From Yale to Hollywood: ‘Auby’ Founder Christine Hong Talks Unexpected Career Path and The Future of PodcastsFeatured
The podcast industry is growing fast. The industry generated an estimated $480 million in revenue in 2018 and is expected to produce more than $1 billion by 2021, according to a report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC (https://www.iab.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Full-Year-2018-IAB-Podcast-Ad-Rev-Study_5.29.19_vFinal.pdf). Amidst such economic growth, the podcast industry still lacks a solid platform for recommendations. Most podcast directories are like old school video rental stores with basic categories. With over 800,000 active podcasts and over 54 million podcast episodes, there must be a perfect podcast for you, but the question is, how do you find it?@christinehong802 is looking to change that with her app Auby (https://www.heyauby.com/), a personalized podcast discovery platform. An avid podcast listener and host of The New School Podcast (https://www.thenewschoolpodcast.com/), she understands both sides of the industry. Previously, Christine worked as a product manager at Tinder and Yahoo.I spoke with Christine about her experiences in the podcast industry, entrepreneurship, tech, and even acting at one point. We also discussed her thoughts on how to pick the right career and why it’s ok to pursue various passions throughout your life. How did you get started in tech? In high school, I watched The Social Network for the first time, and I kid you not, that movie changed my life completely. After watching, I was like, “Tech is changing the world. I need to be a part of that!” But at the time, I had no idea how to get into that industry. They didn’t really offer computer science classes at my high school so it wasn’t until college that I took my first programming class. I found it really difficult at first, but I didn’t care. It felt so empowering to learn how to create something on your own and not have to rely on anyone else. So I stuck with it and ended up majoring in Computer Science at Yale. I found a software engineering internship at a nonprofit in DC which then opened the door to my next software engineering internship at LinkedIn in the Bay Area. I had made it to the tech mecca of the world I had once dreamed about, Silicon Valley.How did you transition from engineering to product? After graduation, I started as a software engineer at Yahoo Mail. Pretty quickly, I realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. I had learned how to code because I wanted to build my own product ideas. I wanted to be the person at the company coming up with the product ideas (the product manager) vs the executor (the programmer). Luckily for me, one of the product directors for Yahoo Mail was the head of the Yahoo APM (associate product manager) program. I offered to help with the technical interviews for incoming APMs and became a lot closer with her. By coincidence, Yahoo had under hired for the APM role, so I was able to transfer into the Yahoo APM program one year after graduating, even though it’s designed for new grads only. I think you realize you love a job when even the “grunt work” isn’t that bad to you. I would get really frustrated with some of the work involved in being a software engineer, like writing test code, but even the “grunt work” in being a product manager, like having to document user research or product decisions, was actually still interesting to me.How did you transition to acting then, what even brought about this change? It’s so different from the tech industry! [Laughs] I told you about how The Social Network changed my life right? Well, films have always had a huge impact on my life, especially growing up. I feel like they’re a peek into other worlds especially when you’re a kid who doesn’t have access to anything else. I grew up in Greenville, North Carolina where there were like three Asians in my entire high school and it honestly really bothered me that I never saw people who looked like me on film. I felt like... if no one who looked like me could star in a movie, was I even worthy of being a star in real life? In the background during college and my burgeoning tech career, I always felt like I wanted to make an impact in the entertainment industry. I wanted other Asian Americans to see role models that looked like them on screen. So when I left Yahoo, I moved to Los Angeles and began to pursue an acting career. My first network show role I booked was in HBO’s Silicon Valley. Of course right?!How did you end up becoming involved in the podcast industry? It’s funny, I never even listened to my first podcast until I moved to Los Angeles! There was nothing else to do while driving back and forth to auditions which could be up to an hour from each other.After two years or so of doing acting professionally, I was starting to feel dissatisfied. I spent so much of that time trying to figure out how to break into the industry and it finally seemed to be working! I was repped by a good agent and manager, was finally getting auditions for shows I had only dreamed about before (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Silicon Valley etc.), and was booking my first roles. I loved performing on stage and in class, but I wasn’t happy as a professional actor.One day, I came across Oprah’s talk at Stanford Business School on Youtube and one line she said in