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40 Under 40 2014 (Entrepreneurs)

Clara Shih is on the leading edge of compliant social media marketing at a time when broker-dealers’ efforts to reach prospective clients on the web is receiving scrutiny from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc.

Her company, Hearsay Social Inc., has only been around since 2009, but thus far it’s managed to pick up a couple of prominent broker-dealer clients, including Raymond James Financial Inc. and RBC Wealth Management. To extend its reach, Hearsay has also teamed up with LinkedIn Corp. to make social media management easier for firms eager to comply with Finra’s regulations.

Ms. Shih herself is a social media maverick, with more than 15,000 Twitter followers, nearly 135,000 LinkedIn followers and nearly 70,000 Facebook followers.

Ms. Shih seemed to know early in life that she’d be heading for a career in the male-dominated industry of computer science: At 18, she wanted to be a software engineer. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science at Stanford University, as well as a bachelor’s in economics. She also earned her master’s in internet studies at the University of Oxford.

Perhaps the most daunting career obstacle Ms. Shih faced was when she decided to start Hearsay with her cofounder Steve Garrity. At one point before they were able to raise funding or find customers, Ms. Shih’s savings account, as well as that of Mr. Garrity, went in one direction only — down, she said.

But whether it’s helming a startup or fighting her way to the top at school, Ms. Shih attributes her success to pure and simple grit.

“I can’t tell you how many 2 or 3 a.m. late nights I pulled when I was working at Google and Salesforce — the process of working on something until it’s perfect, it’s just right,” Ms. Shih said.

At those key moments, having the right kind of boss also helped. “The toughest bosses I ever had — those are the ones in retrospect I view as being the most influential,” she said.

— Darla Mercado

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