James Li // Ep 89 // Encouraging Mighty Health for People Over 50
Welcome to Episode 89 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have James Li 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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James Li is the co-founder and CEO of Mighty Health, the first exercise, nutrition, and wellness platform designed specifically for adults over 50. The company is backed by Y Combinator, NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana, and the AARP. Previously, James co-founded Encore Alert, a social media analytics platform that helped executives at brands like IDEO, Denver Broncos, Under Armour, and the American Cancer Society identify and act on their top opportunities and crises each day. In March 2016, Encore Alert was acquired by Meltwater, the leading media intelligence platform.
James also wrote speeches for Vice President Biden in the Obama White House, and regularly writes and speaks about practical startup tactics at his site, JamesLi.com.
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Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan.
And my name is Maggie
And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.
We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian hustle network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is James Lee, James, as the co-founder and CEO of mighty health. The first exercise, nutrition and wellness platform designed specifically for adults over 50. The company is backed by Y Combinator and NFL hall of Famer, Joe Montana. And the AARB. Previously James co-founded Encore alert a social media analytics platform that helps executives at brands like IDEO, Jennifer Broncos, under armor, and the American cancer society identify and act on their top opportunities and crises. Each day in March, 2016 on curler alert was acquired by. The leading media intelligence platform. James also wrote speeches for vice president Biden and Obama white house, and regularly writes and speaks about practical startup tactics at a site. James lee.com. James, welcome to the show.
James: (00:01:21) Thank you so much for having me so excited to be here.
Maggie: (00:01:25) Awesome. Let’s dive right into it. Talk about your upbringing, you know, where you were born, what your kind of like family background is like. Um,
James: (00:01:34) Yeah, absolutely. Um, so I grew up, uh, I was born and grew up in orange county, California. Um, went to a number of, of schools for both elementary school and high school that were like really predominantly Asian. I would say sometimes even over 75, 80. Um, and basically my parents, uh, were both entrepreneurs, so they’re both immigrated from China. Um, and then when, around the time I was born, they started a computer hardware business. So they were literally selling those old PC towers, monitors, mouses, and things like that to local libraries and stuff. So my biggest recollection actually growing up was actually spending most of my time, the back office of their computer hardware business, doing my homework, not knowing at all, any of the stuff that was really going on around me, all the other co-workers were just saying, hi, you know, hi James. You know, and then I was like, hi, um, But I just remember like taking in the energy. I remember like my dad sitting in his office like stressed all the time. I remember my mom, the front helping folks out, and I remember the hustle and bustle of everyone around the office. And so whenever I had time. From my homework, I would grab extra pieces of paper from the copy machine and just start sketching, all kinds of random things that I want to do when I grew up. I remember I even sketched, like wanting to start like a future like resort and what the waterpark would look like, or like sketching a future, like dirt, dirt, bike park. I don’t even know why I didn’t even ride bikes back then, but it was just something that was, you know, I don’t know if the right phrase is like in my blood, but I just knew that being around the energy, growing up was, was huge for me. Uh, and then going to high school was actually the first time that I was able to put a bit more of that entrepreneurial mindset into practice. And so I remember my first day. Was I had started a bunch of little clubs and initiatives, like not really businesses, right? Like when you, I think when you’re a 16, 17, 18, you have no idea what a real business actually looks like and how it operates. And so you think anything that makes money is fine. And so I remember, um, you know, when I was 16, I used to print out, um, comics from the local Sunday. Uh, like the newspaper and put them on a, you know, a white sheet of paper in Microsoft word, and then print those out and sell those for 75 cents. I think now in hindsight, I realized it was copyright infringement, you know, now, now with, uh, with that, with that benefit. But, um, and then I even started a Pokemon trading card club. So I had all my friends be part of this club with me. We all went to a local liquor store, bought those packs of Pokemon cards, opened them up in front of each other, but them in the sleeves. And I even went and printed laminated membership cards for each other. Um, so I could be, you know, members 0, 0 1, and then my friends would be 0, 0 6, 7, 8. And so, so that was really my, uh, my, my high school experience was growing up was actually being kind of known as like the business guy at school, because a lot of my friends had aspirations, uh, whether from their own or from their parents of, you know, becoming doctors or pharmacists or, um, or, you know, going into more finance and accounting row. Um, and I was the only one who was more on the entrepreneurial side, always trying to like rally my friends to do something together with me.
Maggie: (00:04:56) That’s amazing. Yeah. I love how you gave us that background information and it’s like, your parents both came from entrepreneurial backgrounds and that really shaped your mindset. And I feel like there’s, your story is kind of resonating with like Brian’s in a way, because Brian comes from, you know, a family who started their own businesses. Well, maybe Brian can talk a little bit about that as well.
