[00:00:00] Maggie Chui: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is Roger Gu. Roger was one of the co-founders of the original Emburse, a car technology startup that was acquired in mid-2019. He now leads card product strategy across the organization. Roger has FinTech experience through his prior roles of leading merchant, acceptance of Bitcoin at Coinbase, and corporate strategy at Visa.
Roger holds degrees in Economics and Finance from Princeton University. He and his wife have a life goal to visit all 60 of the US national parks. Roger, welcome to the show.
[00:00:41] Roger Gu: Thanks for having me. And I think it’s 61 or 62 that Melissa has been updated a little bit in terms of national parks, but it’s still a goal of ours.
[00:00:48] Bryan Pham: Wow. Just hopping that top your way. How far along are you on that goal?
[00:00:52] Roger Gu: About halfway. So this past year my wife and I have the luxury of being remote since we’re both in tech. So we spent the last year Airbnb being across most of the Western United States. So we knocked out a lot in that, or the part, especially going to Arizona and UTA.
[00:01:11] Bryan Pham: That. That’s a very, that’s a very awesome goal. We’ll do that. Something that I’ll personally want to do one day. But unfortunately, I’m not very outdoorsy at all. Roger. Tell us more about yourself and your upbringing. Where did you grow up and what was that like for you?
[00:01:26] Roger Gu: So I grew up in New Jersey, Northern New Jersey. My parents had a Chinese restaurant and a small little town called Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey. And pretty much as I did elementary to high school. They’re wanting to get as far away as I could. So I applied to a couple of schools in California for college.
Got into Berkeley, was super pumped about that wound up going to Princeton. So I didn’t expect it to, it was such a long shot for me about my parents. There’s a lot of pressure. So I applied anyways. Somehow got in, was super thrilled by that, and their financial package, was so good there’s no way I could have passed that up, even if I wanted to live the hippie lifestyle out west. So wound up in college, in New Jersey as well now, currently in California. So once I could eventually move out that was definitely one of my early on dreams. So I’ve been working professionally for about 10 years largely focused on FinTech.
Certainly not something that I had aimed for even in, even after graduation in college, I did that very standard track. I was an investment banker. Did that for two years. It was a really tough time because I graduated college in 2009. So there wasn’t that much MNA activity back then. Switched over to consulting.
Tried that for a little bit. That was for Visa, which, Maggie, thank you for bringing up a little bit earlier. And the corporate strategy side from Visa went to Coinbase afterward started in Emburse and been here for about the past.
[00:02:55] Bryan Pham: That’s quite the journey, man. And I think one thing that you really point out to me, it’s like in 2009, I agree. I graduated in 2010. It’s so hard to find a job there at a period. And it’s very depressing because you’re like, man, like where’s my life going? Everything I’ve been trying it’s not working out. I realized that from that time period, it was just a lot of entrepreneurs. But during that period, because we’re just like, You got to focus on ourselves, can focus on our business so I can totally relate to that.
[00:03:20] Roger Gu: Totally. I had my offer rescinded by one of the top, top three investment banks. I remember the most tragic was I was like delaying signing the signing bonus. Cause it was like a $12,000 signing bonus. And had I just signed and then they rescinded, I would’ve at least gotten $12,000, but I was waiting like a couple of waiting for a couple of options, trying to play it, fortunately, that, that didn’t work out, but that was really a tough time. And. I am glad in that regard that it definitely worked out well for me. Had I done that I would have, I think I would have wound up the opera was for Hong Kong. So I would have done rates, trading, structured rates, trading in Hong Kong.
And that my then-girlfriend, my now wife, that relationship probably wouldn’t have gone as well, doing long distance between Hong Kong and it all worked out for the best.
[00:04:03] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Look at that chain effect. Like at that time it probably must have felt terrible that happened right by hindsight, 2020, you look back, you’re like, wow, I’m glad that did happen.
And that’s the case for a lot of people too. I want to take a bigger step backwards to how you ever thought you’d be an entrepreneur at this point in your life, but has that seed ever occurred. Any point of your life where it’s you were taught that while you’re at Princeton or your parents wanted you to be entrepreneurs, like how did that seed what fell into your lap and made you think Hey, why not me? why can’t I be an entrepreneur?
