Concluding episode of a 2-part 14 Minutes of SaaS conversation in RISE Hong Kong – Stephen Cummins interviews Winnie Lee, COO and Co-founder of Appier. In this concluding episode Winnie talks about why she believes Taiwan is the ideal choice in which to build a startup in Asia. And she gives advice to founders on some key things to consider to ensure success. She also explains to us why she works 72 hours a week, and why that feels normal to her. She is a great believer in persistence – akin to that oft used term in the startup world, grit. She claims she has a good work-life balance. Stephen doesn’t believe that’s possible, but has no problem with Winnie’s perspective here. That’s because we’re all adults and we make up our own minds on how we live our lives. We live in an age of binary opinions and people preaching both sides of every coin on Twitter and elsewhere. Some people like, Jason Lemkin (co-founder of Echosign which was acquired by Adobe and co-founder of SaaStr) say ‘hustle til you drop’ … other’s like DHH, co-founder of Basecamp, says one should never even consider signing up to working long hours. This is a bit like the pro and anti-VC camps, or the remote or co-located are the only way camps. Such binary opinions are ridiculous. We’re not children. We make up our own minds.
We’re all adults – and in the developed world, we’re all able to control what type of company we join and what sort of lifestyle we develop.
“My greatest point is my persistence. I never give up.” Bjorn Borg
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:00:00] Persistence. I think that’s the key. There are so many smart people there. There are so many people who are willing to put in hours … (and) can be hard working. But at the of the day, it’s all about how you can be persistently putting in the effort in the beginning.
Stephen Cummins: [00:00:27] I’m Stephen Cummins and in this concluding episode two of our interview, Winnie talks about why she believes Taiwan is the ideal choice in which to build a start-up in Asia. And she gives advice to founders on some key things we need to consider to ensure success. She also explained to us why she works 72 hours a week. I’m expecting a little bit of a backlash on this, but I have no problem with Winnie’s perspective on here because we’re all adults, and we make up our own minds and how we live our lives. This is a bit like a pro and anti-venture capital camps or the ‘remote or co-located are the only way to work’ camps. Such binary opinions are futile. We’re not children. We make up their own minds. And in the developed world we’re all able to control what type of company we join, and what sort of lifestyle we develop. I am, of course, referring to jobs for reasonably well-educated people in the developed world. We always need to protect the more vulnerable in society. Anyway, on to the interview with Winnie Lee …
Stephen Cummins: [00:01:34] Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS Scale-ups.
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:01:48] I do really think geographically Taiwan is a central location where you can easily work with a lot of companies across Asia. So, you know, like you can talk to people in China, you can talk to people in Hong Kong, you can talk to people in Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia. No problem, you know. So geographically, it’s a nice place to be. Also, because of the openness of culture in Taiwan. Not only I mean, geographically, it may be that this is kind of helping of why Taiwanese are a little more open minded … because, you know, like in general, people are very welcoming to all kinds of cultures or influences from the region. So we kind of know every country a little bit and have good relationships with most of them. And so that is helping us in terms of running an international business based in Taipei. But also, on the other hand, you know, as a tech company or a pure software company like ourselves, talent is very key to our success. And Taiwan, I think is well-known for the hardware industry. But at the same time, what people did not know … I mean, nowadays I think people know quite well … but in the past it was a little underestimated about how good our software talent is. And that’s something that I think we were able to (use to) build our company till this time.
Stephen Cummins: [00:03:11] I need to visit. I’ve backpacked all over China. I lived in Japan, and I’ve travelled all over Korea. But I still haven’t gone to Taiwan. And you have the best .. most interesting museum. A friend of mine … an old friend of mine is the curator of the Museum of Western Art in Japan. And he told me the greatest museum in Asia is in Taipei … for all the historic reasons we know.
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:03:33] It is indeed a very great museum. Please do come and visit us someday.
Stephen Cummins: [00:03:38] I’d love to. I’d love to Winnie. If you were to think about one achievement or one experience you’ve had in your life that makes you feel most proud. Can you think of a moment in your life? …
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: If I can only pick one, I will say it’s actually my current experience building Appier … and growing this company this far. Because in this journey, to be honest sometimes Chih-Han, our CEO, and me … like we chatted about how fortunate we are being able to be part of this company because … actually founders are the ones who benefit the most from the journey. Because we were forced to grow, you know, as much as the company is growing and going forward, there will be a lot of new challenges that we will face all the time … but with the team that we have built, we actually do feel, you know, we have the right partners to move this company to the next stage.
Stephen Cummins: [00:04:36] It’s great to see that you .. It’s always interesting to find out if a founder thinks in terms of the group or thinks about themselves. And you think in terms of the group. It’s great. Do you have kids?
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:04:49] Yes, I do. A one a half year old lady.
Stephen Cummins: [00:04:54] Fantastic. And what’s her name?
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: Her name? Clara.
Stephen Cummins: So I have a daughter called Kiara. Just change one letter. Well, I’ve got a ‘K’ at the starts instead of a ‘C’, but still … . How difficult do you find it to have a work-life balance and to stay healthy as well?
