Patrick Lee // Ep 5 // Finding a Product Market Fit in Quality Entertainment

Welcome to Episode 5 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Patrick Lee 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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Patrick Lee is a serial entrepreneur best known for being a co-founder and founding CEO of Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com), a leading entertainment website focused on movie reviews and news.

He is an advisor to a number of startups including Casetify, ChargeSPOT, FableLabs, Instaread, Kiwibot, Oishii, WePloy, and Zeuss Technologies; and a mentor at a number of organizations including SOSV, Berkeley SkyDeck, Blue Startups, Founder Institute, and Rock The Boat Podcast. Patrick holds a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of California at Berkeley.

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Please check out our Patreon at @asianhustlenetwork. We want AHN to continue to be meaningful and give back to the Asian community. If you enjoy our podcast and would like to contribute to our future, we hope you’ll consider becoming a patron.
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Transcript

Intro: [00:00:00] Hey guys! Welcome to the 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.

Bryan: [00:00:24] Hey guys, this is our Asian Hustle Network podcast. My name is Bryan.

Maggie: [00:00:28] And my name is Maggie.

Bryan: [00:00:30] And today we have Patrick Lee. He’s a co-founder of Rotten Tomatoes, but Patrick’s so much more than that. He’s a serial entrepreneur who has extensive experience with designs, with huge expertise in tech and entertainment, an angel investor, an advisor, an inspiration for us to follow. Patrick, welcome to the show.

Patrick: [00:00:50] Hi, thanks for having me.

Bryan: [00:00:52] Definitely. Patrick, can you tell us a little bit, a little bit about yourself and who you are and how you got involved with the tech field and everything.

Patrick: [00:01:00] Sure. So I guess going back, my parents born and trying to grow up in Taiwan, but they came to the US for grad school. Then my dad was an assistant professor at UCLA and I was born in LA until I was five. And then we moved to Maryland when he got a job to become a full professor at the University of Maryland. and then I was in Maryland through high school, was interested in computers and stuff early, you know, video games, all that kind of stuff, but also in junior high and in high school I was in a magnet program. It was around math science, computer science. So we were coding since junior high. Came to UC Berkeley for college. And that’s when I started jumping into doing startups. So I left after two years to do a startup, took another 10 years to graduate. So it took me 12 years to get my undergrad. But meanwhile, I was doing a number of different startups.

Bryan: [00:02:02] Definitely. That’s a really good story too. And it comes to show like, I mean, most people, especially the Gen Z generation that I talked to, they have a tendency to compare their selves to other people. You know, and it was believed that, Hey, I got to finish school in two and a half years. I got finished school in three years. As long as you take your time and, you know, walk your own path, like don’t compare it to other people you’re gonna end up being a lot happier, you know, and just hearing that story too, I can already tell that you have a stroke. Like you would, you are the type of person that would follow your passions over money.
And I kind of shows already, but you know what, I’m here at UC Berkeley. I’m not going to like, I am here to like focus on what makes me happy. You start a company at Berkeley. So hats off to that. So when you started Rotten Tomatoes, what was the original product-market fit of the Rotten Tomatoes and how did you pivot? Because we understood that, you know, you started this. Closer to the dot-com boom in 2000, you know, how did you, what was the original part of the market, and how did you pivot from, from the idea?

Patrick: [00:03:07] So before Rotten Tomatoes, I headed a design firm that I founded with my co-founder, Steven Wayne. So two of us, we were doing a lot of web design work or we call it interactive design for the entertainment industry. So we were building stuff for a lot of work for Disney channel. Banking, flash games, and websites. Wow. Warner Brothers, we were doing the official least site. We did the official flash game for who wants to be a millionaire, which was a really popular game show at the time. And our creative director was this person sends along and he was the one who actually came up with the idea for our community. He was a huge movie buff. And basically on the side, he was a huge Jackie Chan fan, and he wanted to know what everyone was saying about rush hour when it was coming out. So he kind of came up with this idea. The idea was basically, you know when you open up a newspaper, you see this full-page ad. It would look like a movie poster filled with quotes, but those quotes would always be good, even if the movie was terrible.

So if the movie was good, it’d be like from famous film critics, but if it was bad, it would be sometimes fake quotes. Oh, wow. But a lot of times it would be like radio station DJ’s and just folks that weren’t professional critics. So his idea is what if he only included professional critics reviews from professional critics?
But he included good and bad reviews and then have a score. And so he actually went from idea to launch in two weeks, it was static HTML, and he only covered the wide-release movies that were out that week. So it was in worry about covering in the past. He didn’t worry about limited-release movies or DVDs or things like that.
So it was something that was manageable that he could do by himself. I mean, it still took a ton of work to gather all those reviews, even for, you know, three or four movies that were coming out that week, but he was able to do it in two weeks and back then, you know, most reviews weren’t even online. So he actually went to the library and literally get the newspapers and magazines, look up the review, write down a quote and then go back to the work on it. So when he launched it. We found, we saw that there was a product-market fit almost immediately. Like we were hosting a site for him. And within that year, you know, we had USP on things like Netscape and Yahoo, multiple times. Roger Ebert wrote an article within the first year where he picked his favorite movie websites and he put Rotten Tomatoes and within, I think it was like a month or two after launch. I mean, Pixar had a movie called a bug’s life that came out, and the day it came out, there was a spike in traffic on Rotten Tomatoes. And we were like, what’s going on? And when we look at it, it was actually coming from Pixar itself. And it turned out that I think someone at Pixar found the page, send it to everyone else at Pixar. And they were just constantly refreshing our page over and over. We saw a spike in traffic because they wanted to see as we’re adding reviews, what is everyone saying about their movie?

