WIN Spotlight: Lindsay Liu
Welcome to a new edition of "WIN Spotlight", an ongoing series that celebrates inspirational women in our community. Each interview features a member of Women in Innovation who is championing innovation at her organization. We dig into the diverse perspectives, influencers, missions, drivers, and dreams of these leaders, and of course share practical tips.
We're very excited to feature Lindsay Liu, Group Director, Marketing at Work & Co, a leader that has truly set the standard for innovation across the industry, one of WIN's first members, and a serial entrepreneur on the side. We caught up on an (almost!) spring day at Lindsay's offices in DUMBO, Brooklyn.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’ve been responsible for growth of brands and businesses at various agencies for around ten years, and currently I work on marketing and new business at Work & Co. What that often means is I’m behind the scenes finding and vetting project opportunities and sharing the project stories with press, awards, and events. I also sometimes work on client projects; I helped Fast Company launch its first chatbot for the 2016 Innovation Festival.
I love the pace of work agency-side. I get to work alongside the industry’s best designers, engineers, and product people to create the things people use every day for companies like Apple, Planned Parenthood, and YouTube. We are tasked with solving very real challenges — whether that’s a tough conversion problem, creating a new brand and business, or creating a new interaction model that will change user behavior.
Delivering tangible, measurable results is what really motivates me. That emphasis on metrics may be attributable to my training in the sciences. But I think it’s also broadly what drives everyone at Work & Co. Our focus is on shipping digital products — web and mobile apps, kiosks, e-commerce platforms — that people love to use. Digital products at their best create measurable, lasting value for our clients and their customers. For me, that means ensuring we continue to partner with great clients on core digital products that can drive big impact. It’s fun and challenging work. No two days are the same.
What are the life moments that most influenced who/where you are today?
Over a decade ago, I was at on track to go to med school. I completed all my pre-medical requirements at Carnegie Mellon and spent summers interning in hospitals. A couple years in, I realized med school wasn’t for me. I won’t wax too philosophical... but being inside the system wasn’t going to spark the type of change I had ambitions to see. Instead of switching majors and spending more time in school, I decided the right path was to get real work experience and learn on the job. So I worked with my college advisor, Dr. Amy Burkert, to find a path to completing my degree in three years instead of four, all while working part-time at an SEO/SEM consultancy.
That real experience is what I am most grateful for — week one at my first job in New York, I was running QA testing on a global website. If you had asked me the week before what QA stood for, I couldn’t have told you. That kind of environment forces you to learn and adapt, way faster than any class can.
If you had to choose one, who is the woman that most inspires you? Why? (Go beyond the obvious heroes!)
I am fortunate that I get to ask myself (and those around me) this question constantly for an event series I helped kick-off at Work & Co called Q&A. We invite inspiring leaders in their crafts for a candid conversation with us — we just hosted Chief Brand Officer of Planned Parenthood, Dawn Laguens.
Since it’s unlikely we’ll get her for a Q&A soon... I’ll add that Reese Witherspoon gives me the goosebumps. If you haven’t yet, watch her 2015 speech at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, where she talks about how her production company is forcing change by proving that female-driven films can make money. What’s most inspiring to me is that her activism is through her actions and achievements as a business owner — producing hit shows and films like Big Little Lies and Gone Girl that feature diverse leads and storylines.
What is the best advice someone has given you?
Going back to my point on getting real-world experience, that was advice my sister Christy stressed. She’s a tech entrepreneur with a successful exit under her belt. She’s fearless in just trying new things, and she’s definitely pushed me in that direction too.
As a leader in this field, what is your advice for any woman in innovation?
The best ideas aren’t necessarily the loudest ones in the room. A diversity of perspectives is crucial to get to great ideas that will work for various audiences. That means the perspective you bring as a woman is incredibly valuable. I believe it also goes one step further — to be a champion for diversity and inclusion within your teams, company, and clients.
We LOVE your confidence. Do you have any tips or tricks or advice for the women of WIN?
I once had a manager tell me, “you’re quite confident” (as feedback on ways to improve), so it’s really awesome to be asked this question on these terms.
Definitely know your material, and watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on body language if you haven’t already. For me, the next step is finding a perspective and point of view on the topic that I am passionate about and can connect with. Finding what you truly believe in makes it easy to express it with confidence — and authentically, even when off script.
You have so many amazing side hustles. What are some of the biggest lessons — both in business and in life — that you have learned through this work?
It’s called a hustle for a reason! You learn so much from side projects, including what you really love enough to spend your nights and weekends on (and who you want to spend them with). A few years ago, I started a food stand with my partner, Dan. For two years, we spent every weekend at markets, serving made-to-order Dutch pancakes. It was exhausting! I also co-manage a small real estate “syndicate” that includes a weekend home/rental property in upstate New York, as well as run an all-natural home goods venture called Bare.
This past year, I started a nonprofit with two women from work called The Taco Stand, that creates designer statement gear for charity. It’s been really rewarding — we just donated our first $1000 in proceeds to Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, Human Rights Campaign, and the ACLU.
Side hustles teach you how to be resourceful and self sufficient. It also makes you faster and more agile. In our industry, the scale at which we’re used to implementing ideas can impact millions of people. But with a side business, the risk is totally different. You can’t be paralyzed by a decision — there is no one else to get it done. You just have to start.
Do you have any rituals or routines?
I start and end my days the same way. Before bed, I double-check my calendar to see what’s up tomorrow. It helps me mentally prepare and prioritize for the next day. First thing in the morning, I take a few minutes to myself — before checking email, Slack, text. Whether that’s reading an article I’ve saved or watching a funny video, those few minutes are a nice thing to take before diving into the day.
What do you never leave the house without and why?
I always queue up a podcast for my commute before I head out the door. Needless to say, I also always have a fully charged phone!
What is your favorite book and why?
I’m big into fiction, but the one book that’s stuck with me for years is Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World. It’s a fascinating deep dive into how the seemingly mundane fruit has not only made its way into households as a staple, but the immense impact that one thing can have on the world. The title is no exaggeration — did you know refrigerated shipping was invented to transport bananas?
What is your favorite app and why?
Google Photos is a game changer — no more endless scrolling to find that one photo! Being a Google product, the search is really solid. I can search for metadata like locations and dates, and the image recognition AI keeps improving and can recognize objects, places, and faces. I love that it also recognizes pets!
What recent book/movie/TV show/podcast/article made you think the most? Why?
I’m heartened to see recent examples of how diverse leadership can truly change the way a product, company, or story is shaped. National Geographic’s first female and first Jewish editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg, wrote an honest letter for the magazine’s April issue. In it, she not only admits — but openly critiques — how past coverage has impacted perceptions of non-white cultures and races to perpetuate stereotypes. These candid conversations from leaders is really important.
What makes a great innovation?
Amazing execution. I think it’s sometimes underrated in the innovation community. This is as true in the ventures I’ve launched as well as the work we do with clients — taking an idea and turning it into a great business, product, or service takes what we’ve said is more “grit than genius.” The details really matter. And by that I mean, the concept for a new product or service must be great, but if an app takes too long to load or the sign-up process is confusing, then people won’t stick through with it. If you look at the companies and products that have changed behaviors (Airbnb, Amazon), they invest deeply in engineering and design, and the product is never static. It’s always being iterated on.
Photos & interview done by Katie Burwick