Chieh Huang // Ep 32 // Powerful Lessons from the Founder of a $600 Million Dollar Startup
Welcome to Episode 32 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Chieh Huang on this week's episode.
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.
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Started in Huang’s garage 5 years ago, Boxed now has hundreds of employees in facilities all over the United States. Since the garage, the company has sold hundreds of millions of dollars of products and has raised over a quarter billion dollars in funding to date.
Chieh Huang is the Co-Founder and CEO of Boxed.com, a company that is disrupting the wholesale shopping club experience by enabling you to shop for bulk-sized items online or via mobile app and have them delivered directly to your door. Forbes Magazine has named Boxed one of the next “billion-dollar startups.”
Huang’s personal honors include being named to “Bloomberg 50”, Bloomberg Businessweek’s 50 people to watch in 2018, to National Retail Federation’s list of People Shaping Retail’s Future, as one of Crain’s 40 Under 40 and Goldman Sachs’ list of “100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.” In addition, Entrepreneur Magazine included Chieh on their list of “The 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs.”
You can read more about Chieh’s story in People Magazine’s profile of him for their “American Dream” series, tracking his growth from humble beginnings to running a fast-growing online retailer. You can also catch more of him at TED.com delivering a talk about his lifelong battle against micromanagers.
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Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan.
And my name is Maggie
And 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.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi, Everyone welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast. My name is Maggie
Bryan: (00:00:26) My name is Bryan
Maggie: (00:00:28) and today we have a very special guest with us. His name is Jay pong. He is a CEO and co-founder of box post-sale box is the wholesale experience for those without the time means or patients for brick and motor warehouse club trip.
The company currently delivers to anywhere in the continental USA and has raised 300 million in funding to date in 2015, chase announced he would personally pay. For the college tuition of all of his employees, children prior to boxed, Jay was the CEO of Astro ape. One of the first mobile social gaming studios. After Zynga’s pre IPO acquisition of Astro ape, he became the director of Zynga mobile, New York. Leading the fastest and most efficient game team within Zynga, Chieh, welcome to the show.
Chieh: (00:01:12) Thanks for, uh, for having me. I’m a big fan of you guys and what you guys are up to. And so, uh, I’ve been hooked on the Facebook feed, so this’ll be pretty fun and really exciting for me personally.
Bryan: (00:01:23) Yeah. We’re super excited. You haven’t. To have you on the show. And to be honest, we spent all day, all week listening to all your interviews and learning more about you. And we’re so inspired, you know, we’re super inspired. And for our listeners, can you kind of give it like a run through of how you got into entrepreneurship because you understand that you study in law school, but how’d you get into entrepreneurship.
Chieh: (00:01:44) Yeah. That’s, that’s oftentimes like the same question that my parents have for me, cause they still want me to go back to becoming a lawyer. Um, and so, um, you know, my mom still asks me like, when am I, when am I going to get a real job? Uh, she, no, she hasn’t asked me that in probably two years now, but, uh, even probably up until two years ago, she had this like secret hope that I would go back to a law firm. Well, it was easier to explain to her friends and family and, uh, you know, obviously like being a lawyer is like, you know, it’s like a beacon of great things for her. It’s like, I’m not a doctor, uh, too bad, but he’s a lawyer. So, uh, some things, she was very proud of it like heartbroken when I left the law firm.
But, um, uh, I did leave the law firm. Um, but I did feel like though that the law, um, allowed me to, uh, not only be exposed to entrepreneurship, but also for me to be prepared for it, uh, in a little bit of a strange way. So, um, it allowed me the opportunity to be exposed to it, uh, because I was in corporate law and I remember.
After hours, and this is already pretty late because corporate attorneys, I mean, after your regular hours are already pretty brutal. Um, but staying afterwards and reviewing the documents and doing research, not on the client side, but just doing my own research on what is this business about? How did they get here? Um, I realized a lot, it was a lot of hard work by these kind of founders and these entrepreneurs. Um, it was a lot of timing and that, um, there wasn’t anything special or magical about these folks. Um, they got lucky, they have worked hard, um, and they made the right decisions. And I thought maybe I could do the same.
Bryan: (00:03:25) Yeah. We love that line. That seems to be consistent. Being within the Asian awesome network as well. Everyone’s sharing your story as a, Hey, I got into Austin ownership. A lot of it is by accident. You know, a lot of the situation is like bracelet, very similar to yourself. It’s like, I’m not happy in my current job. I don’t want to do this. I’m going to try entrepreneurship. And we tried to talk to your parents about it. It’s always this awkward conversation, including my parents do. They’re like you’re leaving or engineering jobs for a Facebook group. What does that even mean?
Chieh: (00:03:53) Totally man. I was the same way. Uh, and, um, you know, one thing I do want to kind of, um, uh, just buttoned up in terms of what I just said is, you know, I do think like understanding the law, uh, to a certain degree, right? I was only at the law firm for a few years. So our CA our legal department here thinks I’m a tourist. I’m not like, they’re like, you’re not a real attorney. Uh, and, but what it taught me was. When to know something can go really wrong and that you really need professional help or what are the things that, ah, that’s, you know, that’s really not that important.
Um, and so understanding the rules of the game, um, uh, really helped me play the game. If that makes sense.
Maggie: (00:04:36) What were you feeling at the time when you were making that jump? And what’s like one advice that you can give to the aspiring entrepreneurs and Ahn who are trying to make that jump?
Chieh: (00:04:43) There are a lot of them on the group, you know, I see it every day.
Um, And, you know, I, I, um, uh, the one thing that I will always remember is in our first company, uh, as you mentioned before, Maggie was actually a social gaming company. I quit. Uh, so I started my law firm job on September 15, 2008, uh, about nine or 10 hours after Lehman brothers collapsed one block over. Um, and so literally that was my first day of my professional life.
