Gong Ke Gouldstone - "Software & Bubble Tea" - Ep. 10

Gong Ke came to America at age 13 with little English. Yet, barely a decade later she had graduated in computer science from MIT and was working at one of America’s iconic startups. Later she started her own consumer company which achieved impressive growth. While doing all this she also married and had three children. Google and Harvard Business School followed. She now works full time at Trip Advisor while sharing her business building experience with others at Mass Challenge, the Wily Network and Tech Stars. This remarkably dynamic young woman narrated compelling stories to illustrate her hard-won lessons. She provided three sterling bits of advice to founders, delved into what makes immigrants so successful as entrepreneurs and presented an excellent example of strategic thought in her career planning. 

Click here to read the full episode transcript.

Among the Topic Covered Were:

  • Gong Ke Gouldstone Bio
  • Gong Ke Gouldstone at Akamai – 9/11 Happens – Danny Lewin Tragedy Inspires a Lot of People
  • Hard to Raise Money for Tech Startup due to NASDAQ Crash – Decides to Do Bubble Tea Startup
  • MIT Grad Selling Tea; Parents Are Horrified!
  • Learned a Lot Working Behind the Counter – Degrees Don’t Matter – Listening to the Customer Is What Matters
  • Gong Ke Gouldstone’s Startup Was Profitable on Day 1
  • Amy Chua, alias Tiger Mom, “Triple Package”
  • Gong Ke Gouldstone’s Advice to Founders – (1) Know Why You Are Doing It & (2) Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Everyone About It
  • Motivation for Being a Founder – “Unleash Your Inner Company” by John Chisholm – Best Treatment of the Subject
  • Gong Ke Gouldstone Goes to Google to Learn What It’s Like to Work for a Big Company
  • Gong Ke Quits Google to Go to Harvard Business School
  • Gong Ke Goes to Her Current Position at Trip Advisor – The Other Side of the Table from Google
  • Is an MBA Necessary for Entrepreneurship?
  • Wily Network
  • Boston vs. Bay Area as a Place to Start a Company
  • Gong Ke Gouldstone’s Favorite Founders

Transcript of Gong Ke Gouldstone, "Software & Bubble Tea," Ep. 10

Guest: Startup Founder & Software Engineer Gong Ke Gouldstone 

 

SAL DAHER: Welcome to Angel Invest Boston, conversations with Boston's most interesting angels and founders. I am Sal Daher, and my goal for this podcast is to learn more about building successful new companies. The best way I can think of doing this is by talking to people who have done it.

In our tenth episode, we will be speaking with founder and software engineer, Gong Ke Gouldstone. Gong Ke, I'm so glad you made time for this interview.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Thank you for having me here.

Gong Ke Gouldstone Bio

SAL DAHER: Oh, it's really awesome, thanks. You came from China at age 13 with very little English.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: You went to MIT, where you studied Computer Science, graduating with a BS and a Master's in Engineering. After working in the industry, you started your own company. You've worked at Google, then quit Google to attend Harvard Business School. Now you're at Trip Advisor, and also quite active in the Boston startup scene (and I've seen some of that).

You've done all this in basically 14 years working in the working world. You know, you're really a woman in a hurry.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Thank you. Life is short!

SAL DAHER: I know, I know. You're by far the youngest person that I've interviewed so far, and you stand very well in terms of all your achievements that you've done so far, so.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Thank you.

SAL DAHER: This is very promising, because I hope this will be, "Gong Ke Gouldstone 1," and then in a few years, we'll do, "Gong Ke Gouldstone 2," and see where things are.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       Let's do that.

SAL DAHER: Because you move so fast, I'm sure there will be lots of data to report.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       Thank you.

 

Gong Ke Gouldstone at Akamai – 9/11 Happens – Danny Lewin Tragedy Inspires a Lot of People

SAL DAHER: Well, after MIT, you worked for Akamai as a software engineer, but you decided to start a tea company.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: What led you to do that?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah. Well, we were just having coffee at our first meeting and whatnot, I would say, I decided that I wasn't the best software engineer, because I wasn't doing coding for fun, I was really doing it to solve problems. And after I've solved the problem, I didn't want to do it again, better. In my mind, if I wasn't gonna be the best software engineer, then I should really do something else. I wanted to switch into something, 180 degrees, let's say, into business.

But while I was thinking about that, 9/11 happened. I don't…

SAL DAHER: Oh.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:... You know, talk about something…

SAL DAHER: Yes.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:…A little bit heavier here, and one of the co-founders for Akamai, Danny Lewin, was one of the airplanes that ran into the wall.

SAL DAHER: Oh my gosh.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       He was thirty.

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And was PhD Candidate, starting a company with his professor, Tom Leighton, and I didn't really know him. But I just got this energy from him whenever he was walking in the hallways, and I just knew he was ... He embodied the company, right? And when the event, when 9/11 happened, we all went into work, no one knew that that was ... That it would struck home so close.

SAL DAHER: You were still at Akamai?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was still at Akamai when that happened.

SAL DAHER: Right, right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Later that day, and people found out that that was the flight that he was on-

SAL DAHER: Oh my gosh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And ... Yeah, I didn't know him very well, but we all went to ...

SAL DAHER: Now, he was thinking of founding a company?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: He was already founding. He was a co-founder for Akamai.

SAL DAHER: Oh, yes! I've read about it. Yes, okay.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was sitting there in the auditorium, and people would come up and talk about them knowing Danny, and what he was like, and so on, and I would just- you know, I was 20, early twenties. Thinking to myself, "what am I gonna do in this world that will make it worthwhile?" Right? Here's someone who could have done so much more had he been around longer.

SAL DAHER: Oh my.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That was sort when I said, "I really have to do something." That was one. And then, "what can I do now that I'm in the US, not in China, that I can uniquely do here better than anywhere else in the world?" And starting a business was very clear to me. It didn't almost matter, at that point, what business it was, it was just that I needed to do something. That was the impetus for it.

SAL DAHER: Okay.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: A couple of years later was really when I was able to pull the funds, and the courage together to do it. Along the way was research into what I would do. If you remember, around that time period is also when the dot.com bubble hit?

SAL DAHER: Ah, yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Burst, rather.

SAL DAHER: Burst.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Burst, bust.

