[00:00:00] Bryan Pham: Kevin welcome to the Asian hustle network podcast.
[00:00:04] Kevin Lee: Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.
[00:00:07] Bryan Pham: We’re so excited to have you on. Like I’ve said before, in the podcast, our team has been keeping an eye on you and we’re so impressed by everything you’ve done so far. We want to take this opportunity to hear more about your story.
[00:00:17] So tell us about your upbringing. What’s that like?
[00:00:20] Kevin Lee: Thank you so much. I was born the only child of two Taiwanese immigrants So they came over from Taiwan. Pretty similar story, I’m imagining some people on this podcast, the typical immigrant struggles came here with no financial, no social capital.
[00:00:33] And I think they do a thing that most immigrant parents do, which is they’ll leave you with your grandparents back in Asia. Definitely spent a good portion of my childhood with my grandparents out in Taiwan where they own a produce farm. So they grow something called a rose apple. If anyone’s listening, it’s called “Jambu” which is like a wax apple.
[00:00:50] Bryan Pham: It tastes amazing, by the way.
[00:00:51] Kevin Lee: It tastes amazing.
[00:00:52] I was often just in the fields running around, helping them harvest the fruit and in the U.S. Where I grew up, which is in California and honestly I can’t complain. I think I had a great childhood, two loving parents and that’s the most that I can really ask for.
[00:01:07] Bryan Pham: I like that story a lot. And that really relates to, and we’ll get into this later about what you’re working on right now, finding that inspiration from your family to create what you’re doing is a wonderful mission. But we had an opportunity to look through your LinkedIn, look through your resume, Google your name.
[00:01:23] And you’ve done so much in such a short amount of time. So I want to hop into your first job and how that shaped you to become the entrepreneur you are today. But also we want to talk a little more about it, and I want to give us the way to our listeners too that you’ve invested in over 30 startups already. That’s insane.
[00:01:39] So let’s talk about your first job and how that shaped you to become the entrepreneur that you are today.
[00:01:43] Kevin Lee: Yeah, it’s funny. My first job wasn’t Finance. So back in 2012, when I graduated I went into technology, investment banking because I was fascinated with the technology industry, but I wasn’t an engineer or computer scientist or anything.
[00:01:56] And. It was in Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Palo Alto. So I was right next to the Stanford campus. I would walk onto campus every weekend and just knock on doors trying to see if professors would let me come into the lab so I could just learn about what they were building.
[00:02:09] I lasted about eight months. I think truth be told it wasn’t necessarily the hard work that bothered me. It was whenever I talked with any of the associates or the VPs. They actually didn’t know much about the technology industry. And it just made me realize, why am I going this weird circumvented way to get to what I was particularly interested in.
[00:02:27] So I luckily was living with a roommate at the time who was, I know I’m jumping the gun here, but basically, it’s good because I think it definitely, obviously I think most people go into banking, they learn the value of hard work, detail orientedness. And I think that’s all, those are all valuable skill sets, but more than anything, it just influenced me.
[00:02:47] And knowing that sometimes when you know what you want to do, you just gotta go for it. You don’t need to take multiple steps. I.e. Some people want to go to business school before they launch into starting a company. I think there’s no better present time than now to go do what you want to do.
[00:02:58] Yeah, I think one day I woke up it’s decided this isn’t for me. There was a client of ours at the bank called Kabam at the time. It was a mobile gaming company. I think maybe some of the founders you’re probably well aware of were procreate co-founders, but mobile gaming was interesting to me because I grew up playing games.
[00:03:15] When you’re an only child, your parents don’t speak English as it’s not their first language. They’re trying to figure their way down America. It’s hard for you to just learn things yourself. And so I resorted to making friends on the internet.
[00:03:28] And I think that actually ended up being a super useful skillset. Just being able to make friends easily and not stress out about social situations, obviously online which is where the world is heading anyways. But I think long story short moved into Kabam which was my first product management experience. And then that kind of kicked off the whole journey into the textbase
[00:03:47] Bryan Pham: That’s amazing. And it can be obviously great companies to be a part of. Cause the co-founder was Asian Holly leaders, and now she’s doing an Asian American sort of fund or something.
[00:03:57] That’s awesome to hear about something funny and understand that this isn’t for me. I think a lot of us, especially graduating around 2010, 2011, 2012, the economy wasn’t that great yet. So having the luxury of “I don’t like this job, I want to find a new one” is almost unheard of. To see things in context for people that are listening to the podcast about how different that time period is compared to. Well, it’s similar to now, but a couple of years earlier from now, the job market is great. Okay. I want to leave my job one year, two years to find something else that was new. Back in 2010, 2011, 2012 doing this. It’s what? You’re struggling to find a job and here you are quitting?
[00:04:35] Kevin Lee: I know it sounds terrible. So ungrateful.
[00:04:38] Bryan Pham: No, but that led you down a really awesome path in your life and you’ve created at least, I think the one part of your resume that really stands out to me is how connected you are to the community in the San Francisco bay area. You practically know everyone there.
[00:04:53] Kevin Lee: I think it’s partially because I’ve grown up here my entire life. I went to school here. And it’s one of the reasons why we were talking earlier. I’m excited to move to New York for a while. I’ll be coming back though, of course, to raise kids, but it’s just going to be nice to get out of this bubble that I’ve created.
[00:05:07] Bryan Pham: I can always bet money. You’re not coming back. You’re going to be in New Jersey
[00:05:11] Kevin Lee: No offense to anyone listening from there.
