With dreams of an Asian Buzzfeed, entrepreneurs use storytelling to inspire fellow Asian-Americans to start businesses
- Jason Wang was a gang member at 13, a felon at 15, and an entrepreneur now. His is one of a dozen Asian-American success stories being told to inspire others
- Their message is that entrepreneurial success came from being Asian and from their upbringing. The group behind the storytelling wants to be a hub for boldness
Entrepreneur Jason Wang remembers clearly his mother’s reaction the day she woke up to police arresting him in the garage of their home in the southern state of Texas, in the United States.
Wang, then 15, had joined a gang two years earlier and that night had committed a first-degree felony. “I was fearless but also very stupid,” he said. “I had committed an aggravated robbery and that night I went out to a party.”
When he arrived home, they were waiting.
“I’ll never forget the look on her face as they briefed her,” he said. “She immediately told them, ‘You must have the wrong kid because he would never do that.’” But he had.
Wang was born in the US soon after his parents, from China and Malaysia, had immigrated there in 1985. When he was 11, he discovered he had three half-siblings after his father brought his first wife and children to the US from China.
Two years later, his mother packed up their things and drove him and his grandmother from Iowa in the Midwest to Texas. Wang was angry. He’d long resented his mother for never sticking up for him in front of his father, who was physically and verbally abusive.
After his arrest, his views changed. His mother spent her life savings on the best lawyer she could afford. They took US$10,000 from her and never returned her calls, Wang said, adding: “It was at that moment I realised how much she loved me.”
Wang was sentenced to 12 years at the Texas Youth Commission. His mother would travel 14 hours to the prison and back every weekend with his grandmother. And each week, he received from her mail containing maths homework and books on subjects from geology to the stock market and real estate.
“Keeping me occupied with reading was her way of protecting me from trouble,” he says.
Among other stories, Uplifted includes those of “doughnut princess” Mayly Tao, a Cambodian-American behind DK Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica, California, and twin Vietnamese-American brothers David and Jack Nguyen, from San Jose, who founded computer-products supplier Ram Exchange.
Like Tao and the Nguyens, Wang went on to found a flourishing business. His company, Free World, has, since 2018, helped put ex-felons into high-wage jobs by plugging gaps in the market.
Founded in November 2019 by Bryan Pham and Maggie Chui, Asian Hustle Network has grown to include more than 120,000 members, cementing its place as a must for Asian-American entrepreneurs seeking advice and networking opportunities. Its real success, however, lies in the stories shared within the group.
“Entrepreneurs today focus a lot on storytelling. When you tell the story behind the company and the product, people relate to it; they fall in love with the story and that’s why they support your business,” says Chui.
Part of its success story will surely be Uplifted. Less than 24 hours after the launch of its Kickstarter campaign in August, the book reached its funding goal of US$10,000.