SAL DAHER: April ... April 2000.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right. So 2001 is when I started my business.

SAL DAHER: I'm sorry, April 2001, I think is when-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah, so October 2001, was when I started my business.

SAL DAHER: April 2001-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

 

Hard to Raise Money for Tech Startup due to NASDAQ Crash – Decides to Do Bubble Tea Startup

Sal Daher:... Is when the Nasdaq started ... you know, crashed.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: From an investment perspective, it was extremely hard to raise funding. Especially for tech ideas.

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And I was a tech person.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I didn't know anything else. I was like, well I can't do anything in this environment, so let me do an idea search and see what else-

SAL DAHER: So you were out of Akamai at that time, already?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I, yeah. No, I was not working there anymore. I did an idea search, thought about what problems people were having, and since I wasn't that far out of school, cause I had actually joined Akamai before I finished grad school there was this six month period of overlap where I would code at Akamai for full-time during the day, and then code in the evenings.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: For my thesis. I was coding quite a lot back then. What I figured was bubble tea was something my friends were traveling out of their way to get.

SAL DAHER: Ohh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And bubble tea is this funny drink where it's tea-based beverage. People add different flavors to it, and so on. But they add this giant tapioca balls at the bottom.

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: When you drink it with a big straw, once in a while these bubbles would come up, and then you'd have to chew it and drink it- it's a weird drink.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: People either love it or hate it, and I hate a lot of friends who loved it.

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: They would travel from Cambridge to Chinatown to get it on a regular basis. That's easily an hour, back and forth, right?

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was like, "there's a pretty strong need here,"

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: "... Why don't we start something there." I did research into it- into different brands, different franchises.

SAL DAHER: So Ping Ping Chai, the name-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Ping Ping Chai was the name of it. I thought chai was a fairly universal word-

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: For tea-based beverages, and Ping Ping was my nickname when I was little.

 

MIT Grad Selling Tea; Parents Are Horrified!

SAL DAHER: So the company itself ... Founding a tea company instead of a tech company. That was already a pivot for you?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah! I would say. It was also a very big pivot from my fairly traditional upbringing of being an Asian child studying all throughout college, going to college, you know. My parents were ...

SAL DAHER: They must have been horrified.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: "What did we pay you to go to MIT for? You're running a tea business!" So at one point, because I had never worked behind the counters, I took a part-time job at Starbucks.

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And this was a Starbucks on Church Street in Harvard Square. It was a tiny little place. I walked in one day, I was like, "hey, I want to work for you. Ignore my previous resume, that I graduated from it. I just want to learn how to make coffee, ‘cause I love coffee." Thank goodness they actually hired me, ‘cause I didn't know what I was doing.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       It was a great training ground. I learned a lot about making drinks, and that environment, and really what mattered, that was different from the environment that I came from. Degrees didn't matter, right?

Sal Daher:              Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Learned a Lot Working Behind the Counter – Degrees Don’t Matter – Listening to the Customer Is What Matters

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: You gotta connect with the customers. That was a tremendous learning experience to the tea startup. I also thought it was interesting that I didn't need a lot of up-front capital- it was fairly cheap to buy tea ingredients.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: From sort of your infrastructure perspective, right? I didn't need to run servers, I didn't have to figure all that out.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I could, kind of, come up with a product myself.

SAL DAHER: So you were setting up a store?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was setting up a store, but I actually ... This was before Eric Ries talked about lean startup, but that I was actually doing it as ... In that methodology. I figured out some recipes for myself.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Gave out free samples out in Boston Common, to get feedback. And then, at MIT there's this, on the weekends, they call it LSC where they showed basically free movies-

SAL DAHER: Yeah, I remember those.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Two dollars per ticket to students. It was completely student-run, they had popcorn and whatnot. I had friends who worked there, so I was like, "hey, can I bring some bubble tea to sell in the front along with the popcorn?" So that was like my really ... I didn't have to pay rent, I just wanted to test out my recipe, make sure-

SAL DAHER: Beautiful. Yeah.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:... Nobody got sick from drinking my tea,

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That they would come back and drink it and buy it from week to week. Did I have a longer line every week? What flavors were more popular? I was really testing different products and feature ideas, if you will, in that sense. Then the next step from that was I got a wooden cart that was parked outside of Government Center to sell tea that way. The rent was 45 dollars a month, or something.

SAL DAHER: Oh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: In that regard. Then, I paid somebody with a truck to do the delivery of the wooden cart.

SAL DAHER: I'm sure you didn't send your mom pictures of you selling tea in Government Center!

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: No, no. I was trying to not talk to my parents for a while. I think they probably didn't want to talk to me either. I did that. Then I started to say, "okay, I think I have a pretty good product here. I had the recipe down, narrow down the different ingredients to a set of four, five, or six, that were easily sourceable at a reasonable amount of cost." That was when I went out and got a location.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And even then, I didn't build it myself- I looked for something that was already in existence.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was lucky in that on-campus MIT had just built this new dorm called Simmons Hall, on Vassar [Vassar Street].

SAL DAHER: Yes, yes. Yeah.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       And they had this little space in there that they needed somebody to go in and occupy. The big, I think it was Aramarks ... Aramark or Sodexo, who's the main campus provider, food service provider then, they didn't want that space. They were like, "well, it's just so tiny, we're running the main dining hall, we don't need that."

I had the luck of having that. Hours were limited from, I think, seven PM, 'til however late we wanted to go. I would close at one, sometimes two, depending on how many kids were there. And that was great, because one pivot that I also made was when I started the concept, I thought, "well, I'm a technology person. I want to do tech-y in this environment of beverage."

I was thinking, "oh, we're gonna have these awesome jukeboxes in the tea cafes, and people are gonna, sort of, digitize their music on these digi- so it was like some combination of Pandora in a real box that I was like, 'well, the tea is just on the side. I'm gonna really make this music thing.'" But then, once you start going, people are coming for the real product, or the tea, and so we should focus on that.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Gong Ke Gouldstone’s Startup Was Profitable on Day 1

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That was an interesting pivot. I was lucky in that initial location in the deal that we had with MIT, which was, rent was a percentage of sales.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: By that definition, I was actually profitable from day 1.

