In today’s episode of OneHaas, hosts Ellen Chan and Sean Li profile Haas Alumnus Andrew Chau, the guy who refers to himself (on LinkedIn) as the “janitor” and CEO of Boba Guys. As AAPI and mental health awareness month come to a close, Andrew discusses discrimination and mental health.
Andrew discusses how leaders are vulnerable to being dehumanized. Check out his tips on how to handle these mental health issues affecting leaders. Listen to the end of the episode as he discusses his experiences with discrimination as a leader and as a business owner.
The episode ends with a very good discussion on the struggles Asian American leaders face in balancing their eastern influences on collectivism and western influences on individualism.
On Discrimination and Prejudice in the Food Industry:
“I believe that there is bias and prejudice, definitely in business that people don’t want to talk about. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying to fight the good fight. We’re not gonna do that much damage in one generation. It takes multi-generational to kind of move the whole industry.”
What’s One Advice He Gives to Young People Who Want to Study Business?
“You want to study business and you want to be a great leader in business? The number one skill you’re going to need to have is your people skills.”
Andrew shares tips on handling the stress and pressure of CEOs and founders:
“Every founder has got to get a therapist […] if you can afford one, get one ASAP. The number one thing that hurts[…] most founders, because it happened to me, is when people dehumanize founders and leaders[…] Especially if you get big. I’m going to tell you, people will never understand.”
- Andrew Chau on LinkedIn
- Andrew Chau on Instagram
- The Boba Book
- Dare to Lead, Brené Brown
- The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown
- Rising Strong, Brené Brown
- The Boba Guys Official Website
- The Boba Guys Official FB Page
- The Boba Guys Official Instagram Page
- The Boba Guys Official Twitter Page
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00:00] Ellen Chan: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the OneHaas podcast. I’m your host Ellen. I’m joined today by our co-host Sean Li and our guest, Andrew Chau, who is a co-founder and CEO of Boba Guys. For those of you who haven’t tried, Boba Guys is now a chain across the United States that sells high-quality boba milk tea. As far as I can tell, it’s been a big hit for a while now, and they’re not slowing down. Thanks, Andrew, and very excited to have you on the show.
[00:00:32] Andrew Chau: Thanks for having me. Go bears!
[00:00:33] Sean Li: Go bears!
[00:00:35] Ellen Chan: Could you share your origin story and how you grew up?
[00:00:39] Andrew Chau: Yeah. There’s a decent amount on the internet. We have a book, but we have now a best-selling book. We wrote it with Penguin Random House and it’s called The Boba Book. I think it started roughly around Cal. I’m a Jersey kid that moved to California. I went to California. I was gonna be a doctor, Chinese Taiwanese. To many people in my ethnic background, I think it was very common, MCB major. But I really fell in love with sociology. Berkeley happened to have one of the best social departments in the entire world. Still does. The best actually. I honed my skill of just understanding systems and people. Some people will say, commercialized sociology is marketing. Which is what I ended up doing. So, out of school and when I graduated Cal I. Went to a company called Target Corporation. Back then, it’s not as popular as it is now. It was in the middle of rebranding. It was Dayton-Hudson’s and they own Marshall Fields Department Store and Mervyn’s. I learned my marketing chops. I was in there, they call it the EIT, executive-in-training program. I got my first job out of the Cal career center. So really, really grateful. I remember it was super competitive. I always thought, “Okay. Maybe that’s me. I got the job that everybody wanted. Maybe I’m going to be a great marketer.” I like to say that was the first half of my career. I did a lot of marketing at Target at Walmart. Walmart kind of headhunted me. They stole me away and I did that. Then, I went back to Haas actually, for my MBA. And it was weird to go back.
[00:02:06] I thought, “Okay, maybe I’m going to go back to grad school to do something different from marketing”. I did think I was going to be a venture capital guy. So at Haas, there’s something called Haas Venture Fellows. I did some of that and I did some stuff abroad. But really, I don’t know what it is, but I always had this desire to do something related to culture and people.
[00:02:27] And I think that’s where my sociology background came out. I didn’t want to go to good schools and then be overly an activist, or something like that. I just, I want it to make a change, but I felt like I had all this business training. Could I do it through economics? I grew up pretty poor. I was lower middle income when I was growing up as a kid in Jersey. When I moved here, I had my two grandmas, my grandpa and aunt, another aunt, and her two children. We all live in four bedrooms in South San Francisco and New Jersey. When there’s the TV show called Full House, it was a really full house. We had good family dynamics to this day. I loved the idea that maybe through economic mobility, you can kind of chase the dream. So if you’ve known my profile, I’m definitely one of those people that’s like, “You can be anything”.
[00:03:16] I know people say the system is oppressive and there’s a lot of systemic injustice. I’m not going to get overly kind of woke, especially at Berkeley. But we all know that that is true. But to say that you can’t make something out of yourself and make your situation better, and hopefully, my kids will be better than me. I think you have to have that hope. I think maybe right now, the country America, I think half the country lost that hope. They believe the American dream is dead. I think it just changed and it’s harder. But I’m an embodiment of that. My dad’s a refugee. My mom’s an immigrant. They both were immigrants, but my dad’s actually a refugee. So they came here with nothing and one generation, I started this company. That’s worth quite a bit. And homegrown at that. So for those who don’t know, well, what did I start?
