Catching up with Crystal Lee, Miss California 2013

Crystal Lee, Miss California 2013Crystal Lee served the Golden State as Miss California 2013, placing first runner up and taking home over $45,000 in scholarship money. A double graduate of Stanford University, she has a bachelor’s degree in Human Biology and a master’s degree in Media Studies. After her year as Miss California, she went on to found the startup, and is now busy hosting This is SF, a weekly lifestyle show that features the bay area’s best restaurants, events, and more! We caught up with Crystal to learn more about what she’s up to now.

You’ve recently joined This is SF as a host- what’s one thing that surprised you about your new role?

One thing that surprised me is that in the world of professional video production, clean sound quality is the most important thing. In the city, it’s not rare for us to be recording and needing to pause when a garbage truck begins to back up or an airplane flies overhead. Those beeps will ruin the voice recording because there’s no way to edit out interruptions.

Also, the entrepreneurs, hustlers, and passion-driven leaders who make this show inspire and surprise me every day. There are some amazing stories out there. I profiled some Kurdish, Ethiopian, and Guatemalan immigrants who all embody the American Dream in their unique way. Their place in the show represents the culmination of years of hard work and resilience, and I’m overjoyed to be able to share that moment with them.

Crystal Lee This is SFTell us a little bit about the show!

The show is a lifestyle series that profiles the best experiences that the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer. It’s a similar format to a Food Network travel show with a host trying out activities, eating food, and engaging with the business owner. The hosting style is informal, lighthearted, and enthusiastic. Unlike Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives which focuses only on food, This is SF also showcases categories like pets, fitness, health and wellness, sports, and even wedding and wine country!

How did your year as Miss California prepare you to host a lifestyle TV show?

Crystal Lee Miss California 2013My years of competing helped me develop a voice and personality that I’m comfortable unleashing on camera. MAO interview preparation taught me to be unabashedly myself. To host this type of show, a majority of which is unscripted, I need to channel the most authentic version of myself. The best segments I’ve done were when I forgot the camera was even there.

This show has given me the chance to meet many people from all walks of life and backgrounds. It’s my responsibility to help them relax and feel comfortable speaking on camera. I often only have a few minutes to establish a quick rapport before the camera starts to roll. In those moments I try to show the business owner that I’ve done my research on their brand and crack a joke or two to share a laugh. The best way to combat their nerves is by sending out lots of positive and reassuring energy.

Crystal Lee This is SFMiss California, Googler, tech entrepreneur, lifestyle show host; you’ve had some vastly different roles in the past five years. Do you find that people try to put you in a “box” and label you as one thing, and if so, how do you address that?

I believe people who  “put me in a box” are just trying their best to comprehend who I am in the context of their existing mental models. Since my career arc isn’t particularly common, I don’t expect anyone to grasp it all. I don’t get offended when people label me because their drawing from their own personal experiences to understand what I do. Oftentimes the labels come out when they want a certain side of me to lead a collaboration. For instance, “tech” Crystal will be asked to judge a pitch day competition, while “pageant” Crystal will be asked to do media projects.

Crystal Lee This is SFAny exciting plans for the rest of 2018?

I applied for an arts grant to make a short film examining the intersection of immigration and food in San Francisco Chinatown. Since Circle 8 Productions gave me the opportunity to host This is SF, I’ve been wanting to explore the producing side and I’m going to start right here in my backyard with the oldest, largest, and most storied Chinatown in North America.

As a Chinese-American, I’ve personally grown up between two cultures so I’ve always been intrigued by places that sit in the middle, embodying the merging of unique, distinct identities. Following this theme, I’ve decided this summer to visit San Sebastian, Spain. It’s in Basque country between Spain and France. I’m already thrilled for what I might discover there.

The Miss California class of ‘18 has just been completed; any advice for the girls vying for the title?

  1. At least twice, run through every area of competition in its entirety, full-out. If you can’t get access to a stage, rent out a dance studio with a mirror. It’s really important to do it full-out, 100%. Have all wardrobe, shoes, smiling, hair done, your tan, and stage makeup done. Do your talent as if it was the real thing. As a bonus, film yourself and watch it so you can see what the judges see. You’d be surprised how many contestants don’t do this. They just don’t think about it.
  1. Get used to speaking extemporaneously in public. If you’re not comfortable yet, make it your mission to find ways to practice. There are plenty of options. You can speak at church, go to Toastmasters, stand up and talk during family dinners, raise your hand in class, make a presentation at a nursing home, teach or lead a workshop, attend a school’s Read-Aloud Day, take a public speaking class… the list goes on. Go out and do all of it!