[00:04:32] Maggie Chui: Yeah, I was going to ask that too, because, with your FinTech experience, I personally resonate with that as well because my parents had always wanted me to do something in the finance industry, something very stable. So I want to know like where you got the entrepreneurial spirit from.
[00:04:47] Roger Gu: And when I was growing up, I had, my parents gave me three options for careers. One was lawyer, two was doctor three was in finance. So I had a lot of options, but between those three, right? Not really that much in terms of influence from my parents, per se, although they did pass on a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit to me. Because the fact that they immigrated to America with very little, and then they started a Chinese restaurant in this small little town in New Jersey and just grinded away working. And they work 364 and a half days a year. So the only day off that they had was the dinner for Thanksgiving. They took off everything. They work. So I always had that drive, but like I wanted to do it better.
I saw how hard they work. I did not want to work that hard. let me get ahead right now. Let me put in the work now into my studies so that I wouldn’t have to work the way that my parents did. Sacrificed, essentially for the great benefit that I could really take advantage of.
So I wasn’t about to throw that away. I was on a very stable career path, so it was investment banking for two years. I did consulting Visa for two years. I think essentially it wasn’t like, oh my God, I want to start a new business. I would have this like drive to start a new business. It was more like, I want my work to be meaningful.
During that time I remember distinctly now, it sounds silly saying it, but there was like a, it was like a life calculator and it showed it to the second. So it’s like a little countdown, but it shows it by two to the second digit. And a little bit of that, which is like an impetus what am I doing? What am I spending my time on? And I created a lot of decks when through a mess in banking. And then as a strategy consultant at Visa. Like my deck-making capabilities are fire, right? Like cell skills. They certainly have deteriorated. Back then I could make a model, like no one else.
I created all these models. I created all these just really good decks. But did it really accomplish anything like that? Did you know, was I leading any projects? Was I have a meaningful impact towards, the team’s goals and, more broadly towards the company’s goals? I didn’t feel that.
So it was that drive that really made me try to just start exploring something new. It wasn’t, initially the goal of, I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to create my own company. It wasn’t that at all.
[00:07:14] Bryan Pham: Yeah. That’s extremely relatable to a lot of us and I appreciate you breaking it down till it’s seconds at a time.
So that just shows that your center. You’re just at one point you stop your life. And you’re like, wait a minute. What am I doing? I’m just making all these decks, but I want to have more impact. I think that’s like the origin story for most entrepreneurs you have in the podcast. It’s almost wait a minute.
What am I doing in my life? And just take a step back and reevaluate everything. Create that sense of urgency to create more. So let’s quickly talk more about your time at Coinbase. And I’ll like, that was like probably the job before you started your company. What was the turning point of joining Coinbase and being a director of partnerships? And then now becoming your own CEO of your own company, what was the transition process like?
[00:07:56] Maggie Chui: And on top of that you left Coinbase in October 2015 and started Emburse in October 2015. So I love to hear about just that fast transition.
[00:08:06] Roger Gu: So Coinbase was one of the most fun times I’ve had, right? Cause I joined in the teens and I left when we were about 80, 90 headcount ourselves and growing that quickly along with the crypto crowd, really gaining popularity.
That was a lot of fun. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but certainly, the community that the crypto community, the Coinbase community there’s like a lot of similar to like kind of the PayPal mafia, a lot of the early point-based folks that started their own startups.
Unfortunately, not as successful as the early PayPal guys. But certainly, that was. It was probably one of the most educational experiences for me as well, certainly much more so than my time at Visa. Even compared to college and investment banking days, it was a new challenge every single day.
And it was such a small team. And one of the goals that we had was how do we broaden the adoption of cryptocurrencies? And, we were talking about P2P transfers But we were also talking about just doing standard merchant payments. And right before I joined was the first merchant that well-known merchant that accepted Bitcoin was overstock.com.
Huge like publicity from accepting Bitcoin. And I joined a month after that news essentially. And, we were saying we had a lot of demand from our users to say Hey, I want to be able to buy more things for crypto, not just overstock, like college. Fairly different audience than the crypto community.
And so we reached out to a whole bunch of merchants and got a lot of small brands, but also got some sizable deals. So I led the Bitcoin integration for dell.com. So I flew out to round rock, had a great time. Let’s let the guys there. That was a four-month project. We did Dish Network, Wikipedia, Stripe.
