[00:00:00] Maggie Chui: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is John Lim. John is the 27-year-old CEO and founder of Ugly LLC, an indie game studio, producing niche-specific cult classic card games, such as the best-selling Asian American party game line, AZN FLUSH, and the ultimate game to inspire the best high conversations, Puff Puff Pass.
[00:00:26] John, who is the son of South Korean immigrants, was born and raised in Maryland. Growing up, John didn’t have many Asian friends and at one point, he remembers feeling profoundly unlucky to have been born Asian.
[00:00:39] He had what he calls his “Asian Awakening” in college, thanks to an Asian student association. Upon graduating college, he went through a phase of not knowing what to do with his life, which was compounded by the pressure from his mother to get a real job. He moved to Korea for a year as a way to get closer to his roots and to buy time. He taught English to make ends meet.
[00:01:01] Eventually, he moved on to digital marketing, but he couldn’t kick this urge to launch his own business, much to his mother’s chagrin.
[00:01:08] He’s always been a fan of card games and drinking games because they gave him an easy way to connect with others. In 2018, John decided to give it a go and he created a game for other Asian-Americans like him with just $500.
[00:01:24] Having sold tens of thousands of games, AZN FLUSH is now the best-selling game for Asian Americans. John has generated close to 3 million through his games since launching in 2018.
[00:01:35] John, welcome to the show.
[00:01:38] John Lim: Hi guys. Thanks for the intro. I feel like I don’t need to say anything anymore. You guys got the whole story right there.
[00:01:45] Bryan Pham: I want to start by saying we are so proud of what you achieved in just three years and the game that you created. We see it everywhere. Honestly, when we see our friend’s house, we hear it mention all the time. To be able to talk to you right now about you and Korea’s board game, it’s a true honor to have you in the podcast, for sure.
[00:02:03] John Lim: Yeah, thanks so much. I dunno what to say. It’s an honor for me to be on this podcast as well. I’ve had my finger on the pulse of Asian happenings online and I’ve witnessed Asian Hustle Network from where it was to where it is now. And props to you guys as well for developing something amazing. And I’m happy we get to share this moment.
[00:02:19] Bryan Pham: Thank you. Thank you so much for that. Let’s dive deep into you, okay. So you mentioned in your bio that you were lost before creating this card game. What was going through your mind during this period and what kind of pressure were you feeling from your family to get a traditional job and how did you convince yourself that this is the right path that you want to head down? Because a lot of people have trouble sticking to their dreams while getting a lot of pressure from their families, how did you manage this?
[00:02:43] John Lim: So the pressure was pretty high. I think it didn’t help that I’ve got two older, brilliant sisters. They are seven and ten years older than me, so they were always so far into the future and had their stuff together and were doing well in school and pursuing these career paths that my mom approved of. My oldest sister is a doctor and then the other sister is a pharmacist, of course, the oldest sister married a Ph.D. biochemist. There’s just all this sort of professionalism that my mom wanted us to pursue.
[00:03:16] I did end up getting into a good college. I went to Swarthmore College, which is one of the better liberal arts schools in the country. And so I think part of it was like, “Oh my God, I have a mountain of school that I graduated from this prestigious college.” My sisters are doing so well. There was a lot of pressure to want to kind of fulfill. I guess by potential. I guess potential in my mom’s eyes.
[00:03:41] So my dad did pass away when I was 13 years old and I’m still dealing with that now in terms of what that means, in terms of how I’ve turned out, and maybe what some of my issues and strengths are, but I think one of the best things that came outta that was that I realized that one day, and this is not news to anybody, but we all share the same fate as my father. I think the circumstances of how I passed away were difficult because it was an accident and it just happened overnight. So for most of my life, I tried to internalize the idea that could be me too. And am I going to, live and die in living a vision of my life that my mom set forth, or do I want to pursue things in a way that I know that I could at least die happy, knowing that I had at least tried? So, that are the two competing ideologies in my mind, and the entrepreneurship route one out in my mind.
[00:04:33] Maggie Chui: I’m so sorry to hear about your father. I know that he must be extremely proud of what you’re doing right now. I think even though what you mentioned, I think a lot of Asians go through that same experience about trying to fulfill our parents’ dreams and goals for ourselves because a lot of them want us to be doctors and lawyers and take the conventional path to success. A lot of the time when we do that, we don’t feel fulfilled. We’re happy. But you found something that was right for you.
[00:05:03] And you mentioned that, before, when you were growing up in Maryland, you didn’t even want to be Asian and you felt embarrassed about that. Talk about your experience then. And did you go through an experience of trying to find your Asian identity when you were growing up in Maryland? And how difficult was it for you at that time?
