114 Art and Science Through Entrepreneurship: Ping Fu, Creator of 3D Printing, Talks #MeToo, Innovation, and Women in Tech
Ping Fu describes herself as an artist and a scientist, whose chosen expression is business. She talks to WINGS host Melinda Wittstock about the 3D imaging and 3D printing technology she created as co-founder of GeoMagic – and how from Invisalign braces to NASA space missions – she has “entrepioneered” the way products are designed and manufactured worldwide. Learn how her mantra of “Bend Not Break” guided her from the terror of gang rape at age 10 in a Chinese “reeducation” camp, to her early coding days with creating NCSA Mosaic software with the now VC Marc Andreesen that lead to Netscape and Internet Explorer, and beyond to the fearless flow state of Burning Man. Ping Fu inspires with every word.
Melinda: Welcome to Wings, Ping.
Ping Fu: Hello.
Melinda: You are a true entre-pioneer in every sense of the word. Do you like that, entre-pioneer?
Ping Fu: Yes, that's the first time I am being called by that name.
Melinda: Well you certainly are that. I mean, I just think of the innovation that you have brought to the world. It can't have been easy, and we are going to talk about your journey, but when did you know you were an entre-pioneer?
Ping Fu: No, I didn't know that. You know, I call myself reluctant entrepreneur. Probably many of us entrepreneurs are that way. You know, you think about it for a long time. You're not quite sure that you can do this, but I just thought, “Hey, I can try.”
Melinda: You know, at the end of the day that is all that we can ever do, because it's a really interesting thing. I mean, if you thought, “Wow, I am going to go and invent 3D”, I mean, did you even really understand the enormity of what you were doing back in 1997?
Ping Fu: No, not at all. I was just attracted to it, because when I grew up, I worked a lot in the machine shop. So when I saw a 3D printer, I was like really was attracted to it, and I was determined to write software for it.
Melinda: It is an astonishing journey, so take me back there. Actually, let's go back even a little bit further, because you were born in China. I don't know how many of our listeners have read your book. I remember reading it and being so moved by your story, and the adversity you overcame at so many different points in your life. Honestly, when I read that, I thought, “Melinda you have no excuses. Just kind of like get up and get on with it.”
But, I mean, you arrived here in the United States, I forget how old you were. You were basically a teenager. You barely spoke English, and you didn't have much money in your pocket, and then what happened?
Ping Fu: Well, I studied Chinese literature when I was in China, got in trouble with the government, came to the United States, and I thought I was going to continue to study literature in graduate school, but I couldn't, because my English was so poor. So what I did was I studied computer science instead, because programming is a manmade language, and I was telling myself writing essays or writing programing are both writing. One is for people to read, and one is for people to use, so they are the same.
Melinda: When girls say, “Oh no, I can't do computer science because I'm not good at math,” and really the correct response is, “It's a language.”
Ping Fu: Right. That's how I saw it, and that's how I got into it, fortunately at the very early stage of computer science, to the upcoming field.
Melinda: So how many women were there with you on that journey, at that early stage?
Ping Fu: Well, I started studying computer science in 1984, in University of San Diego, and I was only woman in the class. Now, there may be other woman in other classes, but in my class I was the only woman.
Melinda: Right and was that off-putting in any way? I mean, so many young women still, even in 2017, are the only women in the room.
Ping Fu: At that time, I think I had more life challenges than worry about I was the only woman in the class, because I still have to work to make a living, to pay my out-of-state tuition, to struggle with my language, to deal with the fact that I jumped from literature to computer science. I think the gender issue was not on my mind at that time.
Melinda: That's awesome. So you mean you had too many other problems to worry about.
Ping Fu: That's right.
Melinda: Well that's one way to go for it. So there you are. You arrive in a country and, Remind me how much money you had. Like, you had 20 bucks or something like that? That's it?
Ping Fu: I had $80 in travelers’ cashiers’ checks basically, to actually buy my transfer ticket from San Francisco to New Mexico. That was where I was originally going to school. I didn't have any money. I just had a bank check to buy the airline ticket.
