27 Apr Andrew Chau of The Boba Guys on How to Stay Focused on the Bigger Picture
Andrew Chau and his partner Bin Chen started Boba Guys through simple Pop Up events. It wasn’t until 3 years into it and a full-fledged store did Andrew decide to quit his full-time job. We discuss his mental state and deciding point to leave his corporate job to pursue Boba Guys full time making it one of the most successful Boba companies in the world.
He doesn’t just sell Boba, he’s selling a vision – to bridge cultures, one boba at a time. Learn how Andrew takes every bit of experience from childhood to college to shape what Boba Guys is today.
They’ve recently launched The Boba Book available here – https://amzn.to/3bRtWs5
Eric: [00:00:00] hey everybody, this is Eric Y Chen with the Y factor podcast today. I have. Andrew Chau, one of the founders of Boba guys. I’m really excited to have you. I’ve met you at one of the Asian hustle network North Cal events.
You came in, speak or spoke, at that time. And so, you know, a lot of people were inspired by what you’ve done in terms of business, business growth in the community, and I’m very grateful to have you join us. I’d love to have you introduce yourself.
Andrew: [00:00:27] Cool. Thank you so much, Eric. I am so excited to be on this podcast. just in general, a huge fan of anybody that supports the, the hustle or the entrepreneurship community like you guys. So, thanks for listening. I mean introduction, I think if you’re listening to this, you probably have heard of or heard versions of what Boba guys is, so if you don’t know, it’s kind of like a, nowadays people say it’s like an Asian Starbucks, I guess, where I’d like to say Asian blue bottle, but Asian Starbucks.
And we start in 2011 and what we’re most known for is really, I wouldn’t say artists analyzing, but making bougie Boba hipster Boba. We made Boba elevated, not to say that Boba was crappy or anything like that. It was just, I think as we grew up, we wanted Boba that was more fit for adults because I grew up since middle school drinking Boba when I was 30.
I didn’t want to drink Boba with exactly the same ingredients.
Eric: [00:01:23] And I think what all of us at that time was probably top yoke express is,
one of the only places that offered Boba .
Were there any other places out there too that offered Boba, or that’s, I think that’s what our generation technically just grew up on.
Andrew: [00:01:38] Yeah. I mean, I’m sure you’re not listening to the Y Factor for the history of Boba, but the. Quick history because it’s tied to the general history is history. Boba really started in the 80s and came to the Bay area where I grew up in, middle school and beyond, and around mid nineties, early nineties, mid nineties.
And one of the first places that I went to was called wonderful foods. So if you’re from the Bay area, you know it, it’s on Irving’s kind of the O G Boba shop. I still love it to this day. It’s kinda, it’s interesting cause it has all these like, sundries and like, it’s like sweet factory with a Boba shop.
And so that’s probably my favorite maybe to even to all time cause it has its sentimental value. Then quickly, sweetheart, I went to Berkeley, so, go bears. If you’re listening. we would go on, my roommate and I would go down to street on Durant’s. So I’d go to sweetheart a lot. And I think I remember, I mean, not, I think I loved the Fantasia a lot too.
Eric: [00:02:39] So you talked about all of these Boba shops that already existed, right? And just for the audience to understand, how did Boba guys even come to be? Because you know, at a certain point, Boba guys, I think, at least to me, from my understanding, is one of the first few Boba stores that was able to generate like a line out the door and people would be willing to wait an hour or two hours just to get your guys with Boba.
so how did that all start?
Andrew: [00:03:04] It’s a really good question. How much time we got 40 40 minutes today.
Eric: [00:03:09] let’s keep it to the five minute version.
Andrew: [00:03:10] Five minutes come and go through the highlights. So the cliff notes version is, this is 2010 11. When Bin and my co founder and I, his name is Bin, we wanted to see if.
If Boba could be elevated at the time in the Bay area, blue bottle, and Phil’s was like the two hot coffee shops, and if you, if you’re in the coffee scene, there’s something called third wave coffee, right? Where it’s like basically bougie duty coffee. But we were like, you know, I liked the two. I liked a blue bottle, had the new Orleans style and the mid Mohito at Phil’s.
There’s kind of derivatives of like a standard right. I think we thought Boba could be done that same way. So we Googled it. We’re Asian, one of our hashtags, like doing your homework. So we generally do our homework. I’m like, I’m a nerd. And so I was like, how come this is not done? And it really hasn’t.
I Googled every version of premium milk, tea, premium bubble tea, premium Boba. All of these versions and the market was wide open. This is 2010 11 so I told Bin, I said, we thought we were gonna do an apparel company cause we came out of a, we met at an apparel company called or accessories apparel company called Timbuktu.
So we thought we were going to spin off and do something like
Eric: [00:04:22] And that’s where you two were working.
Andrew: [00:04:25] Yeah. I was a general manager. I went to business school, I’m more of the classic business guy, and Bin was the creative director there. So we always had complementary skill sets. So we thought we’re going to spin off and do what we naturally did, which was apparel, you know, fashion.
And, but we don’t drink. We drink very little alcohol. I got Asian flush, sadly. And so I was like, we would just, instead at nighttime, we just, instead of going to a bar, we’d like grab Boba, we’d drive to one, go foods across town. And I said, let me take you to my old childhood place. And he got into wonderful foods just like me.
And we were alike. You know, if there was a version of this in Boba that would kill it. Oh, sorry. At blue bottle, if there was like a blue bottle version of Boba, it would kill it. And we did homework for about like months. And we’re like, I can’t believe no one sent this. So at best there was maybe like an artisanal shop in Indonesia called callus or something like that.
And I’m sure there was like some obscure super like hippie Boba shop in Portland maybe. But I knew there was definitely not no popular one because you couldn’t find that internet. And we said, let’s just try it. And at the time our friends were opening a pop up shop in the mission called mission Chinese, which is now.
Probably even like way more famous as we are Danny and Anthony and we were working in neighborhood and we were going to their place for lunch while we’re brainstorming the idea of what to do together, and so we got the inspiration from them in sync thinking, could this be the first that rich popup, which of you awful also Googled.
beverage pop-up or drink pop up or Boba pop-up or coffee pop up. There was no popups in beverages in 2011. The idea of popups was already novel. So we’re like, what if we took the Boba idea, which was we think wide open space. Do you call it like white space , and then you have this pop up idea and let’s just try it.
