Episode 5

Patrick Lee ·  Finding a Product Market Fit in Quality Entertainment

“We saw that there was a product-market fit almost immediately. It was featured on Netscape and Yahoo multiple times. Roger Ebert wrote an article within the first year where he picked his favorite movie websites and included Rotten Tomatoes within a month or two after launch. Pixar had a movie called "A Bug's Life" that came out, and the day it came out, there was a spike in traffic on Rotten Tomatoes. And we're like, what's going on? It was coming from Pixar itself—they were just constantly refreshing our page to see what everyone was saying about their movie. So, within that first year, we were like, there's something there. Let's turn this into a real business.”

Patrick Lee is a serial entrepreneur best known for being a co-founder and founding CEO of Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com), a leading entertainment website focused on movie reviews and news. He is an advisor to a number of startups including Casetify, ChargeSPOT, FableLabs, Instaread, Kiwibot, Oishii, WePloy, and Zeuss Technologies; and a mentor at a number of organizations including SOSV, Berkeley SkyDeck, Blue Startups, Founder Institute, and Rock The Boat Podcast. Patrick holds a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of California at Berkeley.


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Patrick Lee

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, my name is Bryan and my name is Maggie. We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.

We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Bryan: (00:00:00) Today we have Patrick Lee. He’s a co-founder of Rotten Tomatoes, but Patrick’s so much more than that. He’s a serial entrepreneur who has extensive experience with designs with huge expertise in tech and entertainment, angel investors, and advisor and inspiration for us to follow, Patrick welcome to the show.

Patrick: (00:00:26) Hi, thanks for having me.

Bryan: (00:00:29) Patrick, can you tell us a little bit, a little bit about yourself and who you are and how you got involved with the tech field and everything?

Patrick: (00:00:39) Sure. So, I guess going back, my parents were born in China and grew up in Taiwan, but they came to us for grad school. Then my dad was an assistant professor at UCLA and I was born in LA until I was five then we moved to Maryland when he got a job to become a full professor at the University of Maryland. While I was in Maryland through high school I was interested in computers and stuff early, you know, video games, all that kind of stuff, but also in junior high and in high school, I was in a magnet program that was around math science, computer science. So I was coding since junior high and came to UC Berkeley for college. That’s when I started jumping into doing startups. So, I left after two years to do a startup, took another 10 years to graduate. It took me 12 years to get my undergrad but meanwhile, I was doing several different startups.

Bryan: (00:01:42) That’s a really good story too and it comes to show like, I mean, most people, especially the Gen Z generation that I talked to, tend to compare to other people. You know, and it was believed that, hey, I got to finish school in two and a half years.

I got finished school in three years and in actuality as long as you take your time and, you know, walk your path, like don’t compare it to other people. You’re going to end up being a lot happier and just hearing that story too, I can already tell that you have a stroke. Like you would, you are, you are the type of person that would follow your passion over money, and I kind of shows already, but you know what, I’m, here at UC Berkeley. I’m not going to like it, I am here to like to focus on what makes me happy. You start a company at Berkeley. So, hats off to that so when you started Rotten Tomatoes, what was the original product-market fit of Rotten Tomatoes?

And how did you pivot? Because we understood that, you know, you started this closer to the .com boom in 2000, you know, how did you, what does the original part of market then? How did you pivot, from the idea?

Patrick: (00:02:49) Before Rotten Tomatoes, I had a design firm that I founded with my co-founder Steven Wayne. So, two of us were doing a lot of web design work or we call it interactive design for the entertainment industry. So, we were doing stuff for a lot of work for Disney channel, banking, flash games, and websites, Warner Bros. We are doing websites. We did the official flash game for who wants to be a millionaire, which was a really popular game show at the time.

And our creative director was this person Sen Long and he was the one who came up with the idea for our community. He was a huge movie buff and, on the side, he was a huge Jackie Chan fan and he wanted to know what everyone was saying about Rush Hour when it was coming out. So, he kind of came up with this idea.

The idea was, you know when you open up a newspaper, you’d see this full-page ad. It would look like a movie poster filled with quotes, but those quotes would always be good, even if the movie was terrible. So, if the movie was good, it’d be like by famous film critics, but if it was bad, it would be sometimes fake quotes but a lot of times it would be like radio station DJs and just folks that weren’t professional critics. So, his idea is what if he only included professional critics’ reviews from professional critics? But he included good and bad reviews and then have a score and so he went from idea to launch in two weeks, it was static HTML, and he only covered the wide-release movies that were out that week.

So, he was not worried about covering the past. He didn’t worry about limited-release movies or DVDs or things like that. So, it was manageable that he could do it by himself. I mean, it still took a ton of work to gather all those reviews, even for, you know, three or four movies that were coming out that week, but he was able to do it in two weeks, and back then, you know, most reviews weren’t even online.

So he went to the library, edited reviews and got the newspapers and magazines, look up the review, writes down a quote, and then go back to the work on it. So, when he launched it, we found, we saw that there was a product-market fit almost immediately. Like we were hosting the site for him and within that year, you know, we had, it was featured on things like Netscape and Yahoo multiple times.

