May 10, 2023
Ethan Song - Finding Fulfillment Creating Community

Ethan Song is the CEO of RareCircles, a business he launched to help creators and brands build community in the Web3 economy. He was previously the founder and CEO of Frank And Oak, the apparel brand whose mission was to make...

Apple Podcasts podcast player icon
Spotify podcast player icon
Google Podcasts podcast player icon
Castro podcast player icon
RSS Feed podcast player icon

Ethan Song is the CEO of RareCircles, a business he launched to help creators and brands build community in the Web3 economy. He was previously the founder and CEO of Frank And Oak, the apparel brand whose mission was to make fashion more personal and sustainable for a new generation of creatives and entrepreneurs.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Ethan left the security of a job to pursue entrepreneurship, launching his first company Frank And Oak, and starting a new business, RareCircles, helping creators and brands build communities in the web-3 economy.

Ethan describes launching his first business Frank And Oak, how they innovated by creating a new customer experience, two ways they differentiated their brand,  how they used AI to generate value-based recommendations for customers, and how he knew it was time to move on from Frank And Oak to new pursuits.  

Ethan shares how the idea of community was something he had thought about for a long time, the opportunity he saw for web3 to play a role in that, and ultimately launching RareCircles to help brands use community and engagement to drive business growth. 

Ethan tells us why RareCircles centers around Web3, creating value as a B2B2C company, why he doesn’t focus on RareCircle’s competitors, how he uses data and content to serve businesses and their end users, and the key trends we should all be thinking about when it comes to the future of community platforms.

Finally, Ethan reveals why entrepreneurs need to have passion behind what they do, his thoughts for entrepreneurs thinking about what’s next, his advice for working in a space that is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty, why defining success is an individual exercise, and three realities about being a business owner that you don’t hear out in the real world.

Skip to Topic:

1:45 - Taking a risk by quitting a job to launch a business
3:08 - Differentiating your brand from others
4:09 - Innovating by creating a new customer experience
6:41 - Using AI to provide value-based recommendations for customers
8:07 - The role brand plays in customer buying decisions
9:39 - Launching a web3-based community and engagement platform for brands
11:36 - Using Web3 to accelerate community growth
13:51 - Why passion is important to succeed as an entrepreneur
16:53 - Leaving a successful business to start a new one
20:25 - Why Ethan doesn’t focus on RareCircle’s competitors
21:52 - How to create value as a B2B2C company
23:06 - Using data and content to serve both the business and its customers
24:54 - Key considerations and future trends to think about for community platforms
27:03 - How to succeed as an entrepreneur working in a high degree of uncertainty
34:05 - 3 things about being a business owner that you don’t hear about in the real world 

Find  Ethan at:

Follow RareCircles on Twitter:

Visit Stephanie at:

Follow me onInstagram|Facebook|LinkedIn|Twitter

Support the show

Did you love the content in this episode and would like to continue the conversation?

I'd love to get to know you better!

Book a free call with Stephanie to chat about your strategy and what's next for you in your business.

Learn more about Stephanie here.


