Episode 9

Tammy Cho  ·  Pursuing Passion and Creating Positive Impact

“Especially for entrepreneurs, oftentimes we feel like if our company is not doing well, we're not capable and we're not enough. But the reality is, is that we're taking huge leaps of faith and taking risks and actually doing something out there, right? We may make mistakes along the way, but that's just part of the journey. We just need to acknowledge that and forgive ourselves and just keep growing from it.”

Tammy Cho is a tech startup founder who transitioned into the world of social justice and nonprofits. Tired of the rampant harassment and discrimination in workplaces across the tech industry, Tammy felt compelled to take action and founded and launched BetterBrave, a nonprofit organization dedicated to tackling toxic workplaces in 2017, just before the #MeToo wave began. Since launching, BetterBrave has expanded beyond the tech industry and has equipped thousands of workers across America with knowledge of their rights in the workplace and access to pro bono legal and counseling services. She also co-produces Hidden Narratives, a podcast that illuminates the untold stories of Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic and is Co-Founder of Hate Is A Virus, a nonprofit that combats xenophobia and racism. Prior to these initiatives, Tammy co-founded Encore Alert, an AI platform that helps brands like IDEO, Denver Broncos, and the University of Michigan identify and act on emerging trends, crises, and influencers in their industry. She started the company as a college freshman at Georgetown University and sold it to Meltwater in 2016 at age 21.

 

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Tammy Cho

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, my name is Bryan and my name is Maggie. We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Bryan: (00:00:00) Today we have Tammy Cho. Tammy is a startup founder who transitioned to the world, of social justice and non-profits. Tired of rapid harassment and discrimination in workplaces across the tech industry, Tammy felt compelled to take action and founded and launched a company called Better Brave.

Better Brave is a nonprofit organization dedicated to tackling toxic workplaces in 2017, since launching Better Brave has expanded beyond the tech industry and has equipped thousands of workers across America with their knowledge of other rights in the workplaces to access pro bono legal and counseling services.

She also co-produces hidden narratives, a podcast that illuminates the untold stories of Asian Americans when the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s also the co-founder of Hate is A Virus a non-profit that fights xenophobia and racism before these initiatives, Tammy co-founded Encore alert and an AI platform that helps.

How are brands enacting emerging trends in crisis and crisis in their industry? She founded and started a company as a college freshman at Georgetown University and soda to Meltwater in 2006. At the age of 21, Tammy. Welcome to the show, holy moly

Tammy: (00:01:33) Thank you for having me.

Maggie: (00:01:36) It’s such an amazing background and experience, and skill. Thanks for coming to this show, Tammy.

Tammy: (00:01:43) Yeah, glad to be here.

Bryan: (00:01:45) Super excited to have you, Tammy. Can you start by telling us what was your upbringing like? Where’d you grow up? What kind of Asian style parents did you have? We want to hear a lot more about it.

Tammy: (00:01:58) Yes, I grew up in orange county, California, basically all my childhood in life and then I, moved to DC to attend Georgetown University and then the tech life brought me out to San Francisco for about five years. And then now I’m based out in LA officially.

Maggie: (00:02:39) That’s amazing. And so, what about your family? Would you say that they’re very a traditional family did they have a life that was kind of setting out for you? Did they envision you going through a certain route, or were they very supportive and anything that you wanted to do?

Tammy: (00:02:59) That’s a really good question. My parents were immigrants from South Korea, so they had moved to America just a couple of years before I was born. And they were small business owners, so they ran dry clean businesses and then a liquor store for most of my childhood. I grew up in a liquor store and in terms of careers, paths, and decisions, life decisions, generally, I think there were a lot more traditional. So, I think because they wrestled with the challenges of being a small business owner and knowing how challenging that is they envisioned a better life for right. And that better life was very much tied to the traditional stable career path to becoming a lawyer or becoming a doctor. And so those were the path that my parents encouraged me to follow growing up and we’re not from the path,

Maggie: (00:04:01) Before you had started all of these amazing companies, were you doing something before you went into the non-profit world, or did you ever have like a nine to five.

Tammy: (00:04:13) I started my first company as a college student at Georgetown. Yeah, so I was working on different startup projects. I didn’t know what the tech world or what startups were even more at the time when I was in high school, but I started working on startups technically when I was in high school. And then when I got to college, I ended up teaming up with a couple of friends to just start a side project.

And for me, I was just thinking about it as I care about this problem. It seems our team members might be able to do something to solve it. We kind of just started hacking away at the problem. And before we knew it, we were sharing our idea, trying to get feedback from our mentors at the university.

