Meebo’s co-founder on her advice for aspiring founders, the silliness of no-sleep bravado and why Nelson Mandela is one of her design icons.
By Lauren Kim (Events Coordinator, Women 2.)
This week, Elaine Wherry, co-founder and Chief Experience Officer (CXO) of Meebo, acquired by Google last year for $100M, sits down to tell us more about herself. Read on to learn what she wishes she knew at the start of her entrepreneurial journey, her favorite role models, and what innovations she looks forward to in the year 2020. Watch Elaine discuss the top “10 Urban Legends In Hiring” in the video above!
What is the one thing you wish you knew at the start of your entrepreneurial journey?
Totally unfair question! It’s like asking someone what they would do differently if they went through puberty again. But here are three things…
First, I wish I appreciated business models more from the beginning. I gave my founders more grief than they deserved by only wearing the product hat for a long while.
Second, if I could travel back in time, I’d tell myself to take every advanced Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign class that I could. I thought I knew these programs pretty well just from using them on a casual day-to-day basis. But knowing the shortcut keys, how to use masks, and limitations of each program is huge. It would have saved me a lot of late-night prototyping hours.
And a short plug — the Bay Area Video Coalition offers *free* Adobe classes for organizations with fewer than 30 people (excluding founders — sorry). I’ve taken so many weekend classes there now that I know about them.
Third, sleep. There’s all this startup bravado around how many hours you aren’t sleeping to prove your commitment. It’s bogus. It’ll catch up with you and you’ll crash at some point. And until then, you’re just not a productive or fun person to be around. Sleep!
What do you love most about your job?
At Meebo, I loved working with my team and growing individuals. No matter how amazing your initial idea is, your wonderful startup starts to lose a little luster around years 3-4 (though no one would ever admit to it!). But if you’ve hired well, the team will continue to excite you and you’ll get out of bed each morning to see how folks push the product and vision forward.
What is your favorite or most inspiring book that you would recommend to founders and why?
Hire With Your Head by Lou Adler. You’re going to spend potentially 50% of your time interviewing and building your team. Learn how to do it well. This book never left my desk at Meebo. I can’t recommend it enough.
Where is the one place you go to relax and get away from the pressures of startup life?
At Meebo, my go-to spot was Mercy-Bush Park, just a few blocks away. When I was overwhelmed, I’d go there and swing for 10-15 minutes just to clear my mind. There are families, dog walkers, and retirees people-watching from benches. Just a few minutes of changing your scenery and hearing children’s laughter or watching dogs chase sticks really helps.
Who is your greatest role model and what would you ask them if you could meet her or him for coffee?
I have two right now. The first is Walter Gropius who founded the Bauhaus school and had a vision to band the best designers of his era together to rethink design from the ground up — all while being sandwiched between two world wars. The group’s influence is everywhere today. I would love to know what inspired him.
Second, Nelson Mandela and the leaders behind the South African Constitution. When someone says you don’t want to design anything by democracy, constitutions are the exception to the rule. They are designed by large groups with conflicting interests and there are usually a few leaders in that group who keep the spirit of the conversation alive and going despite conflicts and differences. And Nelson Mandela in particular because I wouldn’t have imagined the forgiveness and unity that he inspired would be possible in one lifetime — including this constitution and Bill of Rights which many to consider to be the most forward-thinking and progressive constitution to date. I wish I could just ask Nelson Mandela or one of the participating leaders for a play-by-play on what happened at the ground level.
What do you envision the future will look like in the year 2020?
Raspberry Pi and Arduino projects are fantastic but still out of reach for most people. And as much as I’d love everyone in the world to know how to solder and code, that’s probably not realistic! I’d be willing to trade some of the flexibility for beautiful, multi-purpose sensors that everyone can use — like a small, beautiful all-in-one thermocoupler, movement sensor, and wi-fi-enabled device with a power source that says “be a thermostat, be a doorbell, or track your location.” Did I mention that it has to be beautiful?
Want to hear Elaine discuss the “Top 10 Urban Legends in Hiring”? Watch the video above!
What Is Lightning Lessons?
Lightning Lessons is a weekly live broadcast on Wednesday mornings where Women 2.0 sits down with a tech innovator to learn about the game-changing stories of their startup journey and the hard lessons they learned along the way. Take a quick 10 minutes out of your day to learn from the mistakes and feats of your predecessors. Innovators jump in a Google Hangout On Air moderated by a Women 2.0 team member for a bit of story-time and the entire session is broadcast on Google+ for your viewing pleasure. See the full lineup of past and upcoming speakers, and catch up on last week’s session with Laura Yecies (acting CEO, Catch.com; former CEO, SugarSync).
Read on to learn a little more about our upcoming Lightning Lessons #10 speaker.
Elaine Wherry (Co-Founder & CXO, Meebo – Acquired by Google)
Elaine Wherry was co-founder and Chief Experience Officer (CXO) for Meebo, a consumer Internet company that enabled millions of users to chat, share, and connect with their online friends before being acquired by Google in 2012.
Prior to starting Meebo, Wherry worked at Synaptics as a Human Factors Researcher and later became the Manager of Usability and Design. Wherry, a classically trained violinist, graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Symbolic Systems and a concentration in Human Computer Interaction. She is a recipient of the Founders Fund TechFellows Award in Engineering Leadership. She is a frequent speaker and her work has been featured in numerous publications including Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, and CBS.
Today she mentors aspiring entrepreneurs, fulfills an advisory role with several incubators, publishes Silicon Valley thoughts on her blog ewherry.com, and is taking a quick breath before diving into her next startup journey.
Lauren Kim (@LaurenJisoo) currently serves as the events coordinator at Women 2.0. Lauren holds a BA in Development Studies from U.C. Berkeley and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and women’s issues. In her spare time, she competes in hackathons and snowboards.
Photo credit: Drew McLellan via Flickr.