Welcome to the Real People Real Business Show. My name is Stephanie Hayes, and I'm a business strategist who helps experience business owners design asset-based business models that set their businesses up for growth and exit. I'd love to speak with like-minded entrepreneurs to share their real stories and the gritty details on how they've navigated their own way through. On this show, you won't hear about glamorized entrepreneurship journeys that you see online and you won't be told how to make. Six figures in six weeks. Instead, you can expect to hear real vulnerable and inspiring stories that you can relate to that have helped create the foundation for each of our guests businesses. Today I'm so excited to welcome Ethan Song. Ethan is the CEO of RareCircles where he helps creators and brands build communities in the Web three economy. Previously, Ethan was the founder and CEO of Frank And Oak, which aimed to reshaped the fashion industry by making it more personable and sustainable. Frank And Oak was named one of the most innovative companies in retail by fast company and was number one on the Deloitte Fast 50 list. Ethan was born in China, but has spent most of his life in Canada. Ethan was previously a member of the C E O Council of Canada, and a mentor for various organizations, including Techstars and the C 100. Welcome to the show, Ethan, and thanks so much for taking your time to share your story today. Of course. Thanks for having me. So I wanna hear the whole story. You went from fashion to web three and you started up one of my favorite stores, Frank And Oak. So where do you wanna start? Yeah, I mean, I can start from where it started. I would say that, you know, I've, I've kind of always wanted to be an entrepreneur. And so before, you know, I, I, I founded those companies or, or had any ideas for anything I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to be in control of my life. I wanted to build. Cool products that people could use. And I was interested in just the whole process of like company building and shaping your own path. And so I actually come from a more technical background. I studied in engineering out in Vancouver. And after that I worked for about two years in, I guess what you'd call a real job. I was working at that time in consulting for Deloitte. Did that for about two years and then, And I felt like I needed to get some experience before I got started. And then after that I was like, okay, I'm, I'm, I'm on my own. Now it's time to get started. The funny thing is, I, I just quit my job. I didn't have an idea, I didn't have like a side business. I kind of took a quite risky path, which was basically just start from nothing. I. And it actually took me a year to really get started because I was looking for ideas or business to get started. As you know, when you have no money, no, no clear ideas or no opportunities, you're basically completely starting from scratch. And from there I started basically I found my way to like software. And specifically I was interested in commerce software because at Deloitte a lot of our clients were retailers and brands. And so that's kind of how I got. Into the branded space. You know, we built the software and, you know, had some early clients, but what really happened was that I thought that the entrepreneurs building on the brand side had so much more fun than I did. And that was around 2011, 2012, when, you know, a lot of the great DDC brands that we know today were built like the Warby Parker of this world. And I was kinda like, Hey, I wanna do that. And so I, I switched my focus towards. Launching my own brand, which became Frank And Oak. And you know, the, what really I think differentiated our business at Frank And Oak in the early days was a focus on one underserved category of customers. In that case, millennial men. And the second piece was focusing on service versus just the product, meaning helping them, choosing their, their clothing, helping them dress better. Over time, you know, Frank And Oak became quite a large company. You know, it added women's wear, it added all these new categories. And the focused company has really kind of anchored itself on making products that are more sustainable and more friendly for the planet. I basically left the company in early 2020, late 2019. And then you know, I spent some time you know, as an investor I was interested in advising and, and helping other entrepreneurs be successful. But you know, very quickly I realized that I was still interested in building, and so I was looking for the next opportunity. And I, I effectively was interested in this idea which I had for a while, which was that the businesses of the future were not going to be focused on a single product, but rather a community. And so that, you know, this idea of like minimal community. Was really intriguing to me and I re I realized that, you know, web three as a new technology could play a role in that, and so I've been doing that for the last 18 months. It's been great so far. And yeah. Anyways, it's, it's a long story, but I'm happy to answer any questions really to any parts of it. No, I love it. And so I've got, I've got lots of questions and lots of different pieces of it, and I, you know, when I first. New Frank And Oak. What was interesting about Frank And Oak was that there was a, like a different buying model. Right. And it's, you know, if, if I remember correctly, there was an app and you could, you know, sign up for some type of, you know, bundle that would be, yep. Given to you, like it was, it was novel, right? You would, you didn't necessarily choose individual items, which you, I think you could eventually, but, you know, you were given sort of a box and said, here's, here's your clothing based on your preferences. And then, you know, now you, now there's retail locations and there's, you know, it's a, it's a more traditional model, isn't it? But tell me a little bit about kind of where, where that came from. Yeah, I, I would say, I think where Frank And Oak really innovated was like in the, you know, in the membership experience side of things. I think the, the idea where it came from was because we started in men what we found when we surveyed at that point, you know, I, I would say our customers were typically like 20 to 35. It's like young, young men. A lot of them like, you know, would read in GQ or look at some blogs or look at some magazines, but really, They needed help to dress better. And, and so what we realized is rather than giving you a magazine, have you like shop around, which a lot of guys didn't like to shop around, what if we just delivered to you the perfect outfits for whatever context that you were into? And so we started this effectively