[00:05:21] Bryan Pham: Before I get to that question, sorry about that. I just want to comment on the loss of a family member. It’s very tough and what you accomplished so far and the way that you took that, we have a lot to be proud of. I can sort of relate to you because I have had some deaths in my family as well and when you mentioned that mentality and that mindset, knowing that this can all come down to an end any time, it keeps a person motivated.
[00:05:42] I think I’m still dealing with that as well. It’s so easy to go down the path of darkness, but the fact that you stayed on the path and did amazing things like 3 million sales or AZN FLUSH, hats all to you, man. We’re proud of you.
[00:05:55] John Lim: Yeah. One thing I want to comment on is that maybe this is getting too deep, but I think going down the path of darkness and also taking the path that I have, think they’re the same path.
[00:06:06] I felt I did go down a pretty dark path, but I feel like it was there that I forged a strong identity. And so without that, I don’t think I will get to the point where the business is doing well today. So, I do want to at least mention it. And what was the other question, Maggie? You said about growing up in Maryland.
[00:06:24] Maggie Chui: Yeah. Growing up in Maryland, what was your experience at that time? And I know you mentioned that you didn’t feel proud to be Asian at that time. And I can probably assume that you grew up in a predominantly non-Asian community. Is that right?
[00:06:38] And so if that was the case, how was it like growing into your Asian identity, and did you have a hard time dealing with it?
[00:06:44] John Lim: Yeah, so in my high school, I went to a private school and I think, if I remember correctly, there were maybe three other Asians in my class and then maybe fifteen throughout the entire school.
[00:06:56] There was never any sort of Asian student club. They just really weren’t enough of us to do anything like that. I guess to compound that, I grew up playing baseball. I played in college. I played for 20 odd years. It was a sport that my dad and I enjoyed together.
[00:07:11] Sports aren’t also really a place where a lot of Asian-Americans tend to be. So, whether I was in class or whether I was out on the field playing baseball, I just really didn’t have a lot of Asian-American friends. Looking back on it, some jokes were made and you just laugh them off but as you get older, you realize the concept of a microaggression and how that kind of compounds over your lifetime to shape how you feel about yourself and your ethnicity. For a long time, I felt othered, the first adjective you would think of when you were to describe me was Asian.
[00:07:41] At least for my friends, it wouldn’t be like, “Oh no. He’s like a smart, funny, witty kid.” ” No, he’s the Asian kid.” There were aspects of that that made me feel alone, and it didn’t help that there weren’t other Asian kids to commiserate with.
[00:07:56] Just for the first 18 years of my life, I was one of the only Asians there and I just kept on seeing ways that it was holding me back, like socially, especially.
[00:08:06] Bryan Pham: What was the turning point for you to embrace your Asian identity and Asian culture and be like, ” What? Being Asian is pretty damn awesome.” What does that turning point feel like?
[00:08:15] John Lim: I think it was in college. When I had met some other Asian-Americans and just realized how similar all of our upbringings were. And to segue to AZN FLUSH, that’s how that came to exist. It was just like noticing all these subtle ways that we grew up with a very similar childhood. And I felt instantly closer to these friends, even despite spending less time with them just because I felt like they were just like me. I wouldn’t say I ever got to a point where I felt like there were maybe certain characteristics about myself that were tied to being Asian that I’m extremely proud of. I would just say I felt more that there was like a community that I could relate to and that gave me strength.
[00:08:57] Bryan Pham: I’m really glad to hear that. Community is so important. You feel like you belong. You feel like you’re not any different than anyone else.
[00:09:04] I think some people true to life never find that community and it’s really sad to hear. But I’m glad that you found it and that was a turning point for you. I think that no matter how good or bad every experience is, it feels like we, as entrepreneurs, you’re always drawn to every single experience, to be like, “Okay, this is an opportunity to do something better or improve stuff for Asian identity. Asian culture.”
[00:09:26] First, before we get into AZN FLUSH., I want to hear why you chose the name Ugly LLC.
[00:09:31] John Lim: We were looking for a short, pithy, memorable name and I guess we picked “ugly”. With the connotation of ugly, there’s a meaning of unwanted or undesirable. When I think about trying to break into creating products for niche communities, I felt that there was a common thread of feeling like the outcast, feeling like you’re ugly, at least to the mainstream. As we’re just thinking about, “What is the theme? What is the guiding mission between all the games that we want to launch in the future?” Maybe as corny as it sounds to embrace the ugliness because I think that’s where the truth lies. When you see your girlfriend without makeup for the first time, or you get to know somebody and they tell you all the dark stories and dark secrets, that’s when “Yeah, I feel like you truly get to know somebody.” and yeah, that’s why I called it that.
