Jon Thai // Ep 62 // Harnessing Creativity and Passion Through Design
Welcome to Episode 62 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Jon Thai 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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In 2016, Jon left his comfortable tech job working for a billionaire tech mogul to creatively design a life/career he had dreamed of(all while his wife was pregnant with their first child). His goal was to find a way to harness his creativity and passion through design to blend work/life in such a way where happiness, fulfillment, talent, financial stability, and purpose were all intertwined.
(Jon)athan Thai is an award-winning designer, entrepreneur, and native to the Bay Area. He is the co-founder of Hatch Duo: an industrial design/product development firm, Aggregate: A design-focused unconventional materials lifestyle brand, and Design Bros: a small art shop where he sells his art/designs on printed apparel and goods.
He’s worked on product designs for big companies like Sonos, Activision, TP-Link, Logitech, Sol Republic, and Ubiquiti Networks, as well as technology startups. His designs have been recognized with international awards such as Red Dot & IDEA, and have been featured in media outlets like GQ, Mashable, Business Insider, High Snobiety, and even on CBS Series: California by Design. In 2020 Jon was recognized as one of IDSA’s (Industrial Design Society of America) 20/20, which recognized his firm’s contribution to local hospital’s PPE shortage.
Currently, he is co-founder/owner of two companies : Aggregate, an e-commerce watch and lifestyle brand(with roots in Kickstarter), and Hatch Duo, an industrial design consultancy focused on early stage technology startups. Jon and his partner also utilize Hatch Duo’s design capital as an investment vehicle for interesting and unique ventures. Some of these include ventures in AI/Data, Food/Health, Medical/Health, Sexual Wellness, Fitness Tech, and wearables.
Jon recognized early on that design and vision were super powers for business and life, and his goal is to utilize it to impact not only his own life, but to empower others to realize their product and entrepreneurial dreams.
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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 guests with us. His name is Jonathan tie in 2016, John left his comfortable tech job working for a billionaire tech mogul to creatively design, a life and career. He had dreamed of all while his wife was pregnant with our first child. His goal was to find a way to harness his creativity and passion through design, to blend, work and life in such a way where happiness. Fulfillment talent, financial stability and purpose. We’re all intertwined. John is an award winning designer, entrepreneur and native to the Bay area. He is the co-founder of hatch duo and industrial design and product development firm aggregate a design focus, unconventional materials, lifestyle brand, and design bros. A small art shop, where he sells his art and designs on printed apparel and goods. John recognized early on that design and vision were super powers for business and life. And his goal is to utilize it to impact not only his own life, but to empower others, to realize their product and entrepreneurial dreams. John, welcome to the show.
Jon: (00:01:26) Hey, thanks so much. And thanks for that intro. It’s a, it was awesome.
Maggie: (00:01:31) All you you’re super impressive. And we’re so excited to dive deep into your life story.
Bryan: (00:01:36) Let’s dive right into John. Tell us about where’d you grow up? What was your upbringing like?
Jon: (00:01:41) So, um, I’m Bay area born and raised. I grew up in the East Bay. So, um, my, my parents, uh, raise me in Richmond, uh, and then moved to El Sobrante, which is kind of like right next to Richmond. So. Uh, I’m a Bay area kid, um, went to preschool to middle school, um, like in the Richmond area. Um, yeah, growing up was, was awesome. I think, uh, my parents were, were probably not the stereotypical, you know, Asian parents per se. They’re pretty, um, Pretty liberal. Uh, they both went to Berkeley. So, uh, you know, in terms of like raising us, um, you know, they’re, they’re not really the stereotypical in terms of like, you have to be a doctor, you have to do this. But, um, they did, they did sign me and my brother up for a lot of sports and activities. So growing up, I did basketball, baseball, um, and then I did like art programs and stuff, and I think like art was. Was something that was pretty enjoyable for me growing up. So did a lot of drawing and painting after school art programs and things like that. Um, and, uh, yeah, like that just kind of obviously like led me into like a creative path and career, but, uh, yeah, like it, I think the bear is a great place to grow up. It’s really diverse. Um, I think. One of the interesting things that I was just trying to reflect and think back. And I remember, um, just going to school, like, it was really diverse. Like I was, uh, maybe like one or two of the only Asian kids in, in, um, preschool and kindergarten. And, uh, it was one of those things where I remember, I felt like a really self-conscious uh, when my mom was, she would pack lunches for me and, uh, You know, she would pack like the Venus, you know, the Vitta Solei is the side box. So like, I would have that. And, uh, but for whatever reason, like when I, I think I, I pulled it out for the first time and all the other kids were like, what is that? And they kind of like, tease me about it. Like, obviously they’re just kids. But then I remember after that, I would like go home and tell him like, Hey, can you like wrap napkins around? You know, like all my Asian foods so that like I could hide it. And so it was just, I just remember being such a, like, self-conscious. Reserved kid back then where I think like art and stuff like that, and just allowed me to kind of feel a little more free. So
Bryan: (00:04:10) to me, it’s awesome to hearing about art and how that influences your life right now. You know, like it’s, it’s amazing. And it’s unfortunately your story about, you know, not being proud of your Asian heritage is a very common on our guests, on our podcast where they want to hide the Asian culture, but we are going through a movement right now where we’re owning up to your heritage and we’re proud of the part, you know, Yeah. I mean, from my experience a little bit different, because I went to a high school that was like 90% Asians. what’s different.