Cause we don’t, we had full time jobs. We were, we’re not the entrepreneurs, which I’m sure you’ve talked about in many of your other episodes, which is we didn’t do it because we hated corporate. Like we were pretty good. We’re probably one of the best at what we did. And I was. Out of business school. I was CPG.
I was on track to be a CMO.
I went to a tier one school. I was, I was like Clorox, if he ever anybody listening that was very suit. I was very, like, I was bred to be the COO of like Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola. Right. But, we just did a side project. Anyways, the pop up that we did that we got inspired by, by mission Chinese blew up.
We really didn’t think it was when you guys were successful. We just did it as a hobby and then we’re like, Oh crap, what are we going to do with this? First day we sold 200 drinks. We sold out. So that’s, we made you a hundred and we sold 200 that’s how it’s easy to remember. And then the next week, same thing.
And we did that for like a year, just like weekly popups, weekly pack up popups. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Yeah. So not, I would say not every day. So we had to work.
Eric: [00:07:28] And how did you guys generate the customers? The traffic to come in? Where was it from? The restaurant customers that were buying drinks or you guys push it out?
Cause I mean at that time Facebook was still fairly new
at that time. Yeah, I was in college, so yeah, I was
Andrew: [00:07:45] in college. Oh my God, you’re young.
Eric: [00:07:47] People at my age were just being able to start their Facebook towards the end of 2008 2009 right. So basically it was just starting to grow getting out of that college sector.
Right. So where did you guys get the customers?
Andrew: [00:08:02] So, I don’t know. I hope it’s not revisionist history, but if I remember correctly, so I, here’s what I did know. We had a column, a good magazine. So both my cofounder and I were known. We had good blogs and writers. We were writers. I was in college, we both worked at different school papers, but our school’s school paper.
So both had kind of a journalism background, which is atypical for Asians. Right. Especially Asian males. So journalism. Yeah. Wasn’t it? In 2004 when I went to college, when I was at Cal, there was no Asian dudes writing, writing stuff unless you want to be a sportscaster. Right? Like,
Eric: [00:08:40] okay, that makes sense, cousin’s a little older and he was all about writing and going to get into sports
Andrew: [00:08:44] and so. Like back then, there weren’t Asian marketing guys and there was an Asian journalism. It was just, we were still doing STEM, you know, I just dated myself. So yes, if you’re doing the math on 37, I went to Cal 2000, 2004 and I went back for my MBA 2011, 9 to 11.
So. So get that out of the way. So when we were kind of with our backgrounds, we had an in with a magazine called good magazine, and the editor, this guy, his name was Tim ferals, who was, he’s a white dude, right? So Tim happened to know Bin. And he saw her writing samples and said, you guys are pretty good writers.
I was like, cool, thank you. You know, we’re Asian. But we were like, why don’t we document in order this whole experience? And so we had a column on good magazine, which Tim had no really right or business giving to us other than our writing samples. And we did it and that I had a good following.
If you’re listening and you know good magazine and you’re Googling this, like good magazine was pretty popular at the time. It was about positive kind of businesses and social responsible businesses. So we had kind of that ethos going for us already. And so that’s why. we had a following to start with, but then as you were saying, we automatically pushed everything, kept going to Facebook, cause as a pop up, you’re mobile, so you don’t really have a physical space.
So we jumped around from, whether it’s a friend’s food truck, like frozen custard or, the most common space was a ramen house. It was called a Kenken ramen.
Eric: [00:10:20] So this was based in the city?
Andrew: [00:10:22] Yeah, all in the mission, basically in the mission district of San Francisco. So, yeah, it was a wild ride. And then, then we opened our first store around the corner from that pop up
Eric: [00:10:32] after one year of doing about 150 popups at that point.
Andrew: [00:10:38] Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Eric: [00:10:39] So I mean, cause it’s for you, I mean not to have our audience too intimidated, right? You’re based on your background, your, your, your work history, getting your MBA. I mean, you yourself are a smart person overall. Right. I feel like a lot of people would be like, Oh, well, I feel like I need to be that successful in my academics and you know, work history to even get to the same level as you.
So is it even possible for someone to even achieve?
Andrew: [00:11:07] I’m glad you asked that question, Eric. Here’s my real take on it. I only say that because what I’m about to say is controversial because I’ve said this before and it’s gotten me some heat, especially cause I’ve done a lot of college talks is okay, do people swear on this podcast because I’m going to really be who I am.
Eric: [00:11:25] Please do
Andrew: [00:11:26] my fully seen self. I grew up with nothing. My parents were immigrants. My dad and parents don’t really speak great English. My dad never finished high school. He came as a refugee. My dad was a bus driver for a muni, which is like the for the muni municipal transit for San Francisco, and so nobody helped me through college.
I’m the eldest son of the eldest son, so let’s just say. Like, and I went to this high school for cell samples in high school. And not to say it’s a bad high school, it’s just, but it was testing the bottom third of, of the County of the state. And, I’m just going to say that I grew up not wanting to think about academia a lot.
I grew up as kind of like. I think of myself as a hustler, as a, as a street kid. I grew up in New Jersey before that in New Jersey. I was the only Asian kid in Woodbridge, New Jersey. If you pull up Weber’s New Jersey, the Democrat from New Jersey is like, it’s poverty lines, right? And cheap. And, my, my old houses, I think I looked it up on Redfin.
It was $100,000 today. Right now. Okay. And I think the big thing I want to say that is because I grew up in this Jersey shore area. If you watched her do shore, I grew up, that’s where I grew up. Just imagine that. Yeah,
Eric: [00:12:39] I’m sure people weren’t as tan as they are.
Andrew: [00:12:41] Yeah. I didn’t have a tan as a yo Angelo get over here and capsule.
Here you go, drink some water, get on the motorcycle. Let’s go to the shore. So that’s how I grew up. I really did. And that’s why I talk like an Italian, cause I grew up around Italians. I’m aggressive and so. I don’t want to go on a tangent. The idea of that is people always think, Oh cause you went to Berkeley and all that.
I’ll tell you, my sat scores were mediocre. My GPA was good, but the only reason why my GPA was good was because my parents had to deal with me. I can only do base. I was a good athlete. I was more of a jock than anything. I was only a good athlete. I was only able to go to baseball camp and do sports if I got straight A’s.
