How this Seattle entrepreneur went from running a food truck to leading a fast-growing crypto startup

A couple of of the StormX group members in Mexico, from remaining: Calvin Hsieh co-founder and CTO Alex Hidalgo, head of product or service Simon Yu, co-founder and CEO Ollie Brown, UX designer. (StormX Image)

More than a year just after shutting down his well-liked Korean-Mexican foods truck and catering business Bomba Fusion, Seattle entrepreneur Simon Yu checked in from Mexico, exactly where he’s working remotely, and the topic turned to food items.

“I experienced tacos listed here yesterday. I enjoy Mexican foodstuff,” Yu mentioned. “I continue to feel our tacos are truly fantastic. The combination of Mexican and Korean foodstuff — it just goes so perfectly jointly.”

Yu may possibly be accomplished creating tacos for tech workers in Seattle, but he’s a great deal busy cooking up yet another achievements tale with his existing startup, StormX, a cryptocurrency system he co-launched in 2015. And he’s nevertheless feasting on the classes of persistence he uncovered alongside the way even though having difficulties to make finishes meet as a University of Washington scholar.

Previously this month, Yu and StormX landed a coveted sponsorship offer with the Portland Trail Blazers, the NBA crew he grew up rooting for. We caught up to master more about Yu’s startup journey.

The early times

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

Yu grew up near Portland in Lake Oswego, Ore. When he moved to Seattle to show up at UW, his moms and dads were however operating a small frozen yogurt store close to Portland. But they ran into troubles and declared personal bankruptcy when Yu was a sophomore.

“I was having to pay out-of-condition tuition,” Yu mentioned. “And I advised my father, ‘There’s a whole lot of strain right now. So I’m just likely to drop out and just operate and check out to help you save more than enough money so I can go back again to school.’”

He finished up doing work as a lender teller, but the scarcely-minimal-wage task was not ample to spend for hire, pupil financial loans, meals, and so forth. For months he was having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

“It was either discover a next job or attempt to start out a small business of my have,” Yu mentioned. “I preferred to provide these Korean tacos to youngsters all around campus, to make some side income.”

Applying his mom’s Korean barbecue recipe, Yu assembled straightforward tacos in his condominium and sold them for $3 to pupils performing late several hours at UW’s Odegaard Library. Kickstarted by $100 he borrowed from his dad at age 19, and with no encounter in the food field, enable alone starting his very own business, Yu finally turned the Bomba Fusion taco truck into a truth.

“I’m a speedy learner. I think which is the 1 detail that I figured out from becoming an entrepreneur for 10 many years,” Yu mentioned. “We ended up just in a position to maintain figuring out issues, discovering improved places and the organization started off actually buying up.”

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

New companion, new suggestions

Yu was even now doing the job in banking whilst working the truck all-around 2014, and he designed an interest in bitcoin. It was then that he satisfied Calvin Hsieh, a UW laptop science graduate who was also into the burgeoning cryptocurrency. Hsieh was searching for side perform.

“He was functioning on a bitcoin application, just a basic buyer app that compensated end users like two tenths of a penny for viewing a online video advert,” Yu reported. “He just required to do the startup complete-time soon after higher education and he essential some money for dwelling charges and so he utilized to be the foods truck supervisor.”

Calvin Hsieh. (LinkedIn Picture)

Right after about a yr and 50 percent, Yu quit his banking job to concentration on Bomba Fusion as the truck picked up, while also pouring funds into the survival of CakeCodes, the bitcoin startup Hsieh established and that Yu joined. Yu stated it was tough to get funding in Seattle mainly because “everyone thought bitcoin was funds laundering or a drug smuggling type of procedure.”

The startup was bootstrapped for a handful of several years, and Yu drove for Uber and Lyft as he labored to pay out down his student loans. But by 2016 they have been accepted into the 9Miles Labs startup accelerator, pitching CakeCodes on Demo Working day as a gamified way to help enterprises acquire new clients.

They landed angel funding towards the beginning of 2017 and as crypto picked up and the products was doing well, Yu stated they ended up increasing a ton of funds towards the finish of 2017.

At the exact same time, Hsieh went on to turn into supervisor, website developer and at some point co-operator of Bomba Fusion. And CakeCodes advanced into StormX.

