For a moment Yiying Lu seems a bit sheepish about her title of ‘Unicorn Whisperer’ at 500 startups. “It was Dave’s idea,” she smiles referring to the tech accelerator’s founder, Dave McClure.
Yiying – whose more conventional title at 500 Startups is Creative Director and says her name translates to ‘happy creative’ in English – doesn’t do bashful very well, particularly when discussing the importance of design.
“If content is king, engagement is queen.” Yiving says when we interviewed her at 500 Startup’s San Francisco office in May, “if you look at the Bay Area community they look at the content rather than the design.”
“When you put them together that’s when you get magic,” says the designer who’s best known for creating Twitter’s Fail Whale and now counts companies ranging from Disney and Microsoft through to Mashable and a range of startups as clients for her design practice.
Captivating people with good design is the key to successful business, Yiying believes. “At the end of the day, it’s the engagement,” she says. “If you remember Google Wave, it was a great concept but it failed and look today – it’s Slack! Google Wave failed because there was no engagement. They didn’t really look at what the user wants.”
As someone who now spends most of her time in the Bay Area having shifted from her Sydney base several years ago, Yiying laughs while describing her belief that the entire region has been gripped by a mania. “98 percent of startups won’t survive, but everyone in the Bay Area wants to do it. They’re collectively insane,” she says. “Everybody is giving it their best shot.”
Seizing the collective insanity
When she arrived in the city, Yiying embraced that collective madness, “When I first came to San Francisco, I immediately thought I was home” and cites the city’s small size but dense community of talented, committed people as the main reason for the region’s success.
For areas wanting to copy the Bay Area’s success the key lies in getting all of the industry’s players improving their game. “If you want an awesome ecosystem then anyone should work. It shouldn’t be just one part of the ecosystem working,” she states. “Investors should get better as well.”
One of the many things Yiying is passionate about is not focusing on money and her advice to those intending to make the move is to look beyond the cash, “A dollar exchange is a narrow view,” she states. “We have a lot of real smart people coming here to TechCrunch Disrupt and South by South West thinking about finding investors. That’s not the way to to it.”
Looking beyond money
“Don’t think about finding investors, that’s a fear based model.” Is Yiying’s advice, “look at putting things into the community. You can only become really successful if you’re prepared to let other people be successful.”
For Yiying herself her priorities are a long way from cash. “When I make people happy, that’s more important than money,” she explains. “You can only become really successful if you’re willing to let others be happy and successful.”
Having made the jump to the Bay Area, she’s philosophical about where home is, having been born in Shanghai and spending much of her life in Sydney, Australia. “Home is where your heart is, but if your heart is big enough you can live anywhere.”
Seize the opportunity is Yiying’s advice to those looking at making the move, “a lot of things are in your head and things are more difficult if you let them worry you so it’s best to just do it,” she says. “Make it happen. Do stuff. There is no time to hesitate.”
For the creative worker, it seems ignoring the money and not hesitating is the way to stay happy. For tech business, getting engagement in a noisy world is everything.