Jing Zhu MBA ’10, Duet

Duet is a mobile app that connects commuters within neighborhoods, enabling members to schedule, coordinate, and conduct carpools quickly and autonomously. Founder Jing Zhu discusses some of the highlights and challenges of building her start-up.

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What have you carried from your Berkeley experience to your work in innovation/entrepreneurship? What programs or activities would you have taken advantage of to prepare for your career in innovation?

I had such a fulfilling time at Berkeley while attending the EWMBA program at Haas. It’s both the knowledge I learned which I am able to apply to running my own company, and the people I met who inspire me and help me along the way. I wish I had more time to spend on campus while in school to get to know more students and staff from different departments. My advice to those of you who are still in school and want to develop a career in the startup world is to meet and work as many people as you can because it’s the best time to recruit your founding team or find a team that you want to join.

As a first-time founder, what had you learned from seeing other startups? What can aspiring entrepreneurs do to increase their ability to succeed in the startup world?

Before embarking on my founder’s journey, I spent ten years in the corporate world. Knowing that I lacked the knowledge of how to found a company, I actually invested almost a year immersing myself in various startup events and activities to learn the process and [hear about] other founders’ experiences. In the end, I did learn a lot about various steps involved in starting and running a company, but it also became clear to me that there isn’t a set path to start a company. In fact, it’s the founder’s responsibility to figure out the right path for his or her vision. There are some good mindsets that I found helpful: Have a strong and open mind which is not easily swayed by the no’s (even better if you can identify value in the harshest comments); have an unwavering belief in the value of your vision, as many times others won’t be able to see it until it’s proven; and have a strong determination to bring your idea to life despite all the obstacles.

Is it better to join a startup, or to start your own company? How do you evaluate your employment opportunities?

Whether to join or start a company is totally situational. I would highly recommend considering three factors:

  1. Understand yourself, i.e., what motivates you and what your limits are. Some people are comfortable leading and inspiring people, and can embrace a wide variety of responsibilities, whereas others prefer to focus on certain areas and be supported by a team.
  2. Evaluate the timing – if you have an opportunity to join a great startup and you also don’t have a clear idea of where you can start, I would suggest you take the opportunity with the startup offer to learn the ropes, build your skillset and open doors.
  3. That said, definitely research the startup that wants to recruit you – is the market that interests you an emerging or growing market? Are these people that you want to work with for the next four years? Can you make an impact on their business? Do the due diligence yourself and don’t rely on VCs or others to do it for you because they likely have different goals from you.

As an entrepreneur, you’re told to push through barriers and face down rejection. How do you know when it’s time to pivot or sunset a project you’re working on?

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[Regarding] pivoting, be cautious about going down this path. First of all, it does take a while to find the right ingredients for a solution and calibrate it to solve your target problem. One needs to be patient and analytical about the situation. Only pivot after having a clear understanding of why you haven’t reached your desired stage, and recognizing that the issues involved are insurmountable. Pivoting can hurt team morale and drain your resources. It should be your last resort; use it prudently.

What’s your (or your company’s) biggest challenge or hurdle at your current stage?

Like all startups, we’re resource-constrained. Because of that we have to be prudent on what we should do now, vs. what we have to wait on until later.

What’s the most exciting opportunity at this stage?

We are in a segment of the transportation market that has been shown to be extremely challenging due to the need of user behavior changes. However, the transportation or mobility market is going through a phase of rapid disruption right now, finally, after decades of stalemate. Being in the midst of this exciting revolution, we see tremendous opportunities ahead of us. We’re extremely excited about it. I believe that uses of ride-sharing and vehicle-sharing will come to us in the foreseeable future, say 3 to 5 years. We want to be ready for it and assume the leadership in this space.

You’ve chosen to make the Berkeley Founders’ Pledge. What inspired you to do that?

When someone recently explained to me how the Berkeley Founders’ Pledge program works, my first reaction was ‘What an ingenious idea!’ I personally have benefited tremendously from the advice and help of Berkeley’s alumni network. I strongly believe in paying it forward and giving every person a chance that he or she deserves. I want to contribute back to the network in a meaningful way. The Berkeley Founders’ Pledge makes it possible and easy.

Interested in joining Jing in her commitment to Cal? Make the Berkeley Founders Pledge, like Jing did, and have an impact from Day One of your latest venture.