Um, I have my new suits, my new briefcase, my new shoes. You know, um, uh, and I walked into a building and across the, across Broadway, um, there were thousands of people streaming out of the building with banker’s boxes because they all had gotten laid off, but no, no, no warning. Um, so I tried to hold onto the job as best as I could, and I was rather successful for a few years.
And so quitting that job cold Turkey was really tough. Uh, for me, um, when I liken it to this one trip I took, when I was like in my early twenties to, to Asia, where we went, uh, we hired someone to go to take us around a little boat to go cliff diving. Um, I’m not a cliff diver, I’m a decent swimmer, but I’m not a self-tapper, I’ve never, you know, um, it take you to these little.
Like kind of random, uh, tools in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Um, this is, um, and you jump off of them all day long and it’s like the weirdest thing ever. It sounds not so attractive now that I’m older. I’m like, why would I ever do that? You know? Um, but it was really fun at the time and you go progressively higher every day.
Um, Uh, or no, every, every stop that he takes you to a bigger, a bigger one. And the last stop of the day, you’re like 40, 50 feet in the air. And you climb up this cliff and it’s rather slippery. Uh, there’s no way down. There’s literally no way down, you can’t climb. It’s more dangerous to try to climb down cause you’ll probably fall.
So you have to jump at that point. Right. And I remember looking down and seeing rocks right off the right off the edge of the cliff. So meeting that you had to jump out if you. Let yourself fall, you’re going to die or you’re going to really hurt yourself. So I was like, shit, like, this is not a good decision.
Like why, why did I do this? I screamed out at the guy who, who brought us here. I was like, you’re are you coming? He’s like, yeah, not very safe. You know? And I was like, you didn’t tell me that before we made this 40 foot ascent. Um, and so I just remember. Take a step back because you don’t get a running start, you can take a step back and then you just jump out and quitting.
The law firm job was the same feeling in the sense that as I was walking out of the door, that final evening at the law firm, it was scary until the moment you cleared the door and it was the Mo it was the same moment that I jumped off that cliff. Um, in the sense that you don’t look behind you. Like you don’t look back to the cliff and say, Oh my gosh, how do I get back up there?
And you’re just trying to make sure you hit the water right. And swim and just make sure you stay afloat. Um, and after I quit and after walking out those doors, I never looked back and I just felt like, well, all my life boats are gone, so I better just make sure I hit the water safely and just like paddle as hard, as hard as I can, um, to make it all work.
Maggie: (00:08:13) Wow. Wow. That gave me chills. I feel like that was such a good analogy. And oftentimes people look back because they think like, did I make the right decision? I regret doing that, you know, but for you, you just looked forward. That’s really inspiring.
Bryan: (00:08:24) So I can totally relate. I had the same feeling when I left my job as well.
I knew for a fact, I’ll never come back to corporate, I’m going to do whatever it takes. It keeps swimming for me. I’m still in the process of swimming. I feel like right now, I’m assuming the same spot. Not really hitting any shores or any boats to save me so I can totally relate. But it’s that feeling where you feel like money’s not everything, you know, you, you work hard and you make a really good salary and your identity is tied so much to money at a certain point.
It’s like when you left that, that’s actually the part that hurt the most was like, Dang. I can’t do things I want to do normally, you know, I can’t. Bye bye.
Chieh: (00:09:01) I, I think what I found is that, you know, I lived through the same thing you guys are living through and probably tens of thousands of people who are part of the network are living through today. What I’ve found is what’s really helpful is to remember why you made that jump. Just remember, um, remember that person, um, uh, of whatever year you guys made that jump. It was actually pretty recent, right? It was like last year, you know, it’s been amazing. The traction you guys have had. Um, so you take that moment in time and unless you feel like you guys are just idiots, which I think you’d probably have good self-confidence yourself.
There was something about that moment that made you think what you’re doing now is a great thing. And you have to always cheat track of that little, that little nugget of inspiration and think back at why are you doing this? Like, What was it about that moment that made you take such a drastic decision?
And if you trust that person, if you trust that person at that time, uh, um, that, that person is probably going to say, you know what? You got to shut the F up and keep arching. Um, uh, cause you know, if you look back and said, wow, in a year, like if you look back to yourself now and went back to. You guys back in 2019 and said, you know, year we’re going to have this many thousand subscribers.
We’re going to be having a successful podcast. You guys are like, sign me up for that. You know, that sounds pretty awesome for a year. Um, and for everyone else out there, you have to keep track of that. It’s a, you have to trust that person that made that initial leap.
Bryan: (00:10:36) Absolutely. Yeah. That’s something that we both do as well. We keep a whiteboard to keep track of our little wins, but it wasn’t, we hit like a big roadblock or big turning point. It’s like, man, like, what am I doing? This is so much pain because I can’t have it. Give me life, you know, work for someone else, not to worry about this.
Chieh: (00:10:56) The Mo the motivation changes over time. Uh, I would say, um, cause you’re exactly right. You know, when you. What’d you said before is like, when you, when you, when you first tried to break out on your own, you try to make it maybe trying to be your own boss, trying to make it financially. Um, but the irony is that after a certain amount of time, it starts to become, you keep doing it and you, you stay passionate because of the people around you, but it’s no longer about what it is, what it means for you personally anymore. It’s just like, man, I got all these people in this mess. You know, it’s my job to make sure that we get to safety and we get a great result. And, you know, that’s definitely, that’s definitely been the, the, the path that I I’ve I’ve walked. Um, cause my motivations is completely different than what it was on day one.
