Nick Chen // Ep 49 // The Case for Taking Venture Capital

Welcome to Episode 49 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Nick Chen 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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Nick Chen is a product designer and the co-founder and CEO of Pico, a business platform empowering experts to sell information and ideas online. Named to the Forbes 30 Under 30, Nick started the company with childhood friend and Stanford classmate Jason Bade, primarily out of a deep concern for the sustainability of the Fourth Estate, a core pillar of our democracy that is dependent on journalists like Nick’s sister, CNN national correspondent Natasha Chen. Outside of working on Pico, Nick sings in the NYC a cappella group The Workshop.

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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. Today. We have a very special guest. Guest with us. His name is Nick Chen. Nick is a product designer and the co-founder and CEO of Pico, a business platform, empowering experts to sell information and ideas online named to the Forbes. 30 under 30 Nick started the company with his childhood friend and Stanford classmate. Jason, bayed primarily out of a deep concern for the sustainability of the fourth estate, a core pillar of our democracy that is dependent on journalists. Like Nick’s sister CNN national correspondent, Natasha Chen, outside of working on Pico and Nick sings in the New York city acapella group. The workshop, Nick. Welcome. See the show.

Nick: (00:01:05)  Thank you. Thanks for having me.


Bryan: (00:01:09) Yeah, we’re excited to have you on Nick. So let’s hop brains here. Where’d you grow up? And what was your upbringing? The way

Nick: (00:01:15) I grew up in the Bay area, I grew up in foster city, uh, like. The most suburby of suburbs in the Bay area is when I, when I was growing up there, I think it was one third Asian, I think these days it’s probably close to half Asian. So yeah, it was, it was a great upbringing, you know, I, I felt. Very safe. Um, you know, it’s one of those, uh, cul-de-sacs that I lived on that where you could, you know, learn to ride a bike, uh, very, very picturesque in that sense. Uh, it was a great upbringing, uh, got, got exposed to many different, uh, cultures, uh, uh, the arts, um, and everything else you could wish for.


Maggie: (00:02:02)Yeah, that’s amazing. And so talk a little bit about your family and, you know, your relationship with your family, your parents, like what kind of expectations did you have both years? That’s very rare to see, you know, especially just seeing like your Twitter too, like how you guys have each other on your bios. I love that. Yeah. We’d love to hear more about your relationship with your family.


Nick: (00:02:30) Yeah, we’re all very close. Uh, love my sister. Of course. Uh, we, uh, you know, in terms of expectations, I think you said that word, right? I’m not, I’m not projecting here. Um, you know, I, I, I have to give my parents a lot of credit. Uh, they, they, they’re quite different from a lot of other. Asian parents. Uh, and in that they, they didn’t expect us, uh, to, to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, whatnot. Uh, they, they did not, they did not hammer that into our brains from an early age. Um, so generally my sister and I felt very free to explore, uh, different studies and, um, and, and really we weren’t. Ever blocked from doing what we really loved. I think that was, that was extremely important. Um, interests. Music being one of those things. Uh, my, my, my, my parents met in a choir in college, so, uh, they had no excuse on that front. They had to let us pursue that. Um, sister and I are both singers as well. Um, yeah, so, you know, very supportive family, which is. I guess how you ended up with, uh, one, one of us doing journalism and another doing design, you know, we, uh, I feel very grateful that we were able to pursue some nontraditional careers.


Bryan: (00:04:04) Yeah. I mean, walk us through your career track too. Like we see that, you know, you got your first internship in between junior and senior year of high school. I w what, how did that happen? Like it, what was there. I mean, a lot of people will start to internship process like near second or third year in college. But you started yours in the middle of high school. Like what are your impression on the way that you view the world in the work world?


Nick: (00:04:27) Oh, I, I feel really guilty about that, to be honest, uh, in, you know, I, I have to admit I’ve never. Worked a, uh, you know, like a hard labor kind of job standing up all day at a Starbucks or cold stone. Uh, like a lot of my friends. Did I always feel guilty about that? Not having the service, uh, experience? Um, yeah. You know, my first job was in a cubicle and, and many jobs thereafter. Um, you know, so. Yeah. And I should say that I got that because my uncle was a CEO. So right there, the, you know, for anyone who who’s raising kids and thinking, Oh gosh, am I doing a bad job? No. I mean, like I had a totally unfair advantage. Um, but I would say that. Around middle school. That’s um, that’s when I really started to get interested in design. Um, I drew a lot as a kid. I love drawing cars and when I was an elementary school student, uh, so I think that it was not a huge surprise to me, but I really was drawn to design in middle school, um, product design and, uh, you know, w without. Engineering or business expertise at that point, really the easiest way to express that interest is through marketing. So a lot of my early internships were around marketing. And how do you design an interesting brand? How do you, um, you know, thinking about, uh, uh, copywriting, you know, wordsmithing, uh, designing language around the brand, uh, I, that was. For me, the, the lowest hanging fruit possible, given my limited skillset. Um, and then eventually, you know, I studied product design in college and, and, uh, I was able to, uh, work on both. Physical products and software products. 


