Roger Gu // Episode 108 // Season 2 From Crypto to Corporate Cards

Welcome to Episode 108 // Season 2 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Roger Gu 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.

Check us out on Anchor, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Spotify and more. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a positive 5-star review. This is our opportunity to use the voices of the Asian community and share these incredible stories with the world. We release a new episode every Wednesday, so stay tuned!

Roger was one of the cofounders of the ‘original’ Emburse, a card technology startup that was acquired in mid-2019. He now leads card product strategy across the organization. Roger has fintech experience through his prior roles of leading merchant acceptance of bitcoin at Coinbase and corporate strategy at Visa. 

Roger holds degrees in Economics and Finance from Princeton University. He and his wife have a life goal to visit all 60 of the US’ national parks.

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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 Asiansto 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. That’s the gospel with us. His name is Roger goo. Roger was one of the co-founders of the original embers, a car technology startup that was acquired in mid 2019. He now leads card product strategy across the organization. Roger has FinTech experience through his prior roles of leading merchant, acceptance of Bitcoin at Coinbase and corporate strategy at visa.

Roger holds degrees in economics and finance from Princeton university. He and his wife have a life goal to visit all 60 of the U S national parks. Roger, welcome to the show.

Roger Gu: (00:01:03)  Thanks for having me. And I think it’s like 61 or 62, that Lillis has been updated a little bit in terms of national parks, but it’s still a goal of ours.

Bryan: (00:01:13)   Wow. I mean, just hopping that top your way. How far along are you on that?

Roger Gu: (00:01:18)    Uh, a little about halfway. So this past year, uh, my wife and I have the luxury of being remote, where, since we’re both in tech. So we spent the last year Airbnb being across most of the Western United States. So we knocked out a lot in that regard, especially going to Arizona and.

Bryan: (00:01:39)    I like that. It’s a very, that’s a very awesome goal. Like it’s something that, something that I personally want to do one day. Uh, but unfortunately I’m not very outdoorsy at all, but yeah. That’s their first question. So, Roger, uh, tell us more about yourself and your upbringing. Where did you grow up and what was that like?

Roger Gu: (00:01:57)    So I grew up in New Jersey, Northern New Jersey. Uh, my parents had a Chinese restaurant and a small little town called lake Hiawatha, New Jersey. And, uh, so, you know, spending. Pretty much as I did, I did elementary to high school. There wanted to get as far away as I could. So I applied to a couple of schools in California for college.

Um, got into Berkeley, was super pumped about that, uh, wound up going to Princeton. So I, I didn’t expect it. It was such a long shot for me about my parents. It was a lot of pressure. So I applied anyways. Um, Somehow got in was super thrilled, uh, by that and their financial package, which is so good. I there’s no way I could have passed that up, even if I wanted to live the, the, the hippie lifestyle out west.

Um, so wound up, uh, in college, in New Jersey as well. Uh, now, currently it in California, um, Once I could eventually move out less. So that was definitely one of my early on dreams. Um, so I’ve been working professionally for about about 10 years, uh, largely focused in FinTech. Certainly not something that I had aimed for, uh, even in, even after graduation in college, I did that very standard track.

I was an investment bank. Um, did that for two years. It was really tough time because I graduated college in 2009. So there’s, wasn’t that much MNA activity back then, um, switched over to consulting. Tried that for a little bit. That was for visa, which, you know, Maggie, thank you for bringing up a little bit earlier.

And the corporate strategy side, um, from visa went to Coinbase Coinbase afterwards, uh, started, uh, in bursts and been here for about the past.

Bryan: (00:03:48)     Well, that’s, that’s quite the journey, man. And I think one thing you really point out to me, it’s like in 2009, I agree. I graduated 2010. It’s so hard to find a job during that time period. And it’s very depressing cause you’re like, man, like where’s my life going? Everything I’ve been trying it’s it’s not working out. You know, I realized that from that time here and it just a lot of entrepreneurs, but during that time period, because we were just like Uh, I can totally relate.

Roger Gu: (00:04:17)     Oh yeah, totally. I ha I had my offer rescinded by one of the top, top three investment banks. Um, and what I remember the most tragic was I was like delay signing the signing bonus. Cause it was like a $12,000 signing bonus. And had I just signed and then they rescinded, I would have at least gotten $12,000, but I was waiting like couple of like waiting for a couple of options, trying to play it, you know?

So, uh, fortunately that didn’t work out, but that was a really, that was really a tough time. And, but I am glad in, in that regard, uh, that it definitely worked out well for me. Um, uh, had I done that? I would’ve, I think I would’ve wound up the opera was for Hong Kong, so I would have done, um, rates trading.

Structured rates trading in Hong Kong. And that my then girlfriend, my now wife, probably with that relationship probably wouldn’t have gone as well, doing long distance between Hong Kong and New Jersey. So, uh, all worked out for the best.

Bryan: (00:05:12)      Yeah. Look at that chain effect. You know, like at that time it probably must have felt terrible that that happened right behind sites, 20, 20, you look back, you’re like, wow, I’m kind of glad that did happen.