So I reluctantly kinda did it. But if you ask all my teachers, I was really rebellious. if you look at my IG profile, I’m a rebel rouser like , like I’m a rebel rouser I say that because when I was young, I was always the guy that people had a hard time paying down and he’s like, you have, you’re so smart.
If only he could focus and apply himself. And so when people say like, Oh, you must have been like a model minority, I was like, I was fucked on that rod model. Minority model minority doesn’t, like I went to Berkeley thinking I was gonna be a doctor. You know, I almost went, the Hopkins couldn’t afford it, but.
My parents report, so went to Berkeley public school, you have to fight for your life there, right? It’s a sink or swim mentality. It’s public schools. And I didn’t, I didn’t fit in. I’m fit in and I was a model minority. I was, you know, I was nerdy, but I was also the kid just like, you know, people think like Eddie fall, I was that kid who loved Asian hip hop.
Like I was, I cassette tapes of, you know, Snoop Dogg and , RNB, like Keith sweat new edition. Like I was that person yet I was always like. Switching, you know, I was like, they call it code switching. I was always like super Asian and then like super non-Asian and I’d go back and forth. And so when I think about, you know, the model minority, do I have straight A’s and you went to great business school, I actually don’t think that was what made Boba guys successful or me successful.
I think it was. I was always kind of like this Aladdin, you know, hood rat like that. I just always could tell if somebody was trying to like one up me or like I was always seeing if someone’s thrown shade. I was like, what the fuck was that like? I was always that kid. I think that was then what helped me get into a good business school or do well in business.
It wasn’t because I was smarter. I went to Berkeley. Almost everyone is smarter than me. I worked at companies where. They were only hiring MBAs like Clorox and, and you know, Walmart and all my friends are like at Stanford, Harvard. I was always the black sheep in those communities, which is why it was.
Probably easy for me to be entrepreneur because I was always like turning off a part of myself in those settings cause I would want to drop an F bomb in a meeting and be like, what the fuck? You can’t say that in corporate. So I would say in corporate speak, I respectfully disagree with that opinion. I would like to propose another solution and that’s what I would do.
And I was good at it. But I can tell you it wasn’t me. , so not to, it was a long winded answer, but I think a lot of people feel this way. A lot of people are doing really well right now, especially in Asian hustle network on ACN, Asian creative network, on kind of all these other, up and coming Asian networks.
And we all know each other. Cause you could see we all kind of run in the same political circles or, or, you know, fashion or entertainment circles. We all actually, we’ll just say we maybe were black sheep and yeah, we played a little bit of the stereotype and that we were good at school, but what made us more different was we didn’t want to fall in line.
And I think that’s more indicative of why I became an entrepreneur, or we were moderately successful because we have this idea that we don’t conform to what people think, which is even right now, the way we do Boba. You know, the first five years of Boba guys ever on everybody, but a lot of Asians, Asians especially hated us.
He thought we sold out. When you didn’t see from what you read, my old writings, we set out to basically make the culture and the industry changed. I was never trying to say we’re authentic. You could read my old writings. 10 years ago, about eight years ago, I started writing about this. So, but no, people were saying, Oh, you sold out.
You just hate Asians. I’m like, dude, why can’t Asians evolve? You know? There’s this whole idea we can go down, which is like self hating Asians. I mean, come on, man. Just gotta evolve society culture changes.
Eric: [00:17:29] Yeah, no, that makes sense. I mean, I feel like Asians are some of the harshest critics.
We see that all the time, you know, within different networks and communities.
About. You know, Asians are probably one of the most active people on Yelp and criticizing a lot.
But, so let’s transition over to you and Ben, your partner. You guys basically did pop ups for, you know, 150 pops for the first year, and then you guys got your first brick and mortar.
At that point, you guys were still working corporate corporate jobs. Yeah. So then how did you guys balance that and how long were you guys in corporate before you guys said, we’re jumping into this full time?
Andrew: [00:18:06] Three and a half years. So we did it from 2011 when we started to. The beginning of 2015 I remember, I don’t think I’ve ever shared this story really.
I was working at a company called leapfrog. I was like a gold brand manager. It’s kind of, I manage this huge product division and they usually have Christmas off. And so cause it’s a toy company leapfrog. So I love them. Actually. I actually enjoyed my time there. But during Christmas break, I really, you know, during that time, one of my F my best friends, I came home, we didn’t see each other cause he’s from high school and so we will only see each other during the vacation, the holiday vacation.
And he, I remember he was like, Andrew, you look like shit. And I was like, out of shape. I was in take care of myself and I wasn’t sleeping, you know, my wife was always telling me I was always tired. So I think, you know, it takes a, a, a best friend to say that, but he literally just straight up said that, I don’t know where I was like, wow, nice to see you too.
Happy holidays. And so I remember a January 2nd fifth Jones 15 I got back into work
and I gave my two weeks notice
like, and then my, my, my bosses were shocked. I remember, Elliot, if you, if you’re listening, Elliot, I remember this moment. Sorry about it. I said, Hey, Elliot, can we talk? And then I kinda did at his desk and then we walked through a room cause he was realizing that I was actually giving my notice and he goes, be giving your notice.
And he knew it was so funny. My boss. His wife, Annie, was one of our first Kickstarter backers, so I couldn’t even hide Boba guys to him. So this is, that’s a whole funny story because on his second day, he IMEs me out of nowhere in the intranet. I am
Eric: [00:19:46] the messenger days.
Andrew: [00:19:47] Sorry for those who data, it’s like DMD.
Me, my boss slid into my DMS and he was like, Hey, are you Andrew from BOBA guys? Because he, during the whole interview process, had not known. Like we never, it never came up. And then, and he, his, it was his wife. That was the super fan, I guess. And so Elliot always knew for the two years since that time that I was moonlighting cause I was trying not to tell people.
And so yeah, on January 2nd. I got back in Elliot. He has, yeah, I had a feeling, you know, this was going to happen one day and I’m like, I’m really happy for you. Of course, because my wife and I, any support you, inadvertently I didn’t even know we wish you the best. And then I gave him I think three weeks notice cause I really did love the team and I really love corporate, but I think I needed to take care of myself.
Take care of my wife and just really, to be honest, I needed to have balls, no pun intended about Boba stuff, but like. I think people that entrepreneurs are like this huge risk takers. Dude, I was a cowbird for doing it for three years, dragging my friends. I’m missing all these weddings and baby showers because I was trying to hedge.