Roger Ebert wrote an article within the first year where he picked his favorite movie websites and he included Rotten Tomatoes and within, I think it was like a month or two after launch. I mean, Pixar had a movie called a Bug’s Life that came out, and the day it came out, there was a spike in traffic, on Rotten Tomatoes.

And we were like, what’s going on? And when we looked at it, it was coming from Pixar itself and it turned out that I think someone at Pixar found the page, send it to everyone else at Pixar and they were just constantly refreshing our page over and over. We saw a spike in traffic because they wanted to see as we’re adding reviews, what is everyone saying about their movie?

So, within that first year, after all these things happened, we’re like there’s something there you know, we had already found product-market fit, like let’s turn this into a real business right and so what we did was we raised money. I went and raised money for it, a million dollars. We pass our design firm to another group to take over.

And so, we were kind of half transitioning out of our design firm, you know, transitioning projects over to the other parts of takeover and putting more resources into Rotten Tomatoes. And so, the main things we were doing, I mean, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that happened with them. The bubble burst thing two months after we raised money on 9/11, 18 months after that, which was tough.

But essentially, we went, we didn’t want to have to pivot. I mean, we’ve kept with the same core product. You know, we spend a few days to figure out what exactly is Rotten Tomatoes. And we realized the whole team met for two days, talked about it and we said, decided it was to save people time and money from that same bad movie.

So, we decided to focus only on movies and not go to other categories and that will we’ve spent our resources on was how do we take what’s working and make it better. So, we try to automate the process a lot more and expand our coverage. So, we first started doing parse parsing reviews.

Help bring them to one place, we built a content management system that our editors, instead of in past, would have to go to each site, look it up. It was all brought to one place. They just had to go in and say, is this special rotten? And only in the cases where it wasn’t clear if it’s four stars out of four, or if it’s like one star out of four, you kind of know it’s in, it’s in the middle, like two and a half stars out of four.

You’d have to go and read it to be like, is this fresh run? Then they pick a quote, everything else was already handled. So, it made it easier to cover movies and then we eventually also built in a tool for critics to submit reviews directly, and later on, we expanded it to allow users to put their reviews in.

So, all these things made us so we could have been more accurate and saved time so that we could cover more movies and we eventually went to cover, you know, limited-release movies. We started going backward to cover movies that were around before we started Rotten Tomatoes, you know more indie movies, straight to DVD. You know, a lot of stuff on DVD. So, we were just trying to make what we already were doing better. We didn’t have to pivot the product in any way.

Bryan: (00:08:12) It’s awesome that you’re able to find the product-market fit right off the bat.

Patrick: (00:08:15)I feel like a lot of sites, the ones that work, kind of just work right. They might pivot and try a couple of things. The one that works, I feel like most of the time it works right away. The audio was not working and then they tried Twitter from a hackathon and it just kind of worked, worked right. A lot of these, I think come out almost immediately because they happened on something just right time, right place, the right product, and it just

Maggie: (00:08:45) So, it seems like when you guys first started Rotten Tomatoes, you guys would have never expected it to turn out so big. But I think it was because you guys were so focused on your product and you knew exactly what your target audience was. That’s why, you know, people were able to automatically associate Rotten Tomatoes whenever they wanted to watch a movie right.

Bryan: (00:09:04) I’m a huge fan of Rotten Tomatoes too and I’ve been using it since I was in high school, you know? This is your tool. I can’t believe I’m talking to you right now about interviewing you for this podcast because we always automatically go to Rotten tomatoes before we go out and watch any movie. This is back in high school. This is back in like, 03, 04, 05.

Patrick: (00:09:24) Oh, wow. Yeah. So, we started in 98. We’re running it as a business in 2000, but yeah, going back to what Maggie was saying, Sen was making something for himself, but he was a hardcore movie buff. So, he made it for himself and worked for pretty much all hardcore movie buffs.

Because when you think back then who’s out there looking for reviews, like multiple reviews, hardcore people, like an average person was just seeing the trailer on TV or in the movie theater and maybe they might read like their local reviewer and they probably wouldn’t bother looking anywhere else. But initially, it was the harken one who would be above it and it was said, made something for himself and it turned out to work for others.

Bryan: (00:10:04) That’s awesome. And we had to give you a lot of recognition too because you have to keep in mind that for our listeners listening, Patrick started as back in college, you know, that sense of maturity and focus that he had to understand what needed to come next.

That’s amazing. You know, I think back in college, if someone told me to leave college I think my mom would just disown me first, and then I’ll be like, Nah, I got to get a job, you know, but Patrick was so focused and has a strong vision. What could be, that’s amazing as a college student. So, we want to understand, like what, how, what, how were you raised to get to this point, you know? Cause I don’t understand a lot of people were raised to play it safe, have a scarcity mindset of, hey, I should not take this risk because I don’t know. What’s going to turn on a bit for, you. You’re like, hey, are you recognizing the opportunity? And you seized it at such a young age, what was your upbringing like?

