Clara Shih is a thought leader, author, founder and Chief Executive Officer of social enterprise company Hearsay Social.
When the Chinese immigrant landed in Chicago, she became accustomed to sticking out in a homogeneous group. At the age of four, fresh from Hong Kong, Shih watched her parents hustle to provide for her and her brother, instilling in her a tremendous amount of resilience which now guides her as a founder. Since her school had no program for English as a second language, Shih was placed in a class for students with speech impediments.
Clara suggests that repeatedly noticing that she was the only immigrant or Chinese American in a group forced her to either not notice her differences, or embrace them as positives and use them to bring new and fresh perspectives. At Stanford University, where she graduated with an M.S. in computer science, Shih was often the only woman in her higher level computer science classes. Her early age struggles turned into huge positives for the tech CEO, who contends that comfort with being different is extremely important for anyone who wants to disrupt – and disrupt she did.
While at Stanford, Shih interned at Microsoft, where she developed the RSS news aggregator for Outlook. Inspired by her volunteer work in East Palo Alto, where she worked to get low-income elementary students interest in math, science and tech, she founded the Camp Amelia Technology and Literacy Group in 2003, a nonprofit which provided free computer training and software to urban youth. The ambitious student went on to study at the University of Oxford, where she received a second masters in Internet studies. Shih stayed in England to work in corporate strategy at Google, where she left in 2006 to become a product developer at Salesforce.
Her book, “The Social Business Imperative: Adapting Your Business Model to the Always-Connected Customer,” released in April 2016, intends to serve a guidebook for businesses in the digital age. The new era of business has evolved to mean more than just having a social media presence, says Shih, indicating that “social business is a concept of serving a constantly connected consumer.” As consumers become more empowered, Shih suggests they must offer more transparency to society.
At Salesforce, Shih was the first to develop a social business application, creating an app on top of Facebook’s Platform called “The FaceForce App,” as she foresaw the tremendous impact social could have on business relationships. The third party app, launched in 2007, integrated Salesforce and Facebook. When it went viral, Shih became the pioneer of a new business segment focused on social applications. After the success of her app and her New York Times-featured best-seller “The Facebook Era,” Shih launched Hearsay in 2009, now the leading advisor-client engagement solution for the financial services industry.
The CEO urges other female entrepreneurs and technologists in male-dominated spaces to consider a unique approach to uncomfortable situations in the professional world regarding gender bias, avoiding confrontation on one side of the spectrum, while also holding off on oversensitive reactions. Instead, speaking from years of personal experience and trail and error, Shih chooses to listen first, and pounds in the importance of embracing one’s differences.
“The more you reflect on and own what makes you unique, the more accepted you will feel.”
Hearsay’s CEO attends the Grace Hopper Celebration conference every year, attended by over 12,000 women in technology careers. She urges women in tech to rally to each other’s cause and form strong alliances. One of her most influential mentors is Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sherly Sandberg, the author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.”
The entrepreneur has received handfuls of prestigious awards, named one of Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs,” Fast Company’s “Most Influential People in Technology” and has been listed in Fortune and Ad Age’s “40 Under 40.” Clara is also a member of Starbucks’ board of directors.
The CEO leads with a high level of conviction, encouraging both male and female aspiring leaders to “fake it until they make it,” even if they aren’t sure at first. “Just go for it,” says Clara.