Fred has bootstrapped two companies with huge amounts of revenue. The first, he sold to a private equity firm. The second, he is still running. Amazing story!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s get started at the beginning of your personal story. Where were your born, raised, and in what kind of environment?
Fred Hsu: I was born in Ohio. My parents were Chinese immigrants who came to the States for graduate school. They had moved to Taiwan during the communist takeover. I have an older sister. She was born in Virginia. I also have a younger brother who was born in Connecticut. We moved around a lot as kids. My dad was a defense contractor moving from one air force base to another. My mom was an accountant by trade. She fell into the insurance industry and eventually, programming.
I moved to California when I was five. I grew up in Southern California. I always had an early interest in building stuff and tinkering with computers. More importantly, if there was a middle child cliché, I think I’d fit it. I was always doing my own thing and not asking for much help. I exceled in the arts and technology. When I entered college, I was undeclared. I entered college when I was 17. Eventually, I got into Computer Science.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you go to college?
Fred Hsu: UCLA.
Sramana Mitra: So you stayed in Southern California for college?
Fred Hsu: Yes, and met some early co-founders of future companies while in college. I did a number of odd jobs like building websites, doing programming, maintaining systems. I was a graveyard systems operator at a Fox movie studio. That was around my second or third year in college.
Sramana Mitra: What year was this when you were in college?
Fred Hsu: I started college in 1996 and graduated in 2000.
Sramana Mitra: That’s the time of the Internet bubble effectively.
Fred Hsu: Correct. It was a very interesting time because a lot of my school mates were being recruited from job fairs. Some of them didn’t actually complete their degrees. They jumped straight into it. I kept on working. I worked for a small startup in the tech space from 1998 to 1999. They were doing a lot of Internet advertising projects.
Sramana Mitra: What happens after you get out of college in 2000?
Fred Hsu: While in college, I built a lot of practical knowledge. I was making money through various affiliate programs. The web was, as you remember, fairly mature at that time. There was the idea of people paying for placement in search engines, which at that time seemed crazy. In a lot of ways, the early remnants of matching website inventory and demand was still new. It was an industry where people were more concerned about hits. The moment things shifted to clicks, it was mind-boggling. These days it makes a lot of sense. Back then, it was groundbreaking.
In my third and fourth year of college, I was working at a startup. I also started a company called Oversee with a co-founder that I had met. He had actually gone to USC. We were trying to build systems that match end users with advertisers. By the time I graduated, there was some early momentum. We had a small office. We built IP that could be leveraged for ad matching.