Ascent Podcast Ep. 6 – Vanessa Liu, VP @ SAP.iO

In episode six of the Ascent podcast, Andrew Tarvin speaks with Vanessa Liu, Vice President of SAP.iO Foundries North America. They discuss topics including diversity and inclusion in the start-up community, habits of successful entrepreneurs, and Vanessa’s experience working with founders at SAP’s accelerator. Andrew and Vanessa also discuss thoughts on their outlook for 2021 and the changing nature of the start-up community.


Andrew Tarvin [00:00:00] Hello everyone, welcome to the Ascent Podcast, a live video conversation where we get to know the humans behind some of the top leaders in tech. My name is Andrew Tarvin. I will be your host and emcee for today. And I’m incredibly excited because we’re going to be talking to Vanessa Liu, the VP of SAP.iO, SAP.iO Foundries North America. But first, a few quick announcements. If you are joining us live on YouTube or Facebook: Hello and welcome. As we’re chatting, certainly feel free to make some comments in the chat, share any ideas that stand out to you, things that you’re like, “Oh, that’s a fantastic point that Vanessa just said.” Certainly share that. And of course, if you have questions of our guest, feel free to drop those in the chat as well. We may be going to those a little bit later. If you are listening to this on a traditional podcast platform, well, then all you have to do is sit back and enjoy. But also, don’t forget to subscribe and rate the podcast on that service. Now, I’m particularly excited about today’s guest. Vanessa and I were chatting just a little bit beforehand, and we’re probably only an hour or so driving apart, maybe not even that much. She is currently in the Netherlands. I’m currently in Germany. We spent way too long talking about bikes. That’s why we are a few minutes past the hour because we’re talking about bikes in that region. But I’m really excited because Vanessa Liu is the VP of SAP.iO Foundries North America, which is SAP’s accelerator for B2B enterprise startups. She is a business builder, digital media entrepreneur and technology innovator, and has been building, launching and relaunching six businesses over a span of 20 years. She has helped accelerate more than 50 early stage B2B enterprise startups, primarily led by women and diverse founders. And she enjoys thinking and reading about what’s next, while also running around after her two children. So with that being said, please welcome to your eyes and ears, Vanessa Liu.

Vanessa Liu [00:01:59] Hi. Hello!

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:02] Ah so I’m so excited to be chatting with you today.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:05] Now, our listeners may already know this, but we start right off first with a rapid fire round just to get to know you a little bit more as a human. And so you can kind of answer with one or two word responses. But are you ready for the rapid fire round?

Vanessa Liu [00:02:20] Go right ahead.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:22] All right. Excellent. We’re jumping right in. First question for you is, are you a morning person or a night owl?

Vanessa Liu [00:02:27] Morning person. 100%.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:29] OK, all right. How early is early?

Vanessa Liu [00:02:33] Seven thirty. Seven thirty to nine thirty are my most productive hours.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:39] Oh OK, I like it, all right, not to bad. All right. Apple or Android?

Vanessa Liu [00:02:43] Apple.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:45] Yeah, clearly.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:47] Introvert or extrovert?

Vanessa Liu [00:02:50] Extrovert.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:51] OK, all right.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:53] Maybe partially a challenge in the pandemic. I’m an introvert, so there’s things that have been like, oh, staying at home, socially distancing from people, that’s easy peasy for me.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:03] Uh, let’s see, when you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to become?

Vanessa Liu [00:03:07] An astronaut.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:08] Ooh, very nice.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:10] So have you been paying attention to the recent kind of resurgence of a lot of visits with space and things?

Vanessa Liu [00:03:15] Absolutely. One hundred percent. I mean, this is something that I’ve been following for years. So, most kids abandon their dreams to become an astronaut at about 10. I harbored that until I was twenty one.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:29] Uh huh, I like it. Who knows? Maybe, maybe there’s still an opportunity. Would you, quick side note, would you take a trip to Mars?

Vanessa Liu [00:03:36] Mars is a bit far away. It takes a year to get there. So, I mean, I’ve thought about that. I actually wrote an essay about that when I was younger.

Vanessa Liu [00:03:45] Back then, I would be willing to. Now, being middle aged I’m like, there are not so many years left. I don’t know if I would like to be trapped on a vehicle for a year after this last nine months.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:56] Yeah, well, no that’s a very, very good point. Actually, yeah, there’s now that I think about it. The last nine months have maybe been a strategy for the people who have actually done well. They’re like, maybe I could survive for a year in a capsule. Ya know, I’ve been at home anyway. Give me just like Netflix and I’m all good. Um, all right, next question. What’s your current, like, favorite hobby?

