Nanxi Liu is the co-founder and CEO of Enplug, a Los Angeles technology company that builds the industry-leading software for powering digital displays in malls, restaurants, retail stores and more. The software is most known for its live social media streaming, analytics platform, and interactive content capabilities. Nanxi is also founder and board member of Nanoly Bioscience, which developed a polymer that enables vaccines to survive without refrigeration. Nanoly was awarded NASA’s Top 10 New Tech Companies and Intel’s Top Social Innovation. Follow her @nanxi_liu.
Who is your hero?
My mother. She’s taught me more about life than anyone in the world.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. Building a company means that you’ll pull all-nighters, eat ramen for all meals and lose hair. And oftentimes, all three will happen just to land a single client. There will be plenty of mechanical tasks that stretch time out, and until you can afford to hire someone to complete them, you have to do the hard work yourself.
The wonderful flip side is that a decent amount of work that’s related to building a startup is undoubtedly fun. For example, when a potential distribution company in another country flies me out to meet with them, I view that as a vacation. Whether the work is brutal or exhilarating, there always is work to be done to reach success. When there are not enough sales leads, I chain myself to my phone and laptop until we receive more customer sign ups. From my experience, the work always pays off.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
In college, I decided to build a crowd-sourced caller ID app for smartphones. I spent the first few months building the product rather than researching how many people would actually use it. There were multiple features that I later discovered to be unnecessary. Had I simply created a mockup of the features and asked for feedback, I would have saved a lot of time.
At Enplug, we were able to build a cash-generating product quickly because we spent the first few months signing up interested customers. We started with a bare-bones digital signage software product and shipped it out to customers. They would then give us feedback and we would improve our technology accordingly. We added features like a Twitter wall, Instagram wall and digital menuboard app. All the features that we built were instantly adopted because customers sometimes make the best directors of product development.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I usually wake up around 7 a.m. The first 10 minutes is a repetitive hitting of my alarm’s snooze button. Then, I’ll have my regular calls with Enplug’s international partners. After, I’ll take a shower while eating breakfast. Just kidding — I obviously brush my teeth before eating. Then, I head to the office smelling like apple-scented shampoo.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Spend money based on milestones. Want to exchange your one-bedroom apartment office for that air-conditioned, spacious office? Set a goal to get the product prototype out first. Want to take your team out to a fancy, Zagat-rated restaurant instead of ordering Domino’s pizza? Sign up 10 more clients first. Want to increase your salary from -$1,000 per month to $100 per week? Start spending less money.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Write down all of the things that you wish your business was doing and share it with your team.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
Success is when all of my teammates can finally get the Tesla car (or cars) that they’ve wanted. It’s when every restaurant and store includes Enplug software as a must-have for their business. It’s when all of my investors tell their friends about the amazing return they got from Enplug. It’s when my co-founders and I decide to start taking a salary. Success is when we exceed the expectations of our stakeholders.