So within that first year, after all these things happen, we were like, Hmm, there’s something there. You know we had, I found product-market fit, like let’s turn this into a real business. Right. And so what we did was we raise money. I went out and raised money for it, a million dollars. We pass our design firm to another group to take over. And so we were kind of half transitioning out of our design firm, you know, transitioning projects over to the other parts of taking over and putting more resources into Rotten Tomatoes. And so the main things we were doing, I mean, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that happened with the bubble burst thing two months after we raised money nine, 11, 18 months after that, which really tough. But essentially we went, we didn’t want to have to pivot, I mean, we’ve kept with the same core product. You know, we spend a few days to figure out what exactly is Rotten Tomatoes. And we realized, the whole team met for two days, talked about it and we said, decided it was to save people time and money from that same bad movies.

So we decided to focus only on movies and not go to other categories and that what we’ve spent our resources on was how do we take what’s working and make it better. So we try to automate the process a lot more and expand our coverage. So we first started doing parse, like parsing reviews to help bring them to one place. We built a content management system that our editors, instead of in past they will have to go to each site, look it up. It was all brought to one place. They just had to go in and say, is this special rotten? and really only in the case of where it wasn’t clear if it’s 4 stars out of 4 or if it’s like one star out of four, you kind of know.
It’s in the middle, like two and a half stars out of four. You’d have to go and read it to be like, is this actually fresh run? Then they pick a quote, everything else was like already handled. So it made it easier for us to cover movies. And then we eventually also built in a tool for critics system reviews directly and later on, we expanded it to allow users to put their own reviews in. So all these things made it so we could have more accurate and save time so that we could cover more movies. And we eventually went to cover, you know, limited-release movies. We started going backward to cover movies that were around before we started Rotten Tomatoes, you know, more indie movies, straight to DVD. You know, a lot of stuff on DVD. So we were just trying to make what we already were doing better. We didn’t actually have to pivot the product in any way.

Bryan: [00:08:23] It’s awesome that you’re able to find the product-market fit right off the bat.

Patrick: [00:08:27] Yeah. Actually I feel like a lot of sites, the ones that work, they kind of just work. Right. They might pivot and try a couple of things. The one that works, I feel like most of the time it works right away. Like you look at Audio was not working. And then they tried Twitter from a hackathon and it just kind of worked. Facebook worked, right. A lot of these ones. I think they come out almost immediately because they happened on something that’s just the right time, right place, right product. And it just.

Maggie: [00:08:57] It seems like when you guys first started Rotten Tomatoes, you guys would have never expected it to turn out so big. Right. But I think it was because you guys were so focused on your product and you knew exactly what your target audience was. That’s why, you know, people were able to automatically associate Rotten Tomatoes whenever they wanted to watch a movie.

Bryan: [00:09:16] Right. I’m a huge fan of Rotten Tomatoes too. And I’ve been using it since I was in high school. You know this is your tool. I can’t believe I’m talking to you right now. I’m interviewing you for this podcast because we always automatically go to Rotten Tomatoes before we go out and watch any movie. This is back in high school. This is back in like, 03, 04, 05.

Patrick: [00:09:35] Oh, wow. Yeah. So we started in 98. We’re running it as a business in 2000, we are going back to what Maggie was saying. Suddenly was making something for himself, but he was a hardcore movie buff he made for himself actually worked for pretty much all hardcore movie buffs.
Because when you think back then, who’s out there looking for reviews, like multiple reviews? Hardcore people, like an average person, were to see the trailer on TV or in the movie theater. And maybe they might be like their local reviewer and they probably wouldn’t bother looking anywhere else. But initially, it was the harken one would be a box and it basically said made something for himself and it turned out it worked for other people.

Bryan: [00:10:15] It’s awesome. And we had to give you a lot of recognition too because you have to keep in mind that for our listeners listening, patchy started as back in college. You know that sense of maturity and focus that he had to understand what needed to come next. That’s absolutely amazing. You know, I think back in college, if someone told me to leave college, I need my mom just tell me first, and then I’ll be okay. I got a job, you know, but Patrick was so focused and has a strong vision what could be, that’s amazing as a college student. So we want to understand like what, how was, how were you raised yet? Get to this point? You know? Cause I don’t understand that a lot of people were raised to play it safe, have a scarcity mindset of, Hey, I should not take this risk because I don’t know what’s going to turn out of it. But for you. You’re like, Hey, are you recognize opportunity? And you seized it at such a young age. What was your upbringing? Right.

Maggie: [00:11:05] And I want to piggyback off that question too, as you were starting Rotten Tomatoes when you run college, what what what were your parents, you know, their experience and their feedback on all of this? Like, what did they think of you, you know, starting a whole company while you were still college?