Vanessa Liu [00:04:17] I love taking walks. It’s…maybe it’s because of the pandemic and because it frees my mind. It’s not something that I was doing a lot of in New York. In New York, you do, you do it because you need to get from point A to point B. But here I just go for walks just because. And just to look at nature, just to see what is around there. Just to listen to the sounds that surround you. That’s really something that I’ve picked up.

Andrew Tarvin [00:04:45] Oh, I love it.

Andrew Tarvin [00:04:46] And I think there’s actually studies that have talked about that idea of getting back into nature is actually a very helpful thing for mental health and all of that. And creativity, all of that. So, like you, I enjoy it.

Andrew Tarvin [00:04:58] What is a TV series you’re currently watching or have recently finished if you are into watching TV?

Vanessa Liu [00:05:06] So my guilty pleasure has been Bridgerton, that was over the Christmas break. Just like many, many other Shonda Rhimes fans.

Vanessa Liu [00:05:17] But also I introduced finally, successfully the Star Wars episodes to my kids who are twelve and ten. I tried about three years ago and they didn’t really get into it. Over the Christmas break, we just totally went all in.

Andrew Tarvin [00:05:33] Oh, I love it. And so this is watching the movies or watching The Mandalorian or watching The Clone Wars? Like where are you at? You can tell I’m a nerd, like where are you at in the Star Wars fandom?

Vanessa Liu [00:05:42] From the beginning. From the beginning. We started with Empire Strikes Back because the last time we watched Star Wars was three years ago and they were not so into it. Now, they were just like, that was an amazing movie, can we just watch everything else? And so we finished the movies.

Andrew Tarvin [00:05:55] Oh, I love it. I love it. I’m a huge fan of The Mandalorian. It’s really fun on Disney Plus, so you can also check that out. And who is someone who you admire?

Vanessa Liu [00:06:06] So, I also, I love reading memoirs. And so lately I’ve been reading Katharine Graham’s memoir. And so she was the head of The Washington Post, the publisher of The Washington Post for many years. And after her husband died, she would have been someone I would have loved to meet. I mean, just talk about somebody who was incredibly inspirational. And if you think about the role of the press in democracy, especially in today’s days and what she had to go through. Like, she steered The Washington Post through the Watergate era and just thinking about that and just doing it with just such leadership. That’s someone I, I really admire. I’m just really enjoying getting to know her through the words that she penned about her life.

Andrew Tarvin [00:06:56] Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah, I think memoirs are such a fascinating, great way to learn about, ya know, someone. Because you get to see, you hear their thoughts and their process and all that, as opposed to just seeing kind of a surface level of things. Which also is what I appreciate about the podcast, right? We get to know the human a little bit behind the story. And so last question as part of our get to know you round, and you don’t have to actually answer it in just one word. But we’re curious about the, uh, with each person that we have on, we ask the story of what’s the story of your name? Are you named after someone? Where did it come from? Et cetera. So what’s the story of Vanessa Liu?

Vanessa Liu [00:07:31] So my parents are Hong Kong Chinese, and so my name is actually derived from my Chinese name, {Wansiu}, which means beauty. Like, inner beauty is really what it means. And they wanted to find an American, or I should just say, an English name that sounded like that. So I was either going to be Wendy or Vanessa.

Vanessa Liu [00:07:54] So I’m really glad that they went with Vanessa. Not that I don’t like Wendy, but I just like Vanessa more. Vanessa, {Wansiu} kind of sounds alike. And so that’s the origin of it.

Andrew Tarvin [00:08:08] Oh, I love it. I mean, I think, maybe it’s an approximate slant rhyme. At least there’s some similarities to it, but I think that is fantastic.

Andrew Tarvin [00:08:16] So it’s this idea of this meaning of inner beauty, so wonderful. We’re getting to know you a little bit more. From an entrepreneur side of things. We have a lot of entrepreneurs and leaders who listen to the the podcast and the show. But I’m always curious from people, what’s the first way you made money? Do you remember? Was it something that you did in school or was it after you graduated? Like what was that, what was that first way of actually getting some dollar dollar bills?