Bryan: (00:06:27) Ah, that’s, that’s really awesome.


Maggie: (00:06:28) Yeah. That’s amazing. I, yeah, I definitely agree. Like, you know, you definitely had an advantage, but you use that advantage and you know, you created opportunities for yourself and, you know, I think that it’s amazing. It’s amazing that you took that internship and actually, you know, went into different design roles thereafter.


Bryan: (00:06:47) Yeah. I mean, I mean, a lot of people are, are always surrounded by opportunities, but he never recognize it. But the fact that you have your own separate ambition and you know, what you wanted to do, you know, I mean, you made the best of your situations and that’s, that’s completely appropriate to you. And out of curiosity, you know, like let’s talk a little bit more about you getting entrepreneurial courage to like start your own company. Like, cause it’s not an easy jump. It’s an extremely difficult job. You know, like what kind of preparation did you do in advance before? You’re like, Hey, I’m gonna do a startup one day and this is how I’m going to get there.


Maggie: (00:07:23) Yeah. Did you always have that kind of mentality? Like you wanted to be an entrepreneur or did it kinda come about as you were going through your roles in design and consulting?


Nick: (00:07:34) Always, I always knew. Hmm. You know, I mentioned, I like drawing cars when I was still in elementary school, like fourth, fifth grade. I was just drawing cars nonstop. Uh, and to this day I can still name every car on the street. It’s like a tumor in my brain. Um, uh, I really thought I was going to start my own car company. That was my dream in fourth grade. And the only thing that was a hang up for me was like, Chen. That sounds kind of funny as a car company named, but I mean, I guess Henry Ford did that. So, you know, I think that was also a moment when I kind of, um, I was like facing the reality of, of how foreign my name is and, and, and really coming to terms with this, uh, you know, immigrant experience, I guess. Um, but, uh, that, that was. When I got bitten by the bug, by the entrepreneurial bug, I wanted to start, start a car company. And that actually lasted for quite a long time. I remember even in my college application essays, I was talking about how I wanted to start a car company. Except at that point, it was specifically a solar car company. Uh, I should’ve thought more broadly and, and said electric, but I, I’m not the visionary that Elon Musk is, I guess. Um, yeah. And, and, you know, I, uh, in middle school, I, I mentioned that’s when I really started getting into design. Uh, I got into design because I. Found out about Apple and that I already had that bug. And it just intensified at that point, uh, learning about Steve jobs about his story, uh, learning about Johnny I’ve. Um, I, I just became obsessed with this idea of, uh, design driven entrepreneurship.


Maggie: (00:09:37) Awesome. That’s amazing. And so let’s talk a little bit about Pico and what the inspiration behind Pico was. I know in 2016, that’s when you started the company, but it was actually called a penny pass before. Right. And so how did, um, that kind of transition happen from penny pass to,