I was trying to do both and I think I looked back, you know, had I known Boba guys was going to be this, I would’ve quit a long time ago. Right. That’s the same thing to do. I didn’t know. So I was hedging for three and a half years. It wasn’t until our third store, Hayes Valley store that I quit.
Eric: [00:21:17] You don’t think, you think you could have gotten it to where it is faster had you quit corporate earlier much earlier on, or you feel like it was a good time even though you were hedging?
Right. Because a lot of entrepreneurs, I’m sure maybe you’ve told people as well, like if someone was going, you know, make that jump.
Andrew: [00:21:32] Yeah.
Eric: [00:21:33] Where’s that balance? Like you should still work corporate until things are at a certain
point before they, they go full time into their side business. Up until a point.
Right? So like for you, it’s three and a half years, but other maybe if it’s
right for them to do a year or is that too risky in your own experience?
Andrew: [00:21:51] Okay. You’re like, Terry grossing me right now. Like super fresh air.
Eric: [00:21:56] these are all things I wonder. I like as a one on one conversation, I’m looking to you as a mentor.
That’s, these are the types of questions that, you know, that run through my head. If I’m going to start a side business while
I’m in corporate and trying to relate to the audience who are in this juxtaposition,
Andrew: [00:22:14] I’m gonna think out loud a little bit. I think, while you’re going through it, you just don’t have time to think. I think maybe that’s the best way to explain it. It’s a little more instinctual. So I don’t know if I’m gonna answer this directly, but I think the idea. I think you have to get to the point where it’s just almost like a leap of faith.
It’s like a, it’s like a marriage. It’s like, love you. There’s a point where you have enough evidence and people are like, well, I don’t know what it’s gonna be like to be married. We should move in together. We should. That’s kind of like, I would say startups where. You just constantly hedge, hedge, hedge, hedge, and then there’s this point where you just can’t hedge and there are certain people just not to be like that.
Just never commit to relationships. There are some people who just never commit to entrepreneurship whether they Moonlight and decide to hustle or not. They just don’t. I’ve seen them, I’ve, I know a lot of them now that I have a reputation and we’re pretty accessible on the internet and we do all of these talks and we do a lot of media.
A lot of people come up to us and when they do, half the time. I’m not like full Gary Vaynerchuk here, but. I want to go Gary Vaynerchuk on him and be like, yo, you’re just, you don’t have, you don’t, you should be doing this because you’re making excuses. Like that kind of thing. But me still being a little polite, like, ah, you should think about it, you know?
But in my mind, I probably should be like Gary Vaynerchuk, and you’re like. Yo you, everything you told me points to, you should just do it because you’re gonna live with your regrets. If you don’t, that’s probably most of these answers. But you know, I’ve never met him. I don’t want to like, I don’t have to, I don’t want Tim to be Matt Andrew from Boba guys.
He’s a, yeah, he has like, he’s still countless, so that way I think I’m different. That’s why I mean like when it comes to like, Oh, I’m really strong at business and I’m like, super, I am a type a, I’m more of an alpha dog. But when I actually, I’m like, I would say I’m eight minus really, cause I’m still, my Asian culture is like, you know, you know, flail pie duty.
It’s like, Oh yeah, great. You know, my parents agree and then you don’t reverence. And so I still have that in me. You know. People think, first of all, been, and I’ve, even though we started Boba guys, they think we’re not real Chinese Taiwanese. I’m like, dude, my parents will speak English. I have to know my Asian culture.
So have, you know, my parents are very traditional. My mom still doesn’t want me to wash my hair on Chinese new year. She, you know, she’s still, I mean, she’s still tiger mom. I think in that way, so much of the whole hedging was just. It’s like an Asian thing, like it’s not, it’s, it’s always interesting that in America it’s what the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but in China or in other, like in other cultures, it’s the, the net, the hammer, the nail that sticks out gets hammered it.
I’m like, which one’s right? Those are basically two opposite norms and I feel, I don’t know if other people,
Eric: [00:25:13] this is the clash between Asia and America and being Asian American
Andrew: [00:25:16] that’s why. Yeah. I mean, that’s why I think. I mean, probably listen to any of your podcast episodes, including this one is I always tell people most of the content around entrepreneurship is really just therapy.
and I’m just like you, like when I, I’m a huge fan of, you know, a guy, Raz, how I built this and my, probably my favorite podcast is his after Terry Gross fresh air is because I’m interested in the psyche and feeling of entrepreneurship. Cause I don’t know if it’s a good thing. I’m like, my wife says I’m too much of an empath, so actually feel others’ feelings too much, I think.
And when people are talking about their struggles. Leading people, leading companies, feeling responsible for, for families and stuff. I actually feel the same way cause I don’t cry related to business ever. But when I’m listening to it, Maybe a podcast about struggling at a startup or like sleeping under your own desk, because you, you didn’t, you couldn’t make rent.
Like I actually feel that and I get really sad and I get emotional because I don’t know, that’s just one thing. So don’t use, if you’re listening, don’t use this against me. Like I been an, I generally haven’t been known to be very, cause we’re in the media a lot. We can be, we have thick skin, but. That is one way to get to me.
Like use empathy, like sob stories actually do kind of work on me. You’re like, Oh, this helped me out. My mom, a single mom and I have, I was like, Oh, okay.
Maybe posted a tweet.
Eric: [00:26:45] If you’re, if we’re trying to pitch you a business, then you got to,
Andrew: [00:26:48] yeah.
Eric: [00:26:50] Cause you got it.
Okay. so you know, one of the things that you and I talked about when I first met you at the networking event.
Yes. You know, we had talked about, you guys run an eight figure business right now. That’s how large, you know, the business public guys are. And you mentioned something
to me, I forget what the question was,
but you said, you know, you think about going back to corporate, even to this day.
I don’t know if you remember that.
Andrew: [00:27:18] I kind of remember saying something like that, cause I’ve said it quite a few times. I think it’s along the same lines. It was like, I don’t, people ask, I think you might’ve asked that day. I know Maggie and Brian AHN who asked, what are you gonna do with Boba guys and why? And I don’t have an answer.
So corporate, it could be one of them. I always tell people, Boba guys may still fail, right? Think of, I think about the yogurt craze. Look at what happened to Pinkberry and your Atlanta and all those, those were Titans. Almost a billion dollars, more than a billion dollar valuation. You know, forever 21 just went out of business.