Vanessa Liu [00:08:42] So my first job was actually working on election night when I was 14 and just being at the polls. And back then, basically what you would do, you’d have to field the calls to say, oh, you know, so-and-so, this precinct is coming in and we had to report it and tally it up. So that was what I did. I did it because like I think the paycheck at that time was something like, like, ten dollars an hour, which you know, a long time ago was like a lot of money. And I just thought, like, wow as a 14 year old I can actually do that. And it was just like a one time thing just to try. And I actually, you know, it’s really funny. It’s like one of those jobs which really set me on a path to being very politically active, actually ever since.

Andrew Tarvin [00:09:31] Yeah, it’s fascinating how sometimes you’re like, I’m just going to take this because it’s an opportunity in front of me. It’s the thing that I applied to, and they happen to say yes. And that’s sometimes how people have picked their entire careers in some way is like, well, I just started this direction and went. Should I be worried that they were allowing a 14 year old to do that? Like is that normal?

Vanessa Liu [00:09:52] Back then, it wasn’t normal. I mean, our work was being checked. It was not super important. It was kind of like moving paper. But back then, they basically just were using the phone to take data down.

Andrew Tarvin [00:10:07] I like it, I like it. So you do that as a job and then you go to Stuyvesant High School in New York City. You go to Utrecht University, a Fulbright Scholarship. Graduate from Harvard Law. All right. So these are some pretty prestigious places. So I’m curious, what’s something that you learn from not only attending places like that, but also thriving in them because you did well at those places. What’s it like kind of being in that type of competitive, but also, I would imagine stressful type of environment?

Vanessa Liu [00:10:40] So, you know, I think about my most formative years as the years I had at Stuyvesant, which is…it’s a school in New York City where you have to test to get in. Of course, it was a competitive type of environment, but I never perceived it as a place where you were competitive with other people. It was much more about how do you, how do you push yourself to the next level and actually having peers that you can have incredibly deep conversations with. That was where I had a first taste of that, at that school. And so I found my friends for life at that school. So there were four of us that always hung out. Three of the four of us then ended up going to Harvard for college. And, and we still talk on a weekly basis. And a lot of it is because we came from very similar backgrounds. We were all from immigrant backgrounds, we had a desire to make an impact and make a change. And these are the types of places where yes they could be pressure cookers. But I never looked at it that way. I looked at it as a way to get to know other people who are just so motivated and just like into their particular, like their particular niche. And so that’s what I found has been really special about all of these types of places. And it’s also the reason why I spend a lot of time with my alma maters, because, like the community that you have is one that you can recreate now. Like, I always feel like, you know, a college education is kind of wasted on the young because you just don’t really realize how special it is. And it’s only like later in life, you’re like, oh, my gosh, I could have taken this class or that class or met these people. I should have spent less time like putzing around and meeting these people that you normally won’t get the chance to. Because once you start specializing, it becomes very narrow.

Andrew Tarvin [00:12:36] Well, I think that’s a great perspective that you had of like what, maybe I don’t even necessarily know if we had the phrasing for it at that time, but having basically a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Right? The fixed mindset would say you’re going to compete against these people and there’s only one winner, etc. versus growth mindset of like, oh, what’s that competition, quote unquote, with myself? How do I continue to improve each day? And us all being supportive of that growth mindset I think is fantastic. And so from that, does that translate to business? Obviously, it’s something that you’ve done. You give back, you know, you gave a welcome message to the Harvard alumni from this past year, still connected to the alumni group, as you mentioned. Is that something that you bring with you into the businesses that you work on as well, that same mindset of like let’s compete against ourselves and our potential as opposed to others?

Vanessa Liu [00:13:30] Absolutely. I think it’s, if you’re in a particular line of business and you’re only thinking about your competitors, you’re never going to be unique. Like you have to think about what do I have in terms of my abilities, in terms of the assets and resources I have access to that will make whatever it is that I do have that much more of an impact. So it’s much more about like what can I bring to the table? And so that’s something that I’ve always thought about. And maybe it’s because looking at my parents. So they’ve been entrepreneurs. And actually, if I think about my first job, it was when I was like eight and I was manning the cash registers at my parents store. Ok, that was like really child labor.

Vanessa Liu [00:14:15] But like looking at them, it was always about how am I going to make this store different like from another jewelry or electronics store? There’s so many out there. Is it about our customer service? Is it about what we provide? Like what is it that’s going to be distinctive, though? That’s going to make people come back again, again and again. And so that’s something that I think about all of the time. And, if I look at all of the founders I work with, the ones that really succeed, nail that. Like they nail their story. They nail the why this, why us, why now questions. Like those three questions, they’re constantly, like constantly having in the back of their mind. They know how to answer that. They know what’s going to be the mark that’s going to set them apart.