So it was pretty heavy adoption from the merchant site, like just in a very short amount of time. The issue was like we weren’t seeing continued user usage of Bitcoin. So they would, maybe when upon the first news that they’ll try it out that buy a couple of items, but we weren’t seeing that continued usage of crypto to procure goods. So that was certainly a very interesting challenge in it. I learned a tremendous amount about not only just crypto, but banking in general, and that’s what led me to eventually co-found in bursts with my co-founder Peter Lai worked on the last project before I left was the Bitcoin debit card, which, you swipe $10. It would immediately draw from your Coinbase wallet, convert $10 worth of Bitcoin into USD, and then pay off the merchant. And so a lot of those similar concepts, similar controls, similar capabilities there as well, eventually it became Emburse, which was card expenses. Yeah. Awesome.
[00:11:00] Bryan Pham: Let’s talk more about Emburse. It’s a really cool company, cool technology. You guys are leveraging artificial intelligence as well. Tell our listeners more about Emburse. What product is it and what problem does it solve?
[00:11:13] Roger Gu: We really want the ability for companies to be able to spend on whatever they need and not worry about reconciliation. Extremely manual it’s time-consuming you’d be surprised about the number of companies, even till this day that are using Excel to track their expenses or, more antiquated, software, we want them to bring them to the modern age of expenses where folks can ask for funds, they can get a card, spend it, and then just forget about it. We want to make it as seamless as possible. These days, especially when a lot of folks are remote, myself included. I have to buy my own supplies. I have to, have a lot of software subscriptions on myself. I have, occasionally have some, still have a little bit of travel and entertainment expenses.
So both not as much these days I don’t want to worry about. Having paper, receipts, and having to keep track of what the budget was for my team or how much I’m spending on XYZ vendor. I want all of that to be automated. So that’s essentially what we’re trying to do. We want to make it super easy for our clients across the world to be able to spend and buy whatever they need and not have to think about it.
So my company was acquired in 2019. So we were originally just the card expense company. So we can create the card that has these technologies that limit you to what employees can spend on. I found it fascinating that in the typical expense model, you give someone a corporate card and, it has like a $20,000 limit, but you’re only supposed to use up to 3000 max. You’re only really supposed to use it for travel expenses and you’re not really supposed to use it for any other time period, except when you’re actually on the road. Why do you have a $20,000 credit card, right?
That doesn’t make any sense. And as the employer, I wouldn’t know what you actually spent on until you submit it, your expenses. And that could be two weeks after your trip or, more common. It could be like two months after your trip, you would actually submit your expenses.
So I, as a controller, I have no idea how much has been actually spent. I have no idea what you spent on. I don’t know what the budget of the team is. So we thought it made much more sense for the employer to give you a card specific for the trip. And other times, you have a useless piece of plastic that doesn’t have, $20,000.
Maybe it has like a hundred dollars limit for when you need it. And it has limitations on the card itself to say Hey, I can only use this for United Marriott, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft. I can’t use this at Best Buy, I can’t use this on Amazon, whereas before it’s all manual, it’s everything is just Looking over your expenses, looking over your receipts, seeing if items match, that’s really time-consuming and given our current technologies, that’s completely unnecessary.
[00:14:00] Maggie Chui: I love that it’s it makes so much sense because like Bryan and I, we used to work in corporate and I know Bryan used to go on a lot of trips, business trips. And when I went on business trips as well, it was so frustrating to see okay, what can I spend this money on? And like, how much money did I have?
But at the same time, it’s you can charge it on anything. You didn’t really have a limit, but they told you you can only use it during this timeframe. And you can only use xxx amount of dollars and it was just so like tedious to look through it. And then you, they tell you to submit your report like a week after you come back maximum.
But then a lot of people don’t submit it until two months later. And that actually prolongs the process of reimbursement. You have to go through Concur or Expensify. It was just so many steps. It was so complicated. So I love what you’re doing. I did read that you went through this whole process while building a platform that you spoke with like dozens of CFOs about how they decide between like personal cards or corporate cards.
I want to know what type of research you came to a conclusion with for that survey. And what you learned out of that.
