ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | FISCHER YAN
Fischer Yan is on a rapid ascent up the ladder of professional success. She spent one Summer as a Cutco/Vector rep before heading off to school at Dartmouth College. While in college, Fischer started the Dartmouth chapter of the non-profit She’s the First, supporting girls and women in their quests to achieve more in life. After graduating from Dartmouth, she took a position as a Marketing Manager at Uber. Following her time at Uber, Fischer worked at GGV Capital, where she built a global community and launched a podcast around cross-border entrepreneurship and technology. She is now the Head of Global Platform at a new venture capital fund focused on enterprise technology investments. In this interview, she speaks to how the lessons she learned from being a Cutco rep have helped her achieve success throughout her career.
Q&A WITH FISCHER YAN
Q: Why don’t we start with your background. Tell us a little about yourself so we can get to know you briefly.
- I was born in Northeastern China and I came to the U.S. when I was 2 and I grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia. I went to public school and was in the marching band. I was also involved in my church and my community.
- As for starting with Vector, someone handed me a letter the day of graduation and I was eager to try out the opportunity, because I had been looking for a summer job before I started college in September. I interviewed in the Fairfax County office with Rich Plaskon, who I know was also in an earlier episode of this podcast. He did the group interview with me and I saw the cooking products. I grew up cooking and love cooking so I was super excited about the product. After the interview I ended up getting accepted onto the team.
Q: What were some experiences that came out of that summer you spent with the company or lessons you learned from your experiences?
- I was really fortunate to have, what I have come to know in my career adventure as, the ‘first movers’ advantage’. I was the first person in my friend group and community that knew about the Vector opportunity. And because of the communities I was a part of in my time in growing up in Virginia, I had access to these networks of people that I could reach out to and be the first person to introduce them to a great product like Cutco. Reaching out to these people was a powerful lesson in terms of the power of community and the impact and impression that you leave on people when you first meet them. These relationships can last a lifetime and create some really interesting opportunities when you least expect them.
- Also, that summer, I learned the power of phone time. I think that there is a bit of hesitation in the beginning when you first start if you aren’t used to calling people that can be really intimidating, but I found that talking to strangers has been a really big part of my job and has had a lot to do with the success of my career. I am grateful that I was taught how to do it and was pushed past the initial awkwardness, because it has served me in the rest of my career.
- Another thing with meeting new people is that in my core, I believe that every person knows something that I don’t know and it is a thrill and a joy to figure that out.
Q: Tell us about moving on to Dartmouth and your experiences there.
- There was a saying at our school, “The world’s troubles are your troubles and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix”. This reminded us what the Dartmouth education could give to us and empowered us on our ability to affect change on all sorts of problems, whether they be environmental, political, business, and others. This gave me the action platform to start the Dartmouth chapter of a nonprofit called She’s the First.
- She’s the First is a nonprofit founded by two women in New York and their mission is that girls and women have the opportunity to pick their own futures. Throughout starting the chapter I found a bunch of avenues to use the skills I gained at Vector in fundraising, recruiting, and other functions of the charity. My experience with Vector gave me the entrepreneurial spirit I needed to get it off the ground.
Q: So you were a geography major at Dartmouth. Why did you get into geography?
- I started as an Econ major and took a class on the economics of geography. Then geography allowed me to explore a lot of different disciplines like sociology, anthropology, and linguistics and that helps me in my career by helping me see how decisions are made, how people are motivated, and really helped me in working in international environments. I was formerly working with the U.S. and China and now in my current capacity I am working with the U.S. and Japan.
Q: So after Dartmouth, you started with Uber. Tell us a little bit about your time there.
- At Uber I was on the Marketing Operations team based in San Francisco. We would plan events like organizing Ubers to the Super Bowl or putting dogs in cars. I found that I had to do a lot of cold calling to animal shelters and drivers to get them to agree to work our events. Because of my experience with Vector I always seemed to get through my phone lists a lot quicker and easier than my colleagues. I even ended up coaching some people on how to call the drivers and even how to get more to say yes.
- Uber in Fall of 2015 was like a rocket-ship. It really reminded me of the atmosphere in Vector offices of being surrounded by people who are incredibly driven and excited and driven about a product that would change lives and help people.
Q: So after Uber, you moved to GGV Capital. I want to hear about what you have done there.
- Initially my work started out with events with the company, but then it led to content creation and co-creating two podcasts for GGV Capital.
- I noticed that the founders’ stories shined with the same entrepreneurial spirit as the stories of many of the Changing Lives Selling Knives guests.
- One thing I really liked on the podcast is that we would ask what books the founders had been reading. I really think that especially in a fast moving industry like tech, if you are not always learning then you will fall behind.
Q: Do you remember any of the common book recommendations from these successful founders?
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
- I really think that you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with and that since not everyone is able to be around super successful people, podcasts are surprisingly powerful in terms of delivering results in your career and what you think about yourself.
Q: You are 27 and are on a very positive track in your career and in your life and I feel like a lot of younger people would want to be where you are when they are 27. I would love for you to share what advice you have for people who want to take a big step forward in their careers in the years ahead.
- Find your personal monopoly. This doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own business, but creating a spot in your career where you can’t be replaced easily and no one can be you. I did this with Uber by translating English marketing materials into Chinese to cater to the Chinese drivers in San Francisco that make up a quarter of the drivers there. I also do this in GGV by helping my English marketing team understand my Chinese team and vice versa.
- Do something once a week that pushes you outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. One of the things that pushed me outside of my comfort zone was I took an aerial acrobatics class and that has now become an important part of my life. I wanted to be able to perform a whole routine within a year of starting my training and I committed to that goal. This past August I was able to achieve that goal by performing in front of my friends at a professional circus. A lot of people get excited about being successful in doing something, but you have to be humble enough to be a beginner at it, because you might find out that it becomes your personal monopoly or that your way is a different way of doing things that the industry will later adopt which gives you a first mover advantage.
- Go the extra mile. This was on our T-shirts at She’s the First. You really find when going the extra mile that it is your stamina to do things longer and harder that sets you apart.
Q: The theme of our podcast is changing lives. So as you look in your future, how do you aspire to change people’s lives through your work or influence?
- In my career I never saw any mentors or role models that looked like me. So diversity and inclusion is very important to me. It was important in college with She’s the First and helping girls be the first in their family to have a secondary school education and now in my choice to be in a male dominated environment as I hope to see more female leaders in that space.
- Talking to people we don’t know is a big part of our lives. It isn’t just pertinent to work for some people. Getting to know people and building relationships applies to so many settings in life. Everyone knows something that you don’t know. It takes a mindset of genuine curiosity and interest in that person to find out what that is.
- We are always either growing or dying, it is one or the other and there is no in-between. Growing entails stepping out of your comfort zone, trying something that scares you, saying yes to opportunities, and being willing to be a beginner.
- You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. It is a subconscious process and the more you are exposed to certain ideas the more you begin to adopt them. Podcasts and books are a proxy for being around successful people, by helping you get exposure and repetition to their great ideas.
- It is more important to be different somewhat than it is to be better than your competition. It is important to figure out what your unique traits and qualities that you bring that make you irreplaceable, so that there can be no other ‘you’. This is your personal monopoly.
- The world’s problems are our problems and there is nothing out there that we can’t fix through our own personal experience. We all have a responsibility to help others and help improve the world.
Show Notes for this episode provided by Jared Moon.
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