[00:05:15] Bryan Pham: I’m just kidding. Let’s talk a little bit more about your career as a Product Manager. And joining the VC world and particularly joining Pear VC as a principal investor. That’s crazy. How’d you get yourself into venture capital?
[00:05:30] Kevin Lee: It’s an interesting story. So, this is something I discovered in hindsight 2020. In the early part of my career, especially even just entering finance, I would say admittedly, it was probably a more inwardly, maybe even selfishly focused career path for myself where I think even when I was in banking, I personally love education.
[00:05:48] I’ve always loved teaching. I taught through college, even in high school, I taught. After banking, I know I talked about mobile gaming, but I actually wanted to work in education tech for a while. And when I interviewed for the bill in Melinda Gates Foundation, I got to the final round and they were basically just like, you don’t have enough operating experience.
[00:06:05] And I went to Kabam and I loved Kabam and I learned a lot, but after Kabam I really wanted to get back into more of a mission-driven space. And so I went to this company called AltSchool, which was an education tech. I was a PM there. We were building software and hardware for the education industry and also building these private schools to test all of our products.
[00:06:23] And there, I came to realize that I had swung way too far to the impact side of things. And I think when I went to venture, it was almost my whole career path has been swinging from spectrum to spectrum. And that’s what life is, it’s almost like Pandora, you upvote and downvote, and then it finds you in the algorithm.
[00:06:38] So banking wasn’t for me, product management was good, but it wasn’t. I think ed-tech wasn’t that either. And so venture capital was, again, a swing back to the other side where I thought, Hey, maybe the highest leverage thing I can do is invest in companies that I feel are doing good for this world.
[00:06:55] And a pair was an interesting story too, because I had worked at another fund called FundersClub beforehand, and I had gotten to know the period. When I was working at the Funders Club, I was also running a side business at the time called Product Manager HQ. It was this education media company. We built the world’s largest community for product managers.
[00:07:13] I remember when I was still at FundersClub, the associate on the pair team randomly tried to buy one of my courses and she sent an email and she was, Hey, can I get a discount? I’m trying to learn product management so I can help our portfolio companies. And when I saw her email, it was Perry used to be called page one in mar.com.
[00:07:30] I was like, oh my God, I’ve read this guy, Pejman story. For any listener, Pejman is this legendary dude who escaped the war in Iran. Came to America homeless, worked at a yogurt shop, and worked at a rug store, selling rugs. And then this was back in the early nineties, there were no angels or anything.
[00:07:46] So he would literally go to all these VC and tech founders’ homes and sell rugs to them. And then he discovered that that’s where all the innovation was happening. He convinced the rug store owner to open a fund with him and invest in startup founders. And he became the first angel investor in Dropbox and six different unicorns.
[00:08:06] So that’s how we started to pair, but I always thought he was the definition of the American dream, the immigrant hustle. And so long story short, coming back to this story, when that associate reached out, I was, I love Pejman story. My parents are Taiwanese immigrants that came here with nothing.
[00:08:19] Just take the course, take anything you need, from the product manager, HQ. Don’t worry about it. I just want to help you guys. And I think this is a story of just Karma and everything will always come full circle. That happened maybe three years past, but then, when I went and I reached out to them I remember being able to talk to the other partner, Mar. She’s the other co-founder with Pejman.
[00:08:36] And she was, I heard about this story from our associate and I think it’s just an example of goodwill. And so always pave forward. You never know what’s gonna happen.
[00:08:45] Bryan Pham: That’s an amazing story. And that’s a story where I feel you deserve a lot of credit too, because it takes preparation, that you know your situation and what you’re in, in order to put yourself in the right position.
[00:08:57] Because a lot of people are, oh wait, who is this person? Okay. Nevermind. Just someone asking for a free course, because it speaks volumes, your own awareness of your surroundings. Doing your own homework, and knowing a general idea of where you’re trying to go matters a lot to leverage every opportunity that comes your way. Everything that comes your way, turned out to go to an opportunity like you did.
[00:09:17] And let’s talk a little more about your career as a VC. Because, when you invested in 30 companies, was that your pair or is that your own personal money?
[00:09:26] Kevin Lee: So, the third company is my personal money. At pear and at the fund I don’t remember how many investments I did, but we did mostly early stage, so it was always pre-seed or seed. That’s honestly my favorite stage at the pre-seed; it’s literally one or two founders working out of their garage.
[00:09:41] I remember I used to go to some of our portfolio companies. They were in their garage working. And I would go sit with them for the whole day and just help them co-work with them, try to be part of the team. So I love that stage.
[00:09:52] Bryan Pham: That’s awesome to hear. And how do you feel that experience has shaped you to become the founder you are today? Because I was reading your TechCrunch article early. You have a whole army of Asian American founders. Becky, your current company. I’m just, how many are there?
[00:10:10] Kevin Lee: Yeah, I remember that was such a good time. I think a lot of people don’t enjoy the fundraising process. But I’m a naturally pretty extroverted person. I think talking to people is just in my DNA. And I think that’s why I really enjoyed the venture. I felt I was constantly in my zone of genius where you go out, you talk to people, you get to meet people, you get to learn from the best and brightest in this world.
[00:10:31] So when it came time to raise for Immi and I’m sure we’ll get into that whole thing, it was so natural. I would hit up friends, I went to Kevin Lin’s house. It was early morning, we just brought him some noodles. We just shot the shit. And then he was like, yeah, man, let’s do it. And that was kind of like the whole process.