[00:15:00] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Let’s talk about the product-market fit. That’s very important, especially as an early-stage founder. Just trying to figure out like, I’m pretty sure you got like a lot of bias mode, a lot of people that you talk to, like, how do you determine which ones fit into your vision in which one should be the next logical step for you to guys to build? Because at the very beginning, there’s not a lot of resources that you have. So how do you determine the process?
[00:15:20] Roger Gu: So we definitely did a lot of interviews, but I certainly had my own convictions as well from my own prior experience. So Maggie, to your point from being in the corporate world, like one thing that used to really annoy us and that you to take advantage of as an investment banker was one of the perks was if you stay past, I think it was like six 30, you get to expense dinner, and then you get to charge it to the client.
So what would we do as analysts? Of course, like every single day. We would wait until 6 35. I can go buy dinner, send that off. And then, work a little bit 30 minutes an hour or whatever it is, and then go home. He’s got to take advantage of that system. And then someone would manually check my receipts and make sure that oh, okay, this was 6:35 after 6:38.
This is kosher. Oh, this was 6:29. No, that’s not kosher. So it, like I had my own conviction, so it wasn’t, I don’t think in terms of. Starting a company. Like you have to have your own conviction. You need to have an initial hypothesis and have your own experiences within the product or whatever it is that you’re trying to sell that really can serve as an initial template as an initial testing ground.
So I had those couple of experiences. I had my experiences from working at Visa, as well as working at a smaller startup Coinbase to really frame the initial sales tactic, Peter, my co-founder Peter Lai, one of the best engineers I’ve ever met, he had a lot of product conviction and I had a lot of sales conviction and the funny story, we hadn’t actually met that long before we actually decided to work together as co-founders. We actually met because of an Uber pool. We just hit it off. And from there, when we started chatting about product-market fit and we talking about some [of] our own prior experiences, so he had a lot of experiences of thinking of expenses and thinking of reconciliation, similar to how you do at box, where you create these folders and you tag them. And everything’s readily available in real-time. I’m thinking of everything on the cloud. We really jived and formed that initial product-market thesis. And then we tested it. Dozens of our early employees, we benefited from being part of Y Combinator, a mountain Silicon valley.
But we just also just begged our friends and family. Hey, can you please use this product? Of course, I hit a point-based. I was like, Hey, I know I just left. Like I got this new thing, can you please give it a try? And he was really gracious enough to actually, give us a try for a long time, actually.
It was a lot of scraps together, but, to your point, Bryan, of having a product-market vision and knowing what we’re doing, we had some inclination, I think you need a little bit of a hypothesis, but beyond that, it’s a little bit of a guessing game until you hit it off. And those months were or even years were quite a struggle.
[00:18:07] Bryan Pham: That’s a really good point. I think when you’re first building a company, it’s all about your own personal conviction, right? Because you’re building something that no one else sees it for you, and you have to fully believe that this is your vision or hypothesis that you’re trending in the right direction.
And as you keep moving, it’s I don’t want to get all spiritual here, but the universe, just helps you along the way, like meeting the right people, hearing the right advice, just seeking out the right opportunity because you want that vision to happen before. Know, so I think all that sort of factors into the founder’s journey.
And then let’s quickly talk about the founding journey as well. As you mentioned, you met your co-founder Jui UberPOOL, as we know, working with a co-founder you’re practically getting married to someone else you practically got married to him after one date in a car. How are you guys able to work together so cohesively and more importantly, how are you able to solve your differences in a way that it wasn’t very destructive for the vision and idea of the company? It’s easy for you guys to say look, I’m done. Like I, we’re not getting along. This idea is not going to happen. Like we’re just going to walk our ways because we barely know each other. But how do you guys continue to form your bond and set yourself? So you’re so focused on building this company together.
[00:19:18] Roger Gu: One thing that contributed as simultaneously hindered. The ability to take on a work together was our stubbornness and our conviction. So both Peter and I, we knew that this had potential. And so we were just like really stubborn like we’re gonna make, we’re gonna figure it out.
We’re going to make it work. Certainly, there were lots of times when we clashed pretty heavily. I am very thankful for Peter in the early stages of being patient with me. I also think some of the coachings that we received, so both of us we, we found an executive coach.
