Yes We Can
A recurring series presented by Cloudflare co-founder and COO Michelle Zatlyn, featuring interviews with women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who clearly debunk the myth that there are no women in tech.
This week's guest: Tricia Choi
Tricia is the Director of Twitch’s Design Systems Team—where she bridges the gap between brand and product. She has been a designer and director at over 13 startups, the most recent one being MoveWith—a fitness app and marketplace that she co-founded. Beyond technology, she is also a children’s book author and artist. You can find her book “Alphabetimals” published by Peekabook Press at the SF MOMA and her paintings throughout the city, most noticeably Room 210 at The Hotel Des Artes—a collaboration with Shepard Fairey
Thanks everyone for joining for this week's Yes We Can segment. I'm so honored to have Tricia Choi here today.
Good morning, Tricia. Good morning. Thanks so much for coming today.
Thank you. I'm really looking forward to our conversation.
So, you know, one of the reflections I've had during this pandemic is a real highlight for me has been meeting amazing people in technology, all who happen to be women, and hearing about their roles, what they've done.
And Tricia comes with a design background.
So she is an artistic, artist, creative person, a dancer, a yogi, who also happens to work in technology.
And so I'm really excited to see how these two crafts bridge.
And Tricia, I couldn't imagine a better guest than you.
So welcome today. Thank you so much. It's been really exciting getting to know you and your team.
Thank you, guys. Great. Well, so let's jump in because I think a lot of people, when they think about technology, and then I also use the word artists in the same sentence, and this idea that you're both an artist that works in technology, seemed a little bit of at odds with each other.
And I don't think that many people can say that either.
And so can you share with the audience, how you would describe all the various design roles you've had throughout your career?
And let's start there. Let's just give an audience an example of like, what does an artist in technology?
What do you do? What can you do as an artist in technology?
You can do anything as a person who's creating something, which has been labeled artist.
And I think I mentioned before that I started in the industry before technology was a four letter word, where technology was a medium that we use to bring an idea to life and to express ourselves.
So I've had this amazing career where I've got to carve new spaces, work in mobile, work in the convergence of media and mobile, media and digital, and just keep going until I have been able to use my artistic skills, the more traditional artistic skills, to help bring these ideas to life.
But you were asking about a specific example, right? I mean, I love that.
Sometimes I think, Trisha, when you speak, and I had the pleasure of speaking with you before today where we're live, but you use very poetic words.
So sometimes I'm like, are you a poet or an artist? Because you use very poetic words, which I love, this idea of carving out new spaces to create.
But if you could give a couple of examples, I think that would be great to help contextualize what you just said.
Yeah. Okay. Here's the most interesting story that's nearest and dearest to my heart.
So a few years ago, I co-founded a wellness and fitness platform called Move With, and that was happening at the same time that I joined a social justice dance group performing company.
So we were performing in California and Oregon, and then I was flying to Boston to meet with my partner and raise funds.
And what I realized was that the dance group had a similar mission to the VCs that we were meeting with.
Everyone wanted to change the world. And what I saw was that the allocation of resources was just lopsided.
In the dance community, there's just a surplus of soul and not a lot of funds.
And for the venture capital community, there's a surplus of funds, and they're trying to figure out how to move it to help change the world.
So I basically got to combine my interests and start funneling some funds into the hands of those that are soulful.
And while I have moved on from Move With, while we were working on this product, we were able to really change the lives of some yoga instructors, dance instructors, runners, and give them agency so that they can create their life.
And then that goes back to what you asked earlier, which was how does an artist sort of carve their path in technology?
And that's what I did for me, which created a ripple effect for artists that use our platform.
So that example is one I'm most proud of.
I love that example. I kind of have tingles thinking about that because obviously you're so passionate about it, and you really did bring the soulfulness to the funds and created something really special.
So good for you. That's great. I think about when you describe these carving these experience, which is really another way for like a visual communication.
And so when you think, you've worked with over 10 companies, startups, and you've had your own with Move With and now you're at Twitch and they've both, you've been at small companies and large companies.
And when you think about visual communication with designing products, how important is that and why is it so important?
It's so critical that you could forget that it is because it's just, you have a visual layer, no matter what you do.
I'm fixing my hair. Some might not care and some might notice, but it's a signal to everyone, right?
