#7: Aaron Shu interviews Sean by accident

by | Oct 12, 2020 | Podcast

Guest Intro

Aaron Hsu originally developed a fun soundboard app that had over 50,000 downloads in the first two weeks. This app evolved into his current startup Blerp, which he is the CEO and Co-Founder of. Blerp is a platform which allows users to easily search, share, and store audio content. Recently, they started integrating Blerp with livestreams, voice chats, and voice assistants in their first step towards becoming THE world’s digital marketplace for finding and sharing audio content. They have over 85,000 audio creators signed up and serve hundreds of thousands of users who shared over 1 million “blerps” per month. Blerp has recently closed funding with The Alexa fund, Kickstart Seedfund, VoicePunch, Konvoy Ventures, The Fund (LA), and ForwardVC.

What You Learn

  • 0:00 – Intro
  • 1:43 – I Tried to Interview Aaron
  • 6:07 – Artificial Intelligence, Psychology, and Sean’s Backstory
  • 14:19 – Maslow’s Hierarchy & Meditation
  • 19:34 – What Made You Keep Going
  • 26:03 – Ending

Episode Links



Sean Weisbrot Hello. And welcome to another episode of the We Live to Build podcast. Today’s episode is special. My guest was supposed to be Aaron Hsu, the CEO and co-founder of blerp.com. What ended up happening was he started asking me questions and it became this cycle and eventually I became the guest. So, I hope you enjoy this interesting episode where I talk about psychology and bias and how to hire the right people, how to deal with weakness, and a lot of other really interesting topics. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

I tried to interview Aaron (1:43)

Sean Weisbrot Thank you, Aaron, for joining us. I know it’s really early for you in the morning. I think it’s about 7:30 AM. Is that right? Aaron Hsu It is 7:30 AM, but I will do this for you, Sean. Sean Weisbrot Well, I appreciate it, Aaron. It’s it’s really good to have you, so let’s get right into it. The first question I’m really interested to know is when did you realize that sound was such an important thing for you and what was your process for learning to harness sound? Aaron Hsu It started out in college, where we really started to see this movement for sound, as in more and more people were listening to music, the digital movement was really strong and this idea that how we really communicate was using our voice and seeing how powerful for us to share ideas through podcasts to really take emotion from music while in college was really what got me super interested in it. And then stepping it back. I used to be really into filmmaking and this idea that you’re able to create new scenes by dragging in sound effects and these moments that you’re able to just forge together with sound was very powerful to me. And I love that power that sound had to bring to these moments. And I think taking that passion and seeing how we could apply it to real life was really what got me excited about sound and the whole platform. Sean Weisbrot Okay. Do you want to go a little bit deeper into that? What kind of films did you make? Aaron Hsu No, they weren’t any like cool films. It was more of those like funny things that you’d like post on YouTube. We never got in big, we got like a couple thousand subscribers. Sean Weisbrot I started several YouTube channels over the years and the highest subscriber count I ever had was eight. Maybe my problem was I didn’t have any sound effects in my videos. Aaron Hsu Maybe it was, it was astounding to me to like, see how much power these sounds could bring. And it’s not, that sound is the content you want to focus on, which really got us more excited about sound, how, like you can, you know, go on a drive and still be listening to a podcast, but fully focused on the road, right? It’s this idea that sound is there to aid the experience to bring in and enhance what’s already there, which is really the exciting part of what we see with blerp. Sean Weisbrot If you had to pick, what is your most favorite sound in the entire universe? Aaron Hsu A famous actor, Shia Labeouf. I don’t know if you remember him. He says, “just do it.” I thought it was astounding how he was able to resonate his voice across millions, but I just a simple clip and yeah, to me, like, that’s my favorite sound today. Sean Weisbrot If I had to pick, I’d probably say my most favorite sound in the entire world is the voice of Morgan Freeman. Aaron Hsu What qualities of that voice do you feel like make it so impactful? So, resonating to us? Sean Weisbrot I think it’s a very deep sound. It’s it’s a low sound. It’s powerful, it’s slow and methodical. And it’s funny because the original concept I had for Sidekick was this artificially intelligent system that could communicate with you. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Her. Aaron Hsu Oh yeah. The one with the operating system. Sean Weisbrot Right. With Joaquin Phoenix. And I thought, what if we could build something like that, but the difference between, you know, Google’s assistant and Siri and Cortana and Alexa is that these big companies have told you what its name is. But with Sidekick, you could name your assistant and in doing so, you would be able to develop a plausibly emotional relationship with it, emotional in the sense that you bond with it because like a dog or a cat or a child, you’ve given it a name. And that instantly builds a psychological connection, whether you are willing to admit it or not. And I thought there’s some artificial intelligence models that do voice capture. And I think it was Baidu in China that perfected the system. You could upload about 30 seconds worth of sound, and it can then synthesize the rest of the voice. So, you could essentially take a clip of Morgan Freeman speaking, upload into Baidu, and then you could create this system that essentially could use Morgan Freeman’s voice and say anything you wanted it to say. And I thought it would be amazing if I built Sidekick, and my AI was named Morgan and his voice was that of Morgan Freeman.

