I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Nam. Brian Nam is CEO & Co-founder of DIVE Studios, a multi-platform media company with a focus on audio content.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA to Korean immigrants. I grew up playing soccer my entire life and was eventually recruited to go play Division I soccer at Columbia University in New York. Eager to explore all the opportunities that college and New York City had to offer, I left the soccer team after my Freshman year and started holding internships throughout the school year, determined to find a career path that I could be passionate about.
I eventually landed on Venture Capital and Private Equity as career opportunities that I was extremely excited about. Fast forward to my Junior Year, I was able to secure a full time offer from an elite Private Equity firm that I thought was my dream job. With the offer in hand, I flew out to Korea to visit my brother Eric, who happens to be a Kpop star, for a couple of weeks before my Senior year started.
While in Korea, I encouraged my brother Eric to start a podcast. I love podcasts. At that time, I was listening to 5–6 full episodes a day. I would listen when I was commuting, exercising, working, etc. It was my way of learning from people that I admired and listening in on conversations that I would otherwise not have access to. So with that in mind, I saw the unique and real benefits of audio content, particularly podcasts.
At the time there was no one doing any type of podcasting for Kpop audiences, despite the fact that Kpop is one of the most amazing communities to be a part of. So, Eric and I put it upon ourselves to make the first-ever Kpop podcast called “Kpop Daebak w/ Eric Nam”. We recorded 2 episodes on his kitchen countertop and put it out into the universe. Overnight, the podcast shot to #1 and #2 on Apple Podcasts across 28 different countries, and a lightbulb went off. We saw a real opportunity to create a company that better serves diverse audiences through audio. I eventually dropped out of college and made the decision to pursue DIVE Studios full time.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
We consider ourselves to be an audio-first company and are focused on producing audio content that builds connections in ways that were new. When we decided not to limit ourselves strictly to the world of podcasts, it allowed us to envision a world where audio has no boundaries. While the current content ecosystem is saturated with options for video (Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, Amazon Prime, etc. to YouTube and TikTok), audio is still relatively green and the future is full of possibilities. However, because the audio market is more nascent, there are many inefficiencies in both the supply and demand of content categories as well as monetization. We decided to take our learnings from our podcast content, hosts, and DIVE community to address those inefficiencies and create what we believe will be the future of intimate audio connections between celebrities and their fans.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Every day is an uphill battle in a startup, so I can’t say that anything has come easy. The most difficult thing I could point to was when COVID hit, a lot of podcasting revenue went out the window and we had to scramble and get creative on how to keep the company going. Luckily, I work with some incredible people at DIVE Studios, who were able to dig deep with me in the trenches and make things happen.
Giving up was never an option — I, along with my brothers, have felt tremendous responsibility to look out for our employees, talent, and listeners across the world.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going well. We recently launched our new platform called MINDSET by DIVE Studios and are in the process of building our incredible team and constantly improving our new platform, all while maintaining a highly engaged podcast network and fan community. There have been many tough periods and times that required grit and resilience from both myself and our DIVE team. Having said that, when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we try to remind ourselves that taking small, consistent steps allows us to achieve great things over time.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The people are what make DIVE special. We have an incredible community built around DIVE Studios. We have amazingly talented artists and hosts with whom we’ve built a mutual trust and admiration for, and we also have an incredibly engaged and loyal DIVE Studios family and listenership. The fact that we’ve been able to all come together around great stories, interviews and audio is something that we all believe is incredible.
Also, on a more personal note, the fact that this company was founded by myself and my brothers is something that is very unique and a big strength. Of course we disagree at times, but we know that it all comes from a place of love, trust and really wanting what’s best for this company.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I always felt one of my strongest qualities was that I could outwork anyone….but I came to quickly realize that running a startup can drain you not only physically, but mentally as well. Working across Asia and U.S. time zones, I found myself setting calls as late as 2AM or as “early” as 6AM on a regular basis and that really destroyed me, but now I’m more conscious of NOT doing that and life has been a lot better since !
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
“Don’t Think Just Do” — not sure who said that at one point, but I hear it and see it a lot. Luckily, I do think and then do it anyways, so that’s definitely worked out for me.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Grit — 2020 threw a lot of curveballs and challenges our way, but we’ve had to keep pushing through. As discussed earlier, failure was never an option.
- Humility — I am constantly thinking of ways we can improve and take the company forward. In order to do that, I have to ask many questions, learn quickly from mistakes, and not deal with any bs. I am not better than anyone simply because of my title or as a co-founder in this company.
- Curiosity — I am an innately curious person, which led me listening to a thousand podcasts prior to starting DIVE Studios. In a lot of ways, curiosity is what brought us here today.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take care of your health, both mentally and physically. Stay grateful and enjoy the process!
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
As a young CEO, I still make mistakes and am learning every day, but I would just say that it’s important to thank your team and those around you as much as possible because they are ultimately the ones making things happen and executing the vision with you. I truly work with some of the most talented and best people around and for that, I am always grateful.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Remembering to take care of your health, both mentally and physically, is so important. “Hustle” culture has its place, but remember that your health is equally important. Your company and all the people depending on you need you healthy and at your best.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus, focus, focus — there are a lot of temptations to take the company in a million different directions and start new projects & verticals quickly, but I’ve learned to focus and be really good at 1 or 2 things and build upon that first before doing anything else.
- Take care of Yourself — as I’ve mentioned, I’ve neglected my health sometimes just working non-stop to a point of exhaustion. If I’m not functioning at a high level, I’ve learned there are much bigger ramifications. Sleep (even a little) is a must!
- Learn to say no — just because someone is passionate about something doesn’t mean that it’s right for the company. It’s been important for me to keep our vision in line with everything we do, even if it hurts feelings.
- Your team is the key to success — When we hit our goals as a company, I know that it’s a combination of a lot of little things done right across the company and it makes me very proud and honored to be working with my team. Without them, none of this is possible.
- You Can’t Do Everything — In the beginning, every decision ran through me and it was exhausting for everyone, including me. It wasn’t until we built the right systems and workflow, that I was able to breathe again.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
DIVE Studios is contributing to and building a world of audio that leaves a lasting, positive impact on culture and society. We’ve been committed to creating audio content that creators can feel passionate about while also allowing them to better create and connect with fans around the world in intimate and meaningful ways. The movement is happening right now!
How can our readers further follow you online?
DIVE Studios is on almost every single platform and we have content that is specific to each, so whatever your platform of choice may be, you can find us there. Personally, you can find me at @bnam10 on instagram or @briannam10 on Twitter
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!