Patrick: [00:11:21] Right. So, my parents, at least on my mom’s side is from what I understand, they’re quite well off when they were in China, but when they fled to Taiwan because of the war, they had to get rid of everything. And so when they were in Taiwan, it was like six, seven, eight people all under one roof. My dad’s family, I think it was also quite poor in Taiwan because they had to get rid of everything. So they were like lower class, all that stuff over there, but they were able to, but they all studied very hard. They, you know, education was a big priority for them. And so. Even within the same generation, they went from pretty much nothing to, you know, on both sides of my family, mom and dad’s side. They all did quite well because of this emphasis on education. And so, you know, we grew up in a middle-class family, I’d say maybe, you know, it wasn’t like we weren’t super well off, but we were fine. We were comfortable. And I think the thing that they gave to me was they also emphasize education. I think that is something that happens for most Asian families, but they really emphasize that. And what I’m very thankful for is they gave me opportunities because they gave me the tools that I needed. I mean, I think if you didn’t have education or like poor education, it’s just, you start off behind on everything. Like, imagine if you couldn’t add and subtract, how are you going to multiply and divide and, or even going to the things that build on top of that. Right? So they gave me basic tools to have the opportunity to do these things. And when I decided to try and do these companies, for instance, like your question, Maggie, my mom was like, please just finish school.

Yeah, it’s okay that you do all this, but please just finish school first. And I’m like, I really need to do this. My dad was actually like, Oh, that’s cool. That sounds cool. But then I told my mom, like, I really, you know, I will try and finish, but you know, it took me 12 years, but I really want to do this right now. And she was okay with it. And actually, for my design firm, which was, which was, I guess my second company, but the first one was a relatively shortly anyways, and they kind of flow into the second one, but my second company, her and my co-founder, Steven’s uncle, they loan us the money to actually do the company, our design firm.
So two of them together loan us 30K, which we were able to pay back within a year because we were getting clients almost immediately. Right. But yeah, so she wanted us to do it, but when we decided to do it anyway. She still supported us which I think was really valuable. Like there are some parents, I think that would potentially straight up lock you. They wouldn’t allow you. And they wouldn’t have given us, you know, alone or whatever. So, that was really good. And so for me, when I went to finish school again, it took me 12 years and I graduated after we sold Rotten Tomatoes. Right. Like I didn’t need school to have done all that stuff. That’s my third company tomatoes. But it was more to finish something. I started also kind of like because I promised my mom, I would finish.

Bryan: [00:14:31] That’s amazing. I know. So let’s talk a little bit more about running Rotten Tomatoes too. I think that’s a really important lesson, especially given the COVID situation that’s going on right now. You know, we have read some of your stories in the past where you raised a million dollars over 20 people and you decided to not pay yourself anymore. And you’re living at work, literally hiding, putting your clothes behind three cubicles. You know, that story-like. It’s very valuable to hear what your mindset was because that essentially puts you in a situation where you had to be resourceful and you had to improvise and you have to think about stuff like, should we bootstrap, or should we raise money but in your case most likely falls to the bootstrap area. Can you walk us through that moment? What kind of emotions you were feeling? What is your thought process like? What did you tell your team when you’re like, Hey, look, we had to cut down our staff for our companies to survive and we’ll place your salary with equity. What was, what was that mindset like?

Patrick: [00:15:35] Okay, sure. So yeah, we raised money and so Rotten Tomatoes started in August 1998 that’s when we launched it. We decided to try and raise money to run it as a real company in January 2000. So a little bit after a year later, the internet bubble burst in 2000 and I want to say 90% of all tech companies went out of business. I mean, I don’t have the exact number, but it felt like that. I mean, everyone’s way it’s because, after the bubble burst, you couldn’t raise money anymore. Right? Like. And on top of it, most companies were depending on ad revenue, right? The majority of them were mostly the business model that was everyone was doing. And what was happening was people were raising money and then buying ads from each other to get more traffic. So it’s just internet companies buying from other internet companies. And once the market crashed and they couldn’t raise money, they couldn’t go and buy traffic any more. And so what happened was. It was going from, you know, five to $20 CPM, like five $20 per thousand impressions to like pennies or fractions of a penny on the dollar. So you couldn’t raise funding and your revenue went to near zero, almost overnight. And so that’s why so many comes when our business, the ones that survived were like things like eBay or Amazon that made money from users, they could actually make it through, but almost all the ones focused on advertising died.

And so we knew at that point like we had to reduce our costs because when we just started running Rotten Tomatoes, we had no revenue. We managed to get a deal with a group called my Simon right before the deal, everything crashed and that gives us some initial revenue to help keep us in business. But we knew we had to cut like our cost was way too high, especially because we were offloading our design firm and the revenue that was coming from that side. So we try to do it in the best way possible. So we told people that we needed to cut and we explained why he accelerated vesting for all of them. So they all had like every single person had some equity, even the ones we had to let go. We asked them to start looking, basically try to keep everyone employed until they could find something.
And we were lucky because our team was so good that they were actually able to find something even when very bad times, quite quickly. So we had to cut from 25 people to seven within a year. And when we got to seven, even at seven, five lifts, five people went to take a 30% pay cut and myself and our marketing person, Paul went to zero. So we had seven people. It was really the cost of more like three or four. Right. We gave people additional equity to make up for the lack of salary. We left up to each person on how much they could reduce. and yeah, I mean, again, the way I did it was because our office, we had space, we had a nice office space that we couldn’t get out of the lease. We had space for 25 people and suddenly we had seven, right. So I just took over three cubes that were in an L shape. Put all my stuff in there, my apartment, and this moved into the office. I mean, it was actually illegal, but I just looked at it as working really, really late combined with getting into office really, really early, you know.

