Tracy Sun, who co-founded Poshmark, a social marketplace for fashion, in 2011, sees her entrepreneurial journey as a process of continuous learning from a series of role models. Here, she talks about the mentors who have helped shape her in her career. --As told to Tom Foster
You don't realize how important your parents are to your development until a little bit later in life. My parents are both immigrants who came here from Malaysia. It's a very typical immigrant story in that they had to start from scratch and really worked hard to be able to give me a brighter future.
One of the awesome benefits of being from one culture and then entering a new culture is that you get to see the new world through a different lens. I didn't have the benefit of a culture that put everything in context for me, so I had to go out and understand it myself and ask a lot of questions. Seeing the world differently is one of the life experiences that helped me to become an entrepreneur, because I learned not to be scared to ask why. It's about being curious enough to want to really deeply understand your environment.
I also have learned a lot from my current business partner, Manish Chandra, who is the CEO of Poshmark. He has taught me about the humanity leaders need to have. I was pursuing a behavioral neuroscience career before I switched to fashion, so I like to think that I understand people. But Chandra taught me how to translate that into leadership--to really care deeply about people. It's not just about getting the job done, or getting the project done, or getting the company launched, but how much you can reach out to people as a human.
A lot of leaders think they have to show themselves as perfect or invincible. Manish taught me is that it's actually not great leadership to convince everyone who's working for you that they have to be perfect. When Manish doesn't know the answer, he says so.
One of our company values that was inspired by him says "embrace your weirdness." The idea being that, if you don't know what makes you weird, and if you don't accept it, you won't ever be able to accept what's weird about others. And if you can embrace your weirdness, it makes for good teamwork, and good leadership.
And finally, what I have learned from Aileen Lee [founder of VC firm Cowboy Ventures] over the years is to speak without asking for permission. Aileen is not scared to share controversial opinions. It's not arrogance. She really believes in what she says, and she doesn't shy away. That sticks with me.
I'm a soft-spoken female in a field that's dominated by men. And I grew up in an immigrant family where women aren't supposed to have a career like mine. To break through those barriers, I have had to push hard against imposter syndrome.
It's hard when you look around and not many people look like you, so when I first learned of Aileen, I was like, "Oh, it's an Asian woman! Who's really powerful! And she looks like me!"
As I got to know her, I realized that Aileen is just a human being who is unapologetic about who she is--and who is incredibly smart and strong. Knowing her on that personal level inspires me to be a more confident leader.
I'm not sure if I've ever told her this. I have to tell her.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Poshmark's founding year as 2010.