Shawn is the co-founder of Unsearch which helps organizations search for people using natural language. He's also a Visiting Partner at Iterative, as well as an advisor to Huspy, a Sequoia and Founders' Fund-backed Proptech operating out of the UAE and Spain.
He was the co-founder and Head of Operations at Better.com, a homeownership platform integrating mortgage lending, real estate services and insurance. Better.com has raised over $905M and valued at over $6B. Shawn was part of the core leadership serving as the functional equivalent of a COO. In his role, he oversaw the Mortgage and Real Estate business lines, in addition to company strategy, people and talent, and the international support teams.
Prior to Better.com, he was a consultant with BCG where he was part of the emergency response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The fast-paced and highly iterative nature of the work was what first got him to explore startups. Shawn has a BA in Molecular Biology from Harvard.
Spotlight on Shawn Low
Get to know Shawn in these series of questions, where he shares more on his past experiences and why he loves working with founders.
What was your first job?
It depends on how you define job. If it is any paid employment, then it was probably military service which is mandatory for Singaporean men. My first voluntary, paid employment, was as a relief teacher at my old high school. I taught 'A' level economics to first-year students.
What's something about you or your past experience that would surprise people?
I spent quite a few years researching how the biological clocks of bacteria keep time. It was a lot of hard work and I didn't have much to show for it in the first two years. However, as these things go, in the third year, everything clicked and I remember that one summer when my experiments were yielding new discoveries almost every other week.
It was incredibly exciting to peer behind nature's curtain for the first time, to learn something new about our world that no one else knows yet. My big regret is not publishing the work outside of my thesis. It would likely have been informative for other labs around the world studying the same issue.
What’s your motivation for working with founders?
I enjoy the intellectual challenge of problem-solving and I enjoy mentoring. There are so many problems in the early days of any enterprise, many of which can have an outsized impact on the direction and progress of the business.
If the right advice can save a team 1-2 weeks worth of work, that's pretty rewarding.
What’s something you’re especially good at or like helping founders with?
A few things come to mind:
1) Helping teams identify and focus on strategic priorities. This is not just a big company thing. It's also incredibly important in the early stages when resources are extremely tight. What are the priorities today vs. future bets? How do you get your team rowing in the same direction?
2) Building and managing sales and ops teams. What does a high-performing sales or ops team look like? What metrics? How to scale these teams as you grow?
3) People leadership and management. I ran a large team at Better and also double-hatted as our Head of HR for over a year. People issues can be tricky. It's very rewarding when done well (Better was LinkedIn's #1 Startup to Work At) but also disastrous when leadership fumbles (Better also made the news cycles for poorly executing its layoffs).
If you could go back in time to the beginnings of your first company, what advice would you give yourself?
Behind every really successful company is an amazing team. It's all well and good to be scrappy in the early days and try to do everything yourself.
However, what's needed in the very early phases is different once the business starts to gain traction. Don't be penny-wise, pound-foolish when it comes to talent. Great people will return their value many times over. Leave your ego at the door. Great people aren't there to take orders, they are there to team and build something amazing.
If you're a founder and want to work with Shawn, he'll be a Visiting Partner at Iterative for the next batch (W23)- you should apply.