Talking Business with CEO Ian So

Talking Business with CEO Ian So

Podcasting, I used to really love ya. From 2011 – 2016, you were my jam. But we drifted apart, and in 2017 we finally called it off.

I made peace with that.

Recording a show went through lots of different phases. It helped me cope with homesickness when I was outside the US. Then, it evolved into this crazy creative outlet– something I felt compelled to do because I was making something and that felt damn good. Podcasts gave me a sense of productivity, a sense of accomplishment (yet, what was I actually accomplishing, hm).

Looking back, it’s crazy how many people were willing to give me the time of day– for both guests and listeners.

People like Somy Ali with No More Tears are working really hard to make the world a better place.

“If you’re a little blessed, it’s your duty to do something and give back to society.”

I always felt bad that I never quite made it “big” enough to better spread these kinds of messages.

I mean, honestly, I felt… awful.

As great as it was to connect with all these people, I was probably just wasting their time. I wanted to help, but how did my podcast help further their cause? That sinking feeling felt heavier with each episode I made. And by the end, quitting the podcasts was pretty easy.

But damn, I still do like talking to people. When Ian So reached out for a recording redo, I was glad to take another crack at it.  I’d put-off publishing our original episode because it was a bit underwhelming (my fault for not hosting right, not his),

For people who do like podcasts, you can listen or download. Technical difficulties (again, my fault for not hosting right, not his) mean this is a straight up phone call rip– apologies in advance for the call quality.

For those of you who don’t like listening to podcasts, that’s okay. I get it. Well, not really, but over the years I know there’s been plenty of people who wanted to absorb the content from the shows… they just didn’t have the patience to listen to something for 20 minutes plus.

And once again, here’s another chance for me to redeem myself: I’ll summarize the big lessons that I learned from Ian because they’re lessons that you should be learning too. I definitely don’t want you to miss out! Bonus trivia sprinkled in.

Who is Ian So?

Ian does a lot of stuff, so I had to ask him for his official titles: CEO of Chicken & Rice Guys and Board Member of National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship (ACE).

Why is Ian So a big deal?

Dude, he strayed from the typical career path and co-founded a company, so huge props for that alone. With entrepreneurship, you hear people talk about wanting to help and connect others all the time, but when Ian says it… I’ve seen him walk the walk with my own eyes. I’ve also been witness to his devout followers (e.g. “I would follow that man to battle”).

He’s also bounced back from tough setbacks, but more on that later.

How’d we meet?

By way of my Pokemon rival: BostonSpeaks Founder Kit Pang.

With you building the community at ACE, do you want to be mentoring more?

“I don’t really mentor. I just give free advice. I’ve been reading a lot about end of life situations. These people who die with regrets, and it’s usually something about how they didn’t take risks.

They wish they had more time for relationships. The most rewarding thing for them was to give back to others.

It feels really good to give back. Not only does it feel good, but it’s cool to accomplish goals with others that are meaningful. It’s actually just me being selfish.”

So about that “tough setback”– that’s the… e.coli thing?

Yeah! I was actually surprised he was willing to talk about it. He was pretty frank. One, it sucked. Two, he learned a lot.

In our call, Ian mentions how Chicken & Rice Guys were awarded as one of the fastest growing business, but that recognition was hard to appreciate because things had been running so smoothly.

He’s studious. He reads (e.g. 15 books last year!), but one thing that’s hard to account for is the luck needed in business. Ian said, “We had a good product, good people and partners [working together], so the business ran smoothly. We were ‘lucky’ for 5 years”.

The E.coli outbreak was the first big test. That was when uncertainty hit for the first time– “Are we going to be here tomorrow?”

I wanted to know if present day Ian is who he envisioned. One of my pet peeves is listening to business owners brag about “I just knew I always wanted to be X”. Maybe it’s true for some of them, but half the time it sounds like BS. Was this all according to plan?

“As a food truck becoming like this? I had no idea. [My path] was more about just trying to start a business because I didn’t like my job. Each year there’d be a certain amount of salary increase, and I’m like ‘hell no’! I’ll start my own business where my opportunities aren’t capped.

