In this week's episode of the Bet On Yourself podcast I am joined by Sun Yi, the founder of award-winning web agency Night Owls. Sun has done it all – from 9-to-5 jobs to starting and leaving his own companies – and is now looking to create a community by way of mentorship, sharing what he has learned with the world in a scalable way. Sun's self-confessed biggest weakness might have stopped anybody else from pursuing a creative career, but he soon realized it was in fact his biggest strength. Since then, he has used his scientific, analytical approach to build successful teams and take budding creators to the next level, helped along by his experience working in a whole host of different roles throughout his career.
[Ann 00:00:00] Welcome to this week's episode of the Bet on Yourself podcast, where we speak to some of the world's most inspirational people who have all, at some point in their career, taken a huge bet on themselves, transforming them personally and professionally. Today I am speaking to Sunny, the founder of Night Owls, an award winning branding and Web design agency. Well, they have worked with brands like Spotify and the American Red Cross. Night Owls has found its niche in working with some of the world's leading personal brand names like Jay Shetty and Gaby Bernstein and Perfecting the Art of Telling Other People's Stories. Sun has done it all, working 9 to 5 corporate jobs to founding and leading and leading his own businesses. With such a varied journey, Sun has picked up plenty of best practices along the way. But most importantly, he's learned what not to do. That's what's been behind the success of Night Owls, and now he is sharing it with the world. As he turns his hand to teaching and mentorship. Sun's journey and outlook is captivating, and I can't wait to share that part of it with you today. If you enjoy it as much as I think you will, then be sure to let me know. In all the usual places such as a review on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you happen to be listening right now.
[Ann 00:01:14] Sun Yi, I want to welcome you to the Bet on Yourself podcast. Thanks so much for being with me today.
[Sun 00:01:19] Thank you for having me.
[Ann 00:01:21] This is going to be really fun. So you and I have known each other for a while. We got connected through a mutual friend and I have a big been a big fan for a while. But before we dove into all the exciting things that you're offering at the moment, I wonder if we could start at the very beginning. Can you tell me about what a young Sun thought he would be when he grew up? Like, what was your original dream? Are we talking firefighter? We talking chemist? Like, originally, your passion? Well, yeah, like five year old. What...
[Sun 00:01:49] I always, like, wanted to be. I didn't. I always wanted to be a boss. I didn't know for what? I just wanted to be a boss just because, like, I think I grew up in a society where, like, being a boss was look looked up to. And but one thing I remember is like I always what was drawn toward creative things rail was wanting to do design something creative like that. But I, I wasn't creative. I was very analytical. I was good in math, science and like my dad would always make fun of me growing up like saying that I'm really, really good at copy because I can copy or drawing like a rep exact replica of a drawing like, but I couldn't like come up with original pieces. I can come up with my original idea. So even when I do projects, I always copy. So my dad will always make fun of me for that. And, and like what happened was when I got into design, which was when I was around 19 years old, I couldn't like I would copy, I would mimic a design. I'm like, Oh, I like that. So I would do it. But for some reason it doesn't look right. It doesn't look that well, looks good, but my version doesn't look good. So I didn't quite understand this. I just started copying it like pixel by pixel, like down to the T, right? Like every pixel and then I kept doing that over and over and over again. And, you know, I felt like kind of an imposter because, like, I don't I don't I'm not actually coming up with my own design and all I know is like in Photoshop, how to replicate a design, right? But at doing that like 100 times, I started seeing patterns of like what's what works, what doesn't work and things like that. But anyway, long story short, when I started my own agency and I started training people, But anyway, long story short, when I started my own agency and I started training people, that's why I understood like my actual strength is not the design side, but understanding like the, like analytically understand like reverse engineering what, what good design is bad design and things like that. Because like once one time I gave up one of my interns like a somebody came to me and asked me to look at their design and I was like, Oh, okay. I always put this much ratio of space around the logo, make sure these things are always aligned, make sure that you leave this much percentage of like I gave them a feedback in a mathematical way. [Yeah.] I have it. But then he applied all of those and then it looked amazing, right? And then he was blown away and I was blown. I was like, Oh, and then that's kind of like when I realized like my actual strength, the what I've been hating my whole life. Like I hated that I was analytical and mathematical and that I wasn't creative, but my weakness actually ended up being my biggest strength because now what people love me for is the fact that I can make them see. I never thought of it that way, and the way I do it is by reverse engineering something, something they already know, and then feeding it back to them in a way they never thought of. Right. So yeah. So. Right. So yeah. So. So now basically finally, what I realized is like, I love teaching. I love learning and teaching. So that's kind of why I, I'm shifting from my agency side, like building a community, teaching, learning, things like that.
[Ann 00:05:22] So many teasers of where this conversation is going to go. I want to hit on each one of those major milestones that you've just mentioned in your answer. I'm curious, what was your original medium as you were copying art? Was that like a sketchbook or were you immediately on a computer? You're young. [No, no.] Maybe you had the advantage of that. So how did you move from medium to medium and eventually be doing design copy? What was that pathway like? Did you study, for example, engineering in school or or art in school?