Both of us had strong mentors, as well as friends and advisors. Our early investors at Tasmin Mar really helped us out as well. So we had folks to bent and bounce ideas off of, and tat that network, without that, there’s no way I think Peter and I would rip each other’s heads off. That external network was truly necessary. I am also astounded at the fact that sometimes, like I meet like a super successful sole founder. It’s like, how did you do it? There were times when. I, or Peter would just like, wow. Today was a really crappy day and early in the very early days, for example, we would have fraud losses right on our cards. And it could be 10,000, 20, $30,000 at a time. You just oh crap, we just lost $30,000. I know that’s a shit day. And we needed to take turns to grieve, to mourn that loss, that $30,000 and. We realized Peter and I like, despite our differences of opinion, our work ethics, we needed each other.
There was no way that I could have done that or he could have done that essentially without having the support with each other, as well as the broader network of visors investors, friends, and counselors that we had. So it was, it’s that old adage, like it takes a village in this case, like it took a lot.
[00:21:11] Maggie Chui: Wow. That’s amazing. Yeah. I’m, it’s such an amazing story. And I mean Bryan and I, we both know how hard it is to work with a co-founder. There are so many aspects to it, and it really is getting married to the person that you work with. You really have to make sure that you’re aligned in every single way.
And I love that you and Peter both found that balance and that you guys worked together so well. I want to know
[00:21:33] Roger Gu: I wouldn’t say that we were always, we weren’t aligned. I think it’s healthy to have conflict, right? Like you need to have some kind of outlet. So I have been with my wife since 2007. Yes, that’s right. 2007. And we’ve had, we’re not aligned on a lot of things. So it’s important to be aligned on the big picture. But in regards to the execution of that. And in regards to the micro prioritizations, it’s perfectly healthy to have quite a healthy amount of conflict.
It’s how do you deal with that conflict? How do you overcome that conflict? And that’s certainly something that I’ve had to work on extensively. I continued to work on today by taking, external learning courses by reading by. Listening to a lot of podcasts about how to deal with conflict and how to deal when especially larger teams. And now that I’m part of a larger company how to deal with a lot of different partners.
[00:22:27] Maggie Chui: Yeah. I definitely agree with you. I think that differences are very important because if you just agree on every single thing all the time, obviously you’re not going to grow as a company. You’re you need different perspectives and you need different feedback in order to challenge each other. So I love that you shared that.
[00:22:43] Bryan Pham: Yeah, I like that a lot too. I want to talk a little bit more about what our listeners want to hear more. So you have this idea, you have your co-founder, how do you guys begin to scale your company and make the first few hires? Like they always say the first few hires are companies and most crucial and important to building what you’re trying to build, but how were you guys able to hire, let’s say, for example, your first 10 employees what was the most important thing that you’re looking for in each candidate? Was it your skills and ability was it culture fit? What was the most important thing that you guys were doing it as you guys were scaling out at the very beginning?
[00:23:18] Roger Gu: So I think two things that really benefited us one was both Peter and I had been in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a couple of years prior. So both of us had a network. So we knew folks professionally, as well as our personal lives. We just knew folks that like, Hey, they’re not being challenged or they’re just looking for something new. So that really benefited us. So it’d be like, Hey Hey, I know you’re working on blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
You come check out our office, have some coffee, just hang out with us a little bit. And then just slowly over time Hey, why don’t you try contract people plus a little bit, we’ll pay you. And just ease our way. And then suddenly the next thing, oh, they work for Emburse now.
So that was a really good strategy of ours. So we definitely benefited from that. In regards to early on. One of the things that we did at a burst was something that’s something that I learned from Coinbase, which was the concept of extended work trial. We, you can interview folks for a couple of hours a day.
But what I really liked, and then once again, I learned this from Coinbase was, have the candidate come in. It could be anywhere from two days up to a week. We would pay them for that time. He or she would have to take some PTO certainly from their existing job, but they would work on a project.
It would work on sometimes a concrete task that any intelligent person would really be able to finish within that allotted time period. It allows us to really get a sense of the candidates’ work capabilities and as well as actually test their production as opposed to their resume.
What could you potentially do? I could actually see a work product they could present off of that. And then most importantly, Bryan, you asked about culture. Let’s actually hang out in the office, allows us to have a couple of meals together, have some coffee or some are some beers together, and really bond over.