Jon: (00:04:43) Yeah. And it’s interesting for me because like, I think I went through like different stages, different iterations where. Um, in the very beginning, it was, it was really diverse. It was mixed, right? Like it wasn’t like there weren’t any Asians, but it was like whites, blacks, Latinos, um, Indian, you know, middle Eastern, like all different kinds. And then in middle school, um, you know, that’s when, like you start to get districted out. Um, and so I went to a predominantly African-American middle school, um, and, uh, you know, just the diversity is like very different. And then I think, you know, for high school, my parents just decided that. Um, you know, it, it was like one of those things where they wanted to make sure, like education wise, like I was going into like Maxville. They actually transferred me out to, um, a high school in Orenda, which was predominantly like, All Caucasian. Right. And, um, that was pretty interesting to go from, like lose all my friends, like this diverse group, and then go on your first day of high school to where you don’t know anyone and no one looks like you. Right. And so, um, that was a very interesting transition, but I think like ultimately I always adjusted and made great friends and it was like through sports and art, right. That you like, you know, you find your passion and you kind of like build your, your tribe around that. And so. Um, yeah, that was kind of like me growing up.
Bryan: (00:06:05) So at what point in your career where you realize that this is art is going to be a main thing, like you want to make it your main hustle didn’t manifest back in college. Did you sign back in college and how did that translate to you working your first job ever in art and then creating your own company now?
Jon: (00:06:23) Yeah. Um, so I think, you know, Back in high school. Like when we’re trying to figure out what college we wanted to go to, that was already where I was like, okay, like I want to do something creative. And I think my, both my parents really encouraged me. I think, um, they did the very best they could to be like, yeah, pursue something like, Hey, there’s finding Nemo. You could be like an animator. But the problem was that like both my parents, um, There was no one in our family. Like at all, uh, even our extended Asian family, there was no one at all who had like done a creative career Um, it was like very different, right? Like, and so, um, you know, in terms of just being exposed to that, like, I didn’t really know. What was out there. So I did actually just apply to UCI, like all the UCS and stuff ended up going to UCI. And, uh, at first I was undeclared and I was like, man, I’m just going to be an art major, you know? Um, and, and, you know, funny enough, my parents were like, yeah, that’s fine. And you know, most parents would be like, if you’re going to UC, you know, major in computer science or something like that, right. You can take advantage. Um, but it turned out to be pretty good for me. Cause I think, um, You know, like through doing like the fine art stuff at UCI, I kinda realized, like, I kind of want to apply it a little more. Like I don’t want to just express myself. And so I started taking classes at art center, um, at the same time as UCI. So like my last year, my graduating year at UCI, I was commuting back and forth to Pasadena taking night classes to take car design and product design classes. Um, and how I fell into that was I just love drawing. Right. And so I think, you know, the whole way through, from. High school on. I knew there was this inkling of like, I want to do something creative. I want to do that for a career. I just didn’t know how to turn that into something like monetary. So just, you know, I was a sneakerhead. And so I researched like who, who designed sneakers, who creates Jordans. Right. And I, I fell across, um, this designer named tinker Hatfield, who was an architect, turned shoe designer for Jordan, and just fell into the rabbit hole of like these forums online of there’s a career called industrial design. And then, so I started to ask people about it and, um, yeah, that’s kinda how I discovered industrial design. And, you know, at the time it wasn’t a very well-known career. My parents didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what it was. And, um, but once I started taking classes and just drawing and. No drawing cars and spaceships and cool products. They’re like, it was awesome. So that’s what I knew. Like I had to do something like that.
Maggie: (00:08:55) Yeah. Wow. That’s amazing. I love how your story just kind of like falls in together, perfectly your childhoodpassion. You even know what major to major in, and you’re like, you know what? I’m just going to go for art and see how it goes, but it turned out perfectly
Bryan: (00:09:10) and hats off to you to major in heart though, because like, I remember it. I mean, no offense I’ve ever had. That was like the major where my Asian parents, like you can’t do no.
Jon: (00:09:20) And, uh, you know, you say that cause like, you know, like a lot of people are like, Oh, like, Oh, what were your parents saying this whole time? And actually like, my parents were pretty supportive. Like my mom especially is very like, you know, follow your dreams and like, you’ll figure it out. Um, on the extended family side that when they’re asking like, Oh, so you’re going to graduate UCI seem like, what are you going to, what are you going to do? Like, are you going to. You know, um, you know, graphic design doesn’t really make that much money like that kind of, you know, I’ll get those kinds of comments here and there. Um, but they’re like, but at least you can follow your passion. So it’s always like this weird comment that like always stuck with me, but at least you can follow your passion. So I would always kind of like, Oh, I was like settling for something, you know, giving up something just because I wanted to pursue something creative. But, um, but yeah, it, it, it worked out, uh, yeah, and I definitely. I wasn’t thinking about, you know, long-term back then. I wasn’t thinking about, you know, how is this going to turn into a living or provide for me, but, you know, I think, you know, I just knew that I, I love drawing and painting and kind of visualizing things enough that I would.Somehow iterate and figure it out
Bryan: (00:10:24) for our listeners too. Just a point of reference. This is back in, what is it like?
