Lau? More like wow.
At Stanford almost everyone you meet is exceptional in one way or another. Ashley is exceptional in almost all of the ways.
Very few people on campus know that Ashley has a startup — but she does. It’s just one more way in which she is a queen. Her company has grown from when Ashley and four of her friends were seniors in high school. They isolated an issue that mattered to them, and they started working on a project that addressed it. Even more impressive? Their initials anagram to JAVAK. Read it and weep.
Name: Ashley Lau
Hometown: Bronx, New York
Year in School: Sophomore
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Minor: Management Science and Engineering
Favorite Food: “I don’t think I can choose”
Favorite color: Blue
Her Campus: So, what’s your startup?
Ashley Lau: We build games to teach middle schoolers complex engineering concepts. So far we have a game that teaches kids how to deal with 3D modeling tools. We believe in giving people the tools that they need to succeed rather than making them dependent on the product, which we think is helpful because lot of people don’t have access to the tools necessary to succeed in a lot of fields. Especially in engineering.
HC: What was the inspiration for this?
AL: In the Bronx everything seems so daunting. No one has access to maker spaces or has schools with robotics teams. So we want to give them exposure to this cool thing, in a fun way.
HC: How did you guys decide to turn this project into a business?
AL: When we were in high school making this, we produced something that was functional, but it was not pretty. I’m not too proud of it. However, this past summer we decided to remake the game, and it looked pretty good. When we realized that the interface was workable we saw what a powerful tool we had created, so we decided to make a company.
HC: How did that change things?
AL: One of the other girls in the group and I took on more financial-type roles, while the other three were definitely more interested in the actual game development side of things.
HC: Did you choose your major in order to help you with you start-up?
AL: I did not! I have always like building things. In high school I went to a magnet school, so I got to do robotics. I really loved it, so I decided to carry on in that vein both in college and, hopefully, my career. However, Once the start-up became a business and I realized that I would have to start managing people and money, I knew that I would want (and need) to know more about business. I strongly considered majoring in MS&E, because I thought that I might want business to be my main focus, but then I decided that I wanted a technical background. I think that it just came down to the fact that I enjoy building things more than I enjoy managing people and money. I like getting to be hands on and getting into the nitty-gritty, and even as much as I love delegating, it’s not as much fun for me if I’m the one supervising.
HC: What has been the biggest obstacle in building this company so far?
AL: Probably handling disagreements. We are currently in the process of rebranding, and we are having to compromise with a stakeholder. And a compromise always kinda sucks, because no one really gets what they want. Additionally, it’s hard to be in business with your friends. With such busy schedules, it becomes very easy for the startup to occupy all of the conversations that we have. We barely have time to talk about where we see the company going, let alone how our lives are going.
HC: What has been the most rewarding experience?
AL: Seeing people actually use the product. Building a game can get pretty exhausting, and it’s pretty easy to get discouraged and to start questioning why you’re even doing it. So getting to see people actually playing the game and enjoying it was amazing. I mean, we really don’t have a game if people don’t like it, so it was nice that they felt that they learned something and that they would play it at home.
HC: How much time do you allocate to the company?
AL: Well I spend a lot of time maintaining my grades in my classes!! But I do spend a lot of the time that I’m not doing psets doing research. Sometimes I’ll stay up late looking at financial documents, sometimes I’m researching the best ways to teach someone chemistry or astrophysics — or I’m actually learning the basics of various fields in engineering because you can’t teach what you don’t know.
HC: Do you feel like you utilize the resources that Stanford offers?
AL: I don’t directly utilize the resources that Stanford has available for startups. However, the environment and location are innately very helpful. A fair few people on campus have startups, so it’s nice to talk to them. Even going to career fairs and showcases is nice because you get to talk to a bunch of companies, and they’re usually pretty responsive when I explain the startup and ask to speak with people about it. Even professors (from classes that I’ve dropped in week 2) are incredibly open to talking about things and clarifying questions. Overall, I feel like if I ever want resources or guidance, I know how to access them.
HC: Do you see yourself working on this startup after you graduate?
AL: Honestly, I definitely could see myself working on this because it is something that I’m very passionate about. I mean, you have to be passionate to do something like this. However, a part of me wants to sell it before then and then put my Mechanical Engineering degree to use and build some robots or something.