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Profile: Weili Dai, Co-Founder and Chairwoman of MeetKai

Women in Tech: “We’re not just talking, we’re delivering leadership”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Weili Dai, Co-Founder and Chairwoman of MeetKai.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Weili Dai, Co-Founder and Chairwoman of MeetKai.

Today’s woman in Tech: Weili Dai, Co-Founder and Chairwoman of MeetKai

Chinese-born American businesswoman, Weili Dai is the Co-Founder and Chairwoman of MeetKai, the first gender-less AI and personalized Conversational Search company. She is also the Co-Founder, former Director, and former President of Marvell Technology Group. Dai is a successful entrepreneur and is the only female co-founder of a major semiconductor company. As of 2021, she is America’s 21st Richest Self-Made Woman according to a ranking by Forbes. She has been profiled by CNN International for the Leading Women Innovator Series and recognized by Forbes as one of “The World’s Most Powerful Women”, among many other recognitions. Dai was born in Shanghai, China, where she played semi-professional basketball before moving to the US at the age of 17. She has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley and currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When did you become interested in technology?

It all started at school. As a little girl, I loved science and math, learning the mechanics of things and the reason behind everything. Curiosity is a powerful thing. That’s how technology became a passion very early on, and I knew I had to follow it through college, where I chose to major in Computer Science.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I guess you could say I grew up in a house of geeks! I had the best experience growing up. My two brothers are also tech people, all engineers, and we were always encouraged to follow our wildest dreams. Obstacles are natural to everyone in every stage of life, but that’s why support matters more than people imagine. It doesn’t matter what happens in school or if you’re the only female in the room. When you have a strong support system at home, you can shine, and you can win. My mom used to say, “My daughter is brave! She’s so smart she can play basketball!” Imagine the impact this can have on a young 9-year-old girl starting to play.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

Absolutely! I’ve never had what many would consider a mentor, but I had something better. I call it my secret weapon: a thoughtful upbringing by my wonderful parents. My parents lead by example, and they taught my brothers and me to be whole, confident individuals. From them, I learned the importance of trying my best, not through pressure but through encouragement. I believed in myself because they always believed in me, and I gave my 100% because I believed I could.

Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

In any business, especially on a large scale business, there’s always difficulties and elements you cannot control. What you can control is what you do with them, hopefully you can always choose to learn and grow. One of the things I love about mentoring young entrepreneurs and future leaders is precisely to encourage them, while acknowledging challenges to prepare them. We dive into the hopes and wonders of innovation (my favorite part) but also stay in touch with reality, so they can stay wise.

In any endeavour in life, but especially in business, being fair to everyone involved is key, making sure everyone is winning.

A day in Weili’s life

I always joke that I only have 48 hours a day, and it’s true. I have more like dozens of jobs! I usually start my day at 6am in the morning and do meeting after meeting until late at night, on weekends too. Every company I mentor and support becomes a priority of mine. After running a tech giant for 20 years it only made sense for me to stay working for the industry I love and I’m very passionate about it.

That’s how I’ve come to support successful companies like Alphawave, a Canadian company that went public this year; Next Input and Nuvia, both bought recently; FLC Technology Group, Inc. a meaningful and disruptive memory technology company founded by my husband and I 3 years ago, that challenged the industry once more to prove it was able to deliver never-before-seen power and cost savings, as well as performance. Also Dreambig Semiconductor, Danger Devices, Lark Health, and of course MeetKai, the next generation of AI voice search technology, a long-term project I’m deeply involved with on a daily basis, with my Co-founder and CEO James Kaplan.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m most proud of making a positive impact within the tech industry, being a part of successful companies, and working with our customers and partners globally, making them successful “in a beautiful way”, my foundation and philosophy.

Something I learned from my parents is fair and care. In any endeavour in life, but especially in business, being fair to everyone involved is key, making sure everyone is winning. And then truly caring, adding value and excellence to everything you do. If others are more successful, so are you! That’s the way I’ve always conducted business.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

I believe there’s great progress, there are more and more women in tech every year, and let me say this, not just anybody, but leaders and game-changers. I once led a panel at a women’s event organized by Hilary Clinton, and there’s a reason I love telling this story. I invited tech leaders, officials, and powerful women within different industries to deliver a quiet message: we’re not just talking, we’re delivering leadership. Doing the work is my favorite type of activism! I strongly believe in the importance of our contribution to the future.

There are women behind everything we see and enjoy today.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

I grew very used to walking in a meeting where I was the only woman at the conference table. That’s when you have to let your work speak for you. I’m a big fan of the progress we’re seeing, and times have changed so much since I first started, but it’s not enough.

We need to continue to encourage female leaders and creators. Tech today is more and more engaged in everyday life, and women have a natural talent, a sensitivity that’s wonderful to create better services from a more detailed, delicate perspective that’s much needed to help people and support life.

One of the things I appreciate most about MeetKai’s conversational AI is the possibility of more natural conversations and a more helpful relationship that makes life easier and more productive.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

Women care about sustaining and supporting life. They’ve been the protectors of their families, a core of health and education, and thus, the future. Women, as we speak, are very much involved in every science and field, doing great work that brings that caring element to their decisions and policies. I would say this is a world we’re starting to see right now.

When I met Julia Hu 9 years ago, she approached me with this spark that I knew I had to help flourish. Lark Health was a startup with the potential of becoming a global company, founded to make healthcare more compassionate and personal using AI. I was running Marvell at the time and somehow managed to make the time get involved with it. To this day, I’m still the Chairwoman of a very successful company that showed the world, once again, what a young female entrepreneur like Julia can do.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

I feel like results are everywhere. There are more success stories and truly inspiring work than people give us credit for. There are women behind everything we see and enjoy today. But hopefully, the most important of these results will be visible in every field where more compassion and care are needed to overcome obstacles for humanity and create a future we’re all proud of.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

Women today are able to lead any industry in the world, we’re natural designers and multitaskers. Women and men both carry one-half of the world, meaning they each have unique strengths and talents that can create greater accomplishments for humanity when strategizing together.

Women today are more hopeful than ever. It’s important that they follow their dreams and there are unlimited opportunities ahead of them. When I co-founded Marvell in 1995, my children, Christopher and Nicholas, were 6 and 4. We were living out of our savings at the time and whenever people mentioned the risks of starting our own company, my feedback to them was to see the other side of the page, where opportunity awaits. We decided to focus on opportunities instead of hearing a single word of discouragement.

The high tech industry is very competitive, like a racetrack. It is very important as you walk into this industry that you have a big dream with differentiated ideas. To lead the technology pack, to be the leader rather than a follower, you must be ready to work hard and smart as you add value to customers and partners. When you focus on your customers and partners’ success, you naturally become part of that success. From my experience running Marvell over 20 years, every single customer that did business with Marvell increased their sales and market share. It’s as easy as this. If your product is the best, your customers will be the best. If you’re the best at what you do, believe me, you can change the world. And then, it won’t matter if people believed you could do it. You just did.

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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