SAL DAHER: Wow.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Which was very different from any food service organization you might hear about, where you have a steady rent you gotta pay regardless of how your business is; and at the beginning, invariably, it's not good. I was lucky in that. That allowed us to grow. In the first year, we had three different physical locations. One was in Government Center- that was also a testing ground. It was a little kiosk-

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: ... That used to be plastered with newspaper advertising. Then, the rental agents there was like, "take this. Nobody else wants it." I was looking for this niche opportunities, where it'll allow me to get into a physical space in a different set of customer base,

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: To test whether or not this had leg[s]. One of the things I learned after that first year was that retail was hard, and-

SAL DAHER: Oh! I have so much respect for retail business people.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: They really have their finger on the pulse of their customers. They know what they want, what they don't want, and it's a really hard business.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Absolutely. I think the employees you have there is a tough ...

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: From a management perspective, it's a tough job to do, because a lot of times you're working with people who don't have very stable life situations.

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That definitely trickles down into your job. When you show up last minute ...

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Or it's just the side-gig so they don't worry about blowing it off. I can't tell you how many times I've been pulled out of a dinner that's been planned because someone didn't show up to work. What I learned, besides that it's hard, is always brick and mortar retail is hard.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: What I started thinking about is, how can you get to the prime real estate where the best customers are, without having to have the outlay of having that physical location there. So it was a very different business model. Even now, if you go to most bubble tea stores, each beverage is made per customer.

SAL DAHER: Mm.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So there's variation, depending on who you have on staff at that time. There's a speed thing- in that they have to make it.

SAL DAHER: Yes, yes.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: You know, sometimes you have three or four different ingredients that go into a beverage. Because we wanted to scale it and make training super easy for our re-sellers,

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I came up with the idea of making everything in the central kitchen, and then chilling it, and then shipping it out in the retail location, so all they had to do was just pour it out over ice and then scoop some bubbles in it. It was super easy to train, I kept my IP, so I had my own recipes. That was a very interesting model.

As a result of that, I had sales volume that outgrew the little kitchen that I had.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: We had to basically look for space that had cold storage that was big enough. I went on Craigslist and bought a business. Which I don't recommend people doing, it was not ... Also I was quite desperate, because if I didn't have that space, I couldn't do the next order.

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That was how late I had left it.

SAL DAHER: So you bought an existing business on Craigslist?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Off Craigslist.

SAL DAHER: Why was that a headache?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Well, so they didn't have a rental as percentage of sales agreement. They had-

SAL DAHER: Ahh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: A steady state- They had a ... This was how much our rent was…

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Then you had to pay it regardless of how your sales was. And my business at the time was very seasonal in that we were mostly selling to students, so in the summer.

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: ... We almost closed down, right? I didn't think about that, and also they had a key customer risk, which now I know about, now that I've gotten to business school. They only had one big customer that was keeping them afloat.

SAL DAHER: Mm.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Shortly after we purchased, they left. Now we’re saddled with both the rent and then, you know, my tea business wasn't big enough to cover all of it, right? 'Cause ... Anyway.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That was a very interesting learning experience. I would say for that, I came out of it learning a lot more about people, and about myself, in that just the hard academic prowess, if you will, didn't get you very far in the world.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: You really need to have ... Everybody has something to teach you, everyone has different experiences that are valuable.

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And different skill sets. Whether or not they have a degree isn't part of that.

SAL DAHER: I really admire you for having the courage to go from being a software engineer at Akamai, roll up your sleeves and get into the nitty gritty of figuring out a consumer business like this. You know, a retail business. There are a lot of impediments then. People say, "well, but, you're a brilliant computer scientist, what are you doing with this, and so forth."

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: But you went where the customers were, you had your instinct of where you could make money. You were realistic about it, and you weren't stopped by artificial barriers that so and so don't do this kind of work, and so forth. I mean, the invention of the tie- the tie was invented to separate the social classes.

In industrial England, if you wore a tie, you were management. If you didn't wear a tie, you wore a smock,

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Hm.

SAL DAHER: ... Or an overall, and you used to bend down and get down and repair machines. But if you wore a tie, you didn't do that. You couldn't do that.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right, and it might also get caught in the machine.

SAL DAHER: But you wore the tie precisely as an excuse,

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: ... To say that you couldn't bend down-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: How interesting.

SAL DAHER: To work on the machine. So it acted as a way to separate the social functions. It has reasons for ... Organizations need those things.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Hm.

SAL DAHER: But they also impede innovation, and American innovators- people like the Wright brothers. They didn't wear ties; they were bicycle mechanics.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       Yeah.

SAL DAHER: They, sort of, rolled up their sleeves, and did a remarkable thing.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Really creating a functioning, industrialize-able airplane.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: I think this is great merit in an entrepreneur. I think this is really at the heart of entrepreneurship.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah. Well, when people talk about the grittiness, and the rolling up your sleeves, I think this is partly what they're talking about. For me, my immigration experience was so tough that anything else wasn't ... As long as it wasn't that, I was happy to take on. I do think that there may be some correlation around ...

SAL DAHER: Talk to me a little bit about-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Successful ...

SAL DAHER: Your experience as an immigrant in the US.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Ah, so I came when I was 13 knowing very little English. At that time, I hadn't seen my parents ... My parents came first. My dad came ... He was a visiting scholar at Wang. Computers.

SAL DAHER: Wang Computers.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: If you remember him.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: He came when I was seven, and then my mother came when I was 10. Then I came when I was 13.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So I hadn't seen my parents for quite a few years. I had basically lived with my grandparents, my aunts and uncles in China. That was tough.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: 'Cause I had no, really, support structure here.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was a teenage girl, which is also tough on its own, right? Then there's the language and the culture. You add all of that together and there's a little bit of pressure to, 'cause around here, I was aware that starting high school ... I came in the middle of eighth grade.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: In ninth grade, that's when you really start having to build up your academic track record to get into a good college, and so on. I knew about that. There was the pressure to perform as well, and so it was a tough time. I think high school I didn't enjoy. I don't think I found any particular groups of people that I quite fit in with.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I took ESL, which is English as a Second Language class. I was forced to go to that, 'cause I think ... I understood a lot more English than I was able to verbalize, so I just found the material too basic and whatnot. A lot of my peers weren't interested in going to college because they wanted to work in their family business.

