Tony Tran

Co-Founder of Lumanu

Tony Tran is the Co-Founder and CEO of Lumanu, a platform that makes doing business in the Creator Economy easy, collaborative, and fun. Lumanu’s collab and business tools are used by thousands of professional creators ranging from social influencers and designers to celebrity entrepreneurs like Jessica Alba, Addison Rae, and Snoop Dogg.

Tony started Lumanu in 2017 with co-founders Nhan Nguyen and Paul Johnson. Tony holds a Computer Science degree from MIT and was a product manager at Google and a consultant at McKinsey prior to starting Lumanu.

Where did the idea for Lumanu come from?

My family immigrated to South Carolina from Vietnam in 1994, and to this day, both my parents don’t speak English well. I gave my mother an iPad for Mother’s Day in 2016 and she immediately discovered YouTube. She loved watching videos about cooking and travel by creators who spoke Vietnamese.

In my day job at the time, I was working at a startup in the marketing space and saw the economic potential of empowering creators as a new class of entrepreneurs. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to build back then, but I knew I wanted to build for the creator community.

It amazed me that creators can make high production media with affordable but powerful hardware, improve their craft with cheap (sometimes free) online classes, and distribute it on channels like YouTube. I knew it was the beginning of a revolution in how content was both created and consumed.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m a big fan of “calendar blocking.” I break my week into four separate blocks. Mondays are for my leadership team, Tuesday mornings are reserved for go-to-market, Tuesday afternoons are product and engineering, and Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are “free” days for me to focus on the most important problems for the week.

On any given day, I start off my morning by prioritizing the day’s obligations and commitments in Asana (I’m a big fan!). I break things into “Do today” versus “Do this week” versus “Do later.” I’m a big fan of getting into a flow. The more I can plan up front, the more I can focus on critical thinking and working on tough problems.

I also block things like workouts and lunches on my calendar to make sure my body is fed and in a good physical state to tackle the hard problems of running a startup!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I write things down. I know it sounds trivial, but writing down ideas gives them substance and makes them tangible. It forces me to clarify my thoughts and put them in a format that anyone else (including myself) can read and understand. It also helps solidify the idea, the impact of implementing the idea, and the effort required to make it a reality.

From there, I share my idea with a small group (usually 1-2 other people) to sanity check my assumptions on impact and effort. After validating our assumptions, I work with the group to identify the “big rocks” that prevent us from making this idea happen.

After identifying the big rocks, we break the rocks into action items. We then prioritize and staff the appropriate team to methodically tackle the action items.

My big philosophy: own as individuals, drive action as a team. As long as there’s one clear owner of making the idea a reality, good things happen.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The democratization of learning. I find it invigorating that anyone can learn anything from the internet––often from content made by creators!

When I first started coding, I had to read books and go to classes. Now, you can learn anything from coding to investing to Photoshop from online content. Of course, you often have to supplement online courses or videos with in-person learning, but the fact that such great online resources even exist is amazing.

I have no doubt that’s why we’re seeing an explosion of ambitious people making a living off of skills that they didn’t learn in school. That’s exciting to me.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m relentless when it comes to solving hard, meaningful problems. When I’m working on a hard problem that meaningfully drives the world forward, and ideally our business forward, it ceases to be work. It becomes fun, and it feels like playing a very hard video game. Sure, it gets frustrating at times, but the journey is so worth it.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Learn how to sell at an earlier stage! Everything I do as an entrepreneur is some form of selling. Whether it’s fundraising from VCs, hiring those great employees, or even getting a PR agency to work with us. Being able to sell––that is, being able to succinctly and convincingly get your point across––is such a valuable skill. I’m glad I’ve gotten better, but it would have helped if I worked on it at a younger age.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I think when we talk about work-life balance, there’s a tendency to pit work and life against each other. I don’t believe in forcing yourself to balance two competing priorities––to me, it’s all about holistic “life balance.”

I know I’m fortunate to have a job that I enjoy doing, but at the same time, I think we all have the capability to think about work as a part of life, not in opposition to life. I strive to keep a meaningful balance in my life––and I treat things like family, leisure, eating healthy, fitness, and work obligations all as pieces of the puzzle. Sometimes, it makes sense to prioritize one puzzle piece over another, but it’s a constant balance of all things in life––not just “work things” versus “life things”.\

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Ask myself, “what’s the worst that could happen?” It’s impossible to come up with the perfect answer to any problem without getting it out there and having the world react to it. Speed is everything to me, and being comfortable with failure and mistakes so I can get to the right answer faster is critical to succeeding as an entrepreneur.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Double down on unique advantages. Every company has a unique DNA composed of the founding team, the employees, the product, the underlying thesis, etc. The goal is to look at everything you have––all your cards, so to speak––to identify the way for your company to be distinctive and successful. What can we do that is impossible for others to replicate? This “unique advantage” can quickly become an “unfair advantage,” which can translate to insane growth and a confidence from VCs.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early on, it was impossible for me to get funding. I didn’t have the network, and my personality and upbringing made it hard to build that network. I am a Vietnamese immigrant. Not many investors could “pattern match” me to a successful founder they’ve previously invested in.

I was able to eventually overcome it through advice from a mentor. Rather than fundraising by being like other founders, I embraced my differences, my origin, and why I’m doing what I’m doing. I knew that I just needed a few investors to truly believe in who I am and the company I’m building. It’s fine to get 99 “Nos,” as long as I get 1 resounding “YES!”

I stopped mimicking other founders and what I read online and embraced who I am. The moment I did that, I still got “Nos,” but the “Maybes” became strong “Yeses,” and the rest is history.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think there should be a service to give barbers and salon professionals direct reviews. Not the salon––the professionals themselves. And those reviews should travel with the barber wherever they go. I find it insane that review sites like Yelp are centered around the “business” and not enough on the actual individuals that are working with you. It takes me forever to hunt down reviews for the individuals that I want to cut my hair! I think this is a big opportunity, especially in a world where salon professionals move around quite a bit.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A Zojirushi rice cooker. Keeping my body fed is important, and having a good rice cooker for perfect rice everyday is critical to my success! Also, you can cook pretty much anything else in it. A good one will last you decades. Money well spent.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Superhuman. It’s a great email client, and the intuitive keyboard shortcuts make it so easy to get in the flow and knock out dozens of emails. It costs $30/month, but if you use email as much as I do (hours per day), it’s worth the investment.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. It’s a brilliant book on motivating yourself and others. I recommend listening to the TedTalk as well to get a brief synopsis.

What is your favorite quote?

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” – Teddy Roosevelt.

I paraphrase it as “Nothing worthwhile is easy.” Life is hard. The reason we put up with it is because there are moments of joy in the journey. Embracing difficult things and framing it as steps we take in life is so important for all of us.

Key Learnings:

  • Move fast and don’t be afraid of failure
  • Embrace uniqueness and use it as a strength
  • Focus on life balance instead of work-life balance
  • Be fit physically to excel mentally