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Women Leading The AI Industry: “The more successful women there are in the industry, the more role models that are out there for young girls to aspire to become.” With Ming Zhao CEO of Proven and Tyler Gallagher

There’s much that can be done but it’s up to the leadership of these companies to dedicate time and resources to making their customers safety and security a priority. If it’s not seen as a priority, or something that can be dealt with later, it could become a real issue. I’m a big proponent of […]


There’s much that can be done but it’s up to the leadership of these companies to dedicate time and resources to making their customers safety and security a priority. If it’s not seen as a priority, or something that can be dealt with later, it could become a real issue. I’m a big proponent of a proactive approach rather than reactive approach.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ming Zhao, the co-founder and CEO of Proven, a Y-Combinator backed startup that uses award-winning technology and data to create personalized skincare. Prior to founding Proven, she was a private equity investor, a startup executive and passionate about skincare. She received an MBA from Harvard and has served as an entrepreneurial mentor for the NASDAQ Entrepreneur Center and Junior Achievement. She resides in San Francisco, CA with her husband and baby whom she gave birth to while building Proven.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

This story stems from two frustrated women who were both exhausted and tired of spending money trying to find skincare that worked for them. 
 
 In my early 20’s, I found myself at a soul-sucking private equity firm, working 14 hour days. My skin should have been the youthful, glowing skin of a young woman but instead, I was developing fine lines, premature wrinkles and adult acne (that came out of nowhere). Some people just respond to stress this way, and I was one of them. So I spent a lot of money trying to find a solution, however, nothing I tried worked. 
 
 At the same time, my now co-founder, Amy, was suffering a similar fate as she had “difficult skin” (that’s industry speak for ‘hard to categorize’). It was hard to categorize because up until a few years ago, most beauty companies created products for a wide swath of people, not for those with unique, specific issues. So being the computer science nerd that she is, Amy took it into her own hands and developed what we now call The Skin Genome Project. This is where Proven was born because of it’s the root of our business.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

As an entrepreneur, you’ll often find that your own life is the inspiration you need to create a successful product. Ask yourself what problems you face and if others are facing the same issues with little to no solutions.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Bringing personalized skincare to the masses so everyone’s unique profiles can be celebrated. Proven went to market with 3 simple products that we know everyone needs. But we’re also looking closely at what other products are in demand and planning for those too. Stay tuned.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother instilled in me a love for exploration and asking questions. I also have fond memories of trying out different creams and lotions with her when I was a child. So I guess you could say that her interest in skincare was passed on to me early.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

I wouldn’t know where to begin when it comes to exciting developments in AI. Some of these developments may not even exist yet but here are a few that particularly excite me:

  1. Increased Speech recognition: This could be huge for elevated customer service across all industries.
  2. Better machine learning platforms: This will only help to make customization a bigger industry across all verticals.
  3. Biometrics: I’m excited to see how modern medicine can benefit from this.
  4. Natural language processing: The amount of data in our world is only getting bigger each day. And there needs to be a better way to handle it.
  5. Increased employment: The opportunity for skilled workers is huge.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. Reliance on AI: There’s always the possibility that people can become too reliant on AI.
  2. Loss of human control: I don’t think this is likely, however it’s possible if we’re not careful.
  3. Safety & security: Companies need to make this a priority before it’s too late.
  4. Unintended consequences: We’ve already seen things like hacking incidents that have resulted in all sorts of chaos worldwide.
  5. AI is powerful for detail-oriented tasks but cannot process larger, more complex issues that humans need.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

With any newer technology, people have always been afraid and worried the world could end. These worries are of course warranted, especially with something like AI that could prove to be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. But I also like to think that humans have known this is coming for years and are smart enough to put safeguards in place to protect us.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

There’s much that can be done but it’s up to the leadership of these companies to dedicate time and resources to making their customers safety and security a priority. If it’s not seen as a priority, or something that can be dealt with later, it could become a real issue. I’m a big proponent of a proactive approach rather than reactive approach.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I like to think that my co-founder and I have helped to pave the way for female founders in the tech industry. We faced many challenges in launching this business (including finding out that we were both pregnant ahead of launch) but if we can successfully navigate that, we can make it through anything and I want other women to know that.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

Rely on your support system

Build a world class team

Always stick to your original mission for the company or the project.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

The more successful women in the industry, the more role models that are out there for young girls to aspire to become.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

“Remember why you started.” In the world of startups, the original mission you had when it was just a twinkle in your eye is what you should always stick with. It’s very easy for investors, customers, and friends to start convincing you of ways you should change and while you should listen, don’t make any changes unless your mission stays the same.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a movement for the beauty industry to start paying attention to their audiences individual needs. Oh wait, I already am!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mingszhao

Thank you so much for joining us!

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