[00:10:50] Jason Wang too of Caviar, he has been a longtime friend and I remember it was so random. I was walking on Embarcadero and I saw his co-founder, Sean and I was, yo Sean what are you doing in town? And he’s oh yeah, me and Jason are in town. So I texted Jason and I was like, yo, you want to get drinks?
[00:11:05] And over drinks, I was, let me tell you about this instant ramen company that I’ve been building or this idea I have. And then Jason was, that’s super cool. And then I was, yo, you want to invest? And he was, yeah, of course, I’m in. And so it’s been an honor, honestly, to have a lot of good friends, especially Asian-American founders just to be a part of this.
[00:11:21] Definitely feel the support. And, we were trying to just rise the tide together for everyone
[00:11:24] Bryan Pham: Yeah, that’s awesome. I’m still looking at the thrive pocket caviar during food’s half-mad, happy Twitch, kettle, and fire, and the list keeps going on and on.
[00:11:34] Kevin Lee: I feel bad cause I couldn’t include everyone on that list, but we have a great group of people for sure.
[00:11:39] Bryan Pham: Honestly, I’m glad you see the positive side of fundraising because that’s something that a lot of founders dread and frankly, it’s against Asian culture too. They go out there and ask for money.
[00:11:50] Kevin Lee: It really is. That actually, you bring up a good point. I think the funny thing is, I wonder if Jason will ever listen to this one day, Jason Wang from Caviar.
[00:11:59] So when I actually got drinks with them, the ask I made was not actually for him to invest. It was, “Jason, I would love your support. Would you be interested in being an advisor?” Because in my head I was, oh man, you’re the first person I’m going to. I don’t really want to ask for your money. You’re a friend, but then I came home, and then I was texting with my buddy, Tiffany Zhong. She was like the world’s youngest VC when she was 18. She was, yo, what are you doing? Just asking them like, don’t worry. Like, don’t have the Asian values of humility and I was like, you know what? You’re right. And so I texted him, I was, yo, Jason, you already advised her like your interest investing. He’s yeah, of course. It wasn’t even, it was a blink. And I think that really taught me a lot about just, know your worth and go ask. You just always have to make the ask.
[00:12:36] Bryan Pham: Absolutely agree with that statement. It’s the same one when I was fundraising for Asian Hustle Network. I spent a year hesitating, I was like, ah, they won’t invest in this. Until. I started asking legitimately five people. Would you guys invest in that round? We oversubscribed and pissed off some people?
[00:12:52] Kevin Lee: That’s amazing though.
[00:12:54] Bryan Pham: Crap. I don’t know how to fit you all.
[00:12:56] Kevin Lee: We call them champagne problems.
[00:12:58] Bryan Pham: Yeah. The more the story behind this. Build a good reputation and because that goes a long way. If you have a bad reputation, you ask for money. No, one’s going to give you money. You have a very good reputation and you know how to ask and don’t rudely ask or abruptly ask. Be professional about it. It’d be ready. It’s yeah. Most likely they’ll believe in you. They know your background, they will invest in your company. And that goes a long way.
[00:13:21] Kevin Lee: I think like you said you can always add that, Hey, no pressure at all. Totally understand. It’s not the right time. I completely understand. And you gotta give them the answer.
[00:13:30] Bryan Pham: Definitely. I want to say congratulations on your $3.8 million raise last year. Huge. I think that’s even before we started chatting. But I definitely saw that article, so I’m very happy.
[00:13:40] So let’s talk a little more about your company. I love the mission behind it. Tell us about your mission and what you plan to do with the company. And I just want to hear more.
[00:13:49] Kevin Lee: For sure. It’s funny. Cause people always ask Hey, are you and your co-founder chefs? Are you guys food scientists? And I think for anyone listening, we didn’t have any background in this industry.
[00:13:59] I think obviously my grandparents are produce-farmers. But running a farm is completely different than running a CPG food company. And also when I was helping them, I was just sitting on a stool, harvesting, packaging fruit. It’s a very different business. When you’re sitting there, Taiwan summer heat. It’s not doing e-commerce or anything like that.
[00:14:18] I definitely think that it’s possible to do something in a completely foreign industry. In fact, it’s sometimes even better I’ve learned because you really just approach things from first principles. You are really ignorant. So you don’t care about what the experts have to say. And I think that will propel you a lot further, but bringing it back my co-founder and I were both named Kevin’s. She makes it confusing. And that’s why online you’ll always hear us use K.Lee or K.Chan. We basically append our last names. We met at Kabam around 10 years ago and we were the first two PMs because we used to work on the same team together and we would go to Vancouver for one of our projects and we didn’t know each other that well back then.
[00:14:53] So I had just joined the team. We flew to Vancouver. I’ve had a feeling. He didn’t even really like me that much, to be honest. Because we were like very opposite working styles. And I think from his perspective, he was just, oh man, there’s another Kevin. Now I gotta deal with another Kevin, you were confusing us.
[00:15:07] But one day we showed up in the morning at the same noodle restaurant. I assume a noodle joint. And we were like, yo, what are you doing here? And I was, oh, I just want to get some noodles for breakfast. And that kind of became our thing where we were the two PMs who would go get noodles for breakfast.
[00:15:21] I bring up that story because it’s funny how all things come full circle, but it was over the course of these 10 years of our friendship. And he later became my roommate. We discovered that we have very similar family backgrounds. So his grandmother also sold noodles out of a hawker store in Thailand.
