Q&A: Crowdfunding exec Lu Li on U.S., China consumer psychology

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Lu Li M.A. ’17, general manager of global strategy at Indiegogo, was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list in recognition for her cross-border growth initiatives to bring Chinese tech to the U.S. market. At Indiegogo, Li coaches campaigns with the goal of bridging cultural gaps between Chinese innovators and Western markets. Li received a master’s degree in East Asian Studies in 2017, focusing on cultural psychology and marketing under the mentorship of Professor Hazel Markus. 

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Could you tell me a bit about your background?

Lu Li (LL): I was born and raised in Beijing. I came to the States for high school, majored in media communications at NYU and worked in New York for a little bit. Because of my international student background, it was very hard to find a job, especially in marketing. After graduation, I got a lot of first-round interviews but after they hear that I need visa sponsorship, it’s a no. So I was working at this media company in New York. And they decided to have me until the end of my OPT [Optional Practical Training] — the year after my work visa after I graduated from school. 

So within a month’s time I decided to apply for grad school because I really wanted to continue to work in the U.S. and continue to learn. I applied, and luckily I got into Stanford. So that’s what brought me to California. I always wanted to do something that is related to the two cultures I grew up in — China and the United States. And so having, at that point, studied in the U.S. for all of my adult life, I felt a little bit more distant from my own country’s culture, so the program at Stanford East Asian Studies was quite a good fit for me. 

TSD: How did the work you did under Hazel Markus, which focused on consumer psychology in Chinese and American cultures, relate to the work you’re doing currently?

LL: I wrote my thesis with her on understanding how consumer behavior is different between the U.S. and China. I was coming from a media and communication background, but I was curious about the inner working of human psyches that led to how people actually behave. That’s where psychology comes in. 

From my own experience, having studied and lived between the two cultures, people do behave differently, but there weren’t a lot of studies on how people behave differently on the consumer side. And so for me, I picked out the thesis on how consumers react to emotions and advertising differently. So think about the kind of emotions that we refer here in the U.S. It’s a lot of, you know, party rock, super excited — that kind of excitement is bringing that positive emotion, right. It’s called high-arousal positive emotions. However, in different cultures, for example, in East Asia, there is actually low-arousal positive emotion which is more related to a continuous enjoyment in life.

It’s been three or four years now since I wrote that, and you can probably tell that I’m still fairly excited talking about it, and it just goes to show that it’s so important to study something that you’re passionate about. The work I initially started at Indiegogo was as a campaign strategist working with campaigners from China. So I saw that the things I studied at Stanford I was able to utilize as recommendations for the clients I was working with. 

TSD: How did you wind up at Indiegogo?

LL: Towards the end [of grad school] I was job searching again and came across this really awesome opportunity at Indiegogo. At the time, the company was trying to look into potential regions to grow into and it got a sense that China is a very interesting market because there’s a lot of great products coming from the region, but the creators over there don’t really know how to do marketing. So, [they were] looking for that person who understands U.S. marketing, but also has a cultural affinity to the clients in China. So I applied for the job and I got it. 

TSD: What do you enjoy about cross-cultural work, and what are some of the challenges?

LL: People take cross border work as, “oh, maybe you’re just doing translation.” But it’s so much more than that. Especially this year when the macro-geopolitical relations between the U.S. and China is getting very tricky. How do you navigate through that from the business setting? At the end of the day, it’s about making sure the teams that you’re managing are from different geographies, understand each other, sympathize with each other and are willing to work with each other. 

If I were to answer the question from a more general career-development standpoint, I’d say what I found challenging initially going into a manager role is that I had to fight the internal struggle of overcoming self-doubt that my “introvert” personality makes me “unfit” to be an effective leader. Luckily as I started to manage people and later cross-functional teams, I realized my “quiet” personality served me just fine, and oftentimes can be a major advantage. I can command the attention and respect of my team not by being the loudest in the room but being the most trusted, supportive and the one with great ideas. 

TSD: What does being on the Forbes 30 under 30 list mean to you?

LL: For me, I think it’s definitely a recognition from the public of my success — the success I’ve had in the past three years since I’ve graduated from Stanford. And that kind of validation itself, it’s nice to have. But I think for me it’s more about opening up opportunities so I can do more in the future. I mean just, you know, the past week since the initial announcement, there’s 10 times more people now requesting for connections on my LinkedIn. Especially in my field where I’m working to help the company grow into different markets, establish partnerships, business relations, having that public validation opens doors to do more. 

Back before college my family really hardcore recommended me to either go into business and study econ, or do medicine, and I picked something like media communication. What the heck is that? So, still to this day, most of my family members don’t know what I’m doing. But at least they know that I’ve done something pretty well that I got onto the Forbes list. Just something fun to share.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Contact Christina MacCorkle at cgmaccorkle ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Christina MacCorkle is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Winter Journalism Workshop.