StormX achievement

StormX is largely a funds back software, so any time end users shop from Nike or e-Bay or Adidas or any of the hundreds of outlets that StormX provides, they receive dollars back again in the variety of cryptocurrencies, which can be redeemed as bitcoin, Ethereum, or StormX’s have STMX tokens. People can also do a couple of micro-responsibilities — perform games or check out out different applications — to get paid cash as nicely.

“Overall, what we’re making an attempt to build at StormX is a single marketplace the place persons could just come and come across diverse strategies to gain income on-line,” Yu stated. “And that definitely stems from Calvin and myself always desperately seeking for techniques to earn income by way of all these different positions and things. We’re hoping to make a uncomplicated platform the place everyone any where across the globe could just come and just use our app to generate some side profits or principal earnings or what ever it could be.”

StormX has captivated a global audience in more than 150 nations. The application has more than 3 million downloads and has compensated out a lot more than $4 million in benefits to day. Full funding for the startup is now $38.7 million.

Weathering a storm

Yu called from Mexico not long ago since StormX has gone 100% remote. The startup utilised to have a huge business office in Seattle, using 53 people today, like contractors, at its height.

But they hit a crypto bear market in 2018-19 and Yu explained they didn’t have a superior products industry match.

“Our burn off was just as well superior. We had been constantly trying to compete with Amazon and Microsoft [for talent] and you experienced to pay back a good deal of cash for builders and it just turned way too unsustainable for us to endure,” he reported. “We had to do a substantial downsize.”

StormX went to a skeleton crew and slimmed down to 8 employees. But they are coming back, obtaining smart persons in Asia and Europe who never have a value of dwelling as superior as Seattle’s, and the group has grown to 23.

“It’s labored truly effectively for us,” Yu mentioned of remote workers. “I believe that the prepare is to keep on accomplishing that.”

Trail Blazers deal

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

StormX landed its symbol on an NBA jersey thanks in element to a tweet, wherever Yu proclaimed that a person working day his corporation would seize the coveted promoting place. A StormX associate saw it and linked the startup founders to an NBA crew.

After conversing to a couple of groups, the Trail Blazers at some point arrived at out and the conversation transformed.

“Their angle was just fully diverse,” Yu explained. “The firm all the way from the CEO to the product sales reps, every person was so into it.”

The company sights the partnership with the team as a way to attain a lot more mainstream exposure and demonstrate men and women that there’s extra to cryptocurrency and blockchain further than speculation and investing.

“There’s a great deal of great use conditions and we’re a single of them,” Yu mentioned. “Our merchandise is right here, we know how to flip the knobs. Now it is time for us to genuinely be intense with promoting. The Blazers was sort of our initially partnership, but we have a number of a lot more in the pipeline. We’re going to start producing some excitement.”

No more taco truck

Bomba Fusion was executing properly when Yu handed above the operation to his mother and father so they could have a resource of profits. It pivoted largely towards being a catering small business, serving tech businesses these as Amazon and Microsoft and many others like Nordstrom and the Monthly bill & Melinda Gates Basis.

In March 2020, COVID-19 hit and businesses did not want food items for employees who weren’t in offices. And all over the similar time, Yu’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was unable to run the small business any more. Yu informed his moms and dads they need to just retire. His mom returned to Korea for productive brain surgery, and now he sends his mothers and fathers money every single month.

“We catered to 200 firms or some thing like that. It was really well known,” Yu explained. “My mother was happy that she received to feed fifty percent of the Seattle tech populace from her recipe.”

Startup classes

Yu reported that acquiring great advisors to speak to was a huge aid when starting a organization in his 20s with little experience. Advisors who ran prosperous businesses coached Yu and Hsieh via complications that could have appeared insurmountable.

He also credits the do the job ethic his parents generally showed with guiding him on his individual path. Any time he and Hsieh were confronted with economical hardship, they figured they’d found worse and if they could take in they could survive.

“We just really don’t acquire issues for granted. We just retain heading,” Yu stated. “And which is definitely one thing that is truly served us different from some of the other corporations. We undoubtedly went via a ton of hardship. There had been absolutely a great deal of factors in our profession the place we thought we would not make it.”

Barbara J. Miriam

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