[00:10:24] Bryan Pham: There’s such a deep meaning behind your Ugly LLC.
[00:10:27] That’s good to know. Let’s quickly talk about AZN FLUSH as again, you started with $500 to start AZN FLUSH. How’d you do it? Walk us through the first step and everything. How’d you come up with the prototype? How’d you test it? How’d you find your co-founders? We want to know everything.
[00:10:42] John Lim: I think the guiding principle of it all was the concept of a minimum viable product, but I think there’s a layer that’s even more minimally viable. And it’s, “What is the minimal viable product you put out for distribution?” ” How can I test this idea in its minimal form?” A lot of people go into prototypes.
[00:11:03] I got to test it. I got to do all this stuff, but you don’t. What we did was create a landing page. We created the concept for the game and we just said, “Hey, we’re going to ship this out in four to eight weeks. Here’s what the game is. Here’s an example of some cards. Here’s the artwork. Here’s what the brand stands for.” and then we just started running ads to that landing page. And from the get-go, I don’t know if you guys know anything about Facebook ads or how well versed you guys are in that, but the name of the game is to make enough in revenue that you can pay for the cost of your ads and then when you have that, you have just essentially made a money-printing machine. You pay more for ads, you get more revenue. It pays for the ads, you get pro. It just accelerates that way. And to my surprise, pretty much from day two of launching, we were at that point where we were just trying to throw as much money as we could on the ads, because it was getting out to people and people were buying it.
[00:11:56] We had no prototype. We did not test the game at all. Honestly, I had a friend do the artwork and then I spent 30 minutes at a cafe writing ten cards, just looking at Asian means online and stuff that I thought was relatable, and it hit like pretty instantly.
[00:12:12] Bryan Pham: I like how action-oriented you are, and just really getting it done. Most people would be like, “I have $500. Prototyping, it’s probably going to cost me over a thousand. It’s not possible.” And the fact that you’re like, ” What? Let’s think of a minimal viable product. Would this product even sell, to begin with?” That’s how ballsy of you to encourage you to go out and pursue the idea and that’s something to commend for sure.
[00:12:36] John Lim: Thank you. There’s no lesson to learn from like how viral it went from the beginning. I wish I had more pain points and lessons to be like, “Oh yeah, you should avoid this mistake.” But I think the thing is just like everyone, I don’t know. There’s just never going to be a moment where you feel ready. There’s never going to be a moment where you feel fully confident that this is the thing that’s going to work out well. And if you’ve launched enough, enough things, that even if you do feel that confident, sometimes it doesn’t work out either.
[00:13:03] So I figured just rip the bandaid off and just get it out there and see if people will take their credit cards out and put their information in. If they could do that, then you’re onto something.
[00:13:11] Maggie Chui: We hear that all the time. There’s never a right time to be ready and you just have to do it to even see if it will become successful.
[00:13:19] AZN FLUSH did become extremely successful and it became so viral. I remember, during this one time when everyone was talking about it and everyone put it on their Instagram stories and put it on their Snapchat and everyone was playing this game. I think during that time when Crazy Rich Asians were coming out and Subtle Asian Traits and all of these things, encompassing Asian culture.
[00:13:41] What do you think were the few things that made it so viral? Cause I think in this creator economy now, a lot of people are trying to become viral, whether that be for their brand or their product, but a lot of people don’t get to that virality and they’re trying so hard. What do you think was one of the few things that made it so viral, to begin with?
[00:14:01] John Lim: I think there are two main components to it. Probably the first part was that it was just extremely relatable. And I think that matches how the internet works now. I think back in the day if you look at like Cards Against Humanity and even just some of the TV shows back then, it was based on being absurd, saying something crazy, and just being like, “Wow, that is so out of the ordinary. This is hilarious.”
[00:14:24] But as you started to see the internet allow people to segregate into their own, micro-communities online, you start to see relatable humor and memes start to pop up where it’s less about being super absurd, more being like, “Oh, I relate to that.” It’s very subtle. I didn’t even know that was something that I felt, but I do.
[00:14:42] When I’m riding any sort of car, that’s kind of what I think about, “What is something that all Asians do?” Maybe not all, but a lot of Asians do something that they don’t realize is common. We mimic that sort of meme format that was popular. What I think about is every card could correspond to an actual meme.