They pointed out to us that this idea has potential. So, our professors then start to introduce us to other investors as well as other mentors and those conversations. I mean, there were quite a few, we’ve probably had hundreds of conversations at that point, but that ultimately enabled us to be able to apply to an accelerator program and get accepted to focus and work on the startup.

Bryan: (00:05:37) That’s amazing for a frame of reference this back when you’re 17 or 18. That’s amazing. What was the mindset feeling that your idea become reality and that you guys are working with investors, like, what was it going through your mind at the time?

Tammy: (00:05:56) Funny enough, I think that there is something to the being naive at that point where I think I knew I was young. I recognize that I was young but I think and being young I knew that I, there was so much for me to learn and I think having that open mind and that willingness to learn from mentors and other members of our community, other founders, I think ended up being a strength in terms of being able to work for this company. I’ve had a fair share of challenges related to the fact that I was so young that we can dive into that later too. But I think there was a lot of, I’m grateful for the startup community for supporting us as college entrepreneurs too.

Bryan: (00:06:42) That’s amazing and as you’re going through this process what were your parents thinking about you being a part of this business?

Tammy: (00:06:52) Yeah, my parents didn’t take it very seriously when I first started working on it and well, to be honest, too, I think, seeing how hard my parents had worked to provide for us, we didn’t grow up with much and I knew how hard it was on them.

How hard difficult it was to run this business and so when I saw that I made this commitment to myself. It wasn’t any pressure from my parents, but I wanted to be able to, once I go to college, be able to provide for myself. And so, I got a full ride to Georgetown and then any other expenses that I had, I took on like five different odd jobs to pay the bills while I was there.

But I took a very independent approach once they hit college. I didn’t want my parents to worry, so, I think I played a role in downplaying what I was working on. And so, I framed it to them oh, here’s a little side project that I’m working on with friends. And it might be a business, but we’re kind of seeing how things go.

They were initially supportive because they didn’t know what I was doing, but they just assumed it was like some fun side project. I was doing all the friends that were semi-productive but then fast, sometimes I had to come back to them to break the news that I was going to be leaving school, to focus on this company full-time and that’s when things completely shifted my parents were obviously supported it as a side project, but after realizing that this is something I might be leaving school for definitely shifted their world a bit and that was a very challenging time for us to figure out what to do next.

Maggie: (00:08:57) Was there like a transition period where you were okay, I need to focus on one thing. Right? School might be taking up too much of my time and maybe I need to leave and put 100% into the business that I’m working on.

Bryan: (00:09:10) And to take it back one more step to, what is your opinion of school? I feel that sort of plays into your decision too as you’re meeting more entrepreneurs out there, you’re starting to realize that, hey, look, there’s so much more to be learned in the real world compared to school.

Tammy: (00:09:30) That’s a good question and kind of controversial, but yeah, I think in terms of my perspective on school, I do, I have mixed feelings in regards to it and it was, I do see the value of school for some, and then for others, maybe school potentially might not be the best path or maybe there are ways that like education generally can be improved, to cater to people who might break out of school because it doesn’t align with them.

Yeah, I would say it was interesting for me too, because I went to a public school in Orange County, but it was a unique model where you had to test to get in, to attend this high school, middle school, high school combination and it was very focused on academics.

And I’ll let you think about, is how to get good grades, how to have like a great, testing score so that you can get into the US university. He’s talked to your universities and that’s where everybody’s head was at, including mine at the time and so to realize that I spent all this time working towards getting to a university and then coming to a point where I’m attending school and working on this project, I realized that, yeah, like there’s just no way I can do both.

Both and I think part of the reason was that on, academics. I also am a new grant for people who don’t have any grant I’m type three, I’m an achiever. And so, if I put my heart into something like I want to excel at it. And so, for me, I think for schoolwork there was a part of me if I was working on it, I want to be able to dedicate all the time to it and get good grades.

But at the same time, I’m on the other hand, I’m working on this project. I truly believe in the potential of this to kick off and that it’s solving a real need. And I find myself dedicating so much time to it as well and I was working 70-hour workweeks some of the 80 hour work weeks to try to fit both the company as well as 

school at the same time. And so, I was already feeling I, as already thinking about, I feel I probably should pick one to focus on for now. And then the tipping point was actually because we were then able to raise funding around funding from angel investors and raised over a quarter of a million dollars for this initial round.

So that was the tipping point for me to decide, am I going to stay in school and give up the startup? Or am I going to focus on the startup full-time and then take a break from school?

Bryan: (00:12:42) Wow! That’s a powerful story and it’s so powerful, especially for us in the Asian Hustle Network community to hear this because a lot of us give up on our startup ideas while in college a lot of us may or may not be able to create super companies in college because we listened to our parents and the safe path is to stay in school, get good grades, get a job first.

