Photo by: Mamadi Doumbouya
Alcorn International Entrepreneur Spotlight: Xiaoyin Qu
We’re thrilled to shine our first International Entrepreneur Spotlight on Xiaoyin Qu, co-founder and CEO of Run the World. An online events and networking platform that launched right before the pandemic, Run the World has secured roughly $15 million from investors, including Andreesen Horowitz, as well as actors Will Smith and Kevin Hart.
In less than four years, Xiaoyin went from working as a recent-grad product manager at Facebook and Instagram to leading her own multi-million dollar startup and winning accolades, including a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 of 2021 and Inc.’s third annual Female Founders 100, a list of the top 100 women entrepreneurs of 2020.
Born and raised in Qingdao, China, Xiaoyin moved to Claremont in Southern California to attend Pomona College. After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in economics and computer science, she began working for Facebook first on OPT and then on a STEM OPT extension. At Facebook, she devised and managed projects that helped celebrities put content on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook entered her in the annual H-1B lottery, and she was selected the first time. Shortly after Xiaoyin received an H-1B, Facebook sponsored her for an EB-3 green card. “That was a really long process,” says Xiaoyin. “I did the calculations and I would be waiting for at least another six years [for the EB-3]. It was a crazy number.”
Green Card Freedom
Xiaoyin worked at Facebook for more than three years before deciding to apply for the quickest possible employment-based green card: the EB-1A for individuals with extraordinary ability. The project manager in Xiaoyin kicked in as she focused on boosting her accomplishments to meet the EB-1A requirements, such as writing articles and getting them published in major trade publications and major media.
“I wrote a lot about product management and my experiences and submitted articles everywhere,” she says. Soon, a technology media company in China became interested in what she had to say and made her a columnist. Eventually, her popular product management columns led to her book, Building World-Class Products, 36 Tips from Silicon Valley, which became a bestseller in China. Online courses based on her book followed.
“I really wanted my freedom to start my own company. That was a big motivation,” says Xiaoyin. “Without the proper immigration status, you can’t do anything.”
Xiaoyin started Run the World for her mom. After working for 35 years as a pediatric neurologist, Xiaoyin’s mom attended her first international conference in 2019 in Chicago where she connected other doctors in her specialized field. Despite the invaluable opportunities and connections the conference offered, “my mom said she couldn’t travel every year to that conference” due to the lengthy and costly travel and the difficult visa process, Xiaoyin recalls. (And this was before the pandemic!)
A few months later, Xiaoyin dropped out of her Stanford MBA program to start Run the World “so my mom can meet other doctors, hopefully, more often,” she says. “I was really focusing on enabling people to build relationships and network with each other remotely instead of just watching webinars.”
The Run the World platform launched in February 2020 as “I was beginning to think this was a stupid idea,” Xiaoyin recalls. A few weeks later, the world went into lockdown and in-person events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the Mountain View-based Run the World has a 45-person team, its platform is available in 150 countries and has hosted more than 10,000 events for clients, including TechCrunch, TEDx, Forbes, Inc., Harvard, and Stanford.
Based on her experience, Xiaoyin offers this advice to entrepreneurs: “A lot of times you don’t have a role model—and that’s okay. Be the role model yourself. Do something that no one thought was possible!”