Maggie: (00:10:53) I want to piggyback off that question too, as you were starting Rotten Tomatoes when you were in college, what were your parents, you know, their experience and their feedback on all of this? Like, what did they think of you, you know, starting a whole company while you were in still college?

Patrick: (00:11:09) My parents, at least on my mom’s side is from what I understand, were quite well off when they were in China, but when they fled to Taiwan because of the war, they had to get rid of everything and so when they were in Taiwan, it was like 6, 7, 8 people all under one roof, my dad’s family, I think it was also quite poor in Taiwan because they had to get rid of everything.

So they were like lower class, all that stuff over there, but they were able to, but they all studied very hard. They, you know, education was a big priority for them. Even within the same generation, they went from pretty much nothing to, you know, on both sides of my family, mom and dad’s side. They all did quite well because of this emphasis on education.

And so, you know, we grew up in a middle-class family. I’d say maybe, you know, it wasn’t like we weren’t super well off, but we were fine. We were comfortable. And I think the thing that they gave to me was they also emphasize education. I think that is something that happens for most Asian families, but they emphasized that.

 I’m very thankful for is they gave me opportunities because they gave me the tools that I needed. I mean, I think if you didn’t have education or like poor education, it’s just, you start behind on everything, right? Like, imagine if you couldn’t add and subtract, how are you going to multiply and divide and, or even go into the, you know, things that build on top of that right? So, they gave me basic tools to have the opportunity to do these things. And when I decided to try and do these companies, for instance, your question Maggie, my mom was like, please just finish school, you know, it’s okay that you do all this, but please just finish school first.

And I’m like, I need to do this. My dad was actually like, oh, that’s cool. That sounds good. But then I told my mom, like, I, you know, I will try and finish, but you know, it took me 12 years but I want to do this right now. And she was okay with it and actually for my design firm, which was, I guess my second company, but the first one was relatively short-lived anyway, and it kind of flowed into the second one, but my second company, her and my co-founder Stephen’s uncle, they loan us the money to do the company, our design firm.

So, two of them together loan us 30K, which we were able to pay back within a year because we were getting clients almost immediately but yeah, so she wanted us to do it. Decided to do it anyways. She’s still supported us which I think was valuable. There are some parents, I think that would potentially just straight up block you.

They wouldn’t allow you and then wouldn’t have given us, you know, a loan or whatever. So, that was good and so for me, when I went to finish school again, it took me 12 years and I graduated after we sold Rotten Tomatoes right need school to have done all that stuff. My third company was running tomatoes. Right, but it was more to finish something. I started also kind of liked it because I promised my mom, I would finish.

Bryan: (00:14:29) That’s amazing. I know. So, let’s talk a little bit more about running Rotten Tomatoes too. I think that’s a really important lesson, especially given the COVID situation that’s going on right now.

You know, we have read some of your stories in the past where you raised a million dollars over 20 people and you decided to not pay yourself anymore and you’re living at work, putting your clothes behind three cubicles. You know, that story. It’s very valuable to hear what your mindset was because that essentially puts you in a situation where you had to be resourceful and you had to improvise and you had to think about stuff.

Why should we bootstrap? Or should we raise money by ending your case? Most likely falls to the bootstrap area. Can you walk us through that moment? What kind of emotions you were feeling? What are your thought processes like? What did you tell your team when you’re like, hey, look, we have to cut down our staff for our company to survive and we’ll place your salary equity. What was that mindset like?

Patrick: (00:15:32) Rotten Tomatoes started in August 1998 when Sen launched it, we decided to try and raise money to run it as a real company in January 2000. So, a little bit a year later, the internet bubble burst in 2000 and I want to say 90% of all tech companies went out of business.

I mean, I don’t have the exact number, but it felt like that. I mean, everyone’s business because, after the bubble burst, you couldn’t raise money anymore, right? And on top of it, most companies were depending on ad revenue, right? The majority of them were that’s mostly the business model that was everyone was doing.

What was happening was people were raising money and then buying ads from each other to get more traffic. So, it’s just internet companies buying from other internet companies and once the market crashed and they couldn’t raise money, they couldn’t go and buy traffic anymore and so what would happen.

It was going from five to $20 CPM, like $520 per thousand impressions to like pennies or fractions of a penny on the dollar. So, you couldn’t raise funding. Annual revenue went to near zero almost overnight. And so that’s why somebody comes, went out of business. The ones that survived were things like eBay or Amazon that made money from users, right.

They could make it through, but almost all the ones focused on advertising died and so we knew at that point that we had to reduce our costs because when we just started running Rotten Tomatoes, we had no revenue. We managed to get a deal with a group of my Simon, right before everything crashed.

And that kind of gave us some initial revenue to help keep us in business but we knew we had to cut like our cost was way too high, especially because we were offloading our design firm and the revenue that was coming from that side. We tried to do it in the best way possible. So, we told people that we needed to cut and we explained why we accelerated vesting for all of them.

