awaken* newsletter:  Weee! Co-founder and CEO Larry Liu reflects on his underdog journey

Welcome to another edition of AHN awaken*! Apart from our guest, I’m excited to introduce a new member of our team, Han Yue Yin! Han Yue is a current Stanford GSB student and was my fellow jazz bandmate in college. Although this article was written by me (Edwin), Han Yue co-interviewed with me and will be taking the lead on writing some great articles in the future. Everyone, please welcome Han Yue!

Our guest for this edition is Larry Liu, co-founder and CEO of Weee! (exclamation mark included). Weee! is the leading online Asian supermarket in America, think Amazon but for Asian groceries. Larry is an exceptional founder, and his journey of immigrating to America without any connections into founding a company worth $4.1 billion truly exemplifies the American dream. As an aside, Han Yue and I were especially excited about this interview as avid users of Weee! ourselves. Without further ado:

The Origins of Weee!

Our first question for Larry was how the idea for Weee! first came about:

Originally, we started as a WeChat (Chinese messaging app popular with the American diaspora) group-buying company. I believe it was really an opportunity we observed around the 2014-2015 time frame. This was when WeChat became extremely popular among Chinese immigrants and many people formed WeChat groups to buy food together, among other things. We found this to be a very interesting business model. As you may know, I was an eBay seller for more than 10 years and was familiar with the traditional e-commerce model, which is search-based. So, when I saw the group buys, I thought it was a completely new model, not search-based, but recommendation-based. I believed it was very promising. That’s when we decided to quit our jobs and start the business. However, it turned out not to be the right model. We pivoted in 2017 because social buying was not what we thought it was. It was not the ultimate solution to solve the lack of service experienced by Asian Americans for their food needs. The delivery-to-home model is a much better model. So, we pivoted in 2017. I believe it’s one of the greatest pivots in history.

The reason we pivoted was because we couldn’t grow the original group buy model. We couldn’t raise money because we didn’t grow. This forced us to think very hard about the fundamentals. That’s when we realized that the reason most people used group buys was actually because they didn’t have easy, affordable access to the food they love. It wasn’t apparent in the beginning because people were group buying all kinds of things. But those were only distractions. When we thought deeper, it was about the food. That’s why we had to pivot. 

Following up, we asked Larry what lessons they were able to port over from their group-buying stage into their current business model:

We learned a lot during the group buying stage. We had already built some warehousing and delivery capability during the group buy era. Many vendors didn’t want to sell to the group leaders directly, so we had to build a warehouse to buy a lot of products from the vendors. We acted as the supplier to many of the group leaders. This already made us into the warehousing and delivery side of things. We also learned that people were willing to wait for great products that were hard to find. This gave us the confidence to not do same-day delivery or on-demand.

Obviously, we had to ask what were these products that people were willing to wait for:

It’s usually the products that are hard to find even at Asian supermarkets. For example, super fresh fish, very fresh produce, and fruits. In the early days of group buying, the Pacific Black Cod was very popular. People were buying pork bellies together because they were not easy to find in mainstream supermarkets. During winter time, a lot of Chinese immigrants make sausages themselves, so they buy a lot of pork bellies. 

One of our most popular items was Kyoho grapes. Kyoho grapes are not always available in Asian supermarkets. Additionally, Asian supermarkets have issues with consistent quality, the range of products, and the fact that a lot of people live far away from those supermarkets. That’s why those kinds of products were very attractive. During the group buy days, we would never do tofu, soy sauce, or green onions. Those kinds of products were not considered exciting for group buys. So we only would do, like I said, super fresh seafood or produce or restaurant food or things not so readily available.

The Business of Weee!

One of the big ongoing initiatives at Weee! is adding storefronts for more ethnicities, complete with their own goods. We asked Larry what opportunities and challenges they’ve experienced expanding into more ethnicities:

All of them are very underserved, which makes our business very attractive to all these ethnicities. If you look at U.S. history, there was a very important piece of legislation passed by Congress called the Immigration Act of 1965. It really started this whole demographic shift in this country. It’s a once-in-a-century shift. That’s when the Asian and Latino populations started to grow in the U.S. Right now, if you look at the Chinese population, five to six million people in the U.S., this group is still quite small, less than two percent of the U.S. population, so it’s very hard for mainstream supermarkets to try to serve the specific needs of Chinese Americans. It doesn’t make sense for them to focus on this two percent of the population and try to bring in thousands of products to serve them. That gave opportunities for offline Chinese supermarkets, but the offline model is not the ideal model to serve low-density populations. That’s why there aren’t that many such stores. 

Ranch 99 is the biggest Chinese supermarket chain. The biggest Korean chain is H Mart. It took them more than 40 years to build less than 100 stores. The reason is that the population density is not high enough for them to build thousands of stores. All the mainstream supermarkets have thousands of stores. But these ethnic ones can never achieve that, which means they will always be more inconvenient to access. And that’s physics. You just can’t have that many stores when the population is so low. The good thing for our business is that our model is a better model. You don’t have to drive to us, we deliver to you. We have very large warehouses and we can cover a very wide range. Another big advantage for us is that we can be authentic to multiple ethnicities. An offline Chinese supermarket can never be an Indian supermarket at the same time. An offline Korean supermarket can never be a Filipino supermarket at the same time. No matter how you design this, it’s impossible. But online, you go to us, the first thing we ask you to do is choose the store. You choose the Filipino store, it’s all Filipino. You choose the Vietnamese store, it’s all Vietnamese. We can really be authentic to multiple ethnicities, and that can only be done online.