Maggie: [00:19:00] Were there other people staying at the office as well?

Patrick: [00:19:03] A lot of times when we were, when it was like, we were really busy on certain things would fail over, or sometimes we were playing video games. So really late. But no, I mean, I was the only one who actually like, was there for a time. The other thing it was, we ended up subleasing a third of the office to another friend and his company that also had, they cut from 130 people down to 10 and they ended up subleasing like a part of office space. And so that also helped cut costs down. Sorry also real quickly. I forgot to mention. Yeah, so also nine 11 was 18 months after that. So that was super tough and…

Maggie: [00:19:42] How did that affect Rotten Tomatoes?

Patrick: [00:19:46] At that point a lot of folks were cutting advertising, spend people didn’t definitely want to see ads during the period. Specifically, we had a deal to had an ad campaign for Spiderman and it had a Spiderman got pushed back because they had to go and digitally edit out the twin towers.
Because it was in the movie, and then I cut it out. And so they had to push it back. I think in that case, they still advertise with us, but it was you know, pushed back quite awhile. And it was just a really tough time, again. And it was, I believe the worst terrorist attack, the US and the bubble bursting was also one of the worst crashes ever, especially within tech. It might’ve been one of the worst or the worst.

Maggie: [00:20:33] It was like back to back.

Patrick: [00:20:34] But the thing is now with COVID I think it might be worse than both of those things. It’s combined. That’s all bad. Everything is now. And the one thing that really keeps us kept us alive back then was we massively cut our costs. So because you can only control revenue so much, in our case revenue was going to be near zero for a long time because of what happened similar to here, if you’re like in the restaurant business or, you know, something like certain things like retail, your revenue probably has gone to zero or near zero you know. Maybe you can do deliveries or something, right. Yeah, but the one thing you can’t really control revenue much, but you can’t control your cost. And so I think a lot of folks did it where they had a furlough, almost everyone. But that even for startups, you know, when I’ve been mentoring, advising people in this period, I’ve been telling everyone like Cash is King. That’s the one thing that’s gonna get you through this. You need at least minimum a year, ideally 18 to 24 months. If you have anyone you can raise money from at this point, it’s obviously gonna be much harder doing something that’s helping with COVID. Like, raise it if you can, like, don’t worry about anything else. Just raise it if you can. At the same time, cut like hard and cut fast, you know, ideally only do one cut. Don’t do lots of small cuts because people are going to like look over their shoulder and expect to be it’s going to kill morale, but do one big one and do it quickly because the thing is, you know, if you could cut your costs in half and you had five months left, you would get 10 months. Right. But if you wait three months and then decide to do to cut in half, you only gain two months. Right. So by doing it earlier, you can serve cash more. And so it’s super important. That’s what got us through back then, but I think that’s, what’s going to get people through now. Like they have to do it. It’s hard, but if you don’t do it, you’re dead.

Bryan: [00:22:24] Yeah. It goes back to being a leader too. You have to make this quick decision decisive decision really, really quickly. Otherwise, it will harm your business in the long run.

Maggie: [00:22:32] Yeah. I mean, I think that’s why so many small businesses are struggling at this moment. Right. Because a lot of these small businesses don’t even have a lot of cash on hand. For example, restaurants like their net profit is already small to begin with. Right?

Bryan: [00:22:46] Do you feel like case upon what you went through like when you first started raising money in early two thousand and 18 months later, 911. Do you feel like that has impacted your decision to sell the company four years later? Or did you have other factors involved as well?

Patrick: [00:23:03] Yeah, for us, I think because those two things happened. Like literally right as we raised money and the time we raised money, cause my first two companies, the first one was just savings. The second one was alone. We never raised money from them and they weren’t startups. They weren’t the kinds of things that you’re supposed to raise money for, but for us, because we raised money and right away that happened. I want to say that it made us like we were just focused on surviving. We weren’t really thinking big. And even though we had something that was growing and we realized like it was growing, I don’t think we’ve totally appreciated how good it was. And so we were getting offers actually probably within two years in or so, from people trying to buy it for really cheap. I mean, it was literally 10 cents on the dollar 25 cents on a dollar from our post-money valuation. And we let our investors know that these offers are coming in and our investors were like, yeah, yeah, go and take it, take it because they had lost everything else. They invested in [inaudible]. But we were like, no, we think we should at least sell where you can get your money back, at least get all your money back. And that was literally the bar we had and looking back, I mean, it’s ridiculous. Like we totally, we actually made them some money but not much because we had our bar so low and literally that’s the difference between, you know, if we just waited even an extra year or two, we probably would have had multiple times more in terms of what we could sell for.