Bryan: (00:11:45) Yeah. I really love the CEO mindset and approach to like for your first team that you had a box, how do we keep them motivated and keep you, keep them, keep them along. The process of growth. It’s super hard to have a North star, but a lot of things that are mismatched and moving different directions, like how to keep your first thing motivated.
Chieh: (00:12:04) Yeah. I think you’ll find that I won’t be as you guys when things are hard and. You know, uh, things that when, when I’m still trying to figure things out and part of the fun of this job is work. I’m constantly learning. And part of the difficulty is that I’m constantly learning. Like we have way more people now we’re all remote. And even for me, I struggled to keep everyone motivated and kind of focus on the goal. Um, and so I can’t say I have a magic bullet there for the world today. Um, I will say though, to your question about that initial team in the initial years, Um, it was all about making folks believe that their, they sign on something special.
Um, and I, and I remember doing that for the first two or three years, um, uh, by having a company meeting every year. Um, and we would rent a movie theater, uh, show movie, let people play like. Video games on a giant movie theater screen, which is, you know, everyone’s like childhood kind of dream uh, and then we would go through the winds of the previous year.
Um, uh, and this is before we go off onto a big party, um, and the most impactful thing. Probably for the first three years we did it was that, um, the end of the slideshow, I would put up, um, these early pictures. I’m sure you’ve seen them up. Like, what did Google’s first 20 people look like? They’re all like this, the era clothing. And they’re all like, like. A lot of them is like, Oh, there were country bumpkins back then, or just college students. Um, and then you see like the early pictures of Disney and, uh, early pictures of even kind of, um, uh, um, Alibaba and Amazon, those first employees. And I snuck, I would always sneak a picture as people would go into the theater.
Um, and I still get goosebumps telling this story and I would then show that picture of everyone that day. And, and, you know, it’s, it’s very rare in life. I would tell them, and I still fundamentally believe that you are invited, uh, and in the position to be on a journey like that, um, that if we do this right, one day, there will be a movie theater of people, just like you looking at a picture.
Have you, um, and there’s not many opportunities for that in life. There’s always going to be opportunities for you to find a great job, always going to be opportunities for you to, you know, live a pretty standard life. But this is our moment. This is our shot. And so it was a very special. Team that’s going after this. And I remember people afterwards would be like, fuck. Yeah. You know, like really excited, you know? Um, it’s not as easy when you have hundreds of employees now, uh, everyone doesn’t fit in the same dictator and, you know, uh, It’s not a similar story. So the motivations, uh, or, or the, the reason of, or the way to motivate them, motivate them has had to change.
Maggie: (00:14:59) I love that. I remember Bryan and I were talking to another entrepreneur and they said that the one thing that they regret was not taking enough pictures. And those are just like the little things that are so important because as you grow and scale and become so big. Yeah. It’s like, there’s nothing to look back on. If you don’t take enough pictures. I really love that about you. Yeah.
Chieh: (00:15:18) Uh, Oh, Maggie, like I, now I have to think about not sharing this with some of our early employees now, because one of the first employees of box, the first day we started, he said, you know what? We should film all of this. Cause he was at our other company as well.
And he was like first day in the garage, all the way to an IPO, like who’s ever filmed that. And I was like, Um, that is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of it. Oh my God. Let’s get down to business. We’re not filming a reality show here. And it also the inner attorney in me thought like, you’re going to film everything. We’re going to say over the next, like how many years when I look back and had we done it, it would have been the wildest drama ever filmed. Uh, just, and not because it was us, but just any, any journey from first day to that eventually great result, I hope, um, would make for a compelling story.
And so he never lets me live that down. Um, but, uh, but yeah.
Maggie: (00:16:22) That’s awesome. So while you were starting out for box, you know, how did that inspiration come about? You know, like what kind of problem were you trying to solve? And I’m very curious to know, like, because you came from a background of law, did you have any experience in supply chain management? Like how did you know how to source all of these products at such a large quantities?
Chieh: (00:16:45) I did not. And neither did anyone on the, uh, on the founding team. And one of the first emails, uh, that we like captured within the box server. We actually show at our, uh, we actually, we haven’t showed it for a few years now, but we used to show all the time was I wrote this email to, uh, our COO saying I got the, I got the ups, sprinter working, exclamation explanation excavation, and he wrote back. Fuck. Yeah. You know, like that we had taken over the world because he got this thermal printer working and they were logistics experts. And you know, so that, that shows the base of knowledge we had. Um, we figured out a lot of it on our own, but also hired the right people a little bit before we needed them. So our VP of transportation and his interview when we propose hiring him, because he was a consultant of ours. Um, he said, you don’t need me at this point. I was like, we’re going to need your next year though. Um, and sure enough, it was a great call by us because a lot of these topics, some of the topics and businesses are very rotated.
Very well-traveled. You don’t need to learn the hard way. There’s other things. That, that no one else has invented and you have to do it yourself. Um, but some of the things like shipping transportation, that’s all been done before. So there’s no need for us to learn the hard way.
Bryan: (00:18:07) Yeah. It was really, it’s really awesome to hear and, you know, kind of going back to the entrepreneur journey as a wall and like a lot of people in Asian hustle network or trying to quit their jobs, trying to start side hustles and just people in the journey, feeling the grunt of everything.
We know, it takes a lot of grit. And entrepreneurship. How do you keep yourself motivated on a daily basis? As you mentioned before, your motivation goes in cycles. If you’re motivated some days, some days you’re like, Oh God, why am I doing this to myself? So we stopped going.
Chieh: (00:18:36) I think there’s the practical aspect of it, as well as the kind of emotional aspect of it.
The practical aspect is that everyone always, when they found their company is so focused on how am I going to raise money or is this going to work? What’s the runway for the company, but they often don’t think about what’s their personal runway. And so I’ve heard a lot of founders who, you know, didn’t think about how much savings they had either had to make big trade-offs in their lifestyle on day one, or we’re running out of cash personally after 90 days.
