"The thing about moonshots is, whatever you do, if you do it long enough, you're always going to land at a spot that's higher than what you would originally be. You just basically heightens up your trajectory, and I think it's super important. I kind of hope that, that's a personal development goal for people as well. Just every day, try to do something that's outside of your comfort zone." - Brent Liang
Born in New Zealand, raised in Shanghai and currently completing his law studies in Australia, Brent started his entrepreneurial journey at 18 making mini podcasts. He built his first company facilitating bail assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in 2018, through the LawWithoutWalls program. He then co-founded Chance Myanmar, an influencer-led MOOC platform in Myanmar, and grew it to $1M ARR in 1.5 year. In 2019, Brent started his third company Logieq to help founders hire smarter, and led the first Australian team in 10 years to break into the Hult Prize Accelerator program through Dubai, London and New York to meet with President Bill Clinton at the UN Headquarter. Brent is now working alongside Justin Kan on his podcast The Quest to tell the stories of the human journey behind trailblazers such as The Chainsmokers, Mark Cuban, Steve Huffman and Bryce Hall.
Jeremy Au: [00:00:00] Welcome to Brave Dynamics. This is your host, Jeremy Au. Leadership is harder than it looks. As a proven founder and Harvard MBA, I interview courageous entrepreneurs, executives and investors every week. I also share my frontline experiences, coaching insights and own professional development journey. If you're stepping up as a new leader, founding a startup, or venturing into the great unknown, this is the podcast for you.
Hey to you again.
Brent Liang: [00:00:32] Good to see you, Jeremy.
Jeremy Au: [00:00:34] I'm so excited to share your journey, all the up, down, sideways, part of life. I'll be a fun chat.
Brent Liang: [00:00:41] Yeah, 100%.
Jeremy Au: [00:00:43] The big question on everybody's mind is, who are you?
Brent Liang: [00:00:46] I'm Brent Liang. I'm a 23 year old. I'm a law school dropout. I'm currently working as the co-founder and executive producer on The Quest. Which is a podcast project with Justin Kan, the co-founder of Twitch. Before that, I founded three different companies and I'm also a recording artist and I try to paint pictures in my free time. I guess that's a bit of a rundown about who I am.
Jeremy Au: [00:01:11] Let's walk through the beginning. Where does the beginning of your professional journey begin and kind of walk us through that chronologically to where you are today?
Brent Liang: [00:01:20] Yeah, for sure. I think the start of my professional journey was probably after I finished high school and starting my first year in university. I chose to do law because I wanted to get better at English. I thought going through six year of law school would help me be able to speak English and use the language in this really great way. Because I lived in China for 18 years, so Mandarin was what I've been speaking for 18 years pretty much. I wanted to be a lawyer. I think that's what I thought when I got into law school. But very quickly, I looked at some of the law firm partners and I had some internships and I was like, "I don't know if I want to be a lawyer." That would be the start of my professional journey, but I think I took a really quick turn after a year in. I built my mini podcast project in my first year of law school. It was actually about torts, which is a subject that we learned on civil wrongs.
For example, if you go out, if your car got jacked by someone, or if your bicycle got stolen by someone, that's a torts offense and you can take the person to court. I thought that stuff was interesting. I don't know why I thought that was interesting, but I tried to make a podcast out of it. Got a couple of friends, got some lecturers or tutors to come on board. I didn't know how to make anything, I didn't know how to do anything. I just basically watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials, learned how to use GarageBand, and I start to produce this mini podcast series. It went really well. I think starting from there, I was like, well, startups seems to be pretty interesting because we are also trying to figure out stuff, projects that you can build. Yeah, I think that's the start. Aspiring, I guess, law student disillusion about the world, and so I found myself in the deep building startups.
Jeremy Au: [00:03:06] Awesome. What was it like building your first set of startups?
Brent Liang: [00:03:08] That's a long story. I mean, second year after building my mini podcast project, I launched a project I didn't know what to do with it. I think we got to a couple K listens/views on SoundCloud, but it left there. I actually didn't know what a startup means at the time, so I enrolled in this competition called LawWithoutWalls. Which was this international conference program that brings together lawyers, law students, VCs to build what they call projects of worth. It's like a semi startup kind of idea. Our first startup was called Kite. It was in the legal tech industry. The idea was we're able to build something kind of tech tools for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. When some of the juvenile offenders, when they're sitting in bail, we would be able to assist, connect them with a community network and help them get better support system instead of them getting into trouble when they're sitting inside.