But I think a combination of one, we just, weren’t thinking big, two, because the reason why I did my companies, all my companies was I wanted to do something with friends from college, all six companies had at least one co-founder, if not more from freshman year of college and I wanted to do something interesting. So they were all, something that I thought was, would be cool to do. And that was my main reason to do them. So I think partly it’s my fault didn’t have that same level of ambition. Partly it was because of the time period and what happened with the market crashing and 911? This made us think smaller and that’s, I think the difference between, you know, something like what happened with us and someone that might’ve had a much, much bigger, I guess financial success is that they just thought much bigger they thought they were just much more ambitious.

Maggie: [00:25:26] Yeah. So given that you have always been an entrepreneur, you know, and you’ve started building companies since college, I’d love to know, you know, how your mindset was affected while you’re building out your first field companies up until when you built out Rotten Tomatoes?

Bryan: [00:25:42] And after Rotten Tomatoes too, like we understood like your mindset, you know, Given all this stuff all the stuff that was going on. Yeah, totally understandable. I think we still feel a lot of posts in the Asian Hustle Network about people who want to sell their companies right now and they want to sell their businesses so that. Yeah, it’s not exactly your fault. I think there’s a situational thing where it’s like, Oh man, I just want to like get people’s money back. Cause as you’re taking other people’s money and you’re like, you feel obligated to like return their money back so fully understand Patrick. No, there’s no right or wrong decision, but we felt like, you know, trying to make the right decision. Cause you’re. Yeah. I feel like the way you are right now you’re a strong mentor. You’re strong advisor. You’re like, you’re an angel investor now. You have so much knowledge you had to give to all of us listening from you. And going back to what Maggie said too, you know, like want to understood what you took from Rotten Tomatoes and what you learned from there? And how did you apply for the next several businesses? What worked the first time? What not, what didn’t work the second time as you were starting more companies.

Patrick: [00:26:53] So ironically, I think, well, a couple of things, my goal was to try and do things with friends and do something that I liked doing. Actually, we would have been better off just keeping the team together and not selling, because looking back. Those were among the best times of my life, even though it was hard and we went through such hard times because it was so hard we actually pulled everyone closer and they were literally like family. Like our CFO was like our company mom, Lily. Her two sons were our age, the age of all the people in our company. Right. So she was like a company mom. One of our editors, Susan, she ended up marrying my brother. And then Sen who was the creator of Rotten Tomatoes. He had to marry the cousin of another editor. In-laws. Like literally people are actually family. And so that’s one thing looking back that like, if my goal is to do stuff with friends, like I actually should have just kept with that group because it was really such amazing group of friends. And in terms of like business-wise and if we never sold, I mean, yes, if we timed it better, we could have sold for probably a lot more money, but even if we didn’t sell, you know, Rotten Tomatoes was growing in traffic, it could have been just a great business in terms of like, just from the revenue it could have generated, or even if we wanted to do more things, you know, hypothetically, for example, you know, when we transitioned run a design rector, had I known again, you can’t tell the future, but had I known we would have had to lay off 18 people. Great people. We would have been better off not giving up our design firm and just being like if we could have, we were, we did it because we were worried we couldn’t focus, but how do we split off the design from two people from the team and say, you guys take it over and you run it and we keep it totally separate. Like we’ll never pull from one side to the other, you know, maybe someone like Lily could have done both. Right. They could have done it. And we probably wouldn’t have to let go of some people because some of them could have maintained the design firm. Some would go on Rotten Tomatoes. Right. And looking back, our design firm was great.

We were doing some really big projects already, pretty much anything at that time with our team pretty much could have done it. And with Rotten Tomatoes, all that traffic, it’s like we could have built anything and we would have had traffic flow to it. It’s like we had all these amazing pieces and we, through bad luck and bad decisions we got rid of both, you know? So that’s another thing I think actually, when you look at entrepreneurs, the best entrepreneurs for the most part are not serial entrepreneurs. They’re actually the onetime founders that find something good. And they do it the whole time. Like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the Google people, like the biggest ones, they only did one. Right. And there are some rare cases like Elon Musk. Or Steve jobs, but Steve Jobs would have been Apple the whole time if you didn’t get kicked out. He only did those other ones because he got kicked out and suddenly had all this time on his hands. And then moving forward for me, I think with Rotten Tomatoes in a way, it actually made things worse because when we sold, we were like, Oh, we know what we’re doing. I know what I’m doing. I can do something bigger. And so with the later ones actually ended up raising more money. And try to do things bigger, but actually if I do things bigger, I was less focused on all of those companies. And so I actually did a much worse job, Rotten Tomatoes because the product was initially focused and even though we raised money, the market crashed nine 11, it forced to stay focused. Without that we might have started adding a bunch more features and other things that were like not relevant or you might’ve tried going into more categories and things like that. Later companies, I was allowed let’s focus because I had more resources. I thought I knew I was doing, but actually I was making the biggest mistake possible, which is to be unfocused.

Maggie: [00:30:59] Yeah. And there are so many options. Like you think you can do everything because there are problems in every segment. Right. So it’s like, you’re more unfocused in those later companies.

Patrick: [00:31:08] Yeah. And the one thing I realized from that experience, it wasn’t actually, it was actually from my failures of the next three companies that did after Rotten Tomatoes was that I was so unfocused and I only realized it from helping a bunch of startups after my last company died. And I was constantly telling them like, Hey, you need to focus. You’re doing too much. And then I realized like, Oh crap. I was way too much in my last few companies. And then when I started looking at my tech co-founder, a tech founder, friends, and every kind of company I could think of every single one that did well was focusing on the beginning.
So that’s actually the big thing I’ve been whenever I mentor now, I just stay on that topic because you know, anyone who is unfocused is dead and it’s only the focused ones that actually make it.