[00:03:58] What is Boba? And it’s hard to do this on a podcast. So how do I describe it? It’s like saying you take your blue bottle of coffee but make that matcha. Or make it something tea-based. Then take gummy bears and you put gummy bears in your matcha. That’s kind of like the best way I would describe it. And it’s a drink that 2 billion people drink in America. We all think everything’s exotic, not in Asia. Milk tea has been everywhere in Japan, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Hong Kong. I think we’re just taking a milk tea tradition and putting that together with, I would call it like a Southeast Asian desert culture. A lot of, cassava, which is what Boba is made out of. So it’s, it’s a root vegetable. So think of potatoes in America, just tastier. And then, you put that into a drink and that’s what we’re known for. I mean, we know for a fact it’s more than that. But for all intents and purposes, you know, we have just under 20 cafes, we close a couple of during the pandemic, but generally speaking, we have 20 cafes. We have a restaurant group side, we have a factory. So everything you learned at Haas, vertical integration, I paid very close attention. I was convinced that vertical integration was the way people ask, “Well, why don’t you start a factory?” So really, and I honestly think that was maybe a couple of case studies that I enjoyed. That was about vertical integration. That seeded that idea.
[00:05:11] Sean Li: You guys manufacture your own straws, right?
[00:05:14] Andrew Chau: We don’t actually, we thought about it.
[00:05:16] Sean Li: I was wondering about that.
[00:05:17] Andrew Chau: But we helped bring the straw technology to America. That is true. it’s a little bit political, but here’s really what happened. I don’t have forums to talk about this. I’m glad you guys asked about the straws. And I think 2016, we had heard, that my friends in Taiwan were like, we’re going to be the first place in the world to go zero waste. Or single-use plastics, get rid of them. And I was like, “How do you do that”? Like, cups are everywhere. Plastic bags are everywhere. China had talked about it because people didn’t understand China. China they were refuting recycling. You know, they used to recycle a lot of the U.S. stuff. There was already kind of this Asian sustainability wave that Americans can not comprehend. But I do think nowadays, I think they lead more than even America. We have a very big single-use waste problem in America. I think Taiwan said, “Oh, by 2030, we’ll ban single-use plastics. We were based in San Francisco. We had heard rumblings that San Francisco wanted to start something similar. And I happen to know, her name is Katy Tang, a supervisor here at District Supervisors. She was one of, I think, 11 or nine supervisors in San Francisco. She’s out at the sunset district. She wanted to think about writing a plastic straw ban, but people were always so scared especially small businesses. It’s something that sounds like a straw ban. Especially Boba. Because the Boba world uses a big kind of unique straws. So a ban would actually hurt it. So her legislative aid, I think Ashley Summers, I still remember her saying she’s listening. She’s a great person. She was like, “How do I write this bill? Can you help us write that ordinance? So, it doesn’t hurt small business?” They did come with that in mind. Without sounding flattering. And they’re like, “Andrew you’re one of the most level-headed people, you’re both small business and also business-minded, but of the community, would you help us craft this thing?”
[00:06:58] So it’s not overly dangerous. I was, “Okay, what are you doing? Tell me what is about”. So for six months we helped craft that ordinance. I remember giving feedback on, things like, “It could affect people with disabilities”. They didn’t even know, but my mom’s sister, my aunt Linda was disabled. I happen to have random knowledge about straws and, people in the disabled community. Putting that kind of in the ordinance and saying, “Hey, there’s flexibility. Don’t be scared. we’re not trying to harm anybody. there’s a greater good here”. It’s the beginning of a larger sustainability movement.
[00:07:32] Because people are, “I know this is what will happen. It exactly happened”. They’re going to say, “What does that do?” For the overarching sustainability movement because if you banned straws, that’s not going to do that much damage. I’m like, “It’s a cultural issue. Straw has happened to be a cultural take. I had also known that there was a new technology because they had pitched us. Bamboo straws because Taiwan was already ahead in this little place called, which in this part of the island of Taiwan. People don’t know that tropical island. Americans don’t think that far ahead. They don’t travel.
[00:08:02] Andrew Chau: And I was like, “No, there’s this technology”. Because everybody thought if you ban straws, it’s going to be paper as a replacement. I was like, “No, no, no, there’s this new technology out there”. Now, this is where you get business in politics that co-mingle. Technically this wasn’t approved by the environmental kind of groups out in the west, technically. Like California. They’re like, “I’ve never seen distraught technology like this. What if it has toxic substances?” I said, “Ashley and Katie, I think there’s this technology that is better than paper. You need to clear it. Get your SF environment agency to kind of clear it. And they’re going to make a big stink, which they did. They were like, “I don’t, I’ve never seen this technology”. But you got to give small businesses a chance to kind of like not have them hurt their business. So that’s what happened. I explained that whole story. In most times the government doesn’t get what’s going on. I just think in this case, they truly did because that ban technically was the blueprint of future cities’ ordinances. So SF usually is one of the most liberal places and progressive places in the world.
[00:09:08] It did set the stage, which is why I wanted to do it. We announced it at a Boba Guys. It was the mayor, it was, Katy Tang. There’s a whole picture. They announced the whole thing and a press conference at our Boba shop. Which is the craziest thing. Now, looking back, this was four years ago. We’ve got a lot of heat, especially from libertarians and people who don’t like kind of government intervention. I’m quoting Hamilton here. “If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?” I felt like the Boba guys, which we’ll get to later as we’re completely independent.
[00:09: 30] I have a million dollars of friends and family. But we have arguably, well, my revenue is in like eight digits. After maybe Penn Express, Patagonia’s, and a handful of other companies in the food world. There are very few independent companies that are this large that are independent. My co-founder and I are the only ones on the board. Especially after business school, you learn how much, shout out to professor Mcleany who teaches nonprofit boards. Any board, nonprofit, or profit can control you. So if I’ve had a board, I’m sure they wouldn’t have wanted us not to go this hard on a plastic straw ban. Or anything else we do about social causes. But I don’t have a board. I’ll do whatever I want. And that’s when I think people don’t understand.
[00:10:16] Sean Li: The Bamboo straw thing was huge. It has drawn appeal. I just remember when I heard about Boba Guys. When we went to go try it out for the first time, I was like, “Oh, I want to see what this Bamboo straw is about.”