Artificial Intelligence, Psychology, Sean’s Backstory (6:07)

Aaron Hsu So is your vision of Sidekick it, being able to do everything an assistant would be able to do one day through the AI? Sean Weisbrot It was part of the original vision. I didn’t realize early on how hard it is to do a lot of software things. I’ve gained a very deep appreciation for just how hard it is now. And that’s why you go, Oh, why did it take them years to build that? Oh, okay. Yeah. After several years of building something, I understand, I had an idea to build an artificially intelligent OS like literally the artificial intelligence builds itself a home. And every part of the operating system is, is just bathed in it. And I think Microsoft kind of wanted to go there with Cortana, but the way that they did it just made everyone angry. It’s kind of like the Microsoft Word, little paperclip guy. You remember that you ever, you ever see that little guy did that ever just make you angry? You turn on the app and this fricking thing jumps out of nowhere and goes, Hey, how can I help you? Aaron Hsu Sometimes things are hated aren’t that bad cause we remember it. I agree with you. It wasn’t useful, but maybe they could have made it useful. And that would have been more powerful too. But how have you taken those experiences? Like what you’ve learned from the past to build what you are building today? Sean Weisbrot So, with my background in psychology, I’ve learned a lot about, uh, humans and social behavior. That was my personal focus, as well as like childhood development into adulthood and the way the brain forms over the years. And it’s a very wide industry, Psychology or very wide field is a lot of different nuanced areas you can focus on, but they all kind of tie back to each other at one point. And so, I try to use Psychology to understand the competitors and the users and see where are the competitors failing in a way that I think they’re failing and that what the users could potentially want, even if they may not know how to express it. And it is kind of what I find when I talk to people because the main complaint with Slack is, Oh, it’s disorganized, but they don’t really know how to explain how it’s disorganized until I start saying, well, have you thought about this? Have you thought about that? Like, does that sound like your problem? And it’s unfortunate because you’re kind of leading them and in a way they want to be led, but you don’t want to lead them because then you’re introducing your own bias, which is a huge problem in Psychology, you know, inserting your own bias. And that’s why there’s a lot of double-blind studies done because if the experimenter doesn’t know who is, you know, the experiment or the control, then it’s impossible for them to impart their bias on the experiment, therefore allowing them to be more satisfied with the results and knowing that what happened was legitimate and not because of any sort of external influence. I try to grab as much information as I can and use it to make decisions. But when it comes to mathematics and sort of hard data, I leave that to my partner, Mark, my COO, uh, because I’m a language person, I’m a people person. I’m not really a numbers person. I mean, I can do a good bit of math in my head, but he’s the one that backs up my ideas or tells me I’m wrong based on numbers. And that’s really important to have someone that grounds you and keeps you focused. Aaron Hsu You always need someone like that to keep you grounded and keep you in check. And I loved your talk about biases, just especially when building Blerp. We always we, cause we really do believe we’re building in a category to find a market. As in this audio space that’s growing. Yes, we’re a part of it, but there’s parts of it that we believe that it’s a brand new market and we can’t exactly predict how big it is going to go, because what we’re doing is a completely different, you can point to Giphy, you can point to Pinterest and you can point to other content companies and see what they’re doing and say, Oh