Lori Shao is the CEO of Finli, a technology platform that helps micro and small business entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur herself, Lori spent 17 years climbing the corporate ladder in various roles at Fortune 500 companies with a deep focus on payment technology and innovation. On the personal side, Lori grew up in a working-class household, witnessing firsthand that there is no lack of skill and grit but there is a lack of access to the right tools. She set out to build those tools that empower everyday Americans to springboard to new heights. Lori resides in Los Angeles with her husband Derek, two human children, and 11 non-human children.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Lori Shao: I’m a first-generation immigrant and grew up in a working-class household. Watching my parents juggle full-time jobs alongside multiple business endeavors in pursuit of the American Dream, lit a fire in me to dedicate my professional life to support those who look like my parents – everyday people struggling to just “make it.”
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Lori Shao: I believe we’re all born entrepreneurs. It’s life experiences that activate the steps we take to become entrepreneurs but I do believe the entrepreneurial spirit is in all of us. I equate entrepreneurial spirit to our innate ability to switch into survival mode.
My mom is a perfect example to my viewpoint. She couldn’t speak English, obtained an elementary school level education, anti-social with a none existent network she could lean on, and has been physically disabled. When my father collapsed from a serious medical condition that took him out of the workforce for two years, it was my mom who stepped up and carried all of us and our burdens on her frail shoulders. She became an entrepreneur. She might be hugely successful nor could build a scalable business, but she pulled through because there was no other choice.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Lori Shao: As a CEO of a venture-backed fintech company, I must be resilient. Statistics show the odds are against me, a woman, a mother, a POC, to raise capital and succeed in the tech industry. I am living proof that the stats are real because the journey thus far has been unfathomably challenging. If I’m not resilient, I would have abandoned my post and ran back to Corporate America a while ago.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Lori Shao: Finli helps micro and small businesses to get paid and grow. We offer a comprehensive platform that enables business owners to create and send professional invoices, pay $0 to receive payments, manage customers online, and publish business web pages with scheduling and booking features. We continue to iterate our product to stay relevant and helpful to our customers. Over the years, more and more traditional businesses are embracing technology like Finli to help them navigate the digital world and adapt to the new normal. With Finli, our customers get to offload the administrative burdens and redirect their time back to their customers.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Lori Shao: They must recognize a great idea without execution is worthless. With that said, sure 11,000 new businesses are forming daily and a handful might be similar to your business or even better than your business but that’s all ok. Starting a business is starting a marathon. You will feel burn out, you will pivot, you will fight imposter syndrome, but that’s what the journey is all about. Allow yourself to learn from mistakes but always get back on your path and charge forward.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Lori Shao: The first product we built at Finli turned out to be a vitamin and not a painkiller. It was a painkiller for me, as in, it solved the problems in my life. I quickly realized after spending a few months and my savings building the product, that the product was not viable. The lesson learned is to always talk to as many potential customers as possible and obtain data points. Your assumption is just ONE data point.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Lori Shao: Slow down. When I moved early on at rapid speed, I was tunnel-visioned. At the earliest stage, you must keep your eyes and ears wide open and have a clear idea of the direction you’re headed with ample supporting data.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Lori Shao: The most memorable worst advice was an early-stage investor telling me I should go raise a $300,000 “Friends and Family” round of capital so I can quit my day job and work on Finli full-time. He had all the best of intentions but that was not only unrealistic but reflective of the abundance of privilege in the tech ecosystem that never included founders like myself. I don’t have friends and family who could give me $300,000 to gamble with nor would I feel comfortable asking. I learned that I was different but that’s perfectly fine.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Lori Shao: We all assume we need a well-thought-out plan before starting a business. COVID-19 taught us, the best plan is flexible and agile. The problem you’re solving might shift due to macro impacts, which means your product/solutions might change as result, but the market you serve should remain the same.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Lori Shao: I think one of the common myths is that their idea is valuable. I believe in execution to make that idea a reality and truly have a business once you can distribute the solution effectively.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Lori Shao: Have conviction because that’s your superpower to plow through setbacks. Be self-motivated to shush your negative voice talking yourself out of taking action. Communicate effectively to articulate your vision – must have to bring on early employees and promote your vision. Prioritize self-care because you need to be healthy physically and mentally to run and win this marathon.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Lori Shao: You will never feel completely “ready” but you could get yourself close to it through preparation. I would make sure to identify a close network of supporters in a form of a spouse, a potential co-founder, others in a similar stage. Doesn’t have to be many people, just one or two would be awesome. This is a tough and lonely road. When we fall, it means the world to have someone who just “gets you” cheering you on from the sidelines.
Book recommendation: Grit by Angela Duckworth
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Lori Shao: If not an entrepreneur, I would choose to be a teacher. Without the amazing teachers in my life who encouraged me to pursue my dreams, I fear to imagine where I’d be today. I want to play that role and positively influence the lives of others.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Lori Shao: I would like to add Mother Teresa because her humanitarian efforts are deserving of recognition and it would be nice to have female representation
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Lori Shao for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Lori Shao or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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