And that’s the case for, for a lot of people too. I don’t want to take a bigger step backwards to like. You know, how you ever thought you’d be an entrepreneur at this point in your life, but it has that seed ever occurred any point of your life where it’s like, you were taught that while you’re at Princeton or your parents wanted you to be entrepreneurs, you know, like how did that seed sorta like blood fell into your lap and sort of, and sort of made you think like, Hey, why not me?

Like, why can’t I be.

Maggie: (00:05:45)   Yeah, I was going to ask that too, because you know, with your FinTech experience, I personally resonate with that as well because my parents had always wanted me to do something in the finance industry, you know, something very stable. So I want to know like where you got the entrepreneurial spirit from

Roger Gu: (00:05:59)      And when I was growing up, I had, my parents gave me three options for careers. One was lawyer, two was doctor three was in finance. Uh, so I had a lot of options, but between those three, right? So, uh, not really that much in terms of influence from my parents, per se, although they did pass on a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit to meat, because the fact that, uh, Immigrated to America with very little.

Um, and then they started a Chinese restaurant and this small little town in New Jersey and just kind of grinded away working. And they worked 364 and a half days a year. So the only day off that they had was, uh, the dinner for Thanksgiving. They, they took off everything every other day. Uh, they work. So I always had that, that drive, but like I wanted to do it better.

Right. Like, I saw how hard they work. I did not want to work that hard. I was like, okay, let me get ahead right now. Let me, let me put in, um, let me put in the work now into my studies, uh, so that I wouldn’t have to work, um, the way that my parents did, right? Like they sacrificed essentially for the great benefit, uh, that I could really, uh, take advantage of.

So I wasn’t about to throw that away. Um, I was on a very stable career path. Right. So it was investment banking for two years. I did consulting visa for two years. Um, I think essentially it kind of, it wasn’t like, oh my God, I want to start a new business. I would have this like drive to start a new business.

It was more like, I want my work to be meaningful. Um, and during that time, I, I remember distinctly, I know I saw. Now, it sounds kind of silly saying it, but there was like a, it was like a life calculator and it showed it to the seconds. Right. So it was like a little countdown, but it showed it by two to the second digit.

And so, you know, a little bit of that, which is like an impetus, like, you know, what am I doing? What am I, what am I, what am I spending my time on? And I. A lot of decks when it threw a mess in banking. And then as a strategy consultant at visa, like my, my deck making capabilities are our fire. Right. My Excel skills, they certainly have deteriorated.

Um, but you know, back then I could make a model, like no one else. So. No, I D I created all these models. I created all these, like, just really good decks, but did it really accomplish anything like it? Did, you know, was I leading any projects? Was I have a meaningful impact, uh, towards, you know, the team’s goals and, you know, more broadly towards the company’s goals that I didn’t feel that.

So it was that drive that really made me try to just chart, exploring something new. Um, it wasn’t, you know, initially the goal of, I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to create my own company. Um, it wasn’t that at all.

Bryan: (00:09:00)       Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s extremely relatable to a lot of us and I appreciate you breaking it down till it’s seconds. So that just shows that your sense, your sense of urgency that she had at one point, you stop your life. And you’re like, wait a minute. Like, what am I doing? I’m just making all these decks, but I want to have more impact. I mean, that’s, that’s like the, the origin story for most entrepreneurs, they have, the podcast is almost a little. Wait a minute. What am I do in my life? You know, just take a step back and reevaluate everything, create a sense of urgency to create more. So let’s quickly talk more about your time. Excellent base. I know, like that was probably the, the, the job before you started your company, right? What was the turning point of like.

Joining Coinbase and being a director of partnerships there. And then now becoming your own CEO for your own company, like what was the transition process like making it couldn’t have been easy. I couldn’t basically went to hottest startups out there. Right. And to leave that start your own startup, because you are still convicted with this idea.

What was the process like for you on top of that?

Maggie: (00:10:01)     You, you left Coinbase in October, 2015 and started embers in October, 2015. So I love to hear about just that fast transition.

Roger Gu: (00:10:10)      So Coinbase was one of the most fun times I’ve had, right? Cause I joined in the, in the teens and I left when we were about 80, 90 head count ourselves and growing that quickly as, along with the, the, the crypto crowd, really gaining, um, popularity. Just a lot, a lot of fun, right? It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but certainly the community that, uh, the crypto community, the Coinbase community, um, there’s hanging like a lot of, a lot of assimilate to like kind of the, the PayPal mafia, a lot of the early point-based folks that started their own startups.

Unfortunately, not as, not as successful as the early, uh, PayPal guys. Um, but certainly that was. It was probably one of the most educational experiences for me as well. Certainly much more so than my time at, at visa. Um, even compared to like, you know, college and, and domestic investment banking days, it was a new challenge every single day.

And it was such a small team. And one of the goals that we had was like, all right, how. Brought in the adoption of cryptocurrencies. And, you know, we were talking about P2P transfers, uh, peer to peer, but we were also talking about, um, you know, just doing standard merchant payments. And right before I joined was the first merchant that, uh, you know, well-known merchant that accepted Bitcoin.

