Annie Hwang is the co-founder and co-CEO of Jemi (YC S20), a website and e-commerce store builder. She graduated from Harvard in 2018 with degrees in CS and Psychology before joining Facebook’s creator monetization team for two years. Since launching Jemi in 2020, Annie and co-founder Jason Cui have raised $2M from General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins, YC, and Liquid2 Ventures, and were 2021 Forbes’ 30 Under 30 honorees in Consumer Technology.
💎 What is Jemi? Jemi is a no-code website and e-commerce store builder, made for small businesses, creators, and entrepreneurs. Before pivoting, Jemi was a one-stop shop for personal links and content (like Linktree, but for creators like Simon Shi).
💡 On starting Jemi: Jason [Jemi’s co-founder and co-CEO] and I became friends freshman year of college, and officially started dating senior year. After college, I started working at Facebook, and Jason at Uber. When we realized our shared passion for the creator space and startups, we decided we wanted to solve problems in the space. From my own experience on the Facebook creator monetization team and talking to creator friends, we realized there weren't many flexible monetization tools for creator-fan communities.
📈 Early vs. growth stage experience: The first couple of months of going through YC was hectic, but exciting. The day-to-day involved emailing creators and asking them to try out the platform. It was a manual and difficult process, but our heart was really, really in it, almost to an unhealthy extent. It’s been over two years now, and there have been many ups and downs. Last year was the hardest because we were going through pivots. There was a burnout period, where we started wondering, “Can we still do this?”Today, we're more emotionally stable and have figured out a right work-life balance. We’re still passionate, of course, but we treat Jemi more as a business, rather than as our baby, and tying its success to our personal identities. Some level of emotional detachment from Jemi has actually helped us make smarter business decisions when pivoting and deciding to pause experiments that are not working.
👫 On becoming co-founders with your significant other: For co-founders, the most important part is trust, and that part was already taken care of by our relationship. Before dating, we were project teammates and took a lot of CS classes together, so we understood each other’s working styles. Becoming co-founders was a pretty easy decision.Arguments rarely get personal, and conflicts are resolved faster because we understand each other's resolution styles through dating. Also, investors weren’t concerned, surprisingly. There’s a good number of co-founders who are dating or married, such as the Eventbrite or Canva co-founders. That being said, it's not for everyone. It really depends on the relationship dynamic and prior experience working together.
🖊️ Do you have a breakup contingency plan? We don’t. Before we started the company, we had a serious conversation saying, “Hey, the relationship comes first no matter what.” If we talked about a contingency plan, that would mean we're putting the company before our relationship. When there's conflict, we do what's best for our relationship rather than the company.
💻 Making connections with creators & the first 100 users: It was mainly through cold outreach and referrals. Most creators have their emails on their bios, so it was just saying “Hey, I'm XYZ from this new startup. We're building something for creators. Would you be willing to chat or try out the product?” Then, it was maintaining that relationship and building trust.
💸 On raising $2M: Mostly, investors reached out to us, rather than us reaching out. YC really helped put us on the map and onto investors’ radars. We first connected with angels in our existing network at Facebook, Uber, and YC. Bigger investors, like General Catalyst, saw what we were building through YC and just reached out.
🌎 Growing up in Asia: I actually lived in Korea between 8-14 years old. The work culture there is much more intense, which helped me build “muscles” for working hard, and that continued into high school, college, and full-time. My parents are not traditional tiger parents; the education system in Korea & overall work-hard culture I was surrounded with actually impacted me the most.
🔧 What type of founder are you? I'm not the serial entrepreneur type. I see my startup as a job, but it's not my personality. I didn't realize that until a year in, when I listened to a podcast episode of “How I Built This”, with a serial entrepreneur as the guest. He spoke about how was happy to make sacrifices in life as long as he could continue working on interesting problems. He found it exhilarating.I remember thinking, “I don't relate to this at all.” It's fun, but I don’t think I’ll want to do this for the rest of my life with constant new startups & businesses. I want Jemi to succeed and will give it my all, but not sure if I can go through all of this again multiple times with new startups after Jemi. I’m learning a lot, but it’s time consuming, difficult, and forces you to make a lot of sacrifices. It’s not who I want to be for the rest of my life.
💫 Most underrated trait in a founder: Creativity. That's something I wish I had more of. A founder needs a lot of grit and analytical skills, but creativity is rarely talked about. It’s especially valuable for companies in the creator market where a lot of customer acquisition comes from creative content or growth ideas. It can be trained. Some people are naturally more creative than others, but it's just like any other muscle. The more you force yourself to be creative, the better you'll become.
1. Not every founder is the serial entrepreneur type. A startup can be a job or business, and not your personality.
2. Even more than compatibility, a co-founder relationship’s foundation is established on trust.
3. Creativity can be just as important as grit, and it can be trained.
Check out Jemi here: jemi.so
Keep up with Annie!