For various reasons, I didn't fit in. Every year, I would move up a level on History, and English, any subjects that had to do with language. I started off, so there's four levels in high school, and my math and science were always great.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So that was good. It was interesting to see the same teacher, how they behaved differently for different levels of students. 'Cause I was in the very bottom for English and History, and I was at basically the top for Math and Science. So I saw the huge spectrum that our high school had- I was at Chelmsford High; our class size was 400 students, so it was a pretty big school.

That was an interesting thing. In China, we didn't get to learn. We didn't get to pick our own classes. You just stayed there, and they gave you what they gave you. But here, you get to choose. It was a good experience in that it made me more ... It definitely made me quite tough in what I believed to be tough things to do.

Now I think about starting a company, or working on a problem, I say, "well as long as it's not that, where everything came down on me, I will be fine." Now I have language, now I have friends, I have support now where I have a great network, a family that I've known for a while now, versus not knowing for a while. Now I feel free to kind of experiment.

SAL DAHER: I'm an immigrant as well. I came here when I was 11, a little younger than when you did. When you talk about isolation- having to learn a new language, having to figure the norms, having just to figure out how faucets work, everything's different.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah, what's considered funny.

SAL DAHER: What's funny, and so forth. There are so many things to figure out, and you have to connect with people, and there's a lot going on. People ... I don't think they appreciate how really difficult it is to be an immigrant, and to succeed as an immigrant.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: The immigrants have a lot of obstacles placed before them. And they overcome. I remember seeing a statistic saying that there's a very significant over-representation among founders of successful technology companies-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Of people who are immigrants of the United States.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: People always point to Andy Grove- Intel... but there are many other cases like that.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sergey Brin.

SAL DAHER: Sergey Brin, and so forth. I think that you really have to make an effort to connect, because you don't have any ties at all.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: It helps you in your fundraising. 'Cause you have to create a whole network of people that you wouldn't talk to normally.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, it's really good to have some insight into this. Actually, we were talking about, what is the name of that book by Amy Chua that you were talking about, that

 

Amy Chua, alias Tiger Mom, “Triple Package”

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       Triple Package?

SAL DAHER: The Triple Package, yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: I'm gonna look into that book-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure.

SAL DAHER: That talks about that.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: No, it's an interesting read.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So I gravitated towards math and science for sure. I think Math Club was where I could find ... Math is a universal language. You can always do the math problems, and talk about the problems without having full control of your language. That was where I found more connections with my peers. I think my Math Club coach,  teacher basically became my mentor around, you know, how do you navigate college application ...

SAL DAHER: Right, right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That was a saving grace for me.

SAL DAHER: Now, going back to your start up- in the dark moments, what is it that kept you going?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I would say the toughest pieces that I still vividly remember was making tea at four in the morning. I was like, barely awake. There I was, holding ... I used to make tea four gallons at a time, 'cause that was the volume that we were doing without really heavy machinery.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So I would be, like, holding these buckets of boiling water to try to pour in to brew. I was telling myself, "don't drop anything, don't drop anything into the teas," just stay awake and try and finish the product so that it can ship. I think those are tough, 'cause I'm usually the only person in the kitchen at that point, at late night. Sometimes I'd see the dawn, too.

SAL DAHER: Yeah. Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: If it was the summertime. At the time, you just kind of do it, 'cause you know it needs to get done. It's only afterwards that you think about, wow so many things could have gone wrong there.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: That you're thankful that it didn't. Then you kind of look at the business, and you say, "well, I was able to do that big order, and now we're at this place, now we can pay the rent and the payroll." I think, ultimately for me, that was a learning ... I had a fairly clear goal of why I was doing the business, and that was ... I needed to do something to justify my time ...

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Here, right?

SAL DAHER: You didn't like, hear the voice of your mother in your head saying…

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: No.

SAL DAHER: …when you start something, you've gotta finish it-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: No. No, it wasn't that. It was more of a self-driven thing, like, well I am here, so I need to do this.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I think that was basically it. Sometimes when you're that tired, you're not thinking in a higher level, either. You're like, "I just need to walk to the door."

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: "Get in the car, drive home." That was ...

SAL DAHER: So your instinct is just to keep going.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

SAL DAHER: And get through the thing.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Actually I think my immigrant experience helped.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Because there were so many years of continuous, sort of, go go go.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I had to almost shut down the emotional piece of it, because if you think about it, then you're either too depressed or too sad about it to even go on. Then you're like, let's not think about that at all. Let's just get this done-

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And get it through. When I got into MIT, I thought I would be completely elated, and so on, and I just didn't. It was, I was almost just a little bit numb from four years of not thinking about the situation I was in. It was only later on when I was at MIT that I was like, "ah this is really awesome! How did I get here?" So that kind of hits you later. It doesn't hit you at the moment.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It hits you later.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I did miss technology, though. When I was doing the tea business. That was why when I finished, there was a combination of reasons why I sold that business. My now husband, then boyfriend, proposed.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: He was in New York at the time and I didn't think I could run the business remotely.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It made sense to make a break. Also, from a cash flow perspective, that company that we bought off of Craigslist was not helping. It was not good. I was like, "ah, I don't think I can make it through the summer." It kind of made sense to sell at that point. I had worked with Herrell's Ice Cream- we were selling their ice cream in our stores-

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I had a pretty good relationship with the owner there. He was like, "well, you know, this makes sense because you guys are busy when we're not."

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: We had mostly students, so we were busy in the winter and in the springtime, and they were selling ice cream where it's mostly busy in the summertime. He used to have to hire and fire every year when summertime came and went. But for us, we were doing the opposite season, so it made sense.

SAL DAHER: Right.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:... For the two businesses to be together, 'cause we were complimentary from a seasonality perspective. They were really good at taking orders and fulfilling it. There were no four AM making tea stuff, you could plan ahead.

SAL DAHER: Oh yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I wasn't an operations expert.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was just kind of making it up as I went. So that made sense. We had a deal that was based on royalty, so I could see-

SAL DAHER: Ah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Based on the check that I got every so often how much tea we were selling, and so on.

SAL DAHER: Awesome.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: He kept it going for another seven years, so if you add that on to the two years that I had the product ... It was almost a decade.

SAL DAHER: So it was very rewarding.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah, absolutely. Then he sold the business to a couple who then ran it. The new owners bought it outright, so there were no royalty streams anymore.

