The Story Exchange, Elaine Wherry, MeeboYour Name: Elaine Wherry

Business Name: Meebo, an embedded social media platform

Type of Business: High Tech

Business Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Twitter   @elainewherry

Reason for starting
I wanted to build something. With two friends, we spent two years building tech products and not launching them publicly because we didn’t think we could build a business around them. With those two years of experience, we knew how rare it was to be both genuinely excited about an idea and to have an idea that was relevant to the market. When we started building Meebo, we started taking days off from our full-time jobs to keep building the product and to be the first to launch. Even without funding, it was time to quit our jobs and commit ourselves fully.

How do you define success?
Making impact in the world. Exiting relationships better, or at least the same, as when you entered them — whether that’s the world or personal relationships.

Biggest Success
Co-founding Meebo (which was acquired by Google in 2012) and overseeing much of the product is probably the biggest success on my resume. But personally, I loved building the team that made the product happen.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
I’ve always felt like I was out on a limb. It started in middle school due to an unorthodox family situation. My family provided lots of support but we were happily independent — laundry, schoolwork, and violin competitions were my own responsibilities. At Stanford, there was a gap between what I’d learned in high school and what Stanford expected. My writing and computer skills had to improve fast (though at least I could do laundry!). And in a startup, the market and the business needs are constantly in flux. You have to pick up whatever new skill the business needs. Learning to be okay with that sinking stomach, out on a limb, what the heck am I doing?! feeling was my top challenge. However, it’s essential to being a leader — inspiring others through confidence and vision without making promises you can’t keep or having all the answers.

Who is your most important role model?
Walter Gropius for pulling together the best minds and redefining art and design despite being sandwiched between WWI and WWII Nelson Mandela for inspiring forgiveness and forward-thinking in his post-Apartheid reconciliatory talks.