[00:10:25] Andrew Chau: The texture, when we tested it, it was weird. I mean, in business school and just school in general. It’s very theoretical. Especially in a place like Berkeley. I’ve taught classes at Stanford, Berkeley, entrepreneurship, and marketing. I do think that we lack a little bit of the vocational trade skills basic things, like, how do you test a product, in an HBS case study? You’re not going to learn how to truly call BS. Can you call bullshit on someone’s product? Like, “Oh, miraculous. It has all these adaptogens, or it has, it can do wonders. It’s biodegradable”. That’s not in a case study. That’s not on paper it’s in real life. Somebody could be bull shitting you. And I think that’s what you don’t learn about business.
[00:11:06] I always tell people. We have a lot of 400 employees, we call them team members. The number one thing I try to teach them, young leaders, “You want to study business and you want to be a great leader in business? The number one skill you’re going to need to have is your people skills. And under EQ, you need to have a really good BS detector. You need to know when somebody who’s like pretending. Or when they’re sick or the city good at, but they didn’t do it. You need to find that out because they’re going to respect you.” They really will, because people know it’s very hard to pull a fast one on me or my co-founder because I think we’re very similar in that way.
[00:11:39] Ellen Chan: Back on the straw question. Do you also sell to other Boba stores or do you use a straw within your own stores only?
[00:11:48] Andrew Chau: So us alone, we’re not big at the time. We only had nine stores. We single-handedly couldn’t bring straws into America. Like we just wouldn’t have that kind of buying power. So you have to convince and call distributors. The people who carry cups, straws, supplies for restaurants to carry them. I’d have the distributors carry them and distributors are going to be like, “Well, who else is going to carry straws?”
[00:12:12] Boba Guys are progressive, but not everybody else. So who else are you going to call? The buyer? What was hard was, I had to create demand from cafes across the country that were also likely going to be in cities that need a sustainable straw solution. Those that didn’t want paper. Pay a little bit more. Because bamboo straws are more expensive than paper. Also those willing to take on storytelling risk, and all the other risks of just switching over. And so it was like a two-front battle. What I had to tell the public, “This is why we’re going with straws”. On the other side, I actually had to convince the supply chain to get in. So a whole container. Shout out to, David who runs Finale Foods, and Jim who runs KGP they’re in L.A. and Northern California. They were the first two guys that are really in the distributors’ group that said “Okay. Fine, I’m betting that you’re going to be able to create demand.” So if you’re wondering why we created a whole marketing campaign and a whole video around it, it was because I was actually trying to convince the rest of the cafe industry, not just Boba, but the rest of the cafe industry coffee shops to carry these straws. I’d like to say we were successful.
[00:13:18] If you want to know one truly deep cut. A bunch of our friends. They wanted to kind of rebuild the island of Taiwan. This is not a Taiwan podcast, but the island itself just like many places in Asia, it’s up and coming. You know, in business school, you’re talking about brick, right? Brazil, Russia, India, China. You talk about these developing worlds where you want to give them, new industry, GDP. Historically Taiwan used to make a lot of manufacturing and electronics semiconductors. That’s the one where my mom grew up on. I remember randomly being put on a committee of Taipei. Taipei is a sister city of San Francisco, which is where I’m from. I remember hosting the diplomats. One of them said we need to figure out how, entrepreneurs like you, Andrew. You should figure out how to give more business and add to the GDP of Taiwan. Well, I thought in the back of my mind, “If we make more things manufactured in Taiwan” There were multiple technologies that came out of Asia. There were sugarcane straws from Southeast Asia. There’s Taiwan. There are rice straws. There’s a lot of different straws. I sized the market. I think to this day it might be about $5 billion. I said, “If I can convince Americans that bamboo straws and sugarcane is right after that. Both the future of Taiwan and sustainable straw technology. We might be able to give a ton of jobs”. And again, that was four years ago. Here we are. It’s still around, still really prominent and it’s growing. One of the big companies we work with is called Yali Straw. They always are like, “Oh, I remember when Boba Guys single-handedly did it. That’s what people don’t understand. People think it’s a brand thing. People think creating a cool brand is hard. It’s actually not that hard. You know, what’s hard is convincing landlords who don’t know what Boba is. That we belong next to a blue bottle, a Starbucks, and a Jamba Juice. That is hard pitching them, getting a competitive rate.