[Sun 00:05:48] I skipped the whole part. Huh. Okay, so. So when I was young, I grew up and so I'm 42. So I grew up without the Internet, without even a computer.
[Ann 00:06:03] So you and I are more or less same generation, got it.
[Sun 00:06:06] Okay. So since I grew up without a computer, everything was like drawing, right? So in the beginning I would like to photo realistic. Like I remember taking like a Mariah Carey cover, see the cover and then like doing like a photorealistic replica of that. Like, things. Like by hand. Yeah, by hand. Yeah.
[Ann 00:06:25] That's amazing. Like, are we talking, like, pen and ink or pencil? [Pencil.] Well, wow. Yeah, you just had a natural gift for that. That that came relatively easily.
[Sun 00:06:34] I want to say it's a yeah, I have a gift for copying.
[Ann 00:06:38] I think that's a serious skill. I mean, when you learn about the impressionist painters, all of them can do photo realism perfectly and then they could move into. It's kind of like when you learn, if you're a jazz musician, they have to learn the classical scales and then they can start riffing and playing on that. And so I think I actually think that makes a lot of sense to me to be maybe, yeah, yeah, that and then put your own spin on it. But I love this. Behind the scenes formula was coming into your brain of like the ratios and the shading and what makes it really work, even if in the moment you weren't fully appreciating what you were learning in the process of copying? That's fascinating.
[Sun 00:07:15] Okay, that's true. [Right?] Because people are you have like you have to know the rules before you can break the rules. [Right.] And that's kind of what you're talking about.
[Ann 00:07:23] Yeah, exactly. I see it. Okay. So you had this natural gift. What did you end up studying? Did you follow your math and science? [Yeah.] Talents in in school. So that's what you did formally.
[Sun 00:07:35] Yeah. So in in my family and I think a lot of like Asian families, they, they want you to go for practical because like, you know, you're risking a lot to come to this country and do this. Like, the last thing they want you to do is, like, suffer in your career. All right. So they they pressure you to go into the, you know, the doctor lawyer engineering, like the the safe jobs, right. So safe, well-paying jobs. Right. So in my family, like for me to go after arts wasn't even like it wasn't even like a consideration because that's something you don't make money and right. And so I went up, I went up to engineering. I did engineering. I learned computer science there. But I didn't I somehow I passed the course, but I didn't know how to code, you know what I mean? And and this is pretty much almost all programmers, like anybody who went into school, if they didn't already know how to. By the time you're 18, if you don't already know how to code, it doesn't matter. If you spent four years in university at the end, you're still not going do an article. Everyone that I know that knows how to code already knew how to code before going into school doing this.
[Ann 00:08:59] I've heard that as well. And actually some of the most talented coders that I worked with at both Amazon and Google learned at the exact same way that you just described you learning art by just copying code. I mean, I'm old enough that like they were taking books out of the library, reading these coding manuals, replicating it, and then fiddling with it to see what happened when they were. So it's very similar to your process. But yeah, they too described it as they they were very much self-taught, at least these original engineers that I worked with and then they could start iterating. So that's interesting. So you're in school, you're you're doing well, you're passing the course. But this is not where your passion lies. How did you eventually get back to this? Really, what you did was a hybrid, right? You've you've used your artistic, natural talents and passions and you did use those coding skills to, you know, use that in a very modern way through, yeah, design.
[Sun 00:09:54] Well I didn't actually learn how to code until later in my. I'll get into this later. Yeah. But when I was 19 this was my freshman year in college, so I was studying engineering and for some reason there was an estimate book on my desk at home. Right. So often I just started playing with it and, and the beauty for me was with each segment is that you can to something save it. And you can see it on the browser right away. Like it doesn't take much from that step 0 to 1. Like you can see your input right away and that got me excited. So I started like I stayed up all night just trying that. And then I, at that point I wasn't even thinking design. I was just like, Oh, this is cool that I can make a homepage. And this is nobody had a website at this time. Like literally none of the biggest companies had a website like this was like in 97. But what happened was I made a website for this company that I was part time working in. I used to work for this company which go to goes to computer shows and sell computers. And I would literally build I learned how to build a computer and sell computers. So I learn. So I got my first foot into like how computers as well as sales in that first job. And I didn't even know it, but while I was there, I just built a website for that company for fun. Okay, but well, I needed to like, I couldn't just do a text based, I needed graphics. So I learned how to just use a paintshop. This software called Paintshop Pro, which is like a step above paint. So I did that and then I made like three or four websites for friends that way. Like really ghetto fabulous websites, right? And then I used that to get an internship at an agency as a I used that as a portfolio and at this time was like really great. Like this is when dot com was like happening. So everybody was just hiring. You walk in, they'll hire you, walk into hire you, and then that's up is where I learned everything. And I was there for 11 months and in that 11 months I learned Photoshop Illustrator. I learned how to code properly because everybody was there was like professors, they all went to design school. But I want to tell this one story. I, when I, when I went in there, I felt like the biggest fraud because here I am, everyone use a mac. I was using a PC. I've never used the Mac before. Everybody uses Adobe products like Photoshop Illustrator. I'm here using like Paintshop and Notepad and I didn't because I didn't go to everybody went to art school, you know, like the person's like all of those things, right? And I didn't. So I felt like the biggest imposter. But there was an art director there who called me and like I remember like vividly we went to a meeting with Citigroup, Citibank, and he said, Oh, this is our designer, our Sun. And that one phrase made such an impact for me because from that point on, I saw myself as a designer. And from that point I literally followed him every I would say literally sitting next to me, he was like, Get away from you. But I just absorbed. I just got like I just shadowed them and just absorbed everything I possibly can. And if I didn't, I wouldn't have learned all those things. And by the time I left that company, I was like one other top designer. So I went from an imposter intern who didn't even think of myself as a designer to to being one of the top designers there. And I actually love that was so memorable for me that when I started ten years later, when I started my own agency, that that was kind of my goal, like what he did for me, because he opened my eyes to think, think that I can do something that I never thought I could be. So I just started doing that with my employees and I saw how quickly they move up, right? Like in my agency, like people would start as an intern like three years later they would go become creative director. I like Google like three years later, they would start their own agency. Like, like my first intern. Right now, his company's stock valued at $60 million. Like this is what happened. And they know and I guess that's one of the reasons why I realized my real strength is not really design or client service. It's actually training people. And yeah.