So, they all had like every single person had some equity, even the ones we had to let go. We asked them to start looking, basically trying to keep everyone employed until they could find something and we were lucky because our team was so good that they were able to find something even in very bad times, pretty quickly.

So, we had to cut from 25 people to seven within a year and when we got to seven, even at 7, 5 people went to take a 30% pay cut, and me and our marketing person, Paul went to zero. So, we had seven people, whether it was the cost of more like three or four, right. We gave people additional equity to make up for the lack of salary.

We let up each person how much they could reduce and yeah, I mean, again, the way I did it was because our office, we had space, we had a nice office space that we couldn’t get out of the lease. We had space for 25 people and suddenly we had seven, right. So, I just took over three cubes that were in L-shape. Put all my stuff in there and of my apartment and this moving into the office. I mean, it was illegal, but I just looked at it as working late combined with getting into the office early, you know,

Maggie: (00:19:04) Were there other people staying at the office as well?

Patrick: (00:19:04) There’s a lot of times when we were, when it was like, we were really busy on certain things with failover, or sometimes we were playing video games super late.

But no, I mean, I was the only one who was there for a time. The other thing we also did was we ended up subleasing a third of the office to another friend’s company that also had, they cut from 130 people down to 10 and they ended up subleasing like a part of office space. And so that also helped. Well, sorry, also really quickly. I forgot to mention yeah, so also 9/11 was 18 months after that. So that was super tough and

Maggie: (00:19:46) How did that affect Rotten Tomatoes?

Patrick: (00:19:49) Because at that point, a lot of folks were cutting advertising spending. You will want to see ads during the second period. I remember specifically we had a deal to have an ad campaign for Spiderman and it had, Spider-Man got pushed back because they had to go and digitally edit out the twin towers because it was in the movie and they cut it out and so they had to push it back. I think in that case, they still advertise with us, but it was, you know, pushed back quite a while and it was just a really tough time again and it was, I believe the worst terrorist attack on the US and the bubble bursting was also one of the worst crashes ever, especially within tech, it might’ve been one of the worst or the worst.

Maggie: (00:20:39) It was like back-to-back.

Patrick: (00:20:40) Yeah, but the thing is now with COVID. I think it might be worse than both of those things combined. That’s how bad everything is now and the one thing that keeps us kept us alive back then was we massively cut our costs. So, because you can only control revenue so much, and in our case, revenue was going to be near zero for a long time because of what happened similar to here. If you’re like in the restaurant business or something like certain things like retail, your revenue probably has gone to zero or near zero maybe you can do deliveries or something, right.

You can’t control revenue much, but you can control your costs and so I think a lot of folks did it where they had a furlough, almost everyone but that even for startups, you know, when I’ve been mentoring, advising people in this period, I’ve been telling everyone like cash is king. That’s the one thing that’s going to get you through this.

You need at least a minimum of a year, ideally 18 to 24 months. If you have anyone you can raise money from at this point, it’s going to be much harder unless I’m doing something that’s helping COVID raise it, if you can, like, don’t worry about anything else, raise it. If you can. At the same time, cut hard and cut fast, you know, ideally only do one cut.

Don’t do lots of small cuts because people are going to like look over their shoulder and expect to be it’s going to kill morale, but do one big one and do it quickly because the thing is, you know if you could cut your costs in half and you had five months left, you would get 10 months but if you wait three months and then decided to do cut in half you only gain two months, right? So, by doing it earlier, you can serve cash more and so it’s super important. That’s what got us through back then, but I think that’s, what’s going to get people through now. like they have to do it. It’s hard, but if you don’t do it, you’re, you’re dead.

Bryan: (00:22:30) It goes back to being a leader too. You have to make this quick decision decisive decision quickly. Otherwise, it will harm your business in the long run too.

Maggie: (00:22:39) I think that’s why so many small businesses are struggling at this moment right? Because a lot of these small businesses don’t even have a lot of cash on hand. For example, restaurants like net profits are already smaller, to begin with, right?

Bryan: (00:22:54) Do you feel like chasing what you went through? When you first started raising money in the early two thousand and 18 months later, 9/11, do you feel that has impacted your decision to sell the company four years later? Or did you have other factors involved as well?

Patrick: (00:23:10) It might be an excuse, but because those two things happen right as we raised money, the only time we raised money, was cause my first two companies, the first one was just savings. The second one was a loan and we never raised money from them and they weren’t startups.

They weren’t the kind of things that you’re supposed to raise money for, but for us, because we raised money, and right away that happened. I want to say that it made us like we were just focused on surviving. We weren’t thinking big of it and even though we had something that was growing and we realized like it was growing, I don’t think we’ve appreciated how good it was.

And so, we were getting offers probably within two years in or so from people trying to buy it for really cheap. I mean, it was 10 cents on a dollar 25 cents on a dollar from our post-money evaluation and we, you know, let our investors know that these offers are coming in and our investors were like, yeah, go and take a ticket because they had lost everything else, they invested in during that time, zero.