That was what we got assigned as a project of worth. I mean, I saw it as a startup, it turned out that it was slightly different and when you're going for a competition. I think it was four to five months of just researching and talking to people. It was very difficult for us because it's a very different, I guess, segment of audience that we're interacting. To an extent it's like, we didn't know our customers that well. It's not like you're building a startup, let's say, delivering food or I don't even know, like e-commerce where you can actually take an Uber and chat to your customers or pick up a phone and call them. For us, our end audience are very much like a whole other segment of society that would have to consciously reach out and chat to, and it's very difficult. We spent a lot of time trying to do all of that, outreach interviews. I think we did 40, 60 interviews before we actually started building our thing. But even with all of that ...
I mean, I had amazing mentors who were able to guide me through every single step of the journey, but I was just a terrible founder back then. I didn't know any better. I didn't know how to build a product. I didn't know what it really means to acquire customers. I thought you can get by without having a customer. I don't know how that thought crossed my mind, but I think I was very stubborn in thinking that startups are pretty much just about building things. That's not it. You're solving problems, you're not building things. Towards the second half of the year, we started seeing problems. We had a brief idea for an MVP, but we weren't able to really onboard any customers. At the same time, all of the problems that I mentioned about not being able to chat to our customers closely started to show up. So we had some miscommunication issues. I had a lot of workload on my plate and I was really stressed out by it.
I got a team of volunteers and it turned out to be not a very smart choice because the work that I was doing were just work for the sake of it. You actually spend more time managing people instead of just getting those work done. I was not a very effective leader back then and towards the end of the year or something, we had this miscommunication with a really big stakeholder. Which was a court and the whole thing just boiled over, it got really ugly where there were lots of emails that were threatening or sent. It got me to a place where I was really conflicted about whether I should pursue the startup or not, because I felt like pursuing it would mean to tackle one of the things head-on. Actually, it would result in harm to the community that we're trying to serve because we weren't able to navigate those landscapes as skillfully. If we shut it down, obviously that's something I've worked on for almost a year, I felt terrible and the team feels terrible as well.
So sort of like you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Eventually, we did shut it down after a year. There were those days, I think we talked about this earlier before coming onto the show, but there were days where I felt really bad that I would wake up not having the strength physically, mentally to even check the email inbox. I would go out, take a walk, take a run, come back, do my pushups, go for a shower, and then click open the email inbox. But even then, you still get those mini spikes of anxiety. That's something that tends to be typical for lawyers. But I think for me, it happened at a much younger age. So I kind of felt what it was like to be controlled or to have your startup turn into something that feels like a monster. It feels like a really, really bad day job. I was only aware that later on that, that wasn't supposed to be how it feels. But I thought at the time that, when you talk about startup hustle, that's how it feels.
I'm glad that we closed it after a year though. I think that was a smart choice to make, and I think I made a lot of really good personal human connections throughout that whole experience. I think it really grounded me at such a young age thinking I could do anything in the world. Whereas building a startup is actually quite tough, you have to solve a real problem. It doesn't matter what you profess to be good at.
Jeremy Au: [00:08:06] Wow. I mean, that's one heck of a journey. I think you said a couple of really interesting things, which is, being a first time founder is hard. That's one. Then two, it almost sounds like you've gotten the self-awareness of what was normal and then what was abnormal or difficult only after the first time as well. Which is, I think a very common journey for so many first time founders. It's like, they know they're struggling. Well, they are struggling. They don't know they're struggling. They think struggling is normal. Then when they're out of it, they're like, "Wait a moment, it's different. The approach I could taken could've been different." I personally share that thing. I mean, there were so many times in my past two companies where, I actually couldn't do the email either and I would just give my phone to my wife or my sister and I'd just be like, "Can you just read the email to me?" Because I'm like, "Okay, I ..."
Brent Liang: [00:08:57] I wish I could do that. I don't think my parents have read my emails, but maybe I should have tried my brother.