[Ann 00:14:46] Yeah, I love that story because I've heard that from so many, so many high impact people that they came into their career through a nontraditional path. They found a mentor, a leader that they wanted to become like an absorbed as much information as possible. And that really turned that novice status into an advantage because all those people who went to Parsons and all these design schools had learned one particular way of doing it. But you had the freedom of additional creativity because you didn't know the quote unquote way it was supposed to be done. I see so many people of high impact that that was their path, that they just came at it kind of backwards and use that as a major advantage in their career. Whether that was a master plan or not, the right people realize and lean into that rather than letting it hold them back. And I so relate to your story of like when he calls you a designer, like finally having having that lightbulb being like, oh, my gosh, I am the designer now. I had a very similar experience that early Amazon in the early 2000s where my I too had no idea what I was doing. I, you know, within a couple of months felt like I had no business. Having this job was very unqualified. But then I saw a lot of creative people working really, really hard and learning really fast and it was an environment where I could do the same. That's all. I love. I love that path. I find this as such a common denominator among high performing people that I admire. So I'm really glad you shared that. So you went into you became a freelance web designer, then you became creative director and CEO it with you. I hope I'm saying that correctly. So what led you from that path of freelance? And then you tried working for someone else and then you decided to found night owls, which is wildly successful, which we'll get into next. But wasn't that original inspiration to go out and set up your own agency, your own design firm? [Well, so] Like entrepreneurship?
[Sun 00:16:45] It was actually a drawn out path. So I was in that company and 2001 that I've come first happened and then like from that point on, I actually one of the first job like because right after that I actually wanted to start my own agency. So after I got laid off from that company, I went off and started an agency called Webview. But that was ten years before I actually joined the NBA with with a friend. But then it was really, really tough to get that off the ground because we had no money and like no clients. Right? So I kind of like split up with that guy. And then I went to work at a really, really boring 9 to 5 job in a company called Cablevision, which is now AMC Networks. But they're in that boring 9 to 5 job. I learned so much, actually. Now, looking back, I learned so much like number one, I learned what's good about those jobs, corporates and what's bad about it, right? Like, I think what's bad about it is the complacent, the complacency. You get a little bit lazy when you're in that environment where you're getting a cushy two two week paycheck every two weeks and that, you know, not everybody is really contributing like hundred percent. Right? Yeah. But then the autopilot mode. Exactly. But the the other side of that coin is I learned how valuable it is for me to provide employees with security, the safety of that paycheck coming in every two weeks, the safety of like getting a Christmas bonus so that they can pay for the gifts like those things. Like I learned the the great parts of corporate because a lot of people don't talk about that. Right. But that's the beauty. That's the the amazing like miracle of big companies is that, you know, you get severance, you get you don't have to worry about any of that. Right. So I knew the importance of that, too. And I also understood the importance of how things operate at a big scale like that, that it moves a lot slower. And I also started seeing how it could be a lot more efficient too. But anyway, I didn't know all of that while I was working at that. While I was there, I was just like getting my paycheck like. But then after about five years, I got the itch again and at that time I wanted to be a filmmaker. So I went to go to night like film school at night. And this school called New Film Academy and while I was there, I wanted to film it, be a filmmaker. So I quit my 9 to 5 job. I started working at New York Film Academy, actually as a web designer, and I started like doing freelance on the side so I can save money to buy this camera. Okay. So I started freelancing to make money so I could be a filmmaker, but that actually ended up becoming source, that freelancing made me quit my job, started freelancing, which turned into up. And then around that time, I reconnected with my friend from when I started with Yo. So that's when like I kind of joined his team and became a partner of that company for two years. But while I was there, I learned everything. I learned everything about how not to run a business because this guy, he comes from a sales because he don't know anything about websites, the actual process and he was it was a sales driven and a lot of agencies went this way and we just became a factory where we're just we have a process, we're just churning out projects and pretty much every website is the same because of that. Right. And I just hated it. And I saw like how the employee was being treated. And just in every level I just saw exactly what not to do. So two years later, I finally had it. Fuck it, I left. And that's when I started night out with at that time I was scared that I couldn't get clients. So if anybody is running an agency out there, is freelancing this is going to they're going to understand what I mean. At that time, we had 60 projects in the pipeline. We only had like 12 employees. And it was just like everybody was just like churning this out. And there's never a moment because, like, these projects are keep piling up because the sales people are out there, like because it's a sales focused company, the they're not stop selling. Right. And I see a lot of like I will go to it'll be typical for me to go to another agency party and I would ask the project manager like, how many projects are you working on like you personally, right? And it's common for them to be like, oh 17 I'm like, like, how, how can you like pay attention to this project when you're working on 17 projects? Right. And this is common in agencies. So, so that's something I learned not to do. So when I started my agency, like, so we did everything like the opposite of that and yeah, I mean that's not the end of the story, but that's how I transitioned from there to starting like, oh. I, there's so much to unpack in that. I think there's so much wisdom.
