Daniel Dexter, ECE ILLINOIS
ECE ILLINOIS alums are some of the most interesting people we know. To celebrate them, we’ve decided to ask them questions both serious and fun. Here, you’ll find their Ten Answers.
Jerry Yue is an entrepreneur who has helped launch several successful startups. He recently moved to Silicon Valley to work on his latest, Brain LLC, which could revolutionize the modern search engine. He started at ECE ILLINOIS in 2010, but decided a year later to focus solely on his startup, friendoc, which became a popular Chinese Facebook app. The service now has more than 15 million users.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
I am really passionate on what I am working on right now – Brain LLC. Before, I thought a little bit less. I was doing what everyone wanted me to do. I achieved those goals of making money and building a company with my previous two projects.
With Brain, instead of business innovation, we are doing technological innovation. It’s completely different. I think we can help a lot of people be more efficient. I’m proud of that and passionate about it.
Was there anything about your time at Illinois that helped spark the entrepreneurial spirit?
I wouldn’t have dropped out for my first startup if I had not met my CTO at the time. We dropped out together in 2011. We worked on this first product together. I lived on the second floor of ISR, which is the Innovation Living-Learning Community. It’s very entrepreneurial. We went on tours of companies all the time. It was an inspiring experience.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame when you were starting out?
One of the challenges was understanding users from different regions. When I moved back to China, it was a bit hard for some our consumers to understand what we were trying to do. We started out as a business-to-business, so they didn’t understand the importance of data. We were the first ones to use Big Data before the term even became popular. It was really hard for local businesses to understand what we were trying to do. Some of them eventually did become open to what we were trying to do, and that helped our business grow.
What was the biggest difference between the technology cultures of China and the United States?
I think China nowadays, especially in the last four to five years, has grown a lot in terms of technology entrepreneurship. Right now is actually the pinnacle, where everyone is trying to build something. It’s the cool thing to do.
I think the legal structure needs to be developed more for the tech scene to continue to grow. So right now, I don’t want to launch a company in China because there are a lot of IP problems. There a lot of monopolies that the government doesn’t regulate. They compete in a very aggressive way. There are, however, a lot more business model innovations from local companies happening in China, and there is a lot of capital support for that.
Do you want to stay in Silicon Valley?
I want to stay and build this company in the United States. It’s not just for the U.S., it’s for the world. I think it will be a very useful tool. I like both cultures. I was born in China, but I came to the U.S. for high school. I really do like both.
Why do you think STEM education is so important?
The reason humans are better than other species is because we learn how to find patterns. Our ancestors recorded patterns, and based on those patterns, we built tools. Those patterns, we call science now. The tools are part of engineering. Math is the logical structure that bridges all of those methodologies. STEM education helps you learn how society can grow to be more advanced and efficient.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to be an entrepreneur?
Three things you always have to keep in mind are the product, your team, and capital. Always focus on opportunities instead of problems. You will encounter so many problems when you start that you never even imagined. If you think of the biggest tech companies in the world, they were all founded by students who had no experience in business or legal matters. Find something that can be done better, and focus on the product.
How do you spend your free time?
I like to think a lot. I enjoy thinking about problems. For example, I see language as a barrier of human communication. You can never truly tell what someone really thinks. We try things like re-engineering language. This is the kind of stuff we are working on at Brain. We are so passionate about the startup that we don’t have time or energy to do anything else.
What is your ideal work environment?
It is less about the physical environment than it is about the people you are working with. I would like to have all the people that I can resonate my ideals with. Sometimes, we go to this hill in Silicon Valley. It’s a beautiful view of the valley, and it helps you think deeper.
If you could have dinner with anybody, living or dead, who would it be?
It would probably be Albert Einstein. I have read a lot of his research and thought a lot about it. My dad is a theoretical physicist. Physics is learning the patterns of nature. I think what limits us is that we don’t take the observer into account enough. I would like to discuss that with Einstein. It’s very interesting to think about what limits the pattern-finding process.