Entrepreneur and angel investor Jonathan Ng Sposato makes launching media empires seem easy, and you’ve probably heard of his biggest projects, even if his name doesn’t ring a bell. His latest, a newly founded platform called JoySauce Network, is home to his own talk show:Joy Sauce Late Night– along with an extensive array of podcasts, TV shows, games and social channels designed to showcase the AAPI community.
Sposato recently won a Silver Telly Award for his hilarious show, but he’s not interested in the spotlight. During our conversation, he’s eager to talk about the broader community of creators involved in the project – and the whiskey that fueled the seven-minute brainstorming session that led to the platform’s name. That, he tells me, was the easy part.
“The hardest part was having confidence in the name and whether it reflected our ethos and what we wanted to do,” he recalls. “The name clearly has something airy, a feeling of happiness and positivity. The word “joy” is important to me. I loved the fact that it’s a pun on the word soy sauce, as it’s an ingredient ubiquitous in Asian cuisines, be it Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Southeast Asian.”
From there, it was important to Sposato that he create a space that showcased a diversity of perspectives to “de-exoticize” the Asian-American experience. The idea was to show the world an experience that was fun and relatable, even given everything that’s going on in the world.
“I have deep respect for people who explore intergenerational trauma that many Asian Americans face or the changing intergenerational values or how we deal with anti-Asian hate crimes,” he explains. “We recognize that these are serious issues and we talk about them, but we want to have a joyful context to talk about those issues in addition to celebratory and positive ones.”
In the new of every week Joy Sauce Late Night episode Sposato interviews celebrities and musical guests, filling the gap where the mainstream media has overlooked representation of Asian-American and Pacific Islander creatives. It takes the traditional white American show — the “last bastion,” he calls it — and flips it around to be 100 percent Asian-American.
“The cast, crew, host, writers, and producers are Asian-American,” he adds, “