yeah, like maybe like it’s part of the content ad market. But this idea of like one day being able to help people monetize their voice is completely new for us. And we think it’s interesting to like talk about how does our bias affect how much we drive this market because we’re trying to carve it out as well as how much are we listening to the market and seeing where people pull, which is why we really focused on gaming streaming and Twitch, because that’s really where we’ve seen the creators have the most pain for sharing sound and really focusing on that, but how we decide to monetize and carve out the market. It’s definitely a lot of leading because some people don’t know what they want. So, hearing your experiences of just Psychology and how you built around that is very cool. It’s cool to connect experiences like that. I would also wonder, like in Psychology, how did that lead to running a startup? Sean Weisbrot It was never actually interested in business when I was in university. My father is a dentist, so I grew up around, you know, a parent owning a company. He was great as a dentist, but he wasn’t great as a businessperson and that led back to university education was so focused on teaching people the career and not how to build a business around the career, that it was hard for a lot of them to succeed in the business side, unless they were naturally talented in it. So, despite that, and despite my experience, you know, working for him in high school and in college and, um, you know, growing up in his office, meeting his patients and spending time with his employees and learning all about his industry, which was fantastic. And, you know, fascinating, I loved the experience completely, but he never taught me about business other than to not do what he did not like he was a bad person. I mean, he’s still alive. Not like he’s a bad person, because he was too busy being a dentist. He didn’t have the time to be an operator. And this is a big problem actually for a lot of people, because let’s say you’re a baker, right? You love baking. You start a bakery, you are baking goods every day. But in order for you to grow and have a second bakery or a third or a 10th or a hundredth or franchise, you need to standardize your processes, hire someone to do it, and then spend your time doing the marketing and sales. Now, my brother was, uh, majoring in finance. So, he was always the, I’ve got a business idea and you know, I’ve got a list of hundreds of ideas. He was the one that kind of got me thinking about that, but I still wasn’t terribly interested. So, when I went to China, I went to go to be a teacher and to teach myself Mandarin. While I was there in the early years when I was 22, I watched very carefully because my background in psychology, I was observing the culture as I was learning the language. And I noticed that they did a lot of things within business very differently to what I was assuming Americans would do. And I started to think about how, if I were to run their business, if I made one small change or several small changes, I could increase their profit or increase revenue. This was, I was like 22, 23. It just random ideas starting to come to me. When I was 26, I was fired from my job. I talk about it in episode two of this podcast, as well as the about page, my backstory, um, in case you or anyone else, listening is interested in to hear more about that, but he fired me. And that was the point where I said, okay, I’m never going to allow anyone to control my financial future. And that’s when I started my first company a few months after, because I needed some time to heal from my accident. That was really the start of the journey. I think I had the curiosity, knowing psychology gave me the ammunition to observe, and being fired was the catalyst for starting my first company. Aaron Hsu That’s pretty wild. How does that observation like drive you to learn so much about the things that are around you and want you to chase something bigger than yourself?

Maslow’s Hierarchy & Meditation (14:19)

