Bridging the Best of Both Worlds

Kathy Miu highlights the unique perspective afforded by working at startups in her current Digital Ventures role at BCG

The alumni team sat down with Kathy Miu (DV Lead Venture Architect) to talk about her career path at BCG, her return, and how the experience she gained outside of the firm influences her work today.

Kathy Miu, Harvard SB ’07 and MIT SM ’09, previously worked as a consultant in the Los Angeles office from 2009 to 2012. Before returning to BCG, she launched her own entrepreneurial venture and worked at startups, including Lyft and SkilledUp.

What were you doing until your return, and what motivated you to come back to BCG?

Before returning to BCG, I mostly worked at startups in product strategy and operations roles. Leaving the firm was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, but I wanted to pair the strategic skillset I had developed with ownership and execution of ideas. When I departed from BCG, I was very passionate about realizing a startup idea I had while living in Los Angeles. I was so excited that I “bootstrapped” my startup with my own money and resources, personally managing product and business development, marketing, building the website, and everything in between.

I had moved from Boston to work in BCG’s LA office after graduate school. As a newcomer to the West Coast, I observed that adults were purchasing organic food and doing yoga as part of a broader health movement. I believed that if these behaviors were trending among my age group, there would be tremendous potential in the baby and kids’ segment as my peers started their own families. I wanted to be ahead of this movement and left BCG to chase my entrepreneurial pursuit. My company, First Bite, produced fresh, organic baby food and kids’ meals for families in Greater Los Angeles.

Running a venture in the food space was interesting but extremely challenging; it made me understand why all of my friends went to tech, where there aren’t issues with food spoilage, inventory management, transportation, permits, and food certifications. Still, I learned a lot about operations and was proud of the partnerships we forged with local farmers’ markets, mothers’ clubs, and Plum District, a Groupon-like competitor for parents.

I went back to my engineering roots and transitioned into tech startups about four years ago. The most well-known among the startups I joined was Lyft, where I headed our competitive strategy team to help us compete against Uber. Experiencing tremendous growth firsthand, I saw what it was like for the company to scale from a small startup to having one-third of the US ride-sharing market today.

What did you miss about BCG, and what do you notice that the firm now does better?

A good friend who recruits for BCG LA did an amazing job keeping me close to the community, so much so that I felt like I never fully left. We had so many conversations about me eventually returning because of the great experiences I had. I believe BCG does an excellent job of keeping alumni and current staff well connected—my friends at other companies are always surprised at how unique BCG is in doing this.

In 2016, BCG started to re-engage alumni through a new program called BCG Reserve. When I first was invited to participate, I was happily employed at Lyft, but I remained in touch with the program administrator. About a year passed, and it became more attractive for me to take on a part-time role working on internal and client projects. I appreciated that I was able to balance cutting-edge work with personal priorities and my family life. Through one of these projects, I ended up reconnecting with former colleagues at the BCG LA office who are heading the DV office—hence the transition.

How does your experience outside of BCG influence your work at the firm?

My experience working in Silicon Valley startups shaped the way I approach new ventures here at DV. I’ve learned firsthand about startup pain points and how to achieve “product-market fit,” that is, how to ensure that our products offer value and meet customer demand. This is the main reason why so many startups out there fail—they don’t identify early on the right product-market fit. With this knowledge under my belt, I can put on my BCG hat and ask, “How do we accelerate to get to that product-market fit faster, better, and cheaper?”

As funny as it sounds, I would advocate for BCGers to spend time outside of the firm so they can return as stronger consultants. It helps to go out into the world and gain experiences that we can use to advise our Fortune 500 clients. Also at BCG, we have the privilege of recruiting such high-tier talent straight out of school; what you get outside of the firm is the opportunity to work with people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds with diverse skillsets. The secret, of course, is to stitch together effective teams and find out what each member’s strengths are. It all boils down to bringing people together and making it work—and I’ve learned this value both within and beyond BCG.

How is your new BCG experience?

Now that I work in DV, my day-to-day agenda is very different, and I feel like I’m getting the best of BCG and the startup world. We evaluate the market opportunity all the way to the design, launch, and commercialization of a product. We witness the entire lifecycle of a product—not just the strategic aspect of it, which gets former consultants involved in ways they haven’t necessarily been before. I now work simultaneously with designers, developers, and high-level executives who are our “corporate partners.” We call them corporate partners instead of clients because we try to build ventures with them and remain heavily involved in execution.

How different is BCG now from how you remember it?

BCG’s new extension brands, such as Gamma, DV, and Platinion, are a positive surprise for me. Our future consultants will come from more diverse backgrounds, and will think like product managers and data scientists instead of pure strategists. I think that, over time, our workforce will absorb the totality of these skillsets; I can already see broader use of Tableau to R and Python programming. It’s amazing to be back in this new reality, and to wake up each day to do something I love. When you join BCG as a young associate in your early 20s, it’s really hard to answer the question of what you want to do down the line—but now that I’m in my mid-30s, it’s an easy question to answer. Since returning to BCG, it’s clear to me that there’s a great opportunity to build my career here.