Bryan: [00:31:54] Yeah. I think it’s really great that you’re so humble about it too, you know, you’re you sit, you know, now looking back, everything now kind of makes sense. Or as you’re reflecting, as you’re learning, you’re coming. Well, I don’t, a lot of lessons learned to like teach other people to like, not repeat the same mistakes, but it’s also makes me think about stuff. Like when you’re first beginning, you have to be a lot more resourceful because you don’t have a lot of resources around you that in itself would incubate like, you know, innovation, new ideas, doing things attacking quickly changing direction. Cause I feel like, you know, I talked to a lot of other tech founders too. We have a lot of resources. You kind of just rely on that and like, Oh, you make this mistake. It’s fine. I’ve got enough talent and money, resources to recover. But over time, these things have caused cracks in your organization. Cause you’re not immediately like, like repairing the cracks that they create. When you intervene, you have a lot of innovation. So after the sell of your Rotten Tomatoes in 2004, you know, you spent nine years in Asia, right? So so sometimes in Hong Kong, what was that? What was that experience? What caused you to move to Asia? We understand that you always want to move to Asia. I, what was the bigger, underlying reason behind, did you want to experience something new? Do you want to go there and start a new company? Did you want to go up there starting a new life? Like, what was that time period like?

Patrick: [00:33:23] Yeah. So for me, you know, again growing up in the States, being born and growing up in the States, in Maryland elementary school and stuff, there weren’t a lot of Asians, you know, in junior high, in high school with magnet programs. Yes. There were more Asians. You know, there are times when I grew up and I I felt sort of invisible in a lot of cases. I mean, I specifically remember sometimes I had some friends, really good friends that were not Asian. And like, for instance, in sixth grade, I remember the really popular girl in our elementary school was doing a graduation party. And I found out from my best friend at the time, cause he was like, Hey, are you going to go to the party? And I was like, I didn’t even hear about it. Then he was like, Oh, well let me try asking. And I know he must’ve asked and then he didn’t mention it again. So I must, I’m guessing. She said no. Right. And I had a lot of experiences like that. And so. Junior high and high school were much better because there were a lot more Asians in these programs. So I started feeling a lot more comfortable. And why did I pick Berkeley? I mean, Berkeley is famous for having a huge Asian undergraduate population. I mean, that’s literally the number one reason. I was like, I want to go to a place where I’m not just the invisible minority. Right. And then from there, I started gaining a lot more confidence in high school and in a lot more in college. And after we sold it in front of me, it was, I was like, I want to see what it’s like to be, you know, in Asia, in China and Hong Kong, where I would be the majority. And so I went over there, but then ironically, the thing that happened was, when I went over there within almost instantly, I realized like, oh, I’m actually super different from that. Like, I literally don’t have to say anything. Like I don’t even open my mouth and they can tell, like, I’m not from there. They’re like, where are you from. Again, the thing I realized while I was in Asia was that I’m a minority everywhere because if I go to Asia, I’m still just a weird Westerner person. And if I’m here, I’m a minority and then actually, it was good because I started just accepting it and just realizing like, this is who I am and just being okay with that.

Maggie: [00:35:31] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Which is why it’s like an ongoing issue with so many agents, right? We’re always trying to find our place and find our voice, but we really have to embrace, you know, who we are and where we live and you know, who we interact with.

Bryan: [00:35:44] It’s coming from problem that we’re trying to solve the Asian Hustle Network to realize, you know, we get about 150 to 200 pending posts every day. Probably like 60% of those is like, I’m so happy I’m in this community. Cause I can’t find my identity. Yeah, it seems to be an ongoing thing. What are, you know, is for you or something like new generations, it’s really important to find your tribe too. But the bigger thing is you have to, you have to know who you are, you know, you have to be comfortable in your own skin. It goes a long way when not just social interactions and finding your identity, but also doing business too, you know, comfortable you are at the better you are at making good decisions and you know, when you’re honest with yourself because you’re not lying to yourself. Like, you know, it’d be like, things are so grave and everything’s like burning down. But yeah, it’s pretty cool to hear that he spent some time in Hong Kong because Maggie’s from Hong Kong.

Patrick: [00:36:40] Cool. Yeah,

Bryan: [00:36:41] I think we’re there a year or two ago and we absolutely loved it, you know? And the culture is great. The food’s great.

Patrick: [00:36:48] Wait during the riots and stuff?
It was right before.

Bryan: [00:36:51] You know what the funny thing is. So we left like a week before the riots, and then earlier this year we left Europe a week before the COVID lockdown.

Patrick: [00:37:02] Oh wow. You guys are just totally[inaudible].

Bryan: [00:37:05] It’s not intentional.

Patrick: [00:37:09] Although, ironically, if you’re in Hong Kong now you’re probably safer.

Maggie: [00:37:12] Exactly. Right. That’s very true.

Bryan: [00:37:16] So after spending nine years in Asia and coming back to the US and in 2014 or 2015?

Patrick: [00:37:25] 2013.

