In the not-so-distant past, Lucy Liu was just like the 13-18 year-old young women attending Melbourne’s Girled World Summit 2017: studying hard for school exams, day-dreaming about handsome chess captains and wondering what the big wide world might have in store for her.
Today, she’s a former VC investor, finalist of Forbes’ 30 under 30 entrepreneurs, and the co-founder of one of Australia’s hottest startups – all at the age of just 26. But, despite her extraordinary achievements, she says, “I’m just an ordinary girl”.
Last Saturday, she shared her personal journey to success at the Girled World event, giving the five key lessons she learned along the way.
1. Don’t let other people hold you back
Lucy, as she described herself, was “not a popular kid” in school. Since she was younger than her peers, she was made to wear a different uniform, and preferring studying over sports, she was on occasion resented for being different from the others. She admitted that learning from the “bad relationships” she had in school was crucial for her development. It taught her to discern who to walk away from, and how to be strong enough to let go. She added:
”In the end, wait for what you deserve and all of a sudden your life will seem so much better.”
Lucy found that many of her schoolmates were facing a lot of pressure from friends and family to choose a certain career path. But she made sure she chose what was right for her, rather than what was right for those around her.
The best entrepreneurs follow their instincts. Believing in yourself, rather than what others tell you, will reap the best rewards.
2. Life doesn’t always go to plan
Lucy has always liked to keep things organised, and as a teenager there was no aspect of her future she left untouched by her rigorous planning – she even planned what her ideal boyfriend would be like!
Nonetheless, she soon learned not everything can be planned in life. When faced with the choice of a Bachelors in Engineering or Commerce, Lucy opted for Commerce, hoping for a luxurious city lifestyle rather than spending time in dusty mines in the desert. However, once she attained the corporate investment banking job she’d imagined for herself, she was left feeling unsatisfied, and decided to leave after two years.
Now, Lucy has found herself in the technology field without ever studying tech, working with, ironically – engineers. She proved that you don’t necessarily need the technology background to excel in tech: her commerce background provides a huge stronghold at Airwallex.
If your plans aren’t working out, be brave and have the confidence to change tack. New paths may arise that you hadn’t considered possible before.
Lucy speaking to young women at the Girled World Summit 2017
3. Learning to work with others is crucial
While Lucy’s corporate banking job wasn’t always inspiring for her, it taught her some key business skills which proved invaluable for running the Airwallex team. During her experience in a large corporate structure, she found that people management and understanding how to work with others was crucial.
As an entrepreneur, stakeholder management and working within a team are just as important as your specific job requirements. While you might be tempted to jump into your new venture straight out of university or school, learning the fundamentals of the working professionally with others can add huge value to your future business ventures, and prepare you for potential slip ups.
4. You don’t need to have a big idea to become an entrepreneur
We all know the stereotype of the typical entrepreneur: that young gun who has a burning idea since childhood, just waiting for the chance to make it happen. While Lucy always dreamed of working in a startup, she didn’t have a specific direction in mind – and her startup was not her idea either. But what she did provide was the commitment, business know-how, passion for innovation and the smarts to be a core member of the founding team. She commented:
“An entrepreneur isn’t someone who owns a business, it’s someone who makes things happen.”
There’s the general misconception that you need to be the ‘ideas’ guy to start a company, but it takes a lot more than an idea to get it off the ground. Being an entrepreneur is about making the commitment that others won’t, being prepared to take a chance, and having the gumption to back it up.
5. Be open to new experiences
Leaving her job wasn’t an easy decision for Lucy to make, but taking the risk turned out to be the best decision she’d ever made. She took a year off to travel and to open her eyes to new adventures, and it was on this career-break that the chance to co-found a new tech company, as she put it, “fell into her lap”. Lucy advised the girls not to sit back and wait for things to come to you:
“you only have ten years in your 20s. Make it count.”
Since then, new opportunities have been abundant for the 26-year-old. A once timid teenager afraid of public speaking now manages a whole office of people from a number of different backgrounds, travels the world to give talks, and faces the challenges facing a startup, daily.
Don’t be afraid to take chances, and try things that are outside of your comfort zone. The more open you are to new experiences, the further you will get.
Lucy believes the lessons she’s learned are only the beginning. Statistically, every young person will have 17 jobs in her lifetime, and this is only her number three! She looks forward to the new opportunities, evolving plans, and surprises that the future will bring.