Jeremy Au: [00:09:03] You could have tried that. There's a handy trick is, because you want to read it, but you're like, I'll just give it to my wife and it's like, "Okay. I'm supposed to read this an hour ago, so it's not too bad, but I know I'm procrastinating. If you can read it to me and just give me the gist of it and then I'll just tell you what I'm going to reply." That's good enough because I'm worried about the tone, I'm worried about all the stuff. When someone else is summarizing it for me later, I'm like, "Okay, I know what I need to say." But I can ... I think one of my realizations only after my first company was, I really need to move a lot of tough decisions into a verbal meeting. It was just like, there's just way to make tough emails that were just, I felt it was impossible to solve over the email.
Actually, it was pretty much impossible to solve over email because personal issue, it's not a logic or a tax issue. So I was procrastinating and I was making things worse. Whereas, I need to move that into the personal domain. It's a personal decision, you got to make into a personal domain. All that stuff, I only realized after my first company. It was just like, "Oh man, I wish I knew that earlier."
Brent Liang: [00:10:02] Your first company always teaches you so much. In a way it's almost like it's great if it's a failure because you learn a lot more. I think that sort of steepness of the learning curve is hard to be replicated if you do it for your second or third, because you've got a lot to lose. So you wouldn't be able to take on those learnings as quickly.
Jeremy Au: [00:10:21] Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, I think there's this classic thing where a startup is supposed to be a hockey shape in terms of growth. Then humans don't have hockey shape in terms of learning curve. They're mostly linear or flat even. I mean, I always tell people, I was like, when I was in the middle school, is every year I did one year of math. So year one, you got one year of math. Year two, you did your second year of math. Year three, you did another one year of math. Yeah four, you did another one year of math. But if you are supposed to be succeeding as a startup, is year one you do one year of math. Year two, you do two years of math. Year three, you do four years of math and then year four, you do eight years of math. But nobody does that.
We would be, if we were teachers and trying to teach your kids, they would be like, as principals or teachers would be like, "This is a messed up way to teach kids because all of them are going to break by year two or year three." I think one thing you said that was very true, which was that if you fail, at least you may not have learned about the business itself, but at least you learn about your own rate of learning. Which is actually much more important because whatever you do in your next startup, the only thing you carry over is yourself. Right?
Brent Liang: [00:11:29] Exactly. Now, that's a good quote.
Jeremy Au: [00:11:32] What did you carry over to your second venture?
Brent Liang: [00:11:35] What I made sure to do in my second venture was, we wanted to start thinking about customers from day one. We wanted to have this really clear vision about who's going to be paying from day one. I tried to make sure that we get to our product piece a lot sooner than what I would otherwise typically do. A bit of backstory about the second startup. I was able to meet someone really fortunate when I was in Sydney, and this person came from Myanmar and she was about to embark on some social influencer work. She wanted to make content. She wanted to be a content creator. So I had the opportunity to travel to Myanmar where I was able to understand the market conditions a lot more, talk to people, get to know people. We built this business that's of her personal brand. Which actually went really well and she was able to get to 1 million followers on Facebook relatively quickly. We built this business that's basically like a ... The vision for it was we wanted to be the biggest MOOC from Myanmar.
I think one thing that we nailed down really well, which helped us get to product-market fit was that we've had this format of influencer led soft skill training. The classes aren't just taught by instructors, they're taught of people who have a brand in the country. One thing about Myanmar is, whenever you wanted to sell something, because they're services, it's much better if you're able to tie it with someone that people actually trust. That worked very well with that in Myanmar. I don't know if you can replicate that to other countries in Asia, but at the very least, what we know is it would really work in Myanmar. We were selling courses on soft skills on basically things that you wouldn't be able to learn that much in the university. We weren't teaching any physics courses or anything that's hard science. It was more like language, business skills, stuff that's actually practical and useful for folks. Because a lot of them actually haven't gone to university and we don't want to take that ...