But we were like, no, we think we should at least self where you can get your money back, at least get all your money and that was the bar we had, and looking back, I mean, it’s ridiculous. Like we made them some money, but not much because we had our bar so low and literally that’s the difference between, you know, if we just waited even an extra year or two, we probably would have had multiple times more in terms of what we could sell for.

I think a combination of one we just, weren’t thinking big the reason why I did my companies. In all my companies was I wanted to do something with friends from college, all six companies had at least one co-founder, if not more from freshman year of college and I want to do something interesting.

They were all something that I thought was, would be cool to do and that was my main reason to do them. So, I think partly it’s my fault. I just didn’t have that same level and partly it was because of the time and what happened with the market crashing and 9/11. This made us think smaller.

And that’s, I think the difference between, you know, something like, well, what happened with us? They might’ve had a much, much bigger I guess financial success is that they just thought much bigger. They thought they were just much more ambitious.

Maggie: (00:25:40)  So given that you have always been an entrepreneur, you know, and you’ve started building companies since college, I’d love to know, you know, how your mindset was affected while you’re building out your first field companies up until when you built out Rotten Tomatoes? 

Bryan: (00:25:56) After Rotten Tomatoes too, we understood like your mindset, you know, given all this stuff, I’ll, I’ll stop those going on understandable. I think we still see a lot of posts on the Asian Hustle Network about people wanting to sell their companies right now. They want to sell their businesses that. Yeah. We can’t exactly. It’s not exactly your fault. This is a situational thing where it’s like, oh man, I just want to get my money back.

Cause as you’re taking other people’s money and you’re like, you feel obligated to return their money so completely understand Patrick. There’s no right or wrong decision. We felt like, you know, trying to make the right decision. Yeah. I feel like the way you are right now. You’re a strong mentor.

You’re a strong advisor, you’re an angel investor now you have much knowledge you had to give to all of us, listening from you and going back to what Maggie said, too, you know, like you want to understand what you took from Rotten Tomatoes and what you learned from there. And how would you apply for the next several businesses? What worked the first time? What not, what didn’t work the second time as you were starting more companies?

Patrick: (00:27:02) Ironically, I think, well, a couple of things my goal was to try and do things, with friends and do something that I liked doing. We would have been better off just keeping the team together and not selling, looking back those were among the best times of my life, even though it’s hard and we’re going through such hard times because it was so hard. It pulled everyone closer and they were literally like family. Like our CFO was like our company, mom, Lily her two sons were our age, the age of all the people in our company.

So, she was like the company mom, one of our editors, Susan. She ends up marrying my brother. So, Sen was the creator of Rotten Tomatoes. He ends up marrying the cousin of another editor. They were cousins in-laws, literally, people are family and so that’s one thing looking back like if my goal is to do stuff with friends like I actually should’ve just kept with that group because it was such an amazing group of friends.

And in terms of like business-wise, even if we never sold, I mean, yes, if we timed it better, we could have sold for probably a lot more money, but even if we didn’t sell you know Rotten Tomatoes were growing in traffic, it could have been just a great business in terms of like, just from the revenue it could have generated, or even if we wanted to do more things, you know, hypothetically, for example, you know, when we transitioned run a design rector, had I known again, you can’t tell the future, but had I known we would have had to lay off 18 people, great people. We would have been better off not giving up our design firm and just being like if we could have, we did it because we were worried, we couldn’t focus, but how do we split off the design from two people from the team and say, you guys take it over and you run it and we keep it separate.

Like we’ll never pull from one side to the other, you know, maybe someone like Lily could have done both. They could have done it and we probably wouldn’t have had to let go of someone, people, because some of them could have maintained the design firm. Some would go on rotten tomatoes right and looking back, our design firm was great.

We were doing some really big projects already, you know, pretty much anything at that time. We, our team pretty much could have done it and with Rotten Tomatoes all that traffic it’s like we could have built anything and we would have had traffic to flow to it. It’s like we had all these amazing pieces and we, through bad luck and bad decisions we get rid of both, you know? So that’s another thing. I think, when you look at entrepreneurs, the best entrepreneurs for the most part are not serial entrepreneurs. They’re the one-time founders to find something good and they do it a couple of times.

Like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the Google people, like the biggest ones, they only did one right and there are some rare cases, like Elon Musk or Steve jobs, but Steve Jobs would have been apple the whole time. If you didn’t get kicked out, he only did those other ones because he got kicked out and so we had all this time on his hands.

And then moving forward for me, I think with Rotten Tomatoes in a way, it made things worse because when we sold, we were like, oh, we know what we’re doing. I know what I’m doing. I can do something bigger and so, with the later ones ended up raising more and trying to do things bigger, but, if I do things bigger, I was less focused on all those companies.

And so, I did a much worse job, Rotten Tomatoes because the product was initially focused. And even though we raised money, the market crashed, on 9/11. It forced us to stay focused without that we might’ve started adding a bunch more features and other things that were like not relevant or you might’ve tried going into more categories and things like that.