One thing that caught our attention was Larry’s point about how sparse populations inhibit additional stores which inhibit accessible stores, which would make more people turn to online stores such as Weee! We were curious if the converse was true, whether or not customers use Weee! less in Asian-dense areas where there are accessible in-person stores, like in cities such as Cupertino, CA:

That’s actually not the case. We actually have a lot of customers in Cupertino. Here’s the reason: our assortment is not the same as offline Asian supermarkets. A lot of things we carry, they don’t carry, and a lot of things we carry consistently, they don’t carry consistently. The assortment of items is differentiated. We also have a third-party marketplace. Right now, we have more than 50,000 third-party marketplace products on Weee!, these are all products that brick-and-mortar stores don’t carry. We have sellers in Japan, Korea, and China. Some other sellers are local restaurants and local bakeries. For example, on Weee! you can buy a local bakery product at the same price you would pay in the local bakery, and that is just not available in other apps. You can go to DoorDash, you buy the same product, you pay 40 percent more, 50 percent more depending on what’s your total order value. We have a lot of products that actually aren’t available from Asian supermarkets. In fact, we have slightly better prices than Asian supermarkets because our supply chain is more efficient. Even if you live in Cupertino, we have a better selection and prices. Plus, you don’t have to go out. You don’t have to spend your entire Saturday afternoon grocery shopping. You have better things to do. I’m not saying offline supermarkets shouldn’t exist. That’s not what I mean. We actually don’t see them as competitors. I think that they will exist for a long time and a lot of people like shopping offline. That’s totally fine. We just try to serve underserved communities and we believe we have better products and services than anyone in the marketplace.

A common customer behavior in Asia that hasn’t quite made it to the US is browsing online stores. For instance, most people who go on Amazon already know what they want to buy and only search for that, you generally don’t wander a disparate tab and scroll through those listings. Given that Weee! targets people from Asia, we asked if Larry has noticed such behavior on Weee!

Our customers tend to browse more. With our design, we actually want people to browse more. There’s a common belief that grocery shopping is boring and repetitive. Almost every single website prominently features a ‘buy again’ option. Amazon does that because it makes sense. If you think of shopping as a chore, then it’s logical. However, we see grocery shopping, especially for immigrants, as an opportunity to discover exciting new things that they may not even know exist in the U.S. We always try to create that excitement. That’s why we want people to browse. These exciting products are also important for our user acquisition strategy. People tend to tell their friends about the exciting things they find on our site. If you buy things from Amazon or Safeway, you probably won’t tell your friends about it because it’s the same old thing. But our customers actually tell their friends a lot after they buy something from us because we offer a lot of exciting products.

For our readers (and ourselves!), we asked Larry for examples of some of these exciting products on Weee!:

Nowadays, we’re really strong at seasonal fruits. We really care about flavor because our customers do too. We carry things like the Ori Mandarin from Israel, which is very tasty. Our dragon fruits and coconuts are super popular. In fact, we’re America’s largest retailer of fresh coconuts.

It’s fascinating because this ties in with our multi-ethnicity strategy. We have a lot of customers from different ethnicities. People from Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and India all consume coconuts. We are the only place that aggregates so much demand for coconuts and our price is unbeatable. For instance, if you go to Whole Foods, a coconut costs $4.99 each. If you buy on Weee!, it’s $14 for nine. It’s the best price on the market and our volume is really big. We’re also strong in fruits, vegetables, and hot pot-related products. We have all kinds of sliced meat, lamb, beef, pork, and different sauces and vegetables.

Larry’s Personal Growth

Although Weee! is not Larry’s first venture (he did some dropshipping previously), it is the first business he has scaled. As such, we asked him about his process of learning how to be a leader:

It was not very natural. It was a very steep learning curve for me. I managed like two people before I started Weee! at my previous company where I worked in finance. So I had very limited management experience, but as a founder CEO, you just have to learn everything on the fly. Not just managing people, but also how to raise money, how to come up with business strategies, and how to communicate the strategies to your team. 

I read a lot of books. I like to read. So I guess I had some knowledge on paper. This was my opportunity to apply that knowledge to the real world. I also reflect a lot. I’m a huge believer in deliberate practice. So I think I approached the job as something I need to really break down into different areas. For each area, I try to have some mechanism to get feedback and to check whether I did well or not so well. One of the reasons I was really attracted to retail is because retail gives you a very fast feedback loop. If you do a B2B business or pharmaceutical, it can take years for you to get the feedback. But in retail, if you do something right, you can literally see the results in minutes.

Also, I later realized that my finance background gave me an unusual habit. I try to forecast everything. For a lot of people, if you ask them about their strategy, they can’t tell you the impact of that strategy. I think forecasting is important because it requires understanding the mechanism between the input and the output. It also gives you the chance to constantly compare your expectations to the actuals, allowing you to fine-tune your understanding of the business. That feedback is very beneficial for improvement. 

