Born Dan Dan (meaning very red in Chinese by her father who was classified as a black sheep during the Culture Revolution in China), Dr. Dan Yang was the first grandchild of an entrepreneurial family of six sons and two daughters. Her grandfather owned a boat factory and operated a transport business on the imperial canal which connects north and south China, but was relocated to rural China during the Culture Revolution. Her father, a self-taught man, tested airplane motors initially but eventually grew to lead the operations of a joint venture between his factory and Japanese motorcycle maker Suzuki. Her mother was a technician at a state-owned factory that produced electronic tubes. Against traditional belief that girls would not be strong at Math and Science, Dr. Yang took a bachelor’s degree in physics at Nanjing University in 1982. She continued her post-graduate education in France, winning one of the top state sponsored scholarships at the Paris-Sud 11 University and earned her master’s and PhD in Optics and Photonics.
In 2000, she made a $1 million dollar donation to Nanjing University for the construction of a student center. It was the largest donation ever given to the university until 2005. Dr. Dan Yang named the activity center after her late father and has also established a scholarship in his name.
What are you working on right now?
VINCI, a new category of learning systems designed exclusively for toddlers and young children using touch screen Android technology and adopting results from developmental science.
Where did the idea for VINCI come from?
My daughter Hera who just turned toddler at the time. She is very bright energetic and easily gets bored. I kept asking myself what she can get from what she was playing with my phone and tablet and became unsatisfied with both the physical devices and the content, thus VINCI.
What does your typical day look like?
I get up at 8, wash and get ready before waking up Hera and get her to eat breakfast. I bring her to the nursery school, pass by the office and work with the team for an hour or 2 then back to my home office, making some calls cleaning up emails etc. At 3:30 I go pick up Hera, play with her either outdoor or go for activities such as swimming lessons before coming back to prepare dinner. After dinner I bring Hera to wash and to bed then get back to work on some serious stuff like strategy or research for 3 to 4 hours before heading to bed at 1 or so
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m good at execution and just make it happen after ideas hit me. This is my 3rd startup and forth company I lead as CEO. Most important thing in bringing ideas to life is to draw a clear picture with steps, scaffold to where you want to be while paying attention to details. I find people most often are either too strategic or too detail oriented. Having a good balance is my secret recipe
3 trends that excite you?
- The world is more connected than ever thanks for engineers like myself who have put optical fiber to every corner of the planet allowing huge bandwidth for Internet or mobile computing (my previous ventures are all in optical networking)
- As the connectivity progresses there is less and less boundaries from culture and lifestyle point of view. I can find my favorite French or Italian recipes at the click of a mouse and I can have fun with people I’d never have a chance to meet somewhere in the remote villages
- People are more aware of the importance of a balanced early childhood. I see parents who traditionally focus more on Math or language start talking about creativity and parents who usually let their children do whatever start to think about objectives and goals
What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I really haven’t had any bad job. The period I struggled the most was probably when I was a researcher for my PhD degree working on semiconductor materials. A lot of research activities don’t have immediate applications and I was impatient and didn’t want to waste my time doing something not useful
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
When I was doing my 1st startup my mind was not always with my older daughter who was toddler at that time. I waited for her to grow up before having intelligent conversation. That’s the only thing I’d do differently, which I’m already doing with my younger one. Respecting children no matter how young they are and treat them in the same way as I’d want to be treated, no matter how busy I’m or how young they are
What is the one thing you did/do as an entrepreneur that you would do over and over again and recommend everybody else do?
If you have an idea, just do it!
Tell us a secret…
I panic when playing with my daughter on the slide, which makes her giggle each time
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Can somebody make a snow-removal machine with a bicycle? Our winter is quite harsh so in this way we exercise, have fun, and do the work at the same time
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
Good to Great by Jim Collins. I find people including myself easily accept “good”, but it’s hard to pursue “excellence”, probably because it’s easier to get to 80% while in fact it’s the last 20% that makes a difference
If you weren’t working on VINCI, what would you be doing?
playing with my children, cooking, watching a movie, shopping, dining at nice restaurants
Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?
1. DY: VINCIGenius on twitter to follow the latest news and research on education especially early education
2. TED: it’s a lot of great ideas over there
3. Sir Ken Robinson who is an advocate to revolutionize public education systems
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it.
Yesterday when I was doing parent teacher interview for my young daughter who is now 33 months and a student at a Montessori school Casa class. Her teacher Ms Daniele praised Hera saying she’s good at telling about her mood. Hera told Ms Daniele last week that she was “upset like an octopus” when another kid bumped her.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Entrepreneurs who do great things to make a difference rather than just making money.
What I want to achieve with VINCI?
1) Generating awareness that children can excel as long as parents spend time supporting them
2) Technology Can be used as a tool to help parents saving time so they can spend MORE time with their children
3) Revolutionize early childhood education for both low and high income families
Do I want my children to be engineers and entrepreneurs like me and my husband?
No. I think the most important role of a parent is to help our children to understand and discover their own talents. My older daughter will pursue an architecture career as she’s great at conceptual design. I’m working with my young daughter to help her discover her own passion and strengths as well as weaknesses