It was Um, they had. Huge like publicity from a Bitcoin. And I joined a month after that news essentially. And, you know, we were saying we had a lot of demand from our users to say like, Hey, I want to be able to buy more things for crypto, not just overstock, like column, which cater source of fairly different audience than the crypto community.

And so we reached out to a whole bunch of, of, uh, merchants and, um, you know, got a lot of small brands, but also got. Sizable deals. So I led the Bitcoin integration, uh, for Uh, so I flew out to round rock, had a great time. Let’s let the guys there. That was a four month project. Uh, we did dish network, uh, Wikipedia, Stripe Braintree.

So it. Pretty heavy adoption from the merchant side, like just in a very short amount of time. Uh, the issue was like we weren’t seeing continued, um, user, uh, usage of, of Bitcoin. So they would, you know, maybe upon the first news they’ll, they’ll try. Uh, the buy a couple items, but we weren’t seeing that continued usage of crypto to procure goods.

Um, so that was certainly a very interesting challenge. And I, I learned a tremendous amount about, uh, not only just crept up, uh, banking in general, and that’s kind of what led me to, to, uh, eventually, uh, you know, co-found in bursts with, with my co-founder Peter Lee. Uh, I had. Worked on the last project before I left was the Bitcoin debit card, which, you know, you slept $10.

It would immediately draw from your Coinbase wallet, convert $10 worth of Bitcoin into USD, and then pay off the merchant. And so a lot of that, uh, you know, similar concepts, similar controls, similar capabilities there, um, as what eventually became in burst, which was, uh, card expenses.

Bryan: (00:13:44)       Yeah. Awesome. Let’s talk more about embers, you know, it’s uh, the thing is a really, really cool company. Cool technology. You guys, you guys are leveraging artificial intelligence as well. Like tell us, tell our listeners more about embers. What is it? W what product pro product is it, and what problem is this?

Roger Gu: (00:14:00)       Simply, but if we want to, we really want the ability for companies to be able to spend on whatever they need and not worry about reconciliation. Right. Extremely manual it’s time-consuming um, you’d be surprised about the number of companies, even till this day that are using Excel to track their expenses or, you know, more antiquated software. You know, we want them to bring them to the modern age of expenses where folks can. Ask for funds, they can get a card, spend it, and then just kind of forget about it.

Right? We want to make it as seamless as possible. Um, these days, especially when a lot of folks are remote, you know, myself included. I have to buy my own supplies. I have to, you know, have a lot of software subscriptions on myself. I have, you know, occasionally have some, still have a little bit of travel and entertainment expenses, but not as much these days.

Um, I don’t want to worry about. Having paper, receipts, and having to keep track of what the budget was for my team or how much I’m spending on XYZ vendor. I want all of that to be automated. So that’s essentially what we’re trying to do. Um, we want to make it super easy for our clients across the world to be able to, um, spend and buy whatever they need and not have to think about that.

So my company was acquired in 2019. So we were originally just a card expense company. Um, so we can create the card that has these technologies that, uh, limit you to what, what employees can spend on. So, you know, I found it fascinating that the typical expense model you give someone in a corporate. And, you know, Brian, I’ll give you a corporate card and here’s an Amex.

Oh, it has like a $20,000 limit, but you’re only supposed to use up to like 3000 max. Um, you’re only really supposed to use it for travel expenses and you’re not really supposed to use it for any other time period, except when you’re actually on the road. Well, why do you have a $20,000 credit card, right?

Like that doesn’t make any sense, right? You know, the employer as an employer, I wouldn’t know what you actually spent on until you submit it, your expenses. And that could be two weeks after your trip or, you know, more common. It could be like two months after your trip, you would actually submit your expenses.

So I, as a controller, I have no idea how much has been actually spent. I have no idea what you spent on. I don’t know what the budget of the team is, so we thought it made more, much more sense for. The employer to give you a card where you to request a card specific for the trip. And other times, you know, you have a useless piece of plastic that doesn’t have.

You know, $20,000, maybe it has like a hundred dollar limit for when you need it. Right. And it has limitations on the card itself to say like, Hey, I can only use this for United Marriott, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft. I can’t use this at best buy. I can’t use this on  Amazon. Whereas before. It’s all manual, right? It’s everything is just like someone kind of just looking over your expenses, looking over your receipts, seeing items match, you know, that that’s really time consuming.

And given our current technologies, that’s completely unnecessary.

Maggie: (00:17:19)      I love that it’s, um, it makes so much sense because I’m like Brian and I, we used to work in corporate and I know Brian used to go on a lot of trips, business trips. And when I went on business trips as well, it was so frustrating to see like, okay, what can I spend this money on?

Right. And like, how much money did I have? But at the same time, it’s like, you can charge it on anything. Right. You didn’t really have a limit, but they told you, like, you can only use it during this timeframe. And you can only use X, X amount of dollars. And it was just so tedious to like, I look through it.

And then you, they tell you to submit your report like a week after you come back maximum. But then a lot of people don’t send it until like two months later. Right. And that actually prolongs the process of reimbursement. You have to go through like concur or Expensify. It was just so many steps. It was so complicated.

