Alumni Advice: Kyle Wong ’12, CEO, co-founder, entrepreneur

April 13, 2020, 12:11 a.m.

Name: Kyle Wong

Stanford Graduating Class: 2012

Major: Civil and environmental engineering

Current Job: CEO and co-founder at Pixlee

When did you make your last online purchase? Perhaps it was that Hydro Flask you’ve been eyeing for days, or maybe it was a six-pack of red bull to get you through an intense study sesh in Green. Whatever it was, chances are that many of you have viewed user-generated content from Pixlee, a company founded by Kyle Wong ’12. Pixlee is a user-generated content and influencer marketing platform that helps brands to market their products using real customer photos and stories. According to its own website, Pixlee boosts customer conversions by 150%, traffic by 21% and average order value by 6% by tapping into the best customer stories using AI-curation. But how did Wong reach success? What were the most valuable things he did on Stanford’s campus? And what does he think Stanford doesn’t prepare you for? Let’s hear from the man himself.

1.     Tell me about your job. What does a typical day look like?

“I am the co-founder of Pixlee, which uses real customer stories in content marketing. My day-to-day varies depending on the priorities of the business, but most of my tasks fall into three categories: team development, management of human and capital resources, and speaking to customers. We talk to customers to further understand our space and evolve very quickly with the industry.”

2.    What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position? Please reflect on clubs at Stanford you participated in, classes you attended, skills you gained from your major, events you went to, internships you got, etc.

“I founded Pixlee right out of college, and I didn’t have a ton of work experience. At Stanford, I was involved in several organizations, but it was nothing like running a company. But anytime you have to collaborate with people it teaches you a lot. Most of the work I do is super collaborative and includes understanding different working styles. I think more project management skills should be taught at university, but universities promote mostly individual work. … One of the benefits of going to a world-class university is the people you meet. … You learn through problem sets and classes, but a lot of learning happens organically at the dining hall and with people in the dorm at 2 a.m.”

3.     What would you describe as the biggest hurdle that you have had to overcome on your road to success that Stanford did not prepare you for? 

“Much of the work as a leader or working in a startup is working with adversity. Stanford does a great job of providing you with all different types of great resources, but not many people truly fail. Many of my classmates never failed at anything. [Also] in college many of your classes and your major are prescriptive; in the startup world, there is a lot more ambiguity. It is hard for some people to adapt to the unstructured environment.”

4.   If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently? What advice would you give your younger Stanford self? 

“I was in too much of a rush; I should have spaced out my classes a bit better. College is a unique time in your life to explore. … Don’t get caught up in the rat race. Some of my favorite classes and the classes I remember the most were not in my major. I felt like I couldn’t miss Social Dance, as opposed to MATH 51.”

5.   What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this field/ job? 

“Tenacity. When good things happen, anyone can deal with it. But when bad things happen, it differentiates people. Many people only think about the top 0.1% of running a company like presenting on demo day or pitching to investors, but the real work is not glamorous, and it takes a lot of time. But dedication and focus over a long period lead to a great quality of product no matter what industry you are in. … The beauty of a startup is that you are building for what you want the world to look like in the future. If you have a perspective of the future, it can be a highly rewarding experience.”

6.  What would you say to someone considering entrepreneurship? Do you have any special words of encouragement or warning as a result of your experiences?

“Change usually creates an opportunity. Change means the world is looking for new expertise on that topic. We built a platform that heavily used Instagram only a year after Instagram was founded. With that change [of using Instagram], there were lots of opportunities for people to take advantage of a more level playing field. Today there are fewer barriers to do something. The ability to take initiative and thrive in unstructured environments is super important early on. You must understand where to focus your time. That ambiguity and unstructured time can be a gift or a curse depending on who you are. … Building a product from a napkin sketch to something that hundreds of millions use every day is incredibly rewarding. In many ways, it is the American dream.”

For our future entrepreneurs, titans, and game-changers reading this: You could be the next Kyle Wong. So…

  • Proceed with your eyes wide and ears open to see change. How will you take initiative? How will you spend your summer?
  • Explore your unusual, funny or slightly quirky interests simply because you want to do so. What classes or extracurriculars will you investigate next?
  • Soak up the moments — ordering milkshakes at TAP, chatting with your roommate long after the lights go out, dressing up in signature red and white to go to a game and collaborating with others.
  • Next time you encounter failure, dust yourself off and try again. How can you adjust your strategy for the next attempt?
  • Great companies aren’t built overnight. You’ve got to put in hours and hours of graft to hone your craft. Are you prepared to work your ass off for something simply based upon a belief in yourself and your goal?

Contact Emily Broadhurst at ebroad23 ‘at’

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Winter Program

Applications Due Soon