That non-professional work setting because what we didn’t want to do, which just hire more Peters and more, Rogers, right? This is actually a problem of ours that we identified early. Like just being Asian American. Both of us were Asian-American males. One of our, like two hires after that of the five, were also Asian American males are, crap. We don’t want to only hire an Asian American. We really try to diversify and you just wanted to meet new people. We didn’t want to just assess people that had a similar culture fit. We wanted people with different experiences that could really fit in with us. So that work trial experience is something that I highly encouraged. It doesn’t have to be a week. You know what we did in the very early days it could be a day, it could be two days, but I think that type of screening also helps out the candidate. They can get a better sense of it’s essentially day one on the job. They can get a sense of what the team is like, what the culture quote-unquote is like.
And also just get a sense of like, how hard do these guys in interview questions when you’re hiring, that’s really hard to like, be true. Like how do you know the other side is really being truthful. Now you have so much asymmetrical information there.
[00:26:18] Maggie Chui: I love that. I love that you brought up that you notice that the first two hires were of Asian descent and they were male as well. And it’s very easy to, bring on hires that, look like us and sound like us because I think that’s just our natural instinct. We have just a natural bias towards that. But I love that you diversified and you looked outside and brought on people who were different, and I think that’s very important to bring in different perspectives and dynamics and everything like that.
So we want to talk about the acquisition in 2019, mid-2019. I think a lot of listeners want to hear a lot about this as well. Tell us about what that process looked like, what you went through throughout that whole process, and how you have seen Emburse grow from prior to the acquisition to now?
[00:27:03] Bryan Pham: But before we get there, I want to ask you, what was the first thing that you were thinking you’re like, oh my God fired. Or what was the mindset where it was like, oh man, we’re being, we might be acquiring. I’m sad. What was your first initial thought?
[00:27:18] Roger Gu: It was honestly like, I think I flipped between those two thoughts. Exactly what you just said. A hundred different times. Oh, my God, we’re going to acquire it. I don’t have to worry about having to potentially like just crash and burn. On the other hand, how do I know, this acquisition is going to work well, am I going to still be able to retain my team? Am I still going to be able to do my vision? And Peter was having some of the thoughts were like, are we going to be able to still carry out what we want it to do from there, from the early days from the onset. And we just kinda flipped back and forth between the two. So the acquisition actually, wasn’t initiated by us. It was due to an acquisition offer by one of our partners that turned out to be a little bit of an equal, higher offer, but we didn’t know that at the time.
We had worked with X partner for quite some time. They approached us saying that Hey we like working with you. It’s a good team fed good product. And so that, that’s what was the impetus of behind that? It was good timing as well because we had been doing these corporate card expenses. So one of the things that we were weak on was that we had this corporate card that you could give your employees and they could spend on that card. And we would reconcile all the expenses on that card just fine. The things that we didn’t do well on was like, okay, but what if someone had to use their personal card and they have to submit for reimbursement, and then how do you take all those personal card expenses. And how do you then get those transactions over to QuickBooks or NetSuite or Intacct. All the financial software on the backend. So we didn’t do a good job with addressing those points yet, right there. It was like, okay. If we’re going to scale, we would have to address those two points quite quickly.
So once we got the initial acquisition we just started just talking a couple started having a couple of conversations with investors, having a couple of conversations with advisors. And they said Hey market’s pretty good right now. This was early 2019. They were saying like, what’s going to enable you guys to grow the quickest. What is going to be able to what do you guys want to focus on? Is it like the court card? Do you guys want to build on? You point another Expensify, another Concur, another certify and we didn’t have any great ideas on like how we could vastly improve that system. In fact, I had used advocates over at Coinbase and I really liked that system and actually kept in touch with one of the founders there Ted power.
And when we got the initial acquisition offer, I reached out to Ted and I was just like, Hey, like we’re thinking about this. And I wasn’t reaching out to him initially to think that he, they could be a potential suitor as well. I just really wanted to get his advice because we weren’t that good with reimbursements.
We weren’t that good with the accounting integrations. So I really would have wanted to just get his advice there. And one thing led to another. Yeah. No. He was saying like, Hey, his company was acquired by what was then called certified Chrome river which is all owned by this PE company called K one investments.