Nick: (00:09:58) okay. Well, Uh, I, and I’ll say that the, the inspiration for penny pass is still very much the same inspiration for Pico. So even though it was a big name, change, a big product change, um, It th the fundamentals are still the same. Uh, and they’re the same because, and if anything, this is what I’m most proud of that my co-founder and I made sure to start this company, whether penny pass or Pico, uh, based on a problem and not a solution. Right. Which I think is a classic mistake, a lot of folks might make is they, they think, Oh, this is a brilliant invention. I have. Well, rarely does that. Workout on the first attempt. Right? And so the only way to make sure that it’s a lasting idea is to make sure that there’s a, a, an unshakeable fundamental user need that you’re solving. And for us, it was the fact that the entire media industry seemed to be falling off a cliff. Uh, no one could figure out how to make money in the 21st century. Right. You know, this industry had invented. Advertising. The very concept of advertising was invented by newspapers, which is kind of insane to think about. It was invented in the 18 hundreds. And now for 150 plus years, they made a killing. I mean the eighties, nineties, they, they were, uh, at, at the height of it all. Uh, and then Google and Facebook came along, built a superior ad product, uh, and killed them. So that’s what we were solving for. Like that, to me is a really interesting problem. Right. Um, I mean the first, the question is, well, are we okay with that problem? Can that just continue happening to it’s complete demise? Uh, no, no, no, we cannot. Right. Uh, I, I think, um, it, it’s pretty clear that we all depend on this information and content more broadly. Uh, so, you know, we, we drew out several possibilities. What, where do we go from here? Well, one possibility is that these companies that created the better ad products, Facebook, Google, maybe they’re going to create all the content there is in the world from now on, right? And it’s this, it follows this theory that whoever’s best at advertising becomes the content creator. Uh, or the content creators, just figure out a new way to make money. And so we bet on the ladder because it’s, it’s just fundamentally a very different job to be done. Facebook and Google are not content creators. They’re content curators. Right. They’re just hosting the content that you and I are making. Right. So anyways, long story short that’s we, we knew that was the inevitable future, an unshakable truth. So as long as we stuck to that, then we could survive any kind of product or solution pivot. Right. And that’s what happened. We, the first idea we had was wrong. You started with penny pass and as we thought, okay, the solution is pay per article. Or pay per podcast, pay per video. And we’re going to use a points system, um, similar to data, how you have megabytes gigabytes every month to, to spend down on your data plan. You’d have points every month that you spend down on content, right? That’s the future we envision. Well, it was overly specific. And, uh, and what we realized is that the future of media of content is, is just. Incredibly diverse, uh, diverse, not only in, in terms of who’s making the content, but in how these content creators want to monetize what they’re doing. Some of them don’t ever want to charge for access to the content. Maybe they want to charge for experiences around it. Events. Right. So I’m going to sell tickets to events for my readers to meet up every once in a while. Um, or I’m just got a really cool brand around my content. I’m gonna sell merch. I’m gonna sell swag. Great. Right. So why should we stop them? And so we took a step back. We zoomed out and we decided to repurpose penny pass into a more extensible platform. One that could allow any creator to pursue any business model. With the focus really being on enabling independence. Let let’s help you. You, you, with your creative mind become an independent business and to own your own audience, right? Get, get rid of the, your dependencies on, on the platform of the day, whether it’s Facebook yesterday or Instagram tomorrow, uh, right. Own your own audience and build whatever business model you’re imagining.


Bryan: (00:14:59) Mm, I love it. Yeah. 


Maggie: (00:15:04) Yes. I love it too. And it actually, it really resonates with Asian hustle network too, because we create content. And, you know, we were chained to see how we can better, you know, build relationships with our audience, with our customers. And so that all resonates really well


Bryan: (00:15:18) out of curiosity too. I mean, it looks like you started a company at a relatively young age. What were your challenges as a pretty young CEO and co-founder of this company now?


Maggie: (00:15:28)  What was going through your mind at that time?


Nick: (00:15:33) Well, uh, You know, I think my mom has this complaint about me all the time, which is that I’m just, I’ve got this ego about myself or, or this, this confidence, um, If I’m being completely honest with you, I was never worried for one moment. Um, but, but I, I, I might attribute, okay. Yes, there’s, there’s some bit of ego to that, of course, but I think I would attribute a lot of it, um, to the design process as well. In, in design thinking, we are trained to parachute into unknown territory. That’s that’s the whole point we’re trying to revert to a toddler’s mindset. What would I do in this situation? If I knew nothing about it, every every sense is, is being overwhelmed. I’m, I’m just picking up all these clues, visual, auditory, whatnot. Right. Um, and that’s how I approached it. Anything in life ever since learning the design process. Uh, and, and so the same is true for running a business. Um, How do you do a bookkeeping or taxes? I don’t know, but like, but let me think about this from a first principles, uh, perspective and, and, and think, you know, If I could invent the solution from scratch, what would it be? Um, so the problem with that of course is a lot of time spent, um, uh, hearing things out that many other entrepreneurs have already figured out. Right. Um, so I, I will admit that, uh, so I give so much credit to early stage investors who back first time founders, I mean, really you’re just throwing away a lot of money. On people who have to learn things on the go truly. Um, I also now understand why serial founders get backing so easily for the same reason. Um, but yeah, call it confidence. Call it design thinking. I don’t know. I was just never worried one, one foot after another and, uh, push forward.