And then figure out your company and because your story is so unique that you have such a hustler mentality that you came into college and you’re hey, I want to make sure my parents are not paying for anything. If I had to work random jobs, I want to make sure I staple independently.

That’s powerful too and what makes it even more unique is your courage to stand up for what you believe in and go for it and look at where you are now. A lot of people want to be where you are right now. They want to be Tammy Cho, they want to experience things that you experienced too because in our opinion always feels like a lot of us call it a traditional path right now to go to college, get good grades, graduate, and get a good job.

And then we find ourselves sort of depressed because it’s like, oh man, I have a lot of people in the Asian Hustle Network who always say, I never live life the way I want it to. And by that time, it’s in their late twenties, early thirties, forties 50, whatever, right and you show them that, hey, you could succeed in an unconventional path.

And I agree with you what the education perspective, I feel like the education system is not for everyone. It depends on you as a person. What kind of type are you? And you’re the achiever type, and you don’t need to have someone tell you what to do.

And that’s so powerful for people to hear this story and to sort of emulating you and walking forward that there’s more than one path to succeed in life instead of one our parents are so dead set on us being doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants that they forget about us being happy that America is truly the land of opportunity. There’s so much opportunity out there that you just have to go for, props to that, Tammy.

Maggie: (00:15:04) I think it’s really powerful too because a lot of people too, they like to dip their toes in a lot of different areas. But they burn themselves out, and if you’re giving 50% into something and 50% into another thing, you never truly give your 100% into one thing.

And I liked that you were able to make that realization. I have to focus on my business because I want to see it grow and in a lot of cases, people miss out on those opportunities, they’ll be like, hey, I feel I need to finish school because my parents want me to finish school. And what if they had that opportunity right next to a school, but while they were in school.

Bryan: (00:15:42) I’m pretty sure a lot of us can relate to the fact that, oh man, I had the idea when I was in college, but I didn’t pursue it because I was scared myself included, there’s a lot of different ideas that I saw blow up.

I was thinking about that yeah, I want to transition and dive into your experience of being such an early founder, you founded a company at 17, 18. How’d you meet your co-founders? How do you vet them? And what was your experience of raising money as a female entrepreneur? That’s pretty young.

Maggie: (00:16:16) Yeah, on top of that being female and a member of a minority too?

Tammy: (00:16:21) Yeah, it was, it would be challenging one quick thing, I want to add it’s your, to your last point though, was just in regards to, I do think it is important to test out different fields that you might be interested in because I think that’s oftentimes the first step, right? Even for, I was a college student and, on the side, I started working for this company and from then I think I was then able to realize over time that this is something I want to shift my focus fully onto and I think one of the things that stopped people too, it just stops the idea right and you gets scared about the execution, but I think if there’s anything, that I could write. I can share what I’ve learned from my experience is that if you just take that one step, even if it’s as a side hustle, you may never know where it leads. You might drop it and that’s fine too. You may never follow through with it and that’s okay.

You realize it’s probably because you realize that it’s not worth pursuing further but on the other hand, you might realize that something that you want to focus on for the rest of your life yeah, and then in regards to the starting a company as a college entrepreneur that was a huge learning experience for me.

And as I mentioned, I didn’t know anything about the tech industry or the startup world because. We almost fell into it because we were just listening to the advice of our mentors, they were open-minded and pivoting, according to the advice that we were receiving and, we only then after starting to work on this company found the label of like, oh, we’re working on a startup in tech.

But in a way, I think that was almost, that was one of the strengths for us too, just because we were truly just focused on how can we execute rather than getting caught up in oh, I want to be this cool entrepreneur and as the hot new industry. We were just really just trying to figure out how can we address these issues and the challenges that I did come across being a young founder and also being a woman and a person of color where there were a lot of microaggressions that I experienced in the industry and so I had two incredible male co-founders, Felipe Lopez, who is our CTO and James Li, who was the CEO of the company.

And they’re wonderful, but when we went to, for instance, startup events and we were exhibiting Oncore alerts our company there’ll be little things like the BCU that we’ll walk by, our booth would first talk to me they’ll immediately assume that I’m an intern and then when they realize that I’m a founder,  they’ll kind of ask, are, do you have any other founders like, and you can tell their mood and the way they talk shifts when they’re talking to a male founder another clear example was even in regards to the fundraising process when VCs were reviewing, how much equity each of the founders has, they often wanted to push my equity down among the three founders and the reasons they would site would be reasons, for instance, the fact that I was a college dropout, make them, it, which is fair in one sense.

