Checking the boxes:
My background up until this point has been pretty linear - I studied economics at a top ten school, worked in consulting for three years, and currently work in tech in Silicon Valley.
When I was in consulting, I lived big. I traveled to New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta, and other cities for projects, ate at several Michelins (my first and last), and effortlessly racked up hotel and airline points. In between memorable trips and fine dining, I learned how to transform a blank Excel into a robust model, present confidently to a room of people much more senior than me, and develop an intuition for growing and operating businesses.
There were long hours and I wasn’t always passionate about the work, but I enjoyed my time in consulting. I learned a lot and worked with incredibly intelligent people on a broad range of projects. I helped a healthcare payor forecast headcount, a special education school grow its enrollment, a foundation ensure more college students pass introductory courses, and more.
Back in college, I used to ask junior consultants how much ownership they had over their work. But once I started working, I quickly realized that I was definitely not the one calling the shots. Heck, even the partner usually didn’t have the final say. He (almost always a “he”) was still beholden to the client. I didn’t love this dynamic, but accustomed to East Asian values that codified hierarchy, I assumed obedience and following the leader were inherent parts of holding down any job.
Trying something new:
I’d always admired founders and the way they worked to execute their vision, even when there wasn’t a clear payoff. But because almost all of the founders I know personally are men, the path to being a founder seemed nebulous and unattainable. This isn’t unique to my personal network: in 2018, only 24% of all registered companies were founded by women. The narrative that guys are better suited for entrepreneurship unconsciously formed in my head.
However, the discomfort of COVID-19 dismantled a lot of my previous assumptions (including some of my faith in the government, but that’s another story). Like most people, I quickly grew restless from staying at home all the time. To pass the time, I bought a ukulele and set out to learn my favorite songs. But despite this new hobby, I still wanted to find new ways to be productive. I started listening to podcasts about businesses started by women and learned about Vicky Tsai’s persistence (Tatcha), Katrina Lake’s innovation (Stitch Fix), and Wendy Wen and Coral Chung’s dedication (Senreve). Becoming a founder started to feel less elusive.
I thought about my skills and potential services I’d be able to offer. When I worked in consulting, I frequently fielded calls about consulting and helped people prepare for interviews. I wondered if there was a way to scale this kind of hands-on, personalized help. Once I had the idea, it ricocheted around in my head, demanding to exist in the real world. The idea slowly took shape as I texted my brother (now co-founder).
Over the past few months, I’ve worked alongside my brother turning this idea into a business. I created a business plan and a project plan, the latter of which exemplifies the breadth of tasks we’ve worked on. From creating a website, deciding on our services, designing a logo, writing consulting cases, and more, it’s been a lot of work. But this time, I’m the one calling the shots. I’m the one creating the marketing strategy to reach customers and also the one finding and emailing hundreds of college listservs, career centers, newspapers, and other potential partners. Yes, the latter part is about as fun as it sounds sometimes, but having ownership over my work has shifted my mindset. Even the grunt work is an essential part to building my business.
I founded Helium Consulting Coaches to make strategy consulting jobs more accessible to people of different backgrounds. Consulting has accelerated my professional development, expanded my network, and springboarded me to subsequent roles. Consulting has brought me some of my closest friends and instilled a fierce work ethic in me. And I want more people to have these experiences.
Helium prepares people for consulting interviews through mock case and fit interviews, resume reviews, and candid accounts of working in consulting. We also offer free ten-minute consultations to help you develop a game plan for consulting recruitment.
My journey into entrepreneurship has just begun, and I’m definitely still learning as I go. However, here are a few of my learnings so far:
Rebecca Liu is the co-founder of Helium Consulting Coaches LLC.