Later companies I was a lot more focused because I had more resources. I thought I knew what I was doing, but actually, I was making the biggest mistake possible, which is to be unfocused.

Maggie: (00:31:20) There are so many options you think you can do everything because there are problems in every segment right. So, it’s like, you’re more unfocused in those later companies.

Patrick: (00:31:28) Yeah, and the one thing I realized from that experience, it wasn’t actually, it was actually from my failures of the next three companies that did after Rotten Tomatoes were that I was so and I only realized it from helping a bunch of startups after my last company died and I was constantly telling them like, hey, you need to focus.

You’re doing too much and then I realized like, oh crap. I was way too much in my last few companies and then when I started looking at all my tech co-founders, tech founder friends, and every kind of company I could think of every single one that did well was focusing on the beginning. So that’s the big thing I’ve been whenever I mentor now, I just, I stay on that topic. You know anyone who is unfocused is dead and it’s only the focused ones that actually made it.

Bryan: (00:32:16) I think it’s great that you’re so humble about it too. You know, you’re you sit, you know, you looking back everything now kind of makes sense or as you’re reflecting as you’re learning, you’re coming well, I don’t, a lot of lessons learned to like teach other people to like, not repeat the same mistakes, but it also makes me think about stuff like that.

When you’re first beginning, you have to be a lot more resourceful because you don’t have a lot of resources around you that in itself, incubate like in innovation, new ideas, doing things attacking quickly changing directions. After all, I feel like, you know, I talked to a lot of other tech founders, too.

We have a lot of resources. Your kind of just relies on that. You’re like, oh, you make this mistake. It’s fine. I’ve got enough talent and money resources to recover. But over time, these things are caused cracks in your organization not immediately like, like repairing the cracks that they treat when you intervene, you have a lot of innovation.

So, I’ll through the sell of your Rotten Tomatoes in 2004, you know, you spent nine years in Asia, right? So, you spent some time in Hong Kong. What was that? What was that experience? What caused you to move to Asia? We, understand that you always want to move to Asia. What was the bigger underlying reason behind you, did your want to experience something new? Did you want to go there and start a new company? Did you want to go out there starting to live? Like what was, what was that period like?

Patrick: (00:33:45) Growing up in the state, being born and growing up in the states in Maryland elementary school and stuff, there, weren’t a lot of Asians, you know, in junior high and high school with magnet programs.

Yes, there were more Asians, but you know, there are times when I grew up and I, I felt sort of invisible in a lot of cases. I mean, I specifically remember sometimes I had some friends, really good friends that were not Asian and like, for instance, in sixth grade, I remember the really popular girl in our elementary school was doing graduation party.

And I found out from my best friend at the time, cause he was like, hey, are you going to go to the party? And I was like, I didn’t even hear about it. Then he was like, oh, well let me try asking and I know he must’ve asked, and then he didn’t mention it again. So, I must, I’m guessing she said no, right and I had a lot of experiences like that.

Junior high and high school were much better because there were a lot more Asians in these programs. So, I started feeling a lot more comfortable and why did I pick Berkeley? I mean, Berkeley is famous for having a huge Asian undergraduate population. I mean, that’s the number one reason. I was like, I want to go to a place where I’m not just the invisible minority right, and then from there, I started gaining a lot more confidence in high school and a lot more in college. And after we sold Rotten Tomatoes, I want to see what it’s like to be, you know, in Asia, in China and Hong Kong, where I would be the majority and so I went over there, but then ironically, the thing that happened was when I went over there almost instantly, I realized like, oh, I’m super different from that.

Like, I don’t have to say anything. I don’t even open my mouth and they can tell, like, I’m not from there. They’re like, where are you from? Again the thing I did while I was in Asia was that I’m a minority everywhere is if I go to Asia, I’m still this weird Western person and if I’m here, I’m a minority.

And then actually it was good because I started just accepting it and just realizing like, this is who I am and just being okay with that.

Maggie: (00:35:57) This is why it’s an ongoing issue with so many Asians right. We’re always trying to find our place and find our voice, but we have to embrace, you know, who we are and where we live and who we interact with.

Bryan: (00:36:11) It’s coming from the problem that we’re trying to solve the Asian Hustle Network too. So, realize, you know, we get about, about 150 to 200 pending posts every day. Well, probably like 60% of those are like, I’m so happy I’m in this community because I can’t find my identity. Yeah, it seems to be an ongoing thing whether it’s for you or something like new generations, it’s really important to find your tribe too but the bigger thing is you have to, you have to know who you are, you know, you have to be comfortable in your skin. It goes a long way when, not just social interactions and finding your identity, but doing business too, you know, and the more comfortable you are, the better you are at making good decisions and you know, you’re honest with yourself because you’re not lying to yourself you know, it’d be like, things are so grave and everything is like burning down. But yeah, it’s pretty cool to hear that you spent some time in Hong Kong because Maggie’s from Hong Kong. Yeah, we’re there. A year or two ago, we loved it. You know, the culture is great. The food’s great.

