Kwiri Yang is the Founder and CEO of LifeGyde, an education technology company that equips the next generation with interpersonal skills to thrive and lead in an exponentially changing world. Kwiri bootstrapped her first company at the age of 16, reaching $3M in profit by the time she graduated from UCLA at age 19. During this time, she hired and managed over 100 engineers and mechanics while managing a full college course load. Her companies have helped over 2,000 small and medium businesses. She built, scaled and sold 4 companies, including the latest one sold to Inc. 500’s #1 fastest growing consumer electronics in the education technology space. She played a crucial role in S1 filing, series D fundraising and growth strategy that took the company to over $1B valuation with a 15,000% growth rate in 3 years, ultimately reaching 4.4 million users. The company was later acquired by Mattel. Recognized as a 40 Under 40 Emerging Civic Leader, she volunteers her time building communities focused on education empowerment, social impact, as well as supporting next-generation leaders, second-time founders and female leaders. Kwiri is an avid paraglider, salsa dancer, and a photographer. She grew up in Port Vila, Vanuatu until she moved to Los Angeles. She currently resides in Silicon Valley.
Why did you start your current company?
My startup journey began early as I started my first business while I was in college. By the time I graduated from the University of California Los Angeles at the age 19, the business made over $3M in profit, saving utility and cost for over 2,000 immigrant small and medium business owners in California. Since then, I founded 4 companies each driven by a social purpose to improve the local communities.
However, during this time, I had to overcome circumstances relating to health and career that was completely out of my control; I was in the dark and fell into depression. The shame, guilt and self-imposed expectations were overwhelming. I went to seek help from seven different therapists jumping through many hoops, switching from one therapist to another, which took a huge time, financial and emotional toll.
When I started to share about my experience with close friends and supporters, I learned how many 20 something-year-olds / millennial peers from all backgrounds were sharing this similar struggle. While I learned that there were many amazing telemedicine platforms out there, what I found helpful along this journey was the importance of preventative care relating to mental healthcare. Many of the resources by the professionals and coaches I got help from were extremely helpful and wished I had those resources and guidance prior to getting to the point of anxiety and depression.
LifeGyde’s mission is to equip the next generation with interpersonal skills, personal development transformation and social emotional learning to help increase self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Integrity guides everything in my life, including being on time. To me, being on time is not about time. It’s about integrity and delivering on commitment.
One of my most respected and close mentors, despite being on a wheelchair, is never late to meetings nor does he ever make excuses. Watching him build a multimillion-dollar empire and use his influence to make a positive impact in the society really inspired me in my early twenties. Since then, I never blamed the Los Angeles famous 405 freeway for being late. I just leave earlier and as they say, “Talk the talk and walk the walk.”
Follow-ups and offering help means I am committed to my words. This has not failed me in any realm, both professional and personal. It’s when I am out of integrity that I am in trouble. My friends, family, mentors, investor provides me with the trust and running a successful business is built on trust.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your Company?
“Work life balance.” This was the biggest mistake and a tough lesson I learned. Sacrificing work life balance is not a good idea. Startups and running a sustainable business is a marathon, or a never-ending stroll. It’s a process, a journey, not an end goal.
It is important to self-care. Make the time in the morning for yourself. Drink the cup of tea I enjoy. Read a chapter of the book I enjoy reading and spend an hour at least three times a week doing the hot yoga. I often like to use the car analogy to explain this. I have to fuel my car and do regular maintenance in order for my car to take me to destinations. We are all the same. Our body is like the car. We have to feed ourselves and take regular care in order for our body to function and perform well.
What is one lesson you’ve learned in your career that sticks with you?
The biggest lesson I learned was when I was part of an Inc500’s #1 fastest growing startup that crashed overnight. “If something sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true”.
Young, ambitious, driven and anxious, many opportunities came my way during my twenties. The best and worst deal I ever took was to take a deal in millions of dollars that sounded too good to be true from another young, ambitious, driven and anxious founder who was 20 years ahead of me.
I got to directly witness the business transactions that were being made under the table, lots of promises that could not be met, and low company employee morale. The company I had sold my startup to peaked at one time, the fastest growing #1 company in the nation, but went bankrupt in a few years.
It was the best and worst lesson I learned as it gave me a very good preview of what my life would look like if I naively believed in “things that sound too good to true.” I learned that working hard is great, working smart is better, but working with integrity and transparency is the best for the company and as a leader.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
Being able to pursue what you truly feel passionate about and challenging the way that things are done in the world. I am passionate about defying the status quo and disrupting the way that things are done when it’s ineffective and does not create positive change in the world. Having my own business means never-ending hustling and having to deal with constant uncertainty. But by focusing on the journey and small wins, speaking to the customers and investing in people’s lives, the journey makes it all worthwhile.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be a female founder?
Put yourself out of your comfort zone. Defy the societal norm. Take programming courses; be interested in STEM related field, take design and product management courses. Take interest in industries that’s dominated by men. You will be surprised at how fun it can be and how amazing you would be at it. Your voice and experience as a female matter in these industries.
Do you have mentors? How did you find them?
I have many mentors from all walks of life from various industries. Many of whom I have approached after listening to them on a panel or being involved with their organizations they support and lead. Many of my mentors have become my go-to for personal and career advice.
Do you mentor students? If so, what are your criteria?
I take on 2-3 mentees every year for the past decade. From high school and college students who approach me at conferences where I give keynotes or new board members or volunteers joining the organization I lead and serve. My criteria for accepting mentees are simple but a difficult one: proactive initiation of asking for help and sustaining the relationship by regular check-ins. It’s difficult to mentor someone when I don’t know what he or she are dealing with. By the time I reach out, a lot of opportunities to provide insight, mentorship and advice for timing are missed. You don’t have to be perfect, that’s what mentors are for.
What’s one advice you have for Network Capital?
There is no right or wrong career path for people. Everyone walks his or her own journey. Be excited to write your own story within a company as an intrapreneur or as your own company founder. Life is not a race. Not a marathon. It’s a very long walk. You get to decide how you want to walk that road. Enjoy the walk.