By Robyn Stark
Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM
Most people in their 20s are searching for a company to work for; Misa Chien '08 creates her own. The 28-year-old serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the popular Nom Nom banh mi truck started her first business out of her UCLA dorm room, turning thrift-store and garage-sale buys into profit. Now her newest venture, Fosubo, is gaining attention and winning awards — out of 35 cities, the start-up won first place at AngelHack's Global Demo Day finals.
Q: Many people want to launch a start-up. Few succeed. What do successful entrepreneurs have in common?
A: I don't know one serial entrepreneur who has had a successful business every time. You have to be resilient, open to change, open to standing up to your fears and open to failing. Those who become successful have overcome failure in the past or they're open to failing.
Q: What is one instance of failure that you turned into a successful learning curve?
A: When I was running Nom Nom Truck, I had a lot of difficulty managing a team, and I really felt it was a major weakness of mine. However, after three years of working with many different types of people, I now understand the types of personalities with which I work best, and I also understand my own management style. Growing pains can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult, but one of the best gifts that life can give.
Q: If being a successful entrepreneur means opening yourself up to failure, at what point do you throw in the towel and cut your losses?
A: That is a tough question. I would say it's really good to have stamina and not give up, but there is a point when you need to be honest with yourself. If after more than a year you have tried a lot of different things and your business is still not working, it might be good to go into a different field or test a different idea. If you are extremely unhappy for more than just a couple of months, it's a good time to move on.
Q: How did UCLA help you develop as an entrepreneur?
A: UCLA provided me with a network and a group of friends and connections who have supported me through really great and really difficult times in business. I've kept in touch with all of my friends, especially all of my girlfriends, from UCLA from freshman year until now. I know those people will always be there for me, and having that great support for my work is so important.
Q: What's the smartest business decision you've ever made?
A: Following my passion.
Q: What's the dumbest business decision you've ever made?
A: Allowing emotion to overpower rational thinking in critical situations.
Q: Where do you get ideas for new businesses?
A: I have a lot of friends who own their own businesses, both from UCLA and outside UCLA, and hanging around those people who have a lot of new ideas and business opportunities is always great. New opportunities always come up. It's important to be open to whatever is currently on the table, if the timing is right.
Q: Tell us about your new venture.
A: Our company is called Fosubo [an acronym for "forget the suggestion box"], and it's an employee-centric feedback system where customers can individually review employees through their smart phones. Right now, we are working with one of the largest mobile retailers in Los Angeles. After customers leave the store, they receive a text [with a link to a survey; in exchange for a coupon, they can give feedback on their experience at the store]. In turn, employees can get our daily login with all of the reviews, and managers and corporate receive a weekly report. So, it's a way to get everyone involved in improving customer feedback and focusing on that one-on-one interaction.
Q: How did this idea come about? Was it prompted by a former employee or business?
A: Actually, yes! When I ran Nom Nom Truck, I would log on to Yelp regularly to see customer reviews. For the really positive or negative ones, I would try to figure out which review to attribute to which employee and, of course, it was impossible to tell that because it's a very generic review. I realized there was no software out there focusing on allowing customers to individually review ... service trucks. On top of that, I realized there's not a system to evaluate individual employees in terms of their customer service. We want to solve that at Fosubo; we allow customers to individually review employees and give the businesses insight on that interaction.
Q: As a woman running a business, do you feel there are preconceived notions that you have to battle? And, if so, how do you do it day in and day out?
A: Although there are very few women CEOs in the tech industry, I have found everyone in this community to be extremely supportive of women, and it has been a great experience so far.
Q: What's your dream venture?
A: Honestly, I just love running a business, I love building an awesome product, building an awesome team of people that I love working with and making a difference in the world. I feel in my blood this is what I'm meant to do, build something from the ground up. So, I'm living my dream right now. Down the line, I would love to raise a Series A [funding for this company]. Our goal is to raise our first Series A in a little over a year. It will be cool to go through that process and build up the company.