Susan Zheng

Keep questioning assumptions about your business and be adaptable in order to continue to innovate and grow


Susan Zheng is the co-founder and CEO of Planted, a smart career and hiring platform that connects top business talent with growing companies. Previously, she was an early employee at Tough Mudder where she helped the company grow from 10 to 200 in two years. In a former lifetime, she worked in finance.

Where did the idea for Planted come from?

My very own personal experiences as both a jobseeker and hiring manager inspired me to found Planted!

I majored in business in college and pursued a traditional career path in banking after graduation. But when it was time for a career change, I found it incredibly difficult to transition from a Fortune500 company to a smaller, high-growth one because I had no idea what types of different opportunities were even available to me. When I did finally find jobs that seemed like a good fit, I felt like I spent so much time perfecting my application just to hear nothing back in return.

It wasn’t until I was a hiring manager myself that I realized that candidates aren’t the only ones who experience multiple pain points during the hiring process. During my time at Tough Mudder, I became aware of just how hard it was to scale from ten to two hundred employees in two years with limited time and resources I knew that there had to be a better way to both find and hire for jobs, and made it my mission to improve the process on both sides.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

No two days are the same, but I start most days with waking up a couple hours before the work day officially starts so I can take time to plan out my day—I usually map out three to five big things that I need to do before the day really starts so I can maximize my productivity at work. After the work day is over, you can usually find me squeezing in a run, spending time with my husband, or hanging out with my friends. I like to wind down by doing some reading and going to bed early so I can start the next day refreshed and with a clear head!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Planted has grown a lot in the last year, so we’ve been vigilant about incorporating more structure, frameworks and mental models whenever we can. We hold frequent company-wide brainstorm sessions where the only rule is to build on each other’s ideas (kind of like sketch comedy!). We then score the ideas based on the potential impact they’ll have on the company and the effort it will take to achieve them and move forward on the top-ranking ones.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m really excited that work is becoming more personalized and flexible with where you are in both your career and life. We’re veering away from that traditional 9-5, stay-at-the-same-company-for-30-years lifestyle, especially with remote work, coworking spaces, and flexible work arrangements on the rise. It’s fascinating how nowadays, the type of work that makes sense for a recent graduate may not be the same as when they become a parent, for example. It’s all about finding the personalized match of the right work structure, right job and the right company for them.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Running! Running is a form of moving meditation that helps me get into a positive, clear headspace, and it helps me stay focused and productive throughout the day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The best food is food so spicy that it makes your face go numb.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Keep questioning assumptions about your business and be adaptable. You can’t be tied down to a certain idea or way of going about your business if you want to continue to grow and innovate. After all, the market is constantly changing, so you should always strive to improve your product and business for your customers even if it means continually embracing change.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Not being afraid of making mistakes or failing fast. We’ve been able to learn and move faster with ideas and changes and aren’t stuck in analysis paralysis because of it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My first company was an ad tech company after transitioning from a Fortune500 company. After that experience, I realized one of the most valuable experiences I could obtain in founding my own company was to get hands on experience at an early stage startup.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There are 74.9 million baby boomers in the U.S. alone, many of whom are retirees. One business idea that’d be really cool to see would be an online platform that specifically helps connect retirees with structured activities or resources so they can make the most of their newfound free time!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently lent $100 in microloans through Kiva. I absolutely love the platform and how easy it is entrepreneurs around the world build and grow their businesses through it.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack! We use Slack for all of our internal communication to streamline collaboration and company-wide productivity. It’s also a crucial way to help build culture, especially for our remote team members who aren’t in the office on a day-to-day basis.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Drive by Daniel Pink helped me understand my own personal and professional goals as well as what helps motivate, inspire and drive others. I highly recommend it!

What is your favorite quote?

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
— Maya Angelou

Key Learnings:

  • Plan out your day by identifying the top 3-5 things you want to accomplish
  • Remember that building a business is a marathon, not a sprint
  • Keep questioning assumptions about your business and be adaptable in order to continue to innovate and grow
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in order to learn and move faster