combination of product and styling services all in one. And we added content on top of that effectively also to help men dress better. And so that was how it got started. Funny thing enough is that it. Gain more momentum once we introduce women as part of the customer base. Even though our insight really came from the men's side. And I think, look, a lot of people are busy. A lot of people Also like to have a different kind of experience. And so that's, that's kind of how the experience was created. But definitely we're very early in that. We're also very early in applying ai and having actual like data, you know intelligence as part of how do we make better recommendations? How do we know you know, what do you like? How do we use your, you know, your buying behavior to inform the next decision? If you think about it, you know, in the old, old ways of doing things, you would, you know, go to a store and you would always work with the same person who kind of becomes your, your stylist. Well, they definitely reco. They definitely remember what you bought last time. They also know that now, or you just got a new job and maybe. You know, previous job didn't require you to dress up. Now you have to, you know, wear something a little bit more formal cuz now you're a manager. And so how do we take that information and provide value based on that at scale for hundreds of thousands of customers was a big challenge. And I think we were early in that. Yeah. And I, the, like, the, the layers of this experience are so interesting to me because, you know, on the surface someone sees, you know, fashion, oh, he must be like a fashion guy, like a re retail, like a, you know, a creative and a, yeah, you know, a visionary in the fashion. But really you were almost driving this from a technology perspective and from a, you know, a community perspective. And that's what sort of fed the vision for the creative right. Yeah, I think in my case, like I, I was never the designer of the clothing and you know, I, I think you know, the Frank And Oak brand is not necessarily known to be the most creative, you know, I think there are brands out there. But I would say what, what made our product or experience interesting, I think related to my own sort of strength is a, a, a good balance between storytelling and the application of technology in a way that people can understand. And so, you know, that's something that I often. Speak about, which is like, how do you make something that's quite complex, simple so that, you know, anyone can benefit from it? And I think that's something that we did well at Frank And Oak, but I would say that, you know, a brand definitely did play a big part as well. I think ultimately, especially as it relates to clothing people wanna buy brands that they share values with. So I think, yep. What, what's interesting about Frank And Oak actually is that in the early days, it wasn't so much about brand, it was more about the service. And over time you know, the brand became a larger reason why to buy it was the personalization. And I also think that it's like, you know your market, right? It's very minimalist. It's very like the people who held hold those values are gonna be attracted to the clothing. Like I am. I, I, I'm not. Somebody who's drawn to big, you know, big patterns and yeah, and super creative. Like, I, I loved the, the more simple and more minimalist designs. And, and so I think you, you, your, your personalization was, you know, super important and now you've, you've moved to web three, which is very, again, there's that, that thread of community and, and web three is all about property, ownership of property and, and that sort of autonomy inside of the space and owning what you. Produce. So tell me a little bit more about the, about the business in, in the web three economy. Yeah, I mean, basically at Rare Circles we offer a product called Portal, which is basically a community product that you can access whether you, if you're an owner of an NFT or a token or if you bought a subscription to that site. What's interesting about it is that, It's really the future of memberships and fan clubs. You know, to simplify in terms that I think everyone understands. What we're finding is that, you know, customers today are not interested in traditional loyalty programs anymore which is really about accumulating points and discounting. They want new experiences. They wanna be they want to be heard from their favorite brand. They wanna be part of the brand. And so we effectively power those experiences and those relationships. And you know, the interesting thing part about rare circles is that, you know, often people ask me, oh, are you guys in N F T company? And the reality is that there's components of, you know, blockchain technology that we leverage. But the selling of the NFT is not what we do. What we actually do is the engagement that comes with. Being part of that community and so, but yeah, absolutely. You know, it's interesting because I do think that both the idea of membership and the idea of community-based businesses is actually a true line between what I did previously and what I'm doing now. And, and to be honest, I think also it's because I love being part of great communities. You know, I, I'm, I'm into lots of things where there are communities around that, like, you know, snowboarding or skateboarding or surfing. I'm also into like N F D N F L and the N nba, and so like, All these great communities where you can share things with others, I feel like are extremely important. I would say the other thing that I'm seeing is, you know, I think for DDC businesses, it's harder than ever to acquire new customers and it's harder than ever to keep the customers you have. And so, The deeper the relationship you can create with your early customers, the more longevity you're gonna have in your business. And so I think our problem, our, our product helps you actually to solve some of those issues. So why the focus on Web three and not just, you know, brands out there in the traditional world. Web three I know is, you know, most of the decentralized finance business, I guess you can call them businesses or, or you know, startups are very heavily community focused. Right. In that that's what's driving the growth. Yeah. And driving the development. And of course, you know, you have the spectrum of everything from these really interesting. Reinventions of, of very traditional financial instruments to these very, like, eh, you know, very Ponzi ish, you know, glamorous types of, of startups, and there's everything in between. It reminds me very much of Yeah. You know, dot com world, right? So, y web three. I, I would say, look, I think, I think the interesting part is