Decoding Digital

Why Entrepreneurs Should Lean into Fear with Amy Chang

By Ideas @ AppDirect / March 29, 2021

Amy Chang on Leaning Into the Unknown

Amy Chang is a digital pioneer. Throughout her impressive career, Amy has repeatedly shown how fear can inspire growth. She’s been recognized throughout the industry for her abilities, being named as one of Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business, and Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech.

Amy’s career so far has included highlights such as leading Cisco’s multibillion-dollar collaboration business and a 5,000-person team, growing Google Analytics to serve over 86 percent of the web, and founding an AI-powered business intelligence platform that Cisco acquired in 2018. Today, Amy is a board member at Procter and Gamble and an advisor for high-growth tech companies, including HubSpot and Optimizely.

In this episode of Decoding Digital, Amy sits down with Daniel Saks to discuss how to master fear to achieve ambitious goals and how it has shaped her career so far.content

Getting started on a digital career path

Amy comes from a family of engineers, so it was even a surprise to her when she decided to begin her career path at the consulting firm, McKinsey. She was drawn in by the idea of getting an MBA-level education without having to go to business school, and still being able to travel. Reflecting on her time there, she recalls how the information she learned has been useful throughout her career.

“The one thing you learn at a consulting firm is how to tell a story—a cohesive, coherent, compelling story. And that has been useful for an entire career lifetime. You also start to understand the importance of a network.”

After two and a half years, she moved to eBay. At the time, the company was growing rapidly. Amy’s role involved managing the paid search and affiliate channels. Here, she got to see first-hand how dependent the eCommerce marketplaces were on paid search. She soon realized that she wanted to be on the supply side, versus the demand side, of that equation. So, she interviewed at Google and Yahoo.

Why you should go with growth

In 2005, Google and Yahoo were almost neck and neck. Google was number one, but almost no one predicted that it would grow into what it is today. When choosing the next step in her career, Amy took a creative approach to her decision-making process.

“I decided to go and sit on both campuses by myself for a couple of hours. Google felt alive with energy. People were walking to and from the different buildings, they were animated, engaged in discussion, and it felt almost like a college campus. Yahoo felt more corporate. That was what made my decision.”

Amy has no regrets about choosing Google. When she joined, the company was doubling every six months. It showed her how important growth is to a career and how it can expand your opportunities. Now, Amy advises anyone in the early stages of their career to look for growth.

“If you are someone who wants to learn densely, in the most accelerated way possible, nothing will provide that for you like growth.”

When a company is growing, everyone needs to take on more responsibility. If you take the opportunity and ask for more responsibility, you can make a bigger impact and develop your own skills and much more rapidly too.

Transitioning from Google leader to company founder

Amy led the Google Analytics team through a multitude of successes. At one point during her time there, Google Analytics was processing a billion queries per second and serving 86 percent of the entire internet. But the successes brought challenges too. To keep progressing, Google Analytics needed an enterprise-grade solution with support, salespeople, and a proper structure to service customers.

After some encouragement, Amy decided to build the solution herself. But when she went to sell it, she kept running into a challenge that gave her a brand-new idea. She realized that if an AI-based intelligence service could tell her what she needed to know about a company before pitching to them, her chances of securing a sale would skyrocket.

“I thought to myself, my calendar is available, and the attendees are available. How is there not an intelligence service that can brief me and alert me on things I need to know, if these are the meetings I have? Every single salesperson on earth, every single outbound person on earth could use this. Why does it not exist?”

This pain point started Amy on her journey to founding her own company. She joined forces with a good friend from Google, now CTO and co-founder, and her husband (CFO and co-founder), and they were “off to the races.”

What it means to step into fear

Amy took a sabbatical to start her company and admits that leaving Google was scary. She worried about who would follow her, give her funding, buy the product, how she would make it work, and if anyone was going to care. But Amy was motivated to make a change—even in the face of fear.

“I think if you're not scared at all, either you're fooling yourself or there might be something pathologically wrong with you. If you're going from complete security to complete insecurity, all humans will experience moments of fear of the unknown. I think that's very natural and normal. It’s how you push through that fear and how you make it useful to you. That's the part that I think we all are training on and trying to be better at.”

So, how did Amy master her fear? She turned to her co-founders. Having two people as invested in the business as she was, gave her a sounding board for her fears and made the entrepreneurial journey a lot less lonely. Amy recommends that all founders have people they can turn to for advice, empathy, and to consult when difficult decisions have to be made. These don’t have to be co-founders or partners. They could be your siblings, friends, mentors, or anyone you can trust.

How to overcome fear

As a founder, you’re always going to experience fear. But Amy believes that you have to find a way to make fear work for you. It’s one thing to be afraid of what your competitor is doing, but it’s another to turn that into drive and use it to inspire your next moves. For Amy, that’s the differentiator between being swallowed by fear and overcoming it.

However, she has picked up a few tips and tricks to help her along the way. Amy is an avid meditator, she says it helps her immensely. She believes meditation makes her calmer, a better listener, and a more helpful leader to her team.

Amy also makes an effort to write down what triggers her fears. She keeps a note in her phone of everything that’s making her feel worried or afraid and, once a month, sets aside time to fully address these. This way, Amy doesn’t get paralyzed by fear. Instead, she dedicates time to immerse herself in the issue and figure out how to move forward.

“You just have to decide, am I going to do something about it? Or, you know what, there's nothing I can do about this, so I'm not going to focus on it.”

Why CEOs should embrace fear

Amy believes that fear can be a healthy thing for anyone at any level of business. CEOs and entrepreneurs, in particular, shouldn’t be afraid to tap into their full range of emotions, especially when it comes to guiding their teams or making difficult decisions such as layoffs. Amy thinks that being able to relate to your team and feel empathy for them makes better leaders.

But fear can also help you to make practical decisions as well as emotional ones. It can help you prioritize the correct things, figure out what you need to say no to, and make you more deliberate in your choices. She’s learned from others in her industry to express fear in a functional way and use it to take action. When CEOs can use fear as a tool, then there’s really nothing to be afraid of.

I think it is such a common misconception that if you feel fear that perhaps you're not qualified to be CEO. Perhaps you shouldn't be an entrepreneur because entrepreneurs are fearless. I don’t think that’s true.”

To listen to the full conversation with Amy and find out more about overcoming fear, tune into her Decoding Digital interview.

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