[00:15:08] And even if they said “Fine, I can lease the space to you”. Then the next question is “I want the same prices now, otherwise I’m going to overpay and I’ll go out of business”. And we did that for 10 years when we started our first store in 2011. Really our first store was in 2012 when we negotiated lease. We did a pop up for the first year, but the nine years where we convinced landlords to put us next to these eight prime locations in San Ramon, Palo Alto, Culver City, Long Beach, and New York City. That’s where we all go. That is I think, much harder. That’s what they don’t teach in business school. You don’t do an HBS case or just a case study on how do you convince landlords that are quote unquote prejudice. I don’t know how you stay in 2021. I mean, there’s racism there. I don’t want to say that. But, there is. You don’t say this to an Australian coffee shop. Why do you say that to me? Why do you ask me these questions? You see my numbers. Our numbers are better than Bluestone Lane Phil’s Blue Bottle. But you don’t treat me like that. I’m not on the cover of Fast Company. I don’t like being on the cover. But in general, I don’t get those calls. I get the call on, “Hey, it’s such an exotic drink. Teach me about it.” That’s a call. Our numbers are better than every coffee company out there, which is true. We have a high-margin product. People listening to the podcast, especially Haas people are like, “Well, I don’t believe you.” I’m like, “Well, look it up. It’s out there. People know we’re thinking about a series A. Here’s why it’s very easy. Drinks are very high margin. But, we convince people to drink Boba anytime, anywhere, any day. So coffee shop, you open at eight, you close at three. That’s seven hours. Max of high-margin Boba shops. We open at 9-11 AM and we close at 10 PM. That’s 12 hours. We have an extra five hours on these people. And I saw a lot of merch. Boba Guys does do branding really well. That’s because that’s my core background. So That’s where professor Lynn Upshaw now retired. Thank you, professor Lynn Upshaw. You know, you learn how to tell stories, stand for something. Hit technical, like integrated marketing communications. That is the stuff that business school does teach you. I think put it all together. I don’t remember by the way, that I have a forum to ever say this stuff. When I usually do podcasts, it’s always about food or maybe being Asian. This is the first time. Or if you checked under the hood, I did everything we taught you in business school. I think it was a lot of money. I think some days, I don’t need that to open a boba shop. But I think now as a CEO, 400 people company that’s worth arguably 50-80 million, depending on how you give my multiple. It’s funny, they give coffee shops, a higher revenue multiple. Then they give a boba shop and I’m like, I’m vertically integrated. You guys are crazy. Again, I’m not going to call it what it is. But I think a lot of it is, slight prejudice, to its ignorance. And again, me being on the flip side when I did venture capital. Now, I’m an angel investor and I invest all the time.
[00:17:43] I’m always looking at him like, why is your valuation like that? You’re selling yourself short just because Westerners like Americans don’t know it. Well, if your numbers are good, you just get more confident. I tell a lot of, entrepreneurs and I mentor a lot of them, especially people from marginalized communities, women, by POC. I try and get them woke. I’m not really into that wellness stuff, but I believe that there is bias and prejudice, definitely in business that people don’t want to talk about. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying to fight the good fight we’re not gonna do that much damage at one generation. It takes multi-generational to kind of move the whole industry.
[00:18:18] Sean Li: This is what the One Haas podcast is about. Getting the exclusives on what other podcasts won’t get.
[00:18:23] Andrew Chau: I’ve been waiting for this one. I truly, I’m so grateful. I rarely get to kind of show the side of our company and me. We do it for culture. But I’d like to say we also run a pretty good company. Despite what the internet says. I hate the internet. I don’t like the media
[00:18:38] Ellen Chan: But you realize so much is on it right? To become bigger?
[00:18:41] Andrew Chau: If you follow really closely, I refuse to do media interviews nowadays. I only do podcasts. Podcasts are long-form. When there was a Boba shortage or, when there was a lot of Asian hate for their small business loans and stuff like that, we’re kind of a media magnet. You can make up a lie about us in a print. It’s clickbait and so we don’t have a publicist or PR. What I’ve heard from my friends is, you’re big enough that you don’t even need anyone. So that’s why we haven’t been playing with media. I truly believe it’s a whole separate topic. Social media specifically does more harm than good. There’s a lot of bad people with mics. I think that’s why we are where we are. I think great journalists, I’m all for. I have a lot of friends, you know, I went to Cal. I was on the board of the daily, California, daily, California, eight years. in Berkeley, undergrad, I worked at Daily California. So I have a very strong opinion about media because I grew up in it when social media didn’t really exist. It was like Friendster and Zynga back then. Now it’s the way that people use it. It is so toxic we haven’t really figured out how to wield it. It’s funny, on that topic. my co-founder and I, if you look at our Instagram right now, there’s this Boba shortage that the world’s going through. The United States more because we have a really weird port situation, but, we are going definitely through a shortage and across all supplied parts of the supply chain. But people think there’s this rumor that Boba Guys made it up. I’m like, if you have some business background, you’ll know that we didn’t make it up. It just means that when there’s a shortage, you ration and there’s scarcity. When there’s a water shortage, it doesn’t mean there’s no water that exists. It just means that rationed and may be in and out. It’s volatile. Well, if you look at our Instagram, we got so annoyed at the media cause they were making up all these random stories. We just started posting our own. It’s so funny. People were reposting us to this day, our own writing, our own Instagram live, where I interviewed somebody in the supply chain.
[00:20:30] It’s almost like we became our own media agency. So my co-founder and I have been laughing. Cause we’re getting, we get tagged a lot on Instagram and they’re like, “Yeah. if there’s a shortage, read this post and check out this one-hour interview on Boba Guys. And it’s like treating us like this random point of truth”. I’m like, “What? The one-hour Instagram live. You can’t make it up. There’s no editing. So, unless you discredit me, my supplier and my logistics partner and me at the same time, were experts. Very few boba shops in the whole country are vertically integrated like us. I have no reason to lie, honestly. I think that’s actually been funny. I think more companies are doing that by the way. More companies that have their own platform are treating themselves as their own media company, which is very interesting to think about. Which is very scary in my opinion. But, we really don’t act that way unless this Boba shortage thing came up again.
[00:21:19] Sean Li: Yeah, a tricky thing with, technology in the past decade, We’ve shifted from almost like a value system into an attention economy as they call it.
[00:21:27] Andrew Chau: Tell me more of that for your listeners at home. Let me interview you.
[00:21:33] Sean Li: I mean, this is something I’ve been looking a lot into because of the podcasting startup that we’re doing and the fundraising that we’re doing. It’s this idea that the rise of Instagram, especially, and Tik Tok and whatnots have created this attention economy because everything is free. To the end-user. And so what is it costing us? The cost is the attention and who’s paying for this attention. Well, it’s all the advertisers, which is why you’re seeing the shift right now. People are starting to catch up. You see Neeva, one of the original Google search of people come out and say, “Hey, I’m going to create a subscription-based search engine, no ads, private, even with creators, the creators’ space.” You’re seeing apple and Spotify sub-stack ghost. All these platforms saying, Hey, you know what set of delivering ads, let’s just have individual listeners subscribe to you.
