Entrepreneur, educator and former U.S. diplomat Tina Tran Neville launched Lana Learn, a Seattle-based online English-language learning platform, in 2018 after a trip to Asia that year. The startup, which uses video-conferencing technology to connect U.S. teachers with the international market of English-language learners, was co-founded by Tran Neville and her husband, Paul.
Lana Learn is now seeking to expand its reach into three major markets: Vietnam, Thailand and China. But Tran Neville is no stranger to entrepreneurial endeavors.
She also is chief executive officer of Transcend Academy, a Seattle-based college-preparation service also started by her and her husband, who is a former diplomat as well.
Tran Neville moved to the United States with her family as a refugee when she was only three weeks old and went on to earn a master’s degree in international relations from Yale University. Her first foreign service duty as a U.S. diplomat was in the Kingdom of Lana in Northern Thailand.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated? The most important characteristic of a good leader is empathy. To build world-class products and services, you have to know what the customers desire. To recruit amazing teams, you have to know what drives individual team members. At Lana Learn, we’ve built a premier global online-training platform by truly understanding not just the broad market but the needs of individual consumers.
The most overrated leadership trait is outward confidence. Believing in yourself and your business is important, but projecting an aura of confidence at all times in front of everyone is not necessary. Some days, we don’t feel confident, and that’s okay.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader? Access. There are just far fewer women in leadership positions running companies and organizations. As a result, women have less opportunities to access spheres of influence for capital, mentorship and leadership pathways.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations? Woman can rise in the ranks and become leaders by continually seeking ways to improve their organizations and support the other women, minorities and people who are behind them.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you? There’s always another way. Growing up as an immigrant, my parents faced immense challenges just to make a life for themselves in a new home. They were new to the United States. English was their second language, and they were raising six children. When met with a challenge, my mother’s motto was to “find a way” to make things work. I apply the same approach in my life and Lana Learn to great results.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders? Carpe Diem — seize the day — and just go for it! There will never be the perfect time, experience, level, company, or whatever other excuse we use to hold ourselves back. I wish someone else had told me that earlier.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts? Networking is just a professional word for community. If you are doing what you love, your professional colleagues, customers and champions will become your community. Networking is a natural evolution from doing what you love, and as a result you will substantially increase your chances of succeeding.
The contacts in your networks will support you, and you will support them. You can’t do it alone. An added bonus of networking is making friends. Who doesn’t want more friends?
What would you do differently in your career? Nothing. I have different chapters in my career, from U.S. diplomat, to teacher, to entrepreneur. Each phase gave me formidable professional life lessons that propelled me to pursue subsequent pursuits.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon? Working. As an entrepreneur, I am working a lot at this phase in the company’s growth. But Sunday Funday is our family [time], so then you’ll find me with my husband and two young boys, hiking, swimming, jogging, going to the beach, or visiting extended family.
What would be the title of your autobiography? “Caring for Future Generations.”