like we believe that, you know, web three has the power of creating a deeper relationship. Between a brand and, and its fans can you have that same relation without it? Absolutely. And I think that there are ways in which you can use our product without web three, but the web really supercharges that. So like one, one thing that I, I believe is true is that, Like Web three does not make the community, that's just the technology, right? The community is, is are the people involved and whatever, links them together, whether it be an activity or whether it be like, you know, values and that's what happens. But by injecting some components, web three, you can accelerate. The growth at community, but I also think that it's not right for everyone. Like I, I do, I do believe that it's very early in this space and I think it's right as an example for sports communities, for gaming communities, it's right. But if you look at food or C P G or like, you know, beauty, he, healthcare, it's healthcare. I just think it's too early. So I think in that cases, yeah, you know, I think. Those types of experience-based programs and memberships are definitely still possible. But without the technology, I, I think that in like three to five years from now, The technology will be fully integrated within those consumer experience that people won't even know what that really means, in a sense that we don't really think about mobile as a new experience today. Whereas, you know, when iPhone came out like, you know, 10 ish years ago, it was definitely a new experience. So, you know, the concept of apps, you know, like, so all these things end up being new now. I would say that generally as an individual, I like to work on a future as well. Like, I, I love, you know, the. The action of solving something that is like not solved and, and to kind of be part of creating what that path is. And I think this speaks, I don't know if it's good for business to be a hundred percent honest but I, but it's good for me because I, it keeps me excited, it keeps me passionate about solving the problems. I love that you said that because this is a thread no matter what business you're in or what you're providing. I think that business owners don't focus on themselves and who they are as individuals enough, and when that's aligned, then you're gonna put all your energy and all of the, the momentum into the business. But if you're swimming upstream and trying to build a business that is in conflict with who you are as an individual or, or you know how you work best or what really drives you, then it's a, it's a, a very difficult thing to get up and do every day. Right. Yeah, absolutely. I think you should always pick, I think a lot of people are kind of like waiting for the best idea or for the new idea. Mm-hmm. But I, I've found that the most successful entrepreneurs are, are doing things that they were always passionate about in areas that they already had knowledge in. And, and like, and the reason is because most likely you're gonna struggle. And when you struggle, if you don't love what you're doing, you're gonna give up. That's right. Right. That's right. And the, the. Whatever reward that you're looking for as an entrepreneur, whether it's independence, whether it's money, whether it's fame, whatever that is, it might not come or it might not come for 20 or 30 years. And what's gonna keep you going is really that day-to-day happiness and being grateful and being connected with your purpose. The only thing I would say though is I, on top of that, I'm a big fan of the Ikigai concept. The Japanese concept is, I, I do think it's what you love. But you shall also see what special skill you can bring to that. Meaning like, as an example, if, if I want to get into an industry, then the question is, which part of the industry I should get into? And I should figure out what is my inner skill that aligns better. So there's passion or skill. So the skillset, and what I mean by that is if you're really good at sales, you should probably, you know, choose an area of your passion where sales can be a competitive advantage. If you're really good at managing or hiring, maybe a another type of business could work. If you don't like to talk to anyone then maybe something more around like, you know, coding or building websites on your own. Maybe it's a better job. So I think figuring out what's the right alignment between your passion, between what your skills are and also what the world wants will be, where you're gonna find happiness. I didn't come up with that by the way. Right. I'm not saying that Ikigai is where it comes from. So, so on that note When did you know it was time to move on from Frank And Oak and Time to start something new? I, I would say you, you kind of know you know, I think it was like what happens, you know, I, I spent like nine years there as both the c e o and, and the founder. And so like, I was involved in everything and I think it's a combination of factors. I think, you know, the business had gone to a pretty large size, you know, with over like 200 employees. I realized that. Two things I realized, okay, is one, the next chapter. I wasn't sure if I was that equipped to be successful in the next chapter of scaling the business. And two, I also realized that I wasn't sure, I ha I felt like I had done as much as I could basically within the context of that business. Now I think it's different with every business, right? So you could go much further, you could go less far. It's really up to you. But at that point in time, I felt like I had taken as far as I could based on what we wanted to achieve and. I was also interested in, in doing other things, you know, having, having spent basically most of my life at that point in that, in that single business, I was looking forward to actually experimenting and working with other things and, and specifically I was actually interested in going back to focus on technology and so yeah. Which was, you know, where I actually started. And so running a brand was actually never my dream. And that's the funny part is you know, I wanted to start and run technology companies. And so at that point I felt like I had spent enough time doing that. So, It's, it's, you know, the, the reality is that bef between when you start having those kind of thoughts and when you actually activate, it was like 24 months for me. So it wasn't like that sudden, it may seem sudden to people that you tell at the moment, but I think most people realize that. I, I would say that what I tell other, you know, a lot of young entrepreneurs that often people feel as though their, their identity is tied to their business and. It, it, it definitely feels like that, but I think once you make a change or