Bryan: (00:05:18) Yeah. I was about to say that your story is so reminiscent. You know, it’s just the immigrant story of doing your homework in the back, being known as the best boss’s kid, you know, and just hustling through high school too. And a lot of similarities, like I used to sell magic hearts and you can go cart. And always get caught for it too. I’m always doing that. It’s like not the bad kid, but the kid that keeps on hustling on campaign,
James: (00:05:44) same, same. I got the same kind of, I got the same comments every semester from my teachers on the report card. You know how there’s like citizenship and like effort. And like for mine it was always like unsatisfactories. And my parents would always ask my, uh, asked my teachers, like, is James like acting up in class? Is he speaking out of turn? Is he like making a fuss? And they’re like, no, he’s not, but he’s also like, not focusing on. School cause he had, you know, do you remember those desks that had, like, you could put your stuff inside of the desk underneath it, like instead of books or, or pens or pencils? I just have like all of my stuff that I was starting for, my different clubs and index cards and laminated membership cards stuffed in there. And I think my teachers looked at that and was like, oh, like, this is a trouble.
Bryan: (00:06:30) Little D little, did they know that that laid the foundation for you to be so successful today? You know, that’s true. Let’s fast forward a bit too. And talk a little bit more about when you, when you went to, when you went to college at Georgetown, right. And you started your first company, a wall in college, what was that process like? Like how did you view view school yet view business as the same time and tried to juggle balls. If we understand your excellence. You know, all just from background for our listeners, James is a fantastic student, super straight a, but like, what was your view on like academics and entrepreneurship at the same time at such a young age?
James: (00:07:06) Well, I’m sure this I’m familiar as well, but I, I knew I had to take care of the academic side because that was basically my ticket. My parents would not let me go and do anything else or spend time on anything else if I didn’t have that side down. And so I always made sure that whether it came to, you know, essays, tests, finals, things like that in school, even if I had to stay up last the, the last night to like cram for those, like I had to make sure that those were taken care of so that I had the ability to go work at others. Um, what ended up happening in college was when I first joined, um, when I first got to Georgetown, I kind of went to this like info session for this program called compass, um, which isn’t quite around anymore these days. Um, Uh, I remember the Dean of the business school and this one, like senior, you know, when you’re, when you’re 18, you see like a 22 year old walk onto the stage. You’re like, oh, I want to be him. And I remember the seniors saying like, Hey, we started this new fellowship called compass where we’ll choose 15 students and we’ll take you all around Washington DC. You’ll get to meet these mentors and business leaders. And at the end of the year, you get to start your own company and we’ll give you 2000. And of course of all of that, I blanked out and I only heard the $2,000 part and I was like $2,000, like to a kid is like insane amounts of money. Right. You’re like, I’ve never had that much in my bank account in my wallet, et cetera. So I applied, I luckily got in. And so I was taken on this journey from freshman year. That was like really, really lucky that I was able to go and meet all these things. Um, business leaders throughout Washington DC. I remember one of them was like the CEO of Blackboard, which is, you know, that the software that a lot of colleges use, I was like, oh, I use it was Blackboard in, in, uh, in class. And now I actually get to meet the CEO. Like I kind of just started putting the pieces together and linking them together. And so that’s actually the first company I started, um, out of college or in college was actually in the nonprofit space. Like we were helping nonprofits with helping them fundraise their social media, their storytelling, and most importantly, how to communicate the impact of every dollar that they got. Like somebody donated $5. How would you communicate what that $5 actually. In terms of balance at the beginning of college, I was so excited to be a part of all of these clubs. And then by sophomore year, I actually just gave up all the other clubs because I just like, I want to focus all my time and energy on working on this company. And I realized, I think pretty early on that college really is one of the lowest overhead. Parts of your life, where you can actually take risks like this. Like if your company fails and you’re not making any revenue, like, guess what? You can still go eat in the cafeteria, you know, you can still go home and sleep in the dorm and you still have no have like. Things like renter’s insurance and like all, all those adulting to have to worry about yet. And so I was just trying to like pack as much of my experience in as possible of certain companies while I was still on campus. Um, ultimately what that ended up leading to was, you know, as you mentioned in my bio, um, when I was graduating during my senior year, that’s where things got really tough because a lot of my friends started getting internships. You know, end of junior year, end of sophomore year. And of course, as you know, when you get those jobs or you get those internships, you get a job offer at the end of those. So there’ll be like, oh, when you graduate, you’ll come back, you have a job waiting for you. Everything’s ready to go. And so all my friends are cleaned. My roommate at the time, all has like 80 K a hundred K 150 K paying jobs, waiting and lined up for them in New York and in San Francisco when I was graduating. And I was the only guy who didn’t do any of those internships. I spent all my summers working on my. And so that’s actually, when we got our first kind of actual break or raise our first ever check from an investor was we had, uh, a mentor of mine in DC who was just believed in me enough. I don’t know why, but believed in me enough to put in the initial 30 K check into our company. And that’s essentially what ended up becoming Encore, uh, which was a company that we built for the next four or five.
Maggie: (00:10:59) Wow. That is amazing. Yeah. I love how, um, you know, you mentioned that you really took advantage of. Your years on campus, because that is a pretty impressive, amazing feed. I think that a lot of people who go into college, they want to get that college experience. And, you know, they don’t always think about that. But what you mentioned is very, very true. Like those are your prime years to actually take risks, you know, because you do have a place to go back to the slave. You do have food on the table, and those are like the most important years for you to actually venture out and start your own business. But a lot of people don’t realize it.
