Jackson Jhin | Protege

When you're young and you miss out on the thing you want most in life, someone often says, “You'll learn from this.” At the time, most of us are too disheartened that our dreams won't come true to even consider the benefits of having a life lesson. This is probably how Jackson Jhin felt when it became apparent that his dream of becoming a rock star or working in the music industry just wasn't in the cards.

Growing up in Houston as the son of Asian immigrants, Jhin became an accomplished pianist and rock guitarist. He played in bands inspired by his favorite rockers like Rage Against the Machine, Tool, and Avenged Sevenfold, all with the dream of making it big in music one day.

Even when he went to Notre Dame to study International Economics, he didn’t give up on his dream. While at South Bend, he founded the Lakeside Music Festival, which still happens every year on campus, and co-founded Float Tickets, a ticketing app which provided insurance for fully refundable tickets up to 24 hours before an event.

With the musical skills, unrelenting drive, and an understanding of the industry, Jhin seemed like a shoo-in to make it big as a recording artist or a producer. However, despite all his hustle, he couldn’t get a foot in the door. Breaking into the entertainment industry can be a lot about who you know or family connections, and as Jhin says, “My parents were very focused on their day jobs and didn't have any connections in the music industry. The only musician they knew was my piano teacher.”

Having heard that Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube, Jhin turned to the Internet for help thinking he could follow in Bieber's footsteps. “My family encouraged me to upload videos of my music because it seemed like a great avenue,” he remarks. “Well, there are over 800 million videos on YouTube. The odds of getting discovered on YouTube are unfortunately minuscule.”

So, that was that. Goodbye entertainment industry, hello corporate world. Well, sort of. Jhin graduated from Notre Dame and took a job as an analyst for Chicago Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in start-ups. There, he met Steven Galanis, who was working on creating Cameo, an app that would allow entertainers to connect with fans through the purchase of personalized videos and communications.

It wasn’t long before Jhin was working for Cameo full-time, becoming a part of the team that raised over $150 million, took the company to a $1 billion valuation, and achieved $100 million in gross revenue. He also made connections with stars like rapper Ice-T, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, and actor Wesley Snipes. Rubbing shoulders with stars was cool, but more importantly, working with bold-faced names gave Jhin an important insight that he’d soon put to work for himself.

“Famous artists and other successful people are still regular humans. They aren’t much different from you or me,” he explains. “They want to make people happy; they want to give back; they want to help young ambitious people. The problem was there weren’t great tools for experts to give back and mentor.”

Capitalizing on this nugget of truth as well as the experience of helping launch a successful start-up, Jhin revisited the one mountain he couldn’t scale: breaking into the music business.

That’s when the idea for Protégé hit him. Soon after, he and co-founder Michael Cruz created the platform that gives everyone the chance at the shot he never got – to be seen by someone – a record exec, a record producer, a recording artist, a comedian, an actor - who can make your dreams come true.

With the likes of record producer DJ Khaled, singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha, and Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander on the platform, Jhin has raised nearly $10 million in backing and, according to Forbes, has already helped a few artists do what Jhin dreamed of: sign deals with music artists including H.E.R, Breland, Brian Kelley, and Bebe Rexha. It's safe to say, Jhin certainly learned his lesson.


Along with starting his own music festival and ticket app, Jhin has been a part of two of the biggest entertainment platform start-ups of the past decade. Being in the trenches, he’s learned a lot, including that being a successful entrepreneur is more than just being smart.

“It’s like being an athlete or an astronaut – you need to be able to control negative emotions like fear or anger, even when things are dire,” he explains. “You need to be kind and respectful of others even when you are stressed. You need to work extremely hard and not give up.”

Since he helped Cameo raise over $100 million and then did it again, getting close to $10 million for Protege, one of the questions he gets asked most often is, “How do I raise money?” His answer hinges on one thing: confidence. “If you are begging someone for investment, it instantly sets off alarm bells,” he says. “In order to gain this confidence, you need to first put yourself in a situation where you don’t need money, then focus on the mental side.”

So that begs the question: how do you put yourself in a situation where you don’t need money? Jhin also has an answer for this. “Try to make money by being as scrappy as possible so that the business is generating money for you,” he notes.

This is what makes ecommerce and software businesses such great industries in which to create a start-up, Jhin explains. “There are a few businesses where you need money just to get started (like building rocket ships or supersonic planes), but these situations are very rare, probably less than 2% of all venture-backed ideas,” he adds.


Though he’s from Houston, Jhin is no stranger to the cold.

He enjoys the traditional route, saying “I love snowboarding, skiing, or even just playing around in deep snow.” But he's also found a new way to enjoy frigid temperatures: ice baths. This health therapy has become popular on social media as people record themselves jumping into freezing cold tubs to showcase their reactions. However, Jhin doesn’t do it for the likes; he does it because he enjoys it.

“I started doing it just to help me wake up in the morning. But now that I’ve been doing it for about six months, I’m obsessed with it,” he explains. Studies show there are numerous benefits of these types of cold water immersions, like alleviating sore muscles, reducing inflammation and swelling, lowering core body temperature, helping with immunity, and increasing blood flow to your muscles.

For Jhin there’s another big upside: “It’s definitely super intense. The second you get into cold water, you start breathing quickly and have an urge to get out. But once you get past that, any anxiety and emotions completely dissolve and your mind is crystal clear.” Having already had so much success and with the passion to keep creating, it is safe to say we know where Jhin’s next cool idea will come from. 


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