Nanxi Liu is co-founder and CEO of Enplug, which develops the software that powers digital displays in stadiums, restaurants, stores, and offices. Launched three years ago, today Enplug counts among its clients Fortune 500 companies and small businesses worldwide, who use its technology to display real-time news, interactive social media feeds, videos, and more. The company's rapid growth—revenue projections for 2015 are in the millions—earned Liu a coveted spot on Inc. magazine's 30 Under 30 list of up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Liu, who previously founded the award-winning Nanoly Bioscience, is also a pianist, an activity that has been, well, instrumental in her success in business, as she describes below.
Q: What's the best piece of advice you ever got?
A: "The best way is paving your own way." I learned this from my piano teacher, Martha Albrecht, in middle school. Whenever I learned a new piano piece, we'd listen to professional pianists' versions of the song. Then Martha would guide me through the music measure by measure and have me mark it up with my own interpretation.
I approached Enplug the same way. When building a business, we can either copy another business or write our own DNA. Doing things our own way extends beyond how we build product; it’s also how we create culture, hire, and get funding. We broke most "startup rules" right from the beginning. Enplug started with five co-founders, all strangers. We lived and worked out of a house with 13 teammates in our first year. We moved to Los Angeles to build a tech company. This may seem like the beginning of a disaster, but it was perfect recipe for us.
When we set out to build the best software for digital displays, we ignored our competitors' product because we didn't want to be tainted with old ways of doing things. We started from scratch, architecting a new operating system and app platform. When people see an Enplug-powered display in a stadium or store, they immediately recognize it as Enplug because it's so unique.
Q: What did you learn from your biggest mistake?
A: Follow up immediately. My biggest mistakes have been from missed opportunities because I took too much time to follow up. After meeting someone cool, I email them within 12 hours. They're more likely to remember me and still have some excitement from our conversation. I find that if I wait more than a day to contact the person after the first meeting, there is a drop in response rate.
This concept applies to subsequent follow-ups as well. Whenever I or my sales team have a customer call, we always follow up that same day with next steps. It demonstrates to the customer that you prioritize them and sets the expectation that you like to move quickly. The customer will also respond quickly when you do.
Q: What piece of advice would you pass on to other aspiring female entrepreneurs?
A: We must hold ourselves to a higher standard than our male peers. The cards are stacked against us so we have to work harder, achieve better metrics, and build a stronger team to be respected. When I go into a meeting with investors, I know that I have probably have 50% less time than my male counterpart to make a positive impression. As a result, I've precisely planned each word in my pitch. I know Enplug's sales numbers, customers, software, product roadmap, and teammates like the back of my hand. Always walk into a meeting being the most prepared.
Nanxi Liu is a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs, which has partnered with MONEY.com to help produce this series.