Right? And like, I think about that, and because I am traditionally, I’m classically trained in business, I do think about things as systems in kind of rational, logical progression. So I never take anything for granted. That’s why if you follow Boba guys like Bin and I don’t live very lavishly. I’m not trying to be like, humble or like I just, people just don’t have to be like regionally the richest person in any room.
We never, people are like, never know how many times I’ve had where people are like. Wait, you guys are the Boba guys, like, especially from like non-Asians, they know how big we are and they don’t really drink Boba cause they’re not an Asian sometimes. And so they’re just like, Oh my God. You’re like, there’s this massive chain.
They’re like 20 stores and you’re like, but you dress. I trust them. Like free tee shirts. Well, today I’m wearing a little bit of a flexing shirt, but my pants are free. These are Hill city, go Hill city, you know, sponsored ad hashtag. so in general, I think, yeah. I don’t, I don’t really have a great answer about whether or not we go corporate.
I think that I was trying to say anything goes. I’d like to say that’s actually how good entrepreneurs, I’ve heard, you know, I have a lot of great mentors in my life and most of them. Generally say to me is like, Andrew, don’t be very, don’t put your identity in your business, number one. And number two is don’t kind of overly focus on the actual tactics focused on the strategy.
What’s your overall vision? So my overall vision is to bridge cultures, as you probably know, is the mission of Boba guys. So as long as I’m bridging cultures, whether it’s an a big company or my own company, I’m genuinely happy. , especially if we’re talking about this before we went on the podcast, you know, with all this stuff that’s going on in America with Asian America, we need better representation.
We need less infighting. And that’s why I do some of these podcasts, because. I’m not, I don’t want to say we are the voice, but considering men, very few people have our size and our platform that crosses Boba and culture. Cause people, we go on podcasts. We don’t even talk about Boba. I mean, we haven’t really talked about public today too much.
The actual category. We talk about the business and the idea of the lifestyle, but it’s because we generally see ourselves as more cultural businesses. I feel like there’s a responsibility. Yeah. So if it means that, like, I mean, Boba guys might be so big that it is a corporation. So I might say, if I say I’m anti-corporate in Boba guys is, you know, 5,000 people and I’m still the CEO, people will look back and be like, ah, you did that y factor? And you said you fucked corporate people. And I’m like, you’re running your own corporation. How’s that? Any different? So I don’t like, I’m very aware of what hypocrisy looks like and I’m, I think everyone’s a hypocrite, but I. Try to avoid it when I can. I just don’t want to say anything that’s ultimately so true.
So it’s very relativistic, but I just don’t think there’s a, there’s so many, there’s no wrong way to do anything. So
it’s, it’s funny cause you know a lot of the, you know, the beer companies when people are starting off, their microbreweries come together as a community. And then when one guy gets bought out by the big guys and everybody else, Oh, you guys sold out in the homebrewing community and all that.
Right. But like, I think most people, they start it because, yeah, the love of beer. But yeah, if they had the opportunity to get bought out by Budweiser or Bush, then yeah, they would be super stoked as well. Right. To be able to
get their brand out there and I feel like it’s almost the same, same thing in that sense where.
It doesn’t matter what you guys become, whether it’s corporate or staying lean as
a small, small business, it’s just, you know, at the end of the day, what makes you as a person happy? What makes you and your team happy and
how you can create a positive impact at the end of the day, whether you have a large medium or just a small company, you ultimately have employees that you have to take care of on top of that, you know.
I’ll give you, I’m gonna say it’s exclusive, but it’s essentially something I rarely ever talked about. And especially on this podcast, it’s relevant, is that people are talking about the financial aspects of this. So Boba guys, we don’t franchise. We own like 95% of the company cause we have angel Mestres.
But we only only Bin and I are on the board. It’s why we never find the same airplane, you know? You know, we both are married, so essentially our, our wives and us own all of the whole company control everything, which is why we can do all the crazy stuff that we do. Now the issue is, is that people now, especially at 20 stores, people can start looking at us and acquiring us.
And often as an off the record, I’m podcast on the record, on the podcast, but without getting too much into the detail, we get offered offers left and right. Like, so I know roughly how much we’re worth. And many companies are already exited, exited at our size. And if I exited today, I would definitely be retired by now because we are a strong brand.
So our premiums are high, we have really strong financials. And our culture is kind of like what makes us so unique. So we have a model that just works. Now, Bin, and I’ve taught, you know, we have this. Is the time to cash in, are you, you know, or are you going to keep on rolling the dice? And I think that’s where we said to ourselves, what, what is at what costs and what’s the risk?
Because what’s ultimately the on goal? What’s my walk away money right at a bank? I mean a casino. If I’m winning a hundred bucks and I drop 200 bucks to get a hundred the AA, I mean to get 50% back. And that’s okay. But I want a double, I want to, I’ll leave, I’ll put you under down. I’m not leaving until I gain it 500 cause otherwise, you know, losing 200 I, that’s what the cost of the two hours that took me to lose that money.
So I think of that as entrepreneurship in the same way where what is worth it to us is if we walk away when Boba guys, when the word Boba is across the entire English language, meaning if I walk anywhere in America right now, I go to a fast company, Forbes magazine event in the Asian community. We’re kind of like, cool, right?
Maybe not. I don’t know. But I will say in the white community, they didn’t give a shit who, who we are. It says, enter chow Boba guys, and it says out my name tag. 90% of the time I swear to God, it’s very humbling, which is super amazing. It’s good if they’re like, Oh, what’s Boba? What guys? Boat Baba guys.
I’ve had the majority of the time at these conferences, because these are places in like Chicago, you know, even in Vegas, I did a conference in Vegas that people are like, what is Baba guys? I’m like, Oh my gosh. But then I’m like, well, then we have our huge job to do, and I’m very aware that Boba is more than just, you know.
You know, not Asians, not all Asians drink Boba, and that you can’t just simplify a whole ethnicity. You know? I’m not going to get too much into like Bobo liberalism here. I’m very aware of that. I was a sociology from Berkeley major, so like not to be like no high honors top of my class, just saying. It’s not like, I don’t know, understand those terms, but just like certain foods are iconic to an industry or to a ethnicity, there was rarely something more iconic to Asians than Bobo.
And because it’s a tea in which T has his crazy history of Europe and colonization and the desserts with Malaysia and South Africa, South America, the drink itself is. Generally, I think a microcosm or like analogy for what happens in the world. I do think that a lot of culture and stuff could be explained.