[00:22:24] That’s what I’m talking about is that there is definitely a growing backlash against seeing it. The attention economy that people are realizing, “Hey, we’re paying not with our money, but we’re paying with our time”, and time is worth it.
[00:22:36] Andrew Chau: Well, I was on a social media fast for much of the pandemic and it was too much going on. There was a documentary that it didn’t know went viral because I didn’t have social media.
[00:22:47] Sean Li: Same here.
[00:22:49] Andrew Chau: It was called social dilemma. That was on Netflix it was so good. I’m like, I would see some people on zoom. I’d still like to talk to friends and text them, “Have you seen this?” And they’re like, “Yeah. Andrew, it’s like going viral. I was like, oh, I don’t know what’s going viral nowadays”. I thought that was something a lot of people spoke out about, that, I think it’s all true. I think we haven’t figured it out. I think we will figure it out. But I think I’m glad that, documentaries like that or what you talked about. I did learn today, the attention economy. I think people are trying to figure out, how to live a more fulfilled or whole life or real life, not this kind of digital life. I think Facebook’s getting rid of view counts and they’re treating comments. I think even Facebook because they’re getting so much backlash, is trying to solve it too. And I give anybody who recognizes it and tries to solve it. That’s at least acknowledging the problem. That’s the first step, right? It’s not denial. Especially at Haas. Also Professor Meredith. Now I’m shouting out to all my professors. So they’re like, “Andrew was such a rebel in school”. I was saying before the podcast, “thank you for everybody who nominated me”.
[00:23:49] I get one question, the status quo award. A couple of times or something, and I don’t remember. I’m like, “Why don’t I get nominated? Is this because I’m a random MBA that started in a boba shop?” I don’t know why. Shouts to all my professors, Frank Vogel, Professor Volvo who taught ethics, he/s renown. Kelly Mcleany, Frank Schultz, Professor Schultz, all these people. Those that are in grad school. And then even undergrad, you know, early Hochschild, Robert Rice, Mary Kelsey. I did an honors thesis in sociology. Again until I kind of talk like a sociologist. Shout-outs to all of them because they help mold me into this very critical mind where when you get your platform. You have to understand. What are you going to do with it? Because I do believe power corrupts. I believe, fame will fade. I’ve seen so many people close to me, including some very well-known people, pass away because they ate them alive. That’s what nobody talks about. I talk a lot. If you guys follow my Instagram, ever since my book came out, I got this cool, fancy blue check. And Penguin House gets me all of these interviews. And the one thing I boldly have been embracing a lot more originally, it was tough. I’m a huge pronate brown fan is vulnerability. We’re taught in business school to be like, “Oh, this alpha,”. I’m looking at alpha minus. I don’t think I’m a true alpha, alpha the way people think about it. I do run my own kind world, but I’m soft. I love romcoms and I love Brene Brown. I cry and I used to think that was dangerous. That showed weakness. That’s when I was an undergrad, then I went back to business school. Then he talks about, Daniel, Goldman, And then, Brene Brown got really hot. I graduated MBA 11. And so Brene Brown was like 2013 Ted Talk. And then I’ve been here ever since my company grew. I met her actually at an Inc Magazine Conference.
[00:25:37] We are one of the fastest-growing companies still in the U.S. and she was a speaker. I’m the only dude who goes to her workshop. That’s number one. At the time, the only dude in 2018, I think. I was in Palm Springs and I remember telling my wife, Brene Brown’s here. She knows how much I love Brene Brown. I said, I’m going to go to a workshop. And then afterward, my wife goes, “How was your workshop?” And I was like, “I was the only dude there”. I waited in line for half an hour to talk to her. And, I have this bookshelf that the podcast people are listening to.
[00:26:05] You can’t see. But, behind me, I have all these books. I have this what looks like Belle and Beauty and the beast where she’s swinging. There’s this ladder on his bookshelf. I’m describing where she goes. There goes the bigger into town, like always. That’s what I’m trying to describe. I’m painting a picture for the podcast listener. And then in these books, if you look closely, there’s, Dare to Lead from Brene Brown. The Gifts of Imperfection. Rising Strong. I think that’s another thing I would love listeners to overtime embrace that like with social media, everything is transparent. So if you got dirt on you and people are gonna make stuff up about you anyways, you might as well then just be vulnerable and be real. Forget vulnerable. Not everybody has to be vulnerable. Be vulnerable, like, not everybody is like an open, If you are someone that is vulnerable, be vulnerable. If you’re someone that you’re more ultra rational, like Myers-Briggs, or you’re like an NT type, just be you be unapologetic and be you.
[00:27:16] Sean Li: Which is something that a lot of soft skills are taught these days. Especially around leadership communication. That’s actually where it really needs to come out. In terms of being vulnerable or being authentic is how you communicate with your team Mark Rittenberg. He’s the one that teaches leadership communications.
[00:27:19] Andrew Chau: Yeah, Mark Rittenberg. I was one of his GSRs. I only did it for one year. You learn a lot about yourself because especially when you record yourself, you come off a certain way. “Okay. I’m like, oh, am I too preachy? Am I not relatable?” And that’s where I think Mark Rittenberg would always like theater.
[00:27:38] Sean Li: Yes, up.
[00:27:41] Andrew Chau: Curtains up. Oh my gosh, this is the only Haas Insider. People who are effective are going to be like, “I don’t know this school’s really…”
[00:27:49] Sean Li: No. no. no. They really going to be wanting. They’re really going to want to come here now because just see how real we are. All human. We are.
