Awaken Newsletter: Insights from Kevin Chou on Personal Growth and Finding Your Own Path

On December 15th, I had the honor to chat with Kevin Chou. Kevin is one of the foremost Asian American founders, having founded a number of gaming and web3 companies (Rally, Forte, Blocto, Gen.G, and Kabam) and currently spends his time working on Superlayer, a crypto venture studio he co-founded two years ago. Kevin also serves on the board of trustees at his alma mater UC Berkeley and notably made the largest donation to the school from an alumni under 40 years old. Without further ado:


In my research for this interview, I came across an article where Kevin said “Not working has helped me realize that by far the most important thing is finding that voice in your head that’s truly, authentically you”, but he never got around to sharing how to find your own voice, so that’s what I asked him:

One way to think about it is to try to meet as many people as possible, people that seem to inspire you–could be from all walks of life. It could be somebody in the government, the political field, someone doing nonprofit work, or even a church figure. Reach out to as many senior people, people that you admire, people whose work seems really cool. Reach out exactly like how you did. Say, “I’m a new graduate. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my career. I’m really inspired by what you’ve done. Can I set up 30 minutes with you to talk about what you do, what you like about it, what advice you have, etc.?” It’s shocking how few people do this. I know it’s potentially a little scary. You’re reaching out to people who you don’t even know. 

Personalize a note, find them on LinkedIn, or social media, or email, and just send them a note. It’s actually surprising. I took a look at your note. And I was like, “You know what, it’s half an hour of my time. If I could help somebody, I think about it as just paying it forward.” I think a lot of people who’ve had some success in their life are very happy to pay it forward and try to help young people figure out what they want to do, because I think we were all there when we graduated.

On a personal note: I’ll add that my success rate with my cold emails to these founders is about 5-10%, which Kevin noted was within expectations. That’s not to discourage anyone from emailing, but to set realistic expectations as to the response rate. If your response rate is better than mine, I’d love to hear what you’re doing so I can copy you!


At Asian Hustle Network, our one recurring question is: “how has being Asian qualified your experience as a founder?”, here is Kevin’s response:

I think about it all the time. I didn’t grow up in an Asian community. I grew up in a very small, rural community. So it was a lot of white and Hispanic folks, and I didn’t really have any Asian restaurants in my town. There were only two other Asian kids in my high school. When I was a kid, I thought it was weird that I was Asian. I looked different from people, ate different food than other people, and my parents didn’t speak English as fluently. I tried to blend in and not really focus on it. Then I went to college at Berkeley. There, I found a lot of friends and felt like I fit in a lot more. As a founder, it’s again, thrust into an environment with very few Asians as CEOs. There are a lot of Asians in technical roles. I think I’ve been incredibly successful. Lately, there have been more and more Asian founders, but there’s not as much of a cohesiveness around it as much as, for example, the Indian founder community is very tight. The Pakistani community is very tight. There are a lot of other ethnic communities that are founders that I think are tighter.

I had recently talked to Bryant Chou from Webflow, and his method of approaching this was to take a colorblind approach when it came to business. I mentioned to Kevin that his approach seemed the opposite of Bryant’s:

I definitely feel differently about it. I’m doing business with a lot of people. In general, when I’m doing business, I’m working with all different types of people. But in terms of people that I want to help out, it’s very natural that I’m more likely to say yes to an interview or try to help somebody else out if I see a little bit of myself in them. Ethnicity helps. I’ve done a lot of business in Asia, including having a 300 person office in China and starting an esports company called Gen.G, which is based in Seoul, Korea. 

Going to Asia, it’s a huge advantage to speak the language and understand some of the cultural aspects. I think about how I can take advantage of the good parts of being an Asian founder and entrepreneur, and then there are probably times where it’s a net negative, and I try to mitigate those as much as possible. 

