PHOTO: TWO TWENTY BY CHI-CHI AGBIM
Around this time a couple years ago, TIME magazine released an impressive line-up of its NYC Startups to Watch. Unsurprisingly, several mobile app hits made cameos in the article.
But alongside these contenders was Hatch, an e-commerce company which wasted no time appearing in TimeOut NY’s Best New Shopping Sites of 2013—not to mention it has raised $1 million in funding to-date. Anastasia Leng, the company’s co-founder is no less revered: in the past few years she’s appeared in Inc. Magazine under 10 Women to Watch in Tech and debuted at No. 2 on Business Insider’s 30 Under 30 Most Important Women in Tech.
For the ex-Google employee who once helped run the company’s Business Development unit in London, it’s sort of fitting that she now runs point for a start-up of her own. After five years at the tech giant, “nothing pushed me out of Google”, she describes.
“I was like, ‘No, no, no, I’m not going anywhere to make money!”, Anastasia says, describing the moment that she informed Google that she was quitting. Then, after she walked away an appealing counter-offer, it was suddenly clear that she wasn’t second-guessing her decision.
So in the comfort of her home, Anastasia created her life’s work. Hatch was born out of the idea to connect consumers to makers, in order to produce completely customized objects—from portraits to figurines. Using its platform, a consumer who say, likes leather notebooks, can find a maker to personalize the text and images on the front cover.
“I could really relate to this idea of being in a store, seeing an object, and being like, ‘It’s almost right, but for whatever reason, it’s just not perfect,’” Anastasia reasoned. “‘And if this one thing were different, I would buy it.”
But before there were magazine features and investment capital meetings and employee contracts, Anastasia was the only child of ex-Soviet immigrants.
With the decay of the Soviet Union behind them, her parents relocated to Vietnam, then to Budapest and Bahrain before they eventually settled in the U.S.
Assimilating into a foreign world had its challenges though; after a rough first year, Anastasia found herself at the cusps of a remedial English course. (It was her mother who, in broken English convinced the teacher to give Anastasia a six-month grace period to catch up to her peers).
Luckily, that was the hard part.
Anastasia would go on to become an honor-student, and attended the University of Pennsylvania before working at Google immediately afterwards.
Resting on Google’s security blanket would never be an acceptable outcome though: “I remember coming home and thinking, ‘Maybe I’ve just become really risk averse,’” she said. “‘Maybe I’ve been too institutionalized by Google.”
It took meeting an eclectic London-based entrepreneur to pry Anastasia out of a culture of “under confident overachievers”, as he described.
After a minute of defending herself emphatically, Anastasia chose to take her friend’s feedback seriously.
“It was one of those things where I’d come home from Google and the end of a long day, and I’d sit at my computer and research things about Hatch, and research what other sites were doing,” she recalled. “I’d be walking down the street and that’s what I’d be thinking about. And eventually I just knew I had to do it.”
In 2013, Anastasia had teamed with Ryan Hayward, another former Google member, in order to publicly reveal Hatch.
Since then, the company has gone through multiple iterations, including a name change, even.
What remains unchanged is Anastasia’s steel-willed desire to create a technology masterpiece, worthy of her hard work, and her parents’ quintessential American story. As she tells us, “the minute you decide to dedicate yourself to anything, whether a company, a book or any other project, admit to yourself that yes, there is the possibility of complete and utter failure, and then move it out of your mind and never think about it again. Success should be the only path you see.”