Inspiration: Women We Love

Present Perfect

Entrepreneur and founder of Zola, Shan-Lyn Ma, is no
stranger to next-level hard work, but she also makes time for
self-care—and a little pampering.

When it comes to wedding planning, technology is very much on the modern bride’s side. Pinterest and Instagram serve as pre-planning inspiration, while websites like HitchSwitch and MissNowMrs make changing names a breeze after “I do.” And for just about everything in between, there’s Zola. Not only does the wedding registry website allow couples to register for anything they could ever want (from honeymoon activities like wine tasting to help decorating a first home), it also features a platform for couples to host their wedding websites, a guest-list manager and a customisable checklist to keep track of it all.

We were already smitten with the concept of Zola, but when we met its founder, Shan-Lyn Ma, the love only deepened. (The company name actually means “love” in Zulu.) Ma’s passion for entrepreneurship makes her the ultimate “Woman We Love”; in fact, as she puts it, “It’s in my blood.” Growing up in Australia, she explains, most of her friends dreamt of becoming doctors, lawyers or teachers, but Ma was entering business competitions at just 12 years old. “My parents instilled in me from a very young age that you have to work for what you want,” she shares. “I hope that female entrepreneurs like me are setting examples for a younger generation of women to become the future CEOs and leaders of the tech industry.”

It was this laser-like focus that took Ma from Australia all the way to Stanford’s business school. From there, she landed an internship at Yahoo!, which turned into her first job, and led her to her next gig at Gilt Groupe. “The biggest lesson that I learned through it all was that you have to go all in,” Ma says. “I never wavered in my determination to get into Stanford, or to work at Yahoo!, or to build my own company. I always dive in headfirst!”

My mother instilled in me from a young age that I need to take care of my skin. I hated it at the time, but it’s still a part of my beauty routine today.

Which brings us back to Zola, and how charmingly candid Ma is about the venture. “I wish somebody had told me that it’s normal to feel like an imposter CEO,” she admits. “My own self-doubt creeps in occasionally—hello, I’ve never run a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars before!—but most founders are new to the game they’ve signed up for, and the reality is that no one has the right answers. We’re all figuring it out as we go. There’s comfort in that.” A car accident last year also brought Ma a dose of perspective. Now, she sets aside 10 minutes to meditate every morning and prioritises work-life balance, realising that when she’s less stressed, she’s a better teammate and leader—an important aspect of workplace culture she’s made sure to infuse at Zola. “We value kind people who are good teammates,” she says. “We’re also guilty of eating a lot of cake around here—we’re a wedding company!”

When Ma makes the time for self-care, Estée Lauder is a key part of her routine. “My mother instilled in me from a young age that I need to take care of my skin,” she says. “When I turned 12, she made me put moisturiser on my face every night before I went to bed. I hated it at the time, but it’s still a part of my beauty routine today.” Other must-haves include Pure Color Envy Lipstick in Impassioned (can you think of a more appropriate shade name for her?), The Brow Multi-Tasker, and the Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery Eye Mask, also before bed.

As Zola grows, so, too, does Ma’s appreciation for what she’s built. All of her best ideas come from Zola’s community of more than 300,000 couples, and it is in service of them that the company continues to expand. “I could not have dreamed that Zola would become the fastest-growing wedding company [in the U.S.] within just four years,” Ma admits. “One [piece of advice] that has stuck with me is, ‘Your job as the CEO is to make yourself irrelevant,’ which goes against everything you think of when you have the title ‘CEO.’ But, it makes sense….Zola is certainly bigger than me and I’m proud of that.”

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