How this Seattle entrepreneur went from working a meals truck to main a fast-growing crypto startup

A couple of of the StormX staff members in Mexico, from left: Calvin Hsieh co-founder and CTO; Alex Hidalgo, head of product; Simon Yu, co-founder and CEO; Ollie Brown, UX designer. (StormX Picture)

Greater than a yr after shutting down his fashionable Korean-Mexican meals truck and catering enterprise Bomba Fusion, Seattle entrepreneur Simon Yu checked in from Mexico, the place he’s working remotely, and the topic turned to meals.

“I had tacos right here yesterday. I like Mexican meals,” Yu stated. “I nonetheless assume our tacos are actually good. The mix of Mexican and Korean meals — it simply goes so effectively collectively.”

Yu could also be finished making tacos for tech employees in Seattle, however he’s lots busy cooking up one other success story along with his present startup, StormX, a cryptocurrency platform he co-founded in 2015. And he’s nonetheless feasting on the teachings of persistence he discovered alongside the way in which whereas struggling to make ends meet as a College of Washington scholar.

Earlier this month, Yu and StormX landed a coveted sponsorship take care of the Portland Path Blazers, the NBA staff he grew up rooting for. We caught as much as be taught extra about Yu’s startup journey.

The early days

The Bomba Fusion truck on the T-Cell campus in Bellevue, Wash., in 2016. (Twitter Picture @BombaFusion)

Yu grew up close to Portland in Lake Oswego, Ore. When he moved to Seattle to attend UW, his dad and mom had been nonetheless working a small frozen yogurt store close to Portland. However they bumped into troubles and declared chapter when Yu was a sophomore.

“I used to be paying out-of-state tuition,” Yu stated. “And I instructed my dad, ‘There’s lots of strain proper now. So I’m simply going to drop out and simply work and attempt to save sufficient cash so I can return to school.’”

He ended up working as a financial institution teller, however the barely-minimum-wage job wasn’t sufficient to pay for lease, scholar loans, meals, and so on. For months he was consuming peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

“It was both discover a second job or attempt to begin a enterprise of my very own,” Yu stated. “I needed to promote these Korean tacos to youngsters round campus, to make some aspect revenue.”

Utilizing his mother’s Korean barbecue recipe, Yu assembled easy tacos in his condominium and offered them for $3 to college students working late hours at UW’s Odegaard Library. Kickstarted by $100 he borrowed from his dad at age 19, and with no expertise within the meals trade, not to mention beginning his personal enterprise, Yu ultimately turned the Bomba Fusion taco truck right into a actuality.

“I’m a fast learner. I believe that’s the one factor that I discovered from being an entrepreneur for 10 years,” Yu stated. “We had been simply capable of hold determining issues, discovering higher spots and the enterprise began actually choosing up.”

Simon Yu presents at 9Mile Labs Demo Day in 2016. (GeekWire File Picture / Taylor Soper)

New companion, new concepts

Yu was nonetheless working in banking whereas working the truck round 2014, and he developed an curiosity in bitcoin. It was then that he met Calvin Hsieh, a UW laptop science graduate who was additionally into the burgeoning cryptocurrency. Hsieh was searching for aspect work.

“He was engaged on a bitcoin utility, only a easy shopper app that paid customers like two tenths of a penny for watching a video advert,” Yu stated. “He simply needed to do the startup full-time after school and he wanted some cash for dwelling prices and so he utilized to be the meals truck supervisor.”

Calvin Hsieh. (LinkedIn Picture)

After a few yr and half, Yu stop his banking job to deal with Bomba Fusion because the truck picked up, whereas additionally pouring cash into the survival of CakeCodes, the bitcoin startup Hsieh based and that Yu joined. Yu stated it was powerful to get funding in Seattle as a result of “everybody thought bitcoin was cash laundering or a drug smuggling form of operation.”

The startup was bootstrapped for just a few years, and Yu drove for Uber and Lyft as he labored to pay down his scholar loans. However by 2016 they had been accepted into the 9Miles Labs startup accelerator, pitching CakeCodes on Demo Day as a gamified method to assist companies purchase new clients.

They landed angel funding towards the start of 2017 and as crypto picked up and the product was doing effectively, Yu stated they ended up elevating a ton of cash towards the top of 2017.

On the identical time, Hsieh went on to grow to be supervisor, net developer and ultimately co-owner of Bomba Fusion. And CakeCodes developed into StormX.