[00:15:00] And then the other part, I think you alluded to it as just board games and card games are inherently very shareable. It’s not something you play by yourself. You’re going to play it with seven to eight people. Maybe more, maybe less. And even if one pack gets out there and one person buys it, you figure that it probably gets exposed to 20-plus people. If it’s a good game, then it’s likely to spread.
[00:15:22] Bryan Pham: I like that. Let’s talk a little bit more about that too because creating a concept and then creating a game that is easy to play and relatable to Asian culture is probably a lot easier said than done.
[00:15:33] Let’s talk through your iteration. I know you mentioned that you’re at a cafe, and you’re finding images, like 10 images. How did you get your friends to play this card game and give you proper feedback? Because what I realize among friends is you give them a product, or an app, or a game. They’re not going to try to hurt your feelings. They’re going to be like, “John, this is awesome.” and that’s not the feedback that we need to create a truly successful product. So how did you get the initial iteration testing going and how many rounds of iteration did you get before? You’re like, “You know what, we’re going to release this to manufacturing and get this printed now.”
[00:16:07] John Lim: I did none of that. We had thousands of orders and a timeline, then actually the timeline of when we released was around Lunar New Year. So the factors were shutting down. We had to get the order in as soon as possible. Instead of testing, I did a ton of research. It’s not researched, it’s called just “looking at memes online”. I spent hours and hours looking at memes online, figuring out what I thought was funny, mixing it up, with experiences from my childhood, and just putting it into the deck. I wasn’t expecting AZN FLUSH to be viral at all.
[00:16:40] I was just like, “Oh, here’s like a fun little side project and I’m going to just wing it. If people like it, they like it. And if they don’t.” So the first iteration of the game had no testing done. Pretty much I typed it out, checked for typos, and sent it to the printer. That was it.
[00:16:57] Bryan Pham: You are brave and incredible.
[00:17:00] John Lim: I think I’m a little bit crazy. I’m not going to lie. I think it might be a little bit crazy. I’m happy to report our processes a lot. More procedural now than it was in the past. I’ll say that.
[00:17:11] Maggie Chui: That is insane. I’ve never heard that before, because we’ve had friends who have come out with card games and they went through a whole iteration process of testing it with friends and family to make sure, ” Does this look okay? Does this sound okay?” But you went straight to the memes. And obviously, memes exist because people relate to them and there’s so much relatability to them. Memes can become so viral because people are like, “Oh my God, that’s exactly what I relate to. That’s exactly what happened to me.”
[00:17:40] I think what’s so interesting about AZN FLUSH is that it attaches to some, like deep-seated issues in the Asian culture and Asian families too, like the whole parent-child dynamic of it being a source of trauma for some people too. For example, if you are pre-med at one point, take four sets or something like that, or if you had to calculate your lowest grade, you need to get to keep an A, take a couple of sips, or something like that. It makes people think, ” Oh my gosh, that happened to me.” And it triggers some type of trauma.
[00:18:08] Bryan Pham: You just triggered all my trauma too, just now.
[00:18:11] John Lim: We should drink. We should have some sips.
[00:18:14] Bryan Pham: We might bring the flush to AZN FLUSH, Maggie gets red.
[00:18:18] John Lim: Nice. So, here’s my theory on AZN FLUSH. Some people are very embarrassed to have it. I think it’s the greatest thing to have.
[00:18:25] Maggie Chui: You don’t have to drink as much because people are like, “Oh my gosh, you’re drunk already.”
[00:18:28] John Lim: Yeah. You’re drunk. You’re having a good time. Now you’re having a good time. It’s like you’re wearing a sign on your face, “I’m having a great time right now.”
[00:18:34] Bryan Pham: Again, we’re not advocating for alcoholics on our podcast, we’re just mentioning this is also a part of the game.
[00:18:40] So I know you mentioned the word “we” a lot of times, as you mentioned the game. Do you have co-founders? And what is your co-founder relationship like? How did you find them? Are you still part of the journey today?
[00:18:51] John Lim: I do have a partner. Her name’s Carolina. The way it works is that I told her, “Here, you go launch the Latino version of this game.” So she owns that and I own AZN FLUSH. We still talk regularly. But at this point, it’s just me running AZN FLUSH and she runs her game called Tragos.
[00:19:09] We both launch roughly around the same time. Mine came out probably about two months earlier, and then she ended up launching Tragos after. But I don’t know. That’s also just a habit. Whenever I talk about stuff like the company is doing, I always say “we” for some reason,
[00:19:20] Bryan Pham: No worries. “We” is a great way to mention it. It’s better than “I”, for sure. You’re a one-man show, man. That’s impressive. Let’s talk a little bit more about the challenges you face along the way. Has there ever been any time where you’re just not getting enough sales or something is going wrong, or people just writing bad reviews? How did you overcome these challenges? Because entrepreneurship is not as glamorous as a lot of people think it is. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of dark moments of just being sad. Let’s talk more about your struggles.