Melinda: Yeah, so any of you out there that are thinking, “Oh, you know, I don't know. I can't start this journey until I do this, or until I do that, or until I have money or until…” Just keep listening to this story, because Ping, you're a testament that, really, people can do anything. I guess if you have, I don't know, would you say that you, It was a mindset issue for you, or it was just a reality you were in, and just like, “You know, I'm going to make the best of my conditions?” Or what was driving you, do you think? What was the inner fire?
[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]Once you did survive, and you thrived, then you feel, okay, you can solve any problem, because you've been in a situation that's worse. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @pfgeomagic[/tweet_box]
Ping Fu: Well, at that time it was a survival mindset, at that time. Later, it was different, because once you did survive, and you thrived, then you feel, okay, you can solve any problem, because you've been in a situation that's worse. But at different stage, it could be different mindset. At that time, it was the survival instincts. However, I was also very touched by the generosity and acceptance of American people, because there are so many neighbors, or colleagues, or classmates just went out of their way to help me.
Melinda: Oh, that's wonderful. So there you are, you're in college and you're learning computer science and how did you, You started out at Bell Labs, or talk to me a little bit more about that early stage, and how you came to be a co-founder of GeoMagic.
Ping Fu: Yeah, so I finished my computer science study, went to work for Bell Labs, worked on, basically, the internet and database side of the technology, and then I had the opportunity to go to the University of Illinois Supercomputing Center to work on computer graphics, because I was always interested in art in science, and that was an opportunity I wasn't going to pass.
So I went to Supercomputing Center while I was doing my graduate study, University of Illinois, that I did my graduate study. While I was working at Supercomputing center, working on movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the T-1000 melt down to a puddle, and it was there that I hired a student. His name is Mark Andrews.
Melinda: You hired Mark Andreessen. Of course, you did.
Ping Fu: Yes, I did. I hired him as a sophomore. He was in my group for three years, and then he and a couple other people started to write this graphics user interface called Mosaic. It was really, initially, as an easy way to manage all of this public domain software that we were managing, and they offered us expand it to more information, a way for people to process information. Then, they went to several of them, actually seven of them went to start Netscape with Jim Clark, and I actually went to Hong Kong to install a mini supercomputer.
When I came back from Hong Kong, Netscape went public. Everybody gone crazy about the Internet hype, and then university says, “Gee, everything you touch turns into gold. What's your next collaboration?” I'm like, “I don't know.” And I was still at university at the time, What I was seen was the power of the browser that enabled everyone, but we were also, One thing we did, which is to put the server, which is HTTP server, into public domain that no company will make it private. I think that was just as important as the browser. Even though, that people don't talk about it.
Melinda: Oh it's hugely, it's hugely important. You think of how the Internet would have been so different.
Ping Fu: Right, it would have been divided up if we didn't put it into public domain. We did that and then, the university kept pushing me to start a business. So one day, I saw this 3D printer from the founder of 3D systems, Chuck Hull, who was doing demonstration. Back then there was no software for the printer, the fact that he could even print was a miracle so I thought, “Wow, that looks interesting.” I was already working on computer in 3D technology anyways, so I thought, I'll start a company to write software for that. That is how I started company.
Melinda: That's fantastic. So take me through some of the products that were the results that GeoMagic produced in that time. I think it has touched so many of our lives. A lot of women listening may not even be aware of what those products are.
Ping Fu: We realized there wasn't input into 3D printers. We realized there are also a lot of 3D cameras, also called 3D scanners, so I thought: “Oh, in 2D you have software, imaging, 2D scanners and 2D printers. I should write software for in between 3D scanners and 3D printers.” So that was really GeoMagic's focus, and our impact went into many areas in the health care for example, Invisalign, Many people know about Invisalign advantage, correcting your teeth-
Melinda: Yeah the Invisalign braces.
Ping Fu: With all the wires and brackets. So, the thought of the process is to scan, 3D scan your teeth and now use software to straighten them on a computer and then you 3D print a mold, and then they actually pass aligner over the mold.
Melinda: So yeah you are responsible for so many beautiful smiles.
Ping Fu: Exactly, so I felt very inspired by creating software that could create a beautiful smile that's like the meaning right. Then something really interesting happened.
