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Blazing a Trail in Tech: An Interview with Nanxi Liu

Updated: Apr 30

We sat down with Nanxi Liu, co-Founder of Blaze, to discuss her journey from concert pianist to tech founder and her latest mission to empower non-technical teams through Blaze's no-code platform.

Hanna: Can you talk a bit about your background?

Nanxi: Sure! I was born in China, and I immigrated to the US with my parents when I was five years old. I grew up in Colorado and then went to college at UC Berkeley. That’s where I found my love for working with people on startup projects. I have spent most of my career as a tech founder, which I have absolutely loved. I built my first company, Nanoly, a biotech company, completely by accident. It started because I met a brilliant biochemist who had an idea for protein stabilization. A few months later in my senior year of college, I got introduced to my co-founders at Enplug. We built a leading digital signage software company. We had quite a number of cofounders when we started Enplug and two of them, Bruno and Tina, are now my cofounders at Blaze.

Hanna: You began as a concert pianist and then founded Nanoly, a biotech company, Enplug, a digital signage company, have won an Emmy, and are also a very talented poker player. What would you say is the common thread between all these experiences?

Nanxi: There are two common threads that pull together these seemingly random things. The first is a willingness to learn, and in trying something different, being prepared to fail. I wasn't an expert in any of these areas initially – be it digital signage software, biotech, or poker. My motivation came from a drive to learn new skills. For example, with piano, I started out knowing nothing about music, but with each week and each lesson, I saw improvement. My first unique skill was piano. It was also my first foray into making money – teaching lessons and winning piano competitions. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to correlate hard work and results starting when I was 6 years old. When you start a company, success typically does not happen overnight. There is so much work involved, and music prepared me for this.

Now, what I learned is that you can speed up the process of reaching a goal if you are working with fantastic people. Although piano seems very individual - and it is to some extent - having a mentor who understands your capabilities and how much they can push you to progress helps significantly. In my previous companies, I asked myself who are the people that will help me achieve this goal. In piano, I sought the aggressive teacher that pushed me to go beyond the hobby player. I wanted the teacher who said “I am here to make a name for myself and be the number one piano teacher. All my students will go on and win big awards.” Through founding Nanoly and Enplug, I have interacted with lots of founders. Similar to my piano approach, I sought people who shared my ambition and complemented my skillset. In summary, my various experiences have the shared commonality that first, I was probably a bit naïve going into whatever the activity was and willing to completely fail and learn. And secondly, I surrounded myself with awesome people who I knew would be great teammates. None of these achievements could be done alone.

Hanna: Stepping back – would you tell us about Blaze and what led you to creating this company?

Nanxi: We built Blaze to empower people and organizations to solve their own problems with software and to be able to build custom apps and software without needing to know how to code. This all started because at our last company, even though half of the team were engineers, there was never enough bandwidth for the engineering team to build an internal tool or something that wasn’t on the road map. We felt that we could empower and make nontechnical people in an organization much more productive if we gave them a platform where they can build these tools and software. At this time, the companies that benefit the most are traditional industries where they might not have a lot of engineers. These industries include healthcare, manufacturing, professional services, and compliance driven businesses. One of our earliest clients, Industrial Scientific, wanted to build a document portal that was both internal and external facing. They were looking into hiring a dev shop and got told this was a three-month process. With Blaze, in one day, they had exactly the document portal they wanted for a fraction of the cost.

Hanna: What have been the biggest lessons from your previous companies that you took with you when building your latest venture?

Nanxi: The first thing is being willing to invest in fantastic talent. To accelerate and build faster, you generally want folks with meaningful experience. As we built Blaze, we were able to attract our most talented engineers, sales, and marketing people from the previous company. In the early days of my first company, we hired almost anyone that expressed interest. Now, we have a rigorous interviewing process, and we seek talent who will fit into the team culture.

