Modern Muse: Julia Chou

About a month ago I posted the first Modern Muse series about Binti co-founder, Felicia Curcuru. Today I'm back with a post about Binti's other inspiring co-founder, Julia Chou. Julia and I met on our first day at Google five and a half years ago. We immediately connected because we had both spent time in Panama working on child welfare, global health, and sustainability. Julia has always inspired me with her strong values and desire to make an impact in this world. Here's her story.

So Miss Julia, what’s your story?
My passion has always been in global health and child welfare, and it’s always been important for me to work for a mission-driven company. But I was also interested in technology and so my senior year of college when the opportunity at Google came up, I decided to take it. I thought once I had a foot in the door it would be easy to move to a department that inspired me, like DotOrg. I worked in ad sales for a year and half before moving to the Emerging Markets team which brought technology to Africa and Southeast Asia. I got to travel and meet some of the people that our technology was touching, and it was really amazing.

After a while I felt it was time to return to my roots and do something directly mission-oriented. I also wanted something much smaller and less bureaucratic and was looking for something hands-on where I could drive the direction and have a lot of impact. That is how I ended up at Binti.

How did you meet your co-founder, Felicia?
Several years ago I went on a camping trip with mutual friends and met Felicia there. At the time we were both starting new things - she had just moved to San Francisco and I had just moved to the Emerging Markets team at Google. We connected over that and stayed in touch. Eventually Felicia told me about Binti, and it seemed like the perfect place that combined my experience in tech with my passion for child policy and welfare.

Julia + Felicia, having the best time

Julia + Felicia, having the best time

How did you first get involved with Binti? 
At first I was working nights and weekends outside of my job at Google, helping to build the company. Then Felicia and I realized we weren’t just good friends but also worked really, really well together. Eventually, we decided to be co-founders.

What was it like to join a company so early on?
I think it’s everything you would imagine it to be. My first day was pretty funny - many things went wrong. The site went down, the printer spat paper out at me… Welcome to startup life! You wear so many different hats. But it’s amazing because you have complete control - from branding to benefits - you get to create anything you want.

What are you most excited about at Binti right now?
For the first time we’re getting involved in the actual adoption process, helping to connect expectant mothers with adoptive families. It’s been so gratifying to work directly with these women in a way that’s compassionate to everybody involved. We’re really working towards our mission of making adoptions easier and more affordable. 

Tell me more about Binti’s culture. How do you keep people motivated and happy?
We have a “take care of yourself” perk every month. You get $100 to spend on whatever you want - yoga, home cleaning, massage. We also encourage people to take vacation. We have an unlimited vacation policy, and we mean it. Felicia and I both try to set an example when we take vacation by totally turning off technology. Vacations are important because they allow you to zoom out and see the bigger picture rather than getting caught in the day-to-day. I took 2 weeks off this year for my honeymoon, and it was amazing.

Just wait until you watch the  full video ...

Just wait until you watch the full video...

Fun! Where did you go for your honeymoon?
Portugal and Morocco. My favorite city was Porto - it was beautiful. It’s very hilly with a river separating the city. It was charming, quaint, cheap, and relaxed.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to move into a job that is more aligned with her values?
It can be really scary to make the transition. You don’t know what’s going to happen and there’s a lot of uncertainty, especially when leaving a bigger company with more structure and benefits. But having gone through it, there’s actually not that much to be scared of. So, just take the leap! If you think you can do something that’s more aligned with your values, do it.

How did you navigate your job change with your parents?
I talked to them a lot about the challenges I faced at Google, what I wanted from my future career, and why Binti was inspiring. From their perspective, as immigrants to the US, they thought I had already “made it,” so it was confusing to them that I wanted to leave Google. But it was important for me to try something new and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. 

We had the conversation over multiple weeks until finally my mom, who was the more risk averse one, came around and realized this was the time for me to try it. After several weeks at Binti, my mom said to me, “You’re so much happier. I should have let you quit a lot sooner.” :)

How do you create balance and set boundaries while running a startup?
It’s easy to work all the time because there are lots of things to do. At one point, I was worried that I was sleeping too much. When I told my husband, Luke, he laughed at me and said that of all the things to worry about, that was one I should not be worried about. It’s important to sleep enough because I’m more productive and think more clearly. If you want to do something good for your business, it starts with yourself. I workout with Felicia most days of the week, go to yoga on the weekends, and take time to read, which allows me to learn what other people are doing and immerse myself in a world that’s different than my own.

What books do you recommend?
I just finished Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future which I enjoyed. Lately I’ve been really into The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and have been trying new recipes from the book.

What do you love about cooking?
In a startup there’s so much uncertainty. But with a recipe, the steps are all laid out and you just follow them. It’s a great contrast to my daily work.

What do you think really allows you to thrive as a startup co-founder?
I have a really amazing support system - both at home with my husband, Luke, as well as with my friends. It’s amazing to have a community of people who want to have an impact in this world and are mission-driven and authentic. Surrounding yourself with positive people who share similar values makes everything easier and you feel like you’re not alone.

The #bintifamily at their Tahoe retreat

The #bintifamily at their Tahoe retreat

Any favorite routines or life hacks?
Lately I’ve been trying to have hangouts that are more exercise-oriented, which helps me with my goal of living more healthy. Photography is still one of my favorite hobbies. And Luke and I recently started a Saturday morning ritual of doing the crossword together. 

Ah yes. I remember you saying to me recently, “I love getting older.” Besides crossword rituals, what did you mean? 
Every year brings more perspective, and I have no regrets about what I’ve done because it’s all been part of the journey to get me where I am today. And I mean, who really wants to go back to their 22 year old self?

Thank you, Julia, for working to make the world a better place. I admire your drive, determination, and sparkling smile.

Read more from Julia on Medium.