[00:27:56] Andrew Chau: You know, what’s so funny? Being a CEO is a lot of acting. It’s a lot of improvs because there are days where I’m doing a town hall and somebody is asking some off-the-wall question. So I honor it. I don’t dodge questions, but the acting though. Honing in like sometimes they want to hit you with a gotcha question. Or you have not been poker face, but understand where they’re coming from. And play the role, quote-unquote. That’s what I think they don’t talk about also in business school. Where I think some of the best training I’ve had, that’s been really handy is probably me doing improv. Because I do so many. Talks at colleges and I run my leadership meetings in town halls. I generally have seen every angle of every single hard topic. “Andrew, What do you think about gentrification? Is capitalism bad? His intentions or impact” and I’m like, “Let me go one further”. Are we going to talk about content ethics? Are we going to talk about your styling ethics? Because I’m training the classics. I’m like, “Are we going to go there?” And then the 20-year-old kids are like, “Oh my professor didn’t teach them”. And I’m like, “No, they didn’t”. And like, so if you want to play that game, I’ll go there. But you’re talking to someone who really loves this stuff. And that’s where I do think I have most of my team. Why we hire for a certain way. Like, they’re very, open-minded, they’re like Andrew like you mentioned, I’m a big fan of Jonathan Haidt. Jonathan Haidt is known for moral foundations theory and he talks about, “Oh, you guys know Jonathan Haidt”
[00:29:14] Sean Li: It wasn’t actually
[00:29:15] Andrew Chau: I was in my ethics class.
[00:29:16] Sean Li: That was brought up.
[00:29:17] Andrew Chau: Bravo. He’s at NYU for those who want LED’s and Google calling of the American mind. But he’s an NYU professor. I think his book calling him an American Mind is a little bit too provocative sometimes, but he has a more nuanced theory, which is the basis of that. But I think it just very much more academic, where it’s called Moral Foundations Theory. It’s about the evolution of ethics. While you’re like one of the only people Sean that’s ever…
[00:29:40] Sean Li: I think New York has a special connection with Berkeley too because they’re Columbia, Berkeley. Also, one of our Haasie, Scott Galloway. He’s a pretty prominent professor at NYU.
[00:29:54] Andrew Chau: Yeah. My dream is actually for people to ask, “What do you do post-Boba Guys?” I tell people I’m a founder. I’m not a CEO. After like 30, 40 stores, that’s when you think, I am likely going to raise a Series A. I might want to teach people, for them to hear me and be, “Oh yeah. That guy sounds like I do.” I want to maybe combine ethics and branding together, which are two of my favorite topics.
[00:30:16] Sean Li: It sounds very interesting. Cause I feel like a lot of marketing is not very ethical at all.
[00:30:20] Andrew Chau: Everybody’s a brand. A politician is a brand. You guys are a brand. Before you walk into a room. You have a reputation. Your reputation is your brand.
[00:30:30] Sean Li: I have this kind of burning question. For a couple of reasons. One I’ve been wanting to ask about, I noticed from your LinkedIn that, when you started Boba guys you were still working, full-time. So, this is kind of like your side hustle? Maybe the full-time gig was the side hustle and Boba Guys, not the hustle. But, the other thing is, the challenges that come with doing that. I’m asking you because, when I started my first business, I was working a full-time job. Also taking into consideration its mental health awareness month on top of API month. I wanted to ask you a question around mental health as a founder. Having gone through all those things and then having to act now. In some ways as a CEO, what are some challenges that you deal with and how do you overcome them?
[00:31:17] Andrew Chau: Every founder got to get a therapist. Number one, if you can afford one, get one ASAP. Share something. I never share. I don’t even know when to share it. I haven’t really talked about it publicly. I don’t even know if I’m going to get emotional. I knew Tony Shay. I know a lot of founders, just a lot of them that have Bay Area roots. I’ll quote some people that “Some founders treat their companies as the purest form of therapy”. If you think about it. Just think about the most famous founders. The ones that everybody knows. Not every founder has to be famous. I’m just like thinking about the ones that people know that archetype Steve Jobs took his passion. He just channeled his perfectionism into his company, Steve Jobs.
[00:31:58] Ellen Chan: Yeah.
[00:31:59] Andrew Chau: Very similar. Tony, Tony Shea. Zappos was his human experiment. He would openly talk about that. When I used to talk to him and either see him in Vegas. Or, if he comes back to San Francisco. There’s this wavelength of what motivates people, as long as they’re happy, they’re gonna be fine. It’s complex. There are conversations that founders need to have. That they don’t have. I mentor a lot of people and I got a mentor. I have three amazing mentors. I talk to almost every other week. I mentor a handful too. And the number one thing I always talk about is, Where’s your mind at? Where’s your heart at? Question that usually people want to talk about is, “Well, should I raise money or should I invest in this? When do I get an HR person?” All that kind of stuff? That’s easy, honestly, that’s a question. Sometimes you can even do it via email. The questions that humans need are, “Are my needs being met? Or my expectations being met? Are my feelings seen? The number one thing that hurts, I think most founders, cause it happened to me, is when people dehumanize founders and leaders. Number one thing will happen. Especially if you get big. I get dehumanized in the media. You can just read Google, Boba Guys, and they make up stories about you. And I’m going to tell you, 99% are lies. Almost always. It’s because people reject a lot. There’s a lot of people who, especially people at Berkeley, we’re trained generally to do good. So at least the intentions are good. We don’t intentionally try to oppress, exploit, or whatever. Most of us are trained that way, but the media and people kind of rewire it. Then there are two truths. There’s your truth. My truth. The real truth. What’s gets printed is one person’s truth. Not the real objective truth. A lot of times that’s when they villainized, CEO, founders, people who come out of Haas. People who come out of top business schools. People who just run things. If you ask the population right now, do you like your boss? The majority of the people say, “I don’t like my boss”. Why horrible bosses? There are two horrible bosses. That’s why there are two movies about this topic. People watch it because, but everybody’s had a bad boss. Everybody likes to think they could do their job better than a boss. The CEO is the epitome of all that put all the way at the top. Think about that. Then your name ends up on the paper. They say you got drug problems. Thankfully I don’t have drug problems, but I have anxiety. I have really bad anxiety, really, really bad anxiety. That’s why I turned off social media for a while because I’m an empath. Which is also bad. For me, at least. Because I always cared too much. I’m very sensitive to how my company feels. I think I’m overly loyal. That’s actually what I got called out on. People say Andrew should fire quicker. I learned the hard way that I should have let go of people quicker. I think those things show up. So in mental health, it’s anxiety, it’s trauma. I had a therapist that had to treat me for a certain trauma. I’m just going to say it, that my employees said to me. Thinking that it didn’t hurt me. I had an employee. I’ll say this. I can say it now objectively. Six months ago, I probably would have not said that objectively. I swear I had an employee say verbatim because they told my business partner, Deuki Hong from the restaurant group Noses. They said, “What could I do to possibly hurt Andrew anyways?” This is about a lie that they said. “Even if it was maybe true to untrue. Even if I did take it back, what could I possibly do to hurt him?”