We don't want to be sort of this alternative education program for them. It's too much risk for us. But we did all of those courses and it worked really well. I think one of the reasons why we got there quickly, it was like I said, when you have an influencer, in a way your customer acquisition channel is a lot more smooth. A lot of people who came through or converted via my co-founders brand. We were able to charge for the classes relatively quickly. I think one of the important moments for me was I was always thinking that this has to be a MOOC website, so we've got to build something. So I got to learn how to code. I was learning Python for a month. I didn't even know why I was learning Python to put in the website. But anyways, at one point I was like, "You don't have to do all of that." Everyone was on Facebook in Myanmar, so why can't we build something, leveraging the tool set that we've got from Facebook? We took a few days and we launched something.
It's super simple. Once someone wanted to pay for a course, they would just transfer the money into our bank account and then they would do a screenshot, and then they will send that screenshot to us. Then once we check that, we'll just add them into a little secret Facebook group and then we'd push all of the videos from there. It made so much sense if you think about it, but it's like, we can do that in a week and get the whole business up and running. It's probably not going to be able to scale very well once we hit 40, 500 K or something. That's actually proven to be a wrong assumption. It worked well once we hit that volume as well. But we launched it and we just basically ... That was our MVP and we never really upgraded our MVP. We just kept it running for almost two years straight and we got to 40 K MRR in a year.
The one mil ARR by the by a year and a half. We scaled our team to 15, 20 people. I got to give credits to my co-founder here because I was actually ... I came back to Sydney. I was in Myanmar during my university breaks, and so I came back to Sydney for most of the time doing my studies. She made everything happen on the ground, and she's amazing. I'm really glad of how much progress we were able to make it such a short period of time. What that meant for me, I think, just to answer your question in terms of new learnings and stuff, is, first of all, a set of problems that you deal with as a founder, starting out to find product-market fit is very different from the problems that you face after you've found product-market fit. I think one of the things that I struggled with earlier on was building, talking to customers and building the thing that they actually want. It's like an art.
You have to really remove your ego from the equation and literally just take on this role of a designer. You've got to design whatever makes sense for them even if it's not something that sounds really sexy for yourself. That was the times that I had to get over myself before EMF. But after that, after we started to get revenue and you started to have team members come on and stuff, for me, one of the bigger challenges was hiring. I had no idea what it looks like for people that we'd bring into the team. Designers, no idea how to hire them. Coders, developers, no idea. I would read a lot of articles, I think culture fit. What does that mean? Zoom calls. If I chat to them, I like them, great, they're in. Sometimes they'd fail miserably. They don't know how to even put up a simple design work or they don't know how to do things at the spec that I want. Which I didn't really communicate very well to them before. A lot of those problems started to surface up.
Then when it comes to team, I think that 80%, 90% of time came from communication. We weren't able to do our communication well. So lots of inefficient meetings, lots of folks getting into almost mini arguments with stuff that wasn't transparent and just emotions and resentment that came from not being able to express things very well. I think one of the things that I realized was when you have those problems in your startup, it doesn't make any sense to blame anyone because all of that just manifests from the founder. It's almost like the startup is a reflection of yourself. If you're able to build ... If you're not comfortable with all hands meetings, then you will tend to run less of those. Then when you'd run less of those, people will feel like there's not as much of a need to communicate. Or if they work on a project, it's not as not really worth it to make sure everyone else understands. In a way, you're setting that culture and that manifests from your preference to not do those meetings too often.
Which the root cause for that could be that you just need to train up yourself to have more confidence. Little things like that, always coming back to thinking, "What did I do to make it happen? Okay, here's my character flaw." It's like a mirror. You're holding on to a mirror and it shows all of the character flaws in you. So I learned a lot from that and I think it really takes almost your co-founder or other people, mentors to make you aware of those things and to give you actionable steps about what you can do to improve. So that was one of my biggest learnings for my second startup, managing a team and making sure that the team has crystal clear communication. I don't think I did a really good job at that at the point where I left, but I feel like that was the growth that I experienced the most I mean, in terms of just how I see myself grow as a founder.