Andrew Tarvin [00:15:08] I love that. The why this the why us, why now. And so if you are, some of the people listening are entrepreneurs, they might have that clarity and those ideas. Sometimes it’s just kind of people who are ambitious and have, they like, I want to do something, but they don’t fully know. How do you discover that strength? How do you find out what the… how do you answer those questions? Is it doing a bunch of work and seeing what sticks? Is it trying a bunch of things? Is it speaking about it? Any thoughts on how you can get clarity on that?

Vanessa Liu [00:15:35] Yeah, I think there’s so much value in just trying things. And if you were to sit down and say, hey, I just want to think about the most perfect business to launch, I think most of us would just get frozen because you’re like, oh, my gosh, like to achieve perfection. What does that mean? It has to be like X, Y and Z. And you would never just go out and try and to see if you make a mistake. And learn from that. I think there’s so much value in just saying, like, look, I have some type of hypothesis and it’s maybe 70 percent of the way there, 80 percent of the way there just in thinking. But you won’t know unless you try. So unless you just keep on trying and see what sticks. And if I look back at the businesses that I’ve started, that’s exactly what we did.

Vanessa Liu [00:16:26] One of the companies that I co-founded is a company called Fevo, which now powers the group ticketing for about seventy five percent of all the professional sports teams in the US, which is really awesome. But when we first started, we were a business. It’s so funny. Our business was focused on helping millennials take over night clubs during the remnant times. That is a far cry from group experiences in sports. Right? But it was because we had a hypothesis that there’s something about bringing people together. There’s something about millennials, there’s something about social experiences that technology can make pop. And once we started doing it, we just started realizing, wait, there’s all this opportunity elsewhere. And we found our way into sports because basically the group sales folks on the Yankees gave us a call because they said that they were getting invitations to these parties and they wanted to see if they could apply this to group sales. So now you just have to try things.

Andrew Tarvin [00:17:33] Well, I love that maybe some of that STEM kind of education coming out of that experimentation, that approach and that evolution, that iteration. My background is in computer science and engineering, and it’s that same thing for programming things and for myself. It’s how I discovered my passion of teaching people about this skill of humor in the workplace because I explored standup comedy and improv and all this other stuff while also doing engineering. And it wasn’t until I tried a bunch of stuff that I discovered that. So I love that kind of component of experimenting and starting with this hypothesis and evolving from there.

Andrew Tarvin [00:18:08] And so I know one of the things that you are passionate about is this idea of inclusive entrepreneurship. Because I think, you know, we sometimes think of certain, there’s a stereotype of Silicon Valley and all that kind of stuff of what a quote unquote entrepreneur looks like. But you’re passionate about expanding what that means. So I’m curious, with your role at SAP.iO and investing in women and diverse-led B2B intelligent enterprise startups across a whole wide range of things. One, what exactly do you think inclusive entrepreneurship really means? And and how do we become more inclusive? How do we get there?

Vanessa Liu [00:18:45] Yeah, I think when I look at what is inclusive entrepreneurship, it’s about making sure that the population when it comes to technology is truly representative. If you look at the general population and you compare that to the population that is creating technology, it’s off right now. When it comes to the number of women, for instance, who are starting companies who are getting VC dollars. It’s off. When it comes to people of color who are getting the VC dollars. It’s off compared to the general population. If you’re thinking about technology as a vehicle to really change how we live and work, because it already is. And I feel like a company like SAP, which has access to so many customers and which has the ability to affect a lot of change, actually has a moral imperative to say, hey, we’re going to be making technology better. Who are we going to be making it better for? Is it better for a small sliver of people or for everyone? And you can actually make a difference for everyone. And this is not about charity. This is about identifying solutions to problems that are out there, making sure that you’re finding the best solutions. So, for instance, obviously what’s on everybody’s mind over the last years has been the climate crisis. And if you’re not thinking about sustainability in a broad enough sense, you’re not going to get to the right solutions. So if you’re not going to, for instance, find people who are thinking about those solutions, for instance, for people who are impoverished, who are going hungry, you are just totally missing the boat. So like one of the founders that we’ve been working with at SAP is a company called Gooder, run by Jasmine Crowe, that’s based in Atlanta. What she’s done is she’s created a whole entire food waste management business where all the excess food that companies and stadiums and restaurants have that usually go to the landfill at the end of the day can actually be diverted to communities in need. And so she secured government contracts to do this and also just be another solution when it comes to waste management. If she had not seen hunger firsthand as a problem in her community, she would not have come up with that. So that’s why it’s so important to have a diversity of perspectives when it comes to solving problems, because you could find extremely different and impactful solutions that way.

