Women in Business Q&A: Yi Li, CEO, Orbeus, Creators of PhotoTime

Yi Li is passionate about leveraging technology to build creative products that people enjoy using. Prior to joining Orbeus, Yi was Project Manager at IBM Global Technology Services in China, where her primary responsibility was the IBM-Huawei jointly developed Smart Workspace@Mobile solution. After relocating to the US, Yi worked as a Business Analyst and Quality Assurance Analyst at Merkle, one of the largest and fastest-growing customer relationship marketing (CRM) agencies in the US. Yi holds a Master's degree in Information Management from the McCallum Graduate School of Business at Bentley University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My dad is a businessman. Traveling around when I was little has made me more accepting, more considerate, and, learnt how to adapt my plans to changing situations. As one of the co-founders of my startup I found myself quickly changing from an active, hands-on role in the building of our product to a leadership role where I needed to direct and motivate our growing team as we scaled our business.

It has been two years since we founded the company and I am still learning to evolve and grow with the needs of our business. Not only will learn how to better manage the flow of information, but more importantly, learning to delegate responsibilities, to better serve and protect my army.

How has your previous employment experience aided your role at PhotoTime?
When I graduated Bentley, I moved to northern Massachusetts, and I worked in a little town called Marlborough. Every morning, I'd go to the Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee and a croissant. I didn't have much time travel around the world, but I had time to hanging out with my friends and having a good time during night and weekend hours. Life was good back then, if I could remember it.

So I started the idea of taking an active role in consciously creating memories by taking photos of my life moments, like a LifeLogger. And, I like to keep things organized. These flashbulb memories, when they came together, it's not just to define an event, but my emotional connection to it. However, every two weeks, it would take me at least two days to manually tagging and organizing all my photos, which I'm starting to get tired of.

I've been looking for a solution, but there's none. This is why we've built PhotoTime, the smartest photo album for iPhone, which employs image recognition to automatically tag and group your photos.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in technology?
First, try you best to become a believer of equal opportunities, or at least have the confidence in believing it's getting there, and we can accelerate the process. If we believe that opportunities are equally to those who are smart and hard working, then the only variable is the condition inside of the organization, and that's where leadership matters.

Actually, by nature, women are super sweet and considerate, they always make the choice to scarifies their time and love for their babies and families. The same logic actually could apply in work places. We can be smart and considerate at the same time. Leadership is a choice, not a rank. Not an authority. If we treat our own team as to our family, we would choose to scarifies ourselves so that our people can feel safe and protected. And when we do, the nature response is that our people will scarifies for us.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Well, I think I'm still too young or too junior to give a profound suggestion on how should people maintain their work and life balance. For myself, as an entrepreneur, my work is the majority of my life at the current stage. We work together as a company, and we life and have fun together as a family. I can say I am still learning the ways of balancing a career life.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions, where I may not have a good answer for. The necessity in many prestigious jobs is to put in very long work hours, so energy-levels is a big issue for women in the workplace, especially for women who have to put many more hours into household activities - like cooking, house cleaning, and picking up the kids - to other people.
Rather than telling the differences between women and men are in the workplace, I think that it is more important to talk about what are main qualifications and requirements needed by a certain job.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at PhotoTime?
I am proud that PhotoTime is the first app that brings intelligent photo recognition technology to the public. With good performance and fast processing speed, the app makes picture organizing much easier and more fun than ever before. To achieve this goal, we put up a team with strong background in computer vision. We have research scientists experienced in artificial intelligence, developers previously working at top-tier tech companies and business gurus who have rich startup experience. Having built a ReKognition API platform capable of recognizing faces, objects and sceneries, we are very happy to see our technology can contribute to other companies' product development - the API platform is currently serving more 6000 individual and businesses worldwide. Being the leader of PhotoTime team, I feel very thankful that I can work with my amazing team members and learn from them every day.

Speaking of PhotoTime, it's the very first time for our team to work on a B2C application. After PhotoTime was launched and featured on app store, our team has received many feedbacks from our users who gave us a lot of valuable suggestions and advices. One of our biggest challenges now is how to make PhotoTime accomodate all their needs. Since PhotoTime is an artificial intelligent app, we also expect our users can be engaged with the app more actively. The more they use app, the more intelligent our app will be. Optimistically, we have received strong support from many people in Silicon Valley and we are confident that our team is able to make PhotoTime better and better.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I do not have a specific person as my mentor in my professional and personal life but I am fortunate to have a group of girls on PhotoTime's team who are independent and supportive, and passionate about what PhotoTime is doing. It is amazing that while coming from different backgrounds, we share similar mind on breaking the stereotype of women and come to Silicon Valley that is often regarded as a men dominant world.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I greatly admire Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America. The first time I saw her TED Talk, my team and I were still at the incubator in Chicago. During that time, as a newb to the entrepreneurial world, I was struggling to figure out how to make our startup survive. Jennifer's talk opened a new door for me. She was running Code for America, which works with talented web professionals and cities around the country to promote public service and reboot government. Being a woman leader in a tech startup is not easy, and being a woman leader in a non-profit startup is more difficult. What Jennifer has taught me is a good company aims to feed their customers' needs but a great company has the vision of advancing the society. This idea has embedded in PhotoTime's value proposition, which we hope people can recall their beautiful life moments more easily and bring the connections among people much closer.

What do you want PhotoTime to accomplish in the next year?
I am excited to see that PhotoTime is growing rapidly and more and more people are enjoying "Photo Time". In the next year, as a technology driven app, PhotoTime aims to enhance the user experience to a new level in which customers can benefit our technology from different perspectives.