Jon: (00:10:31) Oh yeah, it was when, like I made that change, so I graduated UCI and then I went back to school, uh, to Academy of art actually back in San Francisco. And, um, yeah, originally I was actually planning to go to art center, Pasadena, cause that’s like the number one school for car design and everything like that.But, um, yeah. When I, when I was graduating, my mom announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. And so, um, yeah, so I decided like it’s probably best to be closer to home. And so, you know, upon graduating, UCI moved back to the Bay area to go to Academy of art instead, and it worked out because the bear is like great for, um, product design. So, yeah.
Bryan: (00:11:12) Yeah. I think there’s one more, uh, one more moral to the story here. It’s like, I remember. And Oh, eight Oh nine. This is for the social media. Boom. You know, and this is before being creative, it was actually lucrative, you know, and it’s crazy because, you know, you started what, what, you’re good at, what you like, what you’re passionate about. And that’s crazy too, because a lot of times people tell us like what we can and cannot do. Just a point of reference, like, Oh, you’re not gonna make that much money and whatnot. But as long as you stay passionate about what you want to do, you can’t predict feature. Well, you’re probably going to happen to fall into place, to make it work for you. And that’s for you. That’s why your parents are steering towards see like follow your passion. Yeah. Yeah.
Jon: (00:11:53) Yeah. And, and I think like part of it too is, um, like I have a few younger cousins as well, and I have a few older cousins in it. It’s like, I can kind of watch like the path and like, you know, like now that I’m an entrepreneur, like I hear it. Like I talk with some of my older cousins all the time and they’re like, man, I, I wish I took those kinds of risks, like when I was younger. And then I have these younger cousins now who. Like, you know, um, they grew up in Asian household, but like, because my parents were the way they were, um, like now I feel like they’re kind of liberated and they’re like, cool. You can pursue what she wants. So now my cousins are like, they’re graduating. And they’re like, I want to be a game designer. I want to design, you know, levels for, you know, games like Counter-Strike or, you know, things like that. And, um, so I think that’s, that’s also like part of, I had a little chip on my shoulder. Like, no, like you can, you can actually do something you love and still. Um, you know, monetarily successful as well.
Maggie: (00:12:46). Yeah. I agree. I love about your story is, you know, like Brian said, like your parents, how they were so flexible with, you know, you following your passion that gave you the room and the space to actually, you know, see what you were interested in, actually go through with, you know, pursuing your passion and art. But, you know, a lot of people don’t have that opportunity because their parents want them to pay rent, become like a lawyer or a doctor. And if they tell their parents, you know, I want to become an, you know, an artist and they bash on it that actually sticks to that their like mind and their head and that for the rest of their life. So I like how the ability to do whatever you wanted.
Jon: (00:13:22) Yeah, absolutely. And I think, yeah. I it’s, it’s just a lesson, like for like us now that I have my own kids, it’s like what you project your fears, your, I mean, cause I think parents are just trying to do the best for their kids and, and again, like just thinking back on like. Industrial design is great. My parents didn’t under didn’t even know that existed. So when you don’t know something exists or you don’t see someone in that position, that’s possible, how can you then like allow your kids to do it so I can amplify book-wise.
Maggie: (00:13:49) Yeah, exactly. So when you moved back to the Bay area, you were working a few internships, is that correct?
Jon: (00:13:55) Yeah. So I moved back to the Bay area. Um, I pursued a degree in industrial design and a second bachelor’s degree. So I was like doing school all over again with like kids younger than me. Um, but yeah, I, I, I, I made the decision that like work experience was, was pivotal to like building a career out of this. And so I think my second year in, I got, um, no, my first year and actually I got, uh, my first internship at a company called neuro sky. So it’s a EEG brain sensor company. Um, and how I got that internship was I did this project for my product design class, which was like a wee brain controller, basically as a video game controller for the way back then, you know, I’m dating myself now, but, um, and then a designer had come into our final. Project just to kind of scope and see what the projects were. And it turned out they were an EEG company. And so like, that’s how I got my first internship there. Um, and then that basically led into like my next internship, which was a company called whipsaw, which was, is still one of the top firms globally right now. And they do, um, they do stuff for Google and, you know, um, big companies like that. And, um, yeah, it just really got my feet wet and just designing different products, sketching, um, You know, just getting my hands dirty, working late and all that stuff. And it was fun. Got to learn from a real, a lot of really talented designers.
Maggie: (00:15:22) So, yeah. And so making that transition into from your internships, um, you started working at Y studios. How was that transition? Like?
Jon: (00:15:29) Yeah, so that transition was actually quite easy. Um, so I. I was interning at Y studios as well as that was my last internship. And so I’m that converted into a full-time job and, um, it was awesome. Uh, I think one thing that was really cool too is, was that it was a small firm. And so they, they, you know, like now they’re in this like large warehouse in like the mission. But before, like when I was working there, they were in the small, tiny kind of little, um, One two room studio and, uh, yeah, I just got to watch them build it from kind of like the ground up, so to speak, um, got to work on really cool projects like Sonos. So it’d be for Sonos IPO, that little play one speaker. I got to work on that. Um, and then I got to work on, uh, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Skylanders, if you guys have little nephews or nieces, like those little, um, toys and it’s like a video game. So that’s, that’s actually done by Activision. So we got, I got to work on that. Um, Yeah, just got to work with some really cool brands brands I got acquired. So I worked on this thing called revolve and watch them, uh, get acquired by nest, which, you know, then got acquired by Google. So, you know, all this, like design was like bringing me into this world of like business, so to speak. Right. Like, so I was having like a lot of fun, like drawing and rendering out these, these cool products. But at the same time, like in the background, I would kind of like catch these glimpses of like, Oh, like, We suddenly moved from these, this tiny little room into this huge warehouse after that client got acquired. So in my head, I was like, man, like my boss must have worked out something besides designing, you know, so that he had a piece of the pie or something. Right. And so, um, so that kinda got my brain started to think of like, okay, maybe I can utilize design and leverage it in a way to kind of like. Accelerate me to like that next level. So I already started to have like little seeds of like entrepreneurship and you know, how am I going to use design to take me to the next level at that point?