For example, during COVID, there was a big group of Taiwanese American entrepreneurs, like Steve Chen from YouTube, and Kevin Lin from Twitch, and Jameson Hsu. We decided to go to Taiwan during COVID. There are lots of times where we’re celebrating Chinese New Year together, and just like Chinese New Year events that you go to, and you meet a bunch of other founders. Having kids and a family, I spend a lot of time just enjoying meeting people from those cultural events. 

Pulling on this thread, I asked Kevin what kinds of detriments he felt Asians faced:

I don’t think there’s as much of a detriment anymore. I would say in 2006, I was incredibly lucky that I was a VC. When I joined investment banking, there were like two other Asians in my hundred person office. And in all of the venture industry, there were maybe 10 Asians (circa 2005). How many CEOs were successful, CEOs of companies that were Asian, you had Jensen who ran Nvidia and that’s about it. There were just not many Asians. You think about all the .com companies, all of the e-commerce companies that were started in the late nineties and in that era of the technology world. It’s hard to think of many Asians. I would say Jerry Yang comes to mind.

Although he wasn’t the CEO initially, back then it was really hard to be a CEO who was Asian and trying to pitch to someone who’s generally not Asian. The investors do a lot of pattern matching. For example, they might think, “These kids are from MIT. That’s a good pattern match. I’m interested.” While nobody’s explicitly saying, “I don’t want to fund a woman or someone of a certain ethnicity,” they’re just pattern matching. They’re taking lots of meetings and they might think, “Something’s a little off about this one.” Think about it, how many CEOs have been Asian? It was a lot harder, but today there are a lot more, which is good. I think it’s less of an issue today. On the positive side, a lot of Asian founders get credit for being smart, being technologists, and for hustling. I don’t think it’s much of a detriment anymore the way it was 20 years ago. That’s good for the better in that regard. 

Going off his comment on the lack of Asian CEOs, I asked him what kinds of things he practiced or studied to overcome the additional headwinds he faced:

If you want to be a CEO, everyone has different perspectives on this. My perspective, especially in the context of the Asian Hustle Network, is that one of the Asian stereotypes is that they’re quiet, smart, and they work really hard, but they don’t know how to get out there. They don’t know how to sell or get deals done. So, I think being a good communicator and developing your own leadership style in a way that is authoritative, compelling, and authentic is important. Everyone has their own way of doing this, but there is a certain projection or pattern match of somebody who is going to be a good CEO. As a founder, you’ve got to be someone who can overcome obstacles, regardless of your ethnicity or gender. You have to be good at running through walls. Being good at sales, being able to get your ideas across in a compelling way, these are all incredibly important. These days you can do that via a variety of means. It doesn’t have to all be in person. 


I have some friends who are looking to raise a pre-seed round for their startup. But they were having some difficulty as they weren’t located in the Bay Area and didn’t have existing connections to angel investors. I wanted to see if Kevin had any advice for people in their position:

It’s definitely a lot easier if you’re from Stanford, MIT, Cal, or other top programs with a technical background. If you’re not from that, my biggest advice is to move to San Francisco or New York. If this is what you want to do, you have to do it right. If you wanted to be an actor or be in show business, you would go to New York or Los Angeles. That’s where everything is. The various angel investors, seed investors, and larger institutional investors are primarily in these two markets. I would say the Bay area still tops, but New York is a very close second these days. It’s much easier if you go out, attend some of the easier events, meet some people, spend some time networking, and then get invited to other events. You start meeting investors, figure out what events they are going to, go there and meet them, and talk to them about your ideas. There’s no substitute for meeting somebody face to face and talking.

Kevin later added a few additional thoughts:

As a young entrepreneur, there are two ways to build a company. The way I did it was through luck. I raised half a million dollars for my first round in 2006, which wasn’t a lot of money. We were incredibly frugal and had enough money to pivot a few times. This is a harder way to do it because it involves a lot of networking to find investors. I was fortunate to have spent two and a half years as a VC in the industry, so I knew a lot of VCs. My own firm and a few others were willing to write me a check, but I chose the firm I used to work with because they offered better terms. However, the best way to build a startup is raising a few hundred thousand dollars, around $200,000. Those types of deals are easier to get. Ideally, you can even avoid raising anything because what you can do is get a few friends together who are technical and build the thing, launch it, and get some success. Then raise money. It’s much easier raising money once you’ve built something than when it’s just a story.