James: (00:11:33) And I think the trickiest part is that there are trade offs, right? I’m saying it, I’m saying all this stuff as a positive thing, but I look back on my college days and there are many things that I wish I did like studying abroad. For example, I never had a chance to go study abroad. Um, you know, I would have imagined that would have had a great time if I had a semester in Barcelona or Copenhagen. Right. But instead I was on. Bottom basement, you know, negative two floor of our library working on my company at like 11:00 PM on a Saturday. So I don’t think it’s glamorous at all. And I think that like, you know, for some people they might want to just enjoy their college experience and really get the most out of it. Cause there are some parts of college that you just can’t go back in time and go do those things. But I think for me, one thing I always talk about a lot is IC entrepreneurship as like playing. Right with like playing any sport, including playing basketball or playing soccer. The only way you get better is by getting reps. Right? You hear about the, the legendary stories of Kobe getting thousands of free throws up it’s 5:00 AM in the morning or 2:00 AM in the morning. And I think for me, college is not necessarily, when you have to build your unicorn business, you have, you don’t have to build something that like will have to take off and go raise money right away. In fact, that can often be difficult, right? Because then you’re faced with a choice to like drop out or. But I do think it’s actually the best opportunity to get this reps in. Um, and I think people don’t understand that. And I think people think, oh, well, you know, instead of getting the reps, what I’ll do is I’ll, I’ll just, um, you know, kind of learn about it or take an entrepreneurship class or something like that. And I’m like, oh, that’s kind of the equivalent of like watching sports, you know, or like going to a sports game or studying you film, they do make you a better player. But the only way to truly get better is to get real life.
Bryan: (00:13:17) Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that statement. And you’re absolutely right. I mean, you have to put, it’s like reading an entrepreneurial book and actually doing it yourself are two totally different things, you know? Using using the opportunity in college and a lot of credits to you, like having that mentality and claws. So you start hustling and doing these things and thinking bigger. It’s, it’s incredible. You know, because as you’re talking, I was thinking about from my own personal story, I’m like, wait, my mindset was not totally there at the time. I was too scared to do anything. You know, the fact that you did it and you raised venture capital and you had mentors invest 30,000. In your company. I would imagine at the time, you’re just like, whoa, this is like incredible amount of money, $30,000. This is insane, you know, and I just want to hear more about, you know, Encore, like what was the first breakthrough that you guys had? How’d you spend the 30 K to grow your company and eventually sell your company. And we’ll talk a little more about this later about mighty alpha school, but how did you. Spend that 30 kids grow your company.
James: (00:14:18) Well, um, what, one thing to, just to address the mindset thing that you mentioned, this is kind of our first breakthrough. The Encore is actually when I grew up, like, as I mentioned, I grew up around like doctors. I grew up around people, small, small business owners who are not software developers or companies. I never grew up reading tech crunch or anything like that as well. And so one of the key parts that I missed about business actually was scale of the scalability of software. So that first company I started in college was actually a services business. It was consulting with nonprofits and I kid you not one of the summers that we spent with friends working on the company. We had a movie night. And I think this probably happened to tons of people, but we sat down and watched the social network, you know, the story of Facebook. And through that movie, we realized like we just had this like, aha. When the, literally as a credits were rolling, we like, we looked at each other because aha moment, which now in hindsight sounds like really dumb, which was like, wait a minute. Like if you build software that scales way, way more than like a services business of like just trading your time for like an hourly rate or something like that. Right. And we just, none of us had ever come to that realization. It, to be honest, I still have like imposter syndrome to this day because I feel like I didn’t get to grow up in the valley, you know, and be around this long time. So like, I didn’t really come to these realizations until like, I was like 20, 21. So maybe that’s encouragement for your audience as well. That it’s never too late, but that’s actually the first breakthrough that we had was we, we changed Encore from a. Services business, where it was just a bunch of students consulting and getting paid like a couple grand to becoming a software business where suddenly I’m looking for a technical co-founder and a CTO to actually join the team and actually build an app with us that we can go and sell. You know, infinitely to nonprofits. Um, I think that was actually the realization she, that the mentor that I mentioned saw us and then unlocked that first check because I think he realized, okay, okay. These kids finally get it. And I’m not like giving them 30 K to just go run like a consulting firm. Um, and in terms of the 30 K I mean, it’s funny because I remember we actually had, I had to give back like 5k, like right away to like for rent of the office. I was like, wait, so we’re not actually getting 30 K or getting like. Twenty-five K. I was like, Joe, doing the math. I was like, oh, we’re already running out of money. Um, and we actually ended up in a really, really tricky situation. So this was when I met my co-founder and CTO today, fleet bay. So we had met, um, completely online. We met on angel list. Um, we’d started working online together, and I think he sussed out that I was not a serial killer and I sussed out that he was not a psychopath and. And then, so he actually agreed to fly to the us for the very first time from Brazil and actually went straight from the airport in DC to sit next to my parents at graduation. And my parents were like, who is this like Brazilian guy? He was like sitting with us at graduation. And when it happening is we got that 30 K check and we spent that 30 K on like rent. So Tammy or the co-founder who, you know, Philippe and I all lived in this house that was deemed the quote unquote entrepreneurial. And I, it’s funny because it’s my first time looking for housing when I had left college. And so I was just on Craigslist and I saw someone posted entrepreneur house. I was like, oh, that must be it. That’s where I want to live. So like, I just didn’t think much about it. I signed a lease. Like I could just quickly like, just. Got it. And basically, right. And when we finally moved in, we were like, oh, oh my God. Like, what we signed up for was a three story house with like 15 people living in it. There were literally people sleeping on top of what used to be a hot tub. And they put like a wooden board there, there were two guys sleeping there. There was two guys in the basement who like, had to like run out one day because it started raining and it flooded the basement. There were cockroaches. There were literally like the air conditioning events, like the filters were like pitch black because they hadn’t been changed in years. Um, and that was actually what we spent 30 K on was actually living there and eating trader Joe’s, teriyaki chicken, orange chicken, frozen teriyaki chicken, orange, chicken, uh, every day. Uh, and then commuting to this office that we had to spend 5k of this 30 K on. To work out of a basement that didn’t have air conditioning in the middle of, uh, east coast, summer. Um, and that lasted us kind of the first, first, the first floor.