you do something else, you realize that it's not, you know, you are who you are and that it's part of your, your, your history. Now, once again, I think every situation is different. Like, I think, I think it's amazing someone sticks in, in the same business for 25 years. I think that's a, that's a, an amazing amount of success. Just like, I think it's amazing someone, you know, grows their business for five years and sells it. I think every situation is different. I also think every entrepreneur within every situation is different. So I would say just listen, you know, to your instinct. Know what you want to get out of it, know what you wanna do next, and based on that, you'll probably understand where you're situated in that decision. And I think that the, like the entrepreneurship world is changing too, where there's a lot more Tolerance or acceptance for those sort of, that sort of short turnaround. And I know I grew up in the Vancouver tech scene, right? The Vancouver startup tech scene. And you know, back in the day it was like, no, you, you start a business and you hang onto it and now you know, it's like, yeah, it's fine. You, you start up a business and. An exit strategy can be a viable, you know, a viable goal. And maybe you build for that first phase, and then it's, it's your time to get out because that's where you do your best work is in that first startup phase. To find somebody, an entrepreneur who can do really well in the startup phase, and then in the sustainment phase, and then in the growth phase, and then in the, like the sun setting phase. Those are almost four very different skill sets. So I'm glad that you say that because I think it's okay to be the right person for that certain phase of growth, and then you can move on. Yeah, for sure. I, I, I definitely think that focus on what you wanna do and what your strengths are makes a lot of sense. And, and yeah, absolutely. I think as a leader, you know, you might not be right for every step. Of course, I, I also believe if you wanted to, you could learn and, and be the right person at those steps, but you, you don't have to be, I think it's, It's a personal choice. It depends on, it depends on the opportunity in, in the company, but like, I, I, I absolutely agree. It's not because you started that you have to be there the whole time. I think that, that pressure is, is not needed. So you're, you're now building for the web three space for the community, the community building. And like, are, are you in competition with like a discord or are you in competition with, you know, who's, who's out there sort of putting pressure on you right now? I mean, I think the interesting thing is that, you know, we're more a complimentary product. I think really the space that we play in is fairly new. And so for us it's less about competition, I think it's more about making sure that what we build ends up being very useful for individuals. And so you know, I'll give you an example. Like, you know, even something like Link Tree is not a competitor, but something that's new. It didn't really exist. That concept of having that. That kind of like, you know, other platform on top of social media didn't exist. So I think what our platform is more similar to that. But that said, the, the reason why I'm saying it's not competitive is because a lot of our users also have this Discord, so therefore it can be competitive. But, but that said, I would say what we're looking to do is recognize patterns that already exist and that effectively have no, no platforms for those patterns and, and, and like, and then create an opportunity where you make the experience easier. You know, it's. It's similar to that kind of Airbnb story in the sense that like people were already renting their houses on like, you know, Craigslist or like finding ways to, to like make extra money to pay rent. And so although, you know, when it came out it was new for a lot of people, the reality is that it was already happening at a smaller scale. But by making it easier you open up the size of the market mm-hmm. And having more people being engaged in that experience. So who are your client? Who are your customers? Yeah, so in our case actually we're more focused on businesses. And so typically they're, you know, small and medium businesses. We also, we have a few larger customers. But the, the three areas that we focused on are the whole sports area. So like sports teams, sports brands. And the really, the reason why is because they're strong communities and a strong level of like fandom in those spaces as well. The, the second segment that we're focused on is gaming. So like game developers game eSports once again, very close to sports. So strong communities there. And lastly, brands you know, more as a broader group of companies. So those are typically who we work with. Now the interesting part is that, We're really like a b2, B2C company in the sense that like, even though our clients are businesses the product that we build are used by their fans or by their customers. And so we kind of need to understand what that end user wants as well. And so, and what we've found is, you know, surveying that customer, that individual is really the best way to figure out how to create value. Because if you create value for a customer, you are creating value for. The merchant, you know, it's, it's kind of like, it's, it's kinda like the same relationship. Yeah. And the world of software development, it's not quite as easy, right. You're typically building requirements for, you know, an end user, but you're, you have this layer in between. I know we have the same thing with our software company, that our product, we're actually selling to the business, but the end user is the, like the, their quote unquote client. Right? And so we need, we have to be, make sure that we have. Understood what that end user actually wants, but also what is motivating our, the people who are paying us the money. So how have you navigated that? I think, I think a big part of that is, you know, I think, yeah, absolutely. There's multiple stakeholders in that relationship. You know, even within the businesses that are your clients, like they may have multiple stakeholders as well. And so I would say the best way to navigate that is through data. Be able to demonstrate here's why we made such decisions, here's why this product we think is useful. And also create content. So like, you know, like guides like way, like basically educating your end user on what the product can do for them. And supporting that with data is probably the best way. Now that said, you know, just like Shopify or some of the other platforms, We can't make you successful either, right? Like the, the reality is, you