PandaTree Founder Kristina Klausen tells her story to Lioness In Her Own Words.
In Her Own Words is an ongoing series where female entrepreneurs tell their own stories of their entrepreneurship
By Kristina Klausen
After more than 10 years at eBay, an idea for a new business started to tug at me and wouldn’t let go. Deciding to leave the corporate world after 20 years was a big deal, but I felt so strongly about the idea, I knew I would always regret it if I didn’t try. So I took the leap into entrepreneurship.
Inspired by my children’s experience learning Mandarin, I saw other parents also wanted to help their kids learn a foreign language in a way that made learning fun, convenient and safe. In 2014, I left eBay and launched PandaTree, an online learning platform designed to help kids ages 5 to 15 learn foreign languages in a way they love.
I am still in the early days of my journey as an entrepreneur, but I already have some reflections about why and how a woman can be successful as an entrepreneur.
#1 You have to be in love with your idea.
Starting your own business is hard work, really hard work, and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. In the early days, you’ll have a tiny staff, if you have a staff at all. You’ll be resource constrained, and you’ll still have a thousand things to do. If you’re not really in love with your idea and you don’t feel strong conviction that your idea could make a successful business, then wait until you find that idea that does spark conviction and commitment.
I founded PandaTree because I love the idea of giving kids the opportunity to love learning a foreign language and giving parents everywhere a convenient way to offer this life-changing skill to their kids. As CEO, I may be developing the business strategy, securing investment, and out there building awareness, but I’m also answering customer support calls, sometimes at 6AM!
#2 Build up your arsenal of knowledge about how well-run businesses work.
During my eleven years at eBay, I was fortunate to have had many different roles. I started out in corporate strategy, but migrated into product management, then marketing. I ran teams that focused on trust and safety and was even the chief of staff to the president. All this experience gave me exposure to the many facets of business, which has helped me be more thoughtful about how I operate my own business.
While PandaTree is a very different type of business from eBay, the basic principles I learned apply no matter how big or small your company is. Finding the right way to market your idea to the right audience is fundamental. Building trust and establishing safety guidelines are table stakes in every business – and even more important when your product is built for kids. Understanding the techniques to responsibly scale is critical.
My advice is this – think about where you are in your career and if you’re working in a place that can give you this kind of broad exposure, consider sticking around for a few years to round out your own skills. Then, when you decide to launch your business, you’ll be more confident about how to get from day one to day one thousand.
#3 Learn how to manage through ambiguity.
When you’re running your own business, you will repeatedly encounter questions you can’t answer and challenges you’ve never before tackled. And, if you’re building something that doesn’t already exist in the market you’re not going to have a lot of data to support your decisions.
If you’re an analytics junky like I am, that situation can feel really uncomfortable. But, to move forward, it’s critical that you learn to make decisions based on the best information you have at the time, execute, and learn from what the market is telling you.
Decisions on pricing strategy – which might have taken six months to make at eBay and been informed by lots of customer research and financial analysis – take us a day or two to make at PandaTree. As a start-up, you simply don’t have all the information you might want, and speed matters, so you use your best judgement.
I think about the early years of my career, which I spent as a management consultant working for McKinsey & Company. There, I was continuously working on new projects with new clients, often in industries I didn’t know, and my job was to get up to speed quickly and help clients solve problems. Looking back, this experience helped me learn how to operate with ambiguity and to embrace what I didn’t know. In entrepreneurship, ambiguity is a constant. The more you learn to get comfortable with it, the more nimble and effective your operating practice will become.
In my journey as an entrepreneur, there are up days and down days, but I know I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. Aside from raising my two children, launching my own business continues to be one of the most rewarding and most challenging experiences of my life. So if you feel like you really know why you want to start a business and you’re aware of what it takes to be successful, then go for it.
Kristina Klausen started PandaTree to help kids become fluent in foreign languages. Before launching her company, Klausen spent 11 years at eBay Inc., one of the world’s largest online marketplaces where she worked in several leadership positions in corporate strategy, product management, trust and safety and marketing, as well as serving for a time as chief of staff to the President of eBay Marketplaces. She has also worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Toronto and San Francisco for eight years serving e-commerce, retail and financial services clients. She was born in Canada and has an MBA from Harvard Business School and is enrolled as a part-time student in the Masters of Liberal Arts program at Stanford University. Klausen has two daughters currently learning Mandarin and loves to travel, practice her French, do yoga and hike with her kids and dog.