Getting to Know: Tiger Shen of Welcome

Tiger Shen and his pup, Niko. Want to know more? Check out Tiger’s blog

When I met with Tiger he was escaping the hurricane season in Puerto Rico only to find himself in the fire season in California. But no matter. His sincerity and experience came through loud and clear over Google Meet. He talked to me about Welcome, his latest startup, which puts Zoom and Google Meet to shame — and makes the future look incredibly beautiful and bright.

How it all began

Erika: There’s a really interesting origin story to Welcome 

Tiger: I never get tired of telling a story or hearing it. Basically we had a totally separate company building restaurant software before Welcome. And then the pandemic hit, and our strategy of just going door to door to restaurants to sell our software completely evaporated. We were going through the Y Combinator accelerator and in the exact same week, the Shelter in Place order went into effect, the first one, in San Francisco, the house we were staying in actually burned down. We lost all of our stuff. Now we can make light of it, but it was pretty rough. We were all inside and had to get out. That was definitely not the most favorite season of our lives. 

We wanted to create a platform where we would feel proud of hosting events

I don’t really know why we didn’t just give up and go do other stuff. We never really talked about it. We agreed to give it another swing. We had our own experience hosting and organizing events in Silicon Valley for entrepreneurs and leaders as a side project. We really never aimed to make money or anything from those events–the only thing we cared about was that people came and had a good time and hopefully learned something. And as we started attending virtual events just like a lot of other people last year, we couldn’t help but feel secondhand embarrassment and empathy for the organizers of virtual events because of all the tech issues, all of the confusion around how to do it well. 

And that’s really where the idea for Welcome started. We wanted to create a platform where we would feel proud of hosting events, that we would be happy to show friends and family the platform, and to gather people online in a way that we felt was meaningful. I think we have a long way to go but I really like demoing our product and I think that’s, that’s at least a small milestone.

There’s always this balance with startups between wanting to take over the world and then understanding that you have to find a couple villages first.

Erika: It’s huge because just from the site alone, you can that the future has arrived. I didn’t know about the fire. That’s tragic and frightening. Essentially, you’re the Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Tiger: That’s one of the names we considered before we landed on Welcome. It felt a little bit on the nose. 

Finding the villages

Erika: I’ve seen you say that you want Welcome to become this events machine, so does that mean that it’s perfect for all events or is there a focus on particular kinds of events?

Tiger: There’s always this balance with startups between wanting to take over the world and then understanding that you have to find a couple villages first, and a couple towns, and it can’t happen all at once. 

The primary goal [of companies who use Welcome] is to engage teammates virtually in a hybrid space, and they really want to put some intention around the gathering and foster a place of belonging.

Eventually, we would love to have every single event in the world to be hosted on Welcome but for now, the first couple of towns for us are internal events. You can think about employee engagement events, the common example is an All Hands event. Or employee resource groups and employee onboarding events or sales kickoffs where the primary goal of the company or the organization is to engage teammates virtually in a hybrid space, and they really want to put some intention around the gathering and foster a place of belonging. 

And this is opposed to I think a lot of virtual platforms go after more external facing events, like marketing events and sales events where there’s just a different set of priorities — it’s a lot of ROI numbers and your funnel, versus a successful All Hands is probably going to be more defined by how employees felt afterwards, or how they were able to relate to the content or participate and get to meet some of their colleagues and things of that nature. 

On Welcome, even for our broadcasts, it’s pretty immediate, comparable to this video call even if there’s 500 people watching.

Making real connections online

Erika: It seems like with Welcome there’s almost this greater sense of intimacy, or immediacy.

Tiger: Yeah, that’s one of the things we do feel is differentiated. In most live-streaming solutions, there’s a delay between someone speaking of probably 5, 10, sometimes 20 seconds until everyone who’s watching is able to react, right and by then, you might have moved on to a totally different topic. On Welcome, even for our broadcasts, it’s pretty immediate, comparable to this video call even if there’s 500 people watching. 

“For us the question is how can we build a platform so that it drives people towards some of these outcomes that we feel like make up a really great event.”

Erika: I had initially thought you were probably doing this before the pandemic and then it turned out to be great timing. But clearly not. How did you build it so fast? 

Tiger: Yeah, we went from nothing to running our first events in about two months. It’s kind of cheeky but my honest answer is just that, during a lockdown, there’s not much else to do than work. It’s very unhealthy, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but life circumstances happened to allow us all to basically spend all day and night working. And so, turns out you can build a lot of software when that’s the case.

How data runs in the background

Erika: Yay, quarantine! I was reading that Welcome is data driven. Can you speak to that? 

Tiger: Yeah, you know, this is more of an evolving piece of our products. I think there’s a lot of passive data that can be very interesting to event organizers, that is sort of built into a virtual experience that would be sort of downright creepy to track in person experience. So, if we’re on Welcome, and you and I have a conversation in the lounge area, that’s something that organizers can see, even respecting security and privacy. They can see that 500 people out of 700 people at your event were able to meet somebody new or were able to have a face-to-face conversation with somebody. That’s really interesting because maybe two weeks ago, I tried this event and it was 400 people and I did something different this time and now. it’s up to 500. And that’s just an element of improving the way that our customers are able to organize and host their events.

Choose your co-founders wisely.

Words of wisdom

Erika: Any advice for would-be founders?

Tiger: I’m really bad with advice. Because in general, in a vacuum, almost all advice is pretty useless. No one should probably listen to my advice because I don’t know if whoever eventually listens to this will be in a totally different situation than I’ve been. But one thing that comes to mind that is hopefully somewhat universal is choose your co founders wisely. 

What I feel most grateful for working on Welcome is the opportunity to work with my older brother, who’s someone I’ve looked up to for as long as I’ve been alive, and the same with Roberto. We’ve certainly had our fair share of disagreements, our fair share of things gone wrong, but I feel like had our relationship not been as strong, those could very easily have killed a company fight dozens of times, but they haven’t, right?

I think that’s the main reason is the underlying trust or bond or friendship, whatever you want to call it, has been foundational to all of it. I mean, knock on wood, we get to work together for another 10 years. I’d say if you’re just starting out, it’s really hard to go it alone, and so you’ll probably want co-founders. When you get co-founders, you don’t necessarily have to have known them for super long, but I think investing in that relationship and making sure you understand each other on a deeply personal level has a compounding effect when you’re working together.

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