Andrew Tarvin [00:21:28] Yeah, and I think to your point of one representation to recognize that. But then also it’s good for innovation. Right? I’m reminded sometimes in these settings there’s an old management adage that says if two people think exactly the same, one of them is unnecessary. Right? If you’re only having people coming together, are only giving VC dollars to people that are all thinking in a very similar mode, then you’re going to have very similar outputs as opposed to this diverse kind of set of experience. So, I’m curious, as a no equity accelerator, what are the things, what are the metrics or criteria you’re looking for in terms of these opportunities? Obviously, it’s representation and getting those ideas out there. But what is…is it those three questions you mentioned before: Why us? Why now? Why this? Or is it something else that you’re also looking for to say, yep, this seems to be for the people listening, they might be like if I wanted to apply to something like that, how do I know if I fit the bill?

Vanessa Liu [00:22:27] Yeah, well, first and foremost, we put out there different themes that we focus on. So we run programs in nine locations globally and each location has a program twice a year. So we focus on themes like retail tech or future of work tech or sustainability. And then we actually identify the business problems that we’re trying to solve for. And we do this in conjunction with our customers. So we asked our customers and say, hey, when it comes to retail tech, for instance, hey, Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, could you let us know what it is that you’re trying to solve for? And we put that out there so that founders can say, hey, I am solving that problem, I would like to apply. And that’s like the type of lens that we apply with everything. I think with enterprise software, what’s so different from consumer technologies is that it’s very specific in terms of the business problem you’re trying to solve for. It’s actually, that’s actually the beauty of it. It’s a much more rational decision. And so we’re looking at companies that are solving those types of problems in a very unique and meaningful way. We typically look at companies that are seed – between seed and Series B is the sweet spot. So companies that already have a product in the marketplace, have already proven themselves with a couple of clients, but want to scale. And so that’s where we can come in and work together with these companies to really give them access to those customers by integrating with our platforms. And so that is the lens that we look at. So it’s about customer success and it’s also about success for the startups. And obviously we do have the diversity lens, but the diversity lens as in and I hope that I’m painting that picture here, it’s not about saying, hey, we’re only going to look at those companies that are in one sliver. We’re actually looking for the best solutions across the spectrum, which is why we have a commitment where we want to make sure we are searching far and wide for those solutions.

Andrew Tarvin [00:24:40] And I think that makes a lot of sense. That criteria is helpful. So it’s less for that, like, my uncle had this idea at Thanksgiving, like is that the right? There’s a little bit further along than that. And so I’m curious because so many people listening might be in a slight mode of career transition. Right? So you have been a founder, a co-founder. You’ve been in a number of different roles. You know, why this? Why is this the thing that you’re saying, hey, I want to spend some time on it? How did you come to it? And what was the decision making process to say this is where I want to spend that time.

Vanessa Liu [00:25:17] Yeah, so if I think about my career. When I was growing up and seeing my parents struggle with our family business, I mean, I actually thought growing up I really wanted to be in the sciences. I really wanted to become an astronaut. And I really did not want to become a businessperson because I just saw firsthand how hard it was. And I just always thought, like, wow, I don’t, I just don’t want to just slave so much for very little impact. And fast forward all these years and I find myself in business. And that was after realizing that when it comes to innovation, which is something I’ve always been interested in, the best way of doing that to be at the forefront is to find those areas that are changing the fastest. And obviously technology is one of them.

When I finally my senior year of college, I realized, wait a second, I might be spending the next 10, 15, 20 years in the lab trying to get to outer space. But if that doesn’t work out and I’m just working on a very small sliver when it comes to the sciences and only making a little bit of an impact, I knew that that wasn’t going to be enough for me. I just felt like there was so much more out there to do. So I started thinking about what else I could do. And it was only after I, I took a little bit of time off and was doing research in law that I realized that wasn’t for me either. And I started thinking about business, but I was introduced to consulting. So I joined McKinsey and I remember just vividly falling in love with media and technology on the third project I was doing. So I was building a free ISP when back in the days when that was a thing and I was just so excited by it, like about what you can do with it, how many people you can reach. About starting something just from scratch and seeing that you can create a whole entire business and create jobs from it. I just felt like there was something incredibly empowering with that.