Bryan: [00:37:26] 13. What was the what was, I mean, always you moved back because of family, but after you moved back here, You know, changing cultures twice, living in Asia for nine years and living United States all your life? Now you’re back in the United States. You’re like, Oh man, what helps you decide what you want to do next? Was it, did you immediately want to like make a strong connection, find a network of new tribe to start new businesses with what was your, what was the process like when you first go back to the United States and what do you want to do? And how’d you sort that part out?

Patrick: [00:37:56] Yeah, when I got back, a lot of it was just kind of reconnecting with friends, kind of reestablishing my network here. So one thing I did was, I actually started when I was in Hong Kong, but I created a group for tech founders and brought in difficult tech founder friends. They could refer other people kind of like Asian Hustle Network, but very private, you know, now it’s like 150, you know, really amazing tech founders in that group. So that helped, I ended up doing a company with a friend that I did my first company with. So company number six and company number one were with a friend, Lyle Fong, and we just, we love playing video games our whole lives. And when we were hanging out, we decided to try and do a company to make more games.

So the two of us went and did that for a while. Unfortunately it didn’t work, but it, you know, it was very fine. And you know, anyone who loves video games probably has thought in the past, like, Oh, I’d love to make my own video games. So we actually did that. But yeah, it was definitely an adjustment to come back because, and I think it’s really interesting to live in another country. I feel like everyone should live at least a year in another country because it gives you a much wider view because growing up in the States, you always just feel like the US is best at everything. And then you realize like, Oh, It’s there’s a lot of good here. You know, like the tech company. The entertainment stuff we make is amazing, but there are also problems. Like one thing coming back from Hong Kong, you know, obviously I wasn’t there during the riots or all that stuff, but Hong Kong, when I was there was incredibly safe. You can go anywhere any time by yourself and you don’t even think about danger, like your, you know, your spider-sense is never on. Not on at all. And then I come back to the barrier and you can’t even walk through most parts of San Francisco without like looking around a little bit to be like, just know your environment, because I mean many, many times since being back, you know, you have homeless people come up and are trying to start fights with you or like getting in your face, yelling racist things and stuff.

And you can’t, you know, you just didn’t, you don’t engage, you just ignore and try to walk faster. Right. And that doesn’t happen like ever in Hong Kong and Singapore, Japan, like these places are ridiculously safe. Right? They’re much cleaner, like Hong Kong, you go in like the train. The airport. Like for the transportation system, the MTR, it’s like you go to here and it’s like Bart, a lot of these things really, you know, like a homeless person came up and try to assault me in the bar.
And my friend had his notebook literally grabbed out of his hand in the bar and the person ran out. I mean, like, and these are things that like, I didn’t notice when I was only living in the US but after coming back from Asia, you really, you can’t help, but notice it where it’s like, suddenly you have this, like your spider-sense has to be on all the time. You have to like, be aware of your surroundings. And actually that’s like a little bit like a low-level anxiety that when you’re in Asia, it just doesn’t happen. And it’s actually really nice to be in a place where you don’t have to worry about those things. And then obviously with all the stuff, with the politics now and everything, and, or even our, our response to what’s happening with COVID like there are definitely countries that are doing a much better job.
I mean, most Asian countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea are doing handling in a much better and not letting politics and all this other stuff mix in. And yeah, it was a massive adjustment also just coming back to the States and kind of a little bit feeling that invisible thing happening again.
And I’ve been trying to be really involved with groups, you know, like a gold house or supporting, you know, rock the boat or with you guys. Because I feel it’s really important. And, and to me, one thing I realized when I was in Asia and coming back is that what’s super important is having positive role models in media, right in front of the camera.

And when you’re in Asia, almost all TV and film is with Asian people in all rules. When when you look at any Western media, I mean, even within Europe, Australia, you know, here, typically if you see Asians in anything. It’s very stereotypical, always computer programmers, the kung fu guys, working massage parlor girls, things like that. Or it’s like that, even a stuff that’s imported. It’s going to be like gently Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, who I love all those folks, but it’s still kung fu. You know, it’s still guides. I mean, outside Bruce Lee, I have no romantic relationships or it’s like anime, you know, that’s the kind of stuff that gets imported.
Like most of the other stuff, I mean, Yeah, like Parasite now, but it’s still quite rare. I think the big difference over there, or even what I heard about Latin American countries, like a, I’ve heard are much more accepting of Asians because they actually get Asian dramas, I think like, dramas and things like that, where almost everyone in South America is watching that stuff like at least once a day, regular programming. And I think when you see that, it’s just a big difference in how people think about you and how we think about ourselves. Yeah. And it’s something that’s, it’s getting better, but it’s still bad.

Maggie: [00:43:29] Right, right, right. Yeah. That’s really good point. I just like to give feedback on it about, you know, you moving to Asia and then coming back to US, it’s very similar to my situation because I actually was born and raised in San Francisco, you know, the whole homeless situation like it’s always been a problem in my whole 28 years of living, but it’s never, I’ve never like dawned as a problem because I’ve always just like kept walking straight ahead. Like I’ve never like paid attention to my surroundings because I don’t want to like look at it. You know? And Bryan coming from LA to the Bay area, it’s like a whole new world to him. And he’s like, why are the streets of San Francisco?

