How I Became A Founder: Searchlight.ai’s Anna Wang

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Anna is the CTO and co-founder of Searchlight. She focuses on the product, design, and engineering behind the Searchlight platform that helps companies get the best signal on candidate behavioral fit from the people who know them best. Before graduating from YC’s W19 batch and raising funding from investors like Accel and Founders Fund, she spent time as a software engineer at Uber, product manager at Google, and management consultant at McKinsey. She got her B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science (Human-Computer Interaction and Artificial Intelligence) from Stanford University, where she served as Senior Class President.

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Searchlight.ai cofounder Anna Wang.

Frederick Daso: When did you first gain interest in being a founder?

Anna Wang: I’ve always optimized for learning. Each year while at Stanford, I chose the summer opportunity that would put me on the fastest learning trajectory, be it exposing me to different business sectors or teaching me a different skill set. After 4 years, I’d bounced from software engineering to product management to management consulting. After experiencing engineering in Panama City and Silicon Valley, product management in big tech at Google, and management consulting for traditional financial institutions through McKinsey, I realized that:

  1. A big company environment wasn’t right for me at this stage in my life.
  2. I had collected a broad problem-solving skill set that was complementary to Kerry’s. The two of us were a great team that could take strides towards solving real problems.

This is when Kerry and I seriously considered starting a company.

Daso: What were the key experiences that helped you be in the position you are today?

Wang: The internship experiences I had during college felt like a random walk at the time, but make a lot of sense in hindsight. The breadth of learning gave me the foundational skills in engineering, product management, and problem-solving that I still use every day. Y Combinator was another huge accelerant — for a young founder like myself, it was the best way to get a crash course in what to do and not to do when in the early stages of building a company.

Daso: Who were the important individuals or groups that contributed to your professional success, and why?

Wang: I wouldn’t be where I am today without Kerry. It’s a gift to be able to work with my twin — as we shared in our YC application, we met in the womb and have been partners ever since. Our complimentary skillsets and work styles empower us to have a tremendous amount of trust and intuitive communication with each other as we build a company. I’m also grateful to our parents, immigrants from China, who taught us that hard work can overcome 95% of challenges (and then you just roll with the last 5%). And I’m thankful for my Searchlight teammates, investors, and advisors who have supported us thus far — they bring so much collective wisdom to Searchlight. I’m lucky to work with such brilliant, high-caliber people.

Daso: How did you prepare for yourself to become a founder?

Wang: I don’t think that anyone can prepare to be a founder — you have to just dive in and be a founder. I was lucky that my experiences before Searchlight set me up well with a broad problem-solving toolkit and the necessary work ethic. I think that the real preparation started when I became a founder, and I made mistakes. That’s when I learned resilience, which is the most important founder trait!

Daso: Were there any particular clubs at school that were good resources for breaking into your current field?

Wang: I was a Senior Class President while at Stanford, and I was really involved with the Society of Women Engineers, helping women engineers get access to more professional opportunities. I’m grateful for these experiences because of the people I got to work with. Company-building is a team sport, and I’m beginning to see my experiences in college as great exposure to what great teams feel like.

Daso: What do you think stops most people from becoming a founder?

Wang: There are lots of reasons why becoming a founder doesn’t make sense, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just to name one reason — being a founder comes with some financial risk. Especially given recent events, COVID-19 and its effects on the economy, there are clear reasons why sometimes the financial risk isn’t feasible.

Daso: Looking back, would you change anything about your professional path?

Wang: It really feels like my experiences before Searchlight aligned in a way where starting a company was the logical choice: it was the best way for me to grow fast — both personally and professionally — while making an outsized impact on a real problem in hiring today. I’m excited about my professional path ahead.

Want my Forbes content and the latest tech news delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to my mailing list, Founder to Founder: f2f.substack.com

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to check out my other work on LinkedIn and my personal website, frederickdaso.com. Follow me on Twitter @fredsoda, on Medium @fredsoda, and on Instagram @fred_soda.

Written by

Forbes Under 30 Contributor, 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice, Venture Fellow at Rough Draft Ventures

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