Try again. That’s not a real run at your dream, you know? So luckily I saved enough money at the law firm to live a. Normal lifestyle. I didn’t have to give up my apartment. I couldn’t go out as much, but I could still go hang out with friends once in a while. Um, but I had personal runway for a year. Um, um, it doesn’t have to be a year, but it has to be something where you could live with yourself.
Say I gave it a fair shot. So it’s not like you’re looking back. Look for another job after 60 days. That’s not a, that’s not a real shot. The emotional aspect of it. I’ve learned is that you have to treat it like a statistical curve and delete the outliers because I’m sure you guys have this. You have some extreme highs and extreme lows sometimes on the same damn day. Um, and you know, if you let yourself get taken on that rollercoaster ride, it’s very unhealthy emotionally and for your team. Um, and so you just have to. Make sure you don’t let yourself get too high. Don’t let yourself get too low. And it’s just one step at a time every day.
Bryan: (00:20:06) Yeah, I like that too. It’s consistency. That matters a lot too. And you know, you’re a type of person and salvage too early or gets to the press. You’re the leader. You are the brand of the company.
Chieh: (00:20:17) Totally, man. I learned that I learned it the hard way. Frank, a lot of these lessons I’ve learned the hard way, man. Like, um, like I learned because I wasn’t good at this.
And so, you know, I remember at our first company, you know, like we, I got written up in Forbes and I was like, Oh my gosh. And it was a hostile man. People downloaded the game and I was on cloud nine. And then. The next day. Oh my gosh, like downloads are going down and like there’s inner team fighting going on and then I would come home. So emotionally exhausted that there’s no way in that emotional state. I could have kept that up for a decade plus. It just, there’s just a way. Um, so luckily I learned this time, just, just keep marching. Don’t let yourself believe you. Don’t BS when it gets great. And don’t let yourself get too low if it’s not going on.
Maggie: (00:21:11) Right, right, right. Yeah. And that’s great leadership skills too, because all of your employees are looking to you for. Some type of leadership, you know, which direction to go in. And if they see that, you know, you become super emotional based on the rollercoaster that you’re on every single day, they follow in those footsteps as well.
Chieh: (00:21:26) Yeah. Th that’s that’s still right back. So it’s, it’s more, I would say like steady optimism. Yeah, no, we’re stable. Optimism is probably, you know, what I found to be the most effective.
Bryan: (00:21:39) Yeah. Yeah. So we saw an article, I think about two years ago about you rejecting Kroger’s offer for 400 million and raises $111 million.
What was going through your mind at the time, this one year again?
Maggie: (00:21:54) What made you come to that decision? Because yeah, like Bryan said that is life-changing money and for a lot of people for a hundred million. The first thought of it. They’ll just be like, Oh yeah, for sure.
Chieh: (00:22:05) This, uh, this ride isn’t over yet. So I wouldn’t go and call it the best decision ever just yet. You know, we’ll see how this ends up. Um, but you know, I think there’s like technical reasons why it didn’t work. And then. Also other reasons if just us wanting to continue to March, um, we just felt like, you know, as a team, um, some of the options that were kind of, uh, potentially there for us, uh, and, and had been there for us, just did it just, it wouldn’t have felt right if we had done it at that time.
So, um, So luckily, you know, not the, what I say, luckily now, you know, we are still an independent company, so we’ll see how this next year shakes up. Um, but you know, if we had, if we had sold the company earlier, in some ways, yeah. My life probably would have been different other ways. Um, I dunno, maybe I’ll be kicking myself right now. It’s like, man, I was, I was three years of four years before this. This a screen environment where suddenly e-commerce grocery is the hottest thing ever. Um, so you never know. Uh, but again, I just a day at a time, so that, that’s how I take it.
Bryan: (00:23:13) Yeah. We can really respect that decision when you love it. You smile when you read it or like, wow, this is awesome. But if you take a step back and go back to your early days of fundraising now, what was that process like? Did you know investors arrayed? Did you DM people on LinkedIn? A lot of people, this is inside of Asian last networks. I’ll always ask them. This is my idea. This is my pitch. Where can I find investors? I can’t find any investors, but how’d you get started?
Chieh: (00:23:41) Um, I, so I think the, I, I don’t think box is very indicative of kind of how it. Usually it’s raising money. I think we had an unfair advantage. So. Um, I’m so glad you started before Maggie on kind of Astro ape, because we had a good result. Um, we required Zynga IPO.
Of course the IPO collapsed, uh, but still successful outcome for just about everyone involved. Um, And so that, so you then are able to pick up investors, willing to write a blank check. Um, so, or, or a blind check, like whatever you do next here’s 500 grand or here’s 300 grand. Good luck. I’m sure. You’ll figure it out.
Um, it wasn’t that easy for the gaming company though. Um, um, and so I think the key there first is finding the right idea, making sure it’s the right time for that idea. Um, so, um, that’s number one because the right idea is not just a problem people have, but it’s a problem that potentially tens of millions of people around the world. If not hundreds of millions have, because every venture capitalist is going to do the math. Okay. You take a standard online product. You whittle it down to conversion rates that are pretty realistic in this industry. And if you start with a problem that, you know, 10,000 people have, and without a doubt, it’s like you can’t build a funded business off 5,000 customers, you know, um, or even like, you know, 10,000 customers, you know? So, um, so that, uh, that is also something people have to look for. Um, actually getting in touch with VCs is easier and easier these days. Um, my advice is that VCs, from what I’ve learned, um, they have a sort of certain filter themselves. So meaning that warm intros from other entrepreneurs that they have already invested.