Bryan: (00:17:44) I love the confidence too. It really shines through the way you described the problem and talking about Pico as well. So, I mean, Since you had a feeling that things are going to work out well as a fund raising process at the very beginning, do you guys bootstrap, you guys generate revenue immediately? Or what was that like?


Nick: (00:18:03) No, no. I mean, we w uh, my co-founder and I were not in a position to bootstrap. We just didn’t have that kind of money. Um, and so that actually. Influenced us in, in figuring out what we wanted to work on, to be honest with you. So we, we knew from day one, we want to start a company together. Okay. Then the next question is, are we in a position to bootstrap this or does it have to be venture bet? Okay. Venture backed. Well, if it’s venture backed that eliminates a lot of fun product ideas. That would be cool, but are frankly just. More lifestyle businesses, you can become profitable at some point and just coast. Uh, a venture backed company has certain strings attached, right? You’re expected to be worth billions these days. Um, you’re ideally you go public, right? So that kind of narrows down the POS uh, the, the possible ideas that you can work on. Um, So, I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s how we went about it. And then in terms of actually finding those first investors, um, well I guess to, to answer that it, that, that is why I chose not to start a company right out of college. I was attempted to, um, my friends and I were working on a really fun senior year. Uh, project. And we actually even went to a law firm and got incorporated and all that. Uh, but we, we backed out at the last minute, uh, or, sorry, not at the last minute we backed out the summer or fall after graduating because we realized we’re all so busy with our actual jobs. Um, but long story short there, I just recognized that it would benefit me a lot if I weren’t going to go to business school and I didn’t want it to it benefited me a lot too. Work at different early stage startups. So I could make strong connections with CEOs. Right. And after doing that a few times, I felt ready to start my own company. And so when it came time to look for those first investors, I was able to go back to those CEOs and, uh, and say, you know, put me in touch.


Bryan: (00:20:17) Awesome. Yeah. I love that too. Yeah. And out of curiosity, I mean, um, I, well, we do, we have a lot of entrepreneurs on the podcast as well. And there seems to be a strong debate between bootstrapping or raising money. I know you touched base upon this before, how some people are saying the bootstrapping is better because I can retain the culture and the vision that you want to move in any direction. And some people are really against a bootstrapping and want to go for the big venture back. Denise, what are your thoughts on that? Yeah. Between the advantages of raising money or the vantages versus the advantages of bootstrapping.


Nick: (00:20:54) Um, I mean, yes, I have an opinion on this, but I, before I say that, I will also say there there’s no wrong answer. Um, I, for me personally, I just feel like starting in the company, regardless of the financing structure. Starting in company, uh, and seeing it through to success is incredibly painful. It is a long taxing journey and the thought of doing that bootstrapped. Oh my God. I I’d have, well, my hair’s dyed blonde right now, but I’d have like gray hair, um, like naturally gray hair. I think it’s just incredibly stressful. Um, and. Uh, you know, the dynamics are just so different. I, you know, but to address those specific, the points that the pro bootstrappers, um, uh, listed, I would say actually that you can absolutely, uh, maintain control of the culture of a company. Uh, even if it’s venture backed at the end of the day, this isn’t just about the dollars being exchanged. You’re also building relationships. You get to pick. Your investors. Yeah. Right. They’re not forcing their money on you. So a lot of this is also exciting to work with people you really like. Um, and you know, it, we got lucky. All of our investors are incredible. Um, I would happily work with them and, uh, and that just gives me the confidence that even if. My co-founder and I don’t have majority ownership. Uh, even if legally speaking, we do not have quote unquote control over these things. Uh, we’re working with people who trust us and, um, and, and we, we wouldn’t do anything without unanimous consent anyway, so the, that control aspect is almost just a technicality for us. Um, as I’m saying this, uh, entrepreneurs who are much further along in their journey, like, you know, close to IPO would, would probably laugh at what I just said, but, you know, for an early stage company, that that’s very much the case.


Maggie: (00:23:16) Hmm. That’s a, that’s a really good perspective. I think a lot of people are afraid to take in investments because they’re afraid that the culture will be tarnished, but I think it’s important that you mentioned, you know, you can choose which investors to work with, and if they really do care about your mission, they wouldn’t do anything to tarnish that culture.


Bryan: (00:23:33) And as you mentioned before, this, this journey has been incredibly stressful. Can you kind of highlight what kind of hardships you go through on a daily basis? Because a lot of us are so fascinated with the idea that we want to be our own CEO and founder and entrepreneur one day. And we would like to hear about that part of your life, where I don’t think the media really touches upon and really often.