It wasn’t until year 2 when I realized we have something special. People really like our food.

As the years roll on, we just keep striving for greatness. So am I surprised things have done well? No.”


I’ve heard that entrepreneurship needs a window for failure (i.e. 3-5 years of investment before calling it quits). Does that time-frame seem right? Should you course correct sooner?

“The pivot depends on industries, but speaking from food, you have to be very responsive. People don’t like the food? You got to go change it. You won’t survive otherwise.”



What are your thoughts on the traits necessary for being an entrepreneur? I hear people say that this business “is not for the faint of heart”. What should people work on improving?

“It depends on the business, but for sure– any entrepreneur of any leadership in general– it needs fearlessness and then [the ability] recognizing fear.”

“I’ve read that traits are ‘hard-coded’ in our genetics — so much is out of our hands. So when I’m seen as being optimistic, that isn’t me acting on my own necessarily, but what i’m born with.”

“The factors that effect us: genetics, environment, and finally what you can actually do. I don’t see that as you having less control. I see it as that’s the small part that you can take control and grow. If the rest is out of our control, you need to work harder… on your own happiness.”

Actions Really Do Speak Louder

Actions Really Do Speak Louder

“Actions speak louder than words.”

That’s a pretty well-known maxim. It’s right up there with “don’t spit in the wind” and “five dollar footlong” when it comes to familiarity.

For my non-native English speakers out there, that quote means that doing has more impact that speaking. But, I bring this up because there’s both an English and communication lesson in there.

The other day I was caught in traffic and running late to a client session. I texted him a heads up, and he replied back with:

“Safe driving”

I understood him, of course, and it’s a very easy fix: drive safe. In that correction we have good rule of thumb to follow. Focus more on the action (i.e. verbs) rather than the nouns.

Think about it conversationally:

  • Have fun
  • Be safe
  • Enjoy the movie
  • Have a good night

Too often, in the pursuit of trying to translate from one’s native language, there’s too much focus on finding the right descriptor or single word choice. Even if you find it, you’ll sound unnatural.

Here, you don’t need big vocabulary, and if need be you can always explain in more detail. That rings true in the professional world. When you have to talk about yourself in an interview, you can’t use fancy words to describe yourself. You’ll sound pompous and unrelatable. You can, however, simply state what you do:

  • X I’m very organized. –> I put all my files in alphabetical/chronological order
  • X I’m very creative. –> I prefer to make my own templates instead of…
  • X I’m a good communicator. –> When I’m at a social, I try to talk to as many people as possible.

Use those verbs, mmkay?

First Time Interview Tips

First Time Interview Tips

Why is so much interview advice out there so basic? Well for one, the process as a whole is flawed– interviews are not the best way to gauge a person’s ability. And that’s why you’ll hear two points repeated so often: 1) appear professional 2) do your research.

After that, it’s more or less how well you can show your personality. The first time going through an interview, you might not have any idea what interviewers are watching for. Let’s see if we can get you to express yourself a little better.

Don’t Bring (Up) Your Parents

Okay, so aside from physically bringing your parents to the interview site (please don’t do that), you should also minimize any time spent discussing them.

Maybe your parents influenced you. Maybe they’re your heroes. That’s all great on a personal level. But too much talk about Mom and Dad forces the perception that you’re still their kid.

In a job interview, you need to look like an adult. You’re your own person. You don’t need Mom and Dad. The interviewer is looking for independence, not neediness.

Match Your Application

Walk the walk and talk the talk. Sure, plenty of people embellish their resume a little here and there, but you can’t drop the ball on the follow through.

To be even better in person is a great thing. To be the complete opposite is a major flub. If you say you’re creative and quick thinking, you need to back that up. If you claim to know a certain process or system, you need to talk through like you do.

The interviewer is looking for any evidence that you’re a big fat liar.