Bryan: (00:17:34) Yeah, let’s dive deep into that too. Like, what is that? So you have these seeds planted and you have these thoughts planted, when was a big jump when you’re like, you know what, I’m ready to go off my own. It wasn’t expensive.
Maggie: (00:17:45) Yeah. And I’m on top of that. Like, I’m very curious. Did you have any like thoughts. You know, like challenges that were kind of like in your mentality, like, can I do this, you know, did you always have that like entrepreneurial spirit or were there like buildups when you were going through these internships and these, you know, so many jobs and that kind of that entrepreneurial spirit?
Jon: (00:18:04) Yeah. I mean, admittedly, I think like throughout and I still suffer it today. Like I still get imposter syndrome and even. Though, like those times, like I was getting good jobs, good projects and stuff. Um, but like throughout that time, I was like, man, like, I don’t know when I would be ready to like start my own company, whether that would be like a firm or just like some kind of company. And so I always felt like I needed like more experience. And so that’s why I always kind of felt like I had a target each time. I was like designing my path on. So to speak. And so my next job after my studios was a company called solar Polak, which was a startup. They were break off from beats by Dre. And so, um, I wanted to go there to kind of like, learn about. Startups and, and, and things of that nature. And so I’m sorry, you guys are frozen. I don’t know if, if, if, uh, no. Yeah. And so, um, I wanted to go there to kind of like learn about startups and, and things of that nature. Yeah. And so I, I did feel kind of like these mental challenges of like, well, I don’t know how long it’s gonna take for me to have enough experience to go off on my own. So, you know, I would. You know, I was basically in my head, I need to go work at a startup.I need to, you know, kind of work in a design director capacity before I, you know, do that. But I think, you know, and obviously like we can go in and get into all of my different jobs that led up to this, but the, the real point in time that really, I was like, man, I need to go off on my own was when I was at ubiquity. So you basically networks is owned by billionaire NBA, owner, Robert para. And, uh, it’s really interesting story about like how I. I ended up working there, like basically he’s shot me an email because he saw my portfolio and was like, let’s have lunch. Literally gave me like an offer the same day. And so, yeah. So I just obviously went and worked over for him. Um, but you know, me being a as fan, like it was cool. I got to talk a lot about basketball with him. I worked directly for him reported directly to the CEO of a billion dollar company, public company. And like, that’s. Like that’s what a lot of designers dream of, they dream of being like Jonathan Knox. And like, I felt like I had that position there, but, um, that was almost kind of like a, uh, a mixed blessing because through that, I got to like become friends with a lot of his friends who were entrepreneurs themselves. So I remember like sitting in the office one day and then I don’t know where, um, he’s like, Hey guys, this is Rick. And I turned around and it’s like, Rick Fox. Well, I’m walking through the office and he’s like, yeah, he’s going to chill and watch you guys like render some stuff today, somewhere. Okay, cool. So chilling with them, Rick Fox and then, um, you know, so kind of just like being around these like high net worth individuals who were talking about these big ideas and, um, one of them who I connected with, um, A good friend of mine, still a good friend of mine right now. It was his NBA scout who was launching his own brand called elite defender. And he needed help designing his thing. And so, um, Robert and him had asked me like, Hey, can, you know, on the weekend or something, you know, outside of work, do you have time to just, you know, help out with the design? I was like, sure. Yeah, I’ll help out. So I did. And, um, started becoming really good friends with this guy, started to see how he was building. This like business on the side, it was a side hustle. Cause he’s obviously scouting for the Grizzlies. And, um, I was just like, thinking like, this is awesome, but like, it would have been more awesome if I was doing it for myself, you know? So I was like doing all this stuff, like doing the branding and, and, and I think he’s doing really well right now, but it’s just like, I was doing all these things and I was like, in my head, I was just. Questioning, like, why haven’t I, if I can do this for other people, why haven’t I applied it to myself? And so it was at that point that I was like, you know what, I need to start coming up with a plan of like, that’s my next move. And so, um, so that’s kind of when I started to think, like, okay, I need to think of some kind of idea where I can quit my job. Right. Um, so it, and it definitely wasn’t a, a, a smooth transition and there was some kind of like unexpected, uh, You know, bumps in the road, but that’s, you know, that was that point in time. That ubiquity was probably where I was just like, all right, like I got to do it now or whatever.
