From Wizeline Wendy to Just Wendy: Lessons in Co-founding a Global Startup

Nearly six years after co-founding Wizeline with a team led by Bismarck Lepe, Vidal Gonzalez, and Matt Pasienski, it’s time to hand over the reigns! I’m exhilarated by the time spent growing our dedicated teams and clients in Mexico, Europe and APAC over the past years – here’s a snapshot of some of the things I did:

  • Successfully grew a company and culture from 0 to 500+ employees distributed among 8 offices globally, that continues to scale.
  • Changed lives through over 100 courses and 4,000 graduates across 6 cities globally with Wizeline Academy’s free technology courses.
  • Developed an international team of over 50 multidisciplinary designers with exceptional homegrown and hired leadership.
  • Built and sunset a SaaS product intelligence platform used by Fortune 1000s.
  • Led operations in APAC which resulted in a new client strategy in the region and the opening of our Bangkok office.

Here are some of my take-aways from growing a global technology company from the ground up.

Startups are not a linear path, neither is your career.  I had vague ideas of becoming a Chief Experience Officer one day, since I focused on Product and UX in the first years of the company. The snapshot above reminded me how Wizeline’s non-linear path influenced my own: we began as a B2B SaaS company building product intelligence software and pivoted into a services company building products for clients who needed a digital transformation. I pivoted from being a Product and UX leader to a product expert on the road with our sales leaders; to practically living in Mexico to build our team, culture and brand; and to temporarily relocating to Asia-Pacific, where I grew the region, the clients and the team. Today, I recognize that my diverse expertise is my biggest strength.

Don’t let yourself get siloed in a single path at any company. To accept defeat when the linear career you hoped for didn’t work out, is to believe there is only one path to success.

Founding a startup requires conscious sacrifice. When I decided to build Wizeline with Bismarck, I very consciously agreed to years of intense dedication and hard work. What I didn’t know were the exact experiences I’d miss: family birthdays, my best friend’s wedding, holidays, time I could have spent with a loved one before they passed away. These were all conscious decisions I made to focus on building the business, with the support of my family and friends. 

Taking ownership of your decisions and being honest with yourself can prove to be immensely empowering. My achievements are a direct result of my choices.

…and resilience. Being a woman in tech is tough, you’ve read all the data and stories. Now add a few more dimensions on top of that: being a woman in tech leadership and working with international cultures that may not be as sensitive to inclusion. I’ve been in a few surprising situations with investors, potential candidates and clients over the years, but am proud of the resilience and grit I’ve grown along the way to defuse situations with humor, poise and (hopefully) educate the other person. 

Resilience helps you learn to pick your battles and reminds you there is a war to be won.

…and an adaptable culture. It’s easy enough to start a company in Silicon Valley and incorporate the best of SV culture — ownership, empowerment and collaboration. However, the reality of building a global company is that culture is not singular. We didn’t “bring” Silicon Valley culture to Mexico, Vietnam or Thailand for our teams to adopt. We learned about our people and local work ethos, then adapted the best aspects of all cultures to create something even more empowering. When I took over our APAC region in 2018, it was easy to seed the Wizeline culture by bringing the two strongest tenants of that culture to our Vietnam office: Wizeline Academy and Wizeliners themselves. I relocated to Asia to empower the local teams by bridging cultures — and started a Work Abroad program to bring some of our most accomplished Wizeliners from Mexico to Vietnam to accomplish this mission. At the same time, introducing Wizeline Academy to the local community helped solidify the ethos of learning and sharing within our local teams.

Adaptability is the key to a truly inclusive culture – it’s the blended strengths of your team, not a commandment written by HQ.

Learning and sharing is the heart of an effective culture. In June 2016, the 4-person UX team and I kicked off Wizeline Academy with a free 6-week UX Academy course for the Guadalajara tech community. Initially hoping for 10-15 students to attend, we were overwhelmed by the 200+ applications we received in the first week. While we had a syllabus outlined for the duration of the course, we observed our students and surveyed them each night, quickly adapting the next night’s content based on that feedback. It was an immensely grueling, but very satisfying 6 weeks! All of our students graduated from our UX Academy and nearly the entire class applied to join our team, having gotten to know us and the Wizeline culture over the weeks. From there, the learning and sharing culture of Wizeline was solidified. Today, Wizeliners routinely share new technologies and methodologies with the community via Academy, and the Mexico team recently held Rewire, an all-day conference for Wizeliners to share and learn. 

Those who started as students gained confidence in their new skills and public speaking, and graduated to become the next generation of Wizeline Academy teachers.

The most rewarding part of this journey has been the people. I’ve always been very clear that I do it for the people — to help them grow and realize futures they hadn’t known possible. A few Wizeliners stand out in my mind:

  • Ricardo Rivera, who was on my UX team at my previous company Ooyala and joined me at Wizeline in Guadalajara. I’d seen Ricardo grow from an amazing visual designer who spoke little English to an incredibly talented, eloquent UX designer who worked seamlessly with PMs and engineers. Mentoring him and seeing him on the journey that ultimately took him to LinkedIn and San Francisco made me so proud of his growth.
  • Joel Monteon and Rodrigo Partida, two very talented UX designers we hired in 2016. They both taught courses in our free 6-week UX Academy course in Guadalajara on their nights and weekends, while delivering some of the best design work our team had seen. As the team grew, I decided to mentor both of them intensely for 6 months to become our first UX Managers just when we needed them. The time I spent with them culminated in two wonderful friendships for me, as well as two strong design leader role models for the Wizeline and Mexican design community.
  • All the kind Wizeliners who reached out to share anecdotes of how I mentored, helped or inspired them. I didn’t know Nora from finance had seen me give a talk in Guadalajara and wanted to join Wizeline because we had a female co-founder. I didn’t know the great impact I had on transitioning Ericka’s career from office manager to UX designer, or the lasting impressions from casual conversations with Cristina, Julio, Bryant or a multitude of other Wizeliners.

It took my departure to see the impact I had on many people’s careers. It can be easy to be blinded to your impact when you’re focused on the bigger picture.

Don’t forget to take a step back to realize and remember the impact you have on your team members — as a leader or as a peer.

So what’s next? After so many years of introducing myself as Wendy from Wizeline, I’m now taking some time off to redefine who Just Wendy is and consider the open paths ahead of me. Will it be my own startup? Consulting? An early stage or large company? Let’s have a conversation about the problem you are solving and the team you’re building the solution with.

One thought on “From Wizeline Wendy to Just Wendy: Lessons in Co-founding a Global Startup

  1. It’s nice to see how you’ve grown and that you’re able to stop and survey the byproducts of your work. I’m looking forward to the continued adventures…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s