I’m joined by Vivian Chen.
Thanks for having me.
Vivian, we do these backgrounders on folks and you have such a wonderful brand background and enabled so many brands to succeed, but you’re doing something very novel and unusual in the brand business community. I wanted to tell everyone what you’re doing, your company, a little bit of how you got it started, and what inspired you.
My name is Vivian. I’m the Founder and CEO of Rise. We are a digital platform that’s enabling the next generation of people to build a kick-ass digital presence to get their next best thing. A lot of the inspiration for this came from my personal experience of changing jobs and my experience in branding when I realized that so many people struggle with telling their stories about what makes them special and stand out.
In the digital forward world nowadays, it’s so important that we are able to articulate our why, our value proposition, or what it is we bring to the table because otherwise, all of us are boiled down to a couple of bullet points on a resumé, which doesn’t capture the essence of who we are, potential, and all the things that make us who we are.
Everyone has a story. We need to figure out how to tease it out and help people tell their stories.
I’ve been to the site. It’s so inventive the way you all present people’s stories. It’s a totally different idea. I do think you left out jobs and branding, but you’ve also raised capital as a female entrepreneur. You had a career and you’re doing great things and all of a sudden you drop this idea. Can you tell the folks a little bit about what it was like to be inspired and then go get the capital to bring that to life?
Greg, it was so hard.
I did it once. It was brutal.
It’s so hard. I laugh and joke that this is my first time building a company. The next time I build a company, I will know better. I will know not to build a company or at least planning the roadmap for a global pandemic, a full-on recession, and a potential European war. Next time, I will know better, but this time it’s the first time learning all these things.
It’s a wonderful thing to raise capital on your why because you saw something in the marketplace that said this platform needs to exist. What inspired you? What made you want to digitally enable human beings? I work at Monigle and we talk about humanizing people and brands. You’ve built a platform for humans to be brands and to humanize themselves to others.
Personal Brand: In the digital forward world nowadays, it’s so important that we are able to articulate our why, our value proposition, and what we bring to the table.
The idea started when I became a consultant. I started to put myself out there again and again in front of different types of customers. You mentioned a little bit, my background comes from both B2C in terms of branding but also B2B for technology. Before I started a company, I was a freelance consultant for branding, product, strategy, you name it. I had to figure out how to sell myself to these people. Most of the time, I was selling myself to CEOs, founders, people who raise hundreds of millions of capital, venture capitalists, and huge global nonprofits.
For me, previously, when I worked in a company, it was all about heads down and doing what you’re told. Don’t do anything too crazy and outside of the line, but when it was time for me to put myself out there, it was about explaining from my experiences, “This is how I am able to solve your problem.” It’s a very different mentality than when you’re an employee. You’re there to help someone with their problems and challenges.
That’s the beginning of when I realized that everyone has a story. We need to figure out how to tease it out and help people tell their stories because even now when I look at people’s resumés, I ask them, “What is it that you want and what are you trying to say? By looking at your resumé, I don’t see any of that.” What can we do to package your story together so that it makes people go, “I understand why you’re interested in this position or this field and why you’re uniquely qualified to do that?” There’s an angle for everyone. We need to figure out everyone’s individual angles. This is something that we call do things on your own terms. You can’t tell your stories in other people’s words. You can’t build a company in other people’s blueprints.
Going back to your question about raising capital, we very much raised money on our own terms. We were very careful with the type of investor that we went after, how we raised the money and making sure that it was mission aligned in terms of how they wanted to build a company with us. We turned down a term sheet because we didn’t feel like the investors were aligned with what we wanted to build. This whole concept of being true to yourself and creating things on your own terms is something that we embody not only as a brand and product but also as a company.
It’s a very important strategic moment that the people are investing want to build your vision, not build an exit on their terms, because that can create a lot of dissonances. You said most resumés you saw were still on a 1970s template. Unfortunately, I’m old enough to be on a 1970s template, or maybe not so.
Do things on your own terms. You can’t tell your stories in other people’s words. You can’t build a company in other people’s blueprints.
I thought for our audience and why I wanted you to be on the show. Many of the people who we serve, the thousands of people that read this, our brand marketers looking for folks as well as there are folks reading in who service them. This is an enabling technology that allows people to digitally enable their connections on the value they want to have. You have the vision and raised the capital. Tell us what it’s like building the platform. What did you learn about people and what their needs are? How’s that going? It looks like it’s taken off.