So as a founder of a company, it's your choice how much attention you want to pay to the visuals you put out into the world, but you have no control over how people perceive you.
So at this point, you're not allowed to not care about design because everyone is using your products through the interface that you create.
I think that answer is probably the closest one to the people who might be watching this, but I could go on and on about the importance of visuals.
Another thing for visuals, and this does also apply for technology, is that that expression is as powerful as you're willing to go.
So you can look around and see how to create a product that fits in and that's not a terrible way to go.
And even traditional artists, painters would learn from others around them and emulate their styles.
But when you start getting into the space of pulling ahead of the pack, you have to start inventing your own way and that way has to align with what you're trying to offer the world and what the user needs.
And so it's this constant dance and you can see industry greats doing that, where they start leading the pack and then everyone starts copying them.
There's actually nothing wrong with either one, as long as you're really true to what you're trying to do.
What's not great is if you're trying to copy someone for the wrong reasons.
Like, oh, they are so monetarily successful, but their audience has nothing to do with ours.
That doesn't make any sense, right?
That's great. You make a good case. And I even think back to when we first started Cloudflare, we really believed a lot of the visual communication.
And I think for many early stage companies, as you design these products, it can set you apart and become an advantage than many others in the field, because you can have a point of view, you can have a personality, you can express it in this visual way, and that can be really a way to connect with your audience.
And so I love what you just said really resonated with me. And so, you know, great case for why visual communication is so important, because it's happening.
So you could either be in the control of it or not, but it's going to happen.
So you might as well try influencing the way you, in the direction you want.
How do you know if you're being, how do you know if you've hit the mark? How can you measure whether it's good or bad or effective or not effective?
Something so subjective?
Yeah. So it starts with, are you giving it the right attention?
Are you working with the right people who are tapping into what your true core values are?
And then are you moving from a place of that sincerity and authenticity rather than simply going for metrics and goals?
So for example, let's say you redesign your homepage, and one of your KPIs is we want to affect the conversion, right?
There's some cheap tricks you could do, like really cheap tricks you can do to get people to click on the button.
Does that mean you've been successful?
No, because you have to look at the story of it. What kind of customers are you drawing in?
What is the quality of those clicks that come in? What's the life cycle of these users that are coming in through these, you know, new visual communications that you're employing?
So that's one way to look at it from a more, in a way that you can measure it.
Another way is how does it make you feel? You have to really feel like that what you're putting out there is an authentic expression of what you want in the world, right?
And so it's that kind of balance that will keep you on the right path.
And, you know, hire people who have done that their entire lives and surround them with more people that will support that because you would do that for any other part of your business, right?
The finance, sales, marketing, you need to hire the people that align with your mission and vision and also sort of embody that their craft.
No, I do find that companies go wrong there where they don't hire like the designers with the experience and the craft or they just think it'll come.
Like, have you seen companies misstep there? I have.
And I don't know that I would be able to blame anyone because I'm seeing it from the outside.
It could be that whoever they hired didn't have a confidence to stand up for design.
And that's no one's fault either because we're just evolving. And I have to dig back into the past to think about this, because if you look at the products that are out on the market now, people get it.
And that layer of visual communication is just already there at table stakes.
We're now moving past the visual communication to ethical communications, purpose-driven, authenticity.
What are the ethics behind the technology you're using, like AI?
Like, we're getting into murkier territory. And the design teams are actually the ones that are helping to usher this in, along with the product teams as well.
But we're almost, I think, we're almost past, do you need visuals? And do you need a team?
And do you need to, like, give them, you know, quote -unquote, a seat at the table?
That's table stakes. Now it's, what kind of team do you build?
How do you empower them? And what does design really mean? Because now we're back to us understanding the mechanics of how we build our products.
How you build your products will now inform the usage of it, which now informs how society shapes around it.
That's an even bigger conversation. It really is. It's like, this is the trend.
This is what you get when you hire an expert, where it's, no, no, this is table stakes.
This is where we're going. I'm Canadian, so I'm going to use a bad analogy with, especially with an artist, is like, you're going where the, you know, as an analogy by Wayne Gretzky is, you skate to where the puck is going.
And so it's a that was the conversation the last decade, but if you really want to be in the know, the next conversation is this.
So thanks for sharing that with us.
It does feel, it does make you set up a little bit straighter and expand your thinking about, are we thinking about it in the right way?