But on the other hand, you also see a lot of male founders who’ve dropped out of college, and then that’s phenotype positive, right? Oh, describe them that’s like the next Mark Zuckerberg or the next bill gates and meanwhile, it’s a red flag for me out there. Yeah and, so those are a lot of the challenges that are just some of the challenges that I had experienced being in the industry and parts,

I think it was only over time being in the industry for so long, I explained her tough conversations with other female founders and recognize that this was very common behavior and even, especially in regards to the equity gap, for instance, in a research study that showed that female founders, oftentimes have less equity than their male kept co-founders.

And there’s a huge gap they call it equity gap in that regard, and that applies to employees as well. So, when male employees are likely to have higher equity than female employees.

Bryan: (00:21:26) That’s disheartening to hear especially you come here as a co-founder, I feel you did your equal parts. You didn’t step back to stand your ground and be no, you talking about equal share.

Maggie: (00:21:46) I’m wondering how you were able to react to those types of instances. And if you ever said anything or if it was more of a self-affirmation kind of thing just don’t mind them doing your own thing. How were you able to respond to those types of comments?

Tammy: (00:22:01) It was a huge learning experience for me, I did not, to be honest, and not take any actions against that and I think I was one of the very few female founders in the DC tech scene at the time, there were probably two or three female founders that were consistently at these events and they’re incredible, but they’re very few of us and this was not a topic at the time that we discussed as much and so I felt very isolated and alone in that, my co-founders were supportive, but I think I didn’t even know how to verbalize how I was feeling about this.

And at the time it was even hard for me to realize what was wrong but a lot of it, I took it upon myself where I felt oh, I was the problem and I almost felt I was bringing the rest of the team down because I was on the team and when they suggested pulling the equity down, I didn’t fight back because I think I voiced that I was, it’s a felt off to me, but then at the same time, I think I didn’t know I just gave him benefit of the doubt and I didn’t want to pose like any additional barriers in terms of getting and securing funding, right or a team and so kind of took it as take one for the team and decrease my equity, fast forward to where I am now.

Hell no, that’s not going to fly with me but I’ve learned so much from that and that experience is one of the huge reasons why it works on the initiatives that I do today as well. But it’s a learning experience for me.

Maggie: (00:23:58) I think it’s very easy to even if you’re young or if you’re not, if you’re a person of color or a member of a minority working in the workforce and you see that you have a lower salary than the other person who may be white, it’s very easy to be maybe I’m not doing my part. Maybe I’m putting the team down, maybe I need to do more, right. So, I think it’s very easy to kind of get those two ideas mixed up and, put it on yourself, right. But I think now, like jumping fast-forwarding to now we see, with Better Brave. Better Brave is what started with all women’s rights and I think that’s important. And I think, you coming to that realization and you’re coming back with a company that is full of women. I think that’s powerful.

Bryan: (00:24:43) I’m very mad hearing this story because if I was a co-founder at the time, it’d be hell no one’s decreases in tiny share. This is the way, in general, but I’m sorry that happened. And I think that even for us working towards the Asian Hustle Network, we have this initiative to empower women entrepreneurs inside of the community, and anyway that we could support your AMA sessions the last couple of winners that we give away a thousand dollars to have been female entrepreneurs, it’s a strong initiative for us.

I mean, I always felt like even this is a funny story, but let’s pull it back in school. Girls are so much smarter. I mean, academically. Yeah, it must not be that smart, but I’m really happy, you’re okay now, you learn from that mistake that you’re using this experience to build for, and never let this happen again and I do want to dive a little deeper into how you found your co-founders. How did you get the how’d you meet them? What kind of, part of them, that you have with them before you started working with them.

Tammy: (00:25:57) So, one of my co-founders, I knew since high school actually, so we were part of the theme business organization and so, he was a few years older than I was, but we were the same business organization and got connected one of the summers because he was starting a different company at the time.

And so, over the summer while like everyone else was doing SAT prep, funny enough, it was like too expensive for me to attend this prep academies and that’s why I looked for other projects to work on if it was a blessing in disguise and I came across this opportunity to work with this friend and then we ended up working on that for about, I believe it was about two summers and then by that time, it was around the time for me to go to college and I ended up going to Georgetown University, which was the same university that he was at and so than we continue to work on different ideas together and ended up landing on one, which with Oncore alerts it was a different idea at the time, but what it eventually evolved into was it was a social media analytics platform where we were able to smartly identify look through all the social media data for these big brands and identify key opportunities and issues pure crises that they need to address as soon as possible and would send them alerts but teamed up with the founder this friend to start that, and then we need to find someone technical to be able to build the product as well and so how we found our third co-founder is actually through a platform called angel list.

It’s the very platform I haven’t used since so many years back, but yeah, we posted on this platform where founders to other people who are interested in roles in tech, and a few different people responded, including Felipe Lopez we then jumped on a call with him. I’m not even sure about the time he like realized we were college students in our dorm rooms, interviewing people.

