Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Jemi founders, Jason Cui and Annie Hwang
To set the context, could you share more about your founding story in starting Jemi?
Of course! We always love sharing our founding story. We’re avid listeners of podcasts like How I Built This with Guy Raz and learn so much from hearing about other entrepreneurs’ journeys. We just hope that our story serves as a source of inspiration for the larger community.
Our history as collaborators and teammates actually stems back to our time together at Harvard. We were both in the class of 2018 and met during Opening Days before school officially started! We even have a photo of us together during convocation:
Little did we know that we’d become life partners and teammates.
We very quickly became good friends and bonded over not only a solid friendship, but also a shared passion for technology and entrepreneurship. We both ended up studying computer science and would go on to intern at a variety of technology companies during school.
After graduating, we would both end up moving out to the Bay Area working in product management roles — Jason at Uber and Annie at Facebook. We both always agree that our times here were incredibly formative.
We learned how to build amazing products in a structured and rapid environment, collaborated with world class talent, and made lifelong friends. Both were experiences we wouldn’t trade for anything.
However, once we hit the one year mark at our companies we both very quickly grew restless with the entrepreneurial bug. We both had long standing passions to strike out on our own and build a company from the ground up. The instant we realized we shared this passion it became inevitable that we’d do it together.
As luck would have it, Annie, during her time at Facebook, ended up on a team she was incredibly passionate about — creator monetization. She also was exposed to the entertainment/ media industry at a young age because of her grandma, who is an actress well known in South Korea.
As luck would also have it, creator monetization was a space that Jason was always deeply passionate about. Although working in product, Jason came from a background in music production and had always dreamed of producing music full time. Working in tech wasn’t a bad second option!
It really felt like a “stars aligned” moment and we very quickly knew we wanted to build in the creator space. At the same time the so-called creator and passion economy was just starting to really take off, so everything started falling into place. We applied and got into YC, left our jobs, and haven’t turned back since.
What were the biggest learnings you each took from Uber and Facebook around product building that you have brought to Jemi?
Our biggest learnings from Uber and Facebook were our core product management chops. In a way our times there felt like bootcamps — crash courses on how to build modern products quickly and effectively. We felt like we had the general skills necessary to work on a tech startup — we knew how to code (or at least could pick it back up quickly) and could design/market/sell to some degree. Being in formal product management programs definitely added a degree of rigor to how we approached product development, prioritization, and execution.
Looking back on your time at Harvard, what would you have done more of or done differently?
To some degree, I think we both wish we had taken more advantage of our access to a liberal arts education and explored areas of study we were genuinely interested in and intellectually curious about. In such a high achieving environment there’s always pressure to feel like you need to “compete” in some ways and immediately pick up tactical skills. But, after being thrown into the deep end of a startup, you realize all skills can eventually be picked up anyways.
I (Jason) wish I’d spent more time exploring the visual arts, film, and music.
I (Annie) wish I’d spend more time exploring psychology and ethics.
If we could go back in time, we’d take more classes just for the heck of it!
What are you most excited about in the future of the creator economy?
Wow, so many things excite us about the creator economy! We really feel like we’re on the precipice of a huge shift in both content creation and consumption. I think the biggest thing we’re excited about is that the easier it is for content creators to create, and the easier it is for the creative class to support themselves, the more amazing content will exist in the world.
Content creation has become so democratized today that anyone can become an engaging creator and amass a huge audience. If you have a phone and post engaging content on TikTok, you can garner millions of views in a matter of days.
We feel like this democratization, coupled with the rapid evolution of creator monetization, will lead to an explosion of awesome content in the world. It’s already happening and will only continue to grow exponentially.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Invest in the people around you. Build meaningful relationships. It’s the peers around you that evolve into the friends, mentors, partners, and family that matter the most.
Relationship investment is also active rather than passive — make sure you’re intentional about building strong relationships. Also, stress less about the little things!
Is there anything you would like to share (content, open roles, etc.) with the Harvard in Tech community?
We’re always grateful for the amazing Harvard community and all the love and mentorship we’ve received. Feel free to email us at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and we’re always willing to lend a helping hand.
More recently we’ve been thinking a lot about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in America. As an all-Asian founding team, we’ve felt personal pain and frustration from the injustices. We feel that it’s important to speak up and leverage our voices to bring awareness and unity to the cause.
Within Jemi we launched our own #StopAsianHate campaign, and by partnering with #HATEISAVIRUS we’re donating all proceeds to the Community Action Fund to directly support the local Asian communities that need help the most. On our community page you can browse creators that are donating proceeds to the cause and also leave a direct donation.