[Ann 00:22:34] I love that you have tried both the startup world, you've had co-founder challenges, you've done traditional 9 to 5 and you've gathered all these best practices. You've learned a lot of things the hard way. Me too. I relate to so much of your story. I've been in early start the then grew into behemoth companies across the 12 years I was at Google, for example, and the pros and cons of each right. I miss elements of both. Like I love the crazy early years of Google. And I also, now that I am a founder myself, I do kind of miss that. Like, like you were saying the safety net of the corporate job. It's all on me now and I've got to sign those paychecks every month. So yeah, there's pros and cons of both, but I really love what you've done. There is. It sounds to me, at least in retrospect, you see how all these dots connected to lead you to found an agency that's really different and that really shows up in your work. I so night owls for example I mean you have a very impressive client list. We're talking Fortune 500 companies like American Red Cross and Spotify, Columbia University. Well, et cetera. But also bestselling authors, public speakers, people whose brands are very, very personal. And these are household names also like Jay Shetty, Mel Robbins, Gaby Bernstein, etc.. But I think what stands out for me actually, this is a true story. When I founded my company and I was like, okay, I need a personal website for the very first time in my life because while I was a Google, I had no online presence whatsoever. Like literally no Instagram, no Twitter, nothing. So when I set up my own shop as like it's like I basically don't exist. So I started going around to websites and saving the ones that I really liked that I thought, okay, this has an element I would like to incorporate into my personal brand, etc. And do you know when I did an audit and I sent it to a web team, six of those ten were yours. I'm not getting a single night out is not joking. And so I'm a big fan. I think why it resonated with me and it resonates with so many people is that authenticity the way in which I didn't realize it was the same agency that had done them because each of them felt so personal to the client, so highly refined, authentic, relatable. And I felt like those people were my friends. So this is not by accident. So you touched on this a little bit in the very beginning of our conversation about the way that you help craft this hero's journey. And it makes so much sense that you're not asking your designers to just turn through 17 projects at a time. It all has that very special hand held touch. Can you walk us through what does that Hero's Journey story look like? And this is a nice teaser also for what you're doing right now in your teaching, a course literally about. Yes. So can you tell me how do you how do you put this hero's journey into play when you're starting to represent corporate brands and especially those personal brands like how do you if I was starting at your company right at midnight hours right now or if I was taking your course, which is called The Art of Storytelling, what are some places that you start? What's your best practices?
