Jessica Shu is a senior at Cornell University studying business and computer science. She was born in Texas, but spent most of her childhood between San Francisco and Vancouver. Jessica is interested in many fields and industries, most significantly artifical intelligence and biology. After graduation, she plans to join Dropbox as a software engineer. In her free time, Jessica likes to travel. She also likes Japanese food and rap music, and dislikes writing extra words to meet the word limit. Find her on social media @swelly127.
jolly rancher girl
My entrepreneurial journey first started in middle school because I really wanted some pretzel poppers. Back in the day, pretzel poppers were only 50 cents but I couldn’t afford it because I didn’t get an allowance. I didn’t get an allowance because in fifth grade on Chinese New Year, my mom gave me $10, which was the first time she had ever entrusted me with any amount of money. I traded it for 10 cents, because I didn’t know why money was important yet and the guy I traded with seemed to be very enthusiastic about the deal. Anyways, that was the last time my mom gave me money. Later in the year I discovered pretzel poppers (and Cheetos) and started to strongly regret the trade I had made. Since my mom was very strict about not allowing junk food in the house, I really had no way to get access to pretzel poppers without money, and decided that I needed to make some money.
For some reason, even though chips were out of the question in the Shu household, chewing gum and jolly ranchers were both acceptable. I actually hated jolly ranchers, so I started selling them to my classmates for 25 cents each. I got the nickname jolly rancher girl, and everyone started buying jolly ranchers from me, even though it was a huge ripoff. I remember secretly passing around jolly ranchers in class, acting like it was some kind of huge drug deal. With my money made from selling jolly ranchers, I bought more bags of jolly ranchers to sell. And pretzel poppers, obviously.
In high school I became a big girl with expensive tastes, for stuff like sushi and tacos and smoked salmon bagels. I worked at the deli of a nearby grocery store for a few weeks before I realizing I could probably make more than $11/hour on my own. I began buying and selling computers online, tutoring some of my friends to make money, and generally staying on the lookout for easy arbitrage opportunities.
In college, after switching from a math to computer science major (and eventually, an independent major) I got exposed to the crazy entrepreneurial mess that is silicon valley. I made an early bet on Bitcoin, did tech consulting for friends and acquaintances, and even tried to start a few of my own ventures, including a small investment fund and a real estate website for college students. While none of these projects became the next Facebook, I made enough money to live comfortably through my college career and graduate debt free, not to mention visit over 30 countries over the past two years, despite having to keep replacing confiscated passports because my mom thinks I’m going to get murdered if I go to Africa again.
Fast forward to present day, and I am a senior with weeks left before graduation. I’ve accepted a job offer with Dropbox in San Francisco, but it is by no means the end of my entrepreneurial journey.
Feb 2013 - Present
Summer 2012 (HS)
Software Engineering Intern
goals and musings
People tend to think natural is good, but nature is actually a terrifying place. For most creatures on Earth, the last sensation they have before they die is a set of razor sharp teeth tearing through their flesh as they are eaten alive by a monster. Yet humans still perceive natural products or experiences to be superior to those created in a lab. The anti-vaccine movement, the protests against GMO foods, the false perception that natural drugs such as shrooms are less dangerous than chemical ones like LSD are examples of this fallacy in action.
As technology becomes more and more prevalent and humans eventually stop fearing the manmade, opportunities will open up for forward thinking entrepreneurs. I believe that 30 years from now, surrogate pregnancies and genetic modifications will be a popular and accepted part of family planning. As of now, laws vary from state to state on surrogate pregnancies, with California being by far the most lenient state. Unfortunately, the existing companies cater overwhelmingly to homosexual or infertile couples, with few options for professional couples who simply do not have time to have a baby. Furthermore, the costs are excessively high: $100-150K is charged by the agency for each surrogate pregnancy. To put this in perspective, the cost to do this in India is about $10K, before the Indian government outlawed the practice in 2015. These high costs are a direct result of lack of competition, and films are able to charge whatever they like with little justification for the costs, especially since parents (rightfully) believe that having a baby is such an important event that no expense should be spared. But does cost correlate with quality in these agencies? Unclear.
My entrepreneurial goal is to start a modern surrogate pregnancy agency with complementary DNA testing that caters towards early adopter professional couples. As I’ve always been interested in genetics, I hope that someday in the future we will evolve to include a genetic modifications facility.
People say we don’t know enough about how our genes work to modify them, but this is only because we aren’t trying hard enough. Yes, there is a ton of data in our DNA, much of which is a mystery. But we also have nearly 8 billion data points to analyze. We have DNA preserved from Einstein, Hitler, Darwin, Desmond Tutu, outliers that can reveal crucial information if we look hard enough. If we research with the end goal of understanding genetics well enough to be able to modify it, it would only be a matter of time until we are able to reach our true capacity as a species.
I don’t know if enough progress will be made in my lifetime to actualize this vision, but for now I hope the least I can do is contribute to the popularity and public acceptance of surrogate pregnancies. Not only does it benefit the health and aesthetic concerns of the mother, it empowers both customers and surrogate mothers from third world countries: customers by eliminating the why hire someone who is going to take a year off the have a baby argument against women in the workforce and make parenting a more equal partnership, and surrogate mothers by helping them gain financial stability without resorting to more desperate measures.
July 2014 @ YC Hacks