Jeremy Au: [00:18:44] I just want to underscore to the audience how important what you just said was, about the company and the startup as a reflection of the founder. When there are problems at a startup, it is often a manifestation of not necessarily problems of you, but who you are and how have you chosen to conduct your actions. I think that's a super underrated comment because it's a very tough thing to say. I mean, we always hang out with other the founders and the founders are like ... I remember this friend and this guy was like, "I don't understand why everyone's selling so hard. We need better marketing, we need ... Everyone is too salesy internally." I looked at him and he's the most salesy guy that I know and I'm just like, "Well ..." As a friend, it was an awkward thing to say. Then you're like, because he's doesn't trust your friendship and relationship and then say, "Look, you came from a sales background, you'll building a company in sales. You're hiring lots of sales reps. Yeah, everyone's going to be more salesy.
Now what you're saying is you want to round out the team." But it's a valid acknowledgement which is, you can't build a sales company with just sales. You have to do other stuff like top leadership, marketing, people leadership, all kinds of different things, and then you're a part of it. It's not a bad thing, but we have just to get intentional about it. But it's not a bad thing, it's just we build the things that we're most comfortable with. I just want to say how underrated a comment what you just said was. I think so many founders have that struggle because they build something and they're getting a product-market fit and then suddenly it works. Suddenly an investor comes in and then they're growing or whatever it is, and then they're like, these are all these terrible things happening. It's a tough conversation.
Brent Liang: [00:20:25] It was like stuff is just breaking every day and there's always a problem that's going on. I think it's really funny because for us, we never really raised a round, if that makes sense. I think it's really fortunate that we didn't have to do any of that because I think a lot of times people are more concerned about raising money than getting their product to be working. Which is a very big myth in this whole industry. I think for us to bootstrap and go all the way to 1 million ARR, that's something that I'm really proud of. But at the same time, it does feel like there's not much of a support network. I'm pretty sure if we've got more angels let's say sitting on our board, we can basically call out for support. We don't really have any for that to happen. For us, it was just tackling it head on and be okay with things breaking every day. I think a lot of founders will say that even when you start getting revenue, that's just the start of a new journey and things will still feel shitty.
I actually tend to disagree. I think things feel shitty, but you know you're safe, and that's a really good feeling. When you get money coming in every single week, when you get customers paying and they're happy in some way, you're dealing with problems, but then it doesn't really ... It's not existential. I think pre-launch, before you get to PMF, things are pretty serious. If something is not working, if you launch an experiment and it doesn't seem to work, that would get to me and I'll be like, "Okay, I need to work 10 times harder. I don't know when this is going to work. I don't know when this is going to hit that mark." But once you hit that, once you get to PMF, it's about how fast you can go to grow. That challenge feels a lot more, I think, urgent, but less intense, if that makes sense.
Jeremy Au: [00:22:04] Yeah, that makes total sense. I think founders say it's more difficult because they don't really have a language to say, this is new. You know what I'm saying? It's not more difficult because you and I both know it's way more difficult to have no money and just be burning all your savings while trying to cut your expenses to zero. That's very hard and I think so many founders sometimes use the wrong language to say raising a seed round or raising a Series A it's hard. Don't get me wrong, it's hard, but it's not hard because it's hard. It's hard because it's new. Sometimes the language matters so much. It is like the first dollar in, the first customers, they're not hard, they're happy, they gave you money. then you're like, "You're giving me way more value than I thought I would. Because your customer support ..."
I remember I was buying some service and I managed to break their service. I knew him from a while ago as a friend. I messaged him and I said, "Hey, I signed on too many users for this case and I think I broke your product." Then he's like, he personally, the founder personally responded to me and said, "Okay, let me fix it." I'm thinking to myself, "You know what, I'm paying what, five, 10 bucks a month? I'm totally getting my bang for the buck. I'm getting the founder. A former YC guy to fix my customer support for me, my problem for me. This is great. I think it's so much of a framing thing. It's like customers are happy to throw money at you and then founders are like, "This is hard." When they should just be like, "This is new and it's uncomfortable."
Brent Liang: [00:23:35] I like that reframing. I think that's very helpful.
Jeremy Au: [00:23:37] What was new for you? I mean, obviously, well, I think what's also not new not only was the industry, but also the geographies as well. Which is just something I've noticed it's very special about you so far is, it feels like you've been quite ambidextrous industry and you've also been very ambidextrous in terms of geography. I'm just kind of curious about how you think about that.