Maggie: (00:23:53) Yeah. What’s been your biggest challenge thus far.


Nick: (00:24:00) Um, And the challenges have, have shifted over time, you know, year one challenges, very different from year four year five challenges. Uh, I would say though, if there’s a common theme, uh, sometimes when things are really busy, it feels like you don’t have much control over what you’re doing. Yeah. Um, and that’s usually a sign that you need to make some changes. You need to hire more people or, or rethink your, your, uh, um, your daily habits. But nevertheless, you know, as you hire away core responsibilities, um, it kinda, you as the founder, you, as the CEO, you’re, you’re taking care of all the leftover tasks, uh, that span a whole range. And so, um, And add to that, the fact that you, you never have the vacation, it’s, it’s a 24 seven job. So your, um, you’re having to react to a multitude of things which may differ day to day, seven days a week. That’s how I would put it. Uh, it can be fun when you’re in the zone. And you just feel like each thing that pops up, you’re able to, it’s like playing whack-a-mole, you’re able to like smack it down right away. And you can like have a, a high from doing that, you know, for, for a couple of days. It’s also,


Bryan: (00:25:35) that’s a really good analogy. Yeah. Um, how do you, like, how do you time manage your, your day-to-day schedule and how do you delegate these things that come up. You know, it takes a lot of trust. Have you brought in like an outside consulting group to help you figure that part out? Or was this something that you consulted with your co-founder to kind of figure out.


Nick: (00:25:55) So we we’ve definitely leveraged advisors and investors. Uh, and, and there, you know, another, uh, another thing to, uh, put in, in the pro investor column, uh, they’re not just money. They’re really good. Ones are also helpful. Um, they, uh, they can act as, as a, a coach, um, and the investors. Uh, I, I really like working with investors who have been founders themselves, they’re their former operators, so they can give really useful advice. Um, and, and, uh, Yeah. I mean, I I’ve relied a lot on, on those external, um, sources for, for help over the years. Uh, but in terms of how I delegate, how I manage time, uh, you know, our very first investor had great advice for us with which is, I think. A lot of entrepreneurs might think, um, that their first instinct might be to fill in the gaps of their knowledge by hiring people who know those things. Right. Uh, let’s say, I, I don’t know. Um, anything about finance, I’m gonna hire a finance person. I don’t know anything about engineering. I’m not hire an engineer. Hmm, but, uh, his, his opinion there, which was, which I thought was contrarian at the time, but, uh, it’s to me, it just seems so natural now is actually, no, you, as a founder should develop that competency first. You don’t have to become expert at it, but you have to know enough about it to be dangerous. And then you can hire that person. Uh, so what that. Has meant over the years is that I’m constantly learning. I’m just constantly learning. There’s so many things I don’t know, but there’s that awkward space where, okay, damn someone needs to do this. It doesn’t warrant a full-time job. So I’m not going to hire someone, uh, consultants, um, it’s hit or miss, you know, I I’ve certainly wasted money on, on consultants before, uh, I guess I just have to do it myself. And so there’s been a lot of that. You, you do it yourself as much as you can until you realize, okay, this is no longer sustainable. Let me hire this away. And then sure enough, the moment that happens. Something else drops on the plate that void is filled instantly.


Maggie: (00:28:24) Yeah. Um, I, I love her mindset. It’s really unique because I feel like there are a lot of entrepreneurs who think like, if I don’t know how to do something, I’m just going to delegate it out and hire someone who knows how to do it. But in your perspective, you know, it goes back to what you originally said in the first part of the interview, how you were just kind of deep diving as an. First time entrepreneur. And there are things that you might not know how to do, but because of your design mentality, you wanted to teach yourself how to do it and learn it first before you kind of delegate it out. And I love how you’re just willing to, you know, learn new things every single day.


Bryan: (00:28:59) My mentality is if it’s a repeatable, I’ll delegate it. If it’s not repeatable, I’ll try to learn it enough to make sure that. When we’re bringing the right talent. I know at least what they’re talking about.


Nick: (00:29:12) Well, that that’s really the point. It’s like, how can you judge the candidate if you yourself don’t know how it works. Right. Right. So it’s also just for practical reasons. It helps for hiring. I think it’s also really great for culture building, uh, leading by example, uh, you know, you’re in the trenches with those people doing that thing. So I think it. There’s so many benefits. Um, uh, thank you for, for those thoughts, but I, I certainly don’t think there’s anything unique about it. I, I, uh, you know, I think a lot of them, I found a friends do the same and I wave to encourage others to as well.