[00:15:35] His dad sold noodles out of an Asian restaurant in LA and both of our families have very high rates of chronic health conditions. So most Asians in Asian communities and families, diabetes, high blood pressure are the two most prevalent things in both of our families. So a couple of years back we started talking about this and we said, why hasn’t someone built a leading better for you Asian-American food brand?
[00:15:57] Because we knew we wanted to start a food company. We knew we wanted to do a healthy product, but we didn’t want to do just another protein bar company with American flavors. We wanted to incorporate the things that we knew that we grew up with things that uniquely we could do because of our cultural upbringing.
[00:16:11] So that started as a thesis and instant ramen. People are always, oh, did you do all this market research? Do you dig into the data? Cause you’re a VC. I was, No, we met in my apartment. And we were, yeah, what do you want to work on? I was, I, we both love noodles, but noodles always make us feel super bloated.
[00:16:26] And when you look at our family is, because it’s always just refined white carbs and noodles. That’s probably what’s contributing alongside rice and other things too. The prevalence of these chronic health conditions. So that’s literally how we landed on instant ramen.
[00:16:40] There was no deeper research and I’m not sure if that’s the best way to do it, but truth be told it was fun for us because it’s a product we love. It’s a product that we knew our parents would eventually eat and you don’t have to educate people. So that’s kinda the Genesis. You asked about the mission.
[00:16:54] It’s interesting. I’ve learned a lot about Just brand ideals. I didn’t come from the food industry. I didn’t come from the consumer branding world. In tech, you don’t really think about brand things that often, unless you’re, maybe a brand marketer by training at Immi, we’ve gone through several different iterations.
[00:17:08] I think now we’re comfortable saying that our mission. Is to embolden people to play by their own rules in life. And at first glance you’re, oh my God, that’s such a high-level statement. It’s like Nike’s “just do it” or something. But I think every single word we’ve picked there is very important to us because K. Chan and I met each other at a mobile gaming company.
[00:17:26] We love playing, just having fun while we’re doing things that are so important to us. We had this amazing culture at Kabam, where we’ve always tried to recreate that culture in future companies. And we just never could, because it was an environment where you’d walk in and you’d be excited to go into work every day.
[00:17:41] It was just fun. We were working on fun things that we cared about. And I think with Immi people always told us, all the food scientists, all the experts, all the chefs said, there’s no way you can do this. From a food physics perspective. It’s not like tech where you can develop a new programming language. You’re capped. You cannot create a low carb, high protein plant-based product with these kinds of macros and this kind of texture and taste. And we were just, you know what, screw it. We’re just going to mess around in the kitchen and have a lot of fun. And we were able to make it. And I think it’s because we were playing by our own rules that we were able to innovate and invent something that this world hasn’t seen before.
[00:18:16] And I encourage everyone listening to find that mission for your company that is uniquely suited to you as a founder too. It just makes everything, it aligns everything. It really matches our products too, because instant ramen used to be this guilty food pleasure that you could only eat secretly at night when you have nothing else.
[00:18:33] But I think now, you can eat ramen whenever you want with Immi. You could literally eat it for breakfast. For lunch, you don’t have to feel bad about it. It’s good for. You can add any toppings you want, you can mess around with it. So I think it really fits the pieces of our product development too.
[00:18:47] Bryan Pham: I love everything about that story and your mission as well. I really liked the fact that you let nothing hold you back from creating this product. Because I think a lot of us. First-time founders. We asked for expert advice, quote-unquote, and sometimes, honestly, I feel like it’s human nature, it’s so easy for people to steer towards let that’s not possible. Don’t even try it, but I feel inner true innovation happens with pure ignorance, which do we know this test before, I don’t think you would have taken that risk.
[00:19:19] Kevin Lee: For sure.
[00:19:19] Bryan Pham: But if you don’t know enough and you’re like, you know what, I’m just going to figure it out. Have fun with that. Nothing’s going to stop me. That’s where true innovation happens. You do the possible when people thought it was impossible.
[00:19:29] Kevin Lee: Definitely.
[00:19:30] Bryan Pham: So I really liked that factor a lot. And for the people listening, especially first-time, early-stage founders, Trust your gut. That’s my advice.
[00:19:37] Trust your gut. Because the honest truth is no one can see the vision as much as the founders can. And that goes a long way of the self buoy, be a little foolish, be a little creative, and just find your own way.
[00:19:48] Kevin Lee: I think there’s one thing I want to add to this, which is growing up as the only child of immigrant parents, especially like Asian parents, I think a lot of times especially when I was investing, I saw a clear delineation where Non-Asian founders. Culturally, I think there’s just something different when they’re raised. They don’t have to worry about taking care of their parents or not that they don’t have to, but I think it’s just a different culture.
[00:20:11] For anyone listening to this. I’m sure you’re all well aware that in Asian culture, we have that idea of when you grow up, you still gotta make sure that your family is okay. Filial piety, it’s that term. I think because of that, it creates a different risk tolerance sometimes for founders. But I would encourage you to just think about that a little bit more because ultimately a lot of Asian parents, this is going to sound terrible.
[00:20:33] They don’t want you to be happy per se. They just don’t want to see you suffer. And it’s because of that upbringing they had. But I think you have to really unlearn a lot of these things. I think they serve great purposes. Especially in America where you look at other cultures, maybe even anything, a non-Asian culture where the values of humility are actually not as important of a value.
