the simplest solution. And my personal favorite is remembering to thank your clients for working with you regularly and genuinely.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Be resourceful. When Brendan and Larry (Thnks’ Co-Founder and Founder) brought me on as the company’s very first hire, my fresh-faced excitement and energy could only carry me so far. I had to learn fast to be resourceful as well as the nature of those early days is that it entails a lot of dividing and conquering!
  2. Learn everything you can. In the early days of building a startup, my work was very hands-on and ‘in-the-weeds’. In order to be successful, and to help make the company successful, I had to adopt a learner’s mindset and maintain that way of thinking for years. I wanted to learn everything about everything I could get my hands on. In a startup environment, you have to cultivate a deep understanding and know-how for all the different areas of the company — what they do, what problems they solve, what challenges they face, and how their leaders and team members are pushing them toward greater horizons. This breadth of knowledge about my own company was an absolute requirement for my ability to think critically and quickly in key moments. I had to understand all the little nuances in order to see the big picture.
  3. Keep your core values consistent. The speed and number of changes is going to feel overwhelming and discombobulating at times. There will be moments where it feels like too much, too fast — and you’ll be tempted to give up entirely. My best lesson has been the realization that one thing must be kept consistent and reliable throughout the whole trajectory of business growth. One thing must stay stable and dependable, so that you always have a bedrock to return to at the end of the day. For our team at Thnks, that unchangeable bedrock was our set of values. We went into this experiment with ideas about who we were and what we valued as professionals and people, and I’m proud to say that we still have those same ideas today — except now, we hold them closer and more dear than ever. Despite all the shifting and the moments of uncertainty, we’ve been able to hold onto the consistency of our deepest beliefs about human behavior, appreciation, gratitude and what it means to be a team. This has been our lifeline, especially in the really tough times.
  4. Share what you know. People who consider themselves perfectionists sometimes find it hard to work so hard to learn something then just give it away to other people on the team. But that’s a sacrifice that’s necessary for the sake of your company, and seeing other people learning and growing is the most rewarding thing. No one can grow without all of the necessary information for their role, and you can act as a catalyst for helping others on your team reach those goals.
  5. Thank each person who helps you along the way. No one can build a successful tech business on their own. Behind the scenes there are dozens of mentors, investors, clients, agencies, and strategists — and that doesn’t even start to include the internal teams who are actually getting the work done. As you grow, it’s important to remember every pair of hands that have helped to pull you up to where you’re standing. Thank them in the most genuine way and remember to congratulate them as they reach milestones of their own.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Serena Williams.

I actually grew up playing competitive tennis, and at one point was very close to going pro. Although my life and career ended up going in a very different direction, sports and tennis in particular has and always will have a huge impact on me. Playing and following tennis taught me the importance of determination, consistency, and drawing on my own physical and mental strength beyond what I thought I was capable of. Serena Williams is an absolute powerhouse and the most accomplished female tennis player of all time. She has broken boundaries not only in tennis but in social activism, philanthropy, finance, media, fashion, and much more…not to mention she’s just pretty damn cool.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.