Bryan: (00:36:17) You know, that’s the funny thing is, so we left like a week before the riots, and then earlier this year we left Europe a week before the COVID lockdown.

Patrick: (00:37:28) Oh wow. You guys are just totally dodging bullets. Although, ironically, if you were in Hong Kong now, you’re probably safer.

Maggie: (00:37:38) Exactly. Right. That’s very true.

Bryan: (00:37:45) Now you’re back in the United States. You’re like, oh man, what helps you decide what you want to do next? Was it, did you immediately want to like make a strong connection, find a network of a new tribe to start a new business with? What was your, what was the process like when you first go back to the United States and what do you want to do and how did you sort that part?

Patrick: (00:38:22) Yeah, when I got back, a lot of it was just kind of reconnecting with friends, kind of reestablishing my network here. So, one thing I did was I started when I was in Hong Kong, but I created a group for tech founders and brought in different tech founder friends that could refer other people, kind of like an Asian Hustle Network but very private and you know, now it’s like 150, you know, really amazing tech founders in that group. So that helped, I ended up doing a company with a friend I did my first company with company number six and company number one was with a friend Leo Fong and we just, we loved playing video games, our whole lives and when we were hanging out, we decided to try and do a company to make more games. So, the two of us went and did that for a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but it was fun and, you know, anyone who loves video games probably has thought in the past, like, oh, I’d love to make my video games. So, we did that.

But yeah, it was an adjustment to come back because, and I think it’s really interesting to live in another country. I feel like everyone should live at least a year in another country because it gives you a much wider view because growing up in the states, you always just feel like US is the best at everything.

And then you realize. It’s there’s a lot of good here. You know, like the tech companies, the entertainment stuff we make is amazing, but there are also problems. Like one thing coming back from Hong Kong, you know, I wasn’t there during the riots or, or all that stuff, but Hong Kong when I was there was incredibly safe.

Like you could go anywhere anytime by yourself. You don’t even think about danger, like your, you know, your spider senses, never on my own at all, and then I come back to the Bay area and you can’t even walk through most parts of San Francisco without looking around a little bit to be like, know your environment.

Because I mean many, many times since being back, you know, you have homeless people come up and are trying to start fights with you or like getting your face to you know yelling racist things and stuff and you can’t, you know, you just think you don’t engage, you just ignore and try and walk faster right and that doesn’t happen ever in Hong Kong.

And you know, you look at Singapore, Japan, like these places are ridiculously safe, right? They’re much cleaner, like Hong Kong, you go in the, like the airport, the transportation system, the MTR is so like, you got here and it’s like a lot of these things like, you know, like a homeless person came up and tried to assault me in the bar and my friend had his grabbed out of his hand in the bar and the person ran out. I mean, like, and these are things that like, I didn’t notice when I was only living in the US but after coming back from Asia you can’t help, but notice it where it’s like, suddenly you have this like your spider-sense has to be on all the time.

You have to like, be aware of your surroundings and actually, that’s like a little bit like low-level anxiety that when you’re in Asia, it doesn’t happen and it’s nice to be in a place where you don’t have to worry about those things and then obviously with all the stuff, with the politics now and everything in, or even our, our response to what’s happening with COVID like some countries are doing a much better job.

I mean, most Asian countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea are doing handling much better and not letting politics and all this other stuff mix in and yeah, it was a massive adjustment also coming back to the states and kind of a little bit feeling that invisible thing happening again.

And I’ve been trying to be involved with groups, you know, like a Gold House or supporting, you know, Rock the Boat or with you guys because I feel it’s really important and to me, one thing I realized when I was in Asia and coming back is that what’s super important is having positive role models in media, right in front of the camera.

And when you’re in Asia, almost all TV and film is with Asian people in all rules. When you look at any Western media, I mean, even within Australia, you know, here typically if you see Asians in anything it’s very stereotypical, always computer programmers who buy working massage parlor girls, things like that.

Or it’s like even stuff that’s imported. It’s going to be like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, who I love all those folks, but it’s still Kung Fu you know, it’s still guys. I mean, outside Bruce Lee, they have no romantic relationships, you know, or it’s like anime, you know, that’s the kind of stuff that gets imported.

Like most of the other stuff. Yeah, like parasite now, but it’s still quite rare. I think the big difference over there or even what I heard about Latin American countries, like a, I’ve heard are much more accepting of Asians because they get Asian dramas, I think like Korean dramas and things like that, where almost everyone in South America is watching that stuff, like at least once a day, regular programming.

And I think when you see that. The difference in how people think about you and how we think about ourselves. Yeah. It’s getting better, but it’s still

Maggie: (00:44:06) That’s a really good point. I just like to give feedback on it about, you know, you moving to Asia and then coming back to us, it’s very similar to my situation because I was born and raised in San Francisco, you know, the whole homeless situation.

Like it’s always been a problem in my whole 28 years of living, but it’s never, I’ve never dawn it as a problem because I’ve always just like kept walking straight ahead. Like I’ve never liked paying attention to my surroundings because I didn’t want to, you know, like look at it, you know? And Bryan coming from LA to the bay area, it’s like a whole new world to him.

