Career speaker series: People Powers CEO discusses startups, success

Benjamin Huang and

People Powers CEO Gene Wang discusses what he believes to be the most important topics startups should address in the MAC on Tuesday. One such topic was the field of bioengineering. “There can be some fantastic startups in this area, things like regenerating organs or muscles, things like creating super strength or endurance, and can you imagine if you had a startup that really figured out how to extend life?” Wang said. “How popular that would be?” Photo: Benjamin Huang

A self-described “serial entrepreneur with three good kids and three bad dogs,” People Powers CEO Gene Wang spoke to a crowd of Palo Alto High School students at lunch on Tuesday in the Media Arts Center about how to succeed in a startup and “get the best things in life.” 

Wang said that People Powers, an artificial intelligence software company, is his fifth startup and the fourth in which he served as CEO. One of People Powers’ projects, an app called Presence, allows users to turn their phones or tablets into security cameras.

“We’ve actually solved all kinds of problems, like your roommate taking your stuff or your dog peeing on the couch,” Wang said. “These are all kinds of crazy mysteries that we’ve solved with Presence.”

Wang, as part of his lecture on startups, compared them to a relay race. 

“What I’ve learned recently … is that startups are more like a relay race, where you can pass the baton to the next generation and they pass it to the next generation or pass it among your teammates and together you win the race,” Wang said. 

Next, Wang discussed what he believed to be the most important topics that startups should address.

“I wrote this book called ‘The Programmer’s Job Handbook’, which is not a very interesting book, but it did help me identify the best areas for startups in the future,” Wang said. “And I think some of the best there are for the future are AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, bioengineering, healthcare, and the arts.”

Wang described machine learning as a lucrative, impactful area of research.

“Today, the best chess player is a machine,” Wang said. “The best Go [a Chinese strategy game] player is a machine. Machines diagnose disease oftentimes better than doctors. Machines can often pick stocks better than stock pickers. This is an area where if you go into this kind of career, it’s a very high-paying career and it’s going to be transforming the world in the next 10 years.”

Wang justified the inclusion of art within his list of the most important topics by stating that as jobs become increasingly automated, art will have greater importance.

“One of the things that is kind of strange to think about is that as machines take over some of the jobs done by people today, the kind of boring, rote jobs, what is going to increase in value and become more important to people are things like art, music, sculpture, dance; things that are uniquely human and connect with other humans,” Wang said.

Wang also addressed common issues startups face, including long work hours and the challenge of making products accessible to all.

According to Wang, these issues can be overcome with extreme persistence and optimism.

“Optimism fuels the fire that allows you to continue to work at it even though hope seems to be lost,” Wang said. “There have been many times in my five startups when it was just not working out, and you need to develop that optimistic characteristic so that you can keep your company and your team moving forward.”

Finally, Wang ended his lecture with advice to the audience on how to “get the best things in life.” He quoted basketball coach John Wooden, saying that “things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

“It seems so obvious, but think about it: The best things in life happen to people who make the best of it,” Wang said. “If you can understand and adopt this philosophy, you’ll really be much happier with what happens to you in life.”

The only career speaker tomorrow is Google global product lead Mary Minno, who will be presenting during lunch in the MAC. There will not be a speaker in the Performing Arts Center.