Bryan: (00:29:51) Yeah. It means that you’re in a race circle where like-minded people. Yeah. I touched base on the time management side too. Like how do you time manage. Your your work-life balance because you know, being on 24 seven, how do you manage time for like yourself and your friends and your family while doing this, this grind?


Nick: (00:30:13) Ooh, um, um, um, I’m really not a good person to ask for this. Oh boy. Yeah. I also I’m at this point in the pandemic having a really hard time remembering pre COVID life like, Whoa. Well, is that even, I I’m scratching my head because you know, my answer back then would have been different. Um, I, Oh, this is so sad. I’m the kind of person who is like built for a pandemic. I’m like, I’m really good at being a reckless. I, I can stay holed up in my apartment for weeks on end. Not because I’m under strict quarantine, but just because no one has called me out of my apartment. Um, I mean, yeah, it’s, it’s like, uh, it’s, it’s problematic. I any, if I’m not tired, I’m working.


Bryan: (00:31:15) Hmm, that’s that’s relatable.


Nick: (00:31:20) And by the way, I say this, not as a point of pride at all. And in fact, I, I would advocate people to do not what I’m doing. Um, but, uh, I think it it’s just, I I’m addicted to it to a certain extent. Um, I, there there’s a lot of pressure I’m putting on myself. Um, And, you know, I, I also recognize it’s not sustainable, but then again, I don’t know how many times I’m going to start a company like this in my life and my career. Um, so part of me is willing to really put everything I’ve got into this.


Bryan: (00:32:02) I think as long as you’re aware of the situation, you know, because it can easily, easily go down a really bad rabbit hole in the feature if you’re not aware, but it looks like you’re aware. So that’s awesome.


Maggie:  (00:32:11) Yeah. I’m also very curious. You know, you started Pico with your childhood friend. I think a lot of people have, um, Different perspectives on starting businesses with people that they know in person. So what was your experience starting Pico with your childhood friend and, you know, were there challenges or where were you guys always, you know, pretty good at communicating with each other.



Nick: (00:32:34) I think we chose to work together because we’ve always. Communicated with each other, uh, so much so, so well, um, by the way, not only did we start this company together, we also lived together as roommates after we decided to start this company. Uh, we were roommates for, uh, two, two and a half years early on. Yeah. Uh, I mean, yeah, if most people have the same reaction, when, when I tell. I mean, I definitely understand the sentiment, right. Like, uh, always be, be cautious when it comes to mixing family and friends with money with business. Um, and I think, gosh, I haven’t really haven’t thought about this enough to have like succinct wisdom around it. Um, but it. Trust is fundamental. I think that goes without saying, I think it’s, it really helped that he and I knew how each other, uh, problem solved. Right. And we also really understood each other’s core values. It’s kind of, it goes back to that unshakable truth. I was, uh, saying about our business. We eat each as humans. We each have some truth as well. Right. And I think he, and I just know that about each other, um, extremely well. So w if you know that about someone else, Then you should have confidence that you can navigate any situation with that person. Right. But it takes time to develop that kind of relationship. So when I, you know, I’ve talked to friends who are, are interested in starting a company and they want to start networking to find that co-founder, uh, I, I, I always, I feel bad that I really can’t give good advice on that front because it’s really hard. And. Look, I’ll just admit there’s, there’s no way you can build the kind of relationship I just described through networking over the course of a few months or even years. Um, so it’s tough. It’s tough, which is really why we decided to start this company together. We, we thought, Hey, we trust each other. We’re both at a good stopping point right now in our careers. Like we, we both just wrapped up a job. Um, it’s kind of now or never. Cause we know how hard it is for the stars to align how hard it is for you to find that co-founder, you can trust so fully and, and both be available at the same time to work on something that interests both of you.


Bryan: (00:35:18) Sounds just like dating.


Nick: (00:35:20) Oh my God.


Maggie:  (00:35:22) Yeah. It’s like a marriage.


Bryan: (00:35:26) You have to be single at the same time. You know,


Nick: (00:35:30) I would say with, with a co-founder you’re kind of just skipping straight to marriage and the whole. For the whole existence of the company, you’re just managing a marriage with fundraising. That is definitely like dating.


