My role as tech start-up CEO: Shifting between strategist, cheerleader, recruiter, student, salesperson, dealmaker, and all-time firefighter – Yi Xu, Co-founder and CEO of City Sail

Xi Yu - City Sail

Yi Xu is co-founder and CEO of City Sail, a human cognition tech start-up that deciphers sublime facial expression into characteristics traits, helping clients detect financial fraud, understand customer behaviour and recruit candidates with personality fit. The company is supported by Wayra, Creative England and the NHS. Yi has worked as a television presenter for Shanghai Media Group and previously as an investment banker for Credit Suisse.

Yi Xu - City Sail

Yi Xu

“…I wake up in the morning, not knowing what is laying ahead of me, but I look forward to conquering each single unknown challenge every day…”

From investment banking to TV to tech

I started my career on Wall Street in New York and later joined Credit Suisse’s investment banking department in London, helping companies like EDF Energy raise £16bn financing for the Hinkley Point C nuclear project, for example. Two years ago, I left the banking world and became a TV presenter for the UK bureau of a China’s State-owned finance channel, CNBC equivalent in Shanghai, covering European finance and politics daily news. That’s where the idea of City Sail came up.

Every day, I observed my audience views up and down, but I did not have direct interactions with the audience to understand why. Given contents represent only 7% of the communication, I started to look into my own facial expression and body language, frame by frame, to analyse what I was conveying to the audience through non-verbal communications.

A day in the life of a CEO

There is no typical day for me on a day to day basis. Every day is a different day, ranging from team building, investor pitching, business development, to product vision, cash flow management, brand management etc. My role shifts between strategist, cheerleader, recruiter, student, salesperson, dealmaker, and all-time firefighter for sure.

My friends say: “Yi, you are so brave to quit banking, then again leaving the glamorous television world.” To which I reply: “No, that wasn’t brave of me. I really did not know how difficult building up a start-up is, until I was actually doing it.” I wake up in the morning, not knowing what is laying ahead of me, but I look forward to conquering each single unknown challenge every day.

Our products

Facescan GIFWe are in the artificial intelligence human cognition space. We decipher facial expression from video profiles into characteristics traits, including passion level, confidence level, whether someone is possibly lying. We extract 67 feature points and track 24 facial expression movements per second, to ensure the detection of hidden signs that naked human eyes cannot see.

Our clients use our product mainly in three verticals: recruitment and employee retention, customer behaviour profiling and financial fraud detection – all centred on human behaviour analysis. We aim to help our clients understand their employees or customers better, while minimising subconscious human bias with substantial data backing.

Overcoming challenges and looking forward to tomorrow

There are a lot of challenges I face being in the start-up world – making people who do not see my vision eventually become part of my vision, hiring the best talent when you do not have the brand name nor the deepest pockets (yet!), learning about my own strengths and weaknesses in order to truly embrace them, and loneliness. But I think the biggest challenge lies in tomorrow – it’s yet to be overcome and I am looking forward to it.

Support from Wayra


Wayra’s facilities at Air Street in London

Being part of Wayra is being part of the core of the London start-up ecosystem. Newton said: “If I have seen further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” That’s what Wayra means to me. Through Wayra, I have attracted customers, investors, teams, and partners. And the positive side effect of Wayra also includes that when I am feeling miserable, I turn to my left and look at other start-up founders, who’s even more miserable than me… We’re like a big family so we always support each other.

Celebrating difference

I am an entrepreneur, then a tech entrepreneur, and then I’m a female tech entrepreneur. I experience what other tech founders have gone through and are going through. I recognise the difference being a female tech founder, and the challenges posed to us in this male dominated world. But more so, I enjoy being different – we think differently, act differently, approach problems differently.

On the horizon for City Sail

We are releasing a new feature of the product very soon. And our clients are as excited as us about it.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on Facebook
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.