Published on: 
June 10, 2024

Celebrating Year One: Q&A with Co-Founder Jane Tran

5 min read

We had an opportunity to chat with Sixfold's Co-founder and COO Jane Tran about the company’s amazing first year and the vision for the years to come, as well as her career journey, giving back, and tips on running a fast-paced AI startup.

What was your first job and how did that influence your career?

My very first job ever was as a cashier at an Italian deli around the corner from my parents’ house.

I think everyone should do a service job because it emphasizes the importance of good customer service like how to treat people. I also learned how to be quick because it's New York. New Yorkers don’t like to wait for their Bacon, Egg, and Cheese.

Walk us through your career journey from the Italian deli to co-founder and COO at  Sixfold.

I’ve had a good mix of enterprise and startup experience. I started my career at JP Morgan as part of their rotational analyst program. One of my last rotations was with the Turnaround & Process Improvement team for the Chief Information Officer—that’s where I fell in love with tech. I worked on really cool projects like improving the eDiscovery process and improving data governance. I had a blast. 

After that, I spent several years at Marsh and MetLife working with the CIOs on different strategy and planning projects before I decided to give startups to go. I was on the founding team at Unqork where I was Head of Solutions before becoming COO.

When I decided to leave Unqork, I kept in contact with Alex [Schmelkin, founding team at Unqork, and co-founder of Sixfold]. When he came up with the idea for what would become Sixfold, he asked me to join him to get this idea off the ground.

What does the name Sixfold mean and who came up with it?

So, all kudos due to Alex’s daughter Nina Schmelkin for that! She was doing a project for school around patterns. A sixfold pattern is considered one of the most interesting, naturally occurring patterns—snowflakes are a sixfold pattern. And so, when it came to choosing a name for the company, we were thinking about AI and the role that patterns play, and “Sixfold” seemed like an ideal fit.

Sixfold just turned one year old. How would you describe year one?

A ton of fun! We’re building really tangible use cases using cutting-edge tech. This first year has reinforced the importance of anchoring your work in first principles. AI is obviously super hot and evolving at warp speed, but we can't ignore the things that support great software development and great user experiences. That meant getting that foundation and discipline in place while at the same time making room for extensive R&D and a ton of iterations. 

We learned a lot. We tweaked a bunch. And I think we found product market fit. Our early customers are already starting to see value, and I’m really excited to see where that grows this year.

Do you have any notable “wow” moments from the first year?

Yeah, when we delivered our first end-to-end underwriting pilots and heard the underwriters say “we were able to complete this task in a fifth of the time.” I particularly love hearing how much they trust the tool.

Hearing that first positive user feedback feels like a major achievement! And, obviously, the recent closing of our Series A funding round.

Who are your role models and how did they influence your career? 

My parents. My mom runs a small business in kitchen supplies with her siblings — it was one of those things where they just sort of fell into it. They knew they could offer a really good product and create a fit within the market. They understood what customers wanted and knew that they could manufacture it. So they just went for it. That takes a lot of bravery. On the flip side, my dad hung wallpaper for a living. He's retired now, but he had that hard work ethic and true care for his craft. He developed a reputation for excellence and really worked his way up.

I think the combination of entrepreneurship, work ethic, and quality very much influences who I am.

A common conversation for startups is balancing “the need for speed” with employee happiness. How do you build that balance into the company culture? 

Unfortunately, I don't have a magic formula. I would say that from the get-go, Sixfold’s three founders — Brian, Alex, and myself — anchored ourselves on our Mission and a handful of operating principles like putting the customer first and being direct while being kind. We try to surround ourselves with people who share those principles so that naturally becomes the culture of the company. 

Jane together with Alex Schmelkin (Co-founder & CEO) and Brian Moseley (Co-founder & CTO).

The three of us really care about who works for us and how we all work together. Sometimes we may not have the best balance, but we always strive to be better. As founders, we care a lot about our work, but we also care deeply about family, friends, and life outside work. We understand that people who work with us have the same need for a balanced life outside work.

Do you have any tips when it comes to hiring?

Instinct is a huge part of it. It’s also helpful to have a great HR team in place — kudos to Marie [Sixfold’s HR Business Partner] for doing a lot of the initial groundwork, so by the time a candidate gets to me, they fit a lot of our criteria for that role. From there, a lot of it just comes down to just instinct. Ask yourself if they'll fit within the culture of this company.

Tell us about your mentoring work for different startups and organizations.

I'm on the board of directors and co-chair for an organization called Womankind. It helps survivors of gender-based violence in New York, with a focus on the AAPI community. They've been around for more than 40 years. They started with a single hotline for the NYC area, but have expanded to serve thousands of women every year across the US as one of the few true end-to-end organizations. So families get to stay together. They get legal help. They get job placement. Their kids have a safe place to be while they're figuring out, you know, the next steps. I'm really proud to be part of that organization. 

I've also mentored and advised a few other early-stage startups that I think are doing something new and interesting. This also helps me to understand what else is out there in the ecosystem. I’ve mostly been focused on B2B enterprise throughout my career, so I like learning about retail or other sectors.

I love being around people who are building interesting things. It’s super fun and it can be super informational too.

What are your top work tools that you feel like you couldn’t do without?

I don't do a lot of the things that “productivity hackers” do. I would say Apple Notes and Google Tasks are central to my workday. I keep extensive notes on my meetings— so that’s a lot of Apple notes. And then, for the important things with a deadline, I'll set up a Google task or calendar reminder. And that's how I organize.

What are you excited about for Sixfold’s second year? 

This year will be about continuing to mature our product and getting a lot of new customer use cases live.

We're working with a lot of great people and a lot of great customers. I’m looking forward to showcasing what we can do within this market and at this fidelity — a year ago, I don't think anyone would have thought that we’d be able to do what we’re doing, so I can’t wait to see what the next year or two will bring!

Want to work with Jane and the rest of the Sixfold team? Check out our career page
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Maja Hamberg
Head of Marketing