Maggie:  (00:35:45) Oh yeah, for sure. And so, you know, we know that you were named to Forbes 30, under 30. Congratulations. I’m very curious what was going through your mind at that time? And I guess this is like a two part question too, because I want to know like, was there like a point in time where you thought. You know, Pico is going somewhere and this is what I want to focus on. And, you know, if, if we really put in our best work, we can really take it really far. Like, was there a moment in time that you thought that


Bryan: (00:36:16) it was like, it’s this is not just naive idea. This is, this is going to be something big, you know, it was attorney attorney.


Nick: (00:36:22) Yeah. Well actually there was no turning point. It was from the first moment. Because, and it kind of goes back to us deciding to, to start a venture backed business. So we didn’t sign any piece of paper. We didn’t really make this official until we were both on the same page about that. We’re about to take venture capital, which means this needs to be venture big though. We will not accept anything less than that. Anything less than that is a failure for us. So did I mentioned pressure earlier. Yeah. That’s the thing we, we set out to build something big. There was no aha for that. We, we just kept going at it, kept going at it until we felt like we could, I could see hints of it. Start to show up. Um, yeah, sorry. I feel like that answered only half of your question. What was the other half?


Maggie:  (00:37:19) Um, the other health was what was going through your mind at that time when you got 30, uh, 30, under 30.


Nick: (00:37:25) Oh,


Bryan: (00:37:27) validate anything that you’re feeling?


Nick: (00:37:30) Um, Forbes probably doesn’t want me to say this, but no, I, uh, I mean, I still don’t know who I’m needed me. , I got a message a few months back saying you’ve been named as, and I filled out the form, um, thinking was a crapshoot. Uh, but I mean, it’s absolutely an honor. I, you know, I do not take that for granted. Um, but at the end of the day, it’s, it’s, it’s a list. It’s, it’s another, was I to, to me. It, it still feels like we’re just getting started. So I’m not satisfied until Pico is what we envisioned it to be.


Maggie:  (00:38:17) Yeah. Yeah. I love that hunger mentality. Yeah. That’s awesome.


Bryan: (00:38:21) So full disclaimer, I dreamed to be Forbes under 30 for now. I mean, for forwards 40, under 40,


Nick: (00:38:20) I’ve always said they need to do like an overt. It’s like a 30 over 30 or 40 over four, frankly like statistically that’s far more prestigious, right? I mean, your odds of being on a 30 over 30 would be, uh, a lot lower.


Bryan: (00:38:44) It’s still my goal. Yeah. I want to talk a little bit more about your singing passion too. I just want to dive deep into that and talk about a little bit more about that. But I mean, before we get there, one more question. Before we wrap up the whole technical side thing, why don’t you pick New York? She started your company versus the Bay area since you’re from the Bay and it’s when you pick New York.


Nick: (00:39:09) Yeah. Yeah. Well, So we, we actually started the company in San Francisco when it was just me and my co-founder. We were there for the first nine months or so. Uh, and then we, each separately took business trips to New York, uh, to meet with some media companies out there. I had not really experienced New York as an adult. I’d gone there a couple of times for like, uh, A brief family vacation, but it was just in time square steam, Broadway shows really like seeing the worst parts, the tourist traps of, of New York city. Um, I had never experienced New York as an adult and just taking in the city as it is. Uh, and, and I’ve come to realize by the way that it seems like a lot of. People like me growing and growing up in the Bay area, growing up in the West coast just haven’t spent much time in New York where, and, and the opposite is true. So many people out here that I’ve met, they’ve never set foot in California. And I’m like, are you kidding me? That’s very true. Yeah. You know, we th we get the coastal rivalries, right. We’re just kind of settled into our own ways, but based on where we grew up. Uh, but let me tell you, I, I just, we. My co-founder and I both separately, we just fell in love with the city. Um, for business, it was perfect. All of our potential clients at the time were out there. Um, culturally just completely aligned with the city. I love theater. I love the arts and you have that in abundance. In New York, in San Francisco, it seems to be disappearing. Um, And just the speed of the city. I, in case you can’t tell I’m like a high energy, fast talker person. And like, I was like, ah, my people, uh, you know, they, they walk as fast as I do on the sidewalk. So all of that really just clicked. And, uh, you know, I, I also felt like, boy, it’d be a shame if I spent my entire life, if living and experiencing the same place, uh, I, I need to shake things up.


Bryan: (00:41:19) Yeah. I felt like there was a shortage of like opportunities staying in the Bay versus New York or what you gave up. Um, uh, because, um, you know, some people are saying nowadays easy to start a company anywhere in the United States, as long as you have a good idea, it’s online based. So you can be based in anywhere venture capitalism, character in the Bay or, or Denver or Austin or New York. But what is your thoughts on that?


