You’ve worked on growth for lots of companies, campaigns, and brands. For people who don’t know about you, give a brief overview of your background and what you’re doing now.
I’ve worked in growth for different startups in DTC and e-commerce, and I’ve also spent some time in political growth, specifically with Andrew Yang and Michael Bloomberg. Basically I’ve spent most of my career working in and around the cutting edge of growth.
One of your first companies was Fidget360, which you founded in high school along with one of your classmates. You reached $350,000 in revenue in just 6 months—talk about how Fidget360 started, how it grew, and what that experience taught you about growth.
I started Fidget360 in high school when some friends and I started printing fidget spinners with our school’s 3D printers. Other kids wanted to buy them, so we started an online business around the product. It was crazy how fast that business went from 0 to 100 in almost no time. Nowadays, Instagram personality influencers and meme pages are super saturated, but at the time that was a relatively open space. Costs were super low, so we really leveraged influencers to grow Fidget360. I think that speaks to the power of social media and intelligent growth tactics. All you need are a few TikToks or Instagram posts to take off, and you’re in business. Fidget360 was a great learning experience, but we could have done even better if I had the knowledge I have now in terms of marketing and growth.
You’ve worked in political advertising for both Andrew Yang and Michael Bloomberg. Talk about what motivated you to start working with political campaigns. How did your experience and/or learnings at Fidget360 impact your work in political marketing?
Around mid-2018, I started seeing Andrew Yang on local Facebook pages, and he seemed like a really interesting candidate—a young, personable Asian-American who wanted to pursue UBI. I realized that influencer culture, meme pages, and strategic media buying would all really help Yang’s campaign. So I reached out to his camp and came on board towards the end of 2018. I think one of the email subject lines was literally “Allan will memeify us.”
With Yang, I really applied growth-hacky, guerilla marketing tactics to build his brand and online presence. We took a very DTC/startup/ecomm approach to buying ads and running campaigns, and we avoided stale, traditional political ads. Our scrappy e-commerce approach really converted well.
Yang’s team was great—they gave tons of bandwidth to try out strategies, and he placed a lot of confidence in me.
I worked with Yang from roughly the end of 2018 until April/May of 2019. Then I transitioned to start working for NUGGS, and eventually moved on to Michael Bloomberg’s campaign.
I definitely employed different strategies for Yang and Bloomberg. With Yang, the focus was on maximizing every single dollar; Bloomberg, on the other hand, committed something like a billion dollars to his campaign, so we had more money to run with and gain exposure.
Outside of political advertising, you’ve worked as Head of Growth at NUGGS, a DTC chicken-less startup. How did you approach growth for a DTC brand? Where do you think DTC brands should focus their marketing time, effort, and money?
DTC growth involves a lot of testing, and sometimes strategies don’t convert as well as you want them to…but you have to keep ideating and experimenting. On a more macro-level, TikTok owns the moment for DTC growth and marketing. It might not be as sustainable as more traditional avenues of paid advertising, but if one post pops off, you can get an insane ROI. If you’re a DTC brand that’s really scrappy, then go all in on TikTok. If you’re a DTC company that’s focused more on good, sustainable metrics, then stay with traditional channels and bet on TikTok on the side.
You’ve also worked as Head of Growth at ItsMe App, an app that lets users meet their friends as an avatar. ItsMe topped #4 in Social Networking on the App Store—how did your approach to growth differ from/remain similar to your approach to NUGGS?
Growth in the consumer social space looks very different from growth in the DTC space. With NUGGS, it was about convincing someone to actually buy a physical product; with ItsMe, it was about just getting someone to download an app. We went crazy on TikTok to grow ItsMe. We’d pay every single smaller influencer to showcase the app. The timing was also perfect for growth, because it was quarantine and people wanted to be social even though they were stuck at home. We’d run ads like “Oh, you’re bored at home? Here’s a way you can talk to other people!” ItsMe became an outlet for people to talk to each other, with the added benefit of using an avatar and not needing to show their face. You could use ItsMe to connect with people and not need to get out of bed, put on make-up, etc.
