Shuya Gong is a founder of INQUISITE, a platform for determining passions, defining success, and kickstarting a life of informed explorations. Geared toward high school students, INQUISITE harnesses the unstructured insights available from online activities, and using algorithms to gauge interest, highlight trends and outline suggestions for the future.Learn more about the beginning of INQUISITE at http://www.psfk.com/2015/09/ibm-watson-good-data-contest-life-planner-software-inquisite.html.
What motivated you to start your business?
INQUISITE was started because of a challenge question asked by PSFK and IBM Watson: What would you do if you had all the data in the world? My cofounders and I thought that education was something that was important to all of us, and realized that with all of the information about someone, it made the most sense to empower people to harness information about themselves and do something actionable with it. In less than 24 hours, we put together some rough prototypes for a cognitive computing platform that would help people make life decisions about their education. After we won the competition and some funding, it seemed a natural move to keep going forward, wrapping our platform in a business model and continue research and development. It was a combination of all of the right things, a team, capital, and a great idea, merging together.
What is the greatest barrier you faced in launching your business and how did you overcome it?
Communication between the original team was very difficult, because we were all students at the time and were literally scattered across the country. It’s something that we’re still trying to figure out, but it was realizing that asking for help and identifying talent to expand the core team was vital.
Do you have a mentor? How did you find him/her?
I have multiple mentors in many different areas of business and development, many of them have been serendipitous meetings with people at conferences that were followed up with a cup of coffee, or people that I’ve worked with with a lot more expertise and experience.
If you could go back in time to when you were first starting, what would you tell yourself, with the intention of avoiding mistakes and heart ache?
If you’re going to start something, go all in and all out. As a student, college is one of the safest places to fail in something that isn’t your studies, and it will be one of the only times in your life where there is a play pen and safety net to try something wild that you believe in, that can be super beneficial in the long run.
What resources have been most helpful to you?
Online resources and handbooks from people who have done it before, such as Rough Draft Ventures, and Zero to One. Some of these experiences you learn from to learn what to do, as well as what not to do, and professors and innovation centers at college have been amazing as well. There are a lot of things you can get away with as a college student, because questions are totally welcome at any time, and information is (sometimes) surprisingly free.
What does success look like for you?
Being happy and influential. I think it’s a combination of being able to have the freedom to what what you want in your free time and for work, and being truly satisfied with that life, and for me, it would be being able to positively impact as many people as possible.
What do you do to recharge?
I play percussion, or one day build engineering projects with my boyfriend. We’re both makers at heart, and being able to produce something quickly in the tangible sphere is a good way to get out of the sometimes logistically and conceptually heavy job of being an entrepreneur. Branching out into other industries that make you excited is so crucial to take a break and also draw inspiration from analogous situations.
What’s your advice for a woman that’s considering starting her own business?
Have a support network to complain to. It’ll make things a lot easier for your own mental health, but you’ll also have a group of people that can help you access resources that you weren’t aware of. A number of people who have your back no matter what is crucial when starting out on something new and unproved, and there’s nothing more important than a friend.
During the month of May, National Women’s Business Council will be profiling young women entrepreneurs—many of whom are still students. Visit the NWBC Blog every Tuesday of the month to learn more about these inspiring women.