Jiayue (Jenny) He *08, ELE

Jiayue (Jenny) He is the Founder and CEO of construction company Ergeon, based in Sacramento, California. She earned a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2008.

"As a founder-CEO, I am responsible for building a great team culture and ensuring our company survives all the ups and downs. My father became an entrepreneur during my teenage years; I am inspired by his optimism for commercializing new technology and his persistence through the tougher times. At Princeton, I also had the good fortune to see Professor Kai Li (the Paul M. Wythes ’55 P’86 and Marcia R. Wythes P’86 Professor in Computer Science) expand Data Domain and several of my Ph.D. peers become founder-CEOs. In addition to being a source of inspiration, graduate school taught me a lot about emotional resilience, problem solving and the joy of mentoring. 

Emotional resilience is essential for a founder. One of my undergrad professors told me, “Once you are in a Ph.D. program, it is all about the emotional resilience to fail many times before you succeed.” His words rang very true in my Ph.D. career, and the same is true of being a founder — a role that requires persistence and resilience in the face of endless challenges.

One hard transition I had from undergrad to graduate school is that I went from taking classes to picking problems. At first, I was either picking the wrong problems or the wrong approach. It took quite a few dead ends for me to get a feel for picking a good problem. After persisting for some time, I eventually could start feeling out a path in the dark, then it all started to click. This hard-earned skill has guided me a lot as a founder as well — a role that requires you to pick a problem, pick the approach and pressure test it from several angles.  

My second year of graduate school was my hardest. I missed the consistent structure of classes, my first two attempts at thesis topics were dead ends, and I hated being in a long-distance marriage. My advisers (Jennifer Rexford, the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor in Engineering and professor of computer science, and Mung Chiang, then a visiting research scholar in electrical engineering) suggested I mentor an undergraduate. I was reluctant because I was already overwhelmed, but it turned out the student was struggling due to some personal difficulties, and I was one of the people that convinced her to stay and graduate. It was in supporting her that I became stronger and was able to work through my own struggles. Throughout my career — whether at McKinsey or as a founder, being a manager and mentor to others has always brought me the greatest joy.  

A great piece of advice I got early in my career was to follow people instead of ideas. A great manager develops you and champions you for better opportunities, even if it means moving with them to another company. One of the things that is different about being a CEO is that I am suddenly without a manager for the first time in my life. My investors are wonderful and very supportive, but it does mean I primarily get support from peers — other founders and executives."

For the full story from which this interview is taken, please see this story by Denise Valenti and Liz Fuller-Wright.

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