Bryan: [00:44:08] Why is it so dangerous here?
[talking over each other]

Maggie: [00:44:14] But to me I’m like, really? There’s no problem. You know, like get as a problem. I just ignore it. You know, I feel, I pretend like the problem is not there. And I like your perspective. And like, if you move to Asia, you know, Hong Kong, I never felt like I was in danger. You know, I think a lot of places other than the US are much safer than the US. But then every other country, they praise you as they’re like, Oh, US is like moving at such a quick pace. You know, there’s so much better. You know, we have a lot of Australians in Asian Hustle were who praise United States. And they’re like, why are you guys like moving so fast? Like, we’re always trying to catch up with you guys. You know, entrepreneurs in the US are so incredible. I wish I could be more like you guys. But that’s not true at all. There are entrepreneurs everywhere. You know, we’re all moving at a speed that, you know, very fast and there are skilled and educated people everywhere.

You know, and about the whole film industry, that’s very true. Like with Parasite, like these movies are being praised whenever, you know, they win awards and Grammys and everything like that, but we’re trying to move to an area where it’s normalized. Right. But we’re so far from that. We are moving in the right direction, but we need to get to a place where it’s normalized and we should still celebrate, you know, whenever these movies are coming out, starring Asians, but it’s always, we’re still in a place where it’s like, Oh, there’s a movie starring Asians. Like, that’s very rare, you know, and we need to and gold house it’s like doing such an incredible job with that with Crazy Rich Asians.

Bryan: [00:45:47] So, you know, we do share a lot of similarities too, because we started Asian Hustle Network because we wanted more people in mainstream media, more and more people in corporate and investment ladders. I started three criteria that we formed a group on and people were just kind of resonated around our core values and our name, I guess because people hate the word hustle and Asians. Yeah. That’s pretty good. So do you share a lot of your core values that believe that we can make a difference? Well, oftentimes like Maggie and I looked at each other and be like, are we too foolish? Like, are we thinking too big? You know? And we tried to listen to people like yourself and try to remain more focused. So there’s a lot of times where, you know, you get opportunities to come to almost on a daily basis. Hey, you do this, you do that. You do this most of the time for us, I think, and in a good way is that we’re also kind of lazy and we’re like, you know what? We’re just gonna focus on our vision or like anything else can add to our vision. We’ll do it. Does it focus here, our vision, we won’t do it. You know, it just goes back to the focus thing that you mentioned before. You know, I think a couple of months into the group, it was still chaotic. Like we were getting people posting on different industries, selling your stuff, promoting your stuff, sharing the stories.

We realized that you know, what made us special was our product-market fit to resonate with the Asian culture and is not just the United States, but around the world. You know, what happens is, Hey, we have something beautiful happen. People are starting to connect with each other based on our underlining morality or values or beliefs that, you know, prior to Asian Hustle Network, we couldn’t find any else that united the Asian population. We found Koreans, Japanese, very segregated. But now that I see people at different ethnic groups support each other, it makes me really happy because now we’re trying to unite everyone under the same umbrella. We’re not different. We’re the same, we just say different things, you know, it’s just growing up and especially our generation too.
Cause our parents came from a time of war. My parents came to the United States because of the Vietnam war. And because of that, they do have a lot of resentment against like other ethnic race. And they’re like telling me, Hey, you shouldn’t trust this can’t trust that. They’re growing up and you know, most Asian place in LA, Arcadia. Everyone’s the same as me, mom, what makes us so different? You know, and that’s always been a philosophy too. So it was the next philosophy. She grew up the most Asian area in ESSA, sunset, you know? So we just wanted to connect, bridge everything together and seeing your work. It’s almost like a blueprint for us to follow, you know, cause we fully believe that success leaves clues. And when you come back in this ironic, you say you feel invisible, you’re the first person we noticed there. Yeah. So it’s a little bit ironic, but you feel that way and you’re not the only one feeling that way. You want to make sure that everyone feels like they have a place to belong. And that’s our goal.

Patrick: [00:49:01] I mean, the stuff that you guys have done is incredible. It’s really good. I think you’ve built a really good community and it’s great that you’re putting a lot more resources into keeping to grow it, growing it.

Bryan: [00:49:14] Definitely appreciate that, Patrick. And I think we were homeless at the top of cloth.
Do you have any important, like any, anything that you want to say to your audience [inaudible]

Patrick: [00:49:25] I would say if anyone needs help or mentoring or support, you know, they can always find me on LinkedIn. Do rotten doubt rotten from Rotten Tomatoes doubt. Then Yeah, just feel free to reach out, say that they’ve heard this podcast, or found me on Asian Hustle Network or something and happy to try to give some advice or mentoring to them. I think it’s really important for us all to continue supporting each other.

Maggie: [00:49:52] Yeah. Very important. Thanks so much for coming on. We loved your story and your insight.

Bryan: [00:49:58] Patrick.

Patrick: [00:50:02] Yeah. And hopefully, when everything is less crazy, we can all meet up in person.
Bryan: Sounds good. Thank you, Patrick All right. Thanks so much

Outro: [00:50:11] Hey guys, we hope you enjoy this episode. Please subscribe to the show. We like to get to the top 10 on iTunes so be sure to leave us a five-star review. We release an episode every single Wednesday. So, stay tuned. Thank you, guys, so much.