And he’s like, why are the streets of San Francisco also has some stuff to Asian area of LA. So. But to me, I’m like? There’s no problem as a problem. I just ignore it. I pretend like the problem is not there and I like your perspective and like, if you move to Asia, you know, going to Hong Kong, I never felt like I was in danger.

You know, I think a lot of places other than the US are much safer than the US, but then every other country, they praise you as they’re like, oh, US is like moving at such a quick pace. You know, there’s so much better. You know, we have a lot of Australians in the Asian Hustle Network who prays to the United States.

And they’re like, why are you guys moving so fast? Like, we’re always trying to catch up with you guys. You know, entrepreneurs in the US are so incredible. I wish I could be more like you guys, you know, but that’s not true at all. There are entrepreneurs everywhere, you know, we’re, we’re all moving at a speed that’s you know, very fast and there are skilled and educated people everywhere, you know, and about the whole film industry, that’s, that’s very true, with a parasite, like these movies are being praised whenever, you know, they win awards and Grammys and everything like that, but we’re trying to move to an area where it’s normalized, right but we’re so far from that we are moving in the right direction, but we need to get to a place where it’s normalized and we should still celebrate, you know, whenever these movies are coming out, starring Asians, but it’s, it’s always, we’re still in a place where it’s like, oh, there’s a movie starring Asians that’s a very rare, you know, and we need to, and Gold House. It’s like doing such an incredible job with that with Crazy Rich Asians. 

Bryan: (00:46:28) We do share a lot of similarities too because we started using the Asian Hustle Network because we wanted more people in mainstream media, more, more people in corporate and investment ladders. That are the three criteria that we formed the group on. You were just kind of resonated around our core values and our name, I guess because hey word hustle, and Asian kind of go together.

That’s pretty good. So, would you share a lot of your core values that believe that we can make a difference? Well, oftentimes Maggie and I look at each other and be like, are we too foolish? Like, are we, are we thinking too big, you know? And we tried to, you know, listen to, to people like yourself and try to remain more focused.

So, there’s a lot of times where, you know, you get opportunities to come to almost daily. Hey, should you do this? Did you do that? This most of the time for us, I think in a good way is that we’re also kind of lazy and we’re like, you know what? We’re just not focused on our vision. Like any else can add to our vision.

We’ll do it. Does it focus here, on our vision, we won’t do it. You know, it just goes back to the focus thing that you mentioned before. You know, I think a couple of months into the group, it was so chaotic. Like we were getting people posting on different industries, selling their stuff, promoting your stuff, sharing the stories.

We realized that you know, what made us special was our product-market fit to resonate with the Asian culture, not just in the United States, but around the world you know, what happens is, hey, we have something beautiful happening. People are starting to connect based on our underlining morality or values or beliefs that you know, before the Asian Hustle Network, we couldn’t find any else in the United States, the Asian population, you found Koreans, Japanese, very segregated but now that I see people from different ethnic groups support each other, it makes me happy because now we’re trying to unite everyone under the same umbrella you know we’re not different. Whereas the same for just saying different things. This is growing up and especially our generation too because our parents came from a war, my parents came to the United States because of the Vietnam war, and because of that, they do have a lot of resentment against like other ethnic races.

And they’re like telling me, hey, you shouldn’t trust. Those can trust that they’re growing up. And you know, most Asian places in LA Arcadia, everyone’s the same as me, mom, what makes us so different, you know? And that’s always been on philosophy too. It’s always the next philosophy. She grew up in the most Asian area in the SF

You know. So, we just wanted to bridge everything together and seeing your work. It’s almost like a blueprint for us to follow, you know because we fully believe success leaves clues and when you come back in this ironic that you say you feel invisible. You’re the first person we noticed there. So, it’s a little bit ironic, but you feel that way and you’re not the only one feeling that way.

You want to make sure that everyone feels like they have a place to belong and that’s our goal, you know.

Patrick: (00:49:36) I mean, the stuff that you guys have done is incredible. It’s really good. I think you’ve built a, really good community and it’s, it’s great that you’re putting a lot more resources into keeping to growing it.

Bryan: (00:46:28) Thank you. Appreciate that, Patrick and I think we’re almost at the top of our clock do you have any important, like any, anything that you want to say to our audience before we end the call?

Patrick: (00:50:01)I would say if anyone needs help or mentoring or support, you know, they can always find me on LinkedIn. Just feel free to reach out saying that they heard this podcast or found me on Asian Hustle Network or something, and happy to try to give some advice for mentoring to them. Yeah. I think it’s really important for us all to continue supporting each other.

Maggie: (00:50:31) Thanks so much for coming on. We loved Patrick, for a while now, your story and your insight

Patrick: (00:50:01) Hopefully when everything is less crazy. We can all meet up in person.

Bryan: (00:50:47) Sounds good. Thank you, Patrick. 

Patrick: (00:50:48) All right. Thanks so much.