Interview with Jeff Chu, CEO & Co-Founder at Joy Tea

April 1, 2019
Jeff grew up in the suburbs outside of San Francisco. Spent a lot of his childhood playing sports but dialed in on basketball and golf in high school. He attended Santa Clara University and studied business. Out of college he was a financial statement auditor and had the opportunity to audit many different companies across many different industries. At the time, the work was not exciting but he did enjoy the interaction with the client and helping them with their needs. After 5 years of auditing, he wanted to start fresh and try to build a startup. He was fortunate enough to co-found two startups, Leap Transit, and Harvst and use the skills he had acquired in the auditing world to build the various components of each business.

From there he helped his wife open As Quoted, a health conscious cafe in San Francisco. Shortly after that, he was brought on as COO of Gordo Taqueria, a taqueria chain with locations in San Francisco as well as throughout the Bay Area. He spent most of his time at Gordo's building the management team, formalizing operations and processes, building hiring procedures and renegotiating pricing for the inventory products. Gordos was a big accomplishment because the business had not evolved in its 40-year history and restructuring the restaurant to remain competitive for the future was a large undertaking.

Opportunities began to present themselves through his network as well as his co-founder's so they formed Chu and Waters Consulting which is an arm of his father's CPA firm, Chu and Waters LLP. Through Chu and Water's Consulting they have involved in IT outsourcing, government IT and finance projects, the entertainment industry and overall business consulting.

While they still have a hand in the consulting business, with his co-founder Thomas Vo, he created Joy Tea in January 2019. With Joy Tea, Jeff and Thomas are producing Ready-To-Drink, CBD Infused Iced Tea.
Understanding how terrible it can be to work in a negative and manipulative work environment, I understand the importance of building a strong and positive culture that allows everyone within the organization to feel empowered.
Q : What is the biggest challenge you have met in your career?

Jeff :
The most challenging moment in my career occurred at the beginning. When I co-founded my first startup, I had just come off 5 years of financial statement auditing experience with virtually no experience in tech. Over the next two years we took a concept and brought it to life through diligence, hard work and a little bit of luck. We were fortunate enough to get funded by some of the largest funds in the Valley and everything was headed in the right direction.
In the end, the party stopped due to a fundamental issue that affects any company: culture. As founders, we were all young, we all had our own ideas on how the business should be run and over time we had developed severe communication issues internally. Communication became siloed and there was discomfort in communicating openly with one another. To me, the culture that had developed was one of secrecy and one of leveraging information to control people.

The excitement of the moment, to build a company based off a radical new idea that was gaining traction and attention, was overwhelmed by the daily discomfort in the office and amongst my peers.

When I ultimately split from the company I spent a lot of time digesting what had happened and why. The only perspective I was capable of having during the moments within the company were the negative sensations that related to what was happening in front of my eyes. I rarely stepped back and took the macro perspective. Finally being able to reflect from that vantage point proved to be powerful in my development. Realizing that our team culture was the driving force for the dysfunction opened up my eyes.

Although my experience within the company was by far the most challenging experience of my career, it was also the most rewarding. I'm grateful to have had this experience early on in my career as the lessons learned from it have only benefited me as I've moved forward.

Culture is everything and the direction from the CEO and the message he or she sends to the executive team and beyond truly effects the path of the entire organization. Every time. Period.

I've since become infatuated with studying the different philosophies and styles of leadership across industries and professions. Understanding how terrible it can be to work in a negative and manipulative work environment, I understand the importance of building a strong and positive culture that allows everyone within the organization to feel empowered.

Q: How would you describe your company culture, and what are the superpowers of your team?

Jeff : Culture is everything.
For Joy, when sitting down to discuss our culture we first defined our core values: joy, compassion, humility, simplicity and innovation. These values are who we are and what we believe in.

Through how we define these terms and what they mean to us, we use them to guide our decision making, dictate who we work with and most importantly, we use them to create an ecosystem that fosters an environment where everyone on our team feels empowered to think creatively and take risks. Mistakes will be made and not everything will turn out for how we had hoped. That is ok. Progress is made even through failure.

Understanding that there is a lesson to be learned through every mistake is the positive and productive perspective we want. Having the confidence and encouragement of your managers and peers after a mistake, creates an even stronger team member. It is the difference in feeling as if everyone on your team is with you, or everyone on your team is against you in a personally vulnerable moment. It is very easy to imagine the extreme difference in sensation from feeling supported or criticized at that moment.

We encourage our team members to get up, evaluate the situation that occurred, learn from it and try again. When there is success after failure, genuine confidence builds. That "I can do this" attitude starts to form and from there, that persons capabilities begin to become limitless. Even more powerful is that attitude becomes contagious. It is our hope that we as a company have this collective attitude towards anything we pursue.

Our superpower is simple, difficult and rewarding. We communicate openly.

Establishing a culture where open communication is not judged but seen as an opportunity to understand another persons perspective, is crucial to how our team operates. The purpose of communicating openly is so that there is clarity in the moment and everyone feels comfortable raising any topic or question without fear of judgement. We encourage questions and rebuttals because this brings clarity for all parties on whatever given topic. Our belief is that focusing on the problem at hand, leaving your ego at the door and speaking your mind is what drives the best solutions.

The hard part is focusing on the problem at hand, leaving your ego at the door and speaking your mind. Bias, ego, competition, these are all qualities of being human. But when you cater to these feelings you lose track of solving a problem and focus more on pushing a certain agenda.

