For Clara Shih (2000, IL), the Presidential Scholars National Recognition Program was a life-changing experience. One fellow Scholar became her college roommate and a best friend for life. Another became a partner in a venture capital firm that has now invested in Clara’s enterprise software company, Hearsay Social.
Hearsay develops "predictive analytics" software for banks and insurance companies. The software helps financial advisors figure out who to call and what to say based on patterns of past successes and "buying signals," such as a prospective customer visiting a website repeatedly or tweeting a need for help in retirement planning. Hearsay is venture-capital backed—having raised $50 million—and serves customers in 22 countries.
Clara is nationally and internationally recognized as a pioneer in the social media industry. Before founding Hearsay and becoming its CEO, she developed the first social business application in 2007 and subsequently authored the New York Times-featured best-seller, The Facebook Era. Clara has been named one of Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs,” Fast Company’s “Most Influential People in Technology,” Businessweek’s “Top Young Entrepreneurs,” and both Fortune’s and Ad Age’s “40 Under 40.” She was also named a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum.
In April 2016, Clara published her second book, The Social Business Imperative, this one aimed at CEOs and management teams who have often delegated their companies' digital strategy. Clara was interviewed about her book on Bull(ish).
Clara immigrated from Hong Kong with her family at age four, and she believes the immigrant experience taught her the value of hard work and the potential of the entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps it also taught her to make the best of every situation. As a child growing up in Chicago, she attended a school where no ESL classes were available. “[S]o I was placed in a class for students with speech impediments,” Clara told the New York Times. “It worked out well because we had to pronounce sounds over and over, and I’m told that I don’t have an accent today.”
She says her high school, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, showed her that “anything is possible and that you’re never too young to think big.” At age fifteen, she worked as a computer programmer at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Later, at Stanford, she earned a master’s in computer science and received a Marshall Scholarship to study at Oxford; there she earned a second master’s, in Internet studies. She worked for Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce before founding Hearsay.
Clara has long realized that social media can be transformational for businesses, and for individuals as well. “I’m passionate about encouraging women and girls to pursue math, science, and engineering,” Clara says. “At times, it was intimidating for me to be the only woman in an advanced-level engineering class, and it’s still intimidating at CEO events. But just by showing up, my female colleagues and I are making it easier for those who come after us.”
As for her Presidential Scholars experience, Clara says she applied for a simple and obvious reason: she wanted to meet the President! Recalling those all-important elementary school experiences, she chose to honor her sixth-grade teacher, Christine Bach. “[S]he instilled in me confidence and a lifelong love of reading and learning,” Clara says. Clara advises younger Presidential Scholars who are interested in technology-related industries to give themselves time and space to reflect, tinker, and create. Taking her own advice has worked well for Clara. “Every day, my 200 or so colleagues at Hearsay and I get to experiment with different ideas and literally invent the future. It doesn't feel like work!” she says.