know, just like, you know with, with podcasting you might, you might be using Zoom or Riverside or whatever platform, but if you're not a great podcaster or if you don't tell amazing stories, you're not gonna be successful. So I think understanding that our goal is to make you successful, and if you don't succeed, we don't succeed. But that in the end, there's still a degree of control that like the individual communities have in their success. But that's it, I would say generally is, is. Measuring and serving the end user and then providing that data with some education to the merchants. So where do you see this going? What, like if you could anticipate some innovation, where do you think that you guys might be headed? Like in five years? Are you still a community driven, community-based software application? Or where do you think the emerging trends are coming from? Yeah, I mean, I, I think it's a really good question. And I don't wanna reveal too much about where I think we're gonna be because it's so new and most likely I'm wrong. But if there's a chance I'm right. I could be very right. But, but I, I would say, look, I, I, I think that there's a few things that are gonna happen. I think that. I, I definitely think that brands and organizations are thinking about having their own platform for their community and not just depending on like, you know, Facebook and Instagram and YouTube because they realize that they're highly dependent on those for advertising and for data. And so I think, you know, first party data is very important. I think owning your community is gonna become more and more important I think for community members. Also, understanding that, you know, you're being advertised to and. That you actually wanna have benefits from that if you're gonna be advertised to. I think that that is also another component. And so effectively this whole idea of ownership in the community from both the fan side as well as the, the brands and the merchant side, I think is, is something that I truly believe that's gonna happen. I think the second piece is, you know, as I mentioned before, whether it's mobile, whether it's web three or whether it's even elements of ai, I think all of data will be embedded within experiences and experience are gonna be richer. That said, I also think that. We're gonna see trend towards more digital communities and digital world at the same time as people wanting real life experiences. Intangible a community where you see people in, you know, in R. So I think we're gonna see both of those trend kind of collide, but I actually think it's not a collision. I think the same individuals want both. So that's another thing that I see happening, and I know I'm not telling you anything about what I'm doing, but I'm telling you what's gonna happen in the world. No, no, that's totally okay. I get it. But, but I, I, I, I think that those are really, really interesting areas for whoever is listening to this podcast to actually, you know, think about how these things will impact the lives our future lives. And I think, you know, you're, you're still a little on the bleeding edge in terms of, you know, the, the majority of the, kind of the businesses out there that are still, you know, still entrenched in our, our more traditional business worlds. But I think that we can't ignore some of the trends that you've talked about and some of the technologies that are coming out. And I, you know, it's a typical adoption cycle, right? Like, For example, there's this huge explosion in, in interest in AI right now, and there's all of these, this dialogue and these conversations about how it's going to impact the creative market or how it's going to, you know, what it's gonna do to us. Yeah. But you know, in reality this has been, you know, machine learning and AI and, and all of the technologies that are now emerging. They've been in development for a really long time, and now we're just starting to see the, like the tip of the iceberg and the thin edge of the wedge where it's, there's some consumer application or there's some, something that's all of a sudden become relevant to a, a much broader, you know, a much broader audience. And now what's gonna happen is it's just gonna, like, it's just gonna start on, its on its rocket ship of of development because finally we have. People paying attention in the, the critical mass of, of feedback that's going to allow all these, these sort of first movers to start getting enough information about where we need to go. So I think that this. It's, it's, you know, it's typical and it, it starts to build. I mean, what I've found that's interesting is whenever there's a new kind of wave a new movement from technology, you see both, you see people that embrace it and you see people that kind of fight against it. And I think the reason is because it can be unsettling is you kind of reconsider your priorities. But as it relates to ai, specifically, when I think about writers or I think about creators in general, You know, it's interesting that they criticize it because their job didn't exist like 10 years ago, right before social media was invented. And so, you know, journalists used to used to complain about creators or, or like other artists were used to complain about dig, you know, digital creators. And so I would say you can't, you know, criticize something that made you successful and, and rather than criticizing it, I think it's more about. Adapting and embracing it. Yeah. And, and, and figuring a way to make that part of what makes you a different. So, and, and as we've seen, you know, you don't have to pick up on every trend or every new kind of development, but you have to kind of, you know get on with some of them in order to be relevant in, in the world of tomorrow. But generally, yeah, whenever there's something new, more opportunities are created than are being destroyed. That's what I found. Well, you get to choose too. And I think, you know, I have a friend, one of my best friends is, is a designer and she's an artist and she is, has completely embraced AI and, and the AI art engines because she's recognizing that it's not going to replace her skills. It's just gonna change the work that she does. And it's the same with the writers and the same, you know, you get to embrace it in the way that. Actually helps you cuz a lot of you know, who wants to build, nobody likes to, to, to make logos in the graphic design world. So, You know, use AI for that kind of work or, or whatever. Right. But it's, you know, it's, it, it is, it's a typical trend in, in the adoption of new technologies that we have this kind of resistance and, and that's what we're seeing right now. So you are, you are immersed in a, in an, an economy that