Hsu Ken is a guy who gets his greatest ideas from trying to answer the best question one can ask themselves: "What if?". Hsu is from Washington. Growing up, he never was a boy scout but he did have a lemonade stand. He studied at The University of Washington and got a degree in mathematics. Shortly after college he decided that startups were what he wanted to spend his time building rather than working in corporate America. After a while he'd run home and work on his ability to code. Eventually Hsu started to develop projects which would keep him up until just hours before he had to be at work.
One day his brother and his brother's friend Brian, who were both working at Zillow at the time, approached Hsu about starting something of their own. They started working together each Sunday, which eventually became more frequent. They were working in a really cold basement, wrapped in sleeping bags and their rule was to have a project done in one week. At the end of the week they'd decide whether to move on to another project or to give last week's project some additional time.
Inspired by Brian's then girlfriend-now wife, they decided to make price watcher that alerts you of when retail items drop in price. But they discovered a problem. By the time they'd go to double check on the price and suggest a purchase the cost would jump back up. The initial thought was that this must be a bug in the system. Though, with some research they discovered that there wasn't a bug. Price fluctuation is a common thing with online retailers. Like airline tickets, retail item prices fluctuate depending on the time of the day and day of the week. This experience sparked another "What if" moment. What if you could predict when prices were going to drop? This led to the team's first idea to become a company called Decide, which raised $17M and then was later acquired by Ebay for an undisclosed amount.
After the acquisition Hsu relocated to the Bay Area to what many would call the "Startup Mecca". In the bay area, there's more action, more talented developers, more people willing to test out your product and more importantly there's more people to learn from. Being in Seattle, though home to the tech giant Amazon, it's easy to feel a bit isolated from the scene. I'd imagine this can be compared to a professional musician who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota. Well...maybe not that drastic, but you get the picture. While living in the Bay Area Hsu has made a lot of connections, learned plenty more and has pursued a new venture.
"If you don't know anyone that has done the thing or is doing the thing that you want to do. I think...you perceive it as much harder to do. I don't personally know anyone that's been an astronaut. I don't even know how to start to be an astronaut, that seems really hard to me, because I don't know anyone that's done it. Now, if you're somewhere and everyone around you is an astronaut. You're like, 'oh, if that guy can be an astronaut then I can be an astronaut'. -- Startups are a similar thing."
During a not so typical bachelor party for Brian, Hsu and the guys spent time doing what started it all. Coding in a basement for the weekend. The idea was to come up with a concept and have it launched by Sunday. After deliberating over what this could be they discussed how efficient the design for the dating app Tinder was. Considering how else could that be applied they wondered, "What if we did Tinder for professional networking?". By the end of the weekend they finished the first version of the concept, strictly a web app. Within the first 30 minutes of it being live a match was made and 50% of the time from there, matches occurred.
We discussed the benefits of putting yourself in an environment that provokes ideas to flourish. Typically these are environments that are judgment free and allow people to say whatever they want while presenting ridiculous ideas that may just be genius.
An important thing to mention that I noticed about Hsu is that his team is more than that, they're friends and family. He is truly surrounded by people that allow himself to be the best version of himself. They say that you're most like the 5 people that you surround yourself with. While this may not be perfectly true. You are greatly effected, whether negatively or positively, by the people you spend the most time with. So choose wisely. Hsu chose well.
There were a lot of golden nuggets in this conversation. But my favorite part of the conversation came after a question regarding what experience would he contribute to preparing him to run a tech company.
"Most of my friends are much brighter than I am, most people in the world are much brighter than I am. But I can kind of just work my ass off. And, I don't have much control over how smart I am, but how hard I work is a complete choice."
In short, what prepared him was having incredible, unmatched work ethic.
The full conversation is posted at the bottom and ready to be streamed for your listening pleasure. Enjoy.
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"Even if you don't think your idea is all that good, try it anyway. You just got to get in the game."
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