Founders who are first-generation Americans often face social, cultural, and mental barriers to financial wellness as they build world-class companies. To help first-gen founders overcome these barriers, SVB Private hosted a recent panel discussion with SVB clients, advisors, and financial professionals to explore an integral issue to the success of many underrepresented founders: their mindset around money.
The conversation centered around the experience of Danny Taing, SVB client and CEO and founder of Japanese snack subscription service, Bokksu, which received a $100M valuation in 2022. Bo Ren, Director of Startup Banking at SVB, moderated the discussion around the psychology of money with Taing and Gerald Baker, Head of Trust & Fiduciary Services at SVB Private.
The following six quotes from Taing summarize the lively discussion:
1. On overcoming debt aversion, “Debt is bad. Pay off everything immediately.”
…on the advice he received from his immigrant parents.
First-generation founders often face debt aversion, a limiting belief learned from previous generations. Not taking on debt was a key piece of advice Taing received from his father, also a business owner. Taing shifted his mindset around debt aversion after utilizing various forms of debt as a bootstrapped founder and, later, utilizing financing after raising his Series A led by Valor Siren Ventures.
Gaining financial literacy around debt and venture financials brought about a mindset shift in Taing, moving him from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset as a founder. He learned that these financing options could provide him with a longer runway for his business needs. For him, that meant everything from funding payroll in the early days to paying rent for larger working spaces.
The secret to good debt according to Gerald Baker, Head of Trust & Fiduciary Services and Wealth Strategies at SVB Private, is to know what you want to do with it. Having a clear strategy will help you understand the best type of debt to take on and to ensure the risk profile suits your needs. Baker says, “For many of our founder clients, debt may be an effective pathway to bigger revenue streams.”
2. On fundraising confidently as an underrepresented founder, “You don't have to be as arrogant as the people on TV.”
…on how to pitch investors with confidence.
Taing said that his only real exposure to pitching to investors were shows like Shark Tank. When he tried to pitch like those founders, who he felt had unshakable confidence, he failed spectacularly.
It was around that time that he received advice from a business advisor: “Lean into what works for you when you’re pitching.” For Taing, that meant two things:
Sharing his passion for bridging cultures by helping traditional Asian products reach a global audience (in essence, his business).
Talking about his numbers. Bokksu was doing well. Between subscriber count, growth rate, and ARR, Bokksu’s numbers told a great story all by themselves
3. “Some people asked me, ‘If you're profitable, why would you fundraise?’”
…on choosing the venture-backed path and raising a Series A after bootstrapping until $20M ARR.
Founders who have bootstrapped for any length of time know how difficult it can be to cede control—financial or otherwise.
Pre-Series A, Taing said that he still felt like Bokksu was his company—he felt Bokksu’s decisions and financial health depended solely on him, sometimes at the detriment of the company’s growth. Up until then, he had sacrificed so much of his time, money, and emotional space for its growth (including not taking a salary and working 12–16-hour days for years).
Raising venture funding diversified the decision-making and risk of Bokksu, freeing Taing as the sole underwriter and bottleneck for every large company decision. Taing knew that if he was going to continue to grow Bokksu, his mindset had to shift from that of scarcity to abundance.
After Series A, he was finally able to take a good salary. With that peace of mind came the ability to be smarter about his time and to have the space to think more strategically about Bokksu’s future, as well as his own.
4. “QSBS is the best-kept secret for founders.”
Taing said he learned about qualified small business stock (QSBS) at an SVB breakfast just last year even though he started his business seven years prior. Once he knew it, he wondered why founders didn’t talk about it more often. He has since leveraged QSBS to save on taxes and is keen to spread the word about QSBS. Danielle Greene, Managing Director of Wealth and Fiduciary Strategies, explained:
The QSBS exclusion is one of the most powerful methods used by founders to reduce their tax burden and may also be available when a company is acquired before the shares have been held for 5 years.
Those who own qualified small business stock and meet all the QSBS requirements may be eligible to exclude gains from federal tax of the greater of $10 million or 10 times the adjusted cost basis when they sell the shares.
For details on how QSBS helps founders manage taxes, read this article: Understanding qualified small business stock & the capital gains exemption.
5. “I want to make sure my parents are all set.”
…on honoring his Cambodian-Chinese heritage and giving back to his biggest supporters.
Many first-generation founders have a caregiver mindset. Taing, a child of Cambodian-Chinese immigrants, is one of them. His parents worked seven days a week, ten-plus hours a day to give him a better life. In his view, the least he can do is help take care of them as they age. Taing acknowledged that the flipping of roles from parent to child and child to parent is significant in his culture. To honor that, he says, “If I can, I’d like to eventually buy my parents a house.”
6. “I learned as I went.”
…on building financial acumen and surrounding yourself with trusted advisors and other founders.
Taing, who holds a B.A. in Psychology and Communications from Stanford, said that money-related matters don’t come naturally to him. He learned the ins and outs of finance for his business over time.
When it comes to personal finance, he joked that he didn’t even think of working with a wealth advisor as an early-stage founder because he didn’t have any money to manage; every spare dollar he earned was invested back in the business. But after he raised Series A, his advisors recommended that he work with a private banker who could help him shore up his personal finances. For him, that meant things like investing, getting a mortgage, and eventually, forming trusts and leveraging QSBS.
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And if you’re interested in shoring up your own finances, reach out to a SVB Private Wealth Advisor for a review of your current plan to confirm it aligns with your long-term needs and goals. If you’re interested in signing up for three free years of startup banking, reach out to a SVB Startup Banking advisor for an application.