The second aspect is doing research. With Blaze, we are very methodical. We formed a hypothesis on the customer profile and set out to do the research to validate our hypothesis. We got tons of data points and were able to pivot and adjust the business model, pricing, and team composition quickly. The ability to adapt quickly to new data points is an area where we improved compared to when we were building our last company. I think we were scared to make changes previously. This time around, we began with a freemium model where it was only $8 per user per month. We then were scratching our heads thinking how we are going to get that first million in ARR with $8 per user. We quickly recognized that we are adding too much value to be only charging $8. We began charging $25 or $30 per user, which on a percentage basis is a very significant increase. Then, we had a great conversation with someone with lots of experience in enterprise software and no-code solutions. He told us that with the cost savings and value we are providing, we should be charging at least $1,000 per month or more for enterprise features. The lesson here is that when you find out data points and get new information, promptly act upon it.

Hanna: You are a serial entrepreneur with experience building and growing teams. Can you elaborate on some of your key considerations when doing this?

Nanxi: First, skill and culture fit are a must. When I am bringing someone on board, they first and foremost need to be skilled at what they do. Then, I make sure they’re a great representative for the future team. I deliberately ask, “are you looking to be an individual contributor or are you joining to grow into a leadership position”. That is what I ask at the very beginning to set the expectation and help to create a success plan in their path. The other piece is looking carefully at what your organization needs. I have made the mistake of not considering the role the organization needs at that moment. Now, I ensure the person is not only a great fit for our company, but they’re also someone our organization needs.

Hanna: How does a no-code platform deliver value in the healthcare sector? What applications of Blaze’s technology have you seen in this space?

Nanxi: Our big advantage for healthcare organizations is our expertise in ensuring data security and HIPAA compliance. We have these capabilities out of the box, so that our clients don’t have to hire engineers to add this compliance layer. Another advantage for healthcare organizations is our external integrations capabilities, enabling them to connect to their custom EMR systems. Blaze makes it simple and much faster to go and connect to these data sources. Thirdly, Blaze has tons of pre-built visual components for building workflows and apps that are tailor-made for healthcare organizations.

Hanna: What are you most excited about at Blaze?

Nanxi: Blaze’s growth and impact! We love seeing all the successful apps our clients have built and launched using Blaze. For example, we have a company that built a HIPAA compliant faxing system where doctors can send orders directly to the pharmacy. We have another company that built a healthcare marketplace where hospitals and nurses can go to fill shifts. We have mobile nursing companies, doula services, medical tourism companies, and healthtech companies as clients. There are so many diverse and interesting ways organizations have used Blaze. Also, as a team we are really excited about Blaze’s AI capability. The Blaze AI chatbot enables our users to type in natural language to configure parts of their application. As Open AI and AI in general improves, Blaze AI also improves. Seeing that evolution just in the past year has been incredible.

Hanna: Bloomberg reported that in 2021, women founders raised 2% of venture capital dollars in the US. This number is at once staggering and probably unsurprising to a female founder. I know you work with XFactor Ventures to tackle this problem. Can you tell me a bit about XFactor Ventures and how you are involved?

Nanxi: I really admire the organizations that are not only express their intent to support female founders, but also back it up by making investments. The partners at XFactor Ventures are all successful, operating entrepreneurs that invest for XFactor as a part-time gig. Most of us have sold companies and it is a unique investing process where we can make a pre-seed or seed investment without group consensus. As a group, we have invested in over 100 female-founded startups.

Hanna: Lastly, what advice do you have for female founders?

Nanxi: I am lucky to have another female co-founder with me on my journey as an entrepreneur. There are challenges that as a female entrepreneur we face that male entrepreneurs might not encounter in the same way. My closest friends all happen to be female founders. In my Bachelorette group, ten of the women are CEOs and combined, we’ve built and sold $5 billion worth of companies. I have so many female founder friends and it makes life a bit easier when you have that support system.

Make sure you have a community of supporters and that you also give back. Have a group of people who are there for you and wanting to help you succeed. And similarly, make sure you proactively help them achieve their goals. My approach is to add value wherever I can and not expecting anything in return. This mentality has opened lots of opportunities for me, enabled me to have more fun, and meet incredible people.


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