[Sun 00:25:35] I mean, I would say for corporate brands, rather than focusing on like a hero's journey story, because for a lot of corporate brands, their stories are going to be either inventor's journey, which is not going to be for a big company. That's more like the companies you see on Shark Tank, because a lot of times just the inventors turn these stories. The one like, Oh, I was facing this problem. But then one day I said, There's got to be a better way. So I fixed, I made it myself and people started loving. It became a success. That's it. But this journey story, right? Like if you have a story like that, amazing. But most up, most brands thought, okay, so what I would say focus on is simplifying your message because a lot of businesses are really, really bad because we we were taught our whole life how to make things more complex, like, I don't know if you did this, but every time I did a research paper or anything like that, I would like write it. And then I would literally go through with the stories to make it more complex rather than make it more simple and make it sound more complex than it really is. Right? So we were taught that our whole life, I would say, scaled up. I think the biggest problem is a lot of corporate brands, the biggest mistakes they make is when you go to their website, you don't really understand what they're saying. Like most people don't understand, so you just got to dumb it down. So I started doing that for Columbia University Medical Center. Like companies, brands like this. And what I started noticing is like once we put it out there a few months later, the feedback would be like tremendous, right? And usually these website feedbacks we don't get for a few months because the, a lot of times when we make websites, we, we think of 100 things that they've never even thought of, a hundred steps ahead. But you don't see the fruits of that until you put it out there. And the owner of that website, after a year after hearing their actual customers saying, you know what I loved about your website is that no other websites do this, but the fact that you did this and this is think things that are my client didn't even think of and they're like, Sun, people always come to me like a year later, like, I can't believe all the little things that you guys went into that I, I didn't even think of right. That they don't even realize until a year later. But that's because one of the things that I do, what I realize is that for corporate breadth, most people don't never go to the about page. Like, when's the last time you went to like a big Amazon? I clicked on that about right. Nobody does that right. But for personal brands, what I realize and for small business, small brands like that, the Shark Tank type of brands about is actually about pages, the second most visited page on the website. It is, yeah. Yeah. So once I started realizing that before that what I was doing was I was doing all of this storytelling on corporate websites where if you I'm on corporate websites, the one place we focus on is what we call the differentiator piece. Like, why hire us? Why buy this? Why us? Right. And we usually tell an entire story and the story goes something like most myth, you know, the myth truth thing, which I always talk about myth like most landscaping businesses work like this. And here's the problem with that. Right? But this is how you solve that problem. And here's our solution, right? So once you put it like that, people can easily understand what the differentiator. So and we use a lot of animations and stuff to tell that story, right? So I did that for a while until one day Gabby Bernstein walked into my office. I have no idea who this woman is at that time. I've this is a world that I didn't even know about, like this I've this is a world that I didn't even know about, like this kind of personal development, self help world. I've kind of her, I saw Tony Robbins in Shallow Hell. But other than that, on the one hand, this. But after working with Gabby Bernstein, I fell into a rabbit hole. Well, first one thing I realized is that in the beginning, we were all inclusive of all full service agency, meaning with the logos, branding, you know, like print, you know, marketing, banner, hats, website, everything we'll do it right. And then we realized that over time we make more money when we specialize. So we just doubled down the websites. And what we noticed is that all the health care companies were coming to us because we have experience working at some big health care companies and because they know that we're familiar with working with HIPA compliant websites, that was like the reason why they were coming to us. So that's when I realized the power of niching down, right? Like when you need now because those people have the hospitals have no, no nowhere else to go because they don't. Every website web company specializes in everything, but it has really worked with hip hop before. Whereas in every website we've built, we work with hip hop and we don't specializes in everything. We know the hospital structure, we know what system they use. We know everything inside of about about a hospital and that was what stuff to them so later but that also was I wasn't I wasn't happy. I wasn't happy. It got to a point where I felt like I was going. I was dreading waking up, going to work at my own company because I went back to that agency kind of mode where the only thing I was because, you know, hospital websites are boring. You not have like these these websites are really, really boring. You know what I mean?
[Ann 00:31:39] Was not passion aligned for you, no?
[Sun 00:31:41] No, it was just work.
[Ann 00:31:45] That artistic creativity inside of you, right? So how did you pivot for something that was obviously a cash cow that could be, you know, some golden handcuffs? It's hard to let go of. But when you're waking up every day, like dreading working in your own company, what was it that moment with Gabby where you realized there is no clarity here? Okay. So tell us what led to Gabby moments. Okay.
[Sun 00:32:03] So at that moment, I don't know if anybody would resonate with this, but most entrepreneurs that I've known has gone through this point where from the moment I wake up till the moment I go to bed, all I'm doing is just putting out fires. Sound like what's the status of a project? Making up excuses, right? Like this, like calm. And then, like here this employee is like, threatening to question to make him happy while this client's, like, yelling at me because two projects are behind schedule, and I need to make sure these guys can get like it's just doing that from the outset. All I'm getting is this attack emails and messages from everybody. From the moment I go and I just couldn't handle it. I was like, That's yes. There are some entrepreneurs that love that. And I think those are like the really true entrepreneurs at heart. I wasn't like that, right? So I was miserable until Gabby came in and I was like, Who was this woman? But I started working with her and I started personally working on the project. And I just it went back to like the early days when I'm because when I'm working on the website for the American Red Cross, I'm working with the marketing director there who's it's just a 9 to 5 job for her. She doesn't care about the projects she just wants to get every. I'm working with a team of 12 people where their entire goal is to prove themselves through their worth. They don't really care about the project, they just want to take credit and put finger point for blame. So I went from working in an environment like this to working with the stakeholder, the stakeholder of the company, building her personal website, listening to her story and what I started realizing after a few of those is that there is something amazing that happens when I can tell their personal story on their mobile page, which is the second most visited page on their personal website. Something magical happens there. And what ended up happening is from that point on, we put the we put our credit on the front of every website, same thing, other personal brands. Her website got ranked on all these blog of like best top ten best personal brand websites, all of this place feature. And everyone who wanted a personal brand would be like, Oh, I love Gabby's website. They saw that we did it. And people start coming in not only that, every time Gabby is at a book event with other authors, like other celebrities will come through and be like, Oh yeah, I love your new website. Who Did It? And Gabby will be like, You have to meet my web designer Sun who's the best. And this was all happening. So all these big first were coming to us. And our shift has focus. Our focus has shifted from health care to personal brand. And now we're pretty much at a place where if you are building a personal brand website, like there's literally no other place you can go to, that's better than of the top of the top. People will come to us. No, it's not even. That. [I agree.] That's that's why you were the majority of the websites I saved as inspiration for my own.
