Chang Liu, Product Analytics & Strategy Lead at dote, shares the story behind her jump from finance to retail.
Dote: How long have you worked at dote and where were you working before? Chang: I have been here for two months! Previously, I spent a little more than a year doing finance and strategy at Square, and prior to that, I was a public market investor at Wellington Management, focused on consumer and technology companies.
Dote: You spent a lot of time working in finance before making the jump to dote, a shopping app. What led you to make that change? Chang: It was one of those moves that seemed unthinkable at the time but makes all the sense in the world in retrospect. For as long as I can remember, I have loved shopping and dressing up. As a kid, I would spend hours trying to make dresses out of my mom’s scarves. In primary school, I put a lot of thought into my outfit everyday—think denim skirt with rip details at the pocket, paired with a pink tee with lace details on the sleeves. But back in China, where I drew up, dressing up was just something that could distract you from studying. My teacher would always tell my parents, “Chang is a good kid; she gets good grades. But she pays a little too much attention to the way she dresses!” When I came to the U.S. for college, my shopping game went to a whole new level. My freshman and sophomore years were around the time when online shopping became a thing, and I still remember discovering Revolve back in 2012 and thinking, this is the future of shopping—to have an infinite selection at your fingertips and return whatever you don’t like for free. My dorm room at the time was always full of boxes, and my closet was overflowing. When I graduated, my senior superlative was “Most likely to commission the Great Walk-In Closet of China”. I thought it was pretty accurate! However, for the longest time, I didn’t truly consider working in fashion or retail as a real option. Most of my classmates from Yale went into “brainy” fields like finance, consulting, law, or medicine. Fashion seemed superficial in comparison and I ended up as an investment analyst studying fintech before landing at Square, a fintech company. I really liked fintech and would study and write about the industry in my spare time, but if I had to be honest with myself, it was never my biggest passion. I LOVED shopping and thinking about the retail industry. The industry is so fascinating to me—it is beautiful and dynamic, but it’s also full of inefficiencies. Many companies have made it easy to get things delivered to your home, but people still have a hard time finding the exact piece of clothing they want. So, I spent a lot of time thinking about what companies I would build to make shopping more aggregated, social, and personalized. I thought about this in the shower and before I went to sleep. Having observed many successful leaders in my career, I realized a key ingredient to success is passion. You really need to love what you do and the problem you are trying to solve. Sure, consumer is a pretty saturated space and retail is hard, but I needed to pursue what felt the closest to my heart, which ultimately brought me to dote. I don’t regret the 5 years I spent in finance though. I loved learning about different business models and understanding what makes a business tick. It was the best way to prepare me for a career in business. I still invest in my spare time, and I would love to be able to do more investing in private consumer businesses one day.
Dote: What first struck you about dote that made you want to work there? Chang: I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of shopping app I would build one day: a marketplace that aggregates every brand and makes it easy to discover products through social features. In my mind, the social part is the most crucial element, because shopping should be a social activity by nature. You want to discover products from people whose taste you trust, ask your friends’ opinions on which of the two dresses to keep, and when you finally found that pair of black booties that have mid-heel, almond toes, and croc leather, but are still reasonably priced, you want to tell your friends about them… The social experience is what jumpstarts the marketplace flywheel. So the moment I saw dote’s page on the App Store, especially its favorites and poll features, I immediately thought: wow, someone has already built the social shopping app of my dreams! I was so excited that I immediately sent in an application with a long cover letter detailing what other features I would add to the app. I saw so much potential in the features dote was rolling out. It was definitely the alignment of vision that made me want to work here. I looked into many other shopping apps at the time, but I didn’t think anyone got the concept of social + convenience as well as dote.
Dote: How would you describe your day-to-day job to someone who has no idea what product analytics is? Chang: I look at data in order to understand our customers—who they are, what they want, and how to make them happy. For example, imagine you want to test the effectiveness of your company’s loyalty program. Do customers on the program come back to the app more? How many additional purchases can we attribute to the program? Studying data on how people use the app can help answer these questions and inform business decisions.
Dote: What’s the most fun part of your job? Chang: I love my job because it’s a good blend of analytics, strategy, and execution. I wear so many hats: I get to play with data, map out product strategy, and actually get my hands dirty and turn big picture thinking into reality. It’s really rewarding to build the shopping app of the future! I also love the people I work with. They are genuine, kind, smart and hardworking. And the most fun part: a lot of them are shopaholics. For the first time ever, I get to unbox clothes I bought online and try them on right in the office, and my colleagues can help me decide what to keep!
Dote: What’s the most challenging part of your job? Chang: The biggest challenge is to really understand our customers, especially since they are younger than me. There’s so much that the data doesn’t tell you!
Dote: What was your dream job as a kid? Chang: My idol throughout my childhood and teenage years was the Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki. I was crazy about her and collected every single one of her CDs and tour DVDs. I dreamed about being a pop singer like her one day, but turned out to be a terrible singer.
Dote: What are your passions outside of work? How do you spend your free time? Chang: I shop! No seriously, it’s a passion of mine and I consider it a legit hobby. I love the process of discovering unique designs and piecing together an outfit. I love finding harmony in seemingly contradicting colors, patterns and textures. It’s like art to me. I also like reading. The books that I have been reading lately are The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro, Inspired by Marty Cagan, The Master Switch by Tim Wu, and Immortality by Milan Kundera. I’m always reading a few books at a time and don’t always finish them. Additionally, I love strength training and go to a lot of classes. I also love skiing and running. My favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon is go running in Golden Gate Park.
Dote: What’s your favorite brand on dote? Chang: This is a hard question because I’m not very brand loyal, but if I had to choose one it’d probably be Reformation. The ‘hit rate’ of this brand, measuring how many pieces I like out of all the designs, has always been really high. I also love Shopbop and Revolve, obviously.
Dote: Everyone in the office loves your outfits. Where do you get your style inspiration? Chang: Instagram! I follow 1,500+ people on Instagram and most of them are influencers or brand accounts. The store Intermix always gives me lots of inspiration for outfits and helps me discover new brands. My favorite influencers are Pam Hetlinger, Stephanie Hill, Nima Benati, Lucy Hernandez, Kat Tanita, and of course, Anine Bing.
Dote: What’s something you wish you could tell your younger self? Chang: “Don’t let fear of failure paralyze you!” I think I missed out on a lot of things simply because I was afraid. I was afraid that people were going to judge me, that I would fail and embarrass myself, and that people were going to say no. It took me a while to really understand how to embrace my fear, rather than running away from it. Now I know the best way to conquer my fear is to put myself out there and practice.
Dote: If you weren’t working in product analytics and strategy, what would you be doing? Chang: I would be a merchandise buyer at a department or online store, probably. I love being able to pick out clothes, and I think this position would give me lots of insights into the industry.