While I was doing Invisalign, I got a call from NASA and they said, “Hey, I saw your work in the orthodontists. You could actually help us with space shadow.” I am like, “What?” And then he said, “Yeah, we have this shadow that's going to go through the space because the Columbia disaster, because the shield on the space ship damaged. We didn't know when we entered earth the heat went in and caused the explosion and lost lives. So we are going to do a new space shuttle into the space. Its mission is to guarantee the safety return of astronauts. We want to 3D scan the damage on the space shuttle, send the data down to the earth, have it designed, send the design data back up to the space station and have it manufactured. So the astronaut can go out and fix the damage in five minutes.” I'm like, “Wow, I want to do that.” When I was young I wanted to be astronaut-
Melinda: That's awesome.
… But I never had opportunity to do that – guarantee the safe return for astronauts, that's interesting. Then I said, “Oh by the way, how did you connect that to my dental work?” And he said, “Don't you see that the damage is like a tooth cavity and what you create is like the filling.” And I was like, “Okay, got it.”
Melinda: Oh wow!
Ping Fu: Right?
Melinda: That's amazing-
Ping Fu: That was so amazing because at the time, I was not only doing Invisalign; I was also doing digital dentistry. Which is the filling and crowns and bridges, and that is how he learned about my work. Then he says, “You know dental work kind like, rocket science too. They have per square millimeter, our force is stronger than the car.”
That's how I learned you can have unseen connections when you have technology that can serve an application. So from dental I went into aerospace. I did a lot of aerospace work, and from aerospace I went to automotive and did a lot automotive design, and then I got a call from [Seramos [spp-timestamp time="00:14:05"] garage and they go like, “Can you come to fix 1922 convertible?” And I'm like, “Yeah.”
Melinda: I love that you connected the artistry of science and the science of art, and I think they are so intriguingly attached in the sense that of innovation – and that these concepts, these kind of multidisciplinary or cross-fertilization of ideas. I mean to me that's always where magic happens. A brain that's agile enough to make those connections is, I think, critical to being an entre-pioneer as opposed to a business owner. It's great to be a business owner, but when you're going out and actually like really inventing things. Is that where most of your ideas have really come from, those just interesting intersections?
Ping Fu: Yeah, it is interesting intersections and that connection often is not just made because it came out of my head. It’s that keen observations and listening skills. Then to see that technology or art can serve and solve real problems.
Melinda: Right, so the kind of characteristics I am supposed to have that apart from, an unbridled curiosity is also having the ability to slow down and listen, observe, allow yourself to be inspired. Are you by chance into meditation or other ways? How do you get your inspiration?
Ping Fu: That is a really good question. I didn't do a lot of meditation. I do in some way meditate because I came from China; I was growing up raised with the concept of Daoism, which is the predecessor of Zen. So to kind of contemplating to slow down space and time so that your mind and body can wonder is a fundamental concept that I grew up with. So when I was seeing [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:16:18"] I always allowed that also because I feel like if you are just a task master and just your to do list, you don't have time to contemplate and you don't actual create space and time to allow ideas to mingle with each other.
Melinda: You know it's so true. It's interesting how the west is beginning, and particularly driven a lot of entrepreneurs now who are getting much more focused on the kind of mind body spirit connection that has to happen. When you do this, you go on this journey of ups and downs and curves and roundabouts. So many things you can't control, so it's almost like being an entrepreneur feels like to me a great way of doing personal growth.
Ping Fu: It's the fun part of it. Really, that's the fun part of it. When we travel or go on vacation, we don't want something all of the same, all straight. We want all the ups and downs and roundabouts, and surprises. Entrepreneurship is like that. It is a form of discovery. It is a form of joy.
Melinda: And the joy. I love the joy. Those joy moments, even when finding those moments even when everything is falling down around you because at times… Well we're all just testing hypotheses.
Ping Fu: Right and I think if there is no problem to solve, then the company shouldn't exist. You exist because there are problems to solve, and it's fun to solve problems, and it's fun to hit a brick wall, and find a way to get around it. It is fun to work with your colleagues. We talked about Burning Man earlier and it was fun. It is fun to go there when you have to give up all assumptions and not taking anything else for granted, and then view the city together.
That is kind of like entrepreneurship and I guess that's why so many entrepreneurs go to Burning Man. Somebody told me, “Burning Man to entrepreneurs is like a golf course for bankers.”
