Si Shen: a new empire builder
The 33-year-old woman is the one of a rising entrepreneurial class in China taking the world by storm.
September 21, 2015
As a high-school student, Si Shen read about how Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft. Inspired, she told her mother that she, too, wanted to use technology to change the world.
Today, the 33-year-old is recognized by Forbes as one of Asia's Women to Watch, one of a rising entrepreneurial class in China taking the world by storm.
Shen is co-founder and CEO of Papaya Mobile, a social-gaming and mobile-advertising company whose technology connects Chinese tech giants Baidu and Alibaba with app developers and mobile users worldwide. Over the last three years, Papayaâ€™s revenue increased six-fold. This year, Shen says she hopes to triple it as the company penetrates the mobile markets of India and Europe.
Plan ahead and begin work
Shen, born in the town of Jingzhou in China's eastern Hubei province, was encouraged at an early age to set and chase ambitious goals. Shen's mother, her first mentor, left her practice as the town's first lawyer to start a real-estate company in Shenzhen.
"My mother had an enormous influence on me while I was growing up," says Shen. "I worked at her company while I was in college but learned that real estate was not the thing for me."
Set on becoming a successful tech entrepreneur, the tenacious teen laid out a plan. Her first step was to attend the prestigious computer science program of Tsinghua University in Beijing. She was admitted at 15. Next, she needed to "get a foot through the doors of Silicon Valley." So, while topping her class at Tsinghua, she studied English and, at 19, set out to begin a master's program in computer science and engineering at Stanford University.
Between internships at large companies such as General Electric and DaimlerChrysler, Shen entered student business competitions and sought a new mentor.
"I was at a house party in Silicon Valley held by Tsinghua alumni when I saw many people surrounding a person who was talking," she recalls. "Someone told me he was the famous alumnus who had just taken his company public. I went and introduced myself, and told him about my plan to start my own company."
That night, she convinced Northern Light Venture Capital co-founder Deng Feng to meet her again. It was the start of a close relationship.
Focus with flexibility
After graduating from Stanford, Shen presented Feng with plans to start a mobile-security company. Instead of investing, he advised her to first gain experience as a product manager. Shen took Feng's advice and, during an interview with Google, she told then-executive Marissa Mayer that she intended to return to China to start a company in five years.
Shen worked as a product manager for four years under Mayer, now CEO of Yahoo, before using an angel investment from Feng to start Papaya. Since then, Shen says she has taken on other mentors to guide her business strategy and development.
"You don't have to stick with one mentor," Shen says. "It's important to be flexible."