[Ann 00:35:23] So I want to dive into to to disjointed things that you just touched on. One is I'm curious for so a lot of our listeners out there might not yet be at that level or be able to hire Night Owls for theirs and some of them aren't even, you know, celebrities or individual brands. Some people are interpreters. They're in their 9 to 5. And they're very much wanting to craft their narrative because that's an important part of their progression in their career, is teaching people how to think of them and their talents and best utilize it. So I'm curious, do you have any tips for people who are interpreting authors? Not necessarily, you know, a Gabby Bernstein, but in in how they tell and craft their story to help leadership think of them a little bit differently or create some opportunities for themselves. And then I want to come back to how you hire and motivate these incredible designers that are now with you, that you are raising and accelerating the career so much. But I'm I'm curious, what what advice would you give for an inch print or an individual who's trying to do this on their own behalf?
[Sun 00:36:21] So I actually don't think there's a huge difference between entrepreneurialism and personal brands. Right? Because at the end of the day, you're selling yourself. And, you know, when you walk into a job interview, you're selling yourself when you go in that day to selling yourself. So, you know, you might not know this, but people before people meet you, they do Google you, right? So I would say is this like I think content, the whole content game is to things like what you said, the storytelling, which is which is really about authenticity in my opinion, because at the end of the day, people want to hire people that they like. It's not really the people that have the best skill. I know. That's my some people might not believe this, but if this is true, it's absolutely true.
[Ann 00:37:15] I think that's definitely true in my experience as well.
[Sun 00:37:18] Yeah. Is that because you don't want to work with someone you hate, you're going to spending every day with this person.
[Ann 00:37:23] Yeah. If they're smart and you enjoy, you know, we call them foxhole friends and tech. I can they can you can teach them to do anything. So, you know, if your skill is a little bit. Yeah the attitude exactly. Can I imagine enjoying you know, the hardest day in the office next to you? Yeah, I'll teach you, you know, whatever skills are lacking. Okay, so I like that. So how do you craft this? I what? I so love and you do this in nice little bite sized pieces in your Instagram is you help people learn to shape this story of of helping them build up their no like and trust factor can you give us an outline of what are the common mistakes people do in this? And then maybe one or two like best practices of where to get started when you've never thought of doing it this way before.
[Sun 00:38:08] The two biggest common mistakes that I see people make is one that it's it's not authentic. They try to like they try to craft a story too much, right? And then number two is that it's too complex. Like, I've never met somebody who told me their story and I'm like, you can, like, tell me more. Like, I've never had that happen. Like, like I it could always be simpler, right? So but what I, what I always start with is, why are you telling the story? Why? Why? Because most people just tell the story of telling the story's sake without really, like, a goal. So the first thing I teach in my in everything I teach is the whole point of the story is, yeah, this is what you know how to do, what your strength is. This is what the boss you're interviewing with or your client, whoever your audience is struggling with. Okay. And you have the solution here. The only difference is they don't know that you have the solution. And the story is, what does that like? So how does this play out? Like, for example, let's say here's a here's a person who wants to lose 30lbs, okay? Here's a fitness trainer who's helped people lose 30lbs. Right. But this fitness trainer is not selling that. This lot of fitness trainer I know overcomplicate the story because they make the personal brand all about them, whether they're thinking about the audience. So what they do is they talk about themselves like, oh, this or as well. Well, my experience is the clients that I work with and they talk about how, you know, how important is how mindset, how important mindset, trauma, dealing with mindset blocks and things like that is important in health and all of those things that the audience don't care about. And the audience coming to them like, Hey, Sun, I just want to lose 30lbs, right? Skip Right. [Yeah.] So what needs to happen is there has to be a story. [Yeah.] That says something like let's say if I'm going through a hero's, if I'm telling a hero's journey story because the hero's journey, the story can be about me or about a, a client that I work with. So I'll do that one for us. Hero's Journey Story will be something like this. Hey, I used to always want to lose 30lbs. Always. It doesn't matter. I will lose 35. I'll go right back in. I have to lose 30lbs. I get like, so are you in a place where you're always have to lose 30lbs? Like, here's my story but until one day that that so here's the here's how the story gets set up. I set up conflict resolution. I used to always be this way. I always used to have to lose 30lbs, then automatically the the audience sees themselves and it's like, oh, actually you're that's exactly where I am now. Right? And then you're. Relatable. Yeah. And then the inciting incident that's the conflict is until one day this happened and that's the part that you have to talk in detail what happened and then what's outcome, right? And that's when I realized that I can never keep the 30lbs of until I fix my mindset. Then the audience will be like, Oh, okay, now they're willing to listen to the rest, right? But if you start with that nobody wants to listen to the rest. So that's one way to tell the who is starting the story. But a lot of people always tell them, Tell me, Sun. But I've never actually had that struggle that my clients go through. Right? Like, that's another piece. Some people say that because like you could be maybe you were fit your whole life. You never had to worry about losing 30lbs. But you're a great fitness