Envision Spotlight: Lilly Chen
For our first-ever Envision Founder Series, we will be interviewing our alumni to share their stories as a founder and hear what they’ve been up to since Envision.
Meet Lilly Chen.
Lilly is the co-founder and CEO of Contenda (EC3), a unified content repository to help businesses repurpose and resurface high-performing content. With multiple import and export integrations, Contenda is the central place for all content storage, enabling lightning-fast search by topic, speaker, or medium.
She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in Mathematical Economics. As a senior in college, Lilly taught herself how to program in less than a year. She went on to work as a software engineer at Rapid 7, a gaming AI start-up, and then worked as an ML infrastructure engineer at Facebook Reality Labs.
Fun facts: Lilly dropped out of high school in the 10th grade to be ordained as a monk and is one of the top Dota players in the world!
In all of that, coming from an Asian-immigrant background, Lilly is an inspiration to many (including me writing this post!) as a founder and technologist.
Lilly believes anyone can learn how to code and is extremely supportive of junior engineers on their learning journey. If you’re curious, read more about Lilly in her own words here.
Now… let’s dive into the questions!
How did you come up with the idea for Contenda?
We were originally building A/B testing for streaming communities but didn’t have as much traction as we wanted. We talked to streamers in the science field, and soon came across developer advocates and found a niche here.
So you pivoted your idea, what has happened since then?
We had the idea in late September 2021, and since then, we have signed 3 LOIs with Netlify, Stackoverflow, and SingleStoreDB. We moved really quickly in just a few months.
What’s your favorite part about being a founder?
Originally, I actually didn’t want to build a company. I just wanted to hang out with my friends and work on things together hackathon-style. All my co-founders are actually all my close childhood friends — we stayed in touch for that long — and it’s so much fun working together with them.
Being a founder reminds me of the late-night study sessions in my undergrad, all huddled in a library and eating from takeout boxes at 1am. Except it’s every day!
What are you most proud of at Contenda?
There are cool accomplishments like working with a world record streamer — getting a 140k annual contract value on the first week of sales, but the thing that make me the happiest is the fact that I’ve gotten to know the people I’m working with.
During the pandemic, we worked together in a hacker house in California — we all worked and lived in the same apartment. We love playing board games and video games together. Now we’ve all relocated to Philly.
What role did Envision play in your journey as a founder?
Envision played a key part in developing the skills all founders need — first principles thinking from thinking about products, priorities, fundraising. Being a software engineer by practice, there weren’t skills I had starting out.
If it weren’t for Envision, I would definitely still be working at FB. Envision gave me the confidence to quit my job. Envision introduced me to almost everybody on our cap table from Contrary to Eliot Horowitz.
Any advice to future founders?
Make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons. Most startups fail, if you’re looking for resume clout, creating a start-up is not the place to be. Fundraising doesn’t validate anything — don’t make that your main goal.
A lot of it is also luck — putting yourself out there and meeting people. I actually met one of my customers because we’re both Dota players, which is not a very mainstream video game.
Always be open to asking for help and applying for things — you never know what will come out of it and who will vouch for you!
Thanks so much for reading Lilly’s story! Feel free to connect with Lilly here. We’re so honored to have Lilly as part of our Envision community!
**P.S want to work with Lilly? Contenda is hiring a Chief of Staff, apply here!