Leonard Chung is the founder and CEO of Hello Chava, a company reimagining productivity tools for the solo professional. Over the past 25 years, Leonard has recognized emerging markets and launched multiple successful products with a particular focus in SaaS, Cloud Computing, and Collaboration through first gen products such as Hello Chava, Syncplicity, Windows PowerShell, and SETI@home.
How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up, I was an only child with a ton of curiosity and a lot of time on my hands.
I was always interested in computers and how they could help augment the daily lives of all people. When I was 12, I started computer / IT consulting, but it was in college (U.C. Berkeley) where I began to quickly apply my passion for Computer Science into some cutting-edge computing initiatives like SETI @ Home (the world’s first cloud super computer) , Scale Eight (AWS but about half a decade too early), as well as version 1 products at IBM and Microsoft.
But it was my drive to keep innovating that led me to found Syncplicity. It was one of the earliest bets on cloud sync-and-share and collaboration. I sold Syncplicity to EMC in 2012 and after a couple years, I decided to take another swing at going from “Zero to One” with Hello Chava where we’re rethinking business SaaS for the “business-of-one” built on an Artificial intelligence and data backbone.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
There’s no journey more difficult than self-improvement and no obstacle tougher than yourself. I've never learned more about myself than on my startup journey with Syncplicity. Until then, I’d always had a safety net of school or a larger company that could absorb the risks of innovation -- but with my own startup, the outcome was all on my shoulders. The startup journey is one where the highs and lows are extreme, and pressures are incredible. In a few short years, Syncplicity grew from a small founding team to over 200 employees - which means I had to learn and deploy leadership skills as we grew. For me, I think self-improvement is a never ending journey and the best advice I can give is to surround yourself with awesome people who support your growth and development every step of the way.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
Staying focused doesn’t come naturally for most people. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got 1 million ideas swirling around in my head at any given moment. One thing I do is make sure I give my brain outlets for exploration and decompression - whether it’s reading the latest in tech (no matter how related it is to what I’m working on) or putting some time and effort into a hobby - I find it very necessary to diffuse pressure for my mind so I can hop back into what I’m working on at a high level of focus.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
My Freshman year of college, I interviewed for an internship with a guy named Jim Gray. After what I thought was a terrible interview, he ended up hiring me on the spot.
I found out later in my internship that Jim was actually one of the primary inventors of the relational database and had won the Turing Award, the computer science equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
I had also assumed he had hired me because he hadn’t interviewed many people. It turns out in fact he had the pick of the litter and had interviewed many people. I hadn’t even met the basic criteria of having a graduate degree that he was looking for.
At the end of my internship, I asked Jim, why did he hire me given there were so many better qualified? He replied, “Because you speak your mind.” He went on to explain many people are smart, hardworking, and capable. But over time, especially as they have more to protect and are afraid of looking dumb, smart people start to hold back and not question things.
He told it’s rare to have someone who asks the fundamental questions and advised me to never lose that trait. Jim was one of the best managers I’ve ever had and I give him lots of credit for helping to shape who I am today.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?
Team is everything. While the name of the game is product - market fit, sure, but the people who are in the trenches with you, your team, your advisors, your investors - all play an important role in how much you get done and how quickly you adapt as needed. I can’t stress enough how outsized the impact can be on how well you and your co-founders work together - not just in the short term but over the long haul as well.
How do we get more women leaders?
The tech industry really needs to invest in looking at its recruitment and leadership development processes. It’s obvious there are biases in every step of the process - and even though it’s not easy to steer a large ship moving at high speeds, it’s not impossible.