Brent Liang: [00:23:57] Yeah, for sure. I don't know if I qualify as a Gen Z, probably not. A tiny bit. I missed that train. But I think I'm lucky to be born in an age where I actually think geography doesn't matter as much. I was born in New Zealand. I moved to China when I was six months old. Technically, I'm a Kiwi, but I'm actually not. Then technically I'm Chinese, but I don't have a passport or an ID. Then when we build our business in Australia, everyone will look at me as an Australian and that's not technically true as well. In a way, it's almost like I was brought up in a world where those labels just don't tend to apply as much to me. I mean, it obviously resulted in its own problems where I think I moved to five, six different high schools growing up. Being able to form friendships or build relationships quickly with people was a life skill that I had to learn, otherwise I just don't any longterm sort of friend or attachments because I just move around too much.
But when you're able to realize all of that, it makes you feel that it doesn't really matter where you've been brought up and stuff. The two co-founders for my first startup, they were from the US and South Africa. Remote work was something that the LawWithoutWalls program has been pushing since its beginning. It's so innovative, but we got used to basically that whole work style before all this stuff with COVID happened. The whole year we were working just purely via Google Hangout calls and I thought that was a natural way of working because I got into obviously my second year of university. I thought that was the norm. When I got used to it, it doesn't really matter if my second co-founder lived in Myanmar and we chatted over FaceTime. It didn't really matter that for my first startup, we actually traveled to UK and we came to the US, met with Bill Clinton. All of that stuff was like, wherever opportunities are, if we can get a ticket, let's say to go there to talk to people who might be useful for our company, let's do that.
I think with COVID, everyone is seeing that happen in live action. I got onto this current project with Justin Kan when we have no connection with each other whatsoever. I'm just a random kid in Australia. He's living somewhere in the States and we wouldn't be able to even know each other for our entire lives. But once you have the right channel on the internet and you're able to trust someone else and you're able to build something with them and communicate frequently, anything could happen. I think you can build a startup, you can build whatever. I even know you can probably build a lot of other stuff as well. You can probably start a TV show or something. Like you would do this podcast. This is crazy. This is a really good example. I don't know you, but we met through OnDeck and now we're doing a podcast together. I feel like I'm having a conversation that's so authentic and deep. It's almost like I'm talking to someone that I've known for a couple of years.
So I think that's something that we're seeing a lot more in this new age. We just got to get used to it. I don't even think about geographies. Maybe some investors will be concerned possibly with some of that stuff, but for me, it's about the person, it's about where we can make the product work, and it's about whether the market is good or not.
Jeremy Au: [00:27:14] Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I'm sure the question that everybody is thinking to themselves, how did you startup one, startup two, startup three, and now you're with Justin Kan. I mean, this guy has got founders talking to him, or try to email him out the wazoo. He's YC. My last co-founder Tatyana and I, we would follow him on Snapchat and we would laugh at him driving his ATV up to his wedding in California. I've also personally met him a few times, actually at the last company, Atrium Services. I've worked with other executives that have reported to him. But I was just kind of curious, that's very different from you being a client to pitching or consuming to you working with him. How did you do that from the middle of nowhere, I guess, versus the center of the universe being America?
Brent Liang: [00:28:02] Let me just quickly run through how I got there. I think I want to talk a bit about my first startup, because that's what led me to this path and more of a connection with the US as well. But basically when I came, a year or two after we set up Chance Myanmar, the Myanmar business and we were making a little revenue, I thought I couldn't see myself doing this for the rest of my life. I took a step back, I became more of an advisor in the company and I wanted to build something that's a lot more scalable, something that's on a global level like YC, Ready, something that's going to change the world. I think that's what young kids typically think about when they're trying to go big. I wanted to solve the problem like I said earlier with me hiring. I saw a lot of my founder friends who were quite young who were able to raise lots of money who had trouble with hiring. So we wanted to build this platform that's able to distribute these hiring challenges for them.