Maggie: (00:18:39) Well, that is insane. I love how you mentioned, you know, like you guys started off as a service business, like mine, and I always hear from entrepreneurs to like, never start a service business because it’s not scalable. And that’s what we keep hearing over and over again,
Bryan: (00:18:57) like 80% of the people we have on this podcast are like, don’t start with service guys.
James: (00:19:03) It’s funny because I actually am of the S of the light. Feeling that it’s actually really, it just comes down to the entrepreneur, what they want. Right. And I think like, it’s completely unfair for me to say, like, don’t start a service. It’s more like, what do you mean I really want to achieve as an entrepreneur and being self-reflective about it. And I think services businesses are actually really fantastic. Yeah. You care a lot about like cashflow, right. You know, uh, I think if anything like those people who are making cashflow and having services business are making fun of people like me for while. Paying our sustaining myself so little and relying on venture capital to grow businesses and being in debt all the time. You know? So I think it’s just, the grass is always greener where you water. It basically
Bryan: (00:19:44) depends on the person’s here and what they want to do in life. Some people are just passionate about talking to people, helping others, so serious business, what I’m saying.
James: (00:19:53) Exactly. Exactly.
Maggie: (00:18:54) So, you know, while you and Tammy and Philippe, were you building Encore? In March, 2016, it was acquired by Meltwater. Um, would love to hear about that experience, you know, this was, um, I’m sure this was your first time, um, having sold your company to a large corporation. What was that experience? Like, you know, like what what’s going through your mind at that time and what was that experience like? The girl three of you?
James: (00:20:19) Yeah. So one of the biggest things was, you know, we we’ve been working on this company for about three years. Maybe grew it to about 10 employees. And at the time we were still growing and we were starting to hit our stride and figuring out something. Some things around sales. I think B2B sales was honestly one of the most challenging parts of that business because in college, that’s not one of those things that you take as a class, or you don’t take B2B sales one-on-one with your professors. And so having to learn that just from literally trial and error, and also reading some books like predictable revenue in some of these like highly recommended sales, SAS books was the way that we cobbled together a sales team and started selling. So we’d started getting tired because, you know, My background has always been working on social impact and helping out with different causes. That was something I was really passionate about in high school as well, and was kind of the intersection between, you know, the clubs I was starting. And then also, you know, what I was trying to help out with. And I think that working on just marketing software in a super, super competitive space for four years, started taking its toll on us. And so we had the opportunity to move out from the east coast to San Francisco to be a part of the 500 startups accelerator. And of course, we got a little bit of additional funding from them, but by the end of the program, it was like, we’d either have to go and raise another round from an, from investors and just kind of do the full fundraise again. Or we had the opportunity to find a great landing spot with Meltwater, which is a global, huge media intelligence company. And the CEO of Meltwater had actually been a keynote speaker at fiber and sharps. That’s actually how we met. We got connected that way. Yes, I remember. After his speech, I went up and kind of had my. Out and was showing him like what Encore alert was. And he’s like, Hmm, interesting. Interesting. Like, why don’t you come over to the office next week? And like, let’s just chat about it. I was like, great. So I scheduled something with his assistant. I thought like I’m showing up for a coffee meeting. Like it’s going to be casual. Like, I’m not sure what’s going on. I walk into the Meltwater office and I get ushered into literally this conference room with a huge long, like 20 foot table. And it’s like the head of data science, the head of product, the CTO, the VP of engineering and like the CEO, they’re all sitting. And they’re like, James, why don’t you go ahead and plug in your computer and give us a presentation? And I was like, oh my God, I’m glad I had like a, like backup keynote that I had prepared for something else, like up on my screen. So I just like plugged my computer in and just. Basically lean and telling some customer stories. Right. What it was trying to prove to them was even though we were a really small company, we deeply understood the needs of our customers and why they needed a product like ours on top of like something like Meltwater, basically. And so then that actually ended up becoming an acquisition conversation. Like I, that was not my original intention walking in, but it ended up becoming that. And another thing, another tough lesson, you know, looking back as well as I realized. You know, as you said, Maggie, it was my first time actually going through an experience like this. And it was probably that CEO’s like 100th time negotiating an acquisition. So I was like hugely outmatched. Um, and I think that, you know, in hindsight, I’ve learned a lot of course, really interesting and important lessons around the. You know, the value of leverage and having other, um, folks bidding, you know, for you as well, you know, supply and demand, right? Simple supply and demand. But at the time we did the best we could. Um, one of the most difficult or important decisions that we made at the time was actually to return almost all of the money from the acquisition to our investors. Instead of taking them as founders is one of those things where like, You know, especially as an Asian family, you’re like, oh, like, why wouldn’t you take cash off the table? Like, isn’t that why you’re doing it in the first place. But given that it was a, it was a tight acquisition and we wanted to really take care of all these people who like honestly had like really put their belief in like 21 year olds right early on. We actually returned all their money back. And, you know, many of them had made multiples of their money as well in like the span of six to 12 months for the co-founders for us. Actually, what we took away was mainly a really amazing learning experience, having solar first venture backed company, but also, you know, some financial upside from the company as well. Right. In terms of joining them and staying with them for a bit. So it worked out really well for everyone at the end, but ultimately. The tough decision there was to want. We wanted to play the long game and we actually wanted to work with these investors again in the future. And we wanted to do, yeah.