is, is very much in its infancy right now. Does that cause you any concern or do you feel fair around that? Or how, how do you manage being on that sort of bleeding edge? I mean, I guess what would be the fear for the fear of failure? Or I, I mean, the thing is it's uncertainty, right? There's a lot of uncertainty. Yeah. I mean, I mean, I would say, I think I, I guess, I mean, it's a really good question. That's what usually I come up with a fast, fast answer. You can see. Now I'm thinking about it. So, so you good? We wanna thing I, I would say that, There's uncertainty. But the way I see it is like, I think people think of it as risk, right? Yeah. Like, because it's uncertain. You don't know you could be wrong. And so what I've learned throughout my, my short entrepreneur career is that even when you're wrong, being early in something that has the potential to be big pays lots of dividends later on. Whether in this project or whether in future projects. And so from that perspective, no, I don't have any concerns. But I do think that to succeed in a space where, you know, the, the, the guideposts haven't been fully defined yet. You have to be willing to experiment. You need to have a team that's super agile. You have to, you have to be willing to fail fast. So definitely it requires a certain type of entrepreneur and it requires a certain type of team. And I don't think it's for everyone. It's not, it's not. But from a pure like risk perspective, like I'm not worried about the risks as so much as because I understand, I truly believe it's something that's gonna be transformative and therefore, to me the risk would be to not be involved actually. I agree. And I think that, I think what you're getting at is, is that when you're a player in the, the sort of the very early stages of a market, It's, it's mostly about setting your expectations, because I think if you go in with really traditional expectations around entrepreneurship and building a new business, you would be very uncomfortable because those, you know, those are very rooted in, in like established business, established understandings of the way the business works. But when you go into a very new market, you ne really need to be. You, your expectation needs to be that we're, we're moving quickly in a lot of different ways, and we will learn things that disprove our early assumptions. And that's okay. That's progress, right? So I think you have to go in with a very different mindset and a very different set of expectations around how your business is gonna progress. Maybe I'm wrong. No, I, I think that makes sense, but I also think that, like, you know, it, I think it like, going back to like, you know, you have to be the type of entrepreneur that seeks those experiences, I think is, you know, some entrepreneurs are better at taking something that is already working and scaling that, like going a hundred x on something. Whereas like, I prefer being in that creation phase. And so like I, I see success as being able to create something new. And so that's also the reason why you know, I think I've, I've taken this decision. But that said, I, I, I think that the one thing that's important is to understand who you are and understand what you're getting into. And, and then based on that, figuring out the right parameter for how you define success and how you define happiness within that. And how, how big is your team now? We have a team about 20 at the moment. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Good. That feels about right, right. For where you guys are at. Awesome. Yeah. I have a question that I ask all of my guests before we finish up. What's the difference between what we hear out there in the business world and the online business world and what's real about being a business owner? I think I mean there's lots of, I mean, everything is different. But I would say that, you know, the. There is definitely less glory than it seems. There's more, a long time. I think there's more struggles and, and that's why like, I, I feel like because, you know, like startups, entrepreneurship has been quite glorified in the last 10 or 20, which I wish, I think is fantastic. And it, it does give the false understanding that, you know, the far the false impression. That everyone can be successful and that everyone can go out there and raise money and like run like a unicorn. I think like, you know, that's, that's like not true. And you, how you realize how like it's very difficult to build a million dollar business to build a 10 million business and it's basically almost impossible to get to a hundred million dollars. And so I think once you understand that it's key disa. The second thing also is, is, is understanding that. You don't control everything. And that when you hear, when you read an entrepreneur's story and they tell it backwards, you know, like let's say on shows like how I made it and, and things like that. It feels like they had this master plan all along. Whereas the reality is that, you know, they probably had some kind of plan, but whatever happened, they didn't plan and they got quite a bit lucky along the way. And so, That's another factor that people don't tell you is that like anyone that works hard and is passionate, will, will succeed. But how much you're gonna succeed is not only based on you, it's based on a lot of factors that you don't control. And you know, obviously right now we're kind of in this like more challenging market. Well you don't control that. And I hear people complain about that and I always say, well, you didn't realize that you won the lottery the last two years because there were, you know, there was so much growth and, and money in the market and so. I think having been around for a while, you realize that, you know, there's ups and downs and it's just part of the, you know, the whole experience. So I think that's another factor. I think the last piece also I would say is you do have to be good at multiple things. You know, the, the best product doesn't always win. The best leader doesn't always win. You do have to like be multi-skilled and you have to kind of like, you know, surround yourself with the right people, which actually means you need to be good with people also to a certain extent. So I think that's an earth factor that. Often you don't, you don't, you don't see basically in, in the public. Yeah. Those are all really good points. And you're a, you're a serial entrepreneur. You have had multiple businesses. Yeah. What keeps you going? What keeps you, you know, what keeps you from, you know, returning to the workforce and getting a job? Why do you stay as an entrepreneur? Well, I mean, I think part of it is as an entrepreneur, you don't have to ask permission