So when I kind of make a big deal out of Boba, it’s not because I’m trying to . Over attribute in sensationalize this category, or like AOL all Asians drink Boba. And if you don’t drink, well, you’re not Asian. I think that’s not how it works. It’s that just like certain, our tortilla is so, iconic, in certain cultures or a certain type of teaching high is so synonymous with Indian culture.
You know, like you don’t have Indians, I don’t think really saying like, yeah, we’re more than chai. We’re more than Curry. That’s what they’re saying. But I see Asians and evil people saying things like, yeah. Just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I drink boba people were hating against that. I’m like, that’s not what people are saying.
It’s just that there’s a way to, people connect. Why don’t you have a gateway that seems to connect? That’s what I really hope we can kind of. You use Boba for. So if we achieve that goal, then we will retire. It’s a long answer of basically saying there’s no financial reason why retire.
Eric: [00:36:44] And I, I the whole, your whole answer brings up a good point because at the end of the day,
It’s not about the financials.
It’s not about the money. Right.
Andrew: [00:36:53] I hope. Yeah, most of them do. Would you think, what do you think? Do you interview all these entrepreneurs? Do most entrepreneurs have a, a number that they say.
Eric: [00:36:59] No, I have, we have, I’ve talked to some people, I’ve interviewed a few on the podcast, some episodes that may never release because they ask others, you know, they also generate eight figures in their business, and there’s just no insight for them either.
Right. And so I think even regardless if they are only making a million a year to 10 million to 20, 45, 50 million. They don’t really know what they’re doing. They don’t have a purpose behind it. Right.
And they’ve been told that many times as well. So, you know, I think a lot of people want to be able to, you know, achieve enough money for themselves to be comfortable.
But I think, I mean, you’re at that level now to say you can at a certain point, money. It doesn’t really affect your life all too differently.
Andrew: [00:37:46] You know what’s Bin will tell you my co so I always tell people like Bin and Bin is like my brother and he’ll, if you ask him what’s Andrew’s like, number one quote, and I’m not sure, what do you worry if your listener, what do you agree, My quote that I quote for two decades though, cause I heard it when I was, I think roughly when I was in colleges.
A rich man is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. And that’s shadowing own, just like my motto, if I, that’s something that would be on my tombstone and Ben is very similar, this is like a little bit of like Ben lore. Bin tracks everything he owns on a spreadsheet, on a, on an air table.
I swear to God, you would think that’s not possible. It. Is that possible? He used to own all this stuff when I first met him over a decade ago, and then in the last three years he’d show me the spreadsheet because it was the Marie Marie condo and you guys all have white tee shirts. He is such a minimalist.
So I call him like people, I’m like high priest. He’s like hype monk. He’s like, he in another world, you’d be get a monastery right now. Cause he’s like, she presented. And I think , I think he and I, that’s where we get along. We have different faith backgrounds, but he’s so, but we just don’t like material things not to say, Ooh, we’re very convenient of you, Andrew.
We’ll help privilege of you. You don’t have to care about material things. What about the struggle? I’m like, dude, for me, I know what it was. Struggle. I lived in a two bedroom house with six people, you know, in New Jersey above the restaurant that we lived in, in Woodbridge. I know what it’s like to be poor, not to flex poorness
it’s not like I don’t understand that, but I’ll tell you I was super happy. I got very lucky that my family was a great family and that taught me that money was not everything. So I learned that when I was five years old, living above our restaurant. On main street in Woodbridge, New Jersey. So I say it kind of a little passionately because I see so many entrepreneurs, and that’s why I love doing these types of podcasts is because they, they want to hear that, it’s about money and it’s about sexy cars and all that.
And to be honest, like I don’t even have a car. If you know me, I don’t have a car.
Eric: [00:39:59] Well, I didn’t see any exotic cars out in front
Andrew: [00:40:01] Bin doesn’t even have a car. He has like a bike. It keeps on getting stolen, you know, like the nicest. I think the nicest thing I have, which is true. If you go outside, I have a hoverboard from my desk.
If you notice, that’s like the nicest vehicle I have. I have one of those old school hoverboards that used to catch on fire. My wife doesn’t want it, so I keep it here too. It’s true.
Eric: [00:40:21] It’ll be gotten curious.
Andrew: [00:40:22] I got, I got much better insurance here than I have my house. Yeah. So I mean, that’s what I would say.
I would encourage maybe I hope the new generation of entrepreneurs to have that mindset. Because when you take money and those numbers out of the equation, I do think will make you a better entrepreneur because you’ll be able to get more out of every dollar because you just have this mindset of like not needing much.
So your MVP products, your. You just, your, your resourcefulness just goes tenfold because Ben and I can get anything out of, just an ounce of energy.
Eric: [00:40:57] amazing. Yeah, no, I mean, I completely agree with you. In terms of the materialistic, there’s, there’s really no end number, I think. I mean, that’s the whole reason this podcast exists as well, right?
Because social media nowadays, people are, what they see online are all these gurus and coaches of teaching them how to become rich, how to be financially.
Andrew: [00:41:17] Don’t get me started on those.
Eric: [00:41:19] I mean, and I’m sure most people were already listening. Now they’re in, they should be familiar with it. Right? And so at a certain point.
You didn’t you, you have a mission. I think that’s why when I first met you, that you do have the certain drive, a huge reason why you already mentioned, right. In terms of trying to bridge the gap, bridge of community and get Boba out to the world and for everybody
to just be bridged together. I mean, at the end of the day.
Right. And just, just unified. So. I mean,
I’d love to talk to you more. I know we’re
getting to a limit here. What does a time say on that there?
Andrew: [00:41:56] 43 minutes.
Eric: [00:41:57] 43 yeah. So, I love to give you the opportunity to
talk about what you guys are working on next. I think by the time everyone hears, listen to this episode , Andrew and his team have launched something called the Boba book.
Andrew: [00:42:11] Yeah. You, you, I think one of the first people in public to ever see this because there’s only two copies that exist that are finished that, that might, we just, our publisher was in town cause our publishers in New York, but they came by
Eric: [00:42:24] to drop off the two copies that they got printed.