Maggie: (00:24:51) That’s I wouldn’t even know what I would think if I went into a meeting with so many executives, not even knowing that I was going into acquisition mean. So perhaps you have, or you don’t have that.
Bryan: (00:25:05) Yeah, that is an absolutely amazing story, James and you so much for sharing that it just speaks volumes to who you are as a person to take care of your investors. You know, I think that starting a venture backed company, the first thing you do is like burn your master money and everything about paying them back. Unfortunately have
James: (00:25:20) Rowan says, you’re just going to take the money to Cabo. Right. And just like spend it all.
Bryan: (00:25:24) Yeah, exactly. The mindset you had was right. I got a payback, everyone that believed in me. And thinking of it as a learning experience. So it speaks volumes to what you created today, like mighty hell, you know, like we’ve heard really to, to your other interviews earlier this year, you’re asking in January, 2021, where you talk about, you know, your inspiration for Korean is product is because. And, you know, hopefully he does do a lot better now, but the inspiration like really touched, like touched me. Maggie’s hearts a lot as we’re doing more, more, more, and more research about you. Uh, can you kind of talk about like mighty health because a lot of our listeners probably heard of the product, but want to learn more about the inspiration behind it?
James: (00:26:05) Sure. Yeah. So, so basically a few years ago, um, when I was working on that previous company, I got a call. Uh, at 5:00 AM in the morning for my dad. Um, and at that time I thought it was actually something that happened to my mom because she had suffered breast cancer before and she had overcome it. And so I just thought that she was back in the hospital, it turned out my dad was actually calling. Um, and he had been showering the night before suddenly felt some like sharp chest pain, like many Asian pears. Decided he did not want to go to the doctor, uh, tried to go to sleep just couldn’t. And then my mom like called some friends who were doctors in China and they were like, you gotta go to the hospital. Now turns out that his aorta next to his heart had burst. Actually it’s called officially called an aortic dissection. Um, and when ended up happening was the local community hospital couldn’t take care of him. They didn’t have the resources. So he got rushed down. The 4 0 5, the busy 4 0 5 at like 6:00 AM through LA traffic. Literally the ambulance took like the lane next to the carpool lane. Like I had to like cut through just to make it, just to get him there on time. Um, and I remember him calling me and I, I I’m, you know, I’m not a doctor, so I looked it up on Google and like the first thing that pops up is that little snippet that Google shows and it’s like 50% chance of like death. And I was like, oh my God. Right? At this point, I’m like living on the east coast. So I’m like five hours away by flight. Um, so there’s really not that much I can do at that point. Right. At that point, like you kind of just put your trust in the doctors and you know, in God and you say, you know, hopefully it goes well, so 10 hours later, I get a call from the, from the surgeon. And basically he says, you know, Mr. Lee, like, you know, your dad made it through, but he’s really weak. Um, and he’s going to need, you know, to recover. Uh, but also here’s like a huge packet of information of all the things that he needs to do to like live a healthier lifestyle. Like he’s. You know, manage his hypertension a little bit better. He should lose a little bit of weight. He needs to like really exercise more. Like I know, you know, for, especially for Asian parents, like our concept of exercise is like just either doing a little bit of Tigie outside or just go on a walk, um, and then also eat better. Right. It’s the same thing too. Like what our parents think is healthy is what like their friends forward to them through the chat. Yes. So at the time, um, You know, as his only child, like, I kind of like became his de facto, like healthcare concierge. I remember my dad constantly texting me and being like, Hey James, can I. Can I go fly now, can I have caffeine? Can I do this? Can I do that? And I was like, I’m not a doctor dude. Like, why are you asking me these questions? Um, but over time I realized that actually the problem that he was facing and all the uncertainty that he’s facing and really, truly what the, what was underlying that was anxiety is like really, really common with people that are that age. Although, of course, like I think with it Asian culture, it’s less likely to admit that. And so what we originally started with mighty health, the original version was actually a cardiac rehab company. Um, we wanted to create a 12 week program, similar to what you do in the hospital, but you just do it at home. What that ended up becoming last year in 2020 was as the pandemic was happening. And I noticed my, even my dad, you know, he had a 24 hour fitness membership and then just, he started having to stay home. You couldn’t work with his trainer anymore. I realized that. While all the young younger adults have like all these incredible options like Peloton and, um, you know, Nike training club and mirror and, and things like that.
