Jameson Hsu, a Virginia Tech graduate, became an entrepreneur accidentally. He has since exited three startups (including one to Shanda Games and one to Facebook) and is working on his fourth as CEO / Co-Founder.
He shares with us how his first company was born from a fun after-hours project while working as a management consultant, and insights into the difficulties and challenges that come with founding a company in the present age. He shares on the importance of decision making and pushing past one’s imagined limits to achieve one’s full potential in a founder / CEO.
886: Why were you motivated to start your own company?
Jameson: “I actually got started by accident. After graduating, I was working in a big company doing management consulting, and I would work on these projects building websites after work with friends. My friend actually initiated it - he was creative and said, ‘let’s work on this together.’ This was 1999, so it was the really early stages of the internet, and we had some press take note of our websites, and then some major companies started taking notice said, ‘hey, if you build these websites for us we’ll pay you money.’ We built it, it won a lot of awards, it got even more media attention, we got even more calls, and so we decided to quit and work on this full time.”
“I started just for fun. When you’re young, you should be doing stuff. So, why did I do that? I had nothing else to do. I guess I could have gone out, clubbing or whatever, but it was more fun building stuff.”
886: How has starting a company changed since the 90’s and early 2000’s?
Jameson: “Well, let’s start with what hasn’t changed. The thing that has never changed is problem solving - the thing you’re creating is working to solve a problem. It’s how everything started back then, and it’s still how things start today. The thing that has changed is that it’s now a lot easier to start a company than it was back then. We used to have to buy servers, manage the servers, change out hard disks, buy electricity, buy data… now it’s much easier. So now, if you have an idea, there’s probably someone who’s already doing it. Now, anyone with an idea can start a company. So now, the thing that’s different, good ideas are harder to come by. It’s harder to come by some unique idea. Back then, if you had an okay idea, you could build a company! Now, you really have to find a problem and a really really good solution that no has already thought of. There are two sides: back then, execution was much harder, idea was easy. Now, the idea is really hard, and execution is not as hard. In English, we call it signal and noise: there’s a lot more noise now.”
886: Did you have any other ideas prior to starting Mochi?
Jameson: “Um… no. That was pretty much it. But I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Some people might have a bunch of ideas and build MVPs and test them all out; I spend a lot of time thinking about what will work. I play with it in my head instead of trying to build it out.”
886: When did you have to make hard decisions about your company?
Jameson: “Oh, every day. I think that’s the hardest part about being an entrepreneur - you have to make hard decisions every day. Whether you’re going to fire somebody, whether you’re going to hire somebody, every decision you make can make or break the company. If you make one bad decision - if you have two features to build and you choose poorly, you could make the wrong choice; or if you spend half of the amount of money you have to hire someone, and that person doesn’t deliver, then you’ve wasted all that money. That’s the difference between entrepreneurs that succeed and don’t succeed: their ability to make decisions, and to make good decisions, and to make decisions quickly and decisively.”
886: What do you look for in a founder?
Jameson: “I can tell just by talking to them how much horsepower they have. Looking at a car, you can’t tell how much horsepower it has, but when you hear the sound of the engine, you can hear ‘oh, this is a powerful engine.’ It’s the same thing with people: when you talk to them, you can tell that they can go far. That’s why I bring people to the gym - when you go alone, it’s easy to be like ‘oh I’m so tired and I can’t do it any more.’ But when you go with a coach, with people pushing you to go harder, you realize ‘oh I actually did a lot more than I thought I could.’ I want people to understand that they can do more than they think they can. We’re all limited by our own mind.”