Don’t Lose Your Shit

Interviews can be intimidating. Sometimes the person interviewing might want to pull the whole “bad cop” routine on you. But here’s the thing: sometimes the “hard questions” don’t have any good answers.

In that case, the interviewer is trying to see how well you handle under pressure. When you don’t know, do you stop completely? Or do you still make an effort to consider alternatives?

When you’re under pressure, do you crack? Most interviewers can understand nervousness, but it’s hard to give you the benefit of the doubt if you’re a sobbing mess.

The interviewer is looking out for crybabies.

Don’t Geek Out

You’ll see this often in job listings: “looking for a passionate X to join the team”. And it’s true, an enthusiastic worker will always shine bright and be desired.

Keep in mind, there’s a difference between being energetic and nutso. You still want to have a sense of relatability. You still want to come off as, you know, a real human being.

And that’s the problem with geeking out. When you crank things up to 11, you’re in deep waters that can turn people off. It’s a similar conundrum of being a fan versus being starstruck.

The interviewer is looking out for the crazies.

Don’t Let the Job be “The Dream”

Maybe you’re applying for a gig that would be a dream come true. Maybe it’s a position that for real has always been a dream.

That’s personal talk. You can’t bring that into the interview itself.

No hiring manager wants to have that conversation. It’s unnecessary pressure. Your eagerness can easily be misconstrued as desperation. They don’t want to know how hard your life will be if you don’t get the job.

This goes back to appearing professional. Give the impression of cool and collected. The interviewer needs to know that you’ve got a level head, and you’ll be okay no matter the outcome.



Screw the Basics

Screw the Basics

First, learn to crawl. Then, it’s learn to stand up on your own. After that, you’ll eventually take your first steps. And that’s all there is to life.

Er, that’s what babies do, I guess? I don’t have kids, but I think that setup works.

My point being: we’re really comfortable with the idea of systematic, sequential order. Move from point “A” to “B”. Textbooks are made so that if you can grasp Chapter 1, you should in theory be better prepared for Chapter 2.

Sometimes we look for that extra edge– a shortcut of some kind– but ultimately we know that we have to put in the time and effort.

And don’t get me wrong, basics are important. It’s something I preach on the fitness front constantly. But something that takes priority over the basics: context.

Frustration of Neglected Basics

One of the things I like to do with my clients is have designated time for small talk. These people are sharp in their field, but struggle with speaking about the simple things. This happens because of a difference in invested time (i.e. more time spent on communicating their job specialty and very little time speaking about anything else).

The topic at hand was “Dine-In Movie Theaters”. I asked if being able to eat a real meal while watching a movie was appealing to him.

Client goes, “I’m okay as long as people aren’t too [loud] when they [chew].”

Except, he couldn’t remember the words “loud” and “chew”. And that’s when the pity party began.

“Oh Jon, it’s terrible. These words are so basic, but I couldn’t even remember them. Maybe I should study vocabulary lists.”

Now remember: context. Sure, these are pretty basic words, but for this client’s lifestyle– is there any real necessity for that vocabulary?

I’m going to argue “no”.

Would it be nice if he had these words in his arsenal? Maybe. But going back to drilling vocabulary lists like schools do? That’s a lifestyle for a student, not a man with a wife, kids, and a full time job that requires overtime.

And, as much as the pain might sting in not being able to remember “loud” and “chew” in that moment, the chances of him remembering them now are much higher. Hey, sometimes shame can be useful– just as long as you drive things forward and don’t dwell on it.

Breaking the Sequence

Going in order works until it doesn’t.

Using the examples from beginning: sometimes the earlier chapters of the book aren’t going to prep you for what’s to come. And sometimes “Point A” and “Point B” don’t really have any real connection either.

People do jump further along without always knowing why they can comprehend things like they do. Look at music. Look at sports. Look at popularity.

You can call it talent or God-given gifts. The label doesn’t matter.

What you know and what you’re supposed to know are always going to be effected by the context. Failing to recognize that, and more importantly refusing to acknowledge context in favor of idealizing a system approach is super duper dumb.