Nick: (00:41:45) Yeah, I mean, Oh, gosh. And, and this pandemic has forced us into mindset, right? If we want, uh, our companies to have any chance of success, we have to embrace that mindset. And I agreed to a large extent. Yes. You can start a company from anywhere. Yes. Technically you can, you can hire anywhere. We have, uh, we’ve we’ve been distributed from day one. But I’m maybe I’m in the minority here. I still believe that, uh, an office culture is really important. Um, I still believe that. A lot of great ideas come about from, um, people chit-chatting, uh, you know, uh, on their breaks, going for a coffee walk together, um, being able to easily network with other people, um, to, you know, just to get drinks, to talk shop. I find that it’s just a lot more awkward to do that these days over zoom, it feels like with zoom, you have to have an agenda. All right. I would like to schedule a time with you on the calendar to talk about, I don’t know, to catch up. It turns out food and drinks really helpful for setting an agenda. Let’s get drinks, let’s get dinner. And, um, yeah, I think I still value that a lot and I can’t wait for us to have that back. I think that’s, it’s, it’s still really important.


Maggie:  (00:43:15) Yeah, absolutely great. Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for the answer. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Talk about, you know, you singing in an acapella group and like, I think it’s amazing how your whole family can sing and as musically talented snippets. Oh yes. We actually went on your Twitter, you and your sister singing or eating dinner. It was amazing. Um, so talk about your experience. You know, singing in the acapella group?


Nick: (00:43:45) Uh, yeah. Well, I I’ve, I’ve always been in an acapella group since college. Um, I was in one throughout college and then, uh, when I moved in up to the city, up to San Francisco, I joined an occupier group there. And then when I moved out here to New York, I joined an occupier group here. Uh, you know, singing is, is that constant presence in my life. It’s, it’s my, I guess if we’re talking about work-life balance, that’s the little bit of balance. I try to inject to get myself that outlet. Um, you know, we have weekly rehearsals even now during the pandemic. I I’m so proud of what our group has been able to pull off with these, um, With these distributed rehearsals. It’s a technical challenge, honestly. Uh, and, but we’ve learned so much music and it’s been a lot of fun and recording ourselves to kind of put together these virtual performances. Um, but it, you know, it’s a weekly scheduled routine that I, I must attend and no matter how busy that day is, uh, I have to drop what I’m doing and I have to go sing that has been. Very good for my mental wellbeing, I think. Um, but there there’s just so much joy from, well, I mean, first, just. Exercising in an instrument in your own body. Like that’s, that’s a lot of fun being able to produce those sounds and, uh, and express yourself that way. Uh, but then on top of that, to be able to sing with other people when you’re harmonizing, uh, when you’re, you know, crescendoing at the same time, like working through dynamics, it’s just, it’s, goosebumpy good. It’s, goosebumpy fun. And, uh, It it’s, it’s funny enough. A lot of the people we’ve hired at Pico they’re musical, they they’re trained in some instrument. Uh, and I think that’s quite telling, because to perform with others in a musical setting, you have to listen. Yeah, by default, you have to listen well and still play your instrument at the same time. Right. Um, and, and that, that kind of skill translates really well into the workforce too. Um, yeah, I I’m just, what can I say? I, I love singing. It’s always been a part of my life. Um, and yeah, my, my parents met in choir, so they’re to blame. I just. I, I think it’s really sad that of the four of us, my parents, my sister and me, uh, somehow we did not cover all four vocal parts. We’ve got two bases and two Sopranos. I think that is an absolute shame, but we we’ve survived.


Bryan: (00:46:34) That’s beautiful. I love it. So I guess you have one final question for ads.


Maggie:  (00:46:38) And so our final question is what one advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?


Nick: (00:46:42) Hmm do it.


Maggie:  (00:46:51) It was really good. It’s very sound advice. Awesome. Thank you so much for that, Nick. And how can our listeners find out more about you or people online?


Nick: (00:47:00) Yeah. Our website is tri You can find me on all of the platforms. Um, Nick Chen. I think my handle on most platforms, it’s like my full name. Nicholas. Why Chen veal free to connect with me. Uh, you can email me Nick at  dot com. Uh, I’m sometimes maybe slow to respond, but I won’t.


Maggie:  (00:47:23) Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Nick. It was awesome having you on the show.


Bryan: (00:47:27) Thank you, Nick.

Nick: (00:47:29) Yeah, so much fun talking to you guys.


Maggie/Bryan: (00:47:33) 


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