And they were potentially interested and suddenly we had two potential suitors. So I was like this isn’t bad. And during that time, it, Bryan, to your point, what we’re really looking to sell what we were evaluating and something that I wouldn’t recommend to, for folks listening commit to one, you can’t run a business fully while also trying to sell a business-like and you do a half-ass job at both.
And that’s not good. The Silicon Valley advice. If you’re raising, just limit it to two to three weeks and try to raise during that entire time period, similar to, I think when you’re if you’re trying to sell luckily Peter and I had split responsibilities. I told Peter, you run the business. I was going to try to sell the company. It was a really awkward time because this was when we were all in the office. Our staff was about 13, 12, or 13. And there were a lot of diligence materials and I had to hide away in a separate office because I had diligence calls all day.
I had to talk to lawyers. I had to talk to our accountants. I had to prepare all these financial and legal materials, but I couldn’t tell my team about it because the deal was not closed. I don’t even want to tell the team like, Hey, like we’re looking at selling cars, what does that they’ll start asking?
What does that mean? So it was a super stressful time. But the partners that we found ultimately Q1 and certified Chrome river, which is now actually they have a thought that our name for the broader org, Emburse. Now they’ve actually allowed us to do what we wanted to do, which was to create this card platform that really helps employees take care of their expenses in a, super automated.
And allowing us to grow faster than we probably could have by ourselves, because, at the time we were still 13 employees, we had 350 ish clients. And now we have access to there. I think the last count was over 14,000 companies or so across things like a hundred and 110, 120 countries. And so we’re able to integrate our card solutions across the five or six different platforms. And really, instead of working with companies that, our largest company back then was 600 employees. Our largest company now that we’re working with is, close to 80,000 employees.
[00:32:15] Bryan Pham: That’s amazing. First of all, I want to say congratulations on that. Having two offers is quite amazing and having been through the entire process. A lot of people in their lifetime get to experience and like that. So that’s a big milestone day and, a big thing for us to celebrate.
Since we have a lot of sophisticated listeners on the podcast, I’m pretty sure they’re thinking. Okay, you’re going into an actual higher, right? So as you’re going through your ACRA higher, what are a couple of things that you had done differently now that you know what you do know? Then the first thing is like knowing that you’re able to still build on your vision through an apple hire is definitely the number one for, from a restructuring standpoint. Was it just a couple of things that you can give us advice on that you learned that could be beneficial? If someone who we’re releasing to you right now, what’s going to an actual higher up their own.
[00:33:02] Roger Gu: I can ask them like, what’s what is important to them, right? So we rejected what turned out to be the first offer because it was a pure, equal hire. And how I would differentiate between acquihire versus kind of a little bit of a smaller or smaller, mid acquisition size, which was more aligned. What we were doing is do you get the payback, all your in. Typical acquihires you have you retain all the employees and they have slightly higher.
They’ll have a signing bonus or they’ll have slightly larger equity packages than regularly hired employees. We had a lot of friends and family that contributed to our multiple seed rounds and we felt that it was important too. Make sure that they were all paid back. We prioritized that like we wanted them to get something.
Second, our early employees made a lot of sacrifices in terms of salary, in terms of what else that they could have been doing in terms of, their lives to work for endorse in bursts, we wanted to make sure that they were taken care of, just from the onset, like if they wanted to do.
Like we were going to allow them to leave. We didn’t want to golden handcuff them that they were there just begrudgingly. So that was important for us as well. That like the eventual acquire takes care of the team. Not just, they’re not just acquiring us for purely the technology or they’re not acquiring us purely for like myself or Peter.
We come as a package And, lastly, like Peter and I worked our ass off for years as well. We want it to be taken care of, of course, as. We were okay. In this case, with a little bit of delayed gratification, we knew what we were getting into. In terms of, you have to consider all those factors when considering when do you want to be paid out as immediately later on?
Is it cash is it stock? Are you handcuffed? Yes or no? How long that’s been scheduled, those are all factors that you really it’s good to have. Your own prioritizations set out before you engage in negotiations with the buyer, know what’s important.
[00:35:02] Maggie Chui: Thanks for sharing that. Roger, you talked about you and Peter working your asses off, and you definitely want it to be taken care of as well, which brings us to our next question, which we really like talking about this as well on this podcast is we want to know how you manage your mental health, as an entrepreneur going through an acquisition, there’s no scaling and building your business to such a large scale.
