Candice Lu – Founding Partner, OnPrem

Candice Lu is one of OnPrem’s founding partners. She has worked in the media and entertainment industry for nearly 20 years, 15 of which have been dedicated to management and IT consulting. Since joining OnPrem, she has focused on projects related to process, strategy, and organization.

Media and entertainment has been the common thread through Candice’s career, which she began in the creative side of the industry, working in talent agency, production and marketing while completing her undergraduate at UCLA. After graduating, she made the switch to consulting joining Arthur Andersen’s Business Consulting practice. Prior to OnPrem, she led Cognizant’s strategy and operations group, with a focus on building effective processes and organizations across media and entertainment.

For Candice, the people aspect of work has always been her driver. She is extremely proud of the team and the culture that has been created at OnPrem and is excited to continue being a part of its development. She knows that finding a balance between work and career is crucial. For her, consulting gives her the flexibility she needs to have a family while still letting her do the work she loves. Ultimately, she is a big believer in focusing on what matters most in life, prioritizing that, and setting your own path to getting there.

Candice has a Bachelor’s in Economics from UCLA and an MBA in Strategy and Entertainment from USC. She has authored multiple white papers on organizational models and culture and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, Entrepreneur, and Success magazines. Candice is an advocate of giving back to the community and to those who would otherwise be underserved. In 2015, she initiated OnPrem Outreach, which provides pro bono consulting for nonprofit organizations. She is extremely passionate about surrounding herself with creative, intelligent, and sarcastic people, her husband and two children included. Candice lives in Los Angeles with her family.

How did the concept for OnPrem come about?
OnPrem was driven off of the concept of wanting to focus on consulting and software development services domestically, or “on-premises,” in the United States. Additionally, on the consulting side, we do not have office locations, but work at our client sites. The four of us who founded the company had worked together for over 10 years and had seen models that spanned all the way to offshore, so we just wanted to start something that would enable us to focus on our people, our culture, and our clients, with the “on-premise” focus in mind.

How was the first year in business?
Surprisingly smooth, especially when you first start out and have no idea what you’re doing. We were fortunate that we had a reputation from working together for so long that opened up the doors to clients and team members that enabled our growth from the 4 of us to 30 people within that first year. Because consulting overhead is lower (especially when you don’t have many offices), we were profitable from month one, and thankfully had clients that paid in a reasonable amount of time, so we were able to stay afloat.

What was your marketing strategy?
It was all word of mouth. We didn’t spend a dime on advertising. We are very much a relationship-based business, and that is how we grew. We are putting more emphasis on marketing now as we grow beyond media and entertainment clients, and outside of Los Angeles and New York, but initially we just believed in doing good work, treating people right, and the rest of it would line up. Which, it did.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We made it on the 2017 Inc. 500 list with 1412% growth (in revenue) since 2013. We are currently over 200 people.

How do you define success?
I am a big believer in karmic leadership, meaning that if you do right by your clients and by your team members, that it all comes back in a positive way. So, for me, success is a measure of impact that you have on people. Did we advise our clients with integrity, did we support our team members and develop them in the right way, are people happy? If we have a reputation of working hard, doing the right things, and people think about their time at and with OnPrem with positivity and with impact, that to me is successful.

What is the key to success?
Hiring the right people. Don’t hire jerks, and hire leaders that will believe in and develop your team members.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I have ever learned is to trust your gut when it comes to hiring. Every single time I felt that I shouldn’t hire someone and I did it anyways, it always came back to bite me. You should only hire someone that you are jumping up and down at the thought of working with. One wrong hire impacts the whole team and is such an energy drain.

What are some quotes that you live by?
My mom would tell me to “learn to like who you are since you are around yourself the most in life.” That goes a long way for me to make sure that I don’t lose sight of meaningful activities, like spending time with my family and friends, exercising, continuing to learn, and just finding joy in everything around me. I also like the quote “to think it true,” meaning that if you want something badly enough, to set that intention and visualize it, and that will pave the way often times.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – underlines the importance of vulnerability and relationships to enable trust and accountability across a team, The Happiness Advantage – teaches us about the power of positivity, and how opportunities come to those who choose to find them. I speak about these two books the most when it comes to building culture and creating success.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
One of the toughest days I had as an entrepreneur was when we first started out and I had to fly out on a business trip when I had a newborn (and a 4-year-old) who I had to leave at home, and I just felt overwhelmed at the prospect of balancing it all. The world of a working mom is difficult, and you have your days where you feel like you can’t succeed in either work or at home. But, it’s a momentary panic, because I go back to the realization that I did all this so I could have the flexibility in my schedule to enable me to be with my kids. As much as I work, the ability to shift your schedule as an entrepreneur is the key to being a working mom, so I am extremely fortunate to be in this position.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The knowledge that it can always be worse, and that there’s always a silver lining in adversity. I grew up in the Philippines and I think that has single-handedly impacted the way I think about anything negative that comes my way. When you see poverty around you and people never having enough, it puts such a perspective on bad days, especially when you’re lucky enough to live in this country and be an entrepreneur.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
If you have an opportunity to start a company, DO IT. It is one of the most rewarding things that you can do. Also, find partners that you align in values with, who balance your strengths/weaknesses, and that you know will be there to support you through every step of the way.

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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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