Andrew: [00:42:27] Yeah. I mean you could see, you know, not to, well, thank you for like, whether it’s a platform or like, thank you for just even having us, I think. You know, we’re not doing this as a, we’re, I mean, wait early for the book promotion tour, but whether it’s the book or just me being on this podcast, what I really want, both my cofounder and I really want to see is people that come from different backgrounds, and it’s not just ethnicity, it’s not just Asian non-Asian.
We’re talking about the East coast, West coast. We’re talking about old people, younger people. We’re talking about people that are more like techie and people that are more hipster. Like there’s this world where everybody is so polarized and I think we forgot how to talk and have dialogue. Like that’s why I like podcasts because I, this is why called long form content.
And I love long form content. As you heard, my favorite podcasts are like guy Raz. His things are like 50 minutes. . I think the book is similar. That’s why we chose to do a book. We could have done a show and we do a on the T’s, but we have a show of likely coming out that’s based off of this book.
But the idea is that the Boba book is so much love and so much respect is like fine dining. I call it the food muddyG , like it’s like the people who choose what the right is. The great culture. You give the love to top restaurants, but you know what? Both shops across America, they’ve changed the landscape of every community just as much as the fine dining restaurants, Boba guys, we serve over 10,000 people a day.
Think of their top restaurant groups. They don’t even have that many covers. One day put together and then we have lines and we have these lookbooks that we have. When you’re waiting in line, you can read and you learn about our drinks. We do so much more, we call it infotainment. And educational stuff.
Then someone’s menu that’s written in some fancy language that you don’t even understand. You spend half your time Googling and you’re not gonna remember anything. We actually think about culture, every single thing we do, every piece of architecture, every recipe. So, so much of this book, are you gonna show the video of this?
Oh, well, so much of this book is like the history of Boba. And then what you call head notes is like, we talk about, you know, how a drink came to be, and we talk about different types of drinks. So like, Oh, so we have that Airmont the coaching, like it’s a Malaysian one. So this one, there’s almost no recipes of the Armata in,
on the internet. But we did it because I wanted to see if, well, remember this book is written for everyday Americans, cause you know, I don’t need to write this for Asians, Asian people more so. I mean, I’ll never hear of this. Airmont I have it. Okay, well, for something, some drinks I think are pretty out there, but like, like, like.
You probably know what it is, but on average, I would say even some nations don’t even know what Lauren is. My team does it cause I, when we asked them, they did. So I think the idea of making this accessible is super important. And then I would love to say the whole team, including our editor, we all, they all are nominated or won a James Beard award, which is like the Oscars for food.
And we’d love to say a Boba book. Was not as a parasite, right. Won or got nominated for a James Beard award, blah, blah book. Cause at that point, and people won’t think, especially with, you know, what’s going on,
I don’t want to
say it, but like coronavirus and all this shit is like, Oh Asians eat crazy stuff and dah, dah, dah, like all this.
I’m like, dude, the best and worst come from any culture. There’s call it that. And like you can’t other people for their cuisine, all the stupid thing. And so. I want Boba guys, you know, we’re not here. We’re not very, we’re not here to like shame anybody, but we are here to teach. And so we’d love to kind of like inform and teach in a way that’s very accessible.
And that’s why some people say that accessibility is like diet culture or like. Whitewashed or whatever. I’m like, no, that’s just being a good ambassador. You know? Like if you want, you and I, since we’re both like Asian, we, you and I can go super Asian stuff. If this was an Asian podcast. Well, it is, but like, like super, we’ll talk all day about, you know, subtle Asian traits, stuff and meetings names, but that’s not going to help the outside world.
That’s tribalism. You know, the outside world was what we do. That’s why. I think we were the only Boba shop. Truly the crossover. Now people have copied our model, which is great. We wanted it. We gave away our recipes so people can copy. We’ll forget that. We gave away recipes. In the early days. We taught people, we taught entrepreneurs across the world.
You know, both mofo, you know Phil and Eric, we helped them do start their thing. T bar in Portland, you know, Alfred tea, they’re such amazing people. They do it their own way. But we people forget that we helped them all.
Eric: [00:47:22] And that’s something that the industry, that’s something that I discovered about you guys was, it’s not even about this.
This should be the last question to round off the podcast.
Andrew: [00:47:31] 15 minutes. Exactly.
Eric: [00:47:34] But in terms of you guys coming in, building out Boba guys, get into, you know, five shops, three shops to attend shops, 20 shops, you guys weren’t really afraid of competition. And I don’t think you guys see them as competition, right?
Because of your whole mission to be able to get the entire Boba culture out to this world.
Like you said, you gave out your recipes, like what was the thought process behind that?
Andrew: [00:47:56] That’s where maybe the one good thing about tech, I don’t want to like crap too much on tech culture is like they, they generally like Elon Musk.
I do admire, he gave away, you know, on patents to help the ecosystem. It’s all about the big picture and ecosystem. If you fundamentally, they call it abundance mentality, I’m sure, you know. Yep. If you fundamentally believe that there’s more than enough for everyone, then you don’t have a hard time sharing. And there’s a great book by Adam Grant that I quote a lot.
Adam Grant wrote this book called give and take. And it’s about the three types of, you know, people who are generous, who give and one type gives and. Receive something back, some give and doesn’t ever like take. And some people just give without ever expecting to receive anything. And generally the people who never expected something back are the ones who do really well because they, they attracted the gravity, they, their orbit has naturally other people that are these givers.
And that’s, I think what happened to Boba guys. And you know, Boba guys, we’ll, we’ll die. We won’t die because somebody cloned us. People have tried to spend eight years. Everybody’s tried to clone us. I’m very aware of those clones people. My friends text me all the time, have you seen this here and this year?
And they copied your logo. They copied your drink. Here’s a strawberry matcha latte here’s a Tiramitsu. Here’s the, here’s the fruit drinks, the Agua Fresca style that you do. But, and I don’t mind that cause Apple in and out, all the good guys get copied. But I was carrying like, does it grow the pie?
Because when it’s scarce and everybody’s fighting each other and include, we talked about this, you know, you want to end with the Asian AHN kind of stuff is that we see certain tummies that are brand new like Asian hustle network where. Sometimes there’s infighting and I’ve seen that in ACN, Asian creative network.
I’ve seen that on, business, LinkedIn, like non-Asian, affinity groups. I’ve seen it in every type of segment. And all it is, is just tribalism. It’s people seeking that there’s, it’s scarce resources and stuff. And that’s what happened to Hollywood. The reason why all Asian Hollywood sucked ass for so bad for so long.
