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Hi, I’m Han

I’m a designer and product leader. I’m passionate about making tools and experiences for self expression, and I love helping create new tech.

I’m the founder & CEO of TRASH, an AI-driven mobile app for creating vibey videos in seconds.

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My Story

As a creative person, I’ve let my curiosity guide my career path. I still actively design even though I also do product and strategy. I appreciate taking things concept to execution: considering what to make, why it should exist for the business, as well as (of course!) how it it’s going to look and feel.

 

Canada: connecting with my creativity

I grew up in Canada in a creative family. My dad’s family worked in high-end fashion, and my mom is a playwright and musician. Early exposure to these worlds meant that I was making my own videos on VHS, thrifting costumes, and later – building my own computer to download my first copy of design software. I started playing cello when I was three and pursued music through college alongside my studies, competing, and touring. I have five younger sisters, and creating fun and inclusive experiences for them, as well as learning to lead at a young age were both a big part of my early life. I’m creative and technical, and I taught myself to code while I got a degree in design. After graduating, I quickly moved to Toronto and to work as a  designer at an agency focused on youth-focused projects. I love teen culture and pop culture.

London: building my intellectual side

After a couple years in Toronto, I moved to London to join an early-stage music startup called Last.fm. I was the first designer at the web 2.0 radio and music recommendations juggernaut, and quickly grew into leading their design team. I worked closely with the founders product managing many features to market for web, mobile, desktop, gaming consoles, and more in eight languages and scaling to 40M users. Last.fm was acquired by CBS for $280M. I cut my teeth on designing for algorithms and never looked back. The brainy team and the group of futurists I befriended demanded a different level of cleverness and intellect that a graphic design degree hadn’t prepared me for. Those years were a blur of work, reading, and self-study.

I stayed in London, became British, and worked for the Echo Nest (later acquired by Spotify) leading R&D projects which led to my first company, This Is My Jam. The hyper-curated ephemeral song sharing service was a reaction to the recommender systems I had worked on at Last.fm. This Is My Jam  had crazy organic growth and celebrity users. I made a lot of mistakes, learned a ton, and put this new knowledge to good use with my second company.

 

I expanded the public speaking I had started doing to attend even more international conferences, including lecturing at universities like Imperial College London, PrincetonParsons, and later as faculty (visiting lecturer) at Cornell Tech. I remembered how much I’d loved being in front of an audience and a camera when I was a kid. I played the long game with my work, racking up the type of accolades I knew I’d need to immigrate to the US.

New York City: learning to hustle

In 2014 I moved to New York City, a long-time dream. Music streaming and recommendations were becoming a solved problem by that point, so I turned my attention to one of my first loves, video. I became VP Design at Ripcord (a product incubator funded by Viacom Music Group), where I learned the ropes of the entertainment industry. After one of Viacom’s infamous reorgs, though, I quickly found myself looking for a new job, and that’s when I realized I was getting the introduction to NYC that almost everyone experiences, and I was working my butt off to prove I could make it there. I went to go work for Drip, a Patreon competitor that was acquired by Kickstarter. Working out of the Expa office, Drip’s (their major investor), I had my eyes opened to how venture capital worked in the US, and I knew that as soon as I had the freedom to do so (I was still on a visa), I wanted to start another company.

San Francisco: my leadership crucible

I left Drip as the team was getting acquired to go work for Twitter as the general manager at Vine. I was hired for my creative background; one of the first things I did for the team was to put on an internal conference that focused on creative thinking. We quickly iterated on the product focusing on creative tools and integration with Twitter. History had a different plan for what we were building though, when Twitter decided to shut down Vine. Throwing up in my hotel room in San Francisco after the meeting where I found out, I knew it was up to me to make sure the content was archived and the community taken care of – given the circumstances. My role changed overnight to become ops, finance, comms, and people. Putting myself on the project as the sole designer to save cash in a crisis, we shipped a website and the Vine Camera so that creators could still shoot in the format they loved. The decision to see it through to the end nearly broke me, and the only respite for my shattered spirit was my own creativity. I was still curious about why Vine was so difficult for many people to use – especially regular people who didn’t know how to edit video, and that question was bubbling in my brain.

 

The Vine team was in NYC, but Twitter leadership is in San Francisco, so a good part of my time was spent on the west coast. A lover of warm weather, I’d jump down to Los Angeles on the weekends. Mysterious at first, Los Angeles grew on me, and many of my best ideas happened on Venice Beach, including the first sketches for TRASH.

Los Angeles: getting in touch with my feelings

Similar to extracting data from songs to build a playlist with machine learning, I was curious about using computer vision to look at video clips the way an editor does to produce a rough cut that a human could play with. It seemed like an idea worth pursuing. I learned how to raise capital, teamed up with my co-founder Dr. Geneviève Patterson, and we brought TRASH to market! It’s been an amazing journey watching people realize they can participate in the medium of video without technical skill.

 

In my free time I crate-dig for new music (which you can hear on my podcast and read about in my newsletter). I’m also a startup advisor, and I frequently mentor others, including through programs like 30 Weeks for design founders and First Round’s Product Program. I’m passionate about helping change the ratio in tech for under-represented people. 

I’ve been interviewed by and my work has been featured in media including the Guardian, the New York Times, Forbes, Variety, TechCrunch, and the Today Show.

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©2020 HANNAH DONOVAN