When I say I’ve been pitched hundreds of Gen AI startups, I would say 80% of those pitches did not build anything yet. A lot of those emails start with, “I’m looking for pre-seed funding and here’s what I’m looking to try to do.” I generally don’t even read those emails. And I think a lot of other investors don’t either at this point. So if you haven’t met the team, if the team doesn’t have a really good background in exactly the area that they’re tackling, it’s an easy archive email. 

Whenever somebody built something and emailed me, “Here’s a link to the thing I built,” or “Here’s a video of the thing working,” I generally take the time to go take a look at it because I’m always interested in what’s new. I’ll take way more meetings with somebody who’s built something. 

And there you have it! Just building something and getting a few users will put you ahead of most pitches.


The last question I asked Kevin was how he dealt with the emotional toll that being a CEO takes.

You have to have either a community or a relationship. Besides parental relationship, some meaningful relationship in your life that is going to ground you through the tough times, because without that, it’s just so easy to slip into that place. These days, it’s much more normal to talk about the importance of mental health. Mental health, emotional health is incredibly important. I think it’s all rooted in physical health, too. It’s really hard to run a startup if you’re not physically healthy. If you’re not physically healthy, that also drags down your emotional and mental health. So I think physical health is actually the very base of the pyramid.

From SoulCycles to sports, for example, I highly recommend a book that has been really helpful for me. It’s a book called Younger Next Year. This book came out, I think, over two decades ago. I recommend it to everyone. You don’t even have to read the book. The very basic thing to do is strength training two times a week, and then try to do some cardio exercises, another three to four days a week. So basically spend five or six days a week being physically active, with two of those days being strength. Exercise and eat reasonably okay. That is my number one advice to people with a stressful lifestyle. Having a grounding of physical health is super important. 

Then we get to the question that you started with, which is emotional health. Emotionally, mentally, it is incredibly important to have a community and to have a relationship that you care about. I know all this sounds like, “How am I going to do all this stressful stuff in your life?” But the whole point is, if you’re going to run a marathon, you have to pace yourself. The number one thing that I find is, if time permits, have something that you like doing. Ideally, that’s something that ties into physical health, because that way, you kill two birds with one stone. Whether it’s hiking, or a sport or something else, do things that you enjoy a few hours a week, because otherwise, you’ll just burn yourself out. So physical health, relationships for mental health, and then do some play every week.

I asked Kevin what exercises he tends to do and mentioned that I do mostly cardio:

Strength training is the number one thing that I recommend for everyone. That can come with all sorts of different things like circuit training, some sort of boot camps. It doesn’t have to be super intense, you’re not looking to necessarily get ripped and get a six pack. It’s just strength training, kind of a total body core strength training. Find something that you like that gives you energy, it could be a class, it could be one on one, it could be doing videos, something that you enjoy. Strength training doesn’t have to be a chore, it should be reasonably fun. On the cardio side, I love playing tennis, and lately pickleball. That’s what I do most of the time. On the weekends, I’m generally hiking, because I like spending time in nature with my family. 

There’s a website called Bay Area Hiker, or BA Hiker, I think. It has all sorts of great hikes that are all ranked by community. You can search by area and city. We like driving out to Half Moon Bay. Near the ocean, there’s a ton of great hikes along the one freeway. If you drive south from San Francisco, as you get towards Pacifica, there’s a lot of great hiking trails that take you above the one freeway. You get a gorgeous view of the ocean and the waves coming in. It’s just beautiful.


If you like mobile games, check out Bored Button, a free mobile game where you can earn valuable loyalty points–made by one of Kevin’s companies. Bored Button is available to download on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, and the Amazon App Store.

Thank you Kevin for speaking with us!