Jackie You thinks outside the box, plays by her own rules

by Linda Lew

Four years ago, Jackie You was a rising star, the 39-year-old CFO of a NASDAQ-listed Chinese company with a turnover in the hundreds of millions and more than one thousand employees. Now, the casually dressed but elegant financial advisor runs a startup, which has four employees and is based out of shared office space in a nondescript building in Beijing’s Sanlitun neighborhood.

This is not the usual career progression for a successful corporate executive. But Jackie You decided that she wanted more than just rising to a prestigious position in a big corporation.

“I felt like the first half [of my life] was basically playing by other people’s rules, whether it’s school’s rules or the company’s rules,” Jackie explained in an interview at the Inncube co-working space, where her startup is based. “But the second half I hope to play by my own rules. What is something I can do that is truly meaningful to me?”

Jackie You with Xtreme Tech Challenge participants.

Her meaningful “something” is called i.e. Capital, a consulting company focused on providing shared and on-demand financial insight to early stage startups, and a desire to advance women in technology. Jackie is now using her 20 years of experience in the financial industry and her contacts in the China business world to help the small startups and women working in this industry.

Jackie’s career in the finance industry began in the U.S. after she graduated with an MBA from Arizona State University, located in a state she was surprised to discover is largely red rock and desert.

Jackie’s Chinese name, Qiang You, means strength. True to her name, she thrived in the high stress and dynamic environment of finance. Jackie said she loved the challenges and grew from strength to strength as she worked in hedge funds before moving into CFO roles for companies in the U.S. and China.

“Jackie’s knowledge and deep experience in finance both as a CFO as well as on the buy-side will be extremely valuable to ChinaCache,” ChinaCache CEO Song Wang said when appointing Jackie as the CFO in 2011.

i.e. Capital is nestled in a stylish co-working space that has offices, a gym, relaxation area and friendly fellow startup neighbors, vastly different from the companies where Jackie previously worked. i.e. Capital’s clients are small high-risk startups, usually with very little money to spend on financial consulting services. Her new firm meets this need through its model of on-demand and shared finance services which offer a more affordable option for startups.

“I want to distill the things that we learn and put the best practice into the software,” Jackie said, explaining the SaaS (software as a service) product that i.e. Capital offers. “As business is happening in the workflow, the financial numbers are generated [in] real-time, automatically. Then, in the meantime, we translate that into financial charts that speak to CEOs at an intuitive level, without financial jargon. We’re bringing [finance] back to the intuitive level.”

The importance of mentors

It was a mentor referral that got Jackie the foot in the finance door. She met a mentor named Lynn who worked in a finance company at a student mentoring conference when she was studying and Lynn introduced her to her first job out of grad school.

“[She was a] lady who helped me out in a very significant way, professionally, [in landing] my first job in the industry I desired,” Jackie explained. “So I’m forever grateful to her.”

Women entrepreneurs and women who work in technology often face discrimination and treatment their male counterparts might never experience. While Jackie has not personally experienced the discrimination faced by many women in technology that is often reported in the press, she concedes that choosing to not have children probably removed some of the pressures other women experience.

“Time and time again, I hear [venture capitalists] openly talk, saying, ‘We’re very selective in women-founded businesses’,” Jackie said, describing some of the discrimination she has seen. “Also, they’d naturally ask women ‘Do you have children? Are you married, do you plan to get married?’ They don’t really ask men this.”

To pay forward the help she has received during her career, Jackie is actively involved in the Beijing Women’s Network as a mentor and organized the first edition of Xtreme Tech Challenge, which focused on Chinese women entrepreneurs. The four women founders who came top in the challenge got the once in a lifetime opportunity to wine and dine with Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands and pitch their businesses to him.

Break out of the box     

Aside from playing by her own rules, Jackie also swears by the motto of breaking out of your box or comfort zone. She admits that she has had difficulty breaking out of the box herself but the reward was well worth it.

“I’m a finance person. I know nothing about computer science,” she admitted. “Why would it be me to do this financial SaaS?”

Jackie described breaking out of the box that she unconsciously gave herself. “Then I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just push it to as far as I can and let the facts prove whether I can do it or not,’” she said.