trainer, right? Then what I usually say is another story is you're turning your weakness into strength. It's the story that I told before about my analytical side versus creative. So realizing your weakness is actually your strength. That's another hero starting your story that. So that could be that. But yeah, what it does and so when you tell that story, what I always say is there's a perfect golden soul of one on one that it's cliche. For example, if I say where there's a will, there's a way. Yes, I'm one year out and one year out there was it on one end. It's so unique that it doesn't apply to anyone else except you. Okay. And then there's a golden zone here where it's not cliche enough that unique enough that people never heard before, but it's not cliche enough that people feel like, Oh yeah, I feel that too. Right. And that's what makes people say, I never that's why when you go to a comedy club and a comedian makes a joke and you're kind of like, Oh, that's so true. I never thought of it that way. Right. And and that's because it's in that golden zone of yes, I've experienced it enough, but I've never heard anyone say it. So it's it's still unique and you need to find that. And the perfect way to find that zone is to be completely, utterly authentic. You cannot craft a better story than the truth. So here's an example. I always tell the story of like, I hate first day of school. I used to hate first day of school. Because when you go around the room and everybody introduces himself the whole time, I'm thinking, I'm trying to make up cute things to say that's going to make me look cool. Not dumb, but not cliche. It's something everybody says some overthinking it. Well, and I have it in my mind. And then until somebody says it, I'm like, Oh, he said it. So now I can't say it anymore. And I'm just overthinking until it gets to my turn and I get up and I just bring something out. I black out and I sit down and I hide. And then immediately I'm like, I should have said this, right? Yes. Yes. When I experience when I say the scenario, that's like a perfect example of that golden zone, because that's something so many people have experience, but not nobody is have heard it that way. So it makes people like, Oh shit, he's like that. I'm also like that. I thought I was the only one and it all immediately creates a bond between me and that audience, right? So and many of the reasons why people don't do this is because they're afraid, like what? The story that I just told with the first day of school, it's that's authentic to me. That's exactly how I felt. It's down to the tea. Very authentic. But I'm afraid to say it because what if I say it and people like, so what are you talking about? What? I never heard that you're a loser. Like, I don't want to be. I don't want to be the weirdo one weird one. Because if I'm the first person to say this, then, then there's a risk there, right? Like what if what if nobody else feels that way and that's the real reason why people don't want to be that vulnerable.
[Ann 00:45:39] I think that's super relatable. I was definitely nodding my head as... I was a very self-critical child. So I definitely had that terror first day of school. But I was really relating to that even currently, like when I when the pandemic happened and I had to start presenting at big conferences, just as I am right now, looking at this green light on my laptop where I didn't have the feedback from the audience, I couldn't engage. I had this speech that I was giving many, many times, sometimes many times a day. And I remember one particular presentation. I was giving this speech, and I was very confident in the content. I had it fully memorized, almost to a point of a fault. And then at the end we were doing Q&A and I kind of like, I don't know, I just kind of lost my train of thought and I just kind of like made a joke about it. All of the comments afterwards were like, That's the moment. I was like, I get you. I like you. I find you relatable. She in fact, one person reached out to me on Twitter very specifically saying, like, until then, I was like, look at how perfect this is so polish I can't relate to this, whatever. And then she was like, in that moment when you got tripped up and you forgot where you were going with the story, she was like, Then I fell in love with your content, and it was such a great lesson to me of not worrying about that. In fact, that can be alienating. And then the other thing you made me think of is I recently I gave a speech in Abu Dhabi just a couple of weeks ago, and they actually paid me a lot more than my usual speaking fee. And my speaking slot was literally one third the usual amount of time that I have. It took me twice as long to write a 20 minute keynote than it normally would for an hour keynote because, like you said, I had to get rid of all the fluff I had to go straight into. I had to build up the no like and trust factor right away. I had to get some really memorable points in. And that's an art that's a really hard to do and I feel like we don't self-edit in that way. I learned a lot about my process in writing that, so I think there's so much wisdom in, this hero's journey crafting that you're describing that takes a little bit of practice. And you're right, what resonates most is those authentic moments. We are like, people may or may not get what I'm about to say, but this is truly my experience and how I got exactly there. I thank you.
[Sun 00:47:51] I'll just like one very, very practical tip. And one easy way to do that is to be specific. For example, a lot of the Hero's Journey story is like, Oh, I gave this example. I was like, Oh, I was so bad at managing money. Like, I was always broke, right? So that's you're using adjectives. You're it's it's not it's not descriptive. So what I would suggest is use actions to describe adjectives. So instead of saying I was bad at managing finances, I was always broke. Say something like I would like our trip, my friends to dinner on paydays. And for the next two weeks I were ramen noodles until my next paycheck or something like that. Then you're using action and you're drawing a picture of what broke or what managing finances look like, and that a lot of people don't want to do that again because the more specific you make it, the more it real becomes, the more vulnerable it is, but the more specific you make it as one.
