Interviews

Values at Work: How Startup Founder Joanne Dai Uses Her Values

May 3, 2022

Joanne Dai is an entrepreneur who uses her core values as superpowers in her business

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Values at Work is a series highlighting how entrepreneurs use their core values to become better leaders.

Joanne Dai, entrepreneur, cofounder of Astro Reality

Joanne Dai is the cofounder of AstroReality, a startup that merges physical products with augmented reality to create immersive experiences to explore science and space.

(It’s not lost on me that AstroReality and North Star Rising share a celestial theme!)

Since I first met Joanne, I was struck by her no-BS, thoughtful approach to life and leadership. She knows how important values are to her growth as a leader of a scaling startup.

Her core values? Being genuine, responsible, and visionary. Keep reading to learn how she lives and works those values.

Do you know your values? If so, what are they?

Yes, I think values are an important topic. They’re not only important to an entrepreneur and executive, but also important to every single person in an organization, because organizations are made up of people, and people are driving the day-to-day operations to hit the company’s goals—especially in a startup environment.

The key values I cherish are: being genuine, responsible/accountable, and visionary.

HER VALUES AT WORK: GENUINE

This is a bottom-up description of my values. When I consider the value of “genuine,” I think in a workforce this is, if not the most important value, a very important one. Being genuine matters in decision making. It helps me know if I’m making a decision out of my intuition in the right direction. I consider being genuine as my base value.

It means a lot to entrepreneurs to have clear values. Entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have the time to make a decision tree in order to make decisions. But, we can make decisions based on genuine intuition, or a so-called gut feeling, based on our values. Our values help us choose the right way to go. 

HER VALUES AT WORK: RESPONSIBILITY/ACCOUNTABILITY

The second tier of my values is responsibility and accountability. I’m talking about ownership. Why do entrepreneurs like to make business and innovation happen? Not only because we want to drive society to the next level, but also because we like the sense of ownership in being able to build a business in the way we think is right. Like being genuine, the value of responsibility adapts to every single person in an organization because everyone really has to own tasks and goals and hit the next phase of company growth. 

HER VALUES AT WORK: VISIONARY

Being visionary is the value I cherish quite a lot. If you don’t have a vision as an entrepreneur, then don’t become an entrepreneur! When I talk about being a visionary entrepreneur, it’s easy to say and hard to implement. As an entrepreneur, I have a lot of stakeholders to take care of. I have investors, and I need to be responsible for their capital investment as well as the vision of the future I illustrated for them. And that not only includes giving short term financial vision, but also long term social responsibility. I think companies like Apple and SpaceX exist today because the founders were visionary.

How did you come to identify your values?

I think I’ve identified my personal values throughout past work experiences, especially the last five years that I’ve been building AstroReality. And the most important impact on defining my values is my entrepreneurship experience. The startup environment is filled with nothing but uncertainties. I often encounter turbulence when leading a team. While challenges are laid ahead and critical decisions are needed, I am able to follow my intuition, and ultimately, apply my values in those situations. I’ve developed my values not only through my domain knowledge, but also through managing and leading teams. 

Can you think of a situation when your values were in conflict with your cofounder’s and/or board’s values?

That’s a good question and actually it happens a lot. When you’re in conflict, you’re talking about leadership traits. And as a leader, you spell out those values you cherish and implement them into persuasion.

Persuasion is the hardest part when others misunderstand the values that you care about. Using relational, contextual, and inspirational leadership traits helps me to navigate these misunderstandings. A specific example I’ve experienced is when team members tend to operate at a very fast pace in the startup environment: it’s unavoidable that we’ll make mistakes. My team has been able to establish a good foundation of trust and collaborative team spirit, so when mistakes happen we’ve learned to step in and own those mistakes. It’s accountability.

When all of my values are in place, it’s easy to persuade others to understand my vision – or to confront others when there are conflicts. If I find my team has different opinions on a topic, I try to stand in their point of view, learn their perspective, and speak their language. When I understand their perspective, I can connect the dots to my own values and help them understand my views.

Can you think of a time when you made a decision that was out of alignment with your own values? What happened as a result of that?

Luckily, I haven’t found that many cases, which reflects the things that I don’t value. I’m a stubborn, stubborn individual, so if I don’t value it, I won’t do it.

What powers do your values give you?

My values help me make quick decisions. Instead of spending time making a decision tree and a risk analysis, I use my values of being genuine, responsible, and visionary to make quick decisions. My values have become a superpower. 

I think values give me the power to be persuasive. The more I’m clear on my leadership traits and values, the more I will speak and act according to those values. Then, being persuasive becomes easy.

Because of my values I am naturally curious. I appreciate when my team asks a lot of questions, because I believe no one knows it all. Even a CEO or an executive makes huge mistakes. No one knows it all. Everybody needs to learn, all the time. I think this curiosity and desire to learn is an outcome of my values.

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