All Great Leaders Have Had Mentors, and One Woman is Making Mentorship Easier
“Mentorship has remained a relatively elusive process for most. …Our platform is designed to demystify the process and provide mentorship to any woman who wants it.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Liu, a serial tech entrepreneur and the founder & CEO of The Lobas. Lily has been named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 top entrepreneurs, and one of Business Insider’s “People to Watch”.
Previously, Lily founded PublicStuff, a civic engagement platform designed to promote communication between local government and residents. The company was acquired by Accela in 2015.
She received her Master of Science from Carnegie Mellon University, is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, and a lover of the arts. Learn more about her at TheLobas.com.
It’s a pleasure to meet you. What is your backstory?
I was born in Taiwan and immigrated here as a child. My father had a small business growing up, and I remember the whole family helping out with product preparation and shipments. It was truly a family entrepreneurial endeavor. I paid my way through much of college and learned the value of hard work early on. After my first year in college, I started an organization that provided free tutoring services to inner-city urban Pittsburgh students and later went on to create a public surveillance art program.
I have always been a “fixer.” I love creating new businesses, helping existing agencies solve big problems, and improving effectiveness. After working in the public sector, I saw a need to improve how governments and residents communicate. I started a software and mobile app platform called PublicStuff that allows governments and residents to connect and improve neighborhoods — from street maintenance, community management, and a host of other neighborhood issues. The platform was used in hundreds of cities, including Palo Alto, Philadelphia, and New York City. I was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 top entrepreneurs and Business Insider’s people to watch.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you while you were leading your company?
One interesting experience I had was helping Saudi Arabia improve their transparency with government services for a new city they were building. I took a trip out there—to the middle of the desert where they were building a city from the ground up—to allow our software to help residents access more information and services from the new government. If you could build a city from scratch, what would it look like? It’s easy to forget that during our developed times, there are still new cities being imagined and created. It was a wild and fascinating experience.
So what exactly does your company do?
I’m working with a group of amazing women to redefine modern mentorship through a platform called The Lobas. It’s a remote-based, peer mentorship platform. The network helps inspire, challenge, and connect women across all borders. Even if they don’t know each other at first, there is a kinship and trust that comes from their shared experience, which allows them to appreciate and benefit from their diverse backgrounds and experiences. Each interaction is warm and supportive, but also has certain standards of rigor and respect. It’s a thought-provoking opportunity to get a glimpse into paths not taken, or potential paths still available.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What’s unique about The Lobas is that we are systematizing and productizing the mentorship process. Mentorship has remained a relatively elusive process for most—and generally reserved only for those with connections or a willing network. It’s still a hidden playbook. Our platform is designed to demystify the process and provide mentorship to any woman who wants it. It also addresses issues beyond just career development, and covers other important life inflection points.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
As cheesy as it sounds, I really do have my parents to thank. I grew up in a household that understood small business and supported entrepreneurial efforts. They took huge risks to immigrate here, and worked tirelessly to make sure my sister and I had a safe and healthy environment to explore who we were. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their vision, commitment, and sacrifice.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Not a day passes where I’m not incredibly grateful for what life has afforded me. The Lobas is one of my ways of paying it forward — giving women a built-in network to help them get through life’s most difficult and transformative times. I’m also working on a project to end hunger in the US — think vending machines and food stamps for the hungry.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became a founder,” and why?
- It’s not glamorous. The founder story is one that we’ve idealized in America—and perhaps even more so for tech startups. But something to remember is that it is not a glamorous job or position. It takes grit, perseverance, and the willingness to do any job the company needs. That includes buying coffee for the team and cleaning up after everyone!
- Balance your health and work. This seems like an obvious one but starting a company can be time and life consuming. I went through a period where I let my health slip for the company. PURITAN SACRIFICE. It’s easy for this to happen when you’re young and feel invincible, but it will catch up with you. It’s important to carve out time to focus on your health—both mental and physical. I’ve met so many founders who commit to getting healthy again after they have some sort of exit with their company. It really should be flipped — we should be in the best shape and health of our lives while we run our companies. You’re not doing anyone any good when you’re running at 50 percent. I found it was helpful to actually schedule that time out on my calendar so my staff knew, which also helped me honor that time.
- Find a group of peers. There is so much value in having peers that are going through similar situations. I had access to some of these groups through our investors, but you can also find some of these groups on social media or at meet-ups. Peer groups can be incredibly helpful—from answering general questions, to introductions, to just kicking it with like-minded and similarly experienced people.
- It’s all about the people. Invest in people and relationships. So much of the tech startup world can feel transactional, especially with people coming and going throughout the life of your company. Focus on the relationships that matter and invest in those.
- Be open about ideas. Good ideas are important, but they’re only a sliver of the pie. Execution, strategy, and timing are often the bigger components at play. Don’t be tight lipped about talking through your ideas with others. You’d be surprised what may come from boldly sharing. Serendipity is underrated.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Samantha Bee. Simply put, she is a badass. She is the first and only female to host a late night show, and her show is thought-provoking, witty, and flat out hilarious. She’s never been shy about her position, and she has used her talent in comedy, writing, and acting to stand for what she believes in. I have a ton of respect for Samantha Bee and I’d be totally honored to spend some time with her.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.