Maggie Hsu grew up as a typical American adolescent, relatively disconnected from her Asian heritage. It wasn’t until she spent a year living in her parent’s homeland of Taiwan that her desire to contribute to the global Asian Community was activated.
A life-long entrepreneur, Maggie has helped launched several organizations to promote Asian entrepreneurs and facilitate networking within the Asian community, including her most recent non-profit venture, Gold House Collective.
In addition to launching several side ventures, Maggie has enjoyed a successful academic and professional career, earning two degrees from Harvard (a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and an MBA) and working at McKinsey, Zappos and Amazon. (Note: Maggie’s remarks have been lightly edited for brevity and readability.)
Know Thyself – Investigate Your Family’s Heritage
“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.”
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, American Author
John Greathouse: Hello Maggie – thanks for making the time to chat. I’m so glad our mutual friend and uber entrepreneur, Bing Chen, connected us. Before we jump into your current non-profit, Gold House Collective, I’d like to hear a bit about what sparked you to become a champion of Asian Americans. I understand growing up on the East Coast, you didn’t feel a particular attachment to your Taiwanese roots.
Like Fitzgerald said about travel – you come home and everything seems the same, except for you. One of the things your “changed self” did was to co-found Mochi Magazine in 2008. What was your motivation to start Mochi? Do you feel you achieved your goals with Mochi?
Maggie Hsu: At the time, there was almost no representation of Asian Americans in mainstream U.S. teen magazines. My Co-Founder, Stephanie Wu, and I would flip through Cosmo Girl, Teen Vogue, and YM, and wouldn’t see a single Asian name or face. Through Mochi, we wanted to showcase the diversity of Asian women and to build stronger community with each other.
Since then, not only are Asian women increasingly represented in these outlets, but Asian women have even helmed some of our favorite magazines – from Rachel Chang of J-14, to Eva Chen of Lucky, and today Michelle Lee of Allure and Radhika Jones of Vanity Fair, just to name a few. It is rewarding to know that we had a small part to play in this.
Greathouse: You launched Mochi while in college and Gold House while at Amazon. Do you have any advice for folks who are working full time, but feel a calling to launch a non-profit? Any lessons learned?
Hsu: I’ve always been a believer in cross-pollinating ideas across organizations. I learn best practices from the corporate world that I can bring to the non-profit world, and vice versa.
Greathouse: Makes sense. Many non-profits don’t have the benefit of professional managers among their ranks.
One of your past jobs involved an interesting mix of community organizing. You were Chief of Staff and VP of Bus Dev for the Downtown Project (DTP), a massive revitalization effort of Downtown Las Vegas founded by (Zappos CEO) Tony Hsieh. Have you been able to leverage what you learned building a real-world community to build Gold House’s virtual community?
Hsu: From DTP I learned that the word “community” can mean many different things, and that it’s important to not only set the broadest definition of stakeholders upfront, but to truly listen to their feedback. At the same time, you can’t please everyone, so be clear about why you’re going in a certain direction and communicate consistently.
Greathouse: That’s an important, but painful leadership lesson, that no matter what you do, not everyone is going to be happy.
What is Gold House’s origin story?
Hsu: Bing (Chen) and I met at an Asian business conference several years back. We were both frustrated at how fragmented our community was and at the lack of support and representation we were seeing. We decided to start Gold House with a few other friends who shared the same values.
Gold House is a collective of Asian influencers that was created to enable the Asian community to live more authentic, more successful, and longer lives. We wanted our name to reflect our mission – which is to forge a familial, mutually supportive environment for Asians everywhere. “Gold” is a premium confluence of our ethnic makeup. And we are essentially building a “house”, or the infrastructure, to support each other. And there’s nothing like home!
Greathouse: Makes sense. I wrote a series of articles on upcoming YouTube stars about a decade ago. At that time, the hope was that traditionally underrepresented folks that got some traction on YouTube, including Asians, could parlay their followers into roles within traditional media outlets. It sounds like Gold House is well positioned to build upon this trend.
Hsu: Wow, yes – that’s great context. You’ve nailed it. There are so many incredible Asian media personalities that started on YouTube: Eric Nam, Ryan Higa, Michelle Phan, Wong Fu, Jubilee Project, and the Fung Brothers, to name a few.
For me, the real tipping point was the film Crazy Rich Asians. Yes, the film represented a specific demographic of Asians, but the fact that there was a wildly successful mainstream romantic comedy that featured an all-Asian leading cast for the first time since the Joy Luck Club, which was over 20 years ago, was a huge moment.
We’ve since launched #GoldOpen, an initiative to ensure the opening weekend box office success of films with authentic Asian representation. Some of the films we have “gold opened” include Oscar-winner Parasite and Golden Globe-winner The Farewell.
Greathouse: Yea, it’s cool that the U.S. film market is being enriched with films that wouldn’t have been green lit, even a few years ago.
Tell me a bit about the Gold Gala. I understand the first one is coming up in a few months. What can we expect and what are your ultimate goals with this project?
Hsu: The inaugural Gold Gala will honor this year’s A100 list honorees. The A100 list is the definitive award for Asian excellence across industries. Past honorees include actress Awkwafina, presidential candidate Andrew Yang, athlete Jeremy Lin, and fashion designer Phillip Lim. The Gala won’t be just a typical party or awards show. Like at every Gold House event, Gala attendees will collaborate on coming up with new solutions to pressing challenges facing our people.
Greathouse: I look forward to seeing what social issues are tackled by the first Gala’s attendees – nice that you’re putting all that talent to work, in addition to acknowledging the honorees.
You have a lot going on in your life at the moment, including a demanding, full time job with Amazon. Where are you drawing upon the energy to start another non-profit?
Hsu: My day job (Maggie is an Alliance Manager at Amazon Web Services, working with blockchain companies) is incredibly time consuming, but I love the blockchain space for the incredible scope it has – it touches every industry and geography.
Similarly, Gold House encompasses so many different initiatives. It is always evolving. I think you just have to take it one small step at a time – just do one small task each day. Before you know it, you’ll have built something substantial.
Greathouse: Yep, inch by inch, it’s a cinch. In concrete terms, how will you judge Gold House’s success five years from now?
Hsu: We actually track each initiative using OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results metrics), so we have a quarterly scorecard that we measure ourselves against. At its core, we are looking to enable authentic representation of our people. This encompasses media, such as film, TV, and print, but also other areas such as the upcoming census. We also want to strengthen our relationships with each other, and to improve our health. I’m most excited about a mental health initiative that we are working on, beginning with normalizing conversations around depression and more.
Greathouse: OKR’s – another example of cross-pollinating your corporate experiences with your non-profit’s needs. Nice.
How can folks reading this help promote Gold House’s efforts? I know you’ve been fortunate to get the attention of some corporate sponsors, but do you also accept individual donations?
Hsu: Yes, we do! Gold House is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Supporting our efforts is as simple as going to the movies. Search #GoldOpen for feature films featuring Asian leads. You can also purchase your favorite beauty, fashion, lifestyle, and food products by first searching #GoldRush for Asian-founded companies. Or you can simply donate to us here.