SAL DAHER: After that.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I don't have any visibility into what they did with the business after.

SAL DAHER: Okay. From that experience, what would you advise entrepreneurs? What lessons did you draw from that that you would hand to an entrepreneur?

 

Gong Ke Gouldstone’s Advice to Founders – (1) Know Why You Are Doing It & (2) Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Everyone About It

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I would say to have a very clear purpose of why you're doing the business. For me, it was ... To do a business, that was one.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Then the other piece was to really learn from the experience and just explore. I probably made some decisions that, had I had the goal of making money-

SAL DAHER: Right.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:... Been different.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: You have to be clear on what your goals are and why you're doing it. Then the other thing is just don't be afraid to talk about your business and your ideas with others. At the beginning, I was very, "oh, I'm gonna do a business on bubble tea- but I don't want anyone else to know!" So they don't go and do it.

SAL DAHER: Oh! Okay.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So I don't have local competition.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: But that's not how it works, I find. It seems the more you talk to people, the more feedback you get, the more questions you get, the better you get at talking about the idea. You just never know when somebody says, "oh, I know, my uncle's gonna be able to hook you up with this," or that, or, "you should talk to-

SAL DAHER: This is advice- it's very good advice, and I know it's good advice 'cause it's the second time it's popped up in this podcast-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Oh.

SAL DAHER: That I remember. My third guest, Ben Littauer, who is an advisor, and this is something that I agree with entirely, and this is exactly what you're saying- when you have a business idea, broadcast it to the world; talk to everyone, drive them nuts with your idea.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Because that way, you will refine your idea, people will help you with resources. The bug-a-boo that people have is that, oh, Google, or Amazon, is going to emulate my business if I come out; and his retort is, "you should be so lucky as to have Google or Amazon interested in your business!"

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I agree. I agree.

SAL DAHER: That's a problem you want to have.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I suppose maybe if you think you have an IP, or a patentable idea, then maybe you should just go and do a provisional patent, and then talk to people. And it doesn't take very long to do one.

SAL DAHER: Or ... If you, for example, if you have, I'm gonna invest in a company that has a novel chemical process. That, I understand, okay? But if it's the commercialization of an existing process, finding the market is an extremely hard thing. Finding product/market fit is extremely hard.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: You want to have as much help with that, before you actually spend money, refining your idea as you can.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: This is why it's so important to have that openness and to talk to everyone. I agree entirely, it's really excellent advice.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah. I think that's probably the two big ones. Other things ... You cannot predict what happens once you start a business.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: You just have to be open to it.

SAL DAHER: The role of uncertainty ...

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Is another thing that comes up all the time. At least the first three episodes. I can remember people talking about uncertainty; you never know what's going to hit you.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Both for upside and downside.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Gong Ke, so after your startup experience, you went back to working at another software company.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: What motivated you to do that?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Well I think part of it is to lick my wounds a little bit. I think startups is incredibly all-encompassing experience ... Staying up all night, there's only so long you can do it for without taking a break, both from finding your next paycheck to your social network- your friends and family, you're like, "okay now I'm here for you, for a little bit," to think about what your next step is.

It's good to take a break. Whether you take a break in the form of another job that doesn't require you to think about where the money's gonna come from, or you know, just do something else that helps you. I think that was one reason.

Then the other piece was when I started the business, I wasn't sure if I was gonna be a serial entrepreneur, right?

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was doing it to see ... I just needed to do something.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Let me do it, and then rethink what I would do next. That was also an opportunity to think about where I wanted to be, and getting a job with a company is almost a default thing that you could do to think about that.

I also missed the business, the technology business, so this was a good opportunity at the time.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It was a technical sales role, so I figured it would get me close to the customer, 'cause that was something I learned I enjoyed.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It would give me some technology ... I love technology.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: This was also in it. But instead of coding on the core product, I was doing more proof of concept, kind of, coding ... New things every day, new customers every day.

SAL DAHER: So you were getting ideal training in product development.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It was good. It was good. I think that particular business was in the internet, and it was also on Wall Street, which is also very different from a cultural perspective. You come from an entrepreneurial environment, and there's certain sets of rules, there's a very strong culture there. After a few years there, I said, I don't know if I want to do that for the rest of my career.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: You just have to be willing to pivot, right? For me, I knew that I liked consumer, and I saw that internet was really growing quite a bit. I had friends at Google, so it made sense for me to go there. And that was how I made the jump there.

 

Motivation for Being a Founder – “Unleash Your Inner Company” by John Chisholm – Best Treatment of the Subject

SAL DAHER: You've mentioned earlier thinking about your motivation for being a founder…

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: ... starting a company, there are a lot of books about startups. But I think the book that best addresses this topic is a book by a fellow MIT alum, who is very experienced as a startup founder- his name is John Chisholm ... And I'm trying to remember the title of his book. Something like ... "The Startup of You," or "Your Startup," [“Unleash Your Inner Company – Use Passion and Perseverance to Build Your Ideal Business” by John Chisholm, see  Unleash Your Inner Company Website] or something. His name is John Chisholm, and I will put in the notes the name of the title of the book.

That book has the best treatment of motivation. Because John did a lot of work in this area, with the consumer sentiment, and founded companies around this area, so understanding why people want things and so forth comes naturally to him. He's studied this very deeply.

This book has the best treatment of questions you really need to ask yourself before you become an entrepreneur.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: I highly recommend that book. If for nothing else, it has lots of other valuable things.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: How you develop a product…

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: ... and so on, and so forth. But that treatment of the question that you asked, you mentioned here, is really, really, really, impressive, and really valuable.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: I found it useful myself.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Because I'm always, sort of, at the edge of doing something entrepreneurial.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right. Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Even though I'm an investor. I'm always tempted to try out new ventures.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure.

SAL DAHER: That is tremendous.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was also testing different business sizes, too. I did my own, which was sole founder, x-number of employees, like 30 plus, mostly part-time, and then this company was 60 full-time employees. I thought it would be interesting to test that piece of it.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Gong Ke Gouldstone Goes to Google to Learn What It’s Like to Work for a Big Company

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Then going to Google was to look at, let's look at a really big company. Akamai, when I joined, was 200, right before IPO.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Then, this business was six- so I was, sort of, in my own life experimenting with-

SAL DAHER: Very strategic.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:…where do I fit the best and learn-

SAL DAHER: So you think strategically, in that sense. I really like that. That's something that I learned from my mom. She was always ... My mom was always terrible at planning things tactically. But she's a very good strategic thinker.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm.