Communicating openly is beneficial in many ways. Individuals can have their opinions heard and taken seriously which makes them feel like a part of the team. As a company, we get amazingly creative ideas tossed around and everyone can chime in and build off these ideas to create an even grander concept. In the end its an idea built off an idea, built off an idea with 2, 3, 5…10 peoples input that led to that final solution. A solution that would have never been talked about had it been kept to the original source because they were too afraid or uncomfortable to speak up.

Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?

Jeff : I had to do the most hiring when I was involved with the restaurant industry. It was a challenge to hire because there were and still are so many opportunities for those looking to work in the food service industry. San Francisco specifically not only has to compete with all the local restaurants but also the tech companies. Many tech companies have internal cafeterias with a set menu and regular hours. Many workers are choosing to work there as the stress is much lower and the benefits are amazing.

When I quickly realized how difficult it was becoming to hire employees, we started to focus intensely on how we could beef up what we could offer potential employees. We started to offer above market wages, lay out the future expansion of the business to show career growth and become more vocal about our health benefits, amongst other things.

The economy has turned into more of a two way street regarding the employee / employer relationship. And I love it. I think if an employer can show an employee that they care enough through taking the steps to 'sell' the job to an employee, I think you get a more appreciative employee. A more appreciative employee cares more about your business and that attitude is evident to a restaurant customer.

So to me the challenge is that businesses have to do a lot more 'selling' to their potential employees. But again, I think it leads to a better outcome for all parties.
I want people to surprise themselves with what they are capable of achieving with a little bit of a push from their team or manager. That individual will one day have someone under their wing and will inspire them to push their limits and have a break through.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

Jeff : I believe my job is to set the strategy for the organization that is in line with our values and will lead us towards the goals that we seek to achieve.

From there, I evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our personnel to bring that vision to life. I'm obsessive about leadership and building leaders. Therefore, I can be very strategic about putting people in a position where they can have success as well as grow. I firmly believe that if you help an individual grow in an area that is not historically a strong point for them, you are creating a more confident and well rounded team member who can accomplish more for the company as they continue to develop. That accomplishment in an area where it used to be a weakness is what builds genuine confidence.

I want people to surprise themselves with what they are capable of achieving with a little bit of a push from their team or manager. That individual will one day have someone under their wing and will inspire them to push their limits and have a break through. That ideology, that mindset is what I want everyone on our team to have. Anything we think up can be possible, no matter how outrageous it may seem. Our ideas will not work out all the time but I want our team to feel confident in taking risks and being ok with making mistakes.
I'm inspired by Steve's system and philosophy because it just feels like the right way to go about leading a team. Connect with your players and their families on a personal level.
Q: Who inspires you and why?

Jeff : Steve Kerr.

I don't think he gets as much credit as he should for the success that the Golden State Warriors have had. I think for most people when they look at his situation they see a guy that has inherited an amazing team with amazing talent. From there he has built it into a historical team with historical talent. So when most sit back and view Kerr, I think a lot of people believe that if they were to coach that team with that much talent, then they too would have been able to win 3 championships in 4 years.

I whole heartedly disagree.

When Steve joined the team, he replaced Mark Jackson who was well liked by the players and had achieved some success. Steve had to come in and win over the team and also convince certain players to take on different roles that they were not accustomed to…and be ok with it. For example, Kerr saw that Andre Iguodala would be a better fit coming off the bench and leading the second unit. At that point, Iggy was an All Star who had started every game of his then 10 year career. Steve had one-on-one's with all the players during the offseason and was obviously able to communicate with Iggy in such a way that Iggy believed in Steve's vision and was willing to come off the bench in order for that vision to come to life. Nine months later they win the Chip.

But the most impressive part of Steve's tenure is the consistency and flexibility that he displays. Now GSW has more All Stars than they know what to do with and are a highly sought after team to come play for. This is in large part to the culture that Steve Kerr has developed. Steve understands his role as coach of GSW. How much can he really coach up a Steph Curry or a Kevin Durant at this point? How do you convince a historically great team that has won 3 titles in the last 4 years to continue to maintain that drive to be better and not have ego's and personalities start to clash? It ain't easy.

That's why I believe the magic of Steve Kerr is that he constantly seems to understand what his team needs from him. Even if those needs are changing and are outside of what you would typically think a coaches job is. Steve likes to interject humor into film study to keep the content engaging as well as soften the mood. If there has been heavy travel or his guys just seem tired in general, Steve is known to cancel practice opting for his players to rest. If one of his superstars is having a down game, Steve has been known to pull stories from his championship past that are relatable to that situation to pick up his players spirit.

As I've sat back and observed Steve over the years I get what he's doing. He has already figured out the strategy and the concepts, now he just needs to make sure that his players are always in the best position to execute those strategies and concepts. And Steve takes that responsibility and burden upon himself. Whether the issue is related to his players mind, body or spirit, Steve understands that it is his job to help that player through whatever they are going through to get them back to optimal shape to compete and fulfill his game plan. It helps that he genuinely cares about his players as people first, and it's clear that his guys know that. In my opinion that is why they so willingly follow him.

I'm inspired by Steve's system and philosophy because it just feels like the right way to go about leading a team. Connect with your players and their families on a personal level. Truly care about what is going on in their lives because personal issues will always affect anybody's work. Understand your players strengths and weaknesses and put them in a position to most effectively help the overall strategy. Do not follow boilerplate processes or strategy simply because; everything should be done with a purpose. Challenge the norm and do what works best for your team given the situation. Communicate openly and work through conflict; it is healthy.

The only other coaching job Steve had before GSW was for his sons youth team. He used the exact same approach and philosophy to coach the Warriors as he did with his sons team
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