[00:20:54] You need to get rid of that because that’s what’s going to enable you to succeed in this society. Of course, you have to be humble but hungry, but I just think in that culture, there were a lot of things that held me back even from starting. And I think that in hindsight, I probably could have started this company years earlier, but instead, I just kept telling myself stories, oh, I want to make some more money and make sure that I can take care of my family or, oh, I’m worried about there, X, Y, and Z.
[00:21:17] But a lot of those things you have to just put it to the side. And like you’ve said, you just gotta go for it.
[00:21:23] Bryan Pham: I can’t agree with that statement any more than what you said. Because I think culturally, there’s a lot of stuff that we need to unlearn and frankly, Again, it sounds really bad, but I feel a lot of Asian cultures is great, but to become an entrepreneur, it’s a really foreign concept, especially a tech entrepreneur where it’s, you have to unlearn a lot of things like asking for money, raising money, asking for help,
[00:21:47] Kevin Lee: Exactly.
[00:21:47] Bryan Pham: My personal upbringing is that my parents taught me that asking for help was a sign of weakness. So for the longest time throughout my childhood, no matter what I was working on. I kept saying I was fine. I don’t need help. That’s the opposite of success.
[00:22:00] Kevin Lee: That’s so true, man. At the beginning of starting this company, I refused to text people. I texted my friends for help. And then now I’m just , oh man, I texted you all day. If you let me text you, I’m going to text you. I’m going to ask you for things.
[00:22:12] Bryan Pham: I definitely agree with that statement a lot.
[00:22:14] Lately, we started using TikTok a lot more for Asian Hustle Network, and we see ads everywhere. That starts as “Hi, we’re the Kevins.”
[00:22:25] Kevin Lee: I know that a lot of companies when they start TikToks, they always start with the founder’s story TikTok, and I remember telling K. Chan one day in the office, I was, yo, I really think that we should make one of these. I have a good idea. It could be a super low budget. We’ll just stitch together a bunch of photos. And we posted on TikTok and it bombed, it got 2000 views. But then I was thinking about now, and I was, you know what, maybe we should test this in paid ads. You just never really know. That one ended up being such a crazy winner.
[00:22:51] It’s our evergreen. It just performed well across every channel. And I think I’ve had friends just randomly DM me and be like, yo, I see the Kevins thing, the ad. And I’m like, whoa, we never got this reaction from anything else before. So it’s just nice to view a little bit of storytelling into paid ads.
[00:23:08] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I agree with that statement lately, we’ve been using it. But what’s the one thing that Asian Hustle Network is prideful for the last or the first two years. We grew organically to a hundred thousand, 150,000 members. They don’t need paid ads. Honestly paid ads are a hack. Now we’re using it to promote our conference, which we have from April 28th to 29th of this year. And the conversion rates are really good.
[00:23:30] Kevin Lee: It’s amazing. It’s so crazy when I started my first business, the product manager HQ, I took so much pride in being, oh, I grew purely on SEO. I haven’t spent any money on paid ads for the past six years.
[00:23:41] I know. And now in hindsight, I’m like, oh my God, those were the golden years for paid ads. This is another cultural value. Where in my mind, I was, that’s debt. Using paid ads is putting myself in this debt and where I need to not even invest, I need to spend the money and I don’t know if I’m gonna get a return and I don’t want to do that because I’ve always been taught to no, my, my dad was always, never let yourself get in debt. Pay everything in cash. Well, You know what, that’s what that’s the opposite of building wealth. It’s exactly the opposite, but you’ve got to use leverage.
[00:24:09] Bryan Pham: Smart leverage.
[00:24:10] Kevin Lee: Correct.
[00:24:11] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I think you have a clear vision of what going out on what could potentially come in and that’s a great way to think of it.
[00:24:18] But you have to understand where our parents’ mindset it’s what comes out might never come back in.
[00:24:22] Kevin Lee: Exactly. No, I know. I feel it’s unfair almost for me to say these things. You always want the best for your next generation and I’m sure there’s going to be things. I tell my kids where when they grow up, they’re like, oh my God, I got to unlearn all those things that dad told me.
[00:24:33] But it’s just based on the situation they grew up in and you’re totally right.
[00:24:36] Bryan Pham: Yeah. That’s a great segue to talk a little bit more about a very off-topic about yourself, right? And the reason why I say this is because I think I saw a post on LinkedIn, maybe last year or a couple of months back about you mentoring someone and getting lunch from him and him coming back a couple of years later, then you realize that he’s outgrown you.
[00:24:55] And that’s honestly, as a mentor, that’s the best thing that could happen to you.
[00:24:59] Kevin Lee: And it’s a great feeling.
[00:25:01] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I want to ask more about it. Who has mentored you in the past in terms of helping you understand your own personal development and get leveled up in your career? And I feel like the biggest issue with our community is that the word mentor is often thrown around a lot. Like, go find a mentor. you’ll find a mentor. But the truth is a lot of us are really shy to find people and ask for help. Or if they do find people, it goes straight to a tricky relationship. Whereas. Tell me all your knowledge, now. I want to hear some of your personal experience and advice regarding finding the proper mentors to succeed.
[00:25:35] Kevin Lee: So yeah, this is interesting. I’ve had a lot of different mentors over the past decade, and there are too many to list. There are a lot of mentors that I look up to, Eric Bahn over at Hustle Fund is one of these guys whom I’ve known for many years. The reason I treat him like a role model is that, when I think of someone who’s a mentor, they’re not someone who’s just one avenue, oh, they’re a business mentor that’s all I care about.
