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Quit Your Job, Survive an Avalanche, Pursue Your Passions: Lessons From a Woman of Distinction

Only one of our 2014 NCCWSL Women of Distinction has survived an avalanche and hunted a thief for 72 hours straight in Thailand: Lily Liu. But those experiences are just part of her incredible journey as a leader and social entrepreneur.

Liu’s current career as a co-founder and CEO of what Forbes has called one of America’s most promising companies first took root as a side project in 2009. Her work in city government had revealed a largely unaddressed problem: Cities weren’t able to provide inexpensive, easy customer service to residents dealing with everything from potholes to trash pick-up.

In her free time Liu began working with her eventual co-founder Vincent Polidoro to create a solution: PublicStuff. By 2010 Liu quit her job to work full-time on PublicStuff, which has revolutionized how more than 200 cities across the country interact with their citizens.

“Getting your street fixed or cleaned, making the crosswalk in front of your school safe, these are the things that really impact people’s day-to-day lives,” she said in an interview. “We’re crowdsourcing feedback and giving governments an opportunity to really deliver and show that they can be responsive, open, transparent, and accountable.”

As a CEO, Liu takes leadership seriously. She provides more than simple direction or mentorship to her team.

“[It’s] very much about leading based on my actions,” she said.  “I really try to always push myself to improve and to encapsulate what I’m trying to lead my team and my group toward.”

So what drives Liu? Her first answer: “inability to sleep.” Her second, more serious answer: passion.

“Passion has driven me in all of the work that I’ve ever done,” she said.” “It can really be a very powerful force when you’re trying to get something done and you truly believe in the goals and the mission of what you’re doing. Otherwise it’s just a job.”

What advice does she have for other entrepreneurs like her? “Persevere,” she said, “it’s […] really gotten me through some of the toughest times.”

Now, about that thief and the avalanche. Yes, they really happened. Liu says overcoming those obstacles helped define her.

“If somebody were to tell me that I’d be lost in the mountains in an avalanche, and I would survive it out of pure willpower and strength, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she said. “If somebody said I’d stay up for 72 hours hunting a thief in Thailand, I wouldn’t believe I could mentally survive the stress of that. These were situations where it really did make me stronger. Every one of these moments defines us.”

Register for NCCWSL to hear what else Liu says about leadership, passion, and perseverance at the 2014 NCCWSL Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony this June.


By:    March 27, 2014