So I love what you’re doing. Um, I did read that you went through this whole process while building a platform that you spoke with like dozens of CFOs about how they decide between like personal cards. Corporate cards. I want to know what type of research you came to a conclusion with for that survey.

Um, and what you learned out of that.

Bryan: (00:18:23)       Yeah. Let’s talk on the product market fit. I think that’s, that’s more, that’s very important, especially as an early stage founder. Right. Just trying to figure out like, you know, I’m pretty sure you got like a lot of bias smoke, a lot of people that you talk to, like, how do you determine which ones sort of fit into your vision in which one should be the next logical step for you to guys to build?

Because you know, at the very beginning, there’s not a lot of resources. So, how do you determine that process?

Roger Gu: (00:18:47)        So we definitely did a lot of interviews, but I certainly had, I had my own convictions as well, um, from my own prior experience. Um, so Maggie, to your point from being in the corporate world, like one thing that used to really annoy us and that you can take advantage of as an investment banker was, uh, one of the perks was if you stay past, I think it was like six.

You get to expense dinner, and then you get to charge it to the client. Right. So what would, what would we do as analysts? Of course, like every single day we would wait until 6 35. I can go buy dinner. And then I’ll send that off and then, you know, work a little bit 30 minutes an hour or whatever it is, and then go home or you just got to take advantage of that system.

Um, and then someone would manually check my receipts and make sure that like, oh, okay, well this was 6 35 after 6 38. This is kosher. Oh, this was 6 29. No, that’s not kosher. So, so like, it, it like we, I had my own conviction, so it wasn’t, I don’t think like, you know, in terms of. Starting a company. Like you have to have your own conviction.

You need to have a initial hypothesis and have your own experiences within the product or whatever it is that you’re trying to sell, uh, that really can serve as an initial template, initial testing ground. Um, so I, I had that, those couple of experiences I had, you know, my experiences from working at visa, as well as working at a smaller startup, um, you know, Coinbase to really.

Uh, frame the, and I kind of help frame the initial sales tactic, Peter, my co-founder Peter ly. I know one of the, you know, the best engineers I’ve ever met, you know, he, he had a lot of product conviction and I had a lot of sales conviction and the two of them. But in that story, we hadn’t actually met that long before we actually decided to work together as co-founders we actually met because of an Uber pool.

Um, so it, it like it, we just kind of hit, hit it off. And, and from there, like when we started chatting about product market fit and we’re talking about some of the, some of our own prior experiences, so he had a lot of experiences of, um, Thinking of expenses and thinking of, uh, thinking of reconciliation, similar to how you do at box, where you create these folders and you tag them.

And everything’s kind of readily available in real time. I’m thinking of everything on the cloud. So, you know, we together, we really jived and formed that initial, um, product market thesis. And then we tested it with dozens of our early employees. You know, we benefited from being part of Y Combinator, uh, mountain Silicon valley.

Um, but we just also just begged our friends and family. Hey, can you please use this product right out? Of course, I hit a point bass. I hit a Brian and I was like, Hey, I know I just left, but like, I got this new thing, you know, can you, can you please give it a try? And he was really gracious enough to actually yeah.

Give us a try for a long time, actually. Um, so it was a lot of scrap together, but you know, to your point, Brian, of like having product market vision and knowing what we were. We had that. We had a little bit, we had something clicked nation. I think you need a little bit of, of, uh, uh, a hypothesis, but like beyond that, it it’s, it’s a little bit of, of a guessing game until you hit it off.

Right. And those those months where we’re human years, where we’re quite sure.

Bryan: (00:22:16)       Yeah. That’s, that’s a, that’s a really good point. I think when you’re first building company, it’s all about your own personal conviction, right? Because you’re building something that no one else can see. So for you. And you had to fully believe that this is your vision or hypothesis that you’re trending in the right direction.

And as you keep moving it’s I don’t want to get all spiritual here, but the university just helps you along the way, like meeting the right people, hearing the right advice, just seeking out the right opportunity because you want that vision to happen so badly. You know? So I think all that sort of factors into like the founder’s journey.

And then let’s quickly talk about the founding journey as well. As you mentioned, you met your co-founder Jui, Uber. As we know, working with a co-founder you’re practically getting married with someone else, but you practically got married with him after one date in a car. I was like, how are you guys able to work together?

So cohesively and more importantly, how are you able to solve your differences in a way that it wasn’t very destructive for the vision and idea of the company? So it’s easy for you guys to say like, look, I’m done. Like I, we’re not getting along. Like, this idea is not going to happen. Like we’re just going to walk her stuff away because we barely know each other.

Right. But how do you guys continue to form your bond and set yourself? So you’re so focused on building this company.

Roger Gu: (00:23:31)        So one thing that contributed as simultaneously hindered, um, the ability to do to kind of work together was kind of our, our stubbornness and our conviction. So both Peter and I, we, we. We knew that this was had had potential.

And so, like, we were just like really stubborn, like we’re gonna make, we’re gonna figure it out. We’re going to make it work. Um, certainly there were lots of times where, where we, we clashed pretty heavily. Um, so I, I am very thankful for, for Peter in that, in that early stages of, uh, being patient with me.