[00:26:00] I think when I look at someone like Eric, he is an amazing father. And of course, very business savvy. He started his own metric fund, started his own company, and sold it. But I look at everything in tandem where I don’t want to grow up to be someone who only has one thing, business, success, super lonely, depressed. It’s not what I’m looking for. I want a well-rounded life. Those are my priorities, a great family. I want to be there for them. Because of what my family, my parents did for me. And I think giving me that strong foundation was the most important thing they could have done.
[00:26:28] I didn’t care if we didn’t have money growing up. I didn’t care if we didn’t have a car or anything. The fact was that love is the most important thing. I actually haven’t spoken to Eric in quite some time, which is why, when you asked me that question, I was, man, I feel super guilty.
[00:26:38] I really should be reaching back out to a lot of these people. Cause we’re all just doing our own things now. I think he’s just someone who, when he lives his life and I watch him post pictures of him with his kids. I really admire you because you’re able to balance everything.
[00:26:50] I don’t need you to be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. You don’t need to be a billionaire in my mind. You’re already a billionaire. But the way, everything about your life, you’re going to die a very happy man. And you’re gonna leave a legacy for your kids. And that’s amazing to me.
[00:27:02] Bryan Pham: Eric’s area is a great guy. If you guys know who he is, he’s the founder of Hustle Fund. He supported early-stage founders. I believe he invested in hilariously early-stage companies.
[00:27:11] Kevin Lee: For sure.
[00:27:13] Bryan Pham: But yeah, that’s great that you’re able to find mentors that you look up to because that does go a long way. That’s one of the reasons why we advocate that reputation does matter. We need people that look at us and most importantly, we need to be able to relate to people that we let us look up to and listen to.
[00:27:26] And as I stated before, the podcast is that oftentimes we think these founders have some sort of superpower that they have a similar edge over the average person, but deep down as you talk to more and more founders and understand the ecosystem is that really no one really knows what they’re doing. Not at all times, most of the time they don’t know what they’re doing and unfortunately it’s all a front, right?
[00:27:46] We want other people to see that we do know what we’re doing, internally the decision-making. We all go through our own internal struggles, internal thoughts, internal doubts that we all face. We’re humans at the end of the day, we feel these emotions. Vividly. We feel depressed. We feel anxiety. We feel sadness, we feel upset, no matter how successful you are.
[00:28:07] And the next question I want to ask is how do you take care of yourself, Kevin? If it’s okay for you to share what has been your lowest lows and your highest highs. And we know that in the startup world this could happen in an instant. You have the best morning and the worst afternoon. What the hell?
[00:28:21] Kevin Lee: Exactly. That’s how you feel every day. So it’s crazy. So there’s definitely a practice that I started. I will admit I’m not much of a meditator. It’s something that I might try to do, or I’m sorry. I thought I could do it, but man, it’s really hard for me. What I find helpful is I do this weekly reflection every Saturday morning.
[00:28:39] The first thing that I do when I wake up is I have this template on my Notion. I’ve changed it up over the past, or it took me a while to get to where it is today, but it’s a very long doc that I answer a set of questions. And it really is just a way for me to do a retrospective of the past week.
[00:28:55] It always has a button that’s, how are you feeling? So you can put down excitement, nervousness, or anything like that. It asks me, what was I grateful for that week? Who was a person that I really enjoyed meeting? It’s almost like I’m doing a therapy session with myself because it forces me to seriously think about things. When did it ask me what is the one thing you did this week that was 80-20 for you? And then all of a sudden I’m like, wait, either the answer is I did nothing and shit. I did not have a productive week or its wait, this thing was super high leverage.
[00:29:21] Why am I not doing more of this? And then because it forces me to look at my calendar, my checklist of completed items. And then my forward-looking calendar, it’s just a way to plan for the next week. So I’ve actually found that to be the most therapeutic thing.
[00:29:35] You know, when I was doing my annual reflections this year in December, I used to have crazy anxiety going into January because I feel, oh my God, I’m so stressed. Am I behind all this stuff? But I realized that this year I didn’t have that feeling. And I think it’s because I let out all of my thoughts, every week onto this long Notion doc and just writing it down, that was the most helpful thing to get out of my own head.
[00:29:58] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I agree with that. I think that helps a lot to be able to put, not just pen and paper, but just type out your thoughts. Cause we feel a lot of things throughout the workday and a lot of disappointments, but I think that if we go weeks and months and probably years without reflecting a lot and thinking about our wins, what went well, what doesn’t go well, how do you measure your KPIs, which stress you’re heading towards if you don’t measure it.
[00:30:21] Kevin Lee: Exactly.
[00:30:22] Bryan Pham: So I do agree with that. I think it’s very useful to sorta just reflect upon week by week and re-ask yourself. Are you happy? Are things getting done or is your mission still being achieved? If you’re unhappy? Why? And I think that just being able to reflect and critically think about those things.
[00:30:42] Nowadays, the word mental health is thrown around a lot and for good reason, the pandemic is going on, a lot of people feel a certain way. And we’re seeing New York, right? A lot of migrations are happening, but life is too short. Why am I staying in this city? What am I doing this and that? I want to travel and experience some things I want to learn. So I think that goes a long way.
[00:31:01] Kevin Lee: You know what, I have another thing that, because you had asked me what were the lowest of lows, the funny thing is, when we started Immi we had a vision of what we want to be and our product to be. but when we started Emmy, we tried to manufacture internationally at first, but we couldn’t because COVID happened when the international border shut down.