My dad is like stuck with all the traditional options. Like if, if, if things were open, he would go to 24 hour fitness, where do you go to the YMCA? And so I realized that the fitness and wellness and nutrition industry has kind of left older adults. Because it’s maybe just not as sexy of a market. And because there’s also this misunderstanding that older adults don’t use technology are taken mighty health. Is that, that might’ve been true historically, but we believe the next 10 to 15 years, especially with older adults and the aging population going from about 110 mil in America to 145 mil over the next 15 years. That that’ll change. We believe that somebody will be the digital wellness platform for older adults, and that’s why we’re working on it.
Bryan: (00:30:29) Absolutely. I love that. I love the passion in your voice too. I think as you’re like our mission, I was like, wow, you feel the conviction in your voice when you speak about it. So
James: (00:30:39) you can tell it loud. You can tell I’ve been fundraising recently
Maggie: (00:30:48) is very true though. My parents, they, they rarely like to go see the doctor. And I think a lot of Asian parents, they really get checkups like their, their yearly annual checkups. And I think it was just because they don’t trust the system. I don’t know. It’s probably a language barrier. There’s probably a language barrier as well, so that, you know, prohibits them too. Push them to actually go see the doctor and like my parents, they, they believe everything on. We chat as well. Like it’s kind of questionable. Like why do you believe stuff that you get through chain mails? You know, it’s acceptable. Um, but I think it’s incredible. You know, what you’ve got, especially with the elder generation, those are the people who need, you know, their checkups and their, their daily healthy exercises the most right. Cause they’re getting older every single day. Um, but you’re right. I think the fitness industry has really kind of forgotten about the older generation and they’re just trying to appeal to a younger generation. So I love what you’re building.
James: (00:31:45) Thank you. Thank you.
Bryan: (00:31:47) Yeah. And I can definitely feel in me about the situation. Um, I’m comfortable sharing the podcast, but I’m home in LA or not during the recording of this podcast because my mom has been in and out the house. For health reasons, the school, she just got a blood transfusion last week. And now she’s at the hospital again, as we are recording this podcast, getting a checkup, you know, to make sure that she’s okay then. You know, just podcasting com a more perfect time and the, what you’re creating for the older demographic, it’s like, you’re right. Like my parents would ask me for advice and be like, okay, like I came out of hospital, what should I take vitamins? What admins should I take? I immediately just go online, Google it. And like, okay, you need some calcium, you need some vitamins, you need sleeping and this and that. But at the end of the day, like we’re not doctors, you know? So we having this app is like so incredible. And I think you’re doing great.
James: (00:32:39) Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. I mean, first of all, You know, I hope your mom is feeling better. Um, and hope she continues to recover. Well, I think the perspective of someone who’s had a family member go through, you know, serious health issues is always different from someone who hasn’t, you know, and of course, knock on wood. I hope that most people don’t, but it always gives you a really interesting perspective on life. Right because you know, it may not be you yourself, but seeing someone that you dearly love go through that kind of experience makes you really appreciate, uh, and grasp onto like living a more purposeful and meaningful. You know, and not wasting your time, you know, and really balancing like patients and inpatients. And I think maybe it’s an Asian thing, but you know, certainly a big, big part of mighty health is actually us attempting to take care of our parents the same way they took care of us. You know, I always say like, when we’re growing up, they’re always like, yeah, are you sick? You know, do you need anything? Have you been eating well? You know, all those things, but then when you reach a certain age, it actually ends up becoming the other way. And I think, I think it’s becoming tougher and tougher now that we’re all living and moving away from my parents. And then, you know, they’re all empty nesters and now figuring out a way that we can really support them from home, you know, before, before it gets too late.
Maggie: (00:33:54) I also want it to say, you know, it, I think it’s extremely inspiring that, you know, although you don’t come from like a medical background, you know, you, you came from like a marketing and management background and, um, Georgetown, and then you were also in tech. Um, it’s so inspiring to see you actually go into this industry, because I think a lot of people, what goes into their, their mindset is like, if I don’t have a medical background, how can I start a business in health and wellness? Right. But you, I could see the passion that you have, you know, and I think. A lot, a lot of it comes from, you know, what happened to your father and I, I could really see what is driving you forward. So it’s just very inspirational for you to, you know, go into this industry in health and wellness. Um, even if you don’t have that background in medical and it shows, you know, what is possible for all of us.
James: (00:34:42) Yeah. It’s been a huge learning curve. Right. The first, like two years of working on this and going from zero knowledge, to be able to talk about how hospitals get paid or how insurance companies make money. It’s just been a series of like hundreds of coffee conversations with experts and just begging them to like, share their knowledge with me on at least at a high level, you know, I’ll never reach, you know, we do have a medical co-founder and obviously he’s one of the best physicians that we have in the U S um, but, and I’ll never reach that level, but it’s been really fun. Getting to know, like a brand new space. Um, and, and I agree with you that I think sometimes it’s really discouraging, but oftentimes because the mission is there and because we know what problem we’re solving, the rest of it feels like you can kind of figure it out, you know, as you go along.