Um, I also think some of the coaching that we received, so both of us, uh, we found an executive coach. We both of us had strong mentors, as well as, uh, friends and advisors. Um, our early investors, uh, Tasmin Mar really helped us out as well. Um, so we had folks to bent and bounce ideas off of, and that. That network, without that, there’s no way.

I think Peter would Peter and I would ever go heads off. They each, each other’s heads off, um, that external network, uh, was truly, truly like necessary. Like, I, I am also astounded at the fact that sometimes, like, I meet a meet, like a super successful sole founder. It’s like, how did, how did you do it? Like it, you know, there were times where.

I, or Peter would just like, wow. Today was a really crappy day and early in the very early days, for example, we would have fraud losses right on our cards. And it could be 10,000, 20, $30,000 at a time. You just like, oh crap, we just lost $30,000. I know that’s a shit day. And we needed to take turns to, uh, to, to grieve that loss, that $30,000.

And, and so we. You know, we realized Peter and I like despite our differences of opinion, our work ethics, and, uh, we needed each other. Like there was no way that I could have done that or he could have done that essentially without having the support that with each other, as well as the broader network of, uh, advisors, investors, friends, um, and, and counselors that, that we had.

So it was. No it’s that, that old adage, like it takes a village in this case, it took, it took a lot. Yeah.

Maggie: (00:25:58)      Wow. That’s amazing. Yeah. I’m, it’s such a amazing story. And I mean like Brian and I, we both know how hard it is to work with a co-founder. I mean, there’s so many aspects to it, you know, and it really is getting married to the person that you’re work with.

You really have to make sure that you’re aligned on in every single way. And I love that you and Peter both found that balance and that you guys worked together so well.

Roger Gu: (00:26:25)        Um, I want to know about. Maggie that we were always, we weren’t aligned. I think it’s healthy to have conflict, right? Like you need to have some kind of offline, right. So I have been with my wife since 2000 and. Seven. Yes, that’s right. 2007. And you know, we’ve had, you know, we’re not, we’re not allied on, on a lot of things, right. So it’s, it’s, it’s important to be aligned on the big picture, but in regards to execution of that, and in regards to the, the, the micro prioritizations, it’s, it’s perfectly healthy to have.

Uh, quite a healthy amount of, of conflict. It’s how do you deal with that conflict? How do you overcome that conflict? Um, and that’s certainly something that I’ve had to work on extensively. I continued to work on today, uh, by taking, you know, external learning courses by reading by. You know, listening to a lot of podcasts about how to deal with conflict and how to deal when, um, especially larger teams.

And in now that I’m part of a larger company, um, how to deal with a lot of different priorities.

Maggie: (00:27:28)      Right. Yeah. I definitely agree with you. I think that, you know, differences are very important because if you just agree on every single thing all the time, obviously you’re not going to grow as a company.

Right. You’re you need different perspectives and you need different feedback in order to challenge each other. So I love that you shared that.

Bryan: (00:27:45)       Yeah. I like that a lot to you. I want to talk a little bit more about wireless. Just want to hear more. It’s like, so you have this idea. You have your COVID. Uh, how did he, how do you guys begin to scale your company and make the first few hires? Like they always say the first few hires are companies and most crucial and important to building what you’re trying to build, but how were you guys able to hire, let’s say, for example, your first 10 employees, they, what was the most important thing that you’re looking for each candidate? Wasn’t it, your skills and ability.

Was there a culture fit? What was the most important thing, but you guys were doing it as you guys were scaling out at the very beginning.

Roger Gu: (00:28:23)        So I think two things that really benefited us, uh, one was both Peter and I had been in San Francisco and Silicon valley for a couple of years prior. So both of us had a network.

Uh, so we knew folks that were, you know, just, just through porno, professionally, as well as our personal lives. We just knew folks that like, Hey, they’re not, they’re not being challenged or they’re just looking for something new. So that really kind of the benefit of us. Right. So it’d be like, Hey. Hey, I know you’re working on blah, blah, blah, blah.

Like, you know, you come check out our office, have some coffee. It’s kind of hanging out with us a little bit. And then just kind of slowly over time, like, Hey, why don’t you find a contract with us a little bit, we’ll pay you. And like, you know, just kind of ease our way. And then suddenly the next thing, you know, like, oh, they work for inverse now.

So that, that was a really good strategy of ours. So we definitely benefited from that. Um, in regards to kind of the early higher rate, one of the things that, uh, we did at burst was something like something that I learned from, from point-based, which was the concept of extended work trial. So, um, you know, we, you can interview folks for an hour, a couple hours a day.

Um, but what I really liked, and then I’m, once again, I learned this from Coinbase, listen, you know, have the. Candidate come in. Um, it could be anywhere from two days up to a week. Um, we would pay them for that time. Uh, he, or she would have to take some PTO certainly from their existing job, but they would work on a project.

They would work on, um, sometimes concrete tasks that they, you know, any intelligent person would really be able to, to finish within that a lot of time period, it allows. The us to really get a sense of like there, you know, the candidates work capabilities and as well as like, actually test their production as opposed to it, like, you know, just to kind of their resume, like what could you potentially do?

