Kun Gao, Founder of Crunchyroll Addresses Newton Lecture Series

Kun Gao, a UC Berkeley alumni and the co-founder of CrunchyRoll, the Netflix + of anime, recently addressed the Newton Lecture Series. Crunchyroll is a leading global destination and platform for Japanese anime and Asian content, and has more than 750,000 active paying users. Kun Gao and his team have spent the past decade or so making the most of the explosion of anime among millennials, and adopted a brand centric approach that allows increased engagement between users and their content.

‘For us, it was about how we could build engagement with the brand. We stream the show, but we also make the comic available, while shipping merchandise and reaching out to actors to get them to come to conventions.’

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Having conquered a journey of struggle that involved riding through the recession, today, Kun is focused on ‘getting really smart about the data that this audience is generating for us.’ He shares his insight on how he thought that data will in the future be extremely crucial to the next generation of content and user experiences. His focus on audience analytics and audience insight – age, demographics and other parameters – shed light on how detail oriented marketing strategies for his streaming service have to be.

Kun’s struggle was not the only part of his talk – he shared eight important lessons, through quotations, that we have summed below for those who missed the talk:

  1. It’s Incredibly Important to Have the Right Perspective: ‘The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.’ (Steven Furtick) Kun emphasized that it was important to realize there exists a bias since we’re not exposed to everyone else’s lows, and hence it’s necessary to approach everyday with an optimistic perspective.
  2. Action is Everything: ‘Vision without execution is daydreaming.’ Kun stressed that the most important thing one could do is actually go out and do something – he emphasized that in his line of experience, this helped eliminate 99.99% of competition. He also talked about how hiring a number of advisors and utilizing his alumni connections at Berkeley was crucial to help bring him to where he is today.
  3. Domain Knowledge is Over-rated: ‘it’s better to be naïve and hopeful than experienced and jaded.’ If you’re building something that’s never been built before, by default, experience would tell you to not build it. ‘We were persistent, seemed honest and were extremely genuine,’ Kun told the audience about his initial struggle for customer acquisition, a literal door to door marketing battle, that was key in helping them learn about their domain.
  4. Find Friends to Share the Journey: ‘It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than you, but it ‘aint’ bigger than us.’ Kun emphasized that the highs in business are great, but the lows can be very difficult to struggle with, and it is tough to do it all by yourself. ‘We had this conviction, almost a religious belief that it would turn out fine. And that carried all of us.’
  5. Make Sure You Love What You Do: ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.’ This quote by Steve Jobs, coupled with Kun’s passionate talk, his energy and his enthusiasm at sharing his failures, made it self-evident that this was perhaps the most important lesson he learnt.
  6. MVP is about learning quickly: ‘everything should be as simple as it can be but not simpler.’ In complex businesses that change dynamically everyday, it’s important to not lose sight of simplicity, and sticking to key goals and tasks at all times.
  7. Go Big or…: ‘Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.’ It’s incredibly important to have a big goal one can work towards, otherwise founders stand to suffer from a lack of motivation, foresight.
  8. ‘Success isn’t owned. It’s leased and rent is due every day.’ Kun believes that if a founder feels successful about what he or she has done, they shouldn’t sit on that success, but instead need to validate it; ‘prove to others why you’re successful.’

Kun’s humility and his struggle were inspiring for students to take a note of. Once trying to minimize his costs to the extent that his team plugged in hard drives into their servers, Kun today runs the largest anime streaming and engagement business in the world.

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