If you wanted to bring on a designer, we would co-create some kind of design challenges that would basically let you test for what good looks like. You would send that challenge to a designer before you wanted to bring them into the team. They would finish the challenge and us a platform, we would rate the challenge in some way via our algorithm. So that gives you a pointer or an indicator about how good the person is before you have them come in. We built that web for this competition called the Hult Prize, which was a pitching competition. We were invited to go to pitch in Dubai and we won that round. We got to the UK, stayed for two months in a castle, we built the business. Then we went to the US, met with Bill Clinton pitched, but didn't really get the $1 million coming through. Then I lived in Silicon Valley for two months. I think when I was couch-surfing through the US, I had no money on me at the time, and I stayed with really good friends in a house for two months.
That whole period just changed my perspective. It changed my perspective about what's possible. When I was in the US in Silicon Valley, I thought I was going to leave after a couple of weeks. I was like, "This place has some of the best, most brilliant people in venture, in startups around the world. I need to meet them. I don't know how I'm going to get to them, but I need to meet them. Otherwise, I'm just going to take a fight all the way back to Australia in 20 plus hours." That sounds pretty bad. So I was like, "What can I do to meet them?" I was stuck. I was trying to find out emails and I sent a bunch of them. I heard from some, I didn't really hear from others and I was like, "I don't know how to do it." But then one day I talked to one of my friends and they were just like, "Just take an Uber. Show up at their house and talk to them." I was like, "What? I cannot imagine how you would even say that."
But then I thought about it. I was like, if I can somehow manufacture this opportunity to meet them or to make an impression, there's nothing wrong with that. So I actually did that. I would draft handwritten notes about what I want to get from each conversation and I would put that note in an envelope and I would go to some of those VC's residences. Which I was able to find out by actually using one of my old law firms credentials and check their SEC filings, whatever. Then I'll go there, try to see if there's any signs outside that says no trespass, whatever. I would pass the note underneath the door. Every time I did that, I would get the conversation coming through. It's so funny, but when I meet them in person, they'll be like, "I'm framing that note in my house. I'm so glad that you did that and let's chat."
It's funny because we weren't at the level where we're able to raise, a lot of those conversations didn't really materialize into let's say a Series A investor or something. But just being able to do that makes me understand that there's no need to glorify someone and say, you're not going to be able to meet them up until you get an intro. You don't have to wait for the intro to happen. If you just go meet them, if you take an initiative and just do a bunch of those things, things will come your way. When I came back to Australia, I was working on our startup for almost the whole year, got my personal burning rates to zero. I was having ramen noodles every day. Then towards the end of the year, we had our first customer come on board. Just in that one week I was on the server called ... A shout out to Gen Z Mafia, it's one of the best servers in the world out there. Justin obviously he sent a message saying that he needs help with his podcast and this upcoming book and he wants someone to basically help out with things.
I thought that's a really good part-time job opportunity. I was like, "I can probably keep things going. With a bit of money from here I can fund my startup and whatever." So I DMed him, sent him all of my design samples with 30 plus files. Every single message got sent as an individual message. Which was crazy because I was just spamming him out of nowhere. This random kid from Australia spamming him with all of those graphics. Later, I knew that that's actually what he ... He wasn't looking for any of that. He was looking for people who was much better at producing things and I was sending graphic design or whatever. But halfway through, like 50 messages in, he was like, "I love it." I was like, "Oh shit, let me keep sending." I sent another 15 or something and then he was like, "Let's chat in two hours." So I was so nervous I called everyone that I knew. I called my co-founder. I talked to my parents. I tried to raft to get myself ready and all that.
I got onto a call. He was sitting across the screen. He was like this Asian Jesus guy. I was a big follower of Justin for a long time as well. So seeing him in all of that majestic hair flowing down, that was surreal. I talked to him and the one thing that I realized, the first couple of moments into the conversation was just how vulnerable he was with me. He talked to me about all of the things that he's been thinking to do and he talked to me about all the things that he's not sure about. Like he wasn't sure about let's say if we can make this podcast go big. He wasn't sure about what kind of help he actually needs. He wasn't sure about what kind of strategy in terms of promotion we would need. So he was asking me for help. I think when you come to someone for help, it's a lot easier for the other person to pitch in and ... It kind of destressed me and it made me a lot easier to engage with him as a person.