We could actually see a work product they could present off of that. And then most importantly, Brian, you asked about culture. Well, let’s, let’s actually hang out in the office, allows us to have a couple of meals together, have some coffee or some are some beers together and really bond over the. Um, at that non-professional work setting, because what we didn’t want to do was just hire more Peters and more, you know, Rogers, right?

Uh, this is actually a, uh, a problem of ours that we identified early. Like, uh, just being Asian American, both of us were Asian American males. One of our. Two hires after that of the five were also Asian-American males are like crap. We don’t want to only hire Asian American males. So we really try to diversify and it just wanted to meet new people.

We didn’t want to just assess people that had similar culture fit, as in like, like they bonded, they died while with boss, they had similar backgrounds as us. We wanted people with different experiences that could really fit in with us. Like regardless. So that work trial experience is something that I highly encouraged, right.

It doesn’t have to be a week, which is what we did on their very early days. Uh, it could be a day, it could be two days, but I think that type of screening also helps out the candidate. Right. They can get a better sense of like, it’s essentially day one on the job. They can get a sense of like what the team is like and what the culture quote-unquote is like, uh, And also just got a sense of like how hard do these guys in interview questions when you were hiring, like. That’s really hard to like, be true. Like how do you know the other side really being truthful that you have so much asymmetrical information there.

Maggie: (00:32:02)      I love that. I love that you brought up that you notice that the first two hires were of Asian descent and they were male as well. And you know, it’s very, very easy to. You know, bring on hires that, you know, look like us and sound like us because I think that’s just our natural instinct. We, we, we have just natural bias towards that. Right. But I love that you diversified and you looked outside of the box and brought on people who are different, you know, and I think that’s very important to bring in different perspectives and dynamics and everything like that.

So we want to talk about the acquisition in 2019, mid 2019. Um, I think a lot of listeners want to hear a lot about this as well. Tell us about what that process looked like, what it, what you went through throughout the whole process and how you have seen embers grow from. Prior to the acquisition to now,

Bryan: (00:32:53)      but before we get there, I want to ask you, what was the first thing that you were thinking you were like, oh my God. Or like, what was the mindset where it was like, oh man, we’re being, we might be acquiring. I’m kind of sad. Like, what was your first initial thought?  

Roger Gu: (00:33:07)        Yeah, it was honestly like, I think I flipped between those two thoughts. Exactly what you just said. Uh, you know, a hundred different times. Oh, my God, we’re going to acquire it. I don’t have to worry about having to potentially like just crash and burn. Um, on the other hand, it’s like, how do I know, like this acquisition is going to work well, am I going to still be able to retain my team? Am I still going to be able to do, um, My vision and Peter was having some of the thoughts were like, are we going to be able to, to still carry out what we wanted to do from there, from the early days from the onset.

Um, and we just got flipped back and forth between the two. Um, so the acquisition and actually wasn’t entirely it, wasn’t an initiated by us. I actually could do an Aqua hire offer by, uh, well, actually, sorry. It was due to acquisition offer by one of our partners turned out to be a little bit of an equal, higher offer, but we didn’t, we didn’t know that at the time.

Um, so, you know, we had worked with ex partner for quite some time. They approached us saying that like, Hey, like, you know, we like working with you. Good team fed them. Good products. Uh, and so that, that’s kind of what, what was the impetus of behind that? Um, it was good timing as well, because we had been doing these corporate card expenses, but we didn’t know what really.

So one of the things that w w we were weak on was that we had this corporate card that you could give to your employees, and they could do, uh, they can spend all that card. Right. And we would reconcile all the expenses on that card. Just fine. The things that we didn’t do well on was like, okay, but what if someone had to use their personal card and they have to submit for reimbursement, and then how do you take all those personal card expense?

And how do you then get those transactions over to QuickBooks or NetSuite or Intacct all the financial software on the backend. So we didn’t do a good job, uh, with, with, uh, addressing those points yet. Right. It was like, okay. We’re if we’re, if we’re going to scale, we would have to address those two points quite quickly.

Um, So once we got initial acquisition offer, uh, we just started just talking a couple, uh, started having a couple of conversations with investors, having a couple of conversations with advisors. And they said like, Hey, like, you know, market’s pretty good right now. Uh, this was early 2019. Um, I was saying like, what’s going to enable you guys to grow the quickest.

Right? What is going to be able to, like, what do you guys want to focus on? Is it like the court card? Is it, do you guys want to build out at your point, another Expensify, another concur, another certify, um, and you know, we didn’t have any great ideas on like how we could. Vastly improve that system. Um, in fact, I had used advocates over, uh, at Coinbase and I really liked that system and actually kept in touch with one of the founders there at Ted power.

Um, and when we got the Aqua initial acquisition offer, I reached out to Ted and I was just like, Hey, like we’re, we’re thinking about this. Uh, and I wasn’t reaching out to him initially to think that he, they could be a potential suitor as well. I just kind of really wanted to get his device, um, because we, we weren’t that good with reimbursements.

We weren’t that good with the accounting integrations. So I really would’ve wanted to just get his advice there. Uh, and one thing led to another and. You know, he was saying like, Hey, his company, uh, was acquired by what was then called certify Chrome river, uh, which is all owned by this PE company called K one investment.