Are we doing enough?
So I think that's really, really helpful. You know, when you, I mean, you've worked across 10 different early stage startups and brands and creating products that you really believe in.
That's a lot. Like most, most people in their career can't, don't have that broad sense of a portfolio.
When you think about those experiences, are there any similarities or differences that you can maybe share with us or highlight for us?
Yeah. I feel like a surfer kind of surfing the waves of innovation in this area.
And as soon as the wave doesn't need me anymore, I step off.
So I tend to create design systems that will leave the team in a pretty good place.
They can replace me, or I build teams where I'm trying to make myself redundant as quickly as possible.
And then I sort of move on. That tends to be around the time when the technology itself becomes table stakes.
So for example, I started in my career in mobile, working on the T-Mobile sidekick through danger.
And I left before Microsoft bought us because, you know, the iPhone was being born.
Like all these other smartphones were born. The sidekick was like pre-iPhone where you could walk around with the Internet in your pocket with a QWERTY keyboard.
Right. And once it became table stakes, it just wasn't as interesting to me because my gift as a creator is to like, I keep using the word carve, but like create something that hasn't existed and do it in this sort of pioneering way where I don't know what the answer is, but I'm going to keep working with you until we get somewhere.
And there are other types of artists that are craft people that refine.
So I'm sort of this divergent creator and there are others that are just incredible at that refinement, refine it, refine it until it's like that meticulous perfection.
And since I've gotten to sort of follow my passion, I've gotten to go from one thing to another and land in like the wild, wild West until everyone's there.
And once everyone's there, there are courses taught around how to do it.
And there are experts that pop up, but then it's time for me to go on to the next thing.
I think those are the commonalities. And I think you also were asking about like what drives me for each mission.
I really want to work on products that are identifying that wave of energy so they are not chasing the puck, they are the puck.
And that really lights me up.
And anyone who gets jaded around the word tech, fine, you can shorten the word, it was a long word.
But getting jaded about it is really missing the point because technology, paints, words, those are all medium.
You are that, you have to be the puck.
And if you're not happy, you're not the puck. And you also have a million chances, an infinite number of chances to find out what that thing is for you.
So just keep doing that. I love that. And maybe if you're not the puck, go find a way to be the puck.
Go join something where you are that. Yeah. And maybe have a different experience.
I love that. So, again, are you sure you're not a poet, Tricia?
Because again, your words are much more eloquent than mine. But as you're describing these surfing waves and creating, pioneering these frontiers, which again, we're so lucky to have creators like you in the world, like really, you build products for all of us to enjoy.
It's amazing. And show us what's possible.
As you're going through it, I said, wow, that's so empowering. But it also sounds like exhausting.
Like how do you, that sounds like hard to maintain that creativity.
So how do you refuel your creativity? Because you're constantly having to find new inspirations.
Obviously, you're good at that. But still, how do you refine?
How do you refuel as you go from wave to wave to wave? How do you not get tired?
I learned to be honest about my experience. It didn't come free. It was constant searching for it, but learning that, okay, I need to take a nap now.
I need to rest. I used to be someone who never wanted to rest and would just pull all nighters several days in a row because it was fun.
And I had too much energy at the time.
Here's what I do. Actually, I have a story for you. So I used to do Kung Fu.
I used to teach Kung Fu. And our Sifu used to stand at the edge of the classes and do Tai Chi slowly, just very slowly.
And these young kids ran up to him and bounced over to him and said, Sifu, Sifu, can you teach us Tai Chi?
And without stopping and without looking at them, he said, no.
They said, wait, what do you mean?
We want to learn Tai Chi. And as he continued to move slowly, he said, you have too much energy right now.
That's the whole story, right? And so I think about where you are in your day, in your moment, in your years, what kind of energy do you have?
Because our Sifu was unquestionably powerful and wise and everyone wanted to be like him, right?
And sometimes people want to be like the kids that are bouncing off the walls.
And we constantly have this, why can't I be someone else, which is the biggest energy drain.
So figuring out who you are and how to thrive in that space is what I do.
And so to take it down to the nitty gritty, I don't have time or desire to do four dance classes a week.
I don't really want to join another dance company right now, but I want to dance.
So I started taking online classes through Mari and Keone's new dance platform.
