Susie Lee: ‘Decision Making Has a Bracing Clarity’

The CEO and co-founder of Siren on dealing with email and how she sees failure.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Susie Lee: Sip water and give my partner a kiss.

TG: What gives you energy?
SL: Work that has both momentum and meaning.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
SL: Planned-not planned naps, which consists of a good article to read, hot tea, cozy couch, and the freedom to fall asleep for a few minutes.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
SL: Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy Gilead, Home, and Lila are so quiet, but the beauty in her phrasing brought me to my knees.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?SL: Since I run a tech company, I require it far more than my natural inclination, but heavens no, I don’t sleep with it. The phone is, by far, the least interesting partner in bed.

TG: How do you deal with email?
SL: It’s a natural to-do list, but email is more reactive and less strategic than a real to-do list. I respond and compose emails in bursts 3x per day. These bursts are like diving underwater, holding your breath, and swimming towards the shore.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
SL: I call someone. Astonishingly in 2017, three friends and my mom actually answer the phone regularly. Spontaneous conversations are a gift.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
SL: Running a start-up without pay or vacation, while tiring, is far less exhausting than trying to wrap my head around and smacking into the entrenched systems of misogyny and racism, as well as clueless entitlement and privilege in the tech sector.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
SL: As an artist, I see “failures” as a system of life placing limits on a situation, even if it feels awful. Failure puts in stark relief the options available; in turn, decision-making has a bracing clarity. To overcome, you have to be present to the failure, make a decision, and move forward.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
SL: I grew up in North Dakota, so this quote from Marilynne Robinson’s When I was a Child, I Read Books makes me laugh and reassures me.

“I find that the hardest work in the world — it may in fact be impossible — is to persuade Easterners that growing up in the West is not intellectually crippling.”


Susie Lee is the CEO and co-founder of Siren, a socially conscious dating app that fosters real conversations. A graduate of Yale, Columbia and UW with degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, science education, and art, Lee harnesses her skills as scientist, teacher, and artist-entrepreneur to drive projects that amplify humanity through technology. Her work is collected in numerous museums and institutions. Siren partnered with Durex, was featured on PBS, is a member of New Museum’s renowned INC program, and has garnered accolades for its forward-thinking vision.