And they were potentially interested and suddenly we had like two, we had two potential suitors. So I was like, well, this isn’t bad. And you know, during that time, it, you know, Brian, to your point is like, what are we really looking to sell? What we kind of evaluating and something that I wouldn’t recommend to, you know, for folks listening, um, commit to one, you, you can’t run a business.

Fully while also trying to sell a business like, and you do a half-ass job at bolt and that that’s, that’s not good. Right. So if you’re like in the Silicon valley advice, so if you’re raising, just kind of limit it to two to three weeks and try to raise her in that entire time period, similar to, I think when you’re, if you’re trying to sell now, luckily Peter and I kind of had to split responsibilities.

I told Peter, Peter, you run the business. I was going to try to sell the company. Right. Um, it was a really awkward time because this was when we were all in the office. Uh, our staff, we were about 13, 12 or 13 folks. Um, and there was a lot of diligence materials and I had to hide away in a separate office.

Um, because I had diligence calls all day. I had to talk to lawyers. I had to talk to our accountants. I had to prepare all these financial, um, and legal materials. But I can tell my team about it because you know, deal’s not closed until the deal is closed. And I it’s one, I don’t even want to tell the team like, Hey, like we’re looking at selling because you know what it does that they’ll start asking what, what, what does that mean for me?

Um, so it was a super stressful time. Um, but the partners that we found, um, ultimately. Uh, Q1 and certified Chrome river, which is now actually they have a thought that our name for the broader work, uh, and burst. Um, now they’ve actually allowed us to do what we wanted to do, which was create this card platform, uh, that really helps employees take care of their expenses in a, you know, super automated.

Um, and allowing us to grow, um, faster than we probably could have by ourselves, because, you know, at the time we were still 13 employees, we had. 350 ish clients. Um, and now we have access to there. I think the last count was over 14,000 companies or so across links, like a hundred and 110, 120 countries.

And so we’re able to integrate our card solutions across the five or six different platforms, uh, and really. You know, instead of working with companies that, you know, our largest company back then was 600 employees, our largest company now that we’re working with is, you know, close to like 80,000 employees.

Bryan: (00:39:29)      That’s amazing. First of all, I want to say congratulations on that. I mean, having to offer us is quite amazing. And having, having been through the entire process is congratulations. Not a lot of people in their lifetime get to experience them like that. So that’s a big milestone, big and big, a big thing for us to celebrate.

Since you have a lot of sophisticated listeners on a podcast, I’m pretty sure they’re thinking, okay, you’re going into an ACO higher. Right. So as you went through your acro hire, what are a couple of things that you had done differently now that you know what you do know? Right. I think the first thing is like knowing that you’re able to still build on your vision through an apple hire is definitely the number one or from a restructuring standpoint, or was it just a couple of things that you can give us advice on that?

That could be beneficial. If someone who were releasing the right now, what’s going through an actual higher up their own.

Roger Gu: (00:40:20)        I would have, I can ask them like, what’s what is important to them, right? So we rejected kind of the, what turned out to be the, the first offer, because it was kind of a pure acqui-hire.

Um, and how I would differentiate between Aqua acqui-hire versus not a little bit of a smaller or smaller, mid acquisition size, which was more aligned. What we were doing is like, do you get the payback, all your investors. Right. Typical acquihires um, you have, uh, you retain all the employees and they have slightly higher.

They’ll have a, you know, a signing bonus or they’ll have slightly, um, larger equity packages than regularly hired employees. Um, we had a lot of friends and family that contributed to our, um, you know, multiple seed rounds and we felt that it was important to. Make sure that they were all paid back. So, you know, we prioritized that, like we want it then to get something, um, second, you know, our early employees made a lot of sacrifices, uh, in terms of salary, in terms of what else that they could have been doing, um, in terms of, you know, their, their lives, um, to work for in, in bursts, we wanted to make sure that they were taking care of, you know, just from the onset, like if they wanted to leave.

Like we were going to allow them to leave. We didn’t want to golden handcuff them, that they were there just kind of be grudgingly. So that was important for us as well. Um, that like the mental acquire, it takes care of the team. Not just, you know, they’re not just acquiring us for purely the technology or they’re not acquiring us purely for like myself or Peter.

Um, but you know, we, we come as a. Um, and you know, lastly, like Peter and. Worked her ass off for years as well. We want it to be taken care of course, as well. Um, but you know, we were okay. In this case, we’re a little bit of delayed gratification. We knew what we were getting into. So, um, you know, in terms of, you have to consider all those factors when considering, um, when do you want to be paid out as immediately later on?

Is it cash it’s stock? Is it, uh, you know, are you handcuffed? Yes or no? Like, you know how long that’s been scheduled, but those are all factors. That, uh, you really, it’s good to have your own prioritizations kind of set out before you engage in negotiations with, uh, the buyer. Like, no, what’s.

Maggie: (00:42:54)    Thanks for sharing that. Roger, um, you know, you talked about you and Peter working your asses off, right. And you definitely want it to be taken care of as well, which brings us to our next question, which we really like talking about this as well. And as podcasts is, you want to know how you. Manage your mental health, you know, as an entrepreneur, I’m going through an acquisition.

