Gold House x Samsung NEXT virtual salon: Asian Founders Cracking the Bamboo Ceiling

Bo Ren
Samsung  NEXT
Published in
4 min readJun 23, 2020


In celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month (APAHM) we hosted a virtual salon with Gold House last month. Gold House is a nonprofit collective of diverse leaders dedicated to forging stronger relationships that empower Asians to have more authentic, more successful, and healthier lives to advance all of society.

We partnered with Gold Rush Venture Directors Megan Ruan and Mikkoh Chen, along with our Head of Diversity and Inclusion Jiun Kimm, to gather fifteen Asian founders to talk about their shared experiences and challenges.

Key takeaways:

  • The bamboo ceiling prevents many Asian Americans from advancing to leadership positions.
  • There is a need for Asian American founders to cultivate a narrative around shared heritage. Very few successful Asian founder stories are shared in mainstream media.
  • Many Asian American founders are building goodwill and brand equity through their philanthropic donations and volunteer work, giving back to the Asian community during COVID-19.

Breaking the bamboo ceiling

Our salon included an incredible group of 10 founders representing many different industries, including travel tech, fintech, and hospitality. This event included Sahra Nguyen founder of Vietnamese off brewery Nguyen Coffee Supply, Lucia Liu creator Rock the Boat podcast about Asian Americans challenging the status quo, and Gary Chou founder of Orbital Studios, a community practice for techies and creatives, and many notable Asian American entrepreneurs.

Even amongst this powerhouse group, many founder participants in the salon felt as though they were the “only” Asian representatives in many situations, including board rooms, pitch meetings, and in leadership.

This sense of “onlyness” persists as Asian Americans advance higher in organizations. A recent Harvard Business Review study showed that Asian Americans are the least likely group to be promoted as executives in corporate America. The proverbial “bamboo ceiling” prevents many Asian Americans from advancing into leadership positions at corporations.

George Zeng, founder of Moonfish, said he saw very few Asian executives while product managing at Facebook. He noted in Silicon Valley there are very few Asian leaders in management despite the number of Asians employed in tech companies.

Company diversity data in 2013 reveals Asians and Asian Americans comprised 27 percent of the workforce at Google, Intel, Yahoo, Hewlett Packard, and LinkedIn, but they held just 13 percent of executive jobs.

George wondered if this lack of advancement for Asian executives and founders has to do with a lack of cultural fluency and bias against Asians to navigate traditional power structures. He hopes that the Asian American community can work to de-risk the founder journey as a profession so that more next-generation Asians can aspire to such a path.

Cultivating more shared narratives

A recent Gold House study showed 30 percent of emerging unicorns and unicorn companies have Asian founders, but we don’t often hear their stories. One way to combat the sense of “onlyness” and lack of representation is to highlight Asian founders and executives and promote them as models of success that others can aspire to.

To that end, Lucia Lee founded the podcast Rock the Boat. Through the podcast, Lucia hopes to encourage more Asian founders and executives to share their own experiences and narratives publicly so we have more success stories and paths to look up to.

She discovered there are actually many high-ranking Asian executives and founders in tech. They include Patrick Lee, who founded Rotten Tomatoes; Holly Liu, co-founder of Kabam and the first Chinese-American woman to exit a billion-dollar business; and Eric Ly, the original co-founder and CTO of LinkedIn; all of whom have spoken on the podcast.

Our Head of D&I Jiun Kimm said there is power in sharing personal stories but also finding ways to connect with the larger community. Storytelling is incredibly powerful because it helps other Asian Americans feel less lonely as the “only” in corporate America but also finds ways for the Asian community to reject storylines that are not ours. Change happens slowly but stories compound to change.

Adapting businesses to the reality of COVID-19

The COVID crisis is causing this group of founders to think more deeply about how their businesses are pivoting to support those most directly impacted by the pandemic and, specifically, support those within the Asian Pacific Islander community who may be impacted given barriers to access and limited resources.

Pearl Chan created Snowball Wealth, a fintech startup dedicated to student loan relief, to help first-generation immigrant students overcome student debt. After COVID-19, she is seeing an increase in demand for financial advice from college graduates and recently unemployed people. In her experience, first-generation college graduates have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic so she is pivoting her business to meet her users where they are.

The pandemic has also impacted small businesses in New York City. Sahra Nguyen from Nguyen Coffee, was worried about the community’s older generation who may lack the language skills and cultural fluency to navigate the bureaucracy of PPP loans and small business resources. As a result, she started a fund for undocumented workers and has donated 5 percent of May proceeds in honor of APAHM to Mekong NYC, a Bronx-based nonprofit that aims to improve the quality of life of the Southeast Asian community in New York City, where she also sits on the board.

We hope that more Asian American founders continue to celebrate their heritage by sharing their narratives and struggles as barrier-breaking entrepreneurs. Samsung NEXT is a global organization dedicated to cultivating a culture of diversity and inclusiveness for all walks of life. Please get in touch with us to continue the conversation and meet some awesome founders.

Want to stay in touch? Join our new Slack community here to continue the conversation about Asian American founders and connect with other founders:



Bo Ren
Samsung  NEXT

Product-focused investor empowering underestimated founders. Writer. Advisor.