SAL DAHER: I learned a lot of that from her. So you spent four years at Google.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It was great.

SAL DAHER: Then you went to HBS.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

 

Gong Ke Quits Google to Go to Harvard Business School

Sal Daher:              So what was the reasoning behind going to HBS [Harvard Business School]?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Throughout my ... Actually working for another company, I learned that I've now gotten bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. I constantly came back to it.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Even when I was working full-time, I always had some idea on the side that I was looking into, or researching, or talking to friends about. Ultimately, I was like, "okay, I think I really want this. But how can I do it better than I did last time?" Because there was so many things I didn't know, so many things I didn't know I didn't know.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I think there's a lot of learning you can do on the job, but from a startup perspective, because it's such a fragile organization, there's only so much learning you can do at the expense of the company before it just dies.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right? So I was like, "what can I do to stack the odds in my favor?" I thought going to business school and get a more holistic view of all the different issues that are out there, and I especially liked HBS for the case studies. So you're learning from real world examples, and history of all these different issues. And so, how can I do that? That was the reason why I wanted to go.

If you look at my ... I think I was probably one of the oldest students there.

SAL DAHER: Wow.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I had three kids when I went there.

SAL DAHER: Certainly one of the wisest, then.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Oh, I don't know about that-

SAL DAHER: With all the experience you had already.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I had some amazing classmates with experience ... I could not fathom. But no, it was really a wonderful experience. Coming out of HBS, I was really only interviewing with startups, barring having an idea of my own.

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: My husband, actually at the time, was at a startup too, and they've just raised a Series B [the second round of venture funding, usually to fund fast growth], and so they were doing well. I was like, "well, does it really make sense for us to both be in early stage startups now that we have a family and a mortgage, and all that?" I think there are other factors that come into play. So it made sense that I take on something a little bit more stable.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Gong Ke Goes to Her Current Position at Trip Advisor – The Other Side of the Table from Google

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Trip Advisor was a friend of a friend, and the role that they created was pretty interesting at the time. It was very consumer facing. I get to work on product, get to work on ...

SAL DAHER: Uh-huh.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Something that ... When I was at Google I did some work with double-

SAL DAHER: So you're saying after HBS, you ended up at Trip Advisor?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right. Right. When I was at Google, Google's a publisher of ads, right?

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I worked on product there that was a publisher of ads. Now Trip Advisor is one of the biggest advertisers on Google.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So it was really interesting, for me, anyway, to be like, well I was a vendor, now I could be the customer- look at it from two different ways. There are different reasons why I take on roles. And I'm still learning there quite a bit.

 

Is an MBA Necessary for Entrepreneurship?

SAL DAHER: Well given that experience, do you think an MBA is necessary for ...

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: For an entrepreneurship? I don't think anything is necessary to be an entrepreneur. But, that said, I think it's really helped in how I think about different ideas, in that I'm much better at vetting my own ideas, and that's part of the reason why I'm involved in a lot of the angel investment communities here in Boston. It's just the more you look at different ideas and different business, the better you are at judging, at thinking about them. It keeps your head in the game, too.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think you said that you were one of the oldest MBA students.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yes.

SAL DAHER: I think the danger of MBAs, especially if they're young MBAs, is that they come out from Harvard Business School, and they think that they're gonna be CEOs. They don't know that they're going to be at the bottom of the company and have to rise up.

But you, having had a startup already, having had all this life experience- having children, and all this, there's no danger that you're gonna fall into the tie and suit syndrome, that you don't do this, you don't do that because are an MBA.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah. I actually talk very little. I try not to talk about my MBA experience, and my day job.

SAL DAHER: But you were looking for the content of the MBA that could be helpful to you.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

SAL DAHER: Rather than credentialism, which a lot of people ...

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: The network, I think…

SAL DAHER: Fall into. And the network, which is also very valuable.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

SAL DAHER: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's really wonderful.

Coming up next, we'll talk to Gong Ke about her contributions to Boston's startup scene. But first, I'd like to encourage our listeners to leave a review in iTunes. This helps to get the word out. That's why I encourage everybody to do a review. We do read interesting reviews on the Podcast. For example, Kat, with a K. Kat_in_SF left us a comment: Angel Invest Boston is engaging and relatable. Even to the non-investor like me, it's definitely piqued my interest about investing, and offered a view of those mysterious people who fund so many of the startups. Thank you, Kat_in_SF, for your review.

Now we've talked about your experience working as a software engineer, and your experience in startup. Now let's talk a bit about your work in the world of the Boston startup scene.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure.

SAL DAHER: You're a member of MIT Alumni Angels, and a mentor at Mass Challenge and Tech Stars, and the Board of the Wily Network. Tell us about what those groups do, and what your role is there.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure. At MIT Alumni Angels, we're a subsidiary of the MIT Alumni Association.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It's non-profit.

SAL DAHER: Okay.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I'm a volunteer; we're all volunteers. Our job is to vet and bring in promising startups, mostly at early stage for our investor members. All investors in the MIT Alumni Angels group are MIT Alumni.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Disclosure- I am a member-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yes.

Sal Daher:... Of MIT Angels, as well.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It's partly- oh, cool! Okay.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So we-

SAL DAHER: And I'm hoping to have Wan Li [Wan Li Zhu, co-head of MIT Angels in Boston] on sometime in the near future.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Oh, wonderful. He's great. So about once every quarter we would have a pitch event of about five to seven startups and they come and present their company to our investors. After that, it's up to the investors individually to reach out to the startup, and do due diligence, and ...

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you're in the screening committee?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: We're ... Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Okay. How do you find those companies? Do you find them as practical, given your background as an entrepreneur now, as you would wish? Or do you find them, sometimes, a little bit academic?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Well, there is a very broad range, I think. I see stuff that's very academic driven, in that we've done this research, or we've created this technology that will allow us to make engines x times more efficient, x times smaller ...

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: So it's a hundred times better than the current solutions. And then you also, on the other spectrum, more on the social media or things along those lines, where it's not driven by the technology but rather the problem that they're trying to solve.

