Jeremiah Abraham, the founder and CEO of Tremendous Communications, had bumps in the road in getting to where he is today. Starting his business right before the pandemic, he doubted the path that he created and considered quitting everything that he was doing. But with mentors along his side and his determination to uplift the AAPI community, his company has contributed to protecting and celebrating the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities when they needed it the most.
Working at renowned companies like Disney and Warner Bros., Jeremiah has spent years hustling at the intersection of technology and entertainment. Using his talent in marketing, he has constantly shed light on the AAPI community by promoting films such as Everything Everywhere All At Once and co-producing the Filipino American musical drama film Yellow Rose. He still finds ways to balance work and life by tearing down the systematically ingrained notion of working from 9 to 5.
In this one hour interview, Jeremiah lays out his story of how he entered this industry, experiencing ignorant approaches to different cultures in a white dominant workplace, and his immense passion for AAPI representation.
Blend of Tech and Entertainment
I got my degree in computer engineering from UC Irvine and that was when I needed to decide what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to make a difference in technology back then, so I got that degree. One of my first jobs was in the aerospace industry. I was working there and I realized that I was just really bad at math. I didn’t think I could realistically pursue this as a long-term career. It was one of those moments where you had to have this introspective, realization, or catharsis about what you thought you were going to be and what you want in life.
Then I found this blend of tech and entertainment, which I was always interested in. I ended up being a front-end developer for Disney, which was a nice blend of the programming skills that I learned from school and the entertainment brands that I’ve always admired. Social media was still fairly new at these companies. This was back in 2007, and I would say that the biggest leap from this tech world to this communications world was when I discovered a Master’s program for Digital Social Media and Online Communities at USC. So I worked at Disney full-time, and at night I tried to get my master’s degree. I knew in my head what I wanted to build for myself and that was this intersection.
An intersection of my interest in engineering and social dynamics is interesting because a lot of people didn’t know why I even majored in computer engineering and minored in sociology. Engineers build societies, but you can’t build it without understanding it first. I ended up pursuing this even more and realized that I had a knack for marketing which I ended up pursuing after receiving my degree at USC.
Uplifting the Filipino Community
After I got my master’s degree, I decided to pursue my thesis project as a full-on business venture, which was an online community and editorial group for Filipino Americans called BakitWhy.com. Uplifting the Filipino community has always been a constant in my life. Since high school, I was part of a Filipino club where we celebrated our culture and volunteered for Filipino community organizations. I knew that whatever I did, whether it was engineering or marketing, was in the service of our people.
So I started this website and it was one of the first, if not the first, Filipino American digital destinations for editorial and news content. We were covering events and a new emerging digital identity among the Filipino American community. I called this the golden age of Filipino YouTubers back in 2007. These were the days of HappySlip, NinjaDrops, ndtitanlady, and more. We were able to rally this community both on the digital side and also offline to develop not just a thriving company and brand, but a lifestyle destination that people could relate to. I wanted to create something wonderful for us.
One of the things that I pride Tremendous on is that we’re not just there to engage the AAPI community as a business, but we primarily want to instill genuine progress and impact. We are immersed in our Asian American community. We don’t clock out after a certain time and say “Sorry we’re done today Asians, it’s five o’clock and we’re not going to do anything anymore.” No, this is our life. This is what fulfills us and I think it helps set our campaigns apart. The way we communicate and interact with our clients also influences the strategy we give to them because we’re not just looking at numbers, we’re looking at people. We are all about uplifting authentic Asian American experiences, diasporas, stories and narratives. For us not to be authentic with that presence in our daily lives would be hypocritical.
Marketing in a White Dominant Setting
There was one instance where I was the only person of color in the room at a large entertainment company, still very green and inexperienced. I didn’t feel like I had the authority and the voice to chime in and redirect these senior leaders of this space. And they’re sitting around going like, “Hey, it’s February next month. It’s almost Black History Month. What can we do?” And then someone just started listing off all the movies in their catalog that had some resemblance of Black narrative. And I’m just like, “All right, well, that’s very top-level. But what more can we do? Can we bring in more people who actually represent this community in the room and have a conversation about it?” That situation really helped me realize that we needed to be part of that room of decision-makers. Being there that day sparked a drive in me that I’ll never forget.