And so I was doing that for clients and just doing it again and again and again and in a portfolio approach. But I just one day I just realized that I wanted to just have skin in the game. And so that was when I decided to start companies myself and become a founder. I always look at this as like a journey. Right? I always feel like, you know, the last three years, being back in the corporate setting is my way of figuring out, hey, what else is out there right now? Because I was so head down in a particular area and I’m just like picking myself up, seeing what’s out there, just so that I can think about what’s next. And because I think like the cycle of being in a corporate setting, diving deep and founding companies, going back and taking a step back again is actually a very healthy way of just assessing what is out there and to start experimenting again.

Andrew Tarvin [00:28:28] Yeah, I love it. It’s that connection back to experimentation and reminds me a little bit of… Mark Cuban has said, like he always saw it as like I want to get paid to learn. And be like OK I want to go into this next phase of something rather than just completely doing it on my own. There’s additional, like you said, either skin in the game or risk or at least a commitment to something. If you’re like, oh, I’m now doing this as a job and now I’m getting to see this entire landscape of things.

And it seems to be going pretty well for you. I mean, you were recently named one of trailblazing women to watch in twenty twenty one by the dreamers and doers. And in your interview, in an interview that I read about, it said you said particularly for twenty twenty this year, challenged me to be much more deliberate and purposeful with my time. And so I’m curious as we start to transition and think about not just the work and career perspective, but the life, bigger life perspective as part of that. In what ways did you have to be a little bit more deliberate with your time? And what have you learned about how you spend your time?

Vanessa Liu [00:29:28] Yeah, I think in the past I was so much more opportunistic and just relying on serendipity to meet people. It’s so easy, especially in a place like New York City, to say, hey, I don’t know what the tail end of my week looks like, but I’m going to keep it open for coffees, keep it open for various intros and see where that goes. And I’m the type of person where I like to plan just a little, just to have a little bit of structure, but leave a lot open for spontaneity. Obviously, over the last months, it’s much harder to meet people spontaneously. And so it’s much more about being purposeful and also just thinking about how do you want to spend your time. And it also made me realize that sometimes just doing a lot of the serendipity things, it was fun. But in hindsight, you can be a lot more… like you can actually get a lot more out of it if you could plan a little bit more. Yeah, just like a little bit, right? Just in terms of like who am I going to have the next Zoom with? Like you can’t just say I’m going to choose.

Andrew Tarvin [00:30:39] You’re not entering random digits in the Zoom thing to be like what meeting am I going to show up to magically?

Vanessa Liu [00:30:45] Exactly. There she goes. Zoom bombing again.

Vanessa Liu [00:30:50] And so I think this is, it’s become much more about who do I want to spend time with? And of course it’s rekindling relationships and also just learning from people in a very different way. I feel like, this year, so much of this is going to be obviously, again, about uncertainty, but a lot about how do I learn from people around me and to just go deeper with them? And that is something I’m very much looking forward to and how I’ve really changed how I do things.

Andrew Tarvin [00:31:25] I think I like that balance. Right? Especially coming up in the world of being an engineer, but coming up through improv had to be a bit of this balance for me of like spontaneity versus like, nope, I like having a plan and I think a little bit of both. Like you said, that intentionality can help where you can’t say I’m going to plan one hundred percent of my week or everything that’s exactly going to happen when. But having some of that intention, and sometimes it’s just in conversation because you have an intention about something, you’re more likely to speak about it and people are more likely to then hear it and then say, oh, well, I know so-and-so that could use this or that could do that thing or whatever. And so I’m curious. You’ve had a variety of of experiences and with what you do now, would you say that you enjoy what you do or that you love what you do? And do you think that workplace satisfaction or enjoyment of your work is important in a role or not?

Vanessa Liu [00:32:17] I think it’s so important. I think that work should be a type of…work actually should not be work. You should enjoy what you do so much that it doesn’t feel like work. And that is the perspective I’ve always had. And so the moment that work starts feeling like work, it’s actually when I realize like, oh, I think I need a change. Because I think if you are loving something so much, you get into the flow. Like you get ideas, like ideas come easily and execution comes easily. And when you have that, it just becomes fun. And having that positivity really radiates. Like I do believe that so much of motivating your team is being incredibly energized by what it is that you do. So I feel so lucky about what I’ve been able to do for the last three years at SAP. Like I, I get to work with, so I joke like you said that before, like Mark Cuban said, you should get paid to learn. That’s kind of like what I’ve been getting here, like, hey, SAP, thank you. But l get to meet founders all of the time and work with them to grow their businesses. And that is just such a gift to be able to do that and to be able then to think about what’s going on, too, in particular industries. And maybe because things have changed so much industry by industry, and thinking about the problems there, what can you do to solve for that? And how can startups play a role in that? I think that from an intellectual standpoint, I find it extremely fulfilling and to think about. And so, like, I, I feel like I’m definitely in that flow zone right now for the time being. And so, it’s so like having this type of ability to have impact across different industries. That’s a dream. That really is a dream.

