Humans of Lob: Dan Zhao

Humans of Lob is a project dedicated to getting to know our Lobsters on an individual level. For our second entry, we sat down with the longest tenured Lob employee: Head of Operations Dan Zhao.

What did your childhood look like?

I was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but only lived there for 2 years. My dad had just moved there from China, and he was getting his Masters from Rutgers at the time. He then got a job at the University of Michigan in Dearborn so we moved to Michigan, which is where I grew up.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I was originally going down the pre-med route. My parents always wanted what was best for me and the number one choice across my family was a career in medicine. I was always nudged in that direction, so that is what was always top-of-mind.

I always knew I wanted to go to the University of Michigan and stay close to home. After the first semester, I started thinking about my career path more seriously and I realized how long I’d have to be in school after my undergrad. I decided to explore other options. In an effort to broaden my horizons, I ended up applying to a 3 year undergraduate BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) program and was accepted into the Ross School of Business.

What happened after you graduated from college?

In business school I did really well with courses such as corporate finance and accounting. After school I went down the finance route and moved to New York to work in Investment Banking at Macquarie Group in their Financial Institutions Group. I did that for about 1.5 years and then I moved to Groupon in Chicago before joining Lob.

How did you get to join Lob? Why Lob and how did you make that big move from Chicago to SF?

Honestly it was just the opportunity to work with Leore. I met Leore at Michigan and we roomed together while interning at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Connecticut during our junior year summer. After graduation, we roomed together again in New York, where we shared an apartment for a year.

In September of 2013, I was settled in with a new apartment in Chicago. I had just signed a new lease and was a few days away from starting a new job. Then out of the blue I got a call from Leore about Lob. He and Harry had just raised enough money where they could hire one more person full-time. I was offered the opportunity to come help them build Lob in a very undefined role and I immediately accepted. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I dropped everything, packed up a couple of suitcases, and booked a one-way ticket to San Francisco.

What is the next vacation?

I am the worst at vacations. I‘ve never had the travel bug that other people seem to have but I think that going to the south of France would be a really nice big trip sometime in the future.

What do you do for fun?

I love watching movies. I’m one of those film nerds that follows certain actors, producers, directors, and screenwriters and watches all the movies that they make. For example, I think I’ve seen every movie that Martin Scorsese directed. Whenever I have free time, nothing beats watching a good (or bad) movie.

Any sports?

I’ve always been a big basketball fan growing up and I’ve also since really gotten into football via fantasy leagues.

Who is your personal hero/heroine?

My dad. I cannot imagine what he went through when he had to move here with nothing in his pocket — a new country, new language, new people. He had to figure it out by himself. He lived in China during the Cultural Revolution. I don’t know how he did it. I’m lucky he’s made my life so much easier than it could have been. He is definitely my hero. I probably don’t tell him this enough.

Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years?

This has always been the toughest question for me to answer. I have been at Lob for 4 years and they have flown by. So far, I’ve always focused on what will help the company and what help other people that we hire to be set up for success. I think I want to be doing that for as long as possible. I am pretty sure I will be at Lob because there is still a lot to be done here.

Where do you see Lob in 3 years?

I can see it growing to hundreds of employees. Four years ago, we were working from a couch, but I promise you that 4 years from now is going to feel like even more of a dramatic difference. We are growing quickly and continuing to bring on great people so it’s hard to imagine where we will be, which is exciting. This group of people has always found a way to exceed my expectations.

What project are you proudest of working on at Lob?

One project that stands out to me personally is the introduction of Mail Tracing to our Print & Mail APIs. It forced us to really learn and appreciate the depth and complexities of USPS infrastructure. It also unlocked a ton of operational leverage internally while providing our customers with a lot of value. Features and products like mail tracing showcase our team’s ability to productize weird but powerful and relevant systems.