Clara Shih attended Illinois Math and Science Academy -- a hypercompetitive school that has produced the founders of Yelp and YouTube, among others -- so perhaps it should come as no surprise that she started her own tech company, which, in a cool twist, helps companies manage their corporate presence on sites like those created by alumni of her old high school.
Shih is co-founder of Hearsay Social, a two-year-old software platform that provides corporations with the tools to monitor and manage their marketing campaigns -- as well as their employees' activities on social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and, yes, Yelp.
Hearsay Social's application, sold as a service via the Internet, aims to teach companies how to maximize their efforts on social sites, in part by turning staffers into online ambassadors for their employers' products and services.
The company, which she co-founded with Steve Garrity, a college classmate at Stanford, has raised some $21 million in financing from prestigious backers such as Sequoia Capital, NEA and Steve Chen, the co-founder of YouTube and an Illinois Math and Science grad. (They didn't overlap at the school.)Though Shih had long known she wanted to be an entrepreneur (more on that in a moment) she took a circuitous route to becoming a founder. After Stanford, she worked in corporate strategy at Google and got two masters degrees -- one in computer science and one in Internet studies. As part of the grander plan, she realized she wanted to go into sales. "My professors at Stanford used to say, `If you want to become the founder or CEO of a company, you need to know how to sell." So, Shih joined Salesforce.com in 2006 as a founding product marketer on the AppExchange.
In 2007, Facebook launched its application programming interface--a set of tools to allow third parties to build products on the Facebook platform; Shih was surprised that all the apps taking advantage of the platform were for consumers-- music sharing, photo sharing, games. "Why isn't anyone using the Facebook social graph for business?" she asked herself.
Shih tried to convince engineer friends of hers at Salesforce to build something with Facebook. Their response: An uninterested "What is the Facebook thing? I've never heard of it." Shih's inner monologue kicked in. "I said, `Okay, Clara. You're an engineer. Why don't you do this if you think it's so cool?'" Over the next few weekends -- as a total side project -- Shih built Facebook's first business application. Her brainchild, Faceforce, married Salesforce customers' account and contact information with their Facebook profiles.
The program was the first of its kind and changed Shih's life. She was approached by publishers and wrote a book, The Facebook Era, about her application and the importance of social media in business. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, was so impressed by Shih's initiative that he wrote the foreward in the first edition of her book -- and Harvard Business School includes The Facebook Era as part of their curricula. It was this book that connected her with Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook guru who quickly became Shih's mentor.
The research for her book was intense -- and made her realize, "Oh my gosh, where we were with the Internet fifteen years ago is where we are with social media today. I've seen this movie play out before. It's during these narrow windows of opportunity that great entrepreneurship can happen." She called her old classmate, Steve Garrity, and said, "Steve, this is the day we've been waiting for. We have to do this. If we don't do this, someone else will." Garrity left his job at Microsoft, moved to the Bay area, and the two began developing Hearsay Social.
Shih penned her 10 year-goals in her journal at age eighteen: To own her own tech company and to be married. Hearsay Social, founded when she was 27 seems to be well underway. And on Oct. 1, Shih fulfilled her other teenage pledge: She married her neurologist boyfriend, Daniel Chao.
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