Andrew Tarvin [00:34:25] I think it’s fantastic. One, that you mentioned, like, if you enjoy what you do, right, you’re going to be more passionate about it, probably going to be a little bit easier to lead people within it. And I think probably in some ways within the pandemic, it exacerbates that or heightens that even more because you don’t necessarily even have the workplace to go into of like, eh, I don’t really care so much about the work, but I like the people I work with. Well it’s like, you almost have some of that less like, a little bit less of that camaraderie in some ways, because it’s all a lot of people working from home, et cetera. And so if you have that real passion, it makes the sustaining of the work a little bit easier. So I love that.

Andrew Tarvin [00:35:04] And so I’m curious, as you think about certainly twenty twenty being a challenging year. Right? You’re on a number of different board with SAP Foundries.

What do you think twenty twenty one has in store? What skills does this, are going to be needed to be successful with over the next 12 months?

Vanessa Liu [00:35:24] Well, I think many of us have been honing our ability to be resilient and ability to just make change and to just change course at the drop of a hat. And that will continue. But I do think so much of the next few months is also about thinking about what’s next, like work goes on and life goes on and how do we take advantage of all of the differences and in terms of the way we work, the way we live and use that as a way to say, hey, let’s use that as a foundation for how we truly want to work going forward. So you think about the notion of distributed teams and the future of work. There were so many industries that were very reliant on face time, like the financial services industry being one of them. If you think about some other industries, they were very much the same. This is shown, incredibly, just how for a lot of industries you do not need to have one hundred percent face time. So what does that mean from a workforce perspective? How do you, like, how do you change the game so that everybody can balance more? Like I am really interested in how, for instance, in Europe, since you and I are both living in Europe currently. And there’s that saying, do you live to work or do you work to live? Right? And I think when it comes to Europe, people here, you work to live. And I think in places like the United States and Japan, you live to work. So what is that balance though? Where does creativity come from? It comes from having that balance. I think like finding and achieving that balance and preserving that is going to be the name of the game for twenty twenty one. I think everything was just like awry last year. But how do you find that happy medium? Are people going to be going back to business travel like they did before to travel for one meeting, one one hour meeting and traveling like going on a plane for anywhere between five to 20 hours for that one one hour meeting? I think that those days, I hope, have changed. Like there is a different way of working. How can you use that time to do something differently? I think that that’s going to be number one. And also, just number two, how do you solve problems together as a society? Look, the world has actually been united in a way over the last nine months. And so how do you continue with that to tackle some of the other pressing problems that we have? That’s something that I would love to see us work on as a society in twenty twenty one.

Andrew Tarvin [00:38:17] Yeah I think that you’re right, because twenty twenty is not necessarily a reset, but a pause for some people to kind of be like, OK, let’s just get through twenty twenty. Now that we’re into twenty, twenty one it’s like how can we have that intention a little bit. I think one of the things that we’re seeing with our business, of what we’re hearing a ton, is work life balance feels like work life survival right now. And there is that comparison, because for some people it’s that they’re inundated with so much work and because they’re working from home, they never truly turn off the laptop or anything like that. And so the boundaries are now blurred or for some groups, because they’re so isolated, it doesn’t feel like that same amount of work. And so I like that piece of what you’re talking about, the intentionality of what that dynamic looks like. And here it is, either work life harmony or work life synergy or something of that work life integration. Especially when we’re streaming into your home right now and there is none of that separation. And so how do the two kind of fit together I think is a fantastic focus. And how do we use that at scale? I think you’re exactly right. It’s going to change some of those conversations.

Andrew Tarvin [00:39:24] And so one of the questions, as we start to slowly wrap up, one of the questions that we ask all of our groups is we’re curious about people’s how they start their day. So in 60 seconds or less, what is your morning routine currently?

Vanessa Liu [00:39:37] My morning routine? So, like, once I get up and I make myself a cup of tea and get a bite to eat, I actually go on my morning walk. And so that’s something that I’ve really, really enjoyed. And I typically do it with my husband. That’s actually something that we feel like an old married couple. We said you know what, we’re going to be doing this like in hopefully in 40 years from now, the same thing. And it’s because it clears the mind. It really clears the mind and it makes you feel like I’m ready to start the day.

