“The highs and lows of entrepreneurship can be so dramatic—and sometimes even coincide in the same day… One of the biggest challenges is staying positive and conveying that positivity to the team, no matter the fear inside.”
MARCH 15, 2021 | BY LILY ZHU
Hannah Sieber is co-founder and COO of EcoFlow, a pioneering portable power company committed to designing sustainable power solutions. EcoFlow builds and sells solar-powered rechargeable batteries that function as replacements to fuel generators, offering customers a more reliable, safer, and greener alternative to both traditional gas-powered generators and grid-based power solutions. As COO, Hannah built U.S. operations where she was responsible for market entry and commercial strategy, day-to-day distribution, logistics and aftersales operations as well as product design. Hannah, along with her co-founders, was recognized on the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the energy sector.
Hannah previously led the San Francisco Center for Economic Development’s Southern China effort, where she worked with Chinese companies across the Pearl River Delta on building and financing strategic projects in San Francisco. As a consultant at The Parthenon Group, she focused on consumer private equity deals and worked with leading brands in both China and the U.S. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Business Administration and a Masters in Environment and Resources from Stanford University. She is a graduate of Duke University, where she graduated with highest distinction, and is fluent in Chinese.
What is your most meaningful memory from your time at Duke?
I have a lot of amazing memories, so it's hard to pick just one favorite. When I think back to Duke, a lot of my nostalgia comes from exploring Durham in my junior and senior year. This includes attending FullFrame, the annual film festival; running to the farmers’ market with my roommates each weekend; trying new restaurants for brunch (Parker & Otis, Foster’s, Guglhupf, Mad Hatter’s) and dinner (Toro, Piedmont, Fullsteam, Vin Rouge); and exploring the nearby natural wonders with the Outdoors Club.
How did you decide that you wanted to go into consulting post-graduation? How did your experience in consulting influence your career path?
In my senior year, I was considering PhD programs but wanted to take a year or two off before continuing with school. I had spent a semester in Beijing and Hangzhou in high school and college respectively, and as a Chinese and International Comparative Studies double major, was determined to move to China after graduation. The only consulting firm that allowed me to move directly to China was The Parthenon Group, so I eagerly accepted a job with their Shanghai office. Unfortunately, due to some changes in U.S.-Sino policy, my visa was rejected in July—only a few weeks before I was set to depart to Shanghai—and well after I had accepted the offer and concluded my job search. I so vividly remember getting the news, my heart sinking at the thought of unemployment and restarting the job hunt.
Fortunately, The Parthenon Group made space for me in their Boston office where I worked as an associate for fourteen months before transferring to the Shanghai office. My experience working at Parthenon taught me a tremendous number of skills: from data analysis, to consumer research, to building decks and presenting information. All of these skills were vital later in my career and particularly in founding my own start-up. Most impactful, however, were the people I met: everyone was driven, smart, and thoughtful.
Ultimately, I left consulting to work full-time in China and try out an operational role. In consulting, I often felt far from the impact since our recommendations were handed off to clients to implement, and I wanted more experience at the ground-level.
What was your experience like working in China as the Shenzhen office lead for the San Francisco Center for Economic Development?
I moved to Shenzhen, a city of fourteen million people, without ever having visited the city and with zero acquaintances/friends in the city. I was lured there by the opportunity to be at the heart of China’s growth. At the time, 90% of the world's electronics were manufactured in Shenzhen; Tencent, Huawei, ZTE, DJI and many more world-renowned companies are headquartered there. The excitement and energy was palpable and I loved being a part of the growth!
Building an office from scratch—from hiring our team, to building our products and services, to growing the brand sparked my entrepreneurial bug and confirmed the thesis I had felt when leaving Parthenon: for me, professional satisfaction comes from building great teams and launching incredible products.
Could you describe the process of founding and growing EcoFlow into a multinational venture-backed company? What were the most challenging and rewarding parts of the process? I could write a book in response to this question! I met my three co-founders in Shenzhen, all of whom at the time were working at DJI, a drone company. One of the biggest challenges confronting the drone industry is battery life. For consumer applications it's less of an issue, however for enterprise applications, battery life is often the limiting constraint. We started thinking about solutions for drone pilots, who currently go into the field with a half-dozen batteries (expensive), use their car to recharge the drones (environmentally inefficient), or bring a fuel generator (environmentally inefficient). In our research, we discovered there was a huge white space in the market for battery-powered solutions: there were large, fixed home solutions and small pocket-sized power solutions, but nothing in between.
We were working nights and weekends at first, as we wanted our first product to be ready in time for the CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show, which takes place in early January. In December, we quit our jobs to work full-time on EcoFlow—and started working around-the-clock. I remember working until midnight on Christmas Day in order to get all our marketing materials ready. We received great initial feedback at CES, so we came back to Shenzhen and spent the next few months preparing to launch our pre-order campaign. This involved shooting our product intro video and photo content, building our website, marketing and social media, finalizing the pricing of different stock keeping units, formalizing our warehouse and logistics processes, setting up an international corporate governance structure, etc. Every day felt like there were a million new things that were all marked “urgent.” Our crowdfunding campaign grossed over $1M and we immediately leveraged that success to sell into retail.
The highs and lows of entrepreneurship can be so dramatic—and sometimes even coincide in the same day. One day you may be signing a million dollar purchase order, the next you may be figuring out how to make payroll. One of the biggest challenges is staying positive and conveying that positivity to the team, no matter the fear inside.
How did you decide to pursue your MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business? How will obtaining your MBA help you reach your professional goals?
Going back to graduate school gave me the opportunity to pause and reset. I knew I wanted to start another company and realized I had a lot to learn still. Specifically, EcoFlow illustrated the gaps in my skill set such as financial modeling & growth and managing a technical engineering team. Additionally, the opportunity to be back in the classroom learning again has been a real treat—so much has changed since I graduated in 2013, so it's been fun to dive into the newest trends in topics such as ethical artificial intelligence, machine learning, and autonomous vehicles.
My GSB classmates are truly one-of-a-kind. I feel lucky to be among such a positive and driven group of people each day. I am continually inspired by their ambition and drive to change the world.
What inspired you to launch The 21 Fund, and what is your vision for it?
The 21 Fund is a $2M seed fund building and investing in the next generation of GSB startups. We leverage the strength and breadth of experience of our class through a network of 230+ investors (i.e., classmates) who have invested in the fund, and meanwhile, we aim to invest in as many GSB ‘21 founders as possible. The overarching goal is to foster lifelong relationships and build community within the class of 2021.
How do you maintain work-life integration, especially now with work from home and COVID-19 restrictions?
Great question, this is still something I am actively working on. Since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020, work has followed me everywhere and I’ve struggled to set boundaries around my personal self-care. My 2021 goals include strengthening my meditation practice and reading more books. For me, these are two small things that help me handle unpredictability and chaos.