Bryan: (00:22:04) Yeah. I feel like it also goes back to like your, your sense of awareness too, you know? Like you, you, because you wanted to be entrepreneur in many ways and he planted the seeds already, but you started to spot opportunities out there because you want something, you know, I think from a psychological standpoint, that’s. That’s a really good point to highlight because a lot of people, everyone is always surrounded by opportunities, but you yourself has to be aware of where you’re going, what you want to do in order to see these opportunities. And I felt like for your situation, it was that it was because you wanted to be entrepreneurial, that you started spotting these opportunities. And top of that, you took action in order to make these things happen. You know, a lot of, a lot of times people would just see these opportunities and just let it live. Like go buy them, but you saw them and he sees them. So hats off to you, man.
Maggie: (00:22:53) Yeah. And what’s really interesting is like, it must’ve been such an experience working for someone at that level, you know, and I think that it kind of laid the foundation for you to have those opportunities and you were able to scope them out.Um, and so. You know yeah. Hats off to you. That’s amazing. And so when you were having these ideas, like, you know, I want to do something for myself, what was that kind of planning process, like going on in your head and like, you know, you had a family at that time, what did you say to your wife and what does she kind of think about it in terms of like your family and your tone and everything like that?
Jon: (00:23:29) Well, so, so it’s funny, like, so we didn’t have a family yet at that time, when, when I had those seeds of ideas, um, And, but we were planning to eventually, you know, have it. And, um, yeah. And when we, when we discovered that, um, we were expecting, I was like, okay, this is happening. You know, this, this is, this has got to happen soon because if I, if I wait too long, like the ability to take risk, Is going to decrease because there’s going to be someone, you know, more people to depend on me. And so I think that planning process honestly, was quite stressful because I was, I was pulled in a dilemma where it was like, am I being selfish for wanting to just quit my job right now? And like kind of risk my income, knowing that, uh, you know, my wife and my soon to be child is gonna be depending on, you know, us financially. And so, no, it was, it was a huge planning process where I had to talk through with my wife, like. Okay. When do I quit? You know, how do I quit? And if we do this, you know, financially, what do we do? Like how much runway do we have? And so we, it was, it was down to the T where we looked and we’re like, okay, we have about six months of runway. But, um, luckily I had some RSUs from the company and I was like, well, what if I just sell all of that? And let that be like around it to make it through like the entire year. And so that was kind of what we decided and I’m lucky enough to, like, I had a business partner who was also planning to leave as well. So, um, so we’re kind of in it together. So I think in that sense, like knowing that I had a business partner, um, that kind of gave me some comfort that like, if we failed or if this all went bad, like at least we have, we kind of did it together and, you know, we’re kind of risking our capital together. So we were completely bootstrapped and. Um, the timing that I had actually planned to quit was, was supposed to be a year, like a few months, like later than when I did quit. But what was happening was, you know, um, my wife was pregnant and, um, you know, when, when you’re expecting sometimes there’s, uh, you know, complications or, you know, you’ll get random, you know, surprise scares. And so I was over in Taiwan for business. And, um, and then my wife had like, you know, uh, kind of a scare. And so I was like, I got to fly back right now. And you know, it was just the, in that thought moment. I was like, man, what am I, what am I doing? Like, like I should be over back home, like with my wife and just getting this whole thing for myself started instead of like, being so worried about like being employed and like. You know, making sure my boss was happy and at the expense of like being there for my own family. So I think it was just that, like that moment in time, it was just like, all right, dude. So I actually just, when I got that phone call from my wife, I was like, all right, you know what? I’m coming home. And it definitely was, did not go over well, because I was just, like I told my boss, I was like, Hey, I got the whole team in Taiwan. Ready? They’re going to present it to you. And he’s like, wait, like, like I thought you’re going to, I was like, Nope, I’m going home. And then he’s like, wait, hold on. And so, I mean, I probably could have done it a little differently, but it was just like, when you’re having a kid, you’re just kind of very passionate in the moment of just thinking about, you know, um, making sure that everything’s okay. So I flew back home, everything was fine, you know, it turned out. Um, but I was just like, all right, I gotta quit. So yeah, call my boss. Uh, probably wasn’t too happy about it, but, uh, I quit, literally like that day I came back home from Taiwan and, um, so it was three months ahead of time. The, uh, when I had planned to, like, I had wanted more of like my RSUs to vest, so I would have more runway, but, um, but again, we just did it and, and, uh, we made it work. Uh, so it was definitely like just jumping into like cold water. And I think just the nature of needing to survive and needing this to work out and just. I was kind of just adjusting every, every step of the way through. So probably not like the wisest thing per se on, in terms of timing, but I think regardless I was going to do it anyway, so yeah.
Maggie: (00:27:31) Yeah. Wow. That’s amazing. Yeah. We like Brian and I, we hear of a lot of entrepreneurs saying that point in time where they needed to feel like they wanted to make the jump. And it was just like something that happened that made them realize, you know, what? I’m like pouring out my blood, sweat, and tears for this job that, you know, is making someone else rich. And you know, it doesn’t give me the flexibility to spend time with loved ones. And that’s like exactly what you did because you saw the value and, you know, spending time with your wife and. She needed you the most at that time, you know, what was the type of moments like you can never take back. And I think that was when the light switch kind of flipped for you.
Jon: (00:28:06) Yeah. Yeah. And it was just like, you know, it’s one of those things too. It’s like when you, when you have a kid and I’m sure, like a lot of parents say that’s like, it just, it changes your world. It changes your perception of like life and purpose as well. And so like, when I, when we’re expecting my daughter is just like, all right, like, I have to do this. Like I have to show that this is like possible that you can try. Right. So that, that also was like a big push as well.
