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How I Made a Complete Career 180 From Tech to Food Entrepreneurship

 Erica Liu Williams
Erica Liu Williams

In the four-plus years since I started gr8nola, I’ve received more questions than I can count about my career change and journey launching a food company, especially as someone who spent the first 10 years of her career climbing the corporate ladder in tech before going full-time on gr8nola. In other words, I picked two industries that couldn’t seemingly be more polar opposite.

So, how did I go from working for tech giants like Yahoo and Intuit to changing careers and founding my own company in one of the most cutthroat (albeit delicious) industries out there? I’ll go through my journey in several posts, starting with this one about the beginning of my career.

How I Got Into Tech in the First Place

Up until my second year of college, my life was pretty set and straightforward: I went to school at Stanford University on a swimming scholarship. I loved the competition, and I even made it to the Olympic Trials—twice.

But despite what people could see on paper, I wasn’t so sure about my current path. I was getting burnt out—and even worse, I was dealing with an injury. I wasn't having fun or enjoying my college experience, and quite frankly, I realized I simply wasn't happy.

Leaving swimming wasn’t just a matter of happiness. It meant forfeiting my scholarship and it also meant quitting—something I never did. I hated the idea that I’d be a quitter. But with my parents’ support, I soon left the sport, which opened up free time to explore other opportunities I couldn’t take on as a year-round athlete, including applying for jobs. That included an internship at a little company you’ve probably never heard of call Yahoo. (I’m kidding!) I know, I know, Yahoo isn’t necessarily “cool” nowadays, but well over a decade ago, it was quite the catch internship-wise!

Thanks to that internship, I got a foot in the door working in tech in the heart of Silicon Valley. Soon after, I went from startup to startup gaining all sorts of experiences in the industry. A lot of the time was unstable; at one point I worked for a four-person stealth startup that folded, and at other times I worked for companies that got acquired and got a “pop.”

All of these twists and turns made me realize that my career path didn't have to be so linear. What if I could build my OWN thing from scratch—something that could solve a problem for the market, but also bring me value?

So, Where Do Tech and Food Intersect?

I didn't know how to launch a company, nor did I have any background in the food industry. In fact, way back in the day, I didn’t even know that I wanted to launch a food brand! More on that in a later post, though...

The good news was, I was slowly building up a skill set during my swimming career and tech days that were critical in starting a business, and they gave me the confidence to pursue whatever I wanted to do in the future.

1. You Need Persistence

I learned early on during my swimming career that you can’t become good at anything unless you put in the time. That means waking up early and heading to practice every day, even during the good days and the bad ones.

When I worked in tech, I always prided myself on being the type of person who would get sh*t done. More importantly, I knew I had to be resilient to push past roadblocks, find creative solutions when there are no obvious answers, and continue making progress. It is absolutely no different—if not harder—when you’re starting up your own company.

2. It’s Okay to Be a Generalist and Not a Specialist

Working in startups, I had the opportunity to fill roles in every department, including marketing, sales, and operations. At first I was nervous that being a Jack of all trades would set me back, as I’d never honed in on that one thing that would set me apart.

The amazing thing about running your own business is that wearing every single hat is a requirement—and I love the challenges and learnings that’s brought.

3. Prioritization Is Key

On that same front, another skill that I learned from both my tech career and my time as a swimmer was the importance of prioritizing. When you’re trying to juggle a swimming career with school work and just being a college kid, you’re forced to get organized.

Working in tech, I also learned quickly that my time was limited and that I had to choose certain projects over others. Now as a business owner, I find myself flexing those same organization muscles all over again. My time is scarce, and I have to prioritize high-impact projects while removing distractions.

4. Be Adaptable

Startup life is uncertain. At my last job, I was hired to do marketing, and within three months, my CEO asked me to build a sales team, despite me have zero previous sales experience. At the time, I was terrified, but having to just jump in and get the job done was an invaluable experience. When you start a company, you find yourself charting into unknown territory constantly, and the ability to be flexible and pivot when you need to are critical.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes

I was nervous when I first left my swimming career behind. It was all I knew, and I feared I’d regret it as I navigated the world of more “normal” college life—I probably wouldn’t succeed at every aspect. Similarly, taking so many leaps throughout my tech career and then deciding to take on my own venture full-time were scary moments. After all, there was a good chance I’d fail at one thing or another.

I soon learned, however, that mistakes are an important part of the process. You can’t get better until you fail, and you can’t move onto something bigger until you see where you need to improve.

What Made Me Decide to Take the Leap

These were some of my experiences that helped me realize that I could make the jump from wanting to make a change to actually doing it. But of course, the beginning of my gr8nola journey has so many more lessons along the way.

I can’t wait to continue sharing everything I’ve learned, including how I turned my side hustle into a full-time job over the course of four years—but more on that later!


What experiences can you draw on from your work to help you get to the next level? I want to hear your tips! Let me know in the comments below!