But we jumped on a call with him. We ended up doing a short-term contract with him just to see how we can work well together or not and by the end of that period, we knew that he was the one we worked well together he was incredibly smart just in terms of the way he thinks about just technical infrastructure and architecture was what we were looking for.

And so, we ended up teaming up after that, and then shortly after we got accepted into another startup accelerator program that required all of us to be present, live in person in DC and so, Felipe was based out of Brazil. So, we flew him from Brazil to DC for this program.

Bryan: (00:29:27) That’s, it’s just to hear how you come about most challenges that early entrepreneurs start, especially if you’re not technical is how do you find a technical co-founder and most ideas die right there. It’s like, oh, I can’t start this project because I don’t have a technical founder, but you guys figure out a way to do it because you’re so passionate about the idea that you want to start, that you’ve found a way to do it.

That’s amazing, and just be able to start thinking about solutions instead of problems. That’s a gift on its own when you just start looking at what you currently have, what you’re missing, and how to find it. That’s when we start solving the problem, this is how you become a true entrepreneur.

Maggie: (00:30:11) We always talk about finding a co-founder, it’s like marrying that person, right. It’s pretty much dating.  Yeah. It’s like dating. Yeah. But I think the best people who work together most efficiently and the best is you guys are on the same page and you guys were seeing the long-term vision. Some arguments happen, but that’s always in the short term. Those are always temporary.

Bryan: (00:30:33) On a personal too, co-founders because you are going to have disagreements and I find that when working with a team thing go to let me things are swept under the rug and nothing that means that bigger underlying issue that’s going on right? Yeah, I mean, I do want to talk a little bit more about some of the early mistakes that you made. I know one of them was lowering your equity, which I’m still very mad about by the way but we just want to hear a little more about what are mistakes and lessons learned we can take away from your experience?

Tammy: (00:31:07) I think another big lesson that we learned over time, just based on very early projects that we’re working on. So, I think that sometimes there’s a tendency, especially, among founders and even creatives, where we get excited about an idea, but it’s not necessarily solving a real problem. More with this idea, then figuring out how we’re trying to address a major issue that’s going on and so I think that’s one of the lessons that we learned, which was to try to identify the needs of who we’re trying to serve and then build a product around that rather than the other way around and the reason I say that too, is because, there were, when we first entered the accelerator program in DC, it was a four-month-long program, the first three months you’re basically, and during the bulk of the program, you’re paired with different mentors.

You’re working on your concept idea and the goal is by the end of that period, you then pitch your company to a bunch of different VCs and angel investors to get funding, to get actual seed funding, and when we first went into this program, they gave us funding saying that they are giving us funding because they believe in the team, not necessarily the idea and the major flaw with the idea was that we were building a great solution that we felt like was brilliant, but in actuality, wasn’t solving a huge need that people would be willing to pay for.

And so, during that program, we quickly pivoted basically like a month before we had to pitch to the VC. Yeah, which is, it was in that house, super stressful, but also really rewarding, and then within that month we were able to build a very simple the first version of the product and we pitched it to prospective customers and we’re able to get them to commit to a contract, all before a fundraising day. And so, then when we pitched the concept that day, we had VC investors that were interested in funding us, and we were able to raise the money after that and have actual customers. 

Maggie: (00:33:45) I think a lot of people get like the shiny objects and drums, right. When I do this, when I do that, like, that’s the next bad, right. But people don’t do market research is it going to solve an issue that people are experiencing, or is it just something you want to focus on? But I’m glad to hear that you guys were able to pivot in such a short amount of time.

Bryan: (00:34:05) And shout out to our friend Patrick Lee telling us to focus on those times where we focus. But yeah, fast forward a little bit more when you guys sold your company, at the age, or pretty sure acquisition happened around when you’re 20 finished you’re in 21 rights. And what was that process like? And what was the feeling when you were about to sell this company and why did you sell the company?

Tammy: (00:34:33) That was a very interesting time for us as well. we were going through our second accelerator program. We’ll call it 500 startups out in the Bay area and close to the end of that program the CEO of Meltwater, which is the company that was acquired happened to be speaking at 500 startups to the entrepreneurs there and we were doing introductions. And when he heard about what our product was, it sees his eyes lit up because I think it was a product that he internally was very interested in building out, and then realizing that a product like this was already in the works made him very excited and from there, things initially like moved pretty quickly.

We set up an initial conversation with them, which was meant to be like just exploring partnerships with them, not necessarily acquisition. So, we had a partnership meeting, introduced our product, they introduce their company as well and that’s how the conversation started pretty soon it was more apparent that they were interested in acquiring our company and from there it became a discussion internally about what we wanted to do next. Do we want to raise another round of funding to continue working on this company privately? Or did we want to merge and be acquired? Or did we want to be acquired by not water during this time? And there were a couple of different factors that we looked at for this.