Maggie: (00:28:34) Yeah. Sure. So let’s talk about aggregate watches. Um, that was your first startup, right. And talk about kind of like the planning process of that. So after it, right after you quit, did you already have like a plan all built out or did you kind of start building out your plan after you had quit and started aggregate watches?
Jon: (00:28:53) Yeah, so we had somewhat of, I had somewhat of a, like a rough idea that I wanted to do watch it. So. This whole time of like, you know, when I was thinking about doing something for myself, um, I was really into like wood and watches and things of that nature. And so I was really digging into the rabbit hole of, of all these watch forums and, you know, white label brands that would kickstart and all that stuff. And so I was like, man, there’s a bunch of these, you know, back at that time, there’s a bunch of these watch brands on Kickstarter and just making, you know, money, easy money of, of white labeling stuff from China pretty much. Right. And I was like, but I’m a designer. Like, I feel like I could. Do better and make something more unique that it’s not going to get old quick. Um, and so, you know, Mike and I like, we, we have the idea that we wanted to do some kind of a lifestyle, you know, non-tech item. And, uh, we knew that we’re bootstrapping. So we felt the best way to do it was to get it onto Kickstarter. And so. Um, the, the idea of formulating what that watch would be didn’t come into play till probably like after I was like full time I quit. I was like full-time. And so I had time to actually think. And, um, Mike and I were like walking, I think in SF and we were just looking at it, like, dude, we got to think of something to make this watch out of. That’s different. And you know, we’re brainstorming like weird, weird materials by they’re not metal. And I think. We were looking down at the ground and then looking up at, you know, the buildings and we’re like, man, why don’t we use concrete? You know, like, it’d be very interesting to use concrete because it’s a huge, you know, in context it’s used for large architectural buildings, but we, you know, we could basically appropriated into small, tiny little lifestyle, um, product. And so that’s how the idea got formed. And then, you know, slowly, I started to spread the idea that, Hey, like, um, I’m doing this, uh, this watch thing. And then I think that’s when, like you could start to feel like the friends and family, like the ones that really like believing you and like really encouraging some of like, dude, you’re quitting your tech job, working for a billionaire to do what, like, you know, there’s like two of those kinds of things. And, um, but it was great. I think, you know, we rallied, we got a lot of, um, support behind us and we ended up. I think we put like a $40,000 goal for Kickstarter. We launched it. And in three days we broke through that goal. And I think we ended with like 63, 65 K at the end. And then obviously like we would upsell like afterwards. Um, but it was pretty cool. Like just to know that the company was ours. Um, we were featured in GQ and, um, that people actually would pay money for something that we created from scratch. So that was, that was pretty awesome.
Bryan: (00:31:36) Love that story. Congratulations.
Jon: (00:31:40) Thanks. Yeah. And it’s, it’s been cool. Like I think aggregates been been awesome because, you know, it’s, it’s an outlet for us where the creativity really gets to live.Like we get to create whatever products we want, concrete watches, um, you know, Tyvec backpacks. Uh, we get to collaborate with like friends, like Evan from adapt. Right. We get to sit, like I get to do things with friends. Like, however I want, I get to work with friends and, um, things like that. So I think aggregate has been kind of that, that outlet that was always, probably needed for me. And even, even being a designer, it’s like, you’re designing for clients. You’re designing for a boss. But like aggregated as something where, um, I get to kind of design for myself.
Maggie: (00:32:21) Yeah. And for our listeners, go ahead and check out aggregate. I mean, we’ve seen a few of ’em John’s shows over. He was so graciously kind of center for a watch and backpacks and t-shirts and yeah, the design is like extremely nice and sleek. We love it. And it just is something that you don’t normally see in other watches, which is, you know, really unique. And that’s what I love about your brand.
Jon: (00:32:46) Oh, I appreciate it. Yeah. And I’m glad you guys like it and yeah. Feel free to check it out and happy to give you guys an Ahn discount if you want to check it out.
Bryan: (00:32:57) Sounds good.
Maggie: (00:32:58) So I’m very curious, you know, as you were building aggregate, what type of challenges did you go through, um, with your company?
Bryan: (00:33:06) I know you mentioned imposter syndrome earlier, too, and that’s, that’s very common with a lot of founders, especially Asian founders for ourselves too. Like you went through while going through it. Imposter syndrome all the time. Right. What were your challenges with imposter syndrome and what were your challenges as you’re going through your startup? Yep.