Melinda: You know, it's so true when you think of Burning Man and all of the hurricanes this year and the catastrophic fires, so many things, but particularly the lost of the grid, say in Puerto Rico. You think, “Wow, so if a whole bunch of entrepreneurs could stand up a grid in the desert, like Burning Man. There's got to be an answer there for some of these devastated areas in the Caribbean.” Entrepreneurs really are able, if we put our minds to it and are just really creative, to solve these great, world problems.
So when you are at Burning Man for instance, this is an interesting thing because it is just so creative. It's a place where in a way you can't show up there with any ego.
Ping Fu: No.
Melinda: Right? So, describe the first time you went to Burning Man and what you took away from it?
Ping Fu: So, I've been there 12 times already. Every time I go there it takes all of me and more, which feels very much like entrepreneurship. Somebody once asked me, “How could you deal with all of this stuff? No water, nothing.” I said, “I never actually thought about that when I went there, I feel like I landed on Mars, I didn't think I was on Earth.” It is an alternative society: 70 thousand people go there every year to be with the civilization. You start from absolutely nothing and you then leave no trace. When you leave, you leave absolutely nothing. It's a very interesting concept and it takes so much out of you. You would not think that you would have those capabilities. You learn so much by doing that.
Melinda: I can imagine you learn so much about others, but about yourself. It's always been on my bucket list to go. I am fascinated by things like “flow state” and how we get into flow as a group. I don't know if you read that book, “Stealing Fire?” It came out this year – the Flow Genome Project and all that. I am fascinated by what it really takes to be at peak performance – but it does require you to get out of your own way, getting out of your ego, being really open to inspiration, kind of creating those quiet spaces in your mind. Do you find that going through Burning Man like that you come out of it with a sense of confidence or more self-belief?
Ping Fu: Because there is no commerce and it is very community driven and people are so loving. You come out with a sense of awe. A sense that anything can be done if you all just put your mind and your body, your talent, your time into it. You really do come out with this deeper sense of appreciation to life, to creativity, to community, to love.
Melinda: I had such a similar experience in a way, but different. I went into the Amazon rainforest about a year ago. The feeling of being there is this intense feeling connectedness. That everything is connected. I have never had such peace but also just… In the western world or in our lives, we get very much into what you describe as this kind of task treadmill, looking down, going to the next thing, and next thing, and forgetting we are all connected and forgetting that really anything is possible. I guess the phrase is if we put our minds to it. Which supposes that we get out of the way of our own subconscious or limiting beliefs.
Ping Fu: Right.
Melinda: When you look at entrepreneurs, and when entrepreneurs go wrong, when entrepreneurs fail… I don't mean the type of failure like testing a hypothesis, “Oh that didn't work, let's try this.” But, I mean when something goes wrong, the team isn't resonating or I don't know. What is the root of that in the sense of where entrepreneurs as leaders falter? What are the causes of that, in particularly in the case of female entrepreneurs?
Ping Fu: Well, I usually don't look at failure as a failure. Also, leader is not a leader unless others want to follow you. Right?
Ping Fu: You cannot just be a dictator and call yourself a leader. You are only a leader if others want to voluntarily follow you. Otherwise, you are not really a leader. But sometimes I would say if you talk about business plan, I say, “As a new entrepreneur, even existing entrepreneur, who has done this many times, the first time the business plan needs a customer, it is always wrong. Fire the plan not the people.” Which also means, get together and rework on your plan rather than blaming who made a mistake, including yourself, because sometimes entrepreneurs are most harsh about themselves. “Oh, I thought this was going to work. I thought it was the truth and it didn't work.” Then they start to have doubts of themselves. Everybody face the same thing, because that's what the give and take works. You have to meet the customer and market and you have to pivot. It doesn't mean that if your plan is wrong, everything is wrong. It may be just a couple of critical elements that you didn't consider.
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I remember talking to a mountain climbers, they always say, “It isn't the strongest that survives, it's the best prepared.”