One, I think we want to get a better idea it required a lot of self-reflection too, right. But we needed to think about terms of our respective life visions, did we see ourselves working on this company forever? And this mission forever, or were there something, was there something else that we might want to explore down the road?

We also have to evaluate where we were at the company. And to be honest, at the time we weren’t doing fantastic, right? We had 10 employees at that point, but it was still and we had a great product. We had all the customers that signed up for our product, we have very little turnover, but in terms of acquiring new customers, that was not necessarily a strength of our team and so we felt potentially this might be a good time for us to transition this to more established companies so that, one, we know that they have the sales bandwidth and the knowledge to be able to distribute our product to the right customers and then two, we could also learn from that experience of how they do that.

And also learn from the experience of being acquired and what that transition looks like as well and so, and then the last piece that we looked at was the offer and, the arrangement was structured in a way that we can continue to operate our product under this new company. This is unique because a lot of times you’ll find acquisitions where they will either dissolve.

It’s more like an acqui-hire, where they just hired the, they’d like technically acquire the company, but those employees just join as an employee and work on the new company’s products, and then they have to abandon ship for their startup product. But for us, we were in a senior position where we could actually, as a team, join Meltwater and operate our product within their umbrella. And so, considering all of that we talked, had many conversations with the team about it, and then decided to take the path back of the position.

Bryan: (00:38:28) Wow. Congratulations by the way. That’s amazing. It’s truly amazing. It’s inspirational to hear it’s about because to us, it sounds like everything happens so quickly when your three to four-year range about who you are, basically a high schooler to your ideas of what’s possible to defy your parents, to take those risks, to leaving college.

It’s just moving to San Francisco to start this company and then getting acquired that’s, amazing, obviously your full-time right now and doing Better Brave and co-founder Hate Is A Virus. What made you decide to leave Meltwater and start a new venture?

Because for most people. You went through your entire life goal in four years. So, the question after you achieve your goal is always like, okay, what makes me happy? What’s next? And we want to dive into that mindset too, at the time what made you want to leave this, essentially a great opportunity, decent-paying job, and comfortable life to go out there and get us over again, figure yourself out and find new co-founders.

Maggie: (00:39:52) Speaking about Better Brave, how are you able to come up with that idea and was like the inspiration behind it, and were you already thinking about it when you were at Meltwater or? Oh yeah. I was just going to; how did that idea transpire?

Bryan: (00:40:09) Yeah, but I also want to understand that let’s start mental health life at the time. I feel mental health is one thing that’s never quite talked about in the Asian community, and exterior. It makes me look, a lot of us are doing well. You sold your company or a lot of us have a nice job, nice cars, or whatever, but we’re just really unhappy inside. And you tell your parents this, and they’re like, what? You left this and now you’re leaving that what do you want?

Tammy: (00:40:39) That was such an interesting period of my life too so much had happened in like the two years. Yeah, I, so once I was at Meltwater, that was also a cool experience just getting to learn about how a bigger company operates yeah, a hundred-million-dollar company.

They have thousands of employees around the world and there’s so much that we learned in terms of, how to operate a business during our experience there with that said, I think, as I was working there and I believe that there’s value in the product. I did think a little bit more in terms of my life, vision, and what I care about.

And I think I hit a point where I realized I’m starting to realize that I don’t see myself, doing social media analytics forever, as much as it’s needed. I don’t see that as my colleague and so I was starting to think about what are some other areas I might be, be more interested in focusing on and this was not something I was actively looking for that was in the back of my head.

And then in July, let’s see, I believe it was July of 2017 around that time, beginning of 2017. I had come across the story of a student Fowler over at Uber for those who don’t know she was a software engineer at Uber. She had reported numerous incidents of sexism, and harassment bullying at Uber.

Every time was met by HR saying that there was nothing to can do because hers is the only complaint, which, was that there were dozens of other people who were also affected by this behavior, when I saw her story, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my experiences. I think as I mentioned before with the whole equity conversation, too, I think in the moments that experienced these microaggressions or the sexism or the racism, I just I almost took the blame on myself rather than evaluating what was wrong about the situation.

And so, when I saw her story and realized that I was not alone and that many other women were experiencing these types of issues, I can compel to do something and I didn’t know what it was going to be, to be honest. But the first step that I took was, again, just really trying to understand this problem and where it stems from.

And so, I ended up teaming up with one of my co-workers at the time to interview people. We just had hundreds of conversations with other women and men, people, employees, lawyers, and HR experts, just to get a better idea of their experiences in the workplace. Every single person that we talked to either had a personal experience with this issue or knew somebody who experienced harassment in the workplace.

