Phoebe Yao is the founder and CEO of Pareto, a tech-enabled marketing, sales, and operations services provider for startups. After starting Pareto in 2020, Phoebe was chosen as a Thiel Fellow, a highly selective program offering students $100,000 to leave college for two years and build a startup. The program, started by Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal and Palantir), includes notable alumni such as the founders of Figma, Ethereum, Scale AI, and Loom.
After taking two years off from Stanford, Phoebe is back at school studying Human Centered Design and Engineering, a self-designed major, while continuing to work on Pareto full-time. So far, Pareto has raised $5M in seed funding, led by MaC Venture Capital.
In today’s issue, Phoebe shares her journey on introspection, introversion, and finding fulfillment:
🅿️ What is Pareto? Pareto does the busywork for growing businesses. We offer services that help a business scale, including fundraising, marketing, and lead generation, freeing up time for startups to focus on their core product. Pareto is enabled by a combination of a human task-force (the majority of our team are women based out of the Philippines) and machine automation.
💡 How did you start Pareto? I took a gap year in 2018 building tech for emerging markets at Microsoft Research in India, which made me realize that many people lacked meaningful work opportunities. When I came back to school, I did some research and realized that entrepreneurs were wasting hundreds of hours on repetitive tasks. It gave me the idea to build Pareto, enabling people to do meaningful work.
🧘 Journey on introspection and becoming a founder: Before starting Pareto, I was super into meditation. I went to a bunch of monasteries, which actually helped me overcome the fear of starting a company and dropping out of school. Becoming a founder is an intensely psychological journey. You either have to be reckless, or you have to be incredibly intentional and able to reconcile with your emotions. You have to uncover your own limits and overcome them systematically.
🌿 Getting therapy and coaching: When I first tried to hire, I was so low in self-confidence. I didn't think anyone would want to work with me. I basically only talked to people who reached out, rather than actively seeking out people, which is what I should’ve been doing.
I ended up getting a therapist through the Thiel fellowship and worked on my self-confidence for a year. I learned that my greatest barrier was my own self-perception. I had one weekly therapist to talk about day-to-day emotional negativity, from team challenges to personal relationships. I also have a monthly coach, who walks me through strategic business challenges. Coaching is similar to therapy because it calls you to question your limiting beliefs and develop frameworks for thinking around them.
💸 Raising money as an introverted female: When presenting, I had a motto for how to be charismatic in front of investors. My thing was embodying the energy of white tech bros that fundraise off ideas. This worked for me. Everyone should find their own reminders for how they want to come across.
💨 Having ego as a founder: You can’t have too much ego. If you’re unable to listen to contradictory opinions, your team is not going to be proactive about solving your company's challenges. I used to be super defensive, but over time, I realized that everyone is just trying to help – it's actually an honor that they’re willing to give me their time.
🚀 Experience of being a Thiel fellow: The Thiel Fellowship is a community where I've met the most genuine, passionate, and authentic founders. It was exciting to see so many people with product-founder fit: people picking problems that they are uniquely capable of solving. I think that's how you can tell a founder is egoless. They're not just solving a problem to get something out of it — they're genuinely passionate.
In terms of fundraising, it was extremely helpful to get insider access to investor conversations with other founders. It narrows the unfair advantage between these investors, who’ve seen all kinds of startups, and you.
✨ Does working on Pareto fulfill you? I don't think fulfillment comes from work in itself. Fulfillment comes from your relationship with yourself and your relationship to others. It’s super easy to just merge with your company and forget that you have a life outside of professional pursuits. Over time, that could ruin your relationships, which I think ultimately brings the most fulfillment. The way I think about it is that working on the startup allows me to be a better person. As I grow, overcome challenges, and refine my values and principles, my startup grows, and vice versa.
👨👩👦 Who do you surround yourself with? People who bring me joy. You have to differentiate between friendships that make you happy, and those that are more like acquaintances in your network. And you have to be mindful in maintaining the friendships that are really special to you.
💫 Underrated piece of advice: Make sure you know what you're getting into, and make sure that it’s worth the stress. I suffered a lot and had days where I was just so freaking depressed, but I knew what to expect.For me, it was worth it because I valued my growth as an individual over my satisfaction with life and happiness. I value being uncomfortable because it really helps me hone my mind. At the end of the day, I wanted to see who I could become.
1. Being a founder is about pushing and breaking the personal ceilings you set for yourself
2. Find product-founder fit: solve a problem you’re passionate about and are uniquely equipped to tackle
3. Fulfillment doesn’t come from the work itself, it comes from the personal growth achieved as a result
Check out Pareto here: hellopareto.com
Keep up with Phoebe!