Melinda: Oh my goodness. That's so true. I was so lucky earlier this year with my Maverick entrepreneur group to spend some time in San Francisco with Tom Chi from Google X and he tested his rapid prototyping system and that was fantastic. Because it was all about really testing things, even using paper and post-it notes and God knows, chicken wire, anything with your product and testing it with the customer over and over again, but doing it rapidly so you didn't get attached to your ideas.
I think maybe one of the reasons, I mean he was saying, one of the reasons that we get very attached because yeah, it becomes so personal, and maybe that is why it hurts more when your idea that you're attached to doesn't work. But he was like, “You can't do that, you can't when inventing Google Glass or driverless cars, or any of these things.” He described thousands of tries.
Ping Fu: Actually, all good ideas are after thoughts, before that after thoughts you have to have many, many ideas for just one of them to become an afterthought. You don't know until you succeeded, that's a great idea.
Melinda: Do you think that sometimes…You know when I look at the difference between men and women in entrepreneurship and obviously that's been so much in the news because women struggle to get access in equal number to the capital that they need and all the headlines from the valley about sexual harassment, you know all of this kind of climate. And so we think what is it? What is the reason? Is there a reason? I mean there are so many reasons, but how do you think women can get around that? Is it something we do or is it just external to us, or a mix of both?
Ping Fu: I think t's a mix of both. It wasn't that very long ago and this is also global phenomenon. Woman wasn't expected to go out and start a company. Woman role usually was bare children and raise children. That is also very important, for me, being a mother is just as important as my professional career. Some externally society wasn't really having a lot of support infrastructure for women to work outside of home. It is more or less new, and that even today it is still not there, the infrastructure to support women. And also cultural wise, the United States women was even more liberal or you know in Northern Europe, or in some other country was really looked down.
Internally, I think a woman also has different expectations. When I was running the company I was a single mother, which was a blessing, I would say. If I had not had my young daughter, when I run the company, I would work myself to death, and I would eat terrible food. Because of her, I took breaks, and I cooked well. I think in some way that's also a blessing. But, lot of time woman feel guilty not time spending more time with her children, with their family, men feel less guilty, so that certainly creates an internal conflict.
I don't think that should really be a conflict. I think choosing to be mother not entrepreneur is just as planned as choosing to be entrepreneur and less of mother. Don't feel guilty about it.
Melinda: It's funny because I am single mom. My kids right now are 11 and 14, and I feel like sort of I'm an entrepreneur in business and I am an entrepreneur as a mom. Because I am learning in business all the time, you know company number four, but I feel like I'm just as humbled often, as a mom. I love what you said about… That your daughter helped take care of yourself better because it does actually force you to balance a little more, maybe not balance, to me it's… I keep saying this phrase, “Work-life integration.”
Ping Fu: It forced me to do something that's not just work.
Melinda: Yes. That is so important. If you are working all the time… Again it's like going back to where we were in the conversation a little bit ago. You don't have the spaces to have that inspiration. I have come to the conclusion that to create value, you need to value yourself.
Ping Fu: Absolutely, that's so right. That's also one of the things you can do for yourself. No one can do it for you.
Melinda: Right. And no one knows how to… So the other funny thing is when you think about single moms, no one knows how to be a single mom. I don't know there's, a whole bunch of books and stuff you can read, but I'll be honest, I feel like I am making it up a lot of the time.
Ping Fu: And that is the same as it being entrepreneur. No one knows how to be an entrepreneur CEO. No one knows how to really be a single mom, but the thing is you just do it your way.
Melinda: Yeah, that is the thing, learning how.
Ping Fu: You do the best that you know how. That's…
Melinda: Exactly. I think this learning… We can all as woman can get better at just being kind to ourselves. I think sometimes we can be so harsh and judgmental. The opposite side of that coin of course is sort of a fear-based procrastination. Like, “Oh, I can't do it until this or until that, or making perfect the enemy of the good.” Or you know some of the ways in which that kind of fear and judgment, all those kinds of limiting beliefs kind of prevent us from really stepping into our full power in fact.
Ping Fu: Well at one point I was trying to see if I could live without judgment and fear, but I can't.
Melinda: It's hard right? I tried that too.
