As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Vivian Chen. Vivian is the Co-Founder and CEO of Rise, a technology platform that helps women own their careers with project-based, remote, and flexible opportunities. Vivian is a seasoned business strategist and operator who has built high-impact brands and products for Fortune 500 companies, high-growth startups, as well as leading VCs, PEs, and global institutions.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sure thing, I actually stumbled upon this path completely by accident. I originally set out to start a skincare company having worked at L’Oréal for many years. I spent eight months developing product formulas, designing packaging, and lining up distribution, but I couldn’t get myself to push the go button to go into production. Unlike my days at L’Oréal, as a small startup, the cost of goods were astronomical. So I started consulting, thinking that I would use some of the money to fund my first batch of products. Soon enough, my clients started referring me to more clients and within a few months, I had more projects than I can handle. My clients ranged from bootstrapped startups to VC firms to fintech unicorns, it opened me up to a whole new way of working that was outside of the traditional 9-to-5.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting thing for me has been connecting the dots and making sense of a no-so-straightforward path. My first job out of college was in brand management at L’Oréal. I was really good at my job and was tapped for some of the biggest and most visible projects at the company. Around that same time, a lot of my peers were moving to Silicon Valley, working for exciting tech companies with grand big ideas to change the world. Like a typical millennial, I had FOMO. So I left the world of luxury perfumes and shampoos and into the world of B2B software and HR technology. The transition definitely had a lot of people scratching their heads. But it was not until I started Rise that it all clicked. Thanks to L’Oréal, I knew how to build products and experiences for female, millennial audiences, and my experience at Greenhouse gave me a front row seat into recruiting and talent. Rise is the perfect culmination of both of those worlds.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
The future of work will look dramatically different than today’s 9-to-5. Thanks to technology, more people will be able to work when they want, how they want, where they want. Teams will not be limited to geographical locations and companies can have access to a wider talent pool. Instead of full-time arrangements, more and more people will opt for project-based work. This shift will allow for greater flexibility and personalization than today’s rigid structure. For those who wish for better work life balance, such as a new parent or a caretaker, they can dial back their hours without a costly gap on their resume. On the other hand, those who want rapid advancement can work on a wider range of projects to move up the ladder faster. Millennials are already moving towards this trend with shorter full-time tenures than ever before. Eventually, companies will have to learn to embrace this change rather than resisting the inevitable.
How do you think this will change the world?
As non-traditional forms of work become the norm, we will need a system in place to handle benefits that were traditionally provided by full-time employers. Services such as health insurance, 401K planning, learning and development will be provided through a third-party who can facilitate the transition from project to project seamlessly. This makes sense even for full-time employment. For anyone who’s ever switched jobs, you know the headache that comes with switching health insurance, moving 401K, and filling out all new paperwork.
We will have to be more mindful about separating work and life. With technology, there’s the pressure to feel always on. The removal of a physical barrier to work will mean that now people have to draw our own lines. Additionally, there needs to be protection for both sides to prevent labor, IP, and other potential abuses.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
When I transitioned from beauty to tech, I had a hard time convincing people that I could do the job. The tech industry saw me as a beauty/fashion girl and would not take me seriously. I knew that I had a lot to offer but with no prior industry experience, no one wanted to bite. When I became an independent consultant, I was shocked by the variety of functions and industries I was advising. The more clients I worked with, the easier it became to land new projects. I became industry agnostic thanks to the variety of experiences I could now draw upon. That was the aha moment, when I realized that I accelerated my career growth thanks to shortened project cycles and rapid learning. Plus, I was able to achieve that on my own terms with flexible hours and autonomy.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
The tidal wave of change is at the horizon and coming in fast. In the next decade, more and more millennials will become parents. With this new life phase, work-life balance and happiness will be a major topic for this key demographic. We believe millennials will reshape the world of work to fit their needs of flexibility and growth. In some ways, this trend is already taking place, thanks for the first wave of gig economy companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Task Rabbit. In order to achieve widespread adoption for knowledge workers, we need to support project-based work with benefits and protections.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Work with people who believe in your mission. It’s much easier to make decisions when everyone is in it for the right reasons. There are a million things that a company could be doing in the early days, but the most important things are the ones that can drive the mission forward.
Everyone has an opinion and will share their advice. It’s up to you to decide what to take and what to ignore. I’ve had days in which I would receive a piece of advice in the morning and an exact opposite opinion in the evening. It’s important to remember that you know the market and customers more intimately and the true north is to build something to solve for that need.
Empower people to make decisions and the results will surprise you. If you hire the best team possible but don’t trust them enough to do their job, why did you hire them in the first place? There’s not enough time in the day to micromanage everything yourself, find the right people to help you scale.
Strive for action, not perfection. It’s scary to put something out there that’s not 100% perfect, things rarely are. The earlier you get it out there into the world, the faster you can iterative and learn from it.
Work is endless, but your health is not. There’s always more work around the corner, it’s not going anywhere. Make time to unwind, be kind to yourself and completely disengage from work. The time away will allow you to clear your head and gain a new perspective.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
The hottest and most in demand jobs today were not around even a few years ago. Technology is changing rapidly and people’s interests and careers should keep pace with those changes. Oftentimes, people are stuck in fields that they picked to study in college when they were 17 years old. How can we help people articulate their experiences from one industry to another? The best way to future proof careers is to have a growth mindset and commit to a lifetime of learning.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
As a society, we need to figure out how to get people to stop hating going to work. According to a Gallup poll, 51% of employees are not engaged at work and 18% are actively disengaged. Combined that’s 69% or 2 out of 3 workers who are dissatisfied in their jobs. That’s billions of dollars of lost productivity and inefficiency. How can we create a better future and build a better tomorrow when only one-third of the workforce is fully engaged?
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Do things that energize you to be your best. Don’t get lost comparing yourself to others, it’s not the right metric for your success. There’s always someone who’s smarter, wealthier, and more accomplished, but they probably got there because they focused on their own strengths and unique path. Instead of seeking external validation ask yourself if you are growing, learning, and doing your personal best.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Be hungry, ask questions, do something that challenges you to be better today than yesterday.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Our career paths are no longer the 9-to-5 straight lines we were always told they would be. More and more women are taking on project-based work they’re passionate about, as a way to get further, faster, and on their own terms. Rise connects women to impactful projects to leapfrog their careers. See the rise difference at joinrise.co.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.