It's a huge range, and I'm constantly impressed and amazed by entrepreneurs who are just out there doing it. For me, it's also tremendously inspirational. It's like, well, at some point I need to get back in there, too. I don't know when, but we'll see. So yeah, no, I really enjoy that.

SAL DAHER: Good. And how 'bout your involvement with Mass Challenge?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure, so for Mass Challenge they do classes of entrepreneurs, and they come from all over the world.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: They go through this program of about three to four months of-

SAL DAHER: It's an accelerator.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: An accelerator.

SAL DAHER: Right. Yes.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: And they don't take any equity, so this is one difference between Mass Challenge and many other accelerators.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: What they do is at the end of the program, they give out awards to startups that have-

SAL DAHER: Very impressive awards. Monetary!

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yes. Monetary.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I was at the awards ceremony this past year, and I think that the awesome award came from NASA where you can do an experiment and go up along with the latest pay load to the space station. I was like, well I would pay money to do that, let alone whatever award they were giving to the entrepreneur, so that was just fantastic of an opportunity for that company.

As a mentor there, I hold office hours, whatever works for my schedule, whatever fits into the availabilities that they have there, and then people just sign up to come talk to me about various topics. Usually I would try to limit it a little bit, and say, well you know, I know about customer acquisition, I know about mobile. I can give you feedback on food, on parenting, on any number of things. There are things that I don't know a whole lot about, and so I don't try to help in those areas.

It's really interesting. For every half hour, people come in and talk to me about what they're trying to accomplish. For some of them, you may have multiple meetings, and so over time you become more of a mentor, and for others they come once and then you don't hear back from them. But that's okay.

SAL DAHER: Excellent. How 'bout Tech Stars? How does that work?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Tech Stars is an incubator slash accelerator, however you might define it.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: They have a small cohort- smaller cohort than Mass Challenge. They do take inequity stake, and there is a demo day at the end of it, where there's an investor community where you pitch your company-

SAL DAHER: A demo day? Meaning that they present their-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: They present their pitches.

SAL DAHER: Very refined pitches-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

SAL DAHER: To an audience.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yep.

SAL DAHER: ... And it's kind of made to look like a rock show.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure. It's also a three month pro- so it's very short. I think when you go into it-

SAL DAHER: But it's the end- it's the culmination of three months-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

SAL DAHER: ... During which they try to refine their business. Having invested in a few Tech Star companies, I'd be very satisfied with them.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I think the mentors there play a larger, more longer-term role, in that you have this speed dating between the company and the mentors, and you figure out who your key mentors are gonna be. Then those are the ones you go back to time and time.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: It's pretty interesting. I think Tech Stars is different, in that, depending on which chapter you're with, the program is very different, 'cause it's entirely run by the local chapter. There's a managing director, here it's Ty.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Then in other pieces there are different people. The investor community is also more local.

SAL DAHER: I'm hoping to have Ty Danko on.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right. Oh, he'd be fantastic.

SAL DAHER: I think he has so much to contribute.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: His mentor in angel investing is also my mentor, Michael Mark.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Oh.

SAL DAHER: Who was the first interview that I had.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

 

Wily Network

SAL DAHER: How about the Wily Network? Tell me about that.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Wily Network is a non-profit organization where they help underprivileged youth who have basically no family support. A lot of these students come out of the foster care system, but somehow they have managed to, through their own just gut and hard work, gotten into four year colleges.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: A lot of times, they end up dropping out because of lack of support, or just ... It's tough.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: To do it on your own, completely, in the world. The Wily Network is there to offer that support system that they don't have. I'm a board member there. They are starting- it's a young organization, and we're still growing in the Boston area. There's some universities here that we're starting to work with, including MIT and Northeastern. We're starting to work with students there, and help them get through and thrive in the college experience.

SAL DAHER: Why would you do this? You're such a busy woman; why would you spend time doing this kind of thing that can't have any real tangible benefit for you?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I think you have to give back I've benefited so much from my mentors, along with all of my crazy experiences that if I can be of any help, I would like to be. I think that's one piece. The other, I guess more selfish, I do benefit tremendously. Just like you said earlier, talking to others who have experience, you learn a lot from their experiences.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: For me, while I'm at my full-time role at Trip Advisor, talking to entrepreneurs now, it really makes me think about what would a startup look like for me in the future. It's a learning experience, really.

I would also say as investors, as potential angel investor, as my role with MIT Alumni Angels too, the more companies you see, the better you are at thinking about them too.

SAL DAHER: It's a little bit the rationale of this program?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Is it the more pitches you see, the better you are at discerning pitches.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: At commenting on pitches.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: Helping people improve their pitches. The same thing here, I like to have a variety of people.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: People of different backgrounds and different perspectives-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: ... As a way of learning. Because I really believe in learning through talking and hearing stories and so forth. I think that's very valuable.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

 

Boston vs. Bay Area as a Place to Start a Company

SAL DAHER: How do you compare being an entrepreneur in Boston versus being an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley? Have you ever considered going out there?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I have. There are family reasons why we've stayed here, but from a career perspective, it doesn't take very long to fly out to California, if you're looking to do fundraising.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: We're all a very global organization now.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: There are companies that invest ... Chinese companies that invest in the US, US companies invest in China. I don't think location is such a big deal. For me, now, it's about, where can you get the best talent? Where can you build a network? Basically get to saturation, if you will. Where every person you met, you're like, oh yeah, I know you through some other thing.

I think investment in entrepreneurship can be a very local experience.

SAL DAHER: Right. So you get critical, mass-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: Connections. Now…

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: …and there's just so much talent here.

SAL DAHER: Looking back, thinking back…

Gong Ke Gouldstone:... With all the universities.

SAL DAHER: Thinking back to MIT Angels, the last meeting I was at, there was a presentation, I'm trying to remember his name, one of the VC's from .406 ventures.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: He said that two thirds of Series A money of Boston startups come from outside of Massachusetts.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Massachusetts, in effect, is an exporter of ideas and an importer of funding.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Even better.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, so that supports what you're saying. You can go out to the west coast and get funded if you have a really excellent startup here in Boston. But in Boston you have perhaps a more accessible network of people, and also, probably, in terms of hiring…

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: It's easy to hire, real estate is not as crazy expensive as it is in California.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: Boston is a much more functional city than San Francisco is. Because of the geography of San Francisco, I think Boston works a lot better. San Francisco's a beautiful place to visit, but I'd really hate to work there. It's a tough place to work.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Well a lot of people are moving out of there for all of those reasons. They're going to Nevada, they're going to Seattle, they're going to I think LA, if you're only looking on the west coast.

