July 3, 2020
By: Richard Lau
Tell us about yourself and what your company does, & how long you've been working on it.
I have been passionate about technology and startups at a young age. My parents gave me my first computer when I was about nine years old, and I immediately fell in love with it. It was terrific to type in a few commands and see things quickly happen on screen. In addition to playing and hacking different games, I taught myself how to program in BASIC and got my computer to do some homework.
I have founded four startups so far, and I am currently working on the third and fourth ones. My third startup, Vyond, is a web application that enables businesses to create animated videos effortlessly. Over half of the Fortune 500 are using Vyond. Brightful is my fourth startup and is focused on connecting people meaningfully. Brightful is a #1 Product of the Day and #2 Product of the Week on Product Hunt.
What inspired you to start your own company - tell us the story?
I was having lunch with my parents, my wife, and my kids one Saturday afternoon. It was a very sunny day; the weather was perfect, the kids were behaving great, it was excellent. But for pretty much the whole time, my dad was on his phone looking at his newsfeed. He was so absorbed that he barely made eye contact with anyone. While he was physically there at the table, his mind wasn't with us. That incident made me very sad and troubled because I felt we were missing out on a critical moment. Social applications are supposed to bring all of us together closer. But often, we see the opposite happening. We are building Brightful to help reverse that trend hopefully. Our mission is to connect people meaningfully.
Who were your first customers? (Or: Tell us about your first sale. Or: Tell us about your opening day.)
Our first users came from a successful launch campaign on the product curation site Product Hunt. It seems that icebreaker games for remote meetings resonated with a need within the community! Were voted #1 Product of the Day and #2 Product of the Week. On launch day, I remember being unable to sleep from the excitement from the positive feedback pouring in from across the world.
Maybe it's because people feel a bit lonely from social isolation, but we quickly discovered that there's a massive demand for online social games. Our initial users loved the fact that our product was well designed and easy to use.
Getting feedback from users is vital for figuring out which features to invest development time into. The initial boost in traffic from our Product Hunt campaign provided us with qualitative and quantitative data, which allowed us to continue improving our product.
What did you wish you knew before you started your company? What advice do you have for first-time entrepreneurs?
When I first started, like many entrepreneurs, I tried to do everything myself. I soon realized this was unsustainable; there's only so much time in one day! A large part of what it means to be an entrepreneur is knowing how to utilize resources efficiently. This means building a talented and cohesive team with complementary skills.
So, I started my latest startup (Brightful) as a remote-first company. No longer restricted to hiring based on our immediate geographical location, being a foreign company allows me to recruit from a talent pool that spans the whole world. So far, I have employees from 5 different countries.
Finding great talent is one thing, but any founder would point out that creating a healthy company culture is as, if not more important. Working remote has the added difficulty of limiting the chance for social interactions that happen organically in an office environment. Putting greater emphasis on building a culture of connectivity and collaboration is essential when building a remote team.
I've found that an effective way to build closeness within a remote team and enable a higher level of teamwork is to have fun together! Playing games goes a long way in breaking down barriers. No matter which culture you are from, there are always ways to relate to one another - and having icebreaker games before each meeting helps us find that common ground.
What are the trends in your industry that you are excited about?
One of the reasons I've always found working in the tech startup industry so exciting is that it's filled with people who are still pushing the boundaries. You never have to look very far to see someone doing something completely new and exciting.
That's why it's unsurprising that tech is at the forefront of the remote work revolution. There is an application for every form of communication, and this allows my team to be more connected and productive than ever before. Being the founder, I see it as my role to understand how to utilize best these tools to create a productive, pleasant work experience for my employees.
The pandemic has created a need for businesses to transition towards more remote arrangements, and I believe these changes are here to stay. As someone in the tech industry, it's fascinating to be able to transfer our knowledge and experience to those who are now realizing the power of remote work.
That's also the motivation behind creating Brightful Meeting Games - icebreaker games for remote meetings. Maintaining a healthy company culture when working remotely is incredibly essential, and having a bit of fun each time you log into your Zoom meeting can make all the difference.
Any particular books or podcasts you can recommend?
Gee, this is a tough question because many books give great advice navigating the startup world. Since it's such a fast-evolving industry, it's a good idea to read regularly to stay up to date on different methodologies and best practices.
As a leader, it's essential to stay positive and optimistic, even when facing uncertainty and risk. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, you need to arm yourself with the right outlook - not just of business but also of life itself.
If I had to pick one book to recommend, it would be 'The Untethered Soul' by Michael Singer. A short book packed full of timeless wisdom describes how we each have a monkey mind living as a roommate in our heads. This metaphorical monkey is continually chattering and obnoxious, telling us we're not as good or bound to fail if we try. The curious thing is, once you are aware of the monkey, you can also learn to tame it.
I'm sure you've caught yourself mindlessly scrolling, passively absorbing whatever pops up on your newsfeed. This isn't an accident - working in the tech industry, I know just how finely tuned these algorithms are to keep you hooked. A lot of our negative emotions stem from the inputs we feed ourselves. We can all be a bit happier if we stopped giving our monkey minds the ammunition to make us anxious and depressed.
I've taken these ideas and applied them directly to how I shape my companies. I want to create products that encourage us to take a step back from mindless consumption and reconnect with our loved ones through laughter, fun and meaningful conversations.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I think most people are surprised that I am very into video games. I got into playing video games since I was a kid, and I have learned so much from it. For me, running a company is very much like playing Starcraft or Age of Empire. In both scenarios, the leader manages scarce resources and navigating a fast-changing environment to achieve some goals.
Likewise, leading a team is unlike leading a guild in World of Warcraft or a group in Overwatch. Communication, building trust, managing different personalities, having a common goal are all universally essential aspects of team management.
I am grateful for all the fantastic learning opportunities that I have encountered in the numerous amazing games I have enjoyed. Kudos to the game developers.