Ping Fu: See? It's not realistic. What you can do is to recognize that you are in the mood of fear or judgment or ego, any of those things, when you recognize it just drop it, without any analysis. Don't spend any brainwaves on it. When you recognize it, just drop it, and then just act from the point of love and loving yourself. Like what you said, be kind to yourself, loving people around you, loving the earth around you. And you would just feel better. Don't spend brainwaves to say I can or cannot do. Just say, “This is not what I want.” And drop it.
Melinda: A really radical thing that I learned quite recently that I wished I had learned early much earlier in my life, that is just when I felt I was judging someone else, I learned to say, “Oh, okay what is it about them that's triggering me, there is a judgment of myself in there as well.” Because we are all such mirrors to each other, starting to get more and more conscious, or in the moment about stuff like that. And yeah, like you say, just letting things go.
I have a golden retriever, and I watch her. Every time she meets a dog or somebody that doesn't like her or whatever she shakes. She literally shakes it off. That's smart. I like that. There's kind of like a nice none judgmental resilience it.
Ping Fu: I kind of installed a mental cancel delete button. Something comes up, it's just unwanted, I just go: “Cancel. Delete.”
Melinda: Well that is a fascinating metaphor in a way when we think about the patterns we have in our brain. All the things that we inherit, beliefs we inherit from our parents, or our experiences when we were kids. So many things like that you can literally, swap out programs out in your brain. If those beliefs aren't working, then how to clean some of that stuff, those old beliefs, away? Replace them with more, you said, love, not fear.
I think of your life and the transformation and so much you have been through because as a child in China, during the Cultural Revolution. Ping, my goodness, what you suffered.
Ping Fu: Yes.
Melinda: I think, how did you… If you don't mind, just briefly for the listeners so they have this context that I have from knowing you a little bit and reading your book.
Ping Fu: China had this Cultural Revolution that lasted 10 years: 1966 to 1976. And it is the biggest, political, social, revolution. You can call it a revolution, but it's not a positive word in that case. Being forced, many people in China, many, many people being prosecuted, especially educated. My family was prosecuted, and I didn't go to school from K to 12 because this happens to be when I'm in first grade to the time I am graduating from High School. That was the entire Cultural Revolution. So, I actually worked a lot in manual jobs and, when I was 10, I was gang raped and I didn't understand sex at that time, I just thought I was badly beaten, but it was the emotional pain later, that was worse than the physical pain.
I was called broken shoe at 10. I was a broken woman when I didn't even understand womanhood. That was really, really hard. But the two, many times I thought I was going to take my life, but I had a younger sister. I was taking care of her. My parents were taken away so it was just she and I living in this dormitory. I think it was my sister, having her and felt responsibility for her really made me to not to take my life. We helped each other to survive, during that time.
The other part that I survived, you know when I was young my [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:35:22"] papa was just my uncle, taught me to be bamboo. He said bamboo is flexible, bending with wind, but not break. I think he anticipated that something was going to happen in China, so he instilled this resilience in me so I remembered that. And then he also kind of instilled something in me, which is a necessity of [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:35:50"]. And this is probably one of the reasons I love art and science so much. And he always told me to focus on beauty. So when I was in this very dark, very harsh pain, whenever somebody sent me some kindness, whenever there was something out there that in my mind I could make it into art, I would do that – because art in some way heals us, and, by focusing the beauty, which America would call the cup half-full kind of people.
Melinda: Right? Sounds like gratitude.
Ping Fu: Right. It's the gratitude. Exactly. And it's also like seeking that in your mind to feel peaceful about your situation, and seeking gratitude, and seeking this goodness, which whether or not it's the earth that can provide you, or the people that you provide yourself with. I notice is that when you assuming good, when you appreciate that, people around you actually behave better.
Melinda: It's so true. They kind of behave how you expect they're going to behave, in a weird way. I think that's true.
Ping Fu: Yeah. Everybody likes to be appreciated, right? Everybody likes to be recognized that they are good people. Even the people, during that time, who, in peer pressure or for whatever the reason, maybe they're young or they've been [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:37:20"]. They act very cruel, but they're still human. And when you try to recognize their good side, you bring the best out of them. And that's what I did during that survival time. Gratitude and the focus on beauty, later I found to be really helpful as entrepreneur. So, especially when you have more and more people working for the company. What I find is to appreciate their strengths. To develop their strengths is much more helpful and valuable than focusing on someone's weakness. Because, you can always find someone else's strength is this person's weakness. You want to view the team that each person can focus on what they're good at, what they're passionate about.