Usually comes at the top of the pile. They’re like, okay, if you think this is a great idea and you like these folks sure. I’ll, I’ll take an intro. Um, then comes a, um, sometimes advisors, so a higher profile or a specialized that venture capital, like attorneys or accountants in a certain way, they’re taking, uh, they’re making a bet on you that you’re going to be able to pay that professional services bill.
Um, and so they pre-screen. A lot of these big Silicon Valley firms, pre-screened who they’re going to represent. So my why is very, uh, it’s different, uh, for box like my wife or box has changed over time. So when we first started my, why was, you know, that was a big opportunity. It could build a big, awesome company, um, you know, financially it would be awesome as well.
Uh, and that’s kind of why you do it. Um, and then over time, probably by the second or third year, as we hired more and more folks, especially in the fulfillment center, my why started to become making sure that everyone that had trusted me with their livelihoods and their careers, didn’t misplace that trust.
Um, And so I would imagine founders and executives who have been at a company after a certain amount of time, it’s no longer about the financials. Um, cause you could probably get the economics are better economics elsewhere. Um, it’s just more about the people around you. Um, I think my personal, why is still around? Just, I don’t know, maybe it’s a quaint belief just to that each generation. Should just build upon what a previous generation has kind of built. And so in a little, little bit of ways, it’s like a, why not for me, like when my parents came, you know, um, you know, language wasn’t, wasn’t high on their list of, of capabilities or abilities.
Um, didn’t know anyone really here. And so if they could be decently successful over time, then like my excuses having kind of, you know, or being a native English speaker and understanding the systems, uh, having a law degree, like you start to dwindle. Why not? You know, like I don’t have any many excuses for not to be quote unquote successful. So, uh, I think that’s how I’d answer that question.
Bryan: (00:27:51) Yeah. That’s, that’s a really good answer. And your why me, a lot of people. Within the Asian community and especially Asian Hustle network always struggle with that word. You know, what is our, why? Most of our, why growing up is like getting straight A’s or satisfying your parents or keeping our head down, working really hard. And it’s really interesting to hear how that Y has changed her, you know, Asian leaders, especially people are born in America or Western countries because our why is dramatically different. You know?
Chieh: (00:28:22) I do think so. And I think. Maybe the reason why I have been, so I continued to be passionate is that I think if money and economics is the only thing you’re chasing, it’s, it’s really tough unless you really want money. You know, I think all of our. Reasons for living and reasons for trying hard and like trying to be successful change over time. And so if you’re, if your also goal is just to make a lot of money, I think it gets tiring over time and, and you know, it’s, it’s not, it’s probably not the right motivation for a marathon.
Maggie: (00:28:57) Yeah, absolutely agree. I think a lot of people go into entrepreneurship with that, with that perception. And they’re never, ever really happy because there’s always going to be a bigger goal. You know, they’re always going to want to become more rich, but it sounds like, you know, you have other goals besides just money and economics, you know, you obviously treat your employees really well. And, you know, we see that everywhere. We said, and like every podcast and every interview that you go through and, you know, everyone knows that you treat your employees really well. And that’s like part of your business model. Um, can you talk a little bit about that? Like, you know, what, the types of things that you did for your employees and why you did those.
Bryan: (00:29:34) Yeah. And to follow with Maggie’s question this wall, we’re watching videos about you not hiring jerks or gearing the executives. Let’s talk a little more about that as well.
Chieh: (00:29:45) Yeah. It’s it’s um, Uh, um, you know, when it comes to what we do for, uh, for our team here, um, I start off with the core tenant that I honestly believe that if I got hit by a bus, as I, as I leave the, this building today, you know what, like people who have ordered on box, you’re still going to get your order and you know, what, like better or worse, uh, you know, they’re going to backfill me.
They’re going to find another. Great, uh, great CEO. Um, and, and you know what life will go on? I think so. Um, when it comes to, um, the rest of the team, if the fulfillment center employees and the rest of the company all walked out today, no one listening to this podcast right now is ever going to get there.
And so believing that those folks are. In a lot of ways, more, collectively, more important than me. Like we start off there. Um, and so we then start with smaller things we can do that really are passable for them. One free health insurance. If you are a W2 corporate, or if you’re a W2 employee, if you’re on the box team and you’re in the fulfillment centers or anywhere you have access to a free tier of health insurance.
Um, having access to an emergency fund. So 500 bucks, like if you suddenly get presented with a bill, um, you know, if you’re making a and a decent, hourly wage, you don’t, you’re probably trying to make it yeah. It’s meat and suddenly be presented with a $500 bill for whatever expense. It’s going to be hard to, to kind of put that on the table out of your own pocket. Um, but what’s interesting is that we haven’t found abuse of those programs. So, um, You know, that $500 program you would think it’s shit, it’s a, no-brainer it probably 90% draw down that 500 bucks. Why one day actually I think the numbers between 10 to 20% have tapped into it. So, because they know it’s like, as long as people don’t abuse, it, it’s there for them in that time of need and emergency.
If everyone abused it, then it’s, you know, we just probably couldn’t sustain it and that it would go away for everyone. So it’s been really interesting. And then the bigger stuff is. Life-changing benefits, like, you know, like whether it’s college tuition or, you know, people have pegged it as the wedding benefits.
Yes. You can get life-changing benefits include a wedding. So you’ve been with us. Yes. We will pay for that. Um, but actually what people don’t really report on is that, you know, a lot of folks use it for medical bills. Um, and like, And things like that, which are also life changing. So, um, so it’s, it’s a, it’s a double-edged sword, I think.