One of the things that I had issues with while leading the publicity and marketing for Yellow Rose before we got acquired by Sony Pictures, was that people didn’t understand what Filipinos were, that our stories were relatable to all moviegoers, and that we were equally as valuable in Hollywood. People couldn’t wrap their brains around this and asked “Why is a Filipino family living in Texas? Do they really sing country music like that? Will non-Filipinos even relate to this?” They were seeing the Filipino diaspora within one specific lens instead of embracing the spectrum of the Filipino experience. They didn’t realize that there are mechanisms that historically pushed us to these areas that we’re thriving in, to these places where they may not think that there is a large thriving Filipino community. The lead characters are Filipino American, but the story is universal. If you took the lead characters out and made them Latinx or Black, for example, you would still have the same emotion. You’d still have the same humanity. You’d still have the same story. It just so happened that these people are Filipino. This is one of the things that Jo Koy discusses during his interviews for Easter Sunday. The movie isn’t about Filipinos, it’s a movie about his family and his mom. That’s one of the biggest things I appreciated about this film. It’s a story for everyone.
The first movie that I ever saw when I moved to the United States was Superman 2 with my dad and that’s always ingrained in my head. I was in such awe of this superhero and I’ve always wondered how impactful it would have been if Superman was Filipino. That would have made such a big difference for me growing up. I love Christopher Reeve as Superman, but imagine if it was a Christopher Santos or a Christopher Dela Cruz in that heroic cape instead! Today I’m so happy that our next generation can enjoy seeing themselves as heroes with films like Shang-Chi and people like Iman Vellani as Kamala Kahn making a difference.
I think it’s incredibly important for us to make these decisions on how we are portrayed and valued for ourselves, with representation across every part of the process – behind the camera, in front of the camera, in business and below the line. We can bring these little nuances of authenticity to these stories that are so important and help shape the next generation of folks who want to do this work.
A Chronicle of Starting a Business Right Before a Pandemic
Starting a business at the cusp of a global pandemic was a big lesson in resilience. There is a lot of strategy, planning, introspection and decisions that need to be made behind the scenes. I had been planning Tremendous for years. I spent so much time creating the structure of it, the business strategy, forecasting our trajectory and all those things that you need to help lay the foundation of a business… then the pandemic hit and I needed to shift very quickly.
Tremendous incorporated in 2019 and started to plant the seeds of studio partnerships. When we were ready to sign a couple of contracts, all the major movie studios suddenly shut down. I had to take a step back and I realized the mission of Tremendous is not rooted in movies and entertainment, but it exists to uplift the visibility of Asian Americans as a whole. We couldn’t work in entertainment at the time but that didn’t stop us from working within the community. That’s when we helped support Racism is a Virus, and co-founded Unapologetically Asian and CollaborAzian. We used our expertise to help uplift Stop AAPI Hate. We were able to leverage our network and our skills and our desire to make change in this very crucial moment of the Asian American community.
There certainly were many surprises along the way. I pitched this movie that was supposed to come out on January 2021. We were ready! We put this beautiful deck together, we brainstormed, we strategized. And then they told me, “Hey, we’re going to make an announcement today that this movie is going to be pushed to January 2022.” I was like, “What am I going to do for a year?” It’s a lot of those things that I learned as an entrepreneur that it doesn’t necessarily go how you forecast, even though you spend so much time strategizing and pulling numbers. And that’s fine because that will push you to be more dynamic as a business and help you imagine new, creative avenues for yourself. But for me, it was a lesson in resilience, being flexible, and not beating yourself up too much for things that are outside of your control.
Confinements that Pull us Back
There were many moments where that lingering voice of doubt made me wonder if this was the right path for me. Should I go back to a safe, stable job with benefits and a retirement plan? What if I end up losing all my money in this venture? Is it okay that I decided not to work today?
Even now, I can make my own schedule. I can wake up at noon if I wanted to and keep working until 2:00 am or just take a random afternoon off. And that’s my choice to make. But because I’ve been so conditioned to think that the limits of my brain power need to be confined between nine to five, having this new freedom came with a sense of guilt.
I have such a hard time realizing that you don’t need to operate within those confines to be productive and successful and fulfilled. I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to permit yourself to watch Netflix for an hour at 2:00 pm for you to refocus and recenter. It’s okay that you’re sleeping in until 11:00 am or 12:00 pm today because you worked until 1:00 am last night. I have to keep reminding myself that nobody is telling you what you need to do except for yourself. That’s the life of an entrepreneur and I’m still learning how to adjust to this new level of control, even today.
Shining Leadership Skills for Better Productivity
Throughout the years, I have applied my learning lessons in leadership – especially with how I lead my team and how I conduct business. Sometimes we have many projects to work on at the same time, sometimes we have less. I’ve always told my team, as long as you get your stuff done and you are communicative and responsive, then I’m good with that.
I really encourage them to explore their interests, experience life and bring those experiences back to the company. This helps bring fresh, new ideas during our brainstorms and campaigns. One of the things that I took away from working as a Marketing Director at Condé Nast is that they encouraged you to go travel. Travel changes you, it opens up your mind. It allows you to experience new things so you can bring that experience back into your editorial piece or your marketing strategy.
I’ve never liked the idea that you need to clock in at 9:00 am every day or else you’re considered a bad employee. Just because I’m sitting there physically doesn’t mean I’m mentally there. I’ve never understood that kind of leadership where it’s more important to appease other people and make them feel better about themselves because of your presence. It’s those antiquated expectations and older ways of doing business that I’m constantly reshaping for Tremendous. As long as we get our projects done, we don’t miss meetings, and our clients are happy… who cares if you sleep in an extra hour that day?
People that helped along the way
I never had one specific mentor during my career. Instead, I’ve had some amazing senior executives who have taught me different aspects of my leadership skills. One of them taught me negotiation skills, another taught me how to properly communicate my ideas in a meeting, another pushed me to be more assertive with what I need to succeed in a business setting. I’ve really taken these lessons and made them my own.
One of these executives is Terra Potts, who is the Executive Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Warner Bros. Pictures. We kind of grew up at WB together back in the day. She taught me how to stand up for your worth in situations where people may not immediately see it. I take that into every negotiation that I am part of. Teal Newland, my Senior Vice President at Condé Nast Entertainment helped me hone my creative eye and incorporate different perspectives in my marketing campaigns. Diane Paragas, who is the director of Yellow Rose, mentored me in the filmmaking process. These are just some of the people who empowered me in my journey and I’m happy to give back to others who are working with me today.
Another friend of mine is Jose Antonio Vargas, who is the Founder of Define American. We had many check-ins during the pandemic and I told him straight up once that I was thinking about quitting because I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. No studios hired me, no movies went out, the movies that were supposed to be in theaters were going out into streaming services. And it was hard for me to see what was coming down the line and the larger picture of it all. He gave me some tough love and said “Jeremiah, you’re building something that doesn’t currently exist. Obviously you’re going to run into these situations where the solution isn’t immediately there because you have to make it up for yourself.” I never thought about it that way. If the path has not always been taken, obviously you have the flexibility and the responsibility to forge a new one to create something that never existed before. That conversation inspired me to realize that I can’t hold myself to the same standard that I had before because I’m creating new standards for myself now. That helped shift my thinking and my perspective about it and, honestly, helped shape the development of Tremendous. I could have easily quit because of the pandemic, but I would have regretted it the rest of my life.
I would encourage people to pursue multiple avenues of mentorship. It was very valuable to me to learn from many very skilled individuals, not just one. And you never know where your new life lesson is going to come from or which experience you’re going to value for years to come. For me, it was the guidance of many people that helped me get to where I am today.
How to reach out
I am @jerabraham on Instagram and Twitter, and Tremendous is @tremendous_comm on all those platforms as well.
Interviewed by Tiff Soga