Women in Business Q&A: Yinglian Xie and Fang Yu, Co-Founders, Datavisor

Women in Business Q&A: Yinglian Xie and Fang Yu, Co-Founders, Datavisor
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Yinglian has over 10 years of experience in security. Her work has been focusing on fighting large-scale attacks, where she combines parallel-computing techniques, algorithms for mining large datasets, and security-domain knowledge into a new theme of solutions in "big data for security." In the past, Yinglian worked at Microsoft Research and collaborated with many product groups to improve the security of hundreds of millions of online users. She received her Ph.D. degree from the Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University.

Fang's work focuses on "big-data for security." Over the past 10 years, she has been developing algorithms and building systems for identifying various malicious traffic such as worms, spam, bot queries, faked and hijacked account activities, and fraudulent financial transactions. Fang received her Ph.D. degree from the EECS Department at University of California at Berkeley.

How has your life experience made you the leaders you are today?
Yinglian: I've always tried to go beyond my own comfort zone and explore, take risks, and tackle big challenges. Like many teenagers, I chose a university far from home. After college, I wanted to be in the United States to pursue research and have the opportunity to do so in the best environment. These steps may seem scary at first, but I've never regretted making these decisions. With DataVisor, it is another new adventure beyond the research realm to have a tangible and rewarding impact.

Fang: Being from an academic background, when you work on a PhD, you are working on things that have never been done before. In a lot of ways, that mirrors entering the the startup world. It's a brand new endeavor and we have tried to tackle it the same way. You need both courage and skills to work on challenging problems. It's the confidence and methods learned during the PhD process that help me to learn quickly, adapt quickly and move forward quickly.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at DataVisor?
Yinglian: Fang and I met at Microsoft where we were both researchers with access to the best technology out there. Together we have developed concrete and cutting-edge solutions to difficult, real world problems. We were surrounded by curiosity and innovation and that is a big part of what we've built at DataVisor. That drive for innovation is embedded deep in our roots and impacts everything we do now.

Fang: Throughout our careers, we've worked with some of the most brilliant researchers in the world. It helped us push ourselves to do new research and solve new problems. It's important to remember that true innovation is a process, as long as you continue to learn and grow throughout it, you can make yourself, and your company, better.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DataVisor?
Yinglian: Overcoming the challenges of building a startup has led to some of the biggest highlights.

We started everything from the ground level. As with many companies in Silicon Valley, it can be a challenge to figure out the culture we want for our team. With any business, it isn't just about skill set, but also fit.

Our company is highly technical, so we are looking for not only the brightest minds, but people who bring a startup, roll-up-your-sleeves, mentality. People who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty and do whatever it takes to push what seems like an impossible idea into production.

Fang: Thankfully, as two women who have collaborated together for so long, we've had similar experiences, share similar values and support each other in work and in life. We always have someone to bounce an idea off of or talk through a challenge. I feel lucky that we are able to work through each challenge and learn as we go.

There are a number of challenges that come along with starting a company for the first time and fundraising was definitely one. It's a very complicated process full of industry terms and jargon, but we had each other and some great mentors to help guide us through each of the steps successfully.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Yinglian: My mother is always very supportive of me and what I want to pursue in both life and in work, and I want to pass on the same support to my daughter: If you are passionate about something, work hard for it.

It's important for all women to have that level of support outside of their own family. The typical image of a woman is risk-averse, not as self-confident and less likely to go into a field like engineering. We hope our experiences provide some encouragement to other women to be brave, follow your passion no matter what the subject is and go for it.

Fang and I had many business ideas prior to founding DataVisor. We were constantly brainstorming different options and at one point we were even going to start our own jewelry company. But what drove us, our passion, was innovation and technology. Even though we were two women looking to start a company, and that might seem a bit odd, we knew that was what we wanted to do. If you follow your passion, you will make a positive impact in the world.

Fang: Agreed. My advice to women, and all founders really, is to work on something about which you are passionate. You will be investing too much of your own blood, sweat and tears to not care for your work. Also, focus on building a good team and network who are driven by the same things you are. When things are not going smoothly, you need to be surrounded by folks who can help you right the ship and push you forward.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Yinglian: Don't over analyze everything to the point that you are paralyzed with fear. If you are passionate, and you want to do something, go for it.

There were so many questions we had before starting DataVisor and of course there were times when we doubted ourselves. Even though we knew we had the technological background, were we going to be able to pull this off? Were we going to get funding? It was difficult to move past doubt but you have to go do it. You will never find out if you can do it or not unless you try.

Fang: Never let your own fear or doubt stop you. Admit what you don't know, learn it or find someone who does, and move forward.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Yinglian: As a woman, work/life balance can seem a particularly challenging and daunting task. Fang and I are both mothers and we get it. But in order to find balance, you have to stay disciplined. We try to be as efficient as possible at work by recruiting and empowering the best people. At home, your family is counting on you as well. I encourage my children to be independent so that family time is a time together for fun activities rather than just getting things done.

Fang: Everyone wants balance and it's something we consciously strive for at DataVisor. We are not only co-founders, we are wives and mothers. It becomes a matter of prioritizing and being efficient. Of course sometimes there are sacrifices, but we try to make it so that is the exception, not the norm.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Yinglian: One of the most difficult issues women have to overcome is lack confidence. When we first started, we feared that having two female co-founders at the helm of a tech company would lead to a particularly hard bootstrap. But like I said, you never know until you go for it.

Fang: One of the biggest issues for women is battling misperceptions. Often, people have a misperception that women are inferior to men in certain jobs, especially engineering-related professions. The truth is that good engineers come from both genders. For the females who choose engineering majors, you can do as good a job, if not better, than your male peers. At DataVisor, we are well balanced and have incredibly talented female employees helping us grow the company.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Yinglian: Mentors, both male and female, have made a difference in my life. There are always things you have not done, but you can likely find someone who can offer perspective on these challenges and issues you are facing, whether personal or professional. Seek guidance and learn from other people's successes and failures.

Fang: Mentorship has made a huge impact on my life. I've been surrounded by brilliant advisors, mentors, and peer researchers, even some Turing award winners. We were never micromanaged and given a lot of freedom to pursue great work. We were mentored, supported in what we wanted to do, provided resources if we needed them, and encouraged. That made a big impact on me and how we want the environment at DataVisor to be as well.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Yinglian: One woman I've always admired is Agatha Christie. Her detective stories were always so interesting and a source of inspiration for my love of security. She is one of the top-selling authors of all time, male or female, and full of creative story ideas that she has shared with the world.

Fang: I like Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. It echoed a lot of what I believe are really important values, especially for women leaders.

What do you want DataVisor to accomplish in the next year?
Yinglian: We are a young company so growth is definitely our main focus right now. Not only are we looking to grow our team and our customer base, but more importantly, continue to innovate and make our technology better. We're not only protecting users today, but preparing to fight against the fraudsters of tomorrow as well. It's a constant evolution and we have to focus on moving forward and staying one step ahead.

Fang: We want to continue to grow and move forward. DataVisor is already helping people solve problems across a number of industry sectors, since fraud is an issue in many other worlds besides finance, and we want to continue to build up our proof points and make an impact in the social, ecommerce and mobile markets.

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