for anything. You can just do it, right. You don't need to show your resume, you don't have to be qualified. You're qualified because you decide you wanna do it. So I think that's extremely powerful. Because, you know, we talk about like a life where, you know, there are places that you feel you can get into. There's rooms that you know, you can get into it. There's a ceiling to what you think your skills are. But as an entrepreneur, there is not, and, and like. You, you, you have, you know, the ability in your hands to change that. And so I feel like that's extremely empowering and that's one of the reason why I do it. But secondly, I, I just like the action of creating, like, I, I like Frank And Oak right now is a, is a great company. It's still going. And I'm not as involved, you know, anymore. But I, I love the fact that it's the case. It's almost like you had a baby and now your baby's grown up and it's doing its own thing now. And so I think, I think that that is awesome. And so that's why, you know, I'm a so entrepreneur, but I don't, I don't think it's like, you know, people talk about that and like, repeat entrepreneurs or, you know, I repeat founders. I don't really think it like that. I just think about, it's like, well, what else am I gonna do? And and so to me it it, it wasn't like that hard of a decision, you know, I think it's something I've always wanted to do. And, and I do think that as you get more experienced, the things that are very stressful, like, you know, Money and cash and like employees and all that become a little bit less stressful because you have a little bit more experience. You're less emotional about it I think effectively. And so it's not that there aren't challenges, it's just that I think you're, you're more experienced at how to handle those challenges and you're less affected personally by them. So tho those are all things why I think, you know, There's no, that's why I'm doing it, but also why I think it's, you know, it, it's great to be able to do it multiple times, you know, and, and I think part of the, the, the society that we live in is the fact that like, you can actually be a repeat entrepreneur and it doesn't matter whether you succeed or you failed in your first venture. Like as long as you, you have determination and, and great ideas, there's always space for you. And, and I think that's something that's encouraged by our society and, and it's amazing that it is. Yeah, I love I, you've said e everything so articulately that, you know, I'm sitting here nodding because I, you know, I, all of it resonates with me as well as somebody who is basically unemployable again, like I don't know that I could ever get hired again in a job having had the experience of being on, on my own for so long. And I think one of the things that you have that a lot of serial entrepreneurs don't have, surprisingly, it is You know, you've, you've, you've, your first venture is still up and running and it's still, you know, successful and it's still, you know, meeting a, a need for a broad audience. And I know, like my daughter and I both went shopping at Frank and Oak and she's, it appeals to her as a 15 year old girl as much as it appeals to me as a 48 year old woman. Right. And so I think that there's, that's a real win. And. A lot of serial entrepreneurs don't have that to look back on. You know, the, the number of, of startups that don't succeed or that don't have longevity is, but, but that's the reason why, you know, I, I realized very quickly that money wasn't like the most important thing. Yeah. And because it's like, you know, lots entrepreneurs sell their company for lots of money, and then the company disappears, or the employees are being fired the next day. Basically your community effectively is gone and then you're, you're just at home with like n nice and fancy cars. Like what does that give you, you know what I mean? Like that, that, that is not meaningful. So AB absolutely. I mean, I, I take great satisfaction in the fact that like, you know, the company's still going. I have some of my, my employees that are still there in leadership roles, you know, there's new creativity coming into it, new management coming into it, and they have new plans for expansion, you know, and internationally. So I think all of that is really exciting. But I, I think, I think part of my personality is also, I, I have been humbled many times as well. You know, I've, I've had lots of challenges at Frank And Oak you know, not just successes and, and so like, you know, I've kind of realized it's not just a one way ticket also, and, and like, you know, behind every story, it's a lot more complex than what people think it is. Hundred percent. Absolutely agree. Well, we're gonna, we're coming up on time and we're gonna wrap up the episode, but I wanted to ask you if you could share with our listeners how they can find you. Yeah, sure. For sure. I mean you, if you wanna learn more about RareCircles, what it can do for your community, you can find us on Twitter at Rare Circles. If you wanna get in touch with me you can find me also on Twitter at Mr. Ethan Song and, you know, just DM me and I'm, I'm also like, Pretty active angel investors. So you know, if you have a cool project, I'm sure there's a lot of entrepreneurs listening this podcast, feel free to hit me up. Awesome. I love it. Okay, well we're gonna wrap it up. And I'm so happy that we had the opportunity to chat with Ethan today to hear more about how his businesses came to be, his experiences along the way, and what the future of the business entails. And thank you so much for tuning into this episode of The Real People Real Business Show, where we get the real entrepreneurial stories and journeys that you can relate to the show notes, resources, and links from this episode are available on my website and social media platforms. And if you've enjoyed today's content, I would love for you to give us a review on whatever platform you're on to help us. Share these genuine stories with an even bigger audience. Until next time, keep building, keep dreaming and keep being real.

Ethan SongProfile Photo

Ethan Song


Ethan is the CEO of RareCircles, where he helps creators and brands build communities in the Web3 economy.

Previously, Ethan was the founder and CEO of Frank And Oak, which aimed to reshape the fashion industry by making it more personal and sustainable. Frank And Oak was named Most innovative company in retail by Fast Company and was #1 on the Deloitte Fast50 list.

Ethan was born in China, but has spent most of his life in Canada. Ethan was previously a member of the CEO Council of Canada and a mentor for various organizations including Techstars and the C100.

He is a forever optimist.