Maggie: (00:35:29) Yeah, exactly.
Bryan: (00:35:30) I also absolutely agree. That’s also the best part of entrepreneurship email. It’s like you have this mission and you’re just trying to figure things out. You don’t want to ask, like what, what will you ask? How, how can I get there? And you start connecting dots, you started looking deeper inside, start looking at your connections and all of a sudden it’s like you realize that anything can be built out with the right mindset.
Maggie: (00:35:50) Absolutely. Um, I love to hear some of the challenges that you went through, uh, with mighty halts and, you know, how did you overcome those challenges?
James: (00:36:00) I think one of the biggest ones was that our original vision was to go sell it. Insurance com. And, you know, speaking of being out of our depth, right. That we were just talking about, like usually when you think of insurance sales, it’s like friends who, you know, are friends who, uh, are on the golf course together with an executive of an insurance company, you know, and they already know each other and there’s like long lasting relationships that have been built. And so what’s really interesting is when we went through, why COVID. We were obviously like extremely excited to be a part of such a prestigious program. Uh, and we had heard so much about it, but we were one of those companies that would show up to office hours every other week. And they would ask us if we had any like, increase in sales and things like that. And we never really had much to show for it because at the time we were doing like hardcore enterprise sales, you know, things that have a sales cycle of sometimes, um, 18 months to two years, Right. 18 and 24 months. So while we had a fantastic experience in YC and I would do it again over and over again, um, I think it was just one of those things where we felt like we weren’t able to take advantage of it as much as we could have. And we were one of those companies that always felt like we were falling behind the companies that were in our group. You know, you feel that FOMO, you feel like comparison to all the other founders when they’re sharing their updates. So. One of the big key factors that we had, that we, that led us to a decision to pivot to what we’re working on today. Um, away from just purely cardiac rehab, to becoming a fitness, nutrition, and wellness app for any older adults that they can sign up for on their own and just download the app from the app. Was we came to this realization like, oh, like if we do that, we can not only get revenue in the door earlier and we can actually start making money, but we can do so many more things, like build our own brand and community, you know, similar to like what Peloton has done similar to what you have done at Ahn. Um, and instead of waiting on our hands and then also, um, we can even do little things. Observational clinical trial studies on them and like do our own papers. We don’t have to go through, you know, some, uh, fancy academic medical center that wants to charge us half a million dollars to do a study over the next 18 months. We can do a study right now and write a paper next week and submit it the week after. Um, so it just, it was a huge mindset, mindset shift that allowed us to unlock so much more that our team is far more excited about waking up in the morning, working on rather than waiting for the contracts.
Maggie: (00:38:30) Amazing. Yeah. I think, um, what you have though does is so incredible because, you know, I know you guys focus on like three different things, the live coaching, the content focused on nutrition and preventative checkups and workouts, and then celebrating, um, family members and their achievements on the app. So you really built a community and that goes such a long way because when you have a community you’re able to like, People forward support each other and just follow their journey, um, which really resonated with, you know, what we’re building at Asian health center network.
James: (00:39:00) It’s one of the very few, I would say in my opinion, at least one of the very few defensibility aspects these days, right? Unless you’re working on hard tech or you’re inventing, or you have patents or you’re in biotech and pharmaceuticals, like building an amazing brand and amazing community like you have is one of the very few last remaining defensibility aspect. That really encapsulates, like creating network effects amongst your members that will create a barrier to entry for like future companies are just trying to copy the features, but just don’t have that community.
Bryan: (00:39:37) Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s uh, that’s well said, James, I’m reading this book by, um, Brad stones and he talks about how, how did the community. Really protected Airbnb and Uber from falling apart, their community really protects them and really protecting the brand. So, absolutely agree with the statement that you just said, um, out of curiosity, James, like, what’s next for you? Like what’s next for you and mighty health? What do you hope to take? Take the company in next couple of years?
James: (00:40:00) Well, so we have started with this fitness and nutrition app, but I, you know, I think the exciting part is, is just our initial ones. You know, well, we’re really, really trying to do with mighty health is to build an all in one platform. Maggie, I think you did a great job of summarizing that like an all-in-one platform for older adults and their wellness. So a great example or like a great. Comparison for this is actually a YMC. So a lot of people think of why YMCA is like a karaoke song that you sing, you know, when you’re, when you’re, when you get drunk. But actually like if you go and visit a YMC, one of the most fascinating parts of the YFCA is that beyond the fact that there’s like exercise equipment and there is a, you know, a basketball court and a pool is that people actually go there to hang out, especially when you’re older, like that’s where people go and like, hang out and see each other, every single. Yeah, and you can do with other things, like sign up for classes and talk to a nutritionist and, you know, so on and so forth. And so that’s really the vision for mighty health is the build like the virtual YMCA for people where yes, there’s joint friendly workouts and there’s the personal grocery list, nutrition planning, that’s the bread and butter of what you’re actually doing every day. But we want people to come onto our app and hang out with each other. We want them to attend our live events or live Q and A’s. And so the next couple of years are mighty is really just expanding that, you know, tenfold really inviting people to do more live content on our platform that gets recorded and share with everyone, building out our community become more rich and. Uh, and vibrant with, with each other, um, and even starting to integrate other kinds of hardware, devices, and other kinds of physical goods. So imagine like we now know, for example, because our members are eating their breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they log all that in mighty health. And our coach gives them feedback. What if we could actually send people meal kits, you know? And so that there are already low carbs, they’re already fit the mighty. You know, already checked off all the boxes. So you don’t, you can have to think less about it. And plus it’s like fresh groceries, which, you know, uh, you know, I know that you already know this, but a lot of places in America that actually don’t have access to fresh groceries. Right. They’re like a, it’s a food desert. So, um, so that’s really like the, the vision for the next two to five years is really to become an all in one platform that people use year round and use every day to drive their healthy habits.