[00:19:49] John Lim: So right now I’m approaching the life cycle of the business. I’ve been in it a few years and understand what it’s going to take to make this last. I don’t know. 20 years, if it even lasts that long.
[00:20:02] I’m realizing that the games business is hits-based. It’s like being an author or being a musical artist. You have to spend a lot of time working on the next hit because your current hits, they’re going to fade over time. Eventually, everyone who will ever want to play AZN FLUSH will get the opportunity to play it. Even the expansions. Some of them will play, but at a point in time, it will not be interesting to people anymore. It’ll be up to me to think about, “Okay. What’s the next big hit?” The pressure of trying to figure out exactly what that is is a lot and certainly, I feel overwhelmed a lot. While AZN FLUSH, Puff Puff Pass, and Stay the Fuck Inside has taken off, there are 12 titles that I’ve launched in the last two years that have failed. No one’s heard of those.
[00:20:53] You hear what people say often about content creators. They always just notice the negative comments, never the positive ones. So if I were to correlate that to successful launches versus unsuccessful launches, I feel the weight of our failures more significantly. And then if it adds pressure to, “Okay. That one didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? What’s the next one?” But you never actually really get the clear feedback as to why something didn’t work. You just have to guess and figure it out. How to improve that part of the process. So right now we’re going through that and we’re trying to think about, “Oh, what should our next title be?”
[00:21:25] Unfortunately, this year, while we are living off the success of our launches in 2020, we didn’t have a single successful launch in 2021. And that certainly has pressure on it all.
[00:21:35] Bryan Pham: Thanks for sharing that. We rarely talk about our failures like that. The fact that you’re sharing that with us shows that you know how you are as a leader. You’re right. This industry is very hard. Any industry that you choose is difficult in your way. What you did mention is your sense of awareness.
[00:21:50] How did you develop your sense of awareness of new ideas and new products? Was this something that was acquired over time? Was it natural to you? How did you get a pulse of what your target audience is? And how do you identify your target audience?
[00:22:06] John Lim: That’s a complicated answer. Because it’s like, when does inspiration truly strike for you? And I can’t say that there’s a particular moment where I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to schedule an hour for myself to sit down and think about it every day.” It’s more of like a constant 24/7 process of just digesting what’s happening in the world and thinking about, ” What could we make from that?” Sometimes it’s in the shower. Sometimes it’s when I’m having drinks with a friend. It’s the most random time when the idea comes.
[00:22:40] But I would say, the thing that I try to do most consistently is to just digest as much information as possible. Like I’m always on my phone, always on Twitter, always on YouTube, always on Instagram. I’m always keeping up with the news. Everything. Just trying to keep track of what’s happening in the world and what’s popular and what’s trending. TikTok is another good one. And maybe I’ll have a couple of these a month where, “Oh, maybe this will work.” And I’ll explore the idea a little further, realize it’s not the one and go through this very chaotic process of trying and starting and stopping over and over again.
[00:23:11] Maggie Chui: As Brian mentioned, thank you so much for even mentioning the failures that you went through. It’s very heroic for people to even mention that, to begin with. Because I feel like, especially in the Asian community, we don’t talk about those and we never want to talk about them because it’s all about saving face.
[00:23:27] We always want to talk about our successes and we never want to talk about our failures. We commend you for talking about them because it teaches us a really big lesson and it shows us the whole picture, because all we hear about is AZN FLUSH, Puff Puff Pass, and Stay the Fuck Inside.
[00:23:42] If we’re able to express the fact that we do have failures, people might have a different perception of them. A lot of people think, “Oh, these people made it so big because they just got lucky and just had like a hit wonder and they just became successful based on that one game.”
[00:23:57] But they don’t see what goes on behind the scenes. They don’t see all the times that they have failed and all the tries that it has to take. You mentioned that your mother, before, wanted you to go into a very conventional path to success. Did you talk to your mother about the success of AZN FLUSH? How did she take that? And what did she think of the game now?
[00:24:16] John Lim: Actually, she’s been involved with the running of the business since the beginning. We didn’t have a fulfillment center when we first started. It was her packing and shipping out all the orders.