Thank you so much. It’s going well. We’ve been blown away by the response. I will say building a product, like building a brand starts with the people and getting insights from what people want and what your unique value proposition makes you different. We have a very large competitor in the space, LinkedIn, which is the market leader. They are the Goliath and we are the David of the Davids. We’re so small in comparison to them.
When we started asking potential users about what it is they’re looking for and what they are dissatisfied with the market leader. We got a lot of interesting responses. Over and over again, we keep on hearing from people that, when they go on LinkedIn, they feel pretty crappy about themselves, the comparison game, or what professionalism means in today’s world.
You and I are not wearing suits anymore. Hopefully, most people are not working in a cubicle environment, yet on LinkedIn, our resumés are still very much stuck in the past, in the 1970s. Mostly we use either Times New Roman or Garamond, or if you don’t give a crap, you use Calibri. You don’t even change the font when you open up Microsoft Word. We think there’s so much more to people than that.
We asked people, “What would it mean for you to be authentic? What would it mean for you to have a different professional profile or identity that is different than what LinkedIn built several years ago? When we created Rise, we created a brand that defies all traditional interpretations of professionalism. We think people could come to work as their authentic selves in a playful way with low stress and how we started to think about the brand is what feeling we want people to have when they come on board.
Personal Brand: A lot of the companies that we work with recognize that something needs to change, but the system is so entrenched in how work used to be done that it’s almost like moving mountains for them to try something new and different.
We started off with a vehicle of what will it be like if we created a product in our stories where it feels like a small intimate party thrown by your friends and Rise is the host saying, “Come on in. Let me show you around. Over here, you can find the hors d’oeuvres. There’s a conversation happening right here. Let me loop you in on what’s happening over here. Over here, there’s a karaoke machine going on.” Show you how to get involved in the community rather than feeling like you have to artificially put on this persona of being “professional.”
I went to the site and building your own profile is its own experience. It’s fun and playful. It’s a completely different way of telling a story; everyone is telling their story and feels unique and genuine. Part of the digitally enabled economy is people finding people to do particular jobs and companies finding people. I was impressed by it. There are challenges. I wondered if the challenge was convincing people to do it that way or was the challenge something else around the technology. What’s been the big hurdle to get over?
The biggest hurdle for us has been convincing an industry that’s been doing things the same way for many years to do something differently. As you said, a lot of the companies that we work with recognize that something needs to change, but the system is so entrenched in how work used to be done that it’s almost like moving mountains for them to try something new and different.
We were talking about everyone recognizes that judging people based on a resumé or even a very short LinkedIn bio is not perfect. However, people use applicant tracking systems and they recognize certain fields that it’s almost like whatever tool you build has some match into whatever system they already have integrated into their workflows.
How much innovation can you do without touching the behemoth like Workday or other systems which people are using? We’re trying to chip away at it one piece at a time, which eventually will change and happen, but it’s almost like you’re shifting one piece of the puzzle, but there are so many other pieces that need to be shifted as well.
Overcome the inertia and the infrastructure that reinforces it, but networks always beat hierarchy. You just hang in there. My final question is a simple one. Say one word about digitally enabling branding and why do you think of that word?
It’s the future. Branding is something that we live and breathe every single day. We’re all going online. We spend most of our time online. Even when we work, we’re online. For brands, the future is to be digitally enabled and have a powerful presence in IRL and online. Make sure you can tap into all the power digital transformation can bring.
Vivian, thanks for being on the show. It’s JoinRise.co. The future is the future of branding. You’re a major ingredient to it. I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for reading. See you all next time.
About Vivian Chen
Vivian is the Founder and CEO of Rise (joinrise.co), a professional network that’s changing how people show up, connect, and collaborate with each other. Rise is backed by Bam Ventures, Dispatch Ventures, The Operator Fund, Foundation Capital Scout Fund, and leading angels, operators, and founders.
Prior to starting Rise, Vivian was an operator who built brands and products for Fortune 500 companies, high-growth startups, as well as leading VCs, PE firms, and global institutions. She has advised and worked with companies such as L’Oreal, Greenhouse Software, Everbody, Klarna, Bain Capital, the AARP, and more.
Vivian has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Bustle, and other media outlets for her work in championing diversity. Her work has been recognized by Forbes as a Next 1000 company, Cartier as a Top 10 Female Founded Company in North America, JP Morgan as a Woman on the Move, and Barclays as a leader for the Future of Work.
Vivian is on the board of Wharton Alumnae Founders & Funders Association, a 501c3 non-profit organization with the mission to accelerate the success of Penn Wharton female founders and investors.