Jon: (00:33:23) Yeah. Um, so I think like I get was, is a perfect example to talk about that where, um, you know, the entire time I was really afraid to fail. It’s like I had my kid, right. Like she was born, we launched on Kickstarter and I know, like I had, I felt like I had something to prove like, Oh, like we’re going to make a million dollars. On this Kickstarter so that I suddenly provided for my family. And it’s like, it doesn’t happen like that. You wish it can happen like that, where you become a millionaire overnight. And it just really doesn’t. And Mike and I, my partner, we were just like smacked in the face with that reality, I think after that campaign. So from the outside externally, everyone’s like, Oh my gosh. Awesome. You guys. Hit your campaign goal and everything. And that was great. And we were proud about that, but that’s not enough like that wasn’t enough money to sustain like a lifestyle. Like we, we had to really still use our. You know, our personal savings, our runway to kind of like live. Um, I had downsize, I moved into this small, tiny apartment next to Mike to make sure that, you know, my runway could go farther. Um, and so we were living next to like these rowdy students. Um, and it would smell like weed every day, which is fine. Like. You know, like I’m not going to get into that, but for, for, you know, raising like a newborn baby, it is kind of like rough to have like loud drunk parties, like next to you all the time. And this is like, you know, like we’re married and that was not like, well, we had planned. Um, and so like I think the lifestyle switch. Was was a huge change and adjustment for, uh, especially like my wife and I, like, she had to work more days to kind of supplement income so we could just pay rent and pay bills. I pay utilities. Um, and I got to the point where we realized like all of that money we had made on the Kickstarter had to get put back into the business just so we could then, you know, launch and sell direct. E-commerce like all these things that were needed, you know, three PL all that just needed money. And so, you know, we felt really good on, on the Kickstarter and then realized like, Oh my gosh, like all that money, like disappeared that pretty much, you know, within a month. And so Mike and I, like, we got into the point where we’re getting pretty tense. We were even fighting saying like, should we just go back to work? Like, I can’t believe that this dream is going to end this quick. And, um, What we started to do was like, okay, well, we can’t just go back to work because there’s so much to do for, I grew up there, there was so much potential still, and there’s all these things that have momentum, but it just needed like money. Right. And we didn’t know anything about VC funding or anything like that or how to get investors. So that was out of the question. So what we did was like, okay, we need to somehow make some kind of cash flexibly. So let’s, let’s enter the gig economy and let’s. Door dash. So, so both he and I got door dash accounts and we were basically, um, door dashing for $6 a delivery pretty much. And if they give us tips, they give us tips, but we were kind of doing that basically to make ends meet, honestly, on top of, you know, drawing out our, our savings at a slow bleed and then our wives having to work overtime to kind of like, you know, supplementing us to fulfill this dream. And so it was kind of a rough time financially during that time. Um, and I think sooner or later we realized like, door dash is not going to cut it. Like we need to, we need to maybe slow down a little bit on the entrepreneurial dream and actually, you know, acknowledge reality that bills need to be paid. And so I was like, okay, like, let’s just dig back into our skill set again. So in a way, like design saved me because I decided to use design to freelance again. So, um, so started to pick up some clients and, um, and those clients just basically, you know, We’re getting larger and larger to the point where, uh, you know, Mike and I were like, Oh, well, we’re actually, we’re actually making money here, like money that we can use to funnel into aggregate. And so we started doing that. We started funneling our freelance money into aggregate. Um, but then like the jobs just kept getting bigger, um, to the point where we were like, okay, well, like we have enough money for aggregate now, what do we do? And then he’s like, dude, why don’t we just start a firm? Like. So that’s basically how had steel was born. So through the struggle, the financial struggles of trying to keep the, I guess the first startup child alive, right? Like that’s how we consider it. Like the second one was born and they kind of like helped each other in a sense that they kind of like leverage each other to the point where it’s like, you know, Now clients were like, Oh, we heard you guys did your own Kickstarter campaign, or we know you guys are entrepreneurs. Like we’ll hire you guys to design stuff for us. So that’s, that’s how it all kind of started. Yeah.
Maggie: (00:37:51) Wow. I love that story. So inspiration.
Bryan: (00:37:55) A lot of people go do that. You know, we call it the Valley of the unknown at the very beginning,
Jon: (00:38:03) you know, whole imposter syndrome. Like back to your point on the imposter student, it was the whole time. It was like, I felt. Ashamed, like I was telling my wife, like, we’re laughing about it. Like back then, like we felt. Subconscious to like tell people that I was door dashing. Like we didn’t, we were like hiding it, you know? Um, just to like, I wanted to portray at that time that I was a successful entrepreneur and the reality of it was like, dude, I had in achieved anything yet. I was like, we had like externally made it look like it happened, but like nothing happened yet really like in terms of profits. So it was, it was a long way to like get to the point we are now.
Maggie: (00:38:37) Wow. That is amazing. What’s really interesting is like you didn’t exactly. Plan to start. Hatch duo, right? Like you don’t like kind of create a business plan. You, you did it because you had to do the freelance work to funnel back into aggregate and in the process, you’re like, Oh wow. This freelance work is actually working out. And so there’s an opportunity there that we should look into. Yeah.
Bryan: (00:38:58) That’s like the, like the power of broke, you know, it’s like when you’re. Pushing against the corner. Like you would do things you would never do it to really get yourself to the next level, but you can only get to that level of desperation where you don’t have a job.
Jon: (00:39:12) Yeah, no. And, and I, and I, and I really believe that’s you. And I know there’s like two trains of thought where people are like, you know, don’t quit. Unless you have your side hustle ready so that you can migrate trends. And I think that’s probably a really good plan, like honestly, but for me and my personality, and I think probably for majority of the people who need that kick in the butt, it’s like, you’ve got to put yourself into a corner. So that like the only way to succeed is out of necessity. Right. And so, like I had a kid, I had a kid to feed, you know, diapers to pay for. And it’s like, what are you going to do? I can’t, I can’t just, you know, live my dream. Selfishly without providing at the same time. And so that whole thing was like, okay, I got to leverage what I am really good at, which was design.