[Ann 00:49:05] I love that. That's that's the a huge takeaway moment. I again, you are articulating exactly this. I've never thought about it that way. But when you say it, when you articulate it in that way, I know exactly what you're talking about because it now I will remember you and the ramen versus the night out with the friends. It's much more memorable. It's much more relatable. Even if I'm not the type of person that did that I now can imagine myself in that room with all your friends. I know that you're generous. I also know you're a little impulsive. I think it helps me get right with one with one articulation. So that's a great take. Away is actions versus adjectives. I really love that. I want to quickly go back to how you hire your talent because I just so love the way that you grow them and accelerate them. We don't have that much time left. And then I'm going to ask you two lightning round final questions before we wrap up our conversation. But then you're so invested in developing your talent, how do you spot it? Sounds to me like you prioritize hiring people early that you can really accelerate, find talents and help them grow. That sounds like something you really enjoy doing. Mentoring, leading them, helping them discover this about themselves. What does that look like? What do you look for when you're hiring someone and how do you know where to lean in to help them develop that skill set and bring out the very best in them?
[Sun 00:50:25] For me, I found that. I found that hiring two experienced people doesn't work for us because then it's too much unlearning for that has to be done. So we started hiring like either people that only have one or two years experience or like right out of college. And the only thing I look for in the interview is their attitude, like we said before. Right, because I think once that when they have the right approach to anything can be taught. So what I look for is like their attitude towards learning, learning new things, and also how much interest they have in in this. Like if they're a programmer, how much interest they have in coding, right? Not just like because a lot of people get into design, a lot of people go into finance because they want to look the part. They want to drive a nice car, wear a three piece suit, and be called a banker, not because they actually enjoy investment banking, but then, you know, things like that, right? So that's. Prestige. Yeah. So that's what I look for, number one. And I found that once that's in line, the rest can be taught.
[Ann 00:51:36] I love that. I wish this is a beautiful trend I'm seeing globally, especially among entrepreneurs like you, of really looking for that passion element. Like do light up when they talk about what you're working on, including like the challenges and the struggles and the really hard stuff. Does that excite them? Does it ignite them? Do they feel like their job is giving as much to them as they are giving to it? That is a golden moment. I so relate to that. The people that I've hired across my career and especially now in my own company, those are the ones that shine like we can do anything together. Yeah. When that alignment is there, it's just used to call that hiring people. You have to hold back, not push forward. Yeah, really think about that with every single interview. In fact, after the end of this podcast, I'm about to interview a candidate for one of my clients, and that is what I'm looking for is what is the alignment? Are they on the same trajectory? Are they have similar passion alignments? Do they enjoy the same kind of struggles? Do they have the same kind of growth, goals and trajectory? And when those things are in place, yeah, I agree. The details kind of work themselves out. Yeah. There is so much more I want to talk to you about, but I also want to be respectful of your time. So my favorite lightning round final questions are really about the future. I'm curious, what excites you about the future? Could be what you're working on or you know, whatever technology is whatever it might be. And then I would love to know the best places where our listeners could follow along with your journey, connect with you, and continue to learn from you.
[Sun 00:53:09] Right now, I'm super excited about my membership that all nation because I believe that... So right now I think we're at a weird place in education where technology is making everything scale right. Netflix, you know, things like that, like podcasts and things like that. But education hasn't quite found yet. Found that yet because you have these like, you know, $5,000 courses, $15,000 masterminds, mentorships, which really does work, but it's not really skill. Those things are not scalable, in my opinion. And then on, on the other end of the spectrum, you have these like $10 Skillshare courses that are scalable, but like 90% of people don't finish those. So not really scalable either. Yes, pricing wise. Scalable, but not it doesn't work. So what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to find a way how I can scale mentorship at $5 a month through the utilization of community. So peer to peer learning. And because I found that that I'm a huge believer of practical learning, meaning that you don't actually learn anything until you actually do it right. So Yes, you learn how to ride a bike theory wise, but then you actually have to get on that bike to start learning it. And that's the environment I create. So and that's I think, missing part of online education right now, the practical part, right? So I'm really excited about this. I want to solve this problem of online education and figure out a way to skill mentorship so that people that are elected in India, Nigeria, who cannot afford the $15,000 mastermind, can still have the same kind of mentorship of $5 a month.
[Ann 00:55:07] I am very excited about that. As you know, I one of my biggest whys is I really want to democratize success. So thank you for paying that forward. All these things that you've learned, providing opportunities for mentorship, it's a really exciting space. So how can people learn, discover more about this course, more about what you're working on? Where can people follow along and connect with you so that they can be part of this journey?
[Sun 00:55:29] Yeah, I think my Instagram is like the best place because I put all of my content there and even for my members, I put their exclusive content through Instagram stories. So my Instagram sun.yi, So that's where you can find everything.
[Ann 00:55:50] Everything is connected through there. I have been a long time follower of yours and I find doses of inspiration or little practical tips literally every day that I'm like, Oh, right, Sun said this. I think of them all the time. They're very memorable. So yes, everyone should start following along. And so thank you so much for sharing your journey, your wisdom and this inspiration today that I found this conversation full of lightbulb moments. I really appreciate you joining us on the Bet on Yourself podcast.
[Sun 00:56:13] Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun.
About my guest

Sun Yi