And hearing all these stories, it’s just impossible. I mean, to not do anything about it. So, we looked at what was something, what is a gap that we see? Why is this happening? One of the first places that we can start was addressed this huge gap in terms of the knowledge that employees have in terms of what their workplace rights are, as well as how to navigate these issues, the resources that are currently out there to help you understand this are very expensive and for those affected, don’t have the money to afford those resources. Consequently, can’t take any action. So, yeah. So, taking all of that became the foundation and inspiration behind Better Brave.

Bryan: (00:44:51) I think Better Brave is super essential, right now. I have worked at places before where my female coworkers came up to me telling me they were sexually harassed and then we tried talking to HR and everything, nothing surprising, nothing happened. I was pretty upset about that. It’s a very common thing, especially in Silicon Valley. You hear about these types of stories.

Tammy: (00:45:23) Yeah and you’re constantly told whether it’s in the media or through just your community, that you should report these issues to HR and they should take care of it, but they don’t do anything.

Maggie: (00:45:35) I remember back in 2017 when that story came out regarding all of these other stories kind of just started coming up from random people, whether they be women or men, and then other companies’ employees from other companies started coming out with her stories too and it just became like a ripple effect and a movement right. No one, very few people, talks about it because there’s just this pride issue. They don’t want to talk about it and they feel, Tammy talked about how employers don’t give the resources during onboarding, they don’t address that type of issue right? They don’t say if this and this happens to you, this is what you need to do, you know? And I love that Better Brave can offer those resources.

Bryan: (00:46:20) Thank you for us as we incorporate an Asian Hustle Network, we’re going to reach out to Better Brave for more resources. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for that, by the way and I think now’s a great time to talk about the very new initiative, that you’re a part of.

Maggie: (00:46:44) So, Bryan was part of Hate is A Virus and Tammy is part of the Hate Is A Virus and it’s been,

Maggie: (00:46:56) It’s so funny because we always see Bryan doing these videos right. And it always takes them a couple of tries, but he’s already how does Tammy do it? It’s so she doesn’t with no mistakes and I’m always so eloquent. Yeah. But I mean, I guess coming from me, it’s what has been your experience with Hate is A Virus and the whole movement is just so incredible.

And just seeing the beginning of the Hate is A Virus movement, transpire it’s been so inspiring and similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, this is just the same thing for Asians and, I’m just very curious, what has been your take on it? And how do you see the future of Hate is A Virus and what kind of work are you planning to put out for this movement?

Tammy: (00:47:47) I think in terms of Hate is A Virus it’s been such an incredible experience being able to work on this initiative together with Bryan and Michelle as well, and the rest of the team, Carrie, So, Jessica and so many more Angela who are all part of this organization as well.

And in terms of, well, the journey has been a bit, when we first started Hate is A Virus, I think each of us kind of came together because we cared so much about the issue. We had our respective full-time jobs, we were working on our respective companies, but, similar to, Better Brave athletes saw more of these stories that the hate crimes against Asian-Americans, come to the surface, we just felt we had to do something about.

And then the universe brought us together in a way, and we’re able to launch this initiative together, to tackle the racism against Asian-Americans brought by COVID-19 and in terms of where we’re headed. I’m super excited about it as well. So, we have three primary pillars for Hate is A Virus.

So, one piece is awareness. We want to continue to raise awareness of the issues of hate and racism against communities, through creating really digestible, accessible, educational content and publishing that on our social media channels and spreading the word about that in partnership with community organizations, leaders, and advocates.

The second pillar that we have is related to education. So, we realized that it’s not enough to just raise awareness of these issues through a hashtag campaign, right we need to equip our community with tactical strategies on how to take action against the hate and racism and something really important to us is to really mobilize and incorporate Asian American communities to stand up for our communities, as well as other communities, especially in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

And then the final pillar for us and what we’re focused on is continuing to fundraise for different causes that are tackling these issues as well. So, we’re continuing to raise money for a reason, a million fund to support a small business that has been impacted by COVID-19 and we’ll be hosting more fundraisers in the future as well to serve wherever we can.

Maggie: (00:50:35) That’s amazing, so powerful, great job to both of you guys. I know you guys were able to raise almost $20,000 in two hours, so that is super amazing and I super, I fully believe, and 100% agree with everything that you said. I feel as Asians, we need to do our part, and if we are not able to support other communities, then it’s very hard for us to see our community grow as well.  

Bryan: (00:51:01) Before working with Tammy, I always heard the legend of Tammy was telling me, Tammy is super sweet, smart, on top of that and I was like, who’s, Tammy’s this Tammy person I keep hearing about, but you look, you definitely will live up to your reputation. It’s been a true honor to work with you and Michelle, you’re so smart, are you still sharp in every single way?