Maggie: (00:39:55) that’s amazing. So in building aggregate and hatch duo, what was the moment in time where you and Mike were like, you know what, this is our career and you know,
Bryan: (00:40:06) we’re never going back to a job
Maggie: (00:40:07) and you actually felt like, you know, this is something that you could do for the rest of your life. And this is like your passion.
Jon: (00:40:14) Yeah, I think, I think we’re already starting to, so when, when I got to meet Evan, uh, from adapt, like I had always admired like all these different entrepreneurs. And when we actually got to collaborate with, you know, um, someone that we had admired, like that was around the same time where we were starting to get our first large enterprise clients we’ll have to deal. So these two things were kind of happening in conjunction, whereas like it caused us to like reflect on our life to be like, dude, Like, we can never go back. This is too fun. Like we get to work with people. We want to, um, the, you know, we were making $6 an hour, you know, $6 an hour at first door dashing and trying to make it work to the point where eventually we were selling jobs for like six figures, um, per design job. And it was like, like, you know, I can’t make that as an employee. Like, I absolutely cannot make that. And so, um, yeah, it was just at that point, it was like, yeah, let’s. Let’s just do this and we’ll do whatever it takes to maintain the stream. So I think it was, yeah, I think 20. 18 when we actually like made hatch to official like official company. That was when it was like, there’s absolutely no way we want to go back.
Maggie: (00:41:24) Wow. That’s amazing. And just to add on top of that, Evan is like amazing to work with.
Jon: (00:41:29) He’s just amazing to work with. Yeah. Yeah. He’s, he’s awesome. So yeah, it’s like, you know, the ability to just, you know, collaborate with, with different people, like by choice, right? It’s like when you’re an employee, um, you kind of. You know, you definitely meet some awesome people to work with, but it’s not by choice. Right. It’s like, you’re, you’re kind of put in the position that you are. And so it’s just a little bit different and I, I kind of just like that, that form of choice, that the ability to design my life.Um, yeah, so that’s, that’s how I know, like I’m never going back
Bryan: (00:42:02) for entrepreneurship too. Because, yeah, I agree with you at a corporate job. Sometimes they work with people that you just absolutely can’t stand,
Jon: (00:42:11) but you gotta do it, right. You gotta, I,
Bryan: (00:42:14) in business, it’s like, you know what? This is the only business out there. Like you get to pick and choose whoever you liked to work with. And sometimes these conversations that you meet with all your other entrepreneurs actually support you open new doors, or really help you grow as a person to you. You don’t get that in corporate.
Jon: (00:42:30) Yeah, exactly. And I think like, like entrepreneurship just opened up just a lot of like friendship opportunities that wouldn’t have it. Like, I just feel like I’m able to speak on a different level. Like, cause a lot of entrepreneurs go through some kind of struggle. Like there’s no clean, like, you know, one hit wonder like next day. And so I think a lot of entrepreneurs have gone through some form of struggle. And so you can kind of relate to that and then like, You know, have something to talk about and just connect on a different level then. Um, and so that’s, what’s been also pretty cool.
Maggie: (00:43:02) Yeah. And on the topic of struggle, um, you know, being a designer, I’m very curious. Do you ever have like creative blocks, um, from time to time and how do you, if so, like how do you overcome that?
Jon: (00:43:12) Yeah, like, so I think creative block is definitely something, all designers and creatives struggle with. Um, for me, it just really depends. I try to, I try to. Just step away from it a little bit and do something else. Um, before the pandemic, obviously I would, um, go play basketball or, um, you know, go out, you know, with my wife or something, go walk or just do something just separate and, you know, so that it gets your brain out of that mode. And then, you know, um, take a step away from it. Wake up the next morning when your brain is kind of like had time to reset. And then I don’t know, like turn on some music and. The, the creativity just starts flowing. And so for me, it’s like taking a step away and then, you know, in the, you know, getting back into re-engaging in the mornings with music that usually come to me.
Maggie: (00:43:03) Yeah. So John, we have one last question for you and that is what advice could you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Jon: (00:44:13) Hm that’s that’s tough with one piece of, I think, um, I think is to be. It’s to be brave and to, to try. So, um, a lot of like, you know, a lot of like what I hear when people reach out like, Oh, like I want to start, but I’m scared to do this, or I’m scared to financially do this. And I think like, you’d be surprised how much you are capable of just by taking the leap. And so I think like bravery, um, is, is a huge thing.
Bryan: (00:44:49) That’s very true.
Maggie: (00:44:50) That’s amazing. And so Don, how can our listeners find out more about you online and about aggregate watches and how to do well?
Jon: (00:44:13) Yeah, so, uh, you guys can find me well on IgE I’m at J tie design, and then, um, for hatch duo, we have, we also have a IgG handle as well. Um, and we also have a YouTube channel now, uh, recently that we started and then for aggregate, um, you can find email@example.com. Um, that’s where we sell all our gear and then we also have an IgG as well, so.
Bryan: (00:45:21) Awesome.
Maggie: (00:45:23) Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, John. It was awesome having you on the show.
Bryan: (00:45:27) I appreciate you, John.
Jon: (00:44:30) Well, Hey, I really appreciate you guys having me on this show and yeah, just honored to be here. So thank you.
Bryan: (00:45:34) Thank you, John. Awesome.
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