[00:31:18] And so we were forced to manufacture with a US-based one, they weren’t even instant ramen manufacturers. And when we launched, we actually had to launch with this what we call internally, V1 of the product, which frankly was just, not at all optimal. It wasn’t anywhere close to what our current version is today. And for the eight or so months that product was in the market. I was probably at the lowest of lows ever. And part of it is like that whole. Maybe it’s an Asian value thing if we want to take pride in our work. And I was ashamed of that product. I know my co-founder was too. It definitely appealed to a certain demographic, but amongst the Asian community where we grew up eating instant ramen, I would have given it like a four out of 10, maybe a three out of 10.
[00:31:59] And it’s actually one of the reasons why I didn’t even approach any of the Asian communities, even though most of my network probably is Asian people. Asian Hustle Network, I admittedly have not posted a single time in there about Immi because I was ashamed of that product. And I had to go to coaching a.k.a. It was therapy effectively to talk about this because I was just, I was basically beating myself up every single day. I was giving myself so much negative self-talk. I was getting depressed about it and my coach had to really help me reorient a lot of the ways I was thinking about the company.
[00:32:32] And yet at the same time, I was also running customer support at the time. So you can imagine dealing with all these CX emails about it. It just wears down on you. And I think Will Smith has an amazing biography that just came out with Mark Manson and he talks about his work. He was just, like, every single day we deal with entropy, the world is decaying slowly. You are decaying slowly and there’s really no need for you to wear yourself down even more with your own negative. Self-talk the world’s going to do that already. It’s a shame you’re doing that to yourself.
[00:33:00] And that really resonated with me. So I think to anyone out there, don’t bring yourself down. I’m not a motivational talk person. I don’t know the right words for this, but just know that yeah, it for sure will get better. And don’t bring yourself down. You don’t need to do that to yourself.
[00:33:15] Bryan Pham: Yeah, I really appreciate that story because I think to myself, at least I have those moments where I bring myself down and then I try to snap out of it as fast as I can. I’m just, wait a minute. I’m just wasting time. Sorry for yourself too long. It’s okay. Feel sorry for yourself. Don’t take up a whole day or a whole week.
[00:33:32] Kevin Lee: Bryan, I’m curious for you. Do you have practice yourself too, to manage? Yeah.
[00:33:38] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Very similar to yours. I also reflect on every Sunday because Saturday is the day where I’m just, it’s not Friday. It’s not, I don’t have to worry about starting the week.
[00:33:49] Blank out Saturday, that Saturday is not blank out. Don’t you touch my Saturday. On Sundays, when I wake up I start feeling kind of stressed and oh man this week’s going to be heavy. So, I do my reflection as well. I write things down, things that go well, things that I’m grateful for, things that I can improve upon.
[00:34:05] And I tried to change the routine. I’m a very routine-based person. Without routine. I don’t even know what the hell I am doing with my time. What am I doing?
[00:34:12] Kevin Lee: For sure.
[00:34:14] Bryan Pham: So it’s out of curiosity too. I know the supply chain issue. It’s causing a lot of spike increases, especially in a food crisis across the world. How does that affect your business and your business model?
[00:34:27] And, how are you able to communicate a possible increase in prices and products to your customers? In a way where they’re like. Dang, I understand, it’s not going up too drastically. I think we’ve seen some prices go up, consumer goods, especially food, sharply increased the price of beef, the price of chicken.
[00:34:44] You’re like, damn, this is so darn expensive now. How have you in Immi been dealing with the supply chain issue that’s causing inflation across the world?
[00:34:52] Kevin Lee: Yeah, it’s crazy. We actually even this morning, I had to have a call with my co-founder because. It’s another, I think part of it is a champagne problem where we have crazy demand in January, December, cause it’s cold, people want ramen. We thought we would get shipments and because of what’s going on with freight right now we’re seeing delays from what we thought would be one week stretching out to four weeks, also a container, a boat container, maybe it would have cost you seven to 10 grand.
[00:35:17] A couple of years back now, it’s tripled, it’s 30 grand, maybe 40 grand. So it’s, everyone is feeling this right now. And I wish I had the right answer here because, for us, we haven’t had to necessarily raise prices. Unfortunately, we just had to eat that margin decrease, but it’s more around actually the stretching of the shipping timeline, where people might order a product.
[00:35:39] But we went on a backorder and we thought we were going to get the product in time. But because of the delays now, a customer gets their order two to three weeks later than they thought. That’s just a terrible experience. Proactive communications seem the obvious answer. And really that is the only thing we can do, is to send a heartfelt message. Usually, it always has to be from one of the co-founders that kind of just explains our situation and we’re not afraid to just say, look, we’re very small, we’re a small team here is exactly what is going on. With international freight. And then at the end of the day, it’s still on us.
[00:36:07] It’s not that we’re trying to blame someone else. It’s our responsibility not to plan ahead. Even including those delays. Just want to let you know that this is happening. And I think usually customers have been really understanding whenever we send one of those large campaigns, a large portion of the customer base will reply and just say, look, we totally get it.
[00:36:25] We see this happening. Someone will be like, look, this is unacceptable and that’s totally fine. We’ll give them a refund. And we ask for their forgiveness and we say, maybe you’ll give us a chance later on. Hopefully, we’ll get better at this. Yeah. I don’t know the right answer though.
[00:36:37] Bryan Pham: But it sounds like you have a really loyal community, which goes a long way. And I think a lot of things you said are a good nugget for us to hear too. It’s that transparency and being authentic to your community, your audience base, your consumers, right? What’s going on if we don’t understand the context of it, a lot of us kind of resort to anger and confusion as, why are they doing this?