I also hired really good people and learned from them. Our COO is very experienced. When she joined us, she managed teams with hundreds of people. I learned a lot from her. A lot of our management practice is what she brought to us. It’s really a combination of learning from experienced leaders and your own curiosity to constantly get better, to seek feedback, and just a lot of hard work.

We followed up by asking Larry if wished that he had done anything differently in his journey:

I think everything that happened was necessary. If I went back and told myself 10 years ago the things I know today, I still wouldn’t learn from my own advice. There are so many management books, and so many wise people out there. They give talks. Can you really learn from that? Even this conversation, can you really learn from this? I don’t think so. I think it’s just one piece of information. When I read a book now, I see it as one data point, one piece of information. I have to actually do it or be in the process of doing it, then revisit the concept I learned on paper and try to connect that concept to my real experience to make it part of my own. But without the doing part, the information is just a piece of information, nothing more. I could go back and tell myself a lot of things, but it wouldn’t help me 10 years before.

I have the habit of reading certain books over and over again at different stages of my life. For example, one of my favorite books is Sam Walton’s autobiography, “Made in America”. It’s very interesting. Throughout my journey, every time I read it, I pick up different things. The book didn’t change, I changed. A lot of things I didn’t understand before, but now I can understand because my experience grew. Sam Walton, I think when he wrote the book, he was diagnosed with cancer already. He probably gave everything he knew and put it in the book, but unfortunately, most people don’t understand all those things. They have to experience it and then they can relate to that. That’s why I think reading a really good book over and over again is a good idea.

I had heard Larry talk about Sam Walton in other interviews before so I figured that Walton must be one of Larry’s favorite entrepreneurs. We asked Larry what draws him to Sam Walton:

There are a few things I really admire about him. Firstly, in his whole life, he only did this one thing. He started Walmart and then he just stuck to it. He spent his whole life working on that. I’m attracted to that kind of entrepreneur. I’m not attracted to so-called serial entrepreneurs. I admire people who just try to do one thing super well, the best in the world. Also, he’s kind of an underdog. He was in Arkansas, a Midwest town. For a long time, Walmart only served towns with less than 5,000 people. It’s like how we at Weee! focus on serving minorities.  But he, as an underdog, built a business against all the odds. He started in the late 40s, and early 50s. His company went public around 1980. It took him 30 years to bring the company public. But even going public was just the beginning. In the next 20 years, I think Walmart’s stock price grew like a thousand times. Now, I think it has the most revenue out of any U.S. company. He was the richest man in America, but he lived a very simple life. His values very much match my values. So, I do see the parallels with us. If you read his book, you will love him. He’s very simple. I like a simple life. I don’t want things to be so complicated. Just figure out one thing you want to do, and then go for it and spend the rest of your life pursuing it. 

Asian Representation and Identity

Given that Weee! is the largest platform selling ethnic foods, we asked Larry how he sees Weee!’s role in enhancing the representation of ethnic food in the broader American landscape: 

We actually have a lot of mainstream users, and they’re growing very rapidly. We are the top seller on TikTok Shop in the U.S. in the food and beverage category. Almost all our customers on TikTok are mainstream Americans. I think it’s a less intimidating way to shop for products from another ethnicity if you do it online. Let’s say it’s a Middle Eastern store. You just want this one thing, you really like the lamb, what do you have to do? You have to drive to the store, go in, and it’s very unfamiliar. The barrier for mainstream Americans to try Asian supermarkets is a lot higher if they try to do it offline. It’s a lot lower if they do it online.

Personally, I found this extremely insightful as I had never thought of that. When you go to ethnic grocers such as Ranch 99, the store employees sometimes don’t speak very much English. I never thought much of it since I can speak the language, but I can see how the experience could be a lot more intimidating than buying online. For our next question, we asked Larry how being an Asian immigrant has impacted your founder journey:

I’m a first-generation immigrant. I came to the U.S. 20 years ago. My experience really put me in the position to do this business. That’s why I want to be like Sam Walton. I think this is almost a perfect business for me, and I want to keep doing it for as long as I can. There are so many smart people in the world, but what you can accomplish has a lot to do with what position you are in to see and recognize a great opportunity. I just felt like I was at the right place at the right time and I had the right experience and I met the right people. I owe everything to my background as an Asian immigrant to do this business. There were a lot of challenges in the early days. It was very difficult to raise money because people in the VC industry, the mainstream investors, didn’t really understand this opportunity. They couldn’t relate to it. But we were lucky enough to find Asian partners from those investment firms in every round of financing. I think I counted eight or nine rounds. In every single round, there was at least one Asian partner in the deal. They understood what we were trying to do.


If you ever find yourself looking for Asian groceries, please consider joining millions of other users and trying out Weee! You can order on the web at or through the app, which you can download from all major app stores.

Weee! is also looking to grow their exceptional team across all functions. If you would like to work at the fastest-growing ethnic e-grocer, please check out their available job openings at

Thank you Larry for joining us!