Sean Weisbrot Have you ever heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Aaron Hsu I have, and I would love education on it though. Sean Weisbrot I don’t want to go too detailed into it, but there’s five levels. Some people say there’s six. I’m going to stick with the five. The goal with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is to reach this kind of psychological enlightenment. There’s no real spirituality or religious aspects linked to it. Like you would have a Nirvana from, uh, Buddhism. And the goal with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is to understand the foundation of your needs. And once you can satisfy those needs, you can then focus on the next level of your needs. The very base foundation is you need a place to eat, sleep, and you know, basically shelter. If you have shelter, then you can start focusing on, you know, do you have clothes? Do you have money? You know, do you have some sort of job? You know, can you take care of yourself? And so, if you start there, there’s a lot of people that are homeless. Those people can’t really think about other people if they’re struggling to survive every day. If you think about people on the next level, you’ve got shelter, but you’re poor. Well, you can’t think about other people because you’re trying to feed yourself every day and make sure that you can continue to stay alive in that shelter. The next level is where people are talking about friendship, sex, these kinds of desires. If you have a place to live, to eat, drink, sleep, you know, someone to have sex with someone that kind of accepts you and all of this, then you can start to think about getting towards enlightenment. So many of the people you probably know are sitting at the third level. They’re comfortable. Maybe if you take a step back and you look at their life, they may not be happy, but they’re living. They have what they need. When you get to the fourth level, it’s more about starting to think about yourself from outside of your point of view. It’s more about being self-aware and looking at the things around you. And I think meditation is probably one of the very few ways that allows you to go from level three to level four, because with meditation it allows you to step outside of yourself and observe your thoughts and train yourself to accept those thoughts without allowing them to affect your emotions. And I think that’s an extremely important thing because a lot of people I talk to say, Hey, I don’t want to learn meditation because I’m afraid of being alone with my thoughts. And I go, but that’s, that’s the wrong mindset you should be thinking about how you can become friends with your thoughts, because your thoughts either control you or you live with them. Being aware of your thoughts makes you become aware of your surroundings, aware of your environment, aware of your needs. And when you can do that, then you can start to think about the needs of other people, right? If you don’t understand yourself, how the hell can you understand other people? And these are things that are not taught in school there. You know, nobody teaches you these things, your parents don’t teach you these things. Schools don’t teach you these things. And if you, if they do then you are very blessed. My father insisted on teaching me meditation when I was 18, it was something that he used, and meditation was a great way for him to relieve stress. So, he insisted on me learning and I think that really helped me because by the time I got to China, I had already been meditating for five years. Aaron Hsu Wow. Sean Weisbrot So, I had a chance to really use psychology and meditation together to get deep into my own psyche and understand who I am and what I want. And then traveling outside of the US gave me experiences to compare my experience in the US, to other parts of the world and the needs of other people and how they differ based on their language and their culture. And then living amongst another culture like China, which is so vastly different than my own experience in the US, allowed me to blossom into this entirely different human being. I didn’t know, it was possible, you know, getting into the education and into the business. And these different industries just really gave me a tremendous experience. Aaron Hsu I should start meditating. I am curious what was one of the most surprising things you discovered about yourself through that process? Sean Weisbrot It’s not like something triggers in you and you go, Oh, I’ve learned that thing about me. You’re constantly learning things about yourself as you get older. Part of meditation taught me that I was judging people. I was sometimes hurtful in the way I spoke to people without realizing I was doing those things. Meditation taught me to be calmer, more patient, more understanding, more generous of my time and my energy and my money. It taught me that I am not the center of the universe. And I don’t matter. Life doesn’t have a purpose. However, because we have life, we have the choice. We have the freedom to decide how we’re going to spend that time. And because of my accident, I realized that our time is very brief. And so, we should be smart with how we use it. And building a business despite taking years of your life. If you do it well, will give you the money, so you can buy the freedom. You can buy the time so that you can live the rest of your life, the way you want it to be.

What Made You Keep Going? (19:34)