[00:24:28] So we ended up trying a third-party fulfillment center. It sucks. I don’t recommend it. So we shifted it all back in the house again. My mom is still actively a part of the business and actually, she’s quite busy with all the cyber Monday and Black Friday sales happening.
[00:24:43] I don’t think she wanted me to be a doctor. I think she wanted to shield me from the stress of being an entrepreneur because she had a small business growth in America, so she knows what that’s like to be on the grind, always. Like never taking a vacation, never truly being able to enjoy yourself, and never being able to fully check out of work.
[00:25:04] I think she understood the grind of that. I’m only like five years into it, but she’s experienced that grind for 25 years. Probably more. Just the grind of having to keep the business going. That’s something that probably a lot of people don’t want to talk about, but that’s probably the hardest part.
[00:25:21] Obviously, the hard part is creating a good business, but maybe the second hardest part is keeping it going for 20 years. Being happy, healthy, like really not letting entrepreneurship burn the candle at both ends, so to speak. I think that’s what she was protecting me from.
[00:25:36] I think now that it is going well, she hasn’t mentioned becoming a doctor. Sometimes she does say, “Hey, do you ever want to go to business school or something?” I think now pretty much she’s proud.
[00:25:44] Maggie Chui: Wow. I’m so glad to hear that. I’m so glad that you brought that up. Brian and I talk about that all the time. Like “Our Asian parents had to become entrepreneurs because that was their only choice. They didn’t have any other option. “A lot of them had opened up restaurants, opened up their mom and pop store, selling appliances, whatever.
[00:26:04] But that was because they didn’t have any other option and they knew how difficult and how complicated it was, and they didn’t want us to go through the same experience. So all they know is becoming a doctor or becoming a lawyer is the only safe route. So that’s what I want for my kids.
[00:26:20] I don’t want them to go through the same similar struggle as I did, but at the end of the day, they’re just trying to look out for us, because that’s all they know.
[00:26:28] John Lim: Totally. Absolutely.
[00:26:28] Bryan Pham: I have to say the grind is real, as an entrepreneur. You think about it all the time. You sort of have panic attacks randomly and you’re like, “Oh no. Something Isn’t going right.” In the bigger picture, it’s mostly all in your head.
[00:26:41] I know you mentioned earlier that you do consume a lot of content. How do you find a balance between “John time” and business time? That seems to be the hardest part of being an entrepreneur because we’re always on the grind.
[00:26:52] “Always Hustling”, unfortunately, there’s a sign back. You guys can’t see it. You’re listening to a podcast. It’s “Always Hustling” in the back, but we’re going to talk more about balancing your life and your boundaries and everything.
[00:27:02] How do you manage everything?
[00:27:03] John Lim: I think it’s really important to have active hobbies. That consumes all of your attention. That is also, I guess, productive. But at the end of the day, their main purpose is to just give your mind a break. And so I do have a few of those.
[00:27:20] I work out a lot. Oh, not a lot. It’s all relative. But I work out three times a week. I have become obsessed with cooking. That part is really fun. You can’t do anything else while you’re cooking. You don’t want to cut your finger off.
[00:27:32] Actually, I’ve been exploring a lot of Korean recipes. I’ve been making my kimchi and just recreated all of my mom’s recipes that I enjoyed. That’s been kind of fun talking with her on the phone, sending her pictures, being like, Does this look right? How much more should I put into this?” But I think you have to have some of that other stuff that keeps you happy outside of work.
[00:27:49] I dive into those hobbies about as intensely as I dive into entrepreneurship. That’s what keeps me sane. The other thing that I’ve picked up recently this year is reading. I’m sure a lot of people read. It’s a great way to turn the busy brain off.
[00:28:05] Lastly, meditating. I did meditate a little bit before our podcast so I could have a clear mind. I’ve been incorporating that almost daily and I think it’s been working so far. The whole panic attack thing is very relatable and I realize if I don’t focus on getting my mental health, I’m going to die early from all this stress. So I read a lot of self-help books and try to do everything that they say to keep my mind right. So, that’s the other thing.
[00:28:32] Bryan Pham: Just keep in mind that you’re not alone, dude. We had so many people on the podcast already and we all grew through the same stuff. We just had to keep our mental health straight because without that, your whole world’s going to crumble. And I’m glad you’re taking practice steps to meditate, read, work out, and cook. Very relatable to me as well.
[00:28:51] I also do all those things and we’re proud of you. Thanks for sharing. What keeps you seeing and setting boundaries for yourself is important.