And I can tell you from the inside, I know a lot of them. I just think that he didn’t build the ecosystem right. And they were all fighting for the same roles, and it was systemic issues, but the system kept them fighting at each other, which you have to blow up the system. So we are into creating new ecosystems, new kinds of infrastructures.
So, you know, I’ll end by saying this, people may or may not realize this is the hardest thing that we had to do for the industry. It was not our factory. It’s not all the media we did. The hardest thing I had to do for eight years was I had to teach landlords that did not want Boba shops to be next to fancy coffee shops to let us in because they would say, well, I don’t want that crowd here.
Oh, I’ve never seen it here that you just have teenagers. And in the early days there was no other Boba shop you can compare it to. So it was only us. So I had to say, well, maybe there isn’t a comparison, but we are different. We are the Boba shop that belong next, that belongs next to a blue bottle that belongs next to a psych class, a coffee user, artist tunnel, you know, third wave coffee roasters.
We were in the lower East side in New York. We had to convince our landlords to do that when before us. Nobody that and then because of that, other landlords would be like, Hey, you know that Boba shop in California is doing really well. I can do that in my, my Plaza in LA, my Plaza in, in Arcadia, my Plaza in Irvine spectrum not to, and I know mostly these landlords.
That’s what, that’s what it was so hard for us. And I’m not saying we should get credit for it, I just think. We need it. I’m not the only one in Boba. Maybe I’m one of the only ones who’ve done it. Probably the one who’s done it, who’s done it, but in other industries, people have done this all along, so I’m just following the lead of the Elon Musk and Howard Schultz’s who are trying to say, Hey, there’s more than enough.
This lifts each other up instead of attacking each other, because. If the bubble world is known for cannibalizing and like undermining each other, or the Asians are doing the same thing, I can tell you the outsiders looking in, they’re going to be like, I told you so I told you not to bet on them.
They’re just a mess. They’re just trauma and they’re not going to want a coast sinus. And you need allies in this, in this world. So what really bridging cultures, you need allies. So that’s probably what I would say to anybody listening is build allies. Build a great network. Be pretty positive. You can tell this whole thing is we don’t really like throw shade, like we’re just saying we were real, but we really encourage everybody to do their own thing, you know?
That’s why I even like, like I’m say, chief overshot. She will say, Oh, you’re bougie, so you don’t like cheap OB shops. What are you talking about? like I love salons. All the, the, the old school, Taiwan, Chinese shops, those love those. I drink those all day. You found it? I just had the phone two days ago.
So one in Fremont,
Did they? Oh yeah, there are other fruit teas now. Protein. I was like, damn, they, they, I would say they’re the ones who tease that I’m jealous over, they got some good stuff.
Eric: [00:52:56] Yeah. No, I mean, you definitely touch upon a lot of good topics. We’ve talked about the give and take portion. Right. And I think that’s what’s beautiful about the Asian hustle network too.
I mean, Bryan and Maggie have done a phenomenal job so far and trying to promote that within the community and, and being able to give back. And you know, I’m very glad to have that platform to be able to meet you in person as well.
And then just to see, you know, the way you conduct yourself, and even me coming into your office today, I was just blown away by the energy of, you know, your team that’s out here.
There’s things you’ve got your, your staff that’s training the new
employees going into the stores. You have like your marketing team, the operations team, just talking about different ways that, you know, you guys are going to grow , so I just have to commend you. You know, you’re doing a great job, and everything that you’re trying to do for the community
and even in the world.
I know you guys were, you were out, in DC a few weeks ago as well. you know, helping out and the political side too. So, love to give you one more moment to, to say, say whatever you want it is to the audience. As
We wrap up here.
Andrew: [00:53:54] No thanks again. Thanks for listening. You can find us on our IG, Boba guys, at Boba guys everywhere or my personal handle, if you feel like my, what my content is, which is , more business related stuff, strategy.
It’s at Chameleon. My last name is C, H, a, U and a chameleon, but C H a U. And yeah, I just, I, you know, like whether it’s you, Eric, or all the people on AHN , ACN, all the different Asian networks or just other entrepreneurs, even if not Asian , as you were saying, I was in DC cause I work a lot with the NBDA, the minority business development agency and I work with the SBA a lot, the small business administration.
So I really, really, really, it’s my car, my job to help small businesses across America. Cause as I said earlier, I really grew up with nothing. And I’ll finish with this. One idea is like with all that stuff that’s going on in the world. There is , I’m going to come off as like a, like a full on like, you know, class Marxist, but, I, to go to Berkeley twice, so I’ll come off that way a little bit is that there’s this idea that, you know, those worker bees, the proletariats and the capitalists, the people who.
Make the workers, I guess, and profit off of them. Now there’s this other class that, linen action Leninism we’ll call it , vanguardism, but it’s the idea that there was these poor proletariat, these worker bees that somehow became a catalyst, the 1%, and they created a bridge between the two classes.
So if you’ve read any of my writings, I was a pretty decent social theory student, Asian American only guy in my class. I wrote a lot about this stuff when I was like 28 like 20 years ago. I’m like 18 years old. I love this stuff. And the one thing I would encourage this to be more Vanguards, so if you, if I’m an Asian and I came up to bring along more Asians with me, if I was poor and I now am like I have money, bring a lot of poor people up for me, create that bridge between ethnicities and classes, I just need to say, please, please, please do that.
So no matter what network you’re on, what race you’re in, or what social status strata you’re in, like you have to not forget how everybody’s connected. If you do that, we all want to all have all these crazy Wars and like all these like inviting and I think we’ll live much more productive lives.
Eric: [00:56:13] Appreciate it. Andrew. Thanks so much both for a no, I’m not . I sound like I’m about to pick her up.
Okay. Last thing. Where can people find,
Andrew: [00:56:25] Oh, the book. Thank you for, , I’m so bad at plugging things. The book Eric has been queuing me this whole time, is that the book is available on Amazon and your local bookstore.
We encourage people to support local bookstores. So I’m almost all local bookstores because our publishers penguin random houses. So it’s a very widely distributed book. You can find it almost anywhere.
Eric: [00:56:47] Awesome.
Thank you guys so much. As you guys know, I’ll put all the information into the website as well.
You guys can find there and thank you again Andrew. We will talk
to you guys soon.
Andrew: [00:56:56] Thank you.