StormX success

StormX is primarily a money again utility, so every time customers store from Nike or e-Bay or Adidas or any of the a whole lot of shops that StormX affords, they earn money again within the type of cryptocurrencies, which might be redeemed as bitcoin, Ethereum, or StormX’s personal STMX tokens. Customers can even do a few micro-tasks — play video games or try totally different apps — to earn cash as effectively.

“General, what we’re making an attempt to construct at StormX is a single market the place individuals might simply come and discover other ways to earn cash on-line,” Yu stated. “And that actually stems from Calvin and myself at all times desperately searching for methods to earn cash by way of all these totally different jobs and stuff. We’re making an attempt to create a easy platform the place anybody anyplace the world over might simply come and simply use our app to earn some aspect revenue or major revenue or no matter it might be.”

StormX has attracted a worldwide viewers in additional than 150 nations. The app has greater than 3 million downloads and has paid out greater than $4 million in rewards thus far. Whole funding for the startup is now $38.7 million.

Weathering a storm

Yu referred to as from Mexico not too long ago as a result of StormX has gone 100% distant. The startup used to have an enormous workplace in Seattle, using 53 individuals, together with contractors, at its top.

However they hit a crypto bear market in 2018-19 and Yu stated they didn’t have a superb product market match.

“Our burn was simply too excessive. We had been at all times making an attempt to compete with Amazon and Microsoft [for talent] and also you needed to pay some huge cash for builders and it simply turned too unsustainable for us to outlive,” he stated. “We needed to do an enormous downsize.”

StormX went to a skeleton crew and slimmed right down to eight staff. However they’re coming again, discovering sensible individuals in Asia and Europe who don’t have a value of dwelling as excessive as Seattle’s, and the staff has grown to 23.

“It’s labored very well for us,” Yu stated of distant employees. “I believe that the plan is to proceed doing that.”

Path Blazers deal

The Portland Path Blazers’ StormX jersey patch. (Picture courtesy of Bruce Ely / Path Blazers)

StormX landed its emblem on an NBA jersey thanks partially to a tweet, the place Yu proclaimed that in the future his firm would seize the coveted advertising and marketing spot. A StormX companion noticed it and related the startup founders to an NBA staff.

After speaking to a couple groups, the Path Blazers ultimately reached out and the dialog modified.

“Their angle was simply fully totally different,” Yu stated. “The group all the way in which from the CEO to the gross sales reps, everybody was so into it.”

The corporate views the partnership with the staff as a option to achieve extra mainstream publicity and present those who there’s extra to cryptocurrency and blockchain past hypothesis and buying and selling.

“There’s lots of good use instances and we’re considered one of them,” Yu stated. “Our product is right here, we all know the way to flip the knobs. Now it’s time for us to essentially be aggressive with advertising and marketing. The Blazers was kind of our first partnership, however we have now a number of extra within the pipeline. We’re going to begin making some buzz.”

No extra taco truck

Bomba Fusion was doing effectively when Yu handed over the operation to his dad and mom so they might have a supply of revenue. It pivoted largely towards being a catering enterprise, serving tech corporations equivalent to Amazon and Microsoft and others together with Nordstrom and the Invoice & Melinda Gates Basis.

In March 2020, COVID-19 hit and firms didn’t want meals for employees who weren’t in places of work. And across the identical time, Yu’s mom was recognized with a mind tumor and was unable to function the enterprise anymore. Yu instructed his dad and mom they need to simply retire. His mom returned to Korea for profitable mind surgical procedure, and now he sends his dad and mom cash each month.

“We catered to 200 corporations or one thing like that. It was extremely popular,” Yu stated. “My mother was proud that she bought to feed half of the Seattle tech inhabitants from her recipe.”

Startup classes

Yu stated that having good advisors to speak to was an enormous assist when beginning an organization in his 20s with little expertise. Advisors who ran profitable corporations coached Yu and Hsieh by way of issues that may have appeared insurmountable.

He additionally credit the work ethic his dad and mom at all times confirmed with guiding him on his personal path. Every time he and Hsieh had been confronted with monetary hardship, they figured they’d seen worse and if they might eat they might survive.

“We simply don’t take issues with no consideration. We simply hold going,” Yu stated. “And that’s positively one factor that’s actually helped us separate from a number of the different corporations. We positively went by way of lots of hardship. There have been positively lots of factors in our profession the place we thought we wouldn’t make it.”

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