Bryan: (00:32:22) Yeah. I mean, I think that just having the employee’s interests, uh, at that, but Greg at the priorities is awesome, you know? Cause they, they do make up your company and yeah. You know, as, as a leader, it’s kind of unfortunate that you’re writing, you can do a place, but at the same time, it’s like, you can’t discredit yourself either, but it’s being built around your vision and your why and your why is to take care of everyone and that’s going to be sustainable within the organization.
Chieh: (00:32:51) That’s right. Um, and if you think about like, I guess for a lot of folks listening, you know, generally first-generation coming to the U S like, you have pretty tough times, you know? And so remembering that and trying to rectify that, I guess, has been the chip on my shoulder, or as long as I can tell, you know? And so, and so now that I am in a. Position where we do lead a company of hundreds of folks, um, that, you know, I do my little part up just making sure that, you know, some of the things that I didn’t appreciate that were happening to my parents don’t happen to someone else’s parents. And, you know, it’s a very simple why, but, um, a very hard one to achieve oftentimes.
Bryan: (00:33:31) Yeah, absolutely. I agree. And just to follow up with Maggie’s question too, when you’re finding your employees, especially your executives, what are some qualities that you tend to look for when you’re hiring?
Chieh: (00:48:16) Uh, first and foremost, there is a very strict, no asshole policy and box selfishly. I mean, you guys know this, right? You probably spend more time with your coworkers. Like you guys spend more time with each other. They’re probably your friends or family. Like waking hours, that’s the ultimate reality of work. Right. Um, and so selfishly, I just don’t want to spend time with people that are jerks. It’s just like why? Um, but that doesn’t mean like we only hire nice people or like we accept people who are incapable, um, So it is one of the, you know, I think there are capable people out there that are not jerks and not assholes.
And those are the folks we try to hire.
Maggie: (00:34:25) Oh, definitely.
Bryan: (00:34:26) They’re rare.
Maggie: (00:34:30) Some people actually love drugs because they’re like, I don’t care how they act. They just get stuff done, but it is super hard to work with a jerk every single day.
Chieh: (00:34:38) Yeah. Actually on that point, Maggie, I don’t like, so we have. Probably a lot of, some of our engineers, they don’t really talk to anyone. They come in and do their job.
They’re not interested in having a drink after work. They’re not interested in having coffee with you. That’s perfectly fine with me as all of that. You know, as long as you’re not like nasty to other, other team members, that’s all I’m looking for, you know? Um, And so it is that fine line though, when you’re interviewing for folks, because when you are interviewing no one, you can’t ask them, are you an asshole? No. Whatever some people will do, probably they’re like, but in general it is hard to, to. To find out by just asking them.
Maggie: (00:35:17) that’s where your emotional intelligence comes from and yeah. To play.
Bryan: (00:35:21) Yeah. So if you shift gears a little bit and kind of focus on the people in Asia hustle network, I mean, as you mentioned before, earlier in the early in the podcast, a lot of people in the network are trying to start a company trying to execute, and there are different ideas, but a lot of them have a job. Now, what is your attempt and advice for people who still have jobs that want to. Pursue their side hustle, but don’t know if they are willing to do it or you’re passionate to do it.
Chieh: (00:35:49) A, you know, what’s interesting about that question is that a significant amount of Americans have side hustle. Um, it is a shocking percentage. Um, that is eluding me right now. That’s why people are probably listening. Like, well, what’s the percentage. It’s big, everyone fire up Google right now. It is. It’s pretty big. Um, very shocking. Um, but you know, I think there is a very significant amount of Americans. If you Google it that have a side hustle, um, what you find is that, so what, having a side hustle isn’t unique and it’s actually probably.
The norm these days, you know, especially in, you know, how the media portrays kind of starting your own business and, and branching off on your own and the hustle in general. Um, I think what’s really important is to, you know, for the folks that have those shots on goal that are a little bit. Freer or cheaper than others take them.
So meaning if you’re listening to this and you’re a student, your side hustle is basically like, if you fail your side hustle, there are no repercussions, you know? And so, um, uh, so definitely if you find yourself in that position, you should take your shot. Uh, for the folks that have graduated have actually are supporting families or having are supporting a family.
That’s okay as well. Um, I think at some point in time, The only thing that is sure for all of us is that if it’s successful, you will have to make a leap of faith into making your side hustle, your full-time hustle. Um, and I think the right moment is always an illusion. Like it’s just like just one more client or, you know, just one more month of positive sales, like then I’ll quit my job. And my side hustle will be there. I think at the end of the day, You know, it’s kind of that cliff diving example, like you’re just going to have to make that leap one day and there will never be a hundred percent smooth transition.
Bryan: (00:37:44) Yeah. And we definitely want to hear this part from you as well. A lot of people are scared to make that jump. And when you look at people like yourself or listen to people like yourself, no, I he’s probably fearless. He’s never, you know, he cares he could do it. He maybe has some sort of super powers that I don’t have. I just want you to reiterate that it’s okay to be scared and uncomfortable and that’s normal.
Chieh: (00:38:09) It’s normal. Like, yeah. I think, um, the reason why I made that jump was, um, being at the law firm and staying late and looking and reading about some of the clients that were very successful. I realized that there were smart people, um, that took a risk at the right time. And they were in the right place that I think that is a common theme. Um, I have a lot of respect for a lot of those businesses. We represented. Um, I don’t purport to have super powers. I don’t think anyone else does either. I think a lot of it is timing, luck, hard work and just risk tolerance. Um, and so when you think about it, like those are very uncertain things that you don’t have a lot of control over, like risk tolerance, you know, like luck. Timing. And so as a biological being like we are, those are the things that actually scare us, you know? Um, so it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be nervous and anxious. If you’re not, then I would question like, if your heart is beating, like, you know, or if you’re just lying, you know, so all of us feel it. So I think it’s fine. It’s normal.