Aaron Hsu You talked about starting a tech company wasn’t like, you didn’t realize how hard it was. And that’s sort of the theme of what I usually tell people is, you know, I didn’t know how hard it was going to be getting into it and how long it really takes to build, you know, a good software and the long process it takes and everything you need to know. And I’m curious what your thoughts were at the beginning, how it evolved and what made you realize, Oh, like this is a lot and how did you not stop? Like what kept you going? Sean Weisbrot I was under the belief that I could do anything I wanted to. It was just a matter of time, energy and money and learning because I started in the blockchain space. So, I did a lot of different services in that space. And the last thing that I hadn’t done was start a company in the space. Obviously later I pivoted, and I got rid of the blockchain, so that’s a different story. But I knew it was hard when I didn’t know anything about project management. I didn’t know anything about tech development. I didn’t know anything about softwares or databases or cloud versus edge versus, you know, all of these other server lists and everything that. I grew up with computers, so I understand how networking between computers works. I understand how the hardware works and the different pieces of hardware. And that was really interesting for me as a kid. I’ve always loved human language, but I had never liked computer languages and running a tech company is hard because you have to learn what you don’t know. And then you have to learn how to learn it. If you hire the wrong people, you’re going to get the wrong information, which I did. I wasted six months with the backend developer. I wasted several months with several front-end developers. I’ve been through it. Um, you know, we, we picked the wrong backend, uh, database structures. We made all kinds of mistakes. and what kept me going was that I put my own money into it. You can’t just stop. When you put that kind of money into a business, you can’t just go ahh this sucks. I’m going to just stop. You have to go. I need to see this through because success is the only option. I don’t know what success looks like, but I’ll know it when I feel it. Aaron Hsu How do you find people you can trust and how do you make those mistakes and learn from it in a less costly way? Sean Weisbrot So, it’s interesting you asked that. I released an episode, number four, turning a weakness into a strength where I talk about how to know what is weakness and what two paths you can take specifically in this regard. So what I talked about was, in a nutshell, if you’re not good at something, you either need to find someone who knows what they’re talking about and they can guide you, or you need to learn at least the basic level of that thing and then hire someone who, you know, can do it because you have at least as much knowledge as you need to know that they’re not lying to you about what they’re doing. I am of the belief that you should always try to do it yourself first, because if you’re going to build a big business like the business I’m trying to build could potentially have a thousand employees. I don’t know. I need to be able to understand the basic positions that I’m going to be hiring for. For example, social media, marketing, sales, customer service, tech, project management. I need to know all of these things and more because if I’m going to develop standard operating processes along with my COO, if I’m going to develop standards for hiring, which involves coding tests or sales tests, or marketing tests, these kinds of hard skills tests, I need to know what their job expectations are. And the only way I can understand what their expectations are is if I do their job, right? So, I was talking to another guest, his name is Mony. He’ll be coming out in the next few weeks. He said, when he first started his cleaning business, he was going to people’s houses and cleaning, getting on his hands and knees and cleaning their floors because he needed to learn how to develop a routine for cleaning, so he knew what his customers would expect of him. With that in mind, I learned how to be a project manager. I learned how to talk about the front end and the backend, and to research different database structures. And I learned how to have these kinds of conversations with the tech team, because I’m the project manager, I’m the CTO. I have no choice. I have to, I don’t have a technical co-founder and I’m not a quote unquote technical founder. The only way that I can convince investors that what I’m doing is good is if I know what the hell I’m talking about. So, I taught myself, it was hard. I wasted a lot of money and a lot of time making the wrong decisions and hiring the wrong people. But I learned, and now I don’t make those mistakes anymore. And guess what? Those investors didn’t have to pay for it because I used my own money. So now I can go to them and say, I have two and a half years of experience running this company from the ground up. I understand the backend, the front end, the UI/UX. I can tell you what features we have down to every little, tiny detail. I can explain how everything works. And I think that that mindset is really important for success. Aaron Hsu I totally agree with that. I mean, your story just embodies so much of, you know, like growth mindset and it’s inspiring because you really show us that you don’t really need to know everything to jump into something. And I think a lot of people who are on the fence, just trying to think of if they want to do or not. It’s cool to see someone like you who literally didn’t know anything about tech was able to jump in it and figure it out and take that risk. I mean, would you recommend it again now that you’re in the middle of it and just driving forward? Sean Weisbrot I think everyone’s different. I think some people are naturally going to succeed because they’ll do whatever they can to figure out what to do. Some people won’t succeed no matter what they do. Some people have the potential to succeed. And one of the reasons why I’m building this podcast and this community is because I think I can help people to learn what not to do and what to do so that they can maximize their energy and their effort.

Ending (26:03)

Sean Weisbrot So that’s the end of this amazing episode. We had to cut it short for time reasons, but I hope you enjoyed the questions that Aaron asked me. And we’re definitely going to have him on another time where he’ll be answering the questions that I ask. So, remember, entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint take care of yourself every day and stay tuned to our next episode coming soon.

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