Melinda: And that's true for you too as a founder or a CEO or an executive. To understand your own strengths and your own weaknesses and kind of… I think of like, “Let's see, I could double down and try to learn my weakness, or I could hire my weakness.”
Ping Fu: Right. And then interestingly I got a little bit more sophisticated in looking at what I'm doing, because as entrepreneurs, especially as a female entrepreneur, a lot of time we have difficulty to delegate. Some people may be very good in delegating, but I wasn't.
Melinda: Oh my God. That's so true. Why? Why do we have a hard time delegating? Because, we really do…
Ping Fu: Well we're like a mother. Mother catches all. Nothing is too small. Every job is with mother. So that's kind of what I see! But the thing is, when the company grows, you can't do that, because you're actually going to be too [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:39:14"]. You're going to kill yourself by working too much and you're going to be the bottleneck of the company. So, you would need to delegate. Initially, I was looking at the business concept. You hire people, you have job descriptions, and then I was looking at my own strengths and weaknesses and somehow I get the [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:39:33"] very confused. And then later I just get to this point where I say, “If I wake up in the morning, something give me a lot of energy and I'll do that.” If something suck my energy, it just doesn't matter how good I am at, if I feel down, I feel frustrated, I feel tense. Then, I'm going to find someone else who's good at this to do that. Just use my energy meter.
Melinda: That's profound. It's so true actually. I read a book earlier this year, called “The Values Factor” and it kind of helps you find your true purpose based on what are your values. And by values, he means what you value doing. Like if you look at your day and what gives you joy in terms of how you're spending your time. Like, what things do you want to do first? I don't know; those sorts of values, so really getting in alignment with your true purpose. He was talking about that being actually one of the barometers. Do what makes you feel good.
Ping Fu: Right.
Melinda: In the sense of, what are the vocational things, or what do you most enjoy doing in your business, and getting firmly in alignment with that. I want to turn corners a little bit and go back to where we started the conversation with all the innovation that you've done in 3D imaging and printing. Where do you think that industry is going now? What's next? I look at that and I think, “Wow, can completely reinvent the supply chain, it could do…” There are so many implications. What do you see on the horizon in the next 10, or actually it's such a sort time now, in the next year, the next 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
Ping Fu: Well 3D scanning, which is also known as the 3D sensor, 3D camera, it's already alive everywhere. You already see Apple pens coming with a 3D camera, with a front facing, which has a facial recognition. Intel actually has a chip there that runs in a lot of computers. If we have autonomous car we wouldn't have to measure distance from everything to everything. But, that technology is already in our everyday life. On the 3D printing side… Which I think is interesting, because on the industrial and medical side, the market is on the penetrative. The bigger company or the bigger healthcare organizations are still adapting to the custom fabrication methodology. Because it's a bigger change when you already have a installed mass production system there. And their consumer side is underdeveloped, even though there were a lot of tries to develop 3D printers on the consumer side, but it's not quite there yet. We still need a lot more development, both on the machine and the material side as well. This is a huge disruption, right? Everybody is seeing what desktop publishing did to the publishing industry.
And we no longer need to… If I read New York Times here in Los Angeles, I'll get a digital file and print it here. It's not printed in New York and shipped here anymore. In the future, manufacturing will be similar. It's going to enable distributive custom manufacturing locally, rather than shipping everything over here. It'll be a lot cleaner, it's going to cost less.
Melinda: Yeah. So, FedEx and UPS should be worried in that case?
Ping Fu: On demand and all of that. Some of the stand up parts will still be there. I think FedEx and UPS will find other things to ship. I don't think that deliveries are going to go away. But maybe, they didn't have to deliver things they don't have to deliver. Because a lot of those manufacturing logistics, we don't even know, it's just part of cost of the products. It doesn't deliver to our house right?
Ping Fu: It's not a custom service of delivery, but it's all the parts being… It's cheaper to make it in Asia, or make it in South Africa, and then take big batch of them ship to wherever the country and you assemble them. And you make too many of the things people don't want. Maybe too few of the things people do want. And on demand manufacturing would be made by those new technologies. And it's still at it's beginning, I would say.