I don’t have any negative to say about you, you’re super, super honored to be working with you on this project. Yeah. One thing I’m kind of curious about too as you are accomplishing and I’m working on so many things, what is your relationship with your parents as of this point? What did he think of Tammy Cho? They look at you and be, okay, what is Tammy doing? She’s doing all these things. So, what is your relationship with your parents right now?

Tammy: (00:52:03) Thankfully, it’s good, it’s funny. I was such a good, good kid growing and then my parents never thought I was going to rebel. And then I guess my form of rebellion was starting a company and leaving school. I was saving it up for that moment. Yeah.

Tammy: (00:52:31) At this point I think my parents have given up not on me, but just on the fact of me pursuing a traditional path. I think at this point,, I remember having a conversation with my parents, less than a year ago, where they were telling me that we finally realize that we’re just from different generations and there might be more information that I know about this current generation, the current state of the world that they might not be aware of and so that they have to just trust. Yeah, that is based on the information and they’ve raised me well enough to be able to take all that in and make decisions for myself, no matter how unconventional and rebellious it may seem to them and I think, yeah, it’s been heartwarming to hear that from them and hear their encouragement.

They still occasionally ask me if I’m planning on joining Google at some point. Yeah. But generally, it’s been good.

Bryan: (00:53:44) That’s awesome to hear because my mom had a similar conversation with me and she sat down. She sat down next to me and hey son, there’s nothing I can teach you in life anymore.

The rest is up to you. I fully trust your ability and your character and your sense of righteousness to do the right things when no one’s looking and that’s powerful. And that story resonated with me a lot. It’s, almost like a handing of the baton or something next generation to have that trust and that feels great.

Yeah. I’m pretty sure, you can relate to that all my life. I’m always why are you not a doctor. Can you stop doing this and you stopped being that, but now as we have full control and it’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s also kind of scary at the same time of crap and parents have full trust in me?

Maggie: (00:54:48) I think in Asian households, it’s very often it’s common that Asian parents they want to look after us when we’re younger, right because they know that they have control over you and they have immigrated here, just left everything in their home country and they envisioning this future for their kids right but as we got older, it’s they get kind of laid back because they don’t have that much control anymore.

Bryan: (00:55:11) I’m pretty sure by the time we have kids, we’re going to be why are you not falling down this path? What are you doing in your full-time job again? I don’t get it.

Well, yeah, we’re super excited to have you in the podcast today, we learn so much about yourself so much great stories and stuff that affect people, looking up to you, and want to do the same thing with you so Tammy, what are some of the last advice that you can give to early female entrepreneurs who want to proceed down this path of entrepreneurship and the challenge of that they’re gonna face?

Tammy: (00:55:47) I think the piece of advice that we give, especially in regards to entrepreneurship generally too, is that I think it’s very important to focus on your mental health and wellness and also do some self-reflection. Yeah, about why you’re making, why you plan to do what you want to do.

Because I think oftentimes it’s easy to get caught up in what society expects of us, or we get caught up in the glamor of being a tech founder, being an entrepreneur right. I think there’s an element of glamorizing that occupation now but I think it’s really important to understand why you’re doing it and stay grounded in that because the entrepreneurial journey is a series of ups and downs, and the lows are super low right and so I think that’s important to recognize and then the second piece I would say too is to it’s challenging. I mean, I find it challenging, but to continue to practice separating, work from your sense of identity and your sense of worth.

I think especially for entrepreneurs, oftentimes we feel like if our company is not doing well, we’re not capable and we’re not enough, but the reality is that we’re making huge leaps of faith and taking risks and doing something out there right and when we’re taking these action steps and we may make mistakes along the way, but that’s just part of the journey. And we just need to acknowledge that and kind of forgive ourselves and just keep growing from it.

Maggie: (00:57:35) That’s very sound advice right there. Yeah. So how can our listeners learn more about you on social media or anywhere?

Tammy: (00:57:46) Yeah, so you can follow our social media handles for the organizations on Instagram @weareBetterBrave and then @HateisAVirus. And then my handle is at Tammy on Instagram as well. And then in terms of learning more about our organizations, you can also go to hateisavirus.org and betterbrave.org.

Maggie: (00:58:11) Amazing. Thank you so much for being on this podcast, Tammy. It was great listening to your story.

Bryan: (00:58:16) That’s awesome. Thank you so much, Tammy.

Tammy: (00:58:18) Thank you so much for having me for the honor. Yeah. And all that that you do for Asian Hustle Network. It’s just so incredible to see the community that you’ve built and just during these crazy times, too, just seeing how the community has been supportive and uplifting each other.