More advice will be assembled in a standalone resource later this Spring at

Empowered Women Empower Women

MacKenzieMy “Aha!” moment for my platform was while I was in college working a seasonal job in agriculture. My mother gave me Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for Graduates. I was skeptical but began reading. I have never finished a book so quickly, or ever felt so passionately motivated about something. Sandberg described the struggles that women face as they begin their careers. She explained her own experiences and those of her close friends, but she also incorporated copious amounts of research to ground her assertions. The tone was neither confrontational, nor was it placing blame on any particular group of people; instead, it was factual and practical. Her approach resonated with me so deeply that I knew instantly that this was an issue I could stand behind.

CrystalHaving experienced instances of the discrimination Sheryl mentions, I chose to implement a platform that focuses on bringing about awareness of the obstacles women often face in the workplace, while at the same time offering practical tools to navigate the workforce as a woman. Women have made huge strides in equality during the last five decades, but there is still plenty of work to be done.  I am thankful to the Miss America Organization for bringing other women into my life who are natural leaders. They use their position to create positive change. They lead by example with a servant’s heart but are not afraid to speak up when they feel it is necessary. One of these extraordinary women is Crystal Lee, Miss California 2013. Having competed in the Miss America Organization throughout her teens and early twenties, Crystal has now started her career in the tech industry. Being a strong woman in a male-dominated field, I wanted to get Crystal’s take on her experiences as an Asian-American woman in the workplace.


MF: As a woman in a very male-dominated field, how has your gender played a role in your experience trying to launch your career?


CL: As with all things in life, there can be advantages and disadvantages. I’ve found that a fair amount of resilience and healthy ignorance has helped me launch my career.


My first boss at Google loved that I was Miss California. I will always be thankful to him for hiring me and supporting me right after “retiring” from pageants. Many of the women on that team helped me transition to the working world and to this day they are still my friends.


Where I’ve found it to be more of a challenge as a woman in tech is in building relationships within teams and individuals who are less accustomed to a young, female presence. Now I am often in business meetings with potential insurance and financial partners who probably notice that I don’t often fit the typical profile of an enterprise software founder.


MF: Can you give one example of gender discrimination you have personally experienced?


CL: I once had someone tell me, “Wow, you're a lot smarter and more impressive than I thought you would be. You're not like most pageant girls.” I wanted to turn to this person and say, “wow you're less attractive that I thought you would be.”


MF: Do you feel that your background in pageantry has positively impacted how you approach your career and push to overcome the obstacles that arise in your path?


CL: Without a doubt – YES. I've gained perseverance, resilience, public speaking skills, confidence, and so much more.


MF: Considering that a huge part of the employment gap between men and women is due to the fact that women, whether intentionally or subconsciously, hold themselves back from seizing opportunities in workplace, what is one piece of advice you’ve learned through your own experience that you would give to young women preparing to begin their careers?


CL: Be bold. Ask for things you feel unqualified for; whether it's about pay, project assignments, benefits, anything. Get used to asking. The worst they can say is no – and that’s something that anyone who has previously accomplished great things knows well.


Also, being obedient is overrated. Put yourself in positions that are challenging and hard. Don't be afraid to fail early and fail often. Your 20s are for those formative experiences and if you've never failed, you're not pushing yourself enough.


MacKenzie1There are some challenging assumptions about women’s behavior: women are expected to be quieter, gentler, and more compassionate. We are expected to behave a certain way and when we do not, feathers are often ruffled. This has contributed to the lack of diversity and damaging stereotypes which Crystal mentioned above. Obviously, one of the ways to have a profound impact on the conversation regarding equality in the workplace is by producing more women like those found in the Miss America Organization, but the work cannot end there. Women (and men) need to actively support women who lead with strength, intelligence, and charisma. Just as Crystal said, be bold and unafraid of failure, because there is power in numbers and you as an empowered woman (or man) will empower other women. That is a powerful chain reaction.

2015 American Pistachio Growers Conference

Catch up with Miss California 2013, Crystal Lee, and Miss California 2014, Marina Inserra, as they share stories from their respective trips to China with our sponsor, American Pistachio Growers!