The Quest Minutes: Jaeson Ma [S2:E2]
Introducing: Jaeson Ma
Jaeson Ma is a media executive, artist and serial entrepreneur. He is hailed as a revolutionary pioneer in bridging talent between Asian and Western cultural markets.
Jaeson has been credited as:
- The founder of East West Ventures
- Co-founder of 88rising
- Co-founder of Stampede Ventures
- Principal of Triller
Call it a misguidance of entrepreneurial spirit — Jaeson started hustling at a young age. His involvement with gangs led him down a dangerous path early on.
“I got into drug dealing and I started growing weed and shrooms. I was hanging out with a lot of bad kids in junior high and high school, got arrested a few times. I’m just thankful…I’m still alive right now.”
At 16, Jaeson was laundering thousands of dollars’ worth of suits from the back of a store he worked at. With the San Jose PD on his tail, Jaeson decided to come clean and surrender to his faith.
“That’s what I’m going to do. I need to get right with God. And I’m just going to turn myself in and tell the truth and come what may.”
By the mercy of a police officer and judge who believed in him, Jaeson’s case was dropped. He became a “Jesus freak” and started helping around the house — he wasn’t going to squander his second chance.
“I just fully went 180. I think word on the street was like ‘Jaeson’s changed, he’s a different dude’… When I think about the story 20 plus years later, I was literally given a blank check and I was shown mercy.”
Jaeson felt a duty to use his voice for the service of God. Hosting hip-hop Bible study groups led to a chance encounter with his future mentor MC Hammer, who would later introduce Jaeson into the world of tech, media and startup.
“He [MC Hammer] was like, ‘I invest in startups, I’m a venture capitalist. Why don’t you quit your job and come work for me?’ So the next week I quit my job and there I was in his office in Tracy, California.”
Who ya gonna call?
At the age of 20, Jaeson was inspired by the talented all-Asian cast of Better Luck Tomorrow (directed by a young and broke Justin Lin). Hollywood was calling his name.
“I wanted to represent Asian culture in mainstream media the right way. I wanted to use media to change people’s perception about my skin color, who I am, how they treat me, and look at me.”
But Jaeson held off on Hollywood for the time being, conflicted by the pull of God. He sought to lay a spiritual foundation by becoming a ghost-busting exorcist around the world for 5 years.
The hip-hop preacher
Jaeson’s duty as a globe-trotting pastor placed pressure on him to constantly ‘perform’ as a perfect Christian, something he struggled deeply with. He experienced a severe detachment from his identity and self-worth as a result.
“I just burned out. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I checked myself into a Christian rehab and that was when I was trying to just make sense of whatever happened the last five years of my life.”
Disillusioned with the enforced institutions of Christianity, he yearned for the Hollywood lights once more. Jaeson set his sights on his first love, music.
Jaeson started recording a full gospel album which included the track Love, featuring an obscure singer at the time — Bruno Mars.
Linking up with his friend Phil, the pair envisioned the potential for a global digital media platform featuring premium Asian content. They prayed for a blessing from above.
Mere moments later, Phil received a photo from his wife in Hong Kong. Glowing words behind her read ‘ASIAN TV.’
A literal sign from God at the perfect time.
It was a fortunate coincidence. The sign belonged to a restaurant, ‘Asian Twist’ and the photo had been taken at just the right angle. Taking it as a blessing in disguise, Jaeson and Phil pursued their idea. This marked the birth of East West Ventures, the foundation for 88rising.
Double Fortune: 88⬆
Seen as the ‘Vice of Asia’, EW Ventures was an instant investor favourite. During this time, Jaeson connected with Sean Miyashiro, his future 88rising co-founder.
Discovering up and coming Asian hip-hop artists on the internet, 88rising was pitched as a cross-cultural bridge between Asian and Western music.
“It’s just crazy that we created a model of do-it-yourself. We’re going to sign our own artists. We’re going to raise our own venture capital. We’re going to build our own original content and we’re going to distribute it directly ourselves, and we’re going to make no apologies and no answers to Universal, Sony, or Warner.”
88rising has grown into a ‘viral hit’ phenomenon, and has become the label responsible for globalising hugely popular Asian music talent including Joji, Rich Brian, Higher Brothers, Keith Ape, and Niki.
Deemed as a culturally signficant media platform for Asian creators, 88rising “tries to represent for not only Asian immigrants, but for all immigrants” (Sean Miyashiro).
After finding success, Jaeson continues to live his life through a healthy balance of his Christian ideals with an acceptance of his flaws. He has achieved peace by coming to terms with his identity, and breaking free from the need to constantly ‘perform’ for others.
Notes from Felix:
I was wrong about Jaeson Ma. I held a superficial idea of who he was: what success looked like to me. But the truth is that he was far from the pristine student/entrepreneur I expected, or someone that had his life on the right track since the beginning. I deified him as the man behind 88rising and wrongfully set my own expectations of him — I no longer saw him as a real person. His humanising story pushed me to re-evaluate my own perspective of what success entails, particularly our common infatuation with its façade.
Felix is a commencing Masters student of International Relations at The University of Sydney. He is the Editorial Lead at The Quest with Justin Kan, and weekly exclusive Business Insider writer for the project. He is also currently developing his own publications on Medium.
In his spare time, he enjoys experimenting with flavours, trying new recipes and writing. He aspires to open a food truck and mobile bar specialising in experimental luxury grilled cheese, and travelling/writing about the politics of food in different cultures.