More generally speaking, TikTok has definitely democratized content creation. Because of that, we were able to identify and target micro-influencers. The bigger influencers (the “blue-check people”) would get views, but they wouldn’t convert as well. They’re good for branding and awareness, but not as much for downloads.
I think it’s important for brands and marketers to recognize this difference between micro-influencers and larger influencers. Even though some influencers might not have a “huge” following, their videos tend to perform better and hit TikTok’s FYP at a higher rate.
Talk about your startup Glowless. How did you apply your previous experience in growth to scaling Glowless and eventually getting acquired?
I came up with the idea for Glowless after learning about and experiencing what’s called “asian glow.” It’s technically called “Asian Flush Reaction,” and it results in flushing in the face or neck when you consume alcohol. After digging into the science, I realized that almost 50% of people from an Asian background struggle with the condition. It's caused by a build-up in the chemical acetaldehyde.
I did some market research and found a company that made pills to address the problem. Then I thought: why not create a patch that’d be easier to use and work for someone throughout the night? So I started learning about what chemicals could break down acetaldehyde. I worked with 3-4 freelance chemists to develop a formula, bring it to a lab, and start the business. We reached $30,000 in sales/month, but then the pandemic hit. People stopped going out, and if people did drink, they did it from home and didn’t care as much about how they looked. I eventually sold the company, and overall it was a great experience.
Right now you’re working on a project called PinTok, which allows TikTok users to organize TikToks directly from the Share button in-app. How did you get the idea for PinTok? What about TikTok itself makes the platform itself such a powerful tool for growth?
I realized that I wanted to delve into the software world as opposed to staying in DTC, so I started thinking about what problems and pain points I personally experience.
I thought about how on TikTok you’re inundated with tons of random information that’s valuable but hard to categorize. For instance, you’ll see a video about real estate, one about an amazing Amazon deal, then another video about a discount code for something. The problem is that there’s no way to save and categorize those TikToks by folder, similar to the feature Instagram created.
I realized that we could leverage TikTok’s “share function” to create a separate app that would let users categorize their saved videos. So I got in touch with some designers and built the original app over a few weeks. Thus far, we’ve reached 76,000 downloads, 1.3M opens, and 16,000 uses every day. That means roughly every 10-15s someone opens the app.
I believe in TikTok as a platform for growth because it democratizes virality. The chances of blowing up on TikTok are exponentially higher than the chances of “blowing up” on Facebook or Instagram with an organic post.
Are there any particular types of companies or industries that are uniquely positioned to benefit from growth on TikTok?
I think B2C companies and many consumer-facing companies have the chance to carve out a great niche on TikTok. It sounds cliché, but the brands that do well on TikTok tend to have a general “vibe” about them. On TikTok, it’s about creating a persona or narrative around your brand and then showcasing that in a casual, open, informal and engaging way.
Talk about any essential pieces of advice you’d give to growth marketers in SaaS, DTC, CPG, ecommerce, etc.
Always test new things. Different growth hacks and avenues will dry up super quickly and/or become over-saturated, and then it’s impossible to scale. There’s always new strategies to be created or “finessed,” so it's important for growth marketers to constantly iterate and keep their ear to the ground in terms of the culture.
How can you find those growth hacks? Exposure. That’s the key. Personally, I spend a good deal of time scrolling through TikTok or other platforms to discover what’s trending, and I always discuss new ideas with my friends in marketing. It’s about staying active and in-tune. Many of the new users that we see on these platforms are young kids, so it’s important for growth marketers to maintain their exposure to what’s hot and know where people’s attention is shifting.
You graduated from high school but dropped out of college after your freshman year. There’s a growing sentiment that college is no longer ROI-positive for Gen Z, especially for people not interested in careers like medicine, law, etc. What advice would you give to someone in high school or college who wanted to get into growth/tech/startups but isn’t sure about college?
Spend some time really thinking about what you want to do. Don't spend six figures at a school if you don’t truly know what you want to pursue. For example, if you want to work at a startup, figure out what they might hire you for, then teach yourself those skills online. Work experience matters more than a specific degree, especially in the startup/growth/tech space.