But having a way to defrag your brain by having a walk, it’s my morning ritual.

Andrew Tarvin [00:40:24] Defrag. You are now speaking my language as a computer engineer. I’m like, I remember doing that on Windows all the time, a little defragmentation. I like it. And so I’m curious, like from the walk, is there an agenda? Do you talk about your day and what’s coming up? Is it just kind of whatever hits you? Is it like, nope, we have a rule of not talking about anything work related? Like what’s the like, is there any intentionality and or on my side planning for what happens while on the walk?

Vanessa Liu [00:40:50] No, for now there has been none. And actually that’s been so great because we could just talk about what’s on our minds or sometimes actually my husband makes fun of me because he’s like, you know, you’re on calls all day, sometimes you’re really quiet on these walks. And I basically say it’s because I’m so tired from talking, from like the days before, I’m kind of like a mess and I just need to be right now.

Vanessa Liu [00:41:16] And that’s so nice like when you have a best friend like that where you can just essentially just say what’s on your mind and to share those thoughts. It could be anything from obviously news events to what’s going on with our children to what do we want from what’s going on professionally. What do we think about in the future? Like we were talking today, for instance, about well down the road, like Europe is going to be a place that we will always come to, back to, since he’s Dutch. And we’re like where should we have our roots in the future? It’s great to be able to have those free forming discussions. And maybe it’s because that’s something that we discovered, like we are both working professionals. We never really took the time just to talk like that. And actually having these walks allow us to do that.

Andrew Tarvin [00:42:15] I love it. I love it as a strategy. And I agree. I think, like some of my best friendships are with my wife and stuff. Some things that I appreciate is that it’s someone that I can be with and not feel like I have to talk. Like you’re so comfortable with each other that if thoughts come out great, if not, it’s a little solitude or like a little quietude, I guess. Then it works well.

So to wrap up, one of the, we have different kind of segments here. And so this segment we talk about kind of who you follow on social media. So we follow some of the same people on Twitter. I was going through and looking, we both follow Sarah Cooper, who is hysterical. Follow Prof. G Scott Galloway, who is big into predictions and things like that. Speaker Elizabeth McCourt, who I think is fantastic. But I’m curious who is someone on social media that you appreciate following that either…because some social media is like I actually get upset about social media, but like, who’s someone that you’re like, no, there’s someone who either makes me smile, brings me great insight or that you just enjoy following.

Vanessa Liu [00:43:18] So, I mean, I, I love following Cindy Gallop. And so she happens to be a friend of mine and an incredible entrepreneur. She is the founder of Make Love, Not Porn. And she is, according to her Twitter, likes to blow shit up. And I don’t know if that now renders this podcast NC-17, but she just calls things as it is. And that’s what I really appreciate. And just across a variety of sectors and of course, both of us are very passionate about elevating women entrepreneurs. Like, for instance, one of the things that we’ve been working on is, is how do you elevate more women founders, especially during the time of the pandemic? I think the research has been shown already through PitchBook that twenty twenty, even though it was a boondoggle year for venture capital, when it came to women founders and underrepresented founders, that the numbers unfortunately retracted and decreased versus the years prior. And so it means that we have so much more work to do. And so she’s always just putting a spotlight on that. And that’s like the type of energy that I feel like is needed and the type of emphasis that’s required. So I love following Cindy.

Andrew Tarvin [00:44:48] Great, great recommendation. Well, thank you, Vanessa, so much for joining us. If people want to follow you on social media or they want to learn more about some of the work at the SAP.iO Foundries, where can they find out more? What do you recommend?

Vanessa Liu [00:45:03] Yes, you can follow me at Vanesa W Liu, L-I-U on Twitter and also check us out at SAP.iO and on our website. So really, thank you so much for having me today, Drew.

Andrew Tarvin [00:45:17] Absolutely. Well thank you so much for joining. For those of you listening, this has been another episode of the Ascent podcast brought to you by the Ascent Conference. And you can find out more about the Ascent Conference at Also, we have been, I have been Andrew Tarvin as part of Humor That Works. You can learn more about the humor stuff that we’re up to at humor that works dotcom. Be sure to join us for future podcast events. We’ve got some fantastic guests coming up as well with some fantastic insights, just like Vanessa.

Andrew Tarvin [00:45:45] And until then, you all have been great. I’ve been Andrew Tarvin and until next time.