[00:35:17] Sean Li: Hmm.
[00:35:17]Andrew Chau: That broke my heart. The first time I heard it, I cried. I don’t cry over the business. I just was like, “Wow”. I was so shocked that it broke me. My wife will remember that night. My wife was there too because we were talking about what was said on the news. I was like. “If that doesn’t tell you human nature now. I don’t know what will”, and it’s insane. I had a good friend who ran a company, a beauty company. They were making up lies about her. I generally am a little bit like a coach feeling mentor. I generally get the calls, “Andrew, I feel sad”. Or if you follow my Instagram, this is kind of what I’m known for. Which I’m not trying to be known for. I’m just real. That’s just kind of, you can tell by the way I talk. So my friend Leah calls, and she’s super sad. Let’s just say she’s emotional because there’s a lot of public statements about her and that’s not true and misinterpreted. She’s a great person, but she’s hurt. The first thing I said more than anything, “You got to go get yourself a therapist”. I’m going to tell you, people will never understand. They’re always going to say, “You’re the CEO, you’re the founder, boo hoo. You have X amount of money. You started X, you have this quote, unquote, empire”, whatever they want to say. That’s what they’ll always say. Therefore, you’re not human to them. Sadly it’s a tale as old as time. It’s the haves and have-nots. It’s the root sin. It’s about greed. It’s about, well, all these great studies and even see them on the team. They’re amazing people. They’re perfectly happy. Then, they secretly maybe think somebody else got a promotion or whatever. Then, it ruins a whole dynamic in a store. It’s not true when you dig in. I have my HR team dig in. They figure out it was somebody who’s had a misunderstanding. But the misunderstanding led to believe that somebody else got one up. It was jealousy when two weeks prior, a 360 review, everything was great. Somebody is going to say, well, they didn’t maybe express something. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. There’s when you know the real truth. When it’s truly holding back it’s this person who wears their heart on their sleeves. They just didn’t feel it. Somebody made them feel a certain way. I think that’s where I wish leaders thought about more. And future leaders have more empathy because I think everybody wants to be a future leader. A lot of people do. And I think people don’t know what they’re signing up for. Being a CEO is a huge, huge, huge sacrifice. It is probably one of the most misunderstood roles ever. And ironically, there’s only been leaders in business the last maybe century or two, before merchants. I guess the only other time you had this role, Sean, you were mentioning you whether or not you moonlight and you have second, hustles and side hustles. I think all of that existed a hundred years ago when you weren’t sitting in a corporate job and everybody just had one thing to do. I think that was more normal having a side hustle in a separate identity and not sitting in a cubicle.
[00:37:59] And your whole job is this top big three consulting firm or big four accounting firm, or big VC name-brand. That is not your identity. Everyone’s identity is more. It’s super multifaceted. Just like not everybody’s identity. I’m Asian. I’m not only Asian. I also grew up poor. I have a certain demo. I’m also an entrepreneur. I also considered myself an artist. I used to play a lot of sports and athletes. There are multiple facets of everyone. So I think. You just got to get away. And only in America, sadly, we get into that ultra identity. I don’t want to say Demi politics. We have one aspect of identity and you kind of lump everybody into a model. That’s very, very dangerous. I’m a marketing guy. I’ll tell you how dangerous that is in marketing. You talk about segmentation, a lot more in segmentation. The discipline of segmentation and marketing is a lot more about nuance and even creating six personas, not going to create the entire market. You know that as a marketer, you just need a north star customer. That’s kind of what you call it.
[00:38:56] Sean Li: I wonder how much of it has to do with Western culture with individualism. This was something I was born in China, moved here when I was seven. I’ve seen both worlds. Definitely a lot more individualistic. Now I wonder how much that has to do with it, right? Like I have to be
[00:39:12] Andrew Chau: Did, you know that’s actually the mission of our company?
[00:39:15]Sean Li: No.
[00:39:15] Andrew Chau: I’m going to pull up a quote. I’m going to read this quote. You’re going tell me if the public can guess who this from. Okay, this is what I always do with my team. “A good and just society is neither the thesis of capitalism, nor is it the antithesis of communism, but socially conscious democracy, which reconciles to truths of individualism and collectivism” Who said that I’ll give a thousand dollars for somebody who can name off the…
[00:39:43] Ellen Chan: Oh!
[00:39:44] Sean Li: [00:39:44] I’ve heard this.
[00:39:44] Andrew Chau: Nobody gets this. You can guess this is going to be easy. So you don’t win a thousand dollars. But,
[00:39:49] Sean Li: I just cheated, but Google says, Martin Luther King. I have heard this before.