Bryan: (00:42:18) I love that.
Maggie: (00:42:20) Yeah, I love the goals and we have no doubt that maybe health we’ll get there. So we have one last question. You know, you came from a family of entrepreneurs and you have such incredible entrepreneurial experience. If you could give one advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, which we have so many awesome network community, what would that one advice be?
James: (00:42:43) My biggest piece of advice would be to try to pick something. That you really feel passionate about solving in the world and hope that, and I, in my hope personally, you know, you know, I don’t, I don’t think this is right for everyone, but I hope that people will spend more time and energy tackling really important social problems. Personally, I believe that today. You know, or right now is it’s the easiest that it’s ever been to actually get a business off the ground. Right? Like the three of us could probably start a business in the same amount of time that we use to record this podcast. Like Brian can be over here, like setting up something on Clerky and just incorporating the co the company Maggie. And I can like set up a Squarespace website and we’ll have a landing page up in like 30 minutes. Right. And then we’ll probably use like a Figma or web flow to like, get the first MVP of the app. I mean, that is like unprecedented, right? Like I think like if you think about the 1990s or the early two thousands, like there’s no way that would have happened. And so I think that to me, you know, and, and one of the Airbnb founders said this during YC, which is, it’s like easier than ever to climb the startup mountain. You can just climb whatever mountain and get to the summit. It’s still difficult of course, but it’s easier than ever. But I would, I, my hope for entrepreneurs is for you, for everyone to think carefully about what mountain they want. Right. There’s a huge difference in my energy and my purpose and my spirit between my work on mighty versus my work on Encore. I loved working on Encore alerts, but I doubly love working on mighty health because it brings me so much energy to hear all of these stories and testimonials every day. From our members who live out in Indiana or Tennessee, Oregon, who are losing 15, 20, sometimes even 50 pounds and suddenly can go on vacation with their grandkids for the first ever time. Or they can actually bend over and pick something up without being in pain. That’s going to send him to the hospital. And that mountain to me is what makes all of this, you know, frustration and anxiety, even the imposter syndrome of. You know, fundraising and things like that actually worth it for everyone. So that, that would be my advice is, is, is pick the right mountain and I hope more smart people spend more of their time working on the right problems.
Bryan: (00:44:59) That is the deepest advice I’ve ever heard on this podcast. Climbing the right mountain is. It’s great advice. Like there’s so many opportunities out there that sometimes you’re blinded by the money, the prestige is the title, the connections of people that you lose track of your core value of who you are as a person. What drives you? And that should be the driving factor for now the mountain that you climb.
James: (00:45:29) Yeah. Yeah. And what else mean just exactly in what I’ll say too, is like, startups are not a great way to make it. I’m sure all of the guests that you have have, come on, your show have said this, like, if you really want to get paid, like just go work at some other company that pays really well, you know, become an engineer at a large firm or something like that. Right. And not a great way to make money. If it does end up becoming a huge outcome for me, my team, my investors, like I would, I would love that, of course, but I think any startup journey is going to be anywhere between five to 15 years, it’s going to be lots of blood, sweat, and tears. And so. What mountain you choose becomes really important because your time is limited.
Maggie: (00:46:08) Yeah. That just gave me chills and on the right mountain, that’s when, you know, like when, when your, your product or your company is working and you have people who are coming back to you and saying like, Hey, this is the reason your product is the reason why, you know, my life has gotten to a better place. And then that’s when we realized like, this is why I’m doing it. You know, this is the reason why I love doing this every single day. Exactly. Yup. Thank you so much for sharing that. So James, how can our listeners find out more about you and mighty health online?
James: (00:46:38) Yeah, you can check us firstname.lastname@example.org. I know we’re a product for an older generation. And so one of the things that we offer is the ability for you to actually gift a mighty health membership to your parents. Even if they don’t like it, we have a 30 day guarantee. So like, you can just email us and we have no hard feelings. It’s really just about trying to help as many people as we can. Um, I also write about just kind of personal startup tactics at my own website, James lee.com. I try to like break everything down and make it as simple as possible. Cause it’s kind of like the blog that I wish I could have read when I was back in college and trying to get my feet wet in entrepreneurship. So yeah. James lee.com and mighty health.
Maggie: (00:47:17) Awesome. We’ll include all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much, James, for sharing your story with us today, it was amazing having you on the podcast.
James: (00:47:25) Thank you both so much. It was a joy.
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