Bryan: (00:39:17) Yeah. That’s so powerful for our listeners to hear, because when you talk to people in the community or. Anyone who wants to get started to is doubt themselves. Like maybe I can’t hear it because I’m not capable. Maybe someone else has special edge or a different mindset, or you just don’t use scary, but whom I so scared to make that job, then that’s really powerful for you to say that it’s okay to be uncomfortable.
Maggie: (00:39:40) Yeah. I resonate with that all a lot. Um, Chieh, and how you mentioned about it’s a mixture of luck and hard work and timing. Right. That’s so accurate because some people think it’s all hard work and then some people think it’s all right, right.
Bryan: (00:39:57) You have a rich daddy.
Maggie: (00:39:58) Like if you look at like bill Gates, right.
He had so many opportunities, timings timing was right there. Just like entrepreneurs who have the exact flight timing for those opportunities to happen. And I think some people get tripped up about that because they think, Oh, if I don’t have the right timing, maybe I missed my train. You know, maybe like I can just give up, right. Because I already missed that train. Like just to give up on everything. But at the same time, it’s like, why don’t you jump right into it as soon as possible. Right. So that you open up the doors for you to like see opportunities at every perspective. And I think like the faster that you’re able to make that jump, then it’s like law of attraction, right? Like you’re at like we’re actively trying to look for opportunities and those opportunities will come to you.
Chieh: (00:40:47) Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That’s right. And you know, if you think about the world today, how fast it’s changing, like, think about how much shit has happened in 2020, like entrepreneurs, like in a lot of ways you got like, we’re all like traders in a sense that, uh, traders don’t make money.
If there’s no volatility in the market, If everything’s very stable, the big companies remain big, then there’s no opportunity for us, but all of this uncertainty creates a lot of opportunity. Um, uh, it creates new markets, creates new demand, uh, changing kind of formats of demands. And. If you’re digitally savvy, if you’re doing a tech business or if you’re savvy in your own right.
And whatever industry you’re in, um, chances are like, you probably have ideas and kind of the wherewithal to make it happen more so than the incumbents. And it’s just, and then, but you just have to make that leap at one time.
Bryan: (00:41:44) Definitely. I’m kind of curious too, like, how do you view failure and you know, Asian culture, we are perfectionist. You want to have things done a certain way and become successful. So a lot of us don’t make that jump. That’s really scared of failure. Uh, but in actuality, you know, I’ll be entrepreneur and I’m pretty sure you can kind of speak on this as well. So you draw into every experience in your life. Good and bad. To, to form who, what you want to do at your company, the vision, like, what is that, what is that going to happen? You know? So how do you currently view failure and how has helped you grow Boston to the company? It is today.
Chieh: (00:42:18) I, um, so first this might be controversial, but, um, you know, there’s like, I think the prevailing wisdom is that, you know, failure is celebrated, uh, in the technology world.
I that’s bullshit, man. Like, I don’t know. I’ve never gone to meetings or other folks are just like, that’s a great L you put up, you know, like, you know, all the way into the sunset, you know, like LLL, you know, Um, it sucks. Like we failed in projects and, you know, I’ve, I I’ve done a lot of things that haven’t been successful and it doesn’t feel good, you know?
And so that’s one myth I do want to dispel, at least from a personal standpoint, I don’t like failing. What I will say though, is that I have, I learn way more in my kind of unsuccessful attempts at things and I have in my successful attempts. Um, and so I would say box could not. Could not have scaled to where it was today, if, if this was our first venture, because I learned so much that, so many things that we did wrong in our first venture that I’m like, wow, I would never do that again.
Well, I won’t do that again. And then we went to Zynga, you know, seeing the crazy IPO, then an IPO that. Busted. I learned a lot from that too. And so I think failure, isn’t fun, you know, I don’t think it’s really celebrated, but the lessons are really important and here’s how I would describe failure and the importance of it.
Maggie: (00:43:49) Yeah. Um, I’m very curious. How do you view competition and how do you manage to stay on top despite so much competition in this space?
Chieh: (00:43:59) There’s a lot of ways, like, you know, social, mobile gaming and like, yeah. You know, e-commerce like, like consumables, e-commerce like one of our investors who’s known us across both companies as was like, you guys really like paint, don’t you?
Like, why don’t you fix it? But, uh, I think competition is ever-present. I think it’s like a sliding scale, right? It’s like you pick most likely if you pick markets that are less competitive, it’s probably less of a Tam. And just probably not as many people going after it. There’s probably certain reasons.
Unless sometimes you find something you truly invent the future. Um, but if you go after markets that are very competitive, Uh, to a certain extent, I actually think it’s also, you know, it’s also competitive because of Tam and the opportunity is probably huge. Uh, and so it’s trying to find that balance.
Now, I would say with what we do at box probably skews pretty far towards that red line of like, Hey, hello, there’s some like in your market, there’s some of the biggest companies on the face of the earth, they compete against you. Um, but at the same time, look at us like, you know, from $40,000 in sales from the first year to hundreds of millions of dollars, just to use later, Like, you know, competition is tough, it’s beers, but it’s also allowed us to get to a certain scale, um, pretty quickly.
Bryan: (00:45:16) Definitely. That’s uh, that’s, that’s really awesome to hear about competition. And I just want to take one step back, then understand what is your turning point of everything where, you know, you’re working your corporate job and one day you just wake up and be like, Um, now what I want to do, you have like, uh, your life crisis in place and you start, start evaluating your life with their perspective. This is my legacy. Like, what was that screen important like for you? And what age is that happening for you?
