Co-founder and CEO, Yaza
To create sustainable competitive advantage, you’ve got to solve hard problems and get way ahead. The hallmark of what I tried to do with my companies is to fix something that’s broken.
By Megan Michelson
Peter Sisson T’94 always knew he’d become an entrepreneur. When he was a student at Tuck, he took a Myers Briggs test which told him entrepreneurship was an integral part of his personality. “I’m a very creative person. I like the idea of creating something from nothing,” Sisson says. “Tuck not only reinforced that I could do that, but it also prepared me to do that by teaching me how to write a coherent pitch deck.”
Since Tuck, Sisson, who lives in San Francisco, has launched five—and counting—companies. In 2019, Business Insider named Sisson one of the most powerful LGBTQ people in tech. His latest company is called Yaza, which he founded in 2018 and recently went live in the app store. Yaza enables its users to explore an interactive, searchable map of the world through the experiences of people they know. So, if you’re visiting say, Barcelona, you can watch videos of friends who’ve been to the area’s best cafes and art galleries and build and save an itinerary based on your findings. “For someone with a travel bug, you want to be able to experience another place is like through the eyes of people you trust—your friends, influencers, travel experts,” Sisson says. “You want to get that content from them, and get it pure, ideally in video, since that communicates so much about an experience.”
The app weaves together a visual history of specific places, whether they’re hiking trails or exploring museums. “It’s a tool to satisfy my wanderlust; to answer the question that I see inefficiently answered all the time on social media. People say, ‘I’m going to Berlin—where should I go?’ Then you see an endless stream,” Sisson says. “Other sites host reviews, but they’re from strangers. As someone who likes to get off the beaten track, I want to open it up to everyone’s explorations, not just guidebooks and travel experts.”
Sisson has been obsessed with travel since his first plane ride at age five. Since then, he’s been to 40 countries and accrued 4 million airline miles. “I believe if you can travel, it makes for a complete and rich life,” he says. His tendency is to avoid the well-traveled, pricier countries and instead go to uncharted places in more developing countries. In his twenties, he bought an open-ended, around-the-world plane ticket. He spent six weeks in Bali, visited monasteries in Tibet, and traveled to the center of Borneo, where he stayed in a village with Dayak tribesmen, camping in lean-tos and eating monkey meat they’d shot with poisoned darts. He’s been 150 feet below sea level in Palau and topped out at 18,000 feet above sea level on a peak in the Himalaya. “Everything has been an adventure,” Sisson says.
After studying computer science in undergraduate at Cornell University, Sisson earned a master’s degree in computer science and artificial intelligence from Stanford University. He got a job writing programming code for AT&T Bell Labs, before leaving to do volunteer work in Micronesia. “I realized very quickly that I wanted to have a bigger sandbox to play in,” he says. “I knew that business school would be the key to transitioning from a science and engineering background to learning more about management and business.”
He chose Tuck for its small class size and approachable professors. “The best thing about Tuck for me was the people I met. To this day, we keep in touch. They’re accessible. You can reach out to anyone,” he says. “I had come from engineering, so I was taught to be data driven—that there was one right answer and you had to be exhaustive to make sure you got every detail right. At Tuck, you unlearn that. You learn about what’s important, what’s salient, so you can make decisions without data, with incomplete information. That’s not a skill that’s taught to an engineer.”
Post Tuck, he worked in management consulting during the era when the Internet was just getting started, before transferring to banking as a research analyst at a financial security firm, covering the mobile and telecom equipment industries. But in the back of his mind, he still had the idea that he wanted to create something himself.
He had moved to California’s Bay Area, where he became interested in the area’s wine scene in Napa and Sonoma counties. When he realized it was next to impossible to order and ship wine across state lines, the idea for his first startup came to him. “I knew shipping wine would be challenging and not just from a regulatory point of view,” he says. “It was a hard problem, but I always like to solve problems. To create sustainable competitive advantage, you’ve got to solve hard problems and get way ahead. The hallmark of what I tried to do with my companies is to fix something that’s broken. It’s harder to win but if you do win, the rewards are greater.”
So, he spent six months talking to customers, wholesales, retailers, and winemakers to understand the challenges.