I think that first chat went quite well. I drafted a plan or something and sent it to him. A week later, I came in as the co-founder and executive producer for the podcast. One of the visions that I pitched him was, I see a lot of things that are special with Justin and with his podcast. I think it's just a matter of time that we get to be bigger than Joe Rogan and moreover that's not it. We're not even competing in the same arena. We are building a cultural product, a media company, that's going to go beyond just an audio service. It's something that it could be one of the most exciting things cultural product like audio rising that's going to be able to be seen as the most exciting projects for founders and creators worldwide. Justin is one of those only people in the world where he can bring people like Michael Seibel and then have a chat with Chainsmokers the next day. He has the ability to bridge industries like that, and I think that's super special. I pitched him all those visions and he was on board from day one.
We also wanted to try something different where we're trying this whole concept of building a community around the podcast. Which since has worked out very, very well. That's how it went. A week after I came in, I had a chat with my co-founder again and we were like, "Okay, well, it doesn't really make much sense if we wanted to keep both things going because I don't want to fail at either of them." So we actually shut the startup down, we transitioned into a ... We actually gave our product piece to another startup who were two of my friends, really good founders. Nothing that we've build has been wasted and it felt kind of great to say that. Just basically since then I've been dedicating full-time to growing the podcast and all of the other personal brand initiatives for Justin.
Jeremy Au: [00:35:52] Wow. What an amazing ... I don't know what's the word. Adventure and so brave. I mean, a lot of bravery there at each stage and each day to do what you just had to do. I think the thing that jumped out to me was the part where you always push yourself to do something crazy. I'm just saying, that's like, I think everybody knows they got to work hard and people do work hard. That's going to give you good results. But sometimes you have to do some crazy shit. Either you get zero from the market, sometimes you get negative repercussions, but most of the time you get zero. But sometimes when it does work, it works. It's interesting where, I love the part where you're like, "Yeah. Worst case scenario, they would just ignore the letter under the door." Then the basket scenario is they actually pick it up. The worst case scenario of direct messaging Justin was, he would just ignore you or tell you it's bad.
Brent Liang: [00:36:51] I wasn't losing anything. It wasn't on my board. He wasn't someone that we wanted to bring into our company or anything. So even if I don't get a reply, it's like, "Okay, well, that's not going to ... I can still go about my day and do whatever I do every day." If anything came through, it would just sort of change my life in a way, and it happened. I think that's super important. Actually one of the things that we used to do at our third startup was, we would set aside this time called moonshots, and every day we'd try to spend 20% of the time. Which typically it rounds up to an hour just doing completely impossible things. We would email Elon Musk, we would email, let's say Sam Altman saying, "Can we put in a Zoom call?" Email the founders of Canva, who's an Australian and who she's killing it, Melanie, and saying, "Can we go and grab coffee?" Things like that. We never really got any proper response. I mean, there's a lot of interesting people that came through, but we just kept doing it.
I think it cultivating this habit where when we saw something ... It got me to Thiel Fellowship interviews, that kind of level. I think that was really great because if we didn't have that habit, that kind of mindset, none of this stuff would actually happen. We probably wouldn't even get to our first customer. The thing about moonshots is, whatever you do, if you do it long enough, you're always going to land at a spot that's higher than what you would originally be. You just basically heightens up your trajectory, and I think it's super important. I kind of hope that, that's a personal development goal for people as well. Just every day, try to do something that's outside of your comfort zone. That's a very, very, very ... There's a small percentage of it succeeding, but if it does, it's going to just flip your life over. I think that's a very healthy way of just trying to make sure that you're going somewhere every day.
Jeremy Au: [00:38:32] Yeah. I love the framing that you use the word moonshots. I never thought of it that way. It's such a good way to frame the negative way of saying it which is doing something crazy. Well, the way you frame it is a ... I think crazy is still neutral in the startup world. I think doing something I think negative would be like, people say that you're doing something dumb or it's not worth your time. I think that's a negative frame. But I think moonshots makes it have a positive frame to be like ... I like it actually. I think it's a good way and I'm going to have to write it down on my own vocab. Which is you know not every day, but I think every week I could do maybe a moonshot. I'd be like, today, I'll have the raspberry with Nutella ice cream. Maybe that'll still be my moonshot.
Brent Liang: [00:39:13] That's not what I meant, but I'll take that.