I do yoga through Yoga Glow.
I dance on my own. I paint, you know, I just do a few things that light me up and I don't judge where it's going, right?
And then I focus the bulk of my energy on whatever expression I'm having now.
So right now it's at Twitch and right in this moment, it's this conversation with you.
Oh, that's good. That's great. Thank you.
I think there's a lot of things all of us can learn from what you just said.
So thank you for sharing all of that. So let's say there's an artist listening to our conversation right now and they're really inspired and they're like, wow, I'm an artist.
I have all this expression. It didn't even occur to me I could do it as part of using technology as a medium.
And all of a sudden they decide, I want to try and do what Tricia did.
Like what advice would you have for artists listening who are kind of sparked and inspired by what you're hearing, by what they're hearing?
What advice would you have for them? I would recommend that they take a bigger step back and understand how their expression fits into the world.
And one thing I like to say, sometimes I do these leadership talks to dancers.
And I think I like to talk about is identifying what breaks your heart and what lights you up and, you know, creating from that space, that sort of Venn diagram.
And the break your heart piece doesn't have to mean that leaves you angry.
It's breaking your heart open, right?
What makes you feel tender? And if you can do that, that's a worthy place to pour your energy into.
Now, tactically, how do you do that? Right now in 2020, we have platforms that will take care of your video, billing solutions, legal teams that will handle your incorporation.
So a lot of the things that used to be hurdles are actually taken care of now.
So all you need to do is focus on what you're trying to build, and then bridge whatever gaps there are that don't already have a technology solution.
One way to do that is to learn more languages.
So one thing I noticed, I used, I was an art and English major in university.
And I, my first job was as a intern at Deloitte & Touche. Yeah, and I remember- I'm having a really hard time envisioning you at Deloitte & Touche, just because of your creativity.
Obviously, you've really found your voice. Keep going.
I'm now, I'm like, that really is the most surprising thing I've heard from you, Tricia, so far.
I actually did it because someone said, what are you going to do out of college, be a, you know, with your majors?
And I said, I'm going to take your job.
So my first job offer was from Arthur Anderson. So that's a different story.
But when I was there, I remember looking at some business documents, and looking at the writing, and finding it hilarious.
And phrases like best practices.
There were, there were fortune cookies that had the phrase best practices in the fortune cookie.
And I remember thinking, what is this? And I realized that everything has its own language.
When you walk into a dance cypher in a club, the words that are used are completely different.
When you go to Deloitte & Touche, and you pick up a best practices business document, the words are completely different.
You hang out with your friends. But actually, if you can translate what those words mean, then you can go anywhere.
And so my recommendation is to assume you know what's being said, like, don't get hung up on what the words are.
Don't get hung up on like, what's the best practice? What does that buzzword mean?
It doesn't actually matter. And don't feel too much like I'm an other, because I don't know that word.
Because you say words that other people don't know either.
So don't other yourself. Just know that we all have a different language. And I think that has been really powerful for me, because I have been able to walk into most situations and take a deep breath and appear confident.
And just know that I will eventually understand the words that are being spoken.
And if I need to ask for clarification, I can.
But you don't need to know everything in order to succeed. That's great.
I think I, you know, there's this, again, you use much nicer words, more eloquent words than I will, but I do think that there's this notion of you don't need to know everything.
But how quick can you learn and how and kind of start to contribute is really empowering for many people.
Because as soon as you realize, okay, actually, it's more about how fast I can learn, I'm curious, do I want to learn this, that you can actually do a lot in your career versus having to know everything when you walk in the door.
And those are different. And I think that the more people understand, it's like, no one expects you to know everything on day one, but it's how fast can you learn?
Like, if you have a really high rate of learning, it actually becomes a huge superpower in your career.
Exactly. Yeah. Good.
Okay. So I, you know, you gave us this great example of MoveWith about how you brought the soulfulness to the funds and the funds to the soulfulness, which I, which I love.
But maybe what are, when you think back to some other projects you've worked on, what are one or two favorite projects other than MoveWith, which was an amazing project?
What else can you share with the audience? I'd love to hear one or two of your other favorite projects and just hear some about some of the work that you've been able to create and ship for the, to make lives better.
Oh, yeah. Okay. One of my favorite projects is the Liftware Spoon created by Anupam.