it now determines everything I choose to work on. She said to be happy with your work, you need to make sure you are always “aligning your personality with purpose.” I thought about it... and acting professionally was NOT fulfilling my purpose or my personality. My purpose was to tell other people’s stories that don’t normally get featured. As an actor, you have little control over what goes into the script. The kind of roles I was being asked to audition for were frequently “nerdy girl” or “prostitute with Asian accent.” I wish I was joking. And my personality… well I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I like having creative control. It was why I gravitated more to the product manager role than the software engineer role while working in tech.I thought about my purpose: I wanted to tell other people’s stories. Maybe hosting a talk show instead of acting would be a better way to get this done. At first I asked my agent and manager to send me out on hosting auditions as well but then I thought about my personality… I wanted creative control this time. I wanted to produce my own talk show essentially so that’s how my podcast, The New School, was born. The show was inspired by my own career changes. Every episode, we feature a guest with a career path you don’t normally get to hear about in the classroom and learn about how they got to where they are today. The New School’s main goal is to help listeners figure out their passions and how to turn them into meaningful careers.Gotcha, so that’s how you started your own podcast. Why did you end up leaving Tinder to start your own company, Auby? I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur at heart. Whenever something annoys me or I come across a problem, I just write it down and think about how I could improve or solve it. Being a product manager on the Gen Z team at Tinder was amazing because it was basically the Innovation pod at the company. I got to brainstorm new features to add to the app every day. It kind of kickstarted my brain and last year was my most creative year! I had never really thought of an idea before that was something I was passionate about enough to go full force in AND felt like it could be a big hit. But one day, while driving in my car from work while in a really bad mood, I remember just wanting a podcast episode that matched my mood tailored to me. I could not put that idea away. Podcasts were sort of therapy to me during my commutes in LA, helping me through breakups, tough days at work, and other challenges. However, it was pretty random and happenstance to find podcast episodes that interested me. I wanted to solve that. With Auby, I’m building a solution to podcast discovery. The present system is quite antiquated. People usually find podcasts through sporadic friend referrals and have limited time to pick new podcasts (especially in the moment when on a drive or run, for example). Most podcast marketing is focused on promoting the show rather than a particular episode, but podcast episodes actually work really well separately. People enjoy listening around a mood or idea or person rather than religiously following a show end to end. Moreover, there is a cold start problem for new podcast listeners, which Auby is targeting first. Auby will bring new people into the podcast ecosystem by curating podcast episode suggestions based on who the person is and their listening habits.Is there any advice you’d give to others looking to figure out what they want to do career wise? I’ve had a pretty crazy journey since leaving school, and I remember feeling super stressed because I felt like I needed to figure out what I was going to do with my life ASAP. I had so many different dreams and interests and felt like there was something wrong with me. So many people seemed to just want to be one thing, have one dream job, and I felt like I had many and didn’t know how to reconcile that. My key piece of advice to others: don’t think linearly. Your job does not define you, and you can be a melting pot of disparate talents and interests. Feel free to pursue many different passions and not only will you live with no regrets, but you will also come to find utility in surprising skills you’ve developed along the way. For example, through acting, I learned a lot about public speaking and pitching oneself that I have carried to my work in tech and business. One thing my dad always said to me growing up was “the only thing they can’t take away from you is your skills.” That is 100% true. You have no control over whether you get fired or get laid off or if your project will be successful. The only guarantee you have are the skills you gain and that you will enjoy the journey. If you only focus on that, I promise you will be successful one day. I would have never even listened to a podcast if I had not taken the leap to move to LA to pursue acting. Now, I’m combining my love of tech and entertainment (working on my podcast discovery app, Auby, and hosting my own show, The New School podcast) and I honestly couldn’t be happier! --Christine is the CEO of Auby (heyauby.com) and Founder/Host of The New School Podcast (thenewschoolpodcast.com). Previously, she was a product manager at Tinder and Yahoo. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from Yale. When she’s not listening to podcasts or traveling, you can catch her on the tennis courts or attempting to learn how to surf.