I’m sure that, there are times when you feel extremely stressed out or you feel like, there’s just a lot on your plate, but how do you personally deal with mental health and how do you keep yourself afloat?
[00:35:39] Roger Gu: That’s a great question. And that’s something that I think I have continually evolved and how I deal with my mental standing mental health. I am very fortunate to have a loving wife as well as a crazy, super loving dog. I have a German shepherd that kind of keeps me sane, even though, even if I’m like super down, I have hobbies that kind of keep me in line as well as I mentioned earlier a great-friends and advisor network that really helps me there.
So in terms of like hobbies I enjoy type two fun activities. Activities that are like not fun where you’re doing it, but only after you achieved it. Whether it’s like doing a really long trail run or climbing a really tall mountain. That type of activity is a lever that allows me to focus on the pain of the moment.
It really helps me relieve a lot of stress. I also have the benefit of being able to share these activities with, I mentioned before, my wife, my dog, and a couple of my closest friends that were able to do these things and really provide me that level of stress relief. I used to do.
When I was younger, I did not do any athletics at all. I was this tall, skinny scrawny kid who didn’t do any physical activity unless it was absolutely necessary. I still got my aides in gym because, GPA and all, but like beyond that, like I didn’t do any physical really activity. But now I think it’s a combination of working on my physical health as well as my mental health.
So I’ve found like some days I don’t want to work on my mental health, like all, if I’m like super stressed, I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want to talk it out. I just don’t want to do any of that. I would just go out and beat my body up on a super long run. Or go to the gym and start hitting some stuff.
I think that’s helped me a lot to have a couple of options to select from. How do I need to go to sleep at the end of the day. How do I do what is my what is my venting mechanism for that day? And for that issue that I’m dealing with.
[00:37:41] Maggie Chui: Yeah, that is definitely an outlet for promoting good mental health. And I love the delayed gratification mindset of your type two activities.
[00:37:53] Bryan Pham: Statistics shows that, if you have delayed gratification, the more successful you’ll be later on in life. So that definitely you’re proving something right. For us right now. That theory.
[00:38:04] Roger Gu: Yeah, it’s been a, it’s been a struggle it’s so I’m in the Tahoe, Reno, Tahoe, Reno area these days. And I’m not able to get out as much, unfortunately, because of all the smoke here.
[00:38:17] Bryan Pham: Oh man. That’s definitely a lot of fires up there. So we have one final question for you. That question is what advice do you have for an aspiring entrepreneur looking to get into their first startup?
[00:38:26] Roger Gu: That’s a great question. I really questioned am I the right person to ask about that?. I’ll tell you why I got into my first startup and maybe this will help someone and maybe it wouldn’t have, I saw that things were super inefficient and I didn’t see other products within the market that could do it better.
And something in me was just like, this is so inefficient the way that folks were doing expenses, that it like bothered me and that. More conviction than it. Wasn’t like, if you, I think you have to start, if you have the mentality, like I want to create a unicorn. I want to create a deck of corn.
That will sustain you for some bits. But like when you’re really struggling or when this, when the startup’s not doing well I don’t know if that would not be enough conviction for myself. Maybe for some, it would be, but for me it wouldn’t have been there was something about the problem that I identified that just really bothered me and the inefficiency that I wanted to address.
And that’s what spurred my joining Peter, in the early days of Emburst.
[00:39:33] Maggie Chui: Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Roger. So where can our listeners find out more about you and Emburst online?
[00:39:41] Roger Gu: So to find out anything about Emburst, you can just look us up Emburst that’s with any E like reimbursed. It is an actual old word, and we were so fortunate to be able to get that domain for pretty cheap.
That was all Peter. Kudos to him on thinking of that word. I didn’t know that word. To find out about me. My emails, just Roger@emburse.com, you can reach out to me at any time and you can also find me on Instagram, LinkedIn. I don’t tweet really But yeah, they could find me on standard social media channels.
[00:40:12] Maggie Chui: Thank you, Roger. We will leave all of that in the show notes of this podcast. It was amazing hearing your story today. Thank you so much for being on our show.
[00:40:20] Roger Gu: Thank you, guys. Excellent questions.
[00:40:22] Bryan Pham: Thank you for being on the show, Roger. Definitely appreciate everything you shared so far. And I hope our listeners find a lot of value.