StartOut Blog

AANHPI Founder Feature: Pete Zheng

Pete Zheng (he/him) grew up in Pittsburgh, where his parents owned and operated a Chinese restaurant. In these formative years helping his family business, Pete got the spirit of entrepreneurship instilled in him.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, he moved to New York for grad school, where Pete earned a degree in Public Administration. Soon after, the pandemic came crashing down, disrupting everyday life and allowing Pete the opportunity to pursue a new path.

Today, Pete is a first-time founder and CEO working on a stealth-mode retail technology startup. He aims to create new opportunities for brick-and-mortar businesses to earn income through a specialized technology service.

As a gay, Chinese-American entrepreneur, Pete is helping change the future of the startup world. In recognition of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, Pete offered to speak with StartOut about his lived experiences, past and present, and the pathway forward for a founder on the rise.

Pete, what was it like growing up in your family’s restaurant business?

If you’ve ever visited a Chinese restaurant and seen kids working there, that could summarize my growing up. I have parents who don’t speak English. I learned a lot from reading to them whenever we had manuals or mail to go through.

The restaurant business is extremely grueling; it takes a ton of manual labor and mental stamina to survive. In a way, I think that taught me a lot about the grit it takes to become an entrepreneur. It also taught me how people like my parents who immigrated to the United States end up choosing to own a small business as a necessity to survive. In contrast, I’ve always viewed entrepreneurship as my passion. 

I studied business, among many other things, in school, but I’ve always viewed my experience in the restaurant as my main classroom.

When did you decide to pursue launching a startup?

I started this company in an informal way in June of last year. The whole brick-and-mortar industry doesn’t have a ton of leeway in terms of revenue, and we really saw that come to a boiling point in the early months of the pandemic when small businesses had to shut down. This made me want to think of a way to take that challenge on. 

More details will be coming as we exit stealth mode middle of summer and end of this year!

How did you discover StartOut?

At the end of last year, we were figuring out what kind of investors to bring in. We wanted to ensure that the dollars we were getting truly believed in us as people and our mission. Through a few different people, StartOut came up, and I was immediately interested in seeing how we could engage with the organization. I connected with a wonderful mentor, and we chat once or twice a week in a super productive and personal way. That’s the thing about StartOut that struck me – you really do facilitate a great connection between people with a shared commonality. 

How does the significance of AANHPI month affect you?

All of us as humans like to reflect. We’re a composition of our life experiences; I’m always thinking about my parents in all my work. I’m proud of them for their resilience and how they came from China and made it in America without having access to resources, let alone the language or money. 

At the end of the day, I know that being gay and Asian in the startup ecosystem is an interesting combination. And while our fragmented identities can give us a sense of where we come from, finding the shared humanity in all of us helps push us forward into the future.

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