I mean, there was no scaling and building your, your business to such a large scale. I’m sure that, you know, there are times where you feel extremely stressed out or you feel like, you know, there’s just a lot on your plate, but how do you personally deal with mental health and how do you keep yourself afloat?


Roger Gu: (00:43:34)        That’s a great question. And that’s something that I think I have continually evolved and kind of how I deal with, um, you know, my mental standing mental health. Uh, I am very fortunate to, um, have a loving wife, uh, as well as, um, Uh, crazy, super loving dog. I have a German shepherd that kind of keeps me, keeps me sane, even though, even if I’m like super down.

Um, I have hobbies that kind of keep me in line as well as, um, I mentioned earlier a great friends, uh, and advisor network that really kind of helps me there. So in terms of kind of like hobbies, I, I enjoy type two fun activities. So, um, Activities that are not fun where you’re doing it, but only after you achieved it.

So, you know, whether it’s, it’s like doing a really, really long trail run or climbing a really tall mountain, um, that type of activity a, that allows me to focus in the pain of the moment really helps me relieve a lot of stress. Um, I also have the benefit of being able to share these activities with, you know, like I mentioned before, my wife, my dog, and a couple of my closest spreads that we’re able to do these things and really kind of provide me that level of stress relief.

Um, Used to when, when I was younger, like I did not do any athletics at all. I was this tall, skinny scrawny kid didn’t do any physical activity unless it was absolutely necessary. Um, I still got my A’s in gym because, you know, GPA and all, like beyond that, like I didn’t do any physical really activity. Uh, but now, like, I think it’s a combination of like working on, on my physical health as well as my mental health.

They really kind of support you. Um, so I found like some days, like, I don’t want to work on my mental health at all. If I’m like super stressed, I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want. Talk it out. I, I just don’t wanna do any of that. I would just go out and beat my body up on a super long run. Right. Or go to the gym and, and start hitting some stuff.

Like, I think that’s helped me a lot to have, to have a couple options to, to select from on, well, how do I need to go to sleep by the end of the day? How do I do so? Right. Like, what is my, um, what is my venting mechanism for that day? And for that issue that I’m doing.

Maggie: (00:46:06)     Yeah, that is definitely an outlet of promoting good mental health. And I loved the delayed gratification mindset of your type two activities.

Bryan: (00:46:17)        To 60 shows a, you know, if you have delayed gratification, the more successful you be later on in life. So that definitely you’re proving something right for us right now. That theory appreciate that.

Roger Gu: (00:46:30)         It’s been a, it’s been a struggle. It’s all, I’m in the Tahoe, Reno, Tahoe, Reno, uh, area these days. And I’m not able to get out as much, unfortunately, because of all the.

Bryan: (00:46:43)       Oh man. That’s, that’s definite a lot of fires up there. Please stay safe. Uh, so we have one final question for you. That question is what, what, what advice do you have for a, an aspiring entrepreneur entrepreneurial looking to get into their first startup?

Roger Gu: (00:47:00)         Hmm, that’s a great question. Um, I really questioned, like, you know, am I the right person to ask about that? Right? Like, I. Um, I’ll tell you why I got into my first startup and, and maybe, you know, maybe this will help someone and maybe it wouldn’t. Um, I saw that things were super inefficient and I didn’t see other products within the market that could do it better.

Right. And something in me was just like, this is so inefficient the way that folks were doing expenses, that it like, it like bothered me. And, and that was. More conviction than it. Wasn’t like, if you, if you, if you, I think you have to start, if you have the mentality, like I want to. Create a unicorn. I want to create a deck of corn, like that will sustain you for some bits, but like when you’re really struggling or when this, when the startup’s not doing well, like, I don’t know if that that would not be enough conviction for myself.

Right. Maybe for some, it would be, but for me it wouldn’t have been. So there was something about, um, that problem that I identified that just kind of really bothered me and inefficiency. That I wanted to address. And that’s what spurred my joining Peter, um, in, like in, in the early days up in burst.

Maggie: (00:48:25)      Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Roger. Um, so where can our listeners find out more about you and embers online?

Roger Gu: (00:48:33)         So to find out anything about numbers. I mean, you can just look us up, uh, in bursts that’s with any E like reimburse, but it is an actual old word. And we were so fortunate to be able to get that domain, uh, for pretty cheap.

Um, that was all Peter. So, uh, kudos to him on thinking of that word. I wasn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t know that word, um, to find out about me. I mean, my emails, just Roger, you can reach out to me at any time. Um, you can also find me on Instagram, LinkedIn. I don’t tweet really. Um, but yeah, I think if I’m going to standard social media channel,

Maggie: (00:49:25)      Thank you, Roger. We will leave all of that in the show notes of this podcast. It was amazing hearing your story today. Thank you so much for being on our show.

Roger Gu: (00:49:22)        Excellent questions.  

Bryan: (00:49:24)       Oh, of course. Thank you for being the show. Roger. Definitely appreciate everything you shared so far. And I hope our listeners find out

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