Tag: Asian Business

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.”

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