Today was a historical day — the nation’s first female, first Black, and first South Asian Vice President was sworn into office. The first, but surely not the last!
As my co-host (and good friend) Jay and I are gearing up to officially launch Across the Lines, a podcast where we have candid conversations with Asian American leaders about the intersection of work and identity, I can’t help but think about how the themes of unity and empathy encapsulated in today’s inauguration are such fundamental underpinnings of this passion project of ours.
And I couldn’t be more proud that all our hard work over the last 5 months is coming to fruition as a small but consequential thread in a broader tapestry of social progress.
We’ll be releasing our pilot later this week and launching our first episode next Tuesday. Before we officially launch our inaugural season (which features executives from FB and Slack, a TIME person of the year, and more), I wanted to share a bit of early-access context on what we’re building and a few reflections on what we’ve learned.
Why did we build this?
Society often compartmentalizes our identities into Asian vs. American, personal vs. professional. Throughout our lives, we've had to wrestle with questions like “Am I Asian enough? Am I American enough? How have values from my upbringing manifested in how I show up at work?”
We truly believe that who you are as a professional is inextricable from you are as a person, meaning that conversations around the model minority myth, Eastern vs. Western values, mental health, and our role in civic life can't be had in isolation through either a personal or professional lens.
Through this podcast, we aim to look across the lines that are drawn around different parts of our identities to paint a holistic picture of Pan Asian American leaders and create a space to have an open dialogue around important topics within our community.
Moreover, we hope that by having honest conversations that humanize the achievements of these trailblazers, we can inspire the next generation of Pan Asian American professionals and bring them across the proverbial line of understanding how to be leaders in their own right.
Some Early Learnings
1. Being embarrassed by your initial product > analysis paralysis
Per Reid Hoffman, if you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late. As a perfectionist, this was incredibly difficult to internalize — “good enough isn’t enough” has always been my MO, and often to my detriment. Luckily, Jay and had complementary working styles and balanced each other out on both speed and quality.
Within a week of aligning on a vision for the podcast, and armed with $20 mics from Amazon, we began reaching out to mentors of ours to record beta episodes. These early reps were invaluable in teaching us how to structure a narrative, how to ask high-velocity questions, and how to produce a podcast in general. We then shared these episodes with friends to gather initial unfiltered feedback, optimizing for launching fast and shortening feedback cycles over creating polished perfection. If you're curious, you can check out the initial survey we sent out here.
We received a variety of early feedback, ranging from "Jay's mic makes him sound like he's in a tunnel" to "This isn't a category I'd listen to". Through this, we also quickly learned to take feedback with a grain of salt and parse out what's grounded in actionable principles from what's simply personal preference.
2. Ruthlessly prioritize and execute on your areas of highest leverage
As much as we joke that our ideal jobs would be being paid to talk to people, Across the Lines was still very much so a passion project that we’re pursuing on the side of our day jobs. Because of this, and because of the 100% virtual world we were operating in, we needed to prioritize and make decisions as effectively as possible.
Something we focused on was executing on our areas of highest leverage. What this meant was prioritizing the tasks that were most important and then asking ourselves "What's the 20% of work we can do that will give us 80% of our results?" For example, we agreed that quality of podcast content would be a top priority for us. By switching to more professional mics and using software that made editing 10x easier (small changes in the grand scheme of things), we were able to create a step-change in the quality of our audio content.
Moreover, working in a virtual environment with a co-founder makes quick and effective decision making incredibly challenging. What helped us create focus was classifying decisions as a) big and/or irreversible (e.g. guest roster, podcast name) or b) small and/or reversible (e.g. font on website, wording of copy) For the decisions in (a), we'd carefully deliberate and align, and for (b), we'd make decisions more autonomously.
3. Err on the side of overpreparation
Given that guest experience is one of our non-negotiable principles, we doubled down on being as prepared as possible in both our research for interviews as well as how we communicated our vision and process with guests.
When researching guests, we dug through LinkedIn, blogs, and YouTube videos to uncover nuggets of information that would be valuable to our listeners. When brainstorming questions to ask guests, we focused on two rules of thumb: 1) dig deep, as surface-level information will lead to surface-level answers, and 2) ask open questions that are hypothesis-driven and that we don't know the answer to.
Effectively communicating how we wanted to build a storyline with a guest was just as important as the prep work in crafting that narrative. To drive alignment and build shared vision, we created a "briefing doc" for each guest. This doc explained the context, highlighted our "why", and previewed the questions that we had in mind. We received feedback from nearly every guest that this document was immensely helpful, especially in an all-virtual world. You can see an example of a briefing doc we created for Deb Liu here.
I use “passionate” very sparingly, and this is a project I’m Passionate about, with a capital P 😊 Please don’t hesitate to shoot me a note if you want tips and tricks for starting your own podcast, or if what we’re discussing on the show resonates with you.