Chieh: (00:45:48) You know, it’s probably when I left the law firms, so 20, 25, 27 or 28, when I left the law firm, I had the turning point. And from a technical perspective was when I had a year of runway personal runway. I saved a year where I could keep my apartment in and I live a normal life. Um, well, keep my lifestyle. How about that? You know? Um, and then I think the other turning point for me was that man, like the path I’m on, can you life? But I dunno if it’s going to be an enjoyable life for me, it’s not the life I want.
Like being a corner office, law firm partner is going to be a great life and a respectable one, but that’s just not what I wanted in the end. And so I knew like the longer I was staying, like diminishing rate of return, like I was learning and like, what. Over time. It’s like, what am I gonna do? Say another six years? Like, and you know what I get out of that, like, I’ll know how to do my own IPO, no one ever does their own IPO, no matter how skilled you are, you know? So it’s like heavily diminishing rate of returns, at least for me going into my third year at the law firm. So, um, so that was a turning point for me, pretty technical.
Um, I’m sorry that wasn’t a very inspiring kind of message to everyone, but for me it was very technical. It was like, I got a year of savings. I got all, I think I’m going to get from a law firm. That’s going to be useful for me. Um, and so time to move on to something I’m passionate about.
Bryan: (00:47:15) Yeah. I love that to you. And I can totally relate to that statement as well. I saved up for about a year. That has made sure that I hadn’t supple hundreds of thousand hundred, a thousand dollars coming in from cashflow rental car, because I was purposely invested into rental properties free up my time. So I knew I, I haven’t taught them like type of guy that.
Jumped into entrepreneurship will times. But the reason why I kept failing is because I’m like, Oh no, I need to pay my bills. It’s two months later,
Chieh: (00:45:48) your dad is a thing, man. That is a lot of folks don’t realize that is that, you know, you always get asked like what your company runway is, but like, you gotta think about what your personal runway is because there’s no better way to Make a shitty decision than to be influenced by your own personal like runway, like shortening. I think you’re going to make probably suboptimal decisions if that’s the case.
Bryan: (00:48:07) Yeah. Because it fuzzies your mind that you can’t really think clear and you always have to think about your livelihood and you can’t take those risks that you need to in order to become successful.
Chieh: (00:45:48) Yeah. I, you know, so I remember. The first month after I quit my job, you know, thinking that I have 12 full months at this, like, I was like, well, just going, um, I didn’t even think about it, you know? So it was just like, so luckily we raised money after probably three months or so three to four months at it.
So it never, then it just became, you know, I, I actually paid myself a salary, et cetera, but, you know, luckily I didn’t even think about it because I knew I had a full year to go after it. And then actually if a full year didn’t work out or it’s not going anywhere. Then at least in my mind, I was, this was a personal preference. I thought I gave it a shot. Like if I’m in a rocking chair, like in 80 years, I could say, nah, I quit my job. I’ve spent a burn through a years of savings to do this, and it didn’t work out. So, you know, just didn’t work out for me.
Maggie: (00:49:05) Great advice. So when you’re a savings, I’ll take your word for a change. I’ll blame you. If I don’t succeed in one year, I just kidding.
Chieh: (00:49:14) He wants two years. Some people have six months it’s whatever, whatever you feel like is a straight faced answer to you.
Maggie: (00:49:22) Amazing. I love the advice. Um, so what is one final advice that you can give to an aspiring entrepreneur? If you can put it in like one sentence or one paragraph, what would that be?
Chieh: (00:49:14) Ooh. Very good question. I would say leave it all on the court. So meaning that what I learned being. So at our first company, I was so stressed. I slept, I was thinking about it. I was up late at night, waking up at 2:00 AM, checking emails. It’s like, it’s a vicious cycle of like, not getting good sleep and just being stressed. It you’ll burn out pretty quickly. Um, and so you have to learn to leave it all on the court, as they say, you know, just like try your hardest during the working hours, whatever your working hours are. Then you need to take care of yourself, shut it down for the night, get that night’s sleep and go after it with the same fervor every day.
Cause it’s a marathon. Um, and, and I think that is the only reason that I’ve been able to last now, almost, almost going into eight years at this job. Um, being full speed every day is that, you know, at night I sleep quite well. Cause I’m like, ain’t nothing I could do at 3:00 AM to change the outcome in our business. And in fact, I’m probably going to make pretty terrible decisions at 3:00 AM, you know, and piss off all my other coworkers. Like if they get it, if they get the email, they have to decide there to respond to this crazy dude at 3:00 AM. So I’m like that. I’d say, no, I’m not in bed by nine. So I’m not saying that you could do it like a nine to five have dinner and you’re being fed by nine.
No, but you know, you have to take care of yourself and leave it all on the court and just, you know, get a good night’s rest.
Bryan: (00:51:07) That’s a great, great advice, but a lot of people have, are just like all in entrepreneurship, six hours a week, 70 hours a week, 80 hours a week. It’s my business, you know?
Maggie: (00:51:22) Um, well, it was amazing hearing your story Chieh. Thank you so much for sharing everything about box, your own story, your personal life, um, and how you got so successful. Is there any way that our listeners can reach out to you or learn more about you?
Chieh: (00:51:35) Yeah. Um, you know, follow me on Twitter. I’m an Astro Che.
Um, I’m on LinkedIn. I don’t get to all my LinkedIn invites, uh, but, uh, I’m pretty easy to find across the internet. So, um, and then, you know, we talked a lot about career changes. Um, I streamless bug, I’ve done two tech, Ted talks out. What about micro-managing? Which, um, uh, probably everyone here as a founder will know that it’s very tempting to be a micromanager. And then the other one’s about career changes. So look it up on ted.com and you can see my ugly mug
Maggie: (00:52:08) and I can vouch for that Ted talk. It was so good. Both of them. It was so funny. You should have considered a stand-up comedy because I will so awesome. Well, thank you so much jails. Awesome. Having you on the show.
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