[00:36:56] But I think you take the time to be clear to your customers. It does go a very long way. And I think, for the most part, if you’re keeping up with the news, you’ll know about this supply chain issue, what’s going on and what’s causing that. So I really appreciate that nugget.
[00:37:12] Also. I do want to throw out one thing too that I saw this morning as I actually saw you guys published in Business Insider this morning as the fastest product to keep an eye on in 2022 or something.
[00:37:24] I got
[00:37:24] Kevin Lee: to check it out. Okay. Awesome. That’s so cool. Yeah, usually. No, thank you. I don’t know how true they are.
[00:37:33] Sometimes those are like really clickbaity titles, or I don’t know what metrics are going off.
[00:37:36] Bryan Pham: I just see in the center, your face and your partner’s face, right in the article of this insider.
[00:37:43] Kevin Lee: Thank you. I think we obviously wouldn’t be here without our customers, and I think I’m just really grateful that people are enjoying the product.
[00:37:53] Yeah, man. It’s been crazy to get to this point. I still remember two years ago, just like sitting in our kitchens and there’s like one incident where one of our earliest formulations was like, it had like too much fiber. And so it would make, you have to basically take a shit really badly and me and K. Chan in order to speed up the cycles instead of making the noodles and then testing it, we just mixed all the ingredients with water.
[00:38:15] And then we just cheers each other on and we just drink the shakes. And then we would just wait and see, we had to go to the bathroom. And that was like a whole week. And I remember that that was, oh my God, we’re not going to make it. We’re so screwed. So it’s honestly crazy just to remember those times and then to come to where we are now. It’s definitely not there.
[00:38:32] Bryan Pham: Those are the best times. And at an early stage, I want to give advice to first-time founders. You should document, picture experiences, because you need to be able to look back and be like, wow, we got a long way, you know?
[00:38:45] Exactly. I think taking photos is so important and videos, I wish, I almost wish we had someone, like, a third person who just documented every. Now we’re all now, even internally, we’re trying to operate a media company. We brought on our own creative director or creative producer. We’re just trying to tell more stories about the brand and hopefully, you’ll see more content coming out this year.
[00:39:06] You’re doing it right. Absolutely. Any content is a key for a product mission-based company. So I think you’re doing great.
[00:39:14] So Kevin, we have one final question and that question is what is one piece of advice that you want to give to a founder that wants to do something that’s labeled impossible, but they believe that it’s possible. So what advice would you give them?
[00:39:28] Kevin Lee: That is an interesting one. Wow. I think the first thing. I know a lot of people don’t like Elon Musk because some people think he’s a terrible person, but I think what he just does extraordinarily is he does question everything. Quote, unquote first principles are like, he doesn’t care what has existed before he will literally keep pushing you and challenging you until you figure out how to reduce the cost of something or you invent something.
[00:39:57] When I was thinking of Immi. It would’ve been easy for us to just listen to the experts because these are food scientists. They have tons of experience. We even had to network through multiple connections just to get to the expert who then would just be like, no, this is not possible.
[00:40:08] But I think, from there, we basically were just, okay let’s go on YouTube and watch how to make instant ramen. And then let’s read research papers and translate them from Japanese and Chinese into English. And if, when you just try to learn it from scratch you’ll I think you’ll just realize that I think you called this out earlier.
[00:40:23] No one really knows what they’re doing. Everyone’s kind of just like faking it along the way and you can do that. You can totally just learn it from your own first principles and you’ll probably figure it out. So I don’t think maybe that’s not the best advice, but that’s what we did. So that’s the best anecdotal advice I could give.
[00:40:39] Bryan Pham: That’s good advice. That’s definitely good advice. Definitely question everything because I think that personally, my personal philosophy is that everything can be done better and that honestly, there’s really nothing too impossible out there. It just takes a little bit of naive adventure. It’s persistent and stubborn to get things done.
[00:41:01] You’ve definitely shown that with your products. So I’m definitely very much looking forward to your future success. I’m looking forward to your non-stop ads that play on my TikTok.
[00:41:10] Kevin Lee: I hope we don’t have to run ads, in the long-term future.
[00:41:13] Bryan Pham: You’ve done so much in such a short amount of time. You’re a great person. We’re so happy to have the podcast. So how can our listeners find out more about you and reach out to you?
[00:41:21] Kevin Lee: Yeah, definitely. You can find me on Twitter at @kevinleeme. That’s my personal and then immieats.com. We’re just called Immi but we couldn’t get the domain. It was too expensive. So we’ve got immieats.com. If you want to learn more about the product.
[00:41:36] For anyone listening, I didn’t even talk about it at all. It’s the world’s first, low carb, high protein, and fully plant-based instant ramen.
[00:41:42] Thank you so much. I wish you the success, the best success too with Asian Hustle Network and everything you’re building.
[00:41:47] Bryan is honestly an inspiration. I know you invited me here. I’ve obviously watched you build this for a very long time. I have a lot of friends that are a part of that community, and this is the first chance that I could tell you, honestly, why, I personally, I’ve never posted in there because of my, you know, a lot of these, like that shame I was carrying. So this is very therapeutic for my end too just to be able to talk to you about this stuff. So thanks for giving me that forum.
[00:42:07] Bryan Pham: I’m going to hold you accountable and share your story after this with the community.
[00:42:14] All right. Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it.
[00:42:16] Thank you so much.