Then he wrote a business plan straight from the structure he learned in Tuck’s entrepreneurship class. His company, then called Wine Shopper, partnered with 200 licensed wine distributers across the country and became the first to legally ship wine to more than 11 states. After raising $46 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins and Amazon, Wine Shopper was purchased within two years by Wine.com.
Sisson launched three subsequent companies after that—a media production company called Mixonic that was acquired in 2017, a click-to-call technology company called Teleo that was acquired by Microsoft in 2005, and Line2, the first company to get a full-service phone app approved by Apple, which was acquired in 2018. After that, he came up with the idea for Yaza.
Mentorship has been a key part of Sisson’s identity through his career. He’s mentored startup founders at the European Innovation Academy and StartOut Growth Lab, where he’s helped 25 companies close on more than $30 million in funding and created more than 140 new jobs. “Having had 20 years of starting companies and making mistakes along the way, I have a lot to offer as a mentor,” he says.
How to Be a Successful Operations Leader
To succeed in operations, says ZOE COO Nicole Xu T’11, you need the short-term vision to run the business day-to-day, but you also need to be able to think three to five years ahead to build for the future.Read More
After spending eight years in the military, Maxwell says Tuck’s general management curriculum gave him the foundation in business he needed, and he still relies on what he learned in his business strategy, communications, and negotiations courses. “Those soft skills courses really stay with you because they’re timeless.”Read More
The next generation of operations leaders looking to drive growth and optimization will need to be students of technology, says Peter Giordano T’11.Read More
Making the Impossible, Possible
A conversation with Vincent Wu T’11, COO of NewsBreak, about the broad skillset it takes to become a “full stack COO” at a rapidly growing media company.Read More
Answering the Call
How Tuck and Amazon prepared Cem Sibay T’05 to embrace change and navigate disruption.Read More
With the potential to become the world’s first self-flying air taxi service, Chief Financial Officer Caryn Nightengale T’02 says the company is poised to become a game-changing disruptor in the aerospace industry.Read More
At Wayfair, Tuck alumna Laura Scott completely transformed the company’s operations. Now she’s dipping her toes into the startup world with Takeoff Tech.Read More
Work Hard, Dream Big
From Buffalo to the boardroom, Yancey Spruill T’97 has found the formula for success.Read More
How to Keep Your Company Data Secure
What Alison Connolly T’11 finds fascinating, most corporate leaders find terrifying. The director of strategic partnerships at DarkOwl is an expert on the darknet.Read More
With Everly, Juliet Horton T’14 is changing how couples plan their weddingRead More
Marketing a Disruptive Brand
Together, two Tuck alumni, Kate Jhaveri T’03 and Michael Aragon T’01, led marketing and innovation at the growing global brand Twitch.Read More
Susan Hunt Stevens
In 2006 Susan Hunt Stevens T'98 started a blog as a "a guide to going green without going berserk." Years later the idea evolved into WeSpire, a platform that uses technology and social media to promote sustainable living.Read More
Before you know what she is, you first need to know what Betsabeh Hermann T’13 is not: She is not an astronaut. Or at least, not yet anyway.Read More
Sprague Brodie T’14 works in the heart of Silicon Valley at the sprawling Mountain View, California, campus of tech giant Google.Read More
One size does not fit all—that’s the philosophy of Torlisa Jeffrey T'12 , a senior product manager for Williams Sonoma.Read More
As director of global connectivity for Facebook, Chris Weasler T'97 is helping to bring online the 60 percent of the earth's population currently without internet access.Read More
Gibson “Gib” Biddle
NerdWallet's Gib Biddle T'91 came to Tuck as a marketer, but then realized he was more of a builder.Read More
Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill T’01 is helping the digital productivity and note-keeping company do more by focusing on what it does best.Read More
As head of strategy and product development for Beats Electronics, Elisabeth Hartley T'05 is on the cusp of creating what the future of music could look like.Read More
People call Eric Spiegel T'87 the most natural leader they’ve ever met. Now CEO of Siemens USA, a global electronics and engineering powerhouse, he gets to lead on the issues that matter most. To his company and the country.Read More
Investor. Philanthropist. Entrepreneur. Roger McNamee T’82 is all of these and more in a career that has taken him to the top of the tech world.Read More