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:05:12] So, first of all, I have to admit that I think that the work-life balance that everyone’s looking for is a little different. So my brother always called me a workaholic. But, you know, to myself, I feel like I am going to be happy. So I have to thank people for all the support I have to allow me to continue working as much as I love to. And you know, that support includes … you know, my mom, basically my parents, my parents in law, as well as my nanny. She’s a great support as well. Even til today, I think I was able to actually find good quality time with my daughter as well as my family. So you will be surprised and all the people, you know, given the long hours that we work every day … and also just to share with you … I actually work six days a week. But yeah, I do. And so does my nanny. So thanks to her as well.
Stephen Cummins: And what sort of hours?
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: Around on average twelve hours a day. So it’s all about persistence in this journey. And the more people who will join you, the more responsibility you will feel. So its not really like we feel we’re forced to do this, but it’s kind of a natural drive that you want to do this over and over. Like every morning you get up and you just feel like, oh, ‘there’s certain things I want to tackle today … if I move this forward, then the company will go forward as well. So I think that’s kind of the spirt that Chih Han and myself have shared so far in this journey .. so I do appreciate the life, and do really enjoy the life that I have today.
Stephen Cummins: [00:07:01] Do you feel you‘ll pare that back a bit as the company gets more mature? Do you plan to shorten the week a little bit for yourself?
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: I do not see at the moment. So this is an interesting question. So at every stage, you know, well, when the company grows … people always ask me, like, now, you know, your company is bigger, it’s probably more mature … so you can probably step back a little bit and have a little more of your personal time. But in fact, as I just said, I think every single stage when the company grows bigger, there will be more investors that believe in you, more colleagues will join you because they believe in the company and the vision that you create. So its really important, you know, like we can keep this up. And just going forward. At least (up until) this point I still feel very happy and proud of the life that I have.
Stephen Cummins: [00:07:54] More investors. I’ll be listening for the announcements. So, you know, you told me nothing but I’ve an eye for these things.
[* And Stephen Cummins was right as they had a unicorn making investment shortly after the interview]
So tell me, one personal quality …and I know in this part of the world, having lived in Japan for example …and for all the differences culturally there’s a lot of similarities across East Asia … people don’t really like to talk about themselves too much. But if you were to deconstruct yourself and look at how successful you’ve been as a founder, … a young founder … you know … what are the personal qualities that helped you succeed do you think or name one quality that you think has been important.
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:08:35] I think persistence. I think that’s the key. There are so many smart people out there. There are so many people who are willing to put in hours, (that) can be hard working. But at the end of the day, it’s all about how you can be persistently put in the effort as much as you wanted to in the beginning. And that will, I think, help the, you know, like to achieve the ultimate goal.
Stephen Cummins: [00:09:07] And actually … you’ve almost answered the last question that I was going to ask you, which is because you’re talking about the personal quality versus persistence. That’s great advice for any entrepreneur. Can you think of one or two other things that you might advise somebody who came along to you and said ‘I’m thinking of starting up a company’ … apart from saying … ‘Don’t do it! You’re crazy!’
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: I would not actually. It’s a good journey.
Stephen Cummins: I know you wouldn’t. Of course it is. What are the one or two things that you might advise that person to look at?
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:09:39] So … I will say there are few things, actually … not just one thing. The first thing will be if they have the right partners that they think that they can build this venture with. Because, you know, like being a solo founder I think sometimes could be hard – because this journey sometimes could be like rollercoaster. So there’s a lot of ups and downs. And you want to have people that you can fully trust and always discuss things with. So its kind of like someone to always be there, brainstorming together … so how you build your team around you I think we’ll be the first critical point. But the second, I will say, is that you need to really be able to identify a field … you don’t do stop just because you want to start a company! You need to be really finding a field that you have so much passion that you wanted to really solve an issue within that industry … or certain things that you want to go after. Because, you know, starting up a company is not just about the investment of your time and money. You know, it’s kind of an investment for your life. And you have to be really wanting it so that you can, as I said earlier, be persistent to pursue your dream. And you know … last, but not least, if you ever decided to pursue it, then as soon as you start, you need to like have the right mind-set of, you know, never giving up.
Stephen Cummins: [00:11:18] Fabulous advice. Winnie Lee, thank you so much for being on the show.
Wan-Ling Winnie Lee: [00:11:21] Yeah. Thank you very much, Stephen.
Stephen Cummins: [00:11:31] In the next episode, we’re still in Rise Hong Kong where I meet CEO and founder Larry Gadea for a three-part interview about his life and his starchild Envoy, a hyper-growth SaaS company that helps you handle everything coming through the front door of your office – from people to packages. When you sign in on a tablet at your reception in the work area, you’re probably using Envoy. Larry makes it look easy to transition from techie to successful entrepreneur. Born in Romania, he grew up in Canada and now is based in San Francisco. His CV includes Twitter, Google and Shopify, and his early investors read like an A-list of tech celebrities. Investors in Envoy include Biz Stone, Marc Benioff, Garry Tan, and Alexis Ohanian. Don’t miss his remarkable story.
Stephen Cummins: [00:12:29] You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills, and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to by me Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series, and give the show a rating.
Stephen Cummins: [00:12:44] This podcast is a labour of love, and I travel all over the world to interview the founders of amazing SaaS start-ups. I ask for nothing in return from them other than their valuable time. And I never played dirty tricks, such as if you get five of your employees to write the podcast with five stars and send me screenshots we’ll publish a month earlier. These episodes are so much work to produce and very expensive without the backing of a big tech company. Do your good deed for today by taking a minute now to review us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, or any of the major podcast platforms … wherever you’re listening to us.”
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