[00:28:58] Maggie Chui: So John, how do you feel like you have grown as a person as well? Cause I’m sure like just, creating all of these games as it relates to the Asian culture, I’m sure your perception of the Asian culture has changed as well. As it relates to yourself. And I’m sure you get a ton of feedback too, from people who have played the game and talk about, ” Wow, I’ve had to dive deeper into my cultural heritage and learn more about myself and my family and how it relates to my relationship with my parents as well.” But talk about how you’ve grown yourself and just like mentally and emotionally, as it relates to your perception of the Asian culture.
[00:29:37] John Lim: It’s a lot healthier than it used to be. I don’t even know if it’s like my own personal growth. I think it’s just been great to see Squid Game go off and anime pop off and just see how much we are being embraced by culture now, by the world. I can’t take any credit for that and it’s entirely external to me and I haven’t done any sort of personal development for that to happen, but I have a much more healthy relationship with it now than I did.
[00:30:03] It’s just a lot more healthy. I am trying to both heal my trauma of growing up Asian American and also get older and understand where my parents came from. I think that’s the other important part is you acknowledge that there was trauma and then you also acknowledge that they were a person going through their things, so you really can’t hold them at fault for creating that. They were just trying to do the best that they could at the time. I guess straddling that fine line is something that I’m still trying to work on now.
[00:30:32] I think the one thing that I have been trying to do over the last couple of years is to create a strong relationship with my mother. Not in the form of a mom-to-son relationship, but like actually trying to hear, “What are her struggles? What is she dealing with right now?” because she’s got a ton of stuff on her plate. She’s getting older, I’m sure that has a certain amount of stress. Specifically to her, she doesn’t have a life partner. So what does that look like for her in the last couple of decades of her life? I don’t know. I rambled. But that’s where it is.
[00:30:59] Maggie Chui: I love that. I love that you’re trying to build that relationship with your mother. And I think we often forget that as we’re growing older, they’re growing older as well and it’s true. There is a lot of generational trauma involved in families, but we often forget that maybe they were put into situations that they couldn’t even control. Oftentimes that is true and they had their trauma as well. Oftentimes that gets passed down to us, but I think they were trying to make the best situation out of what they had at that time as well just like how we are. Sometimes, we just have to remember to check in on them because their time on this earth is shorter than the time that we have on earth.
[00:31:35] John Lim: Totally.
[00:31:36] Bryan Pham: We’re all human, at the end of the day. We all have the same desires. I’m glad that you’re spending a lot more time connecting with your mom. I’m curious too. I know this issue happens to a lot of founders, about having your company become your identity.
[00:31:49] He’s like, “John’s the founder of AZN FLUSH.” Or everywhere you go, everyone else introduces you, “John, the founder of AZN FLUSH.” How do you separate your identity and sell war from your company to who you are as a person? Because it’s so easy to attach yourself to the successes or failures of your company.
[00:32:05] And you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m a failure because my company’s not doing well. I’m very successful if I get to your head because the company’s doing well.” How do you separate that part of your identity, to yourself personally at least, to keep yourself from separating set boundaries, and know who you are as a person?
[00:32:22] John Lim: There’s a lot of layers to that. A lot of us as entrepreneurs pursue things because they are a big part of us and represent our interests. There are a lot of ups and downs with that because based on successes and failures of that. I think probably the most helpful thing is just having a really strong group of friends around me where I’m not John, the creator of AZN FLUSH. I’m just John to them.
[00:32:43] And by creating strong relationships with them. It keeps me grounded and more focused on what life is. And then there will be moments where I do have to go and go to an event and be like, “Oh yeah. I’m John, the creator of AZN FLUSH” and I’m going to have to play that character for a bit. I would say it’s just having friends that ground me, that keeps me away from getting too tied up in it. The other part is just true for everybody where there’s a lot of attachment of our identity to the things we’ve done and the places we’ve been and the items we have and can buy. That’s just a personal journey for any human to detach from. I think a lot of that comes down to trying to acknowledge your self-worth as a person, just inherently. Just that you exist, you have value and are worthwhile.
[00:33:27] That’s the other part that I am trying to focus on. That’s hard for Asian Americans, especially because we’re always taught, ” Oh, you got to get good grades.” That’s how you get attention from your parents, so you have to exceed and you have to do well or you’re worth nothing.
[00:33:39] Trying to unlearn that is the other aspect that I’m focusing on.
[00:33:42] Bryan Pham: Yeah. And you have such a deep understanding of your identity and life. It’s so refreshing to hear that. Thank you so much for sharing that. You’re right. You do need friends that keep you grounded.
[00:33:53] I experienced something like that too. It’s just I’m just a normal person, that normal friend that you had in the past.