And I met him when I was volunteering for a pay it forward restaurant in Berkeley.
And he said, hey, you're a designer.
Can you design some stuff for me? And I said, sure.
Next thing you know, he said, I'm starting a company, I want to make a spoon that equalizes itself for people with essential tremor.
If you see them eat, they pick up a spoon and all the food falls out.
So there were no real solutions other than a huge awkward contraption that didn't work or brain surgery.
Those are the two choices.
Yeah. So I imagine them being very isolated. Anyways, he said, I don't have any money.
Do you mind writing me an invoice for some work? And then I'll pay you later.
I wrote him an invoice for like $1,200. Next thing you know, we're working together for two, three years.
He creates this incredible spoon. We work together, meeting every week, and we craft a brand.
I got to name the company, brand the company, and work on a lot of new nuances where we were trying to give people a gift.
I wanted people to wish they had essential tremor so they could use this awesome spoon.
That was my greatest goal. And at the end of two or three years, I left my job to move with.
And Anupam wrote me an email and said, I actually never paid you.
Google's buying us now. I'm going to use numbers because I want everyone to demystify this.
Do not be controlled by money. He basically gave me $30,000 worth of stocks that converted to cash, which at that time in my life was several, several months of pay while I was going without pay to start my next thing.
And it happened right at the exact right time.
And I remember thinking, this is the perfect amount because had he given me several million, I might want to change my behavior.
And this was exactly enough to keep me on the path that I was committed to already.
So that's a lot of things I liked in one. I love that. There's so many life lessons in there, Trisha.
I'm so glad you shared all that. What was the name of the spoon?
I missed that because I... Liftware. L-I-F-T-W-A-R-E. You can Google it and find it.
They're part of Google verily now. Okay, good. I'm going to go Google it afterwards.
That's good. I mean, again, I think that this passion to want to create things for people that change people's lives.
Again, we're lucky to have people, artists like you, using technology as a medium to create these things.
So there's one question I want to get to that I ask every guest that comes on.
I really want to hear your own words, your eloquent words is, you work in technology, as you said, you've been in this industry before I got shorn to the tech industry.
You've been working with technology for a long time.
You have a ton of experience, but you're also a woman in the industry.
And so where has the industry kind of met your expectations and where has it fallen short?
I'd love to hear in your own words. It's done both very naturally.
I think the one time I felt shortchanged was when I didn't have women meet me where I wanted to be, that I wanted to champion the Me Too movement before it even happened, that I wanted to center on women.
I was told, no, I want to build products for everyone.
I like men too. And I said, I love men, but they have, everything has been built for them.
So why not build for women? And so that's the one time where I felt disappointed, but it wasn't an industry specific thing.
It was women at that moment, it was a woman saying that it was women not being on the same plane.
And that just made me very sad and frustrated. But what I realize now is that everyone moves at their own speed.
Now the Me Too movement is ubiquitous.
Now we've moved on to new hashtags that are even more important.
And this, I think the phrase shine theory was coined by another woman who has a podcast called Call Your Girlfriend.
It's a good name. Yeah, shine theory has been incredible.
So how has the industry met me is that I've made the most incredible female friends.
And every time a woman who's totally lit up, like Christine introduced us, when that person introduces me to another woman, I just want to stand up and shout like, oh my God, this is amazing because women are doing incredible things.
And it's not yet completely measurable because you're basically being the hockey puck and paving the way by following your instincts and doing the things that you feel are right and that are lighting you up.
But that movement that's happening all around us is so invigorating.
And I feel so lucky to be anywhere near it.
Well, Trisha, that's a perfect place to end. Thank you so much. I feel invigorated that I got to meet you.
You've lifted me up today. I feel lit up to go and create things that are really special.
So thank you so much. Thank you, everyone, for tuning in.
Big round of applause to my guest, Trisha, today. And I can't wait to see everything you create next, Trisha.
Thanks so much for joining. Thank you.
Thanks, everyone, for tuning in. If you have any feedback, you can always send questions at YesWeCan at Cloudflare.tv.
And if you have ideas for other guests you'd love to see or things that you'd love to hear us discuss in this podcast, please let us know.
And thanks so much for tuning in. And thanks again, Trisha, for inspiring us all today and encouraging us to be the hockey puck we want to be.
I think that is just absolutely the right message for today. So thanks, everyone.