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Startups

How Liquid learned to go with the flow

Founder and CEO Saujin Yi reframed her company’s challenges to turn obstacles into opportunities.


How Liquid learned to go with the flow
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Founder and CEO Saujin Yi reframed her company’s challenges to turn obstacles into opportunities.
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Saujin Yi was planning to launch Liquid, a freelancer and vendor management platform for small and midsized businesses, in the spring of 2020. But when the pandemic brought the world to a halt, she was forced to pause her plans.

At first, it was a frustrating delay. After all, speed to market is a critical factor for startup success. But Yi turned an obstacle into an opportunity. Liquid aims to make it easy to create agile business models that leverage core teams as well as flexible work. Yi reframed this setback, using it as a chance to listen to her users and build a more market-ready product.

“We took a step back to rethink about what was important,” she said. “We ended up focusing a lot more on product and thinking about what people were asking for.”

The Liquid team decided to incorporate payment processing, a functionality that had originally been further out in their roadmap, into their platform before launch.

Yi wanted a payment-processing solution that allowed Liquid users to move money quickly, efficiently and securely—but her team didn’t have the background to bring the vision to life. That’s when they were put in contact with J.P. Morgan.

“My initial instinct was that a large bank would probably not work with small startups, but that was not true at all with J.P. Morgan,” she said. “They have really embraced innovation.”

Yi used the six-month postponement as a retooling period, and it fueled Liquid’s success.

The delay allowed us to add in the capabilities that became the foundation of our workflow software.

Saujin Yi, Founder and CEO of Liquid

Differences become advantages

As an Asian woman founder in fintech SaaS, Yi is frequently asked how it feels to work in a male-dominated world.

“If you just reframe it into an advantage, you can actually stand out—you can do things in a different way and build a business with a different culture,” Yi said.

Before Liquid, Yi founded FlexTeam, a company that recruited women for business consulting projects. While there, she was blown away by the talent and creativity of the women who had each chosen to step away from the full-time, in-person workplace for various reasons.

The women had different demographics, workstyles and priorities—and the business world was overlooking them, Yi said. But she saw those differences as advantages and decided to tap into their potential.

The idea of worker flexibility has always been important to Yi. Having immigrated to the U.S. with her family as a 9-year-old, she saw neighbors piece together opportunities to design new lives while taking care of their families. “They built their own businesses however they wanted to build them,” she said. That entrepreneurial spirit stuck with her, from childhood to graduate school and beyond. Fast-forward to today. Liquid now enables vendor contracting, work and purchase order creation, and it provides secure invoice payments for agile businesses in 175 countries.

 

New feedback channels become key

Yi calls herself a product founder at heart.

“I’m much more comfortable with product, operations, finance and the internal part of the company than the external part,” she said. “That includes sales and marketing.”

Selling her idea to investors and her product to customers didn’t come naturally to Yi. But she has always loved learning, and she saw that sales and marketing weren’t one-way streets. “At first, it was very daunting, but at the same time, I realized sales and marketing were a way to get quick feedback about what people think about your business,” she said.

Investors, who had heard plenty of pitches and worked closely with other fintech startups, provided Liquid with a wealth of valuable input early on. Customers, too, shared what they liked and disliked about her product, which allowed her to rethink, retool and improve over time.

“One of the most important things that we talk about at Liquid is how to be iterative in a smart way—and to always learn and use that learning to drive the outcomes we’re looking for,” Yi said. 

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