Melinda: Yes. That's interesting. Because it's at it's beginning and so many things going on now with augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics, artificial intelligence, there's such opportunity out there. So, for a young women thinking of her career in tech right now, or being a tech founder, or part of a team on a company that has this kind of disruptive technology or wants to innovate in a disruptive way, what's your advice for that young women? How best to navigate all this exciting, it's exciting, frontier?
Ping Fu: This is a really exciting time because there's so many technology coming all at the same time, which will enable huge change in our life. Make our life better. I think a young woman or a young man, whoever, wants to go out on an entrepreneur journey, I always advise them, “Well first of all, you need to know who you are, and why you want to do this.” Right? I hear people say, “I want to do this to make money.” No. Wrong reason. That's not the why.
Melinda: There are other ways to make money.
Ping Fu: I also hear people say, “I want to do that because I don't want to work for anyone.” Wrong reason. That's not the why, because when you first start the company, you work for everyone.
Melinda: You work for everyone. Yeah, no, you do.
Ping Fu: If you think you don't want to work for everyone, wait until you have employees and you have to be responsible for everyone. Those are the wrong reasons to start a business. You really need to ask yourself, “Why do you want to do this?” So, some of the entrepreneur have a great idea, they think they're on the mental problem they try to solve, once they solve that problem, it was contributing to the society. They are very clear on what they are good at, what problem they trying to solve, and why they want to do this. And if they are in that stage, “Yeah. Go do it.”
Don't let anybody to tell you no, because you know what problem you want to solve, and you know you're the best person to do it. And if you can create the value, money will follow you. If you can create the value, if you are the magnet, the money will be attracted to you. Don't try to attract to money, make the money attract to you. Money is just a tool, like anything else. If you're the magnet, people are going to be attracted to you. Customers are going to be attracted to you. Capitals are going to be attracted to you. If you don't create the value, you're not the magnet, and it's not going to happen.
Melinda: That is so profound. So, when people often chase money as entrepreneurs… Yeah, they're kind of permanently in a scarcity situation. But, when they go out and create value, the money follows. That's such an important and vital, vital thing to offer our listeners. I mean really, I think what you're saying too, is just know your passion. Have a problem to go solve. Without that passion, it's pretty hard to get through the tough times in this as well.
Ping Fu: Understand your “why” first, and then do tests on your “why.” If you say, “Why should I do this? Okay, I want to make money.” Would anybody follow you because you want to make money? Would the customer buy product and service from you because you want to make money? What do they buy from you? They buy, “You want to make money?” It doesn't make any logic sense.
Melinda: Exactly. Why should they care?
Ping Fu: Why should someone care to work for you? Why should someone care to buy your product and services? Why should anyone give a damn to your life, right?
Melinda: Yes. So, Ping, I remember when I first met you. It was at a Springboard Venture forum. Dinner and springboard is an accelerator for female entrepreneurs, and I think we're both alumni of it. And I remember you telling me something that stuck with me, so much so, that I've repeated it many times. You had same something about, “The problem with climbing the mountain, is when you get to the top of the mountain, there's only one view.” And, I remember that you said this to me at a time in my life when I was really kind of focused on the destination. Like, “I'm going to be happy when I get here.” And, you profoundly changed my thinking on that. And apart from anything else, I really want to thank you for that, because it's critical to the entrepreneurial journey I think to understand that the joy is the journey.
Ping Fu: Right. Yes. In my book, one of the title chapters says, “Life is a mountain range.” So, that's when I was talking to you about if you want to go to another peak, you have to go down before you can go up, so see it as a journey.
Melinda: Exactly. Sometimes I ski down those hills.
Ping Fu: Yeah. I was hiking on the sand dunes in Abu Dhabi going down is so much more enjoyable.
Melinda: Oh my goodness. Well, you know what? Apart from anything else, business, and entrepreneuring, should be fun. Finding those moments of joy, and beauty, and gratitude in your journey. Ping Fu, so inspiring. I enjoy this conversation so much.
Ping Fu: Yes, me too. I'm having such a fun talking to you.
Melinda: That's great. Well, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with me today.
Ping Fu: Thank you.
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