SAL DAHER: Right.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: But there are people who move back, as well.

SAL DAHER: I was at grad school at Stanford, and I could have stayed out there.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: But I came back for pretty much the same reasons.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Family and so forth, and love of the weather.

Gong Ke Gouldstone:       Yeah!

SAL DAHER: On a gray day, a very cold day!

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: I like seasonal changes. Maybe not to the extent that we have ... I do think also there is a bit of a bubble in Silicon Valley.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: There's some groupthink, there's ... it's easy to be in the bubble and stay in it.

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: For me, it's better to be an outsider looking in, and be more objective about where things are going.

SAL DAHER: The reality, Gong Ke, is surprising. If you were here in the 80's, and route 128, and Silicon Valley-

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Oh yeah.

SAL DAHER: Were equivalent.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

SAL DAHER: You know the tech sector in Boston- they were equivalent. Fast forward to now, the whole thing is pretty lopsided in favor of Silicon Valley, in terms of funding.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: And yet Boston, per capita, generates a lot more startups.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: I mean, Massachusetts had the most creative state in the nation, two years running. It's not surprising because of the concentration- exactly the thing that you mentioned.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah. And more universities are starting with incubators, and this is... It's going there. If you look at the rate at which we're going, it's very promising.

SAL DAHER: It's incredible. You get on the red line in Harvard Square, you go by Harvard, you go by MIT…

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SAL DAHER: Then you go by MHG, the Mass General Hospital.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah. Yep.

SAL DAHER: Then you keep going, and you pass the financial district, and you end up over at JFK station at U Mass. They have a lot of activities there as well. You go the other way and similar things happen.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Boston is very rich in those kinds of institutions. Tell us about some of the interesting companies you've run across.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: There's one that I met through Mass Challenge, called Luminopia. They're looking to solve lazy eye and basically eye ailments using virtual reality headsets. Because virtual reality is at a point, now, where it's cheap enough to get, and people are more comfortable with the idea that it allows you to separate what each of your eye sees.

Often times when you have lazy eye, you don't have 3-D vision, so now your brain isn't putting together these images. It's for a number of reasons- either the image is blurry in one eye, or it arrives a little bit too slow into your visual cortex that your brain just ignores it, so you see in 2-D instead of 3-D.

It's really interesting the way that they have put together a prototype and are testing trials at Boston Children's. I quite like them. I'm helping them out with the marketing. Marketing and-

SAL DAHER: Are there a couple Harvard undergrads?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah, there are. They're stop-outs.

SAL DAHER: I saw them pitch.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: They pitched at MIT Angels, too.

SAL DAHER: Maybe I should look at that company again.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure. I'll introduce you to them.

SAL DAHER: Well, sort of a closing question, I just want to ask, who's your favorite founder of a startup? Or some of your favorites?

 

Gong Ke Gouldstone’s Favorite Founders

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Some of my favorites? Well, there's so many great founders out there. I think the non-obvious one, I think Danny Lewin. He's basically been my inspiration in the entrepreneurial world.

SAL DAHER: Danny Lewin, founder of Akamai?

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah, co-founder of Akamai. I used to get that energy and that ... Just what he's done in both work and in family, too, that I admire very much. Actually, though, my father's an entrepreneur, too. He's done so many things- I'm like, "you shouldn't do that!" And he goes out and does it. He's almost 70. He's still doing that, and he has great dreams. He's like, "I'm gonna do this, and I'll go to that." Everyday he's an inspiration to me, as well, in that it's David versus Goliath.

SAL DAHER: I know.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: He came into US even harder. For him, it was much later in his life. Had family-

SAL DAHER: So language is a much bigger obstacle.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Had wife ... For the way that I was lonely, he came out here all by himself without any of his family, and that's even harder. I think immigrants, just by immigration alone, is being an entrepreneur in their own lives. Whatever you're doing, I'm doing it harder, so I think those are two that are non-obvious. I mean, everyone knows Elon Musk and Peter Thiel.

SAL DAHER: Now that brings…

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Peter Thiel

SAL DAHER: Peter Thiel

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: ... Impressive people out there that, yeah.

SAL DAHER: The mention of your father brings to mind my dad, who was very much like that. He was an immigrant to the US, came here with one goal in mind, and he was nearly 40: get a PhD in Mathematics.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

SAL DAHER: Mathematics was his second career. In math, if you are past 30, and you haven't discovered you're theorem, you're over the hill.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Right.

SAL DAHER: My dad managed to do a doctoral thesis past age 40, which was, at the time, very highly thought of. It was complimented by Felix Browder, who just recently passed away sadly. He was the most prominent mathematician in the field.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: That mobilization ... I remember how my dad was just ... He would not do anything that had the slightest danger because if I break my leg, I will not be able to finish my thesis.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: He's focused on finishing his thesis.

SAL DAHER: The family- we had little time with him every week. Sunday we went to mass, and he would bake a Lebanese dish, and the rest of the time, he was studying. That's all he did, was study. He got through his doctorate program way ahead of the younger people, who were much, cognitively, better prepared than he was. Also with the material they'd studied more. He was just so unbelievably focused. That's the effect of the mobilization that occurs when someone immigrates to a new environment. It produces amazing results.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Such as was produced with you. I'm really so glad that you could come.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Thank you.

SAL DAHER: And sit with me here.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Thank you for having me.

SAL DAHER: This has been extremely rewarding. I look forward to "Gong Ke 2" episode in the future, as things develop.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Sure.

SAL DAHER: Gong Ke Gouldstone, I'm delighted you could spend time with us. Thanks a lot.

GONG KE GOULDSTONE: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

SAL DAHER: It's awesome.

Listeners, you can contact me at sal@angelinvestboston.com. Write me with suggestions for future guests, with questions you want asked on the podcast, or any suggestion or criticism you might have. We really value your help to make this a better podcast.

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