[00:33:59] John Lim: Just a guy. Yeah.
[00:34:00] Bryan Pham: It goes a long way. Since we’re nearing it in the podcast, if you can redo any part of your journey, which part would it be and why?
[00:34:08] John Lim: I guess the cliche answer is that none of it. Because then I don’t end up here if I don’t take that path. But looking back, is there something that could have kept me from an even better path? I think it’s probably the self-confidence piece. I think that you always see there’s a level of extreme narcissism with some of these billionaire founders.
[00:34:30] I’m not saying that I want all of that, but maybe if I had a couple more percentage points of that in me inherently, some of the things I’ve done would have turned out even better than they have right now. I’m not sure where I get that two or 3% of it, but there seems to be a correlation there, where there is a strong belief in yourself and the things that you do that lead to success.
[00:34:51] Maggie Chui: Thank you so much for sharing that. And I do want to know, what’s next for you, John, in the next five years? What do you hope to have achieved in the next five years yourself? As well as for all of the games that you have lined up?
[00:35:04] Bryan Pham: We’ll make sure to get you back in the podcast in five years.
[00:35:06] John Lim: That would be great. Hopefully, we’re all still running by then. So next, immediately, in case you can’t tell, I’ve been really into self-care and self-development lately. I feel like I’m quoting from the books I’ve been reading lately. But I do want to launch a brand around mental health self-care.
[00:35:25] From a business perspective, the industry has I think grown 10x since 2014. I don’t want to quote this, but maybe it was like 2 billion to 20 billion, or something like that. So that business is rapidly growing. Demographically speaking, millennials in terms of healthcare, their mindset is, “How do I not go to the doctor?” Essentially. A lot of people instead of pursuing actual healthcare and treatment are going towards quartz crystals, affirmation books, and stuff like this. I do want to launch something around that concept because it’s what I’m interested in now. It’s very personal. And if there’s anything that I can extract from these books that I’ve been reading and put it into a nice, condensed form for people to get a lot of value out of, that’s something that I want to create. And then after that, I don’t know how many more games I have in me.
[00:36:15] I think I might pursue something else, whatever that’s something else is, but I am feeling like there’s another chapter that’s about to start. I’m not sure what that will be, but I’m open to all the possibilities and spending a lot of time thinking about that now.
[00:36:31] Maggie Chui: Love it. We’re so excited about all of the plans that you have and I love that you’re going into the mental health space because there’s like such a big stigma around it and we rarely talk about it. But I think we’re getting into a time where it’s talked about a little bit more now, especially after the pandemic and a lot of us seeking help from things that we’ve experienced through the pandemic. I’m really glad you’re going into that space.
[00:36:52] So this is our last question for you, John. If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, what would that one advice be?
[00:37:02] John Lim: This is just because it’s top of mind, but it’s to hire your mom.
[00:37:06] People always say that no one will care about your business as much as you do. I think your mom might be the one person who does. She’s been great. She cares about it like it’s her own business because it is. I’m her baby and she wants me to do well.
[00:37:19] Hiring her has been the best decision I’ve ever made. It also feels great to be able to provide for your mother too.
[00:37:25] Maggie Chui: I love it. I love that advice. I think that’s the first time we had that advice on this podcast, but it’s so true. And it keeps them busy.
[00:37:33] A lot of our moms are probably retired by now and they often want to do something and that’s like the perfect time for them to do something.
[00:37:40] John Lim: And it gives us something to talk about. Like otherwise, we might call our mom once a month. But due to the business, we talk a couple of times a week, which is nice.
[00:37:47] Maggie Chui: Yeah. I love that. So John, where can our listeners find out more about you and all of your games online?
[00:37:55] John Lim: You can find AZN FLUSH on Instagram, @aznflushgame. You can find my stoner game, which I know we didn’t get to talk about. It’s called Puff Puff Pass, and you can find that, @playpuffpuffpass on Instagram. Links to the site will be there. The links to my Instagram will be on there too if you want to follow me. That’s it. I think those are all the links.
[00:38:16] Maggie Chui: Awesome. We will leave all of those in the show notes for this episode. Just wanted to thank you so much for being on our podcast today, John. We had such a great time learning about your story.
[00:38:27] John Lim: Thanks so much for having me. I love to come on again in five years.
[00:38:32] Bryan Pham: We’ll make sure to have you on.
[00:38:34] John Lim: Yeah, that sounds great.
[00:38:36] Bryan Pham: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today, John. And thank you again so much for sharing your story with us. We look forward to seeing you all your future successes.
[00:38:43] John Lim: Thank you so much. Thank you, John.