[00:40:00] Andrew Chau: Martin Luther King Jr. . People don’t understand. I based our company, right behind me, you guys can’t see above my head is, one of my favorite movies of all time when I was a kid. it’s called do the right thing by Spike Lee. And it’s a movie about, it’s about race. It’s really about people who are different. People know my company, Boba Guys are about bridging cultures. Everybody thinks It’s about, well, Asian culture, not Asian. No, no, no, no, no. It’s something I studied because when I was at Cal. I’m gonna flex for Cal’s best sociologist school in the world. I got trained by the best people I just named who I learn from. And I remembered his quote. And when I remember seeing this. “East meets west is individualism versus collectivism. East is collectivist. It is that the hero is the community is the group is the village. You think about everybody else. Anything of yourself after individualism”. Alexis de Tocqueville talks about when he comes to America. He’s the French guy who wrote democracy in America, he says, it’s individualism. It defines America. Even Marcus Weber talks about this. And so German and French. During investigating what makes America America. So if you’re thinking about it, you have a hyper-individualistic culture. America is combating a collectivist culture right now. That China. It’s a superpower and I’m American. I’m gonna just say it. You had them going against each other. That’s why Americans cannot understand what goes on in Asia. I’d like to say. Most Asians are trained in America that are, that are kind of in many roles. They understand the other way. It goes one way. We don’t understand them. They understand us. I go and I speak Mandarin and Cantonese. So where my dad is from, I speak Cantonese and my dad went to Hong Kong. And my mom’s from Taipei, as I mentioned. So she speaks Taiwanese and Mandarin. Taiwan itself a colonized island by the Dutch, the Japanese, and the Chinese. So that itself, the island itself is this mixture of all these different philosophies. So Americans need to understand that if you’re a business person, you have to understand that when I talk about this in classes. This is what I’m so passionate about. When I tell my team it’s our manual. You think this is about Boba non-Boba. About Asian drinks and non-Asians drinks. No, no, no. This is about individualism and collectivism. This is about when you’re in a store, it’s about the collective it’s about the team, but also you’re free to express yourself.
[00:42:07] I don’t have a crazy dress code. You can say what you want. You can think about what you want. That’s individualism. That’s the beauty of American individualism. But when it’s toxic, when it’s hyper-individualism, you can’t get people to wear a mask for your neighbor. That’s the best example you won’t even have.
[00:42:23] High-speed reel. You won’t even have trains across America. In public transit, healthcare, because somebody doesn’t want to pay for somebody else. That’s hyperindividualism and that’s, what’s wrong with America. The future business leaders need to all get on the same page here, but here’s a problem. I don’t see it happening. So I’m going to control my world so I can dictate whatever values I want because it’s my company. So my co-founder and I are hyper-philosophical, you can tell. So we have all these secret seeds that we planted, another Hamilton quote, you can see behind me is also like I’m a huge fan of Hamilton. In the lyric it says, what is a legacy? A legacy is a seed. You plant in a garden that you never get to see. That means the work we’re doing Martin Luther King in the sixties. And him his counterpart Malcolm, they were always looking at what was happening in Asia. Americans don’t notice that they were always seeing the revolutions in Asia, in Southeast Asia, in Vietnam, and in China, even in Korea. And they were seeing, it was really about class. That’s why he talks about it was not capitalism nor communism or individualism nor collectivism. Martin Luther king says that. So business schools taught that and you balance a company and using that dynamic. I think business will transform leadership or transform. I like to say that’s kind of where I like to go. I have our first book. My third book, which I can talk about is likely the book I retire on. And it’s basically the premise.
[00:43:49] This is the basic premise because I see almost no book, try to go after the balance because you have to be really American and, Asian, Eastern, I rarely meet people that are like right in between. You guys know my personal Instagram handle is chameleon. I’ve had that since my AOL screen name. I had days. It was because when I was with my athlete, jock crowd in my friends. They are generally not Asian. I would not code-switch. I talk about sports, New York Mets. I talk about food. I talk about BMX biking. That was me as a kid in Jersey drinking. Hi-C Kool-Aid watching transformers. But, then at home, my parents don’t speak great English. So I would watch Jackie Chan. I’d go to the rent VHS to the Chinese, video store and watch. I go outside which is gangster movie from Hong Kong. GenXers is there about triads But those of us who live in both cultures, especially as U. and China and east, and west are colliding right now. We are in the middle of all of that. And coming out of Haas, it’s one of the few schools that is the bridge between those two worlds.
[00:44:53] Sean Li: I was just going to say, Haas, it’s a very liberal school. Right. Very progressive. But then at the same time, you have a business school. Right. that’s one of the most interesting things that I love about Haas.
[00:45:04] Andrew Chau: Yeah.
[00:45:05] Sean Li: We should have a part two. Post pandemic in person recording at a Boba Guys. That’s what we should. Yeah.
[00:45:11] Andrew Chau: This is an honor. I never get to talk. I never even get to drop that MLK quote ever. So this there’s the first time. It even felt appropriate. So thank you. [00:45:20]this [00:45:20] is what [00:45:20] we’re [00:45:20]
Sean Li: [00:45:20] This is what we’re all about in the real stuff.
[00:45:21] Andrew Chau: Yeah.
[00:45:22 ]Ellen Chan: That’s great. thanks for the time.
[00:45:24] Andrew Chau: Yes. Thank you all for listening. Thank you, everyone.
[00:45:26] Sean Li: Thanks again for tuning into this episode of the one Haas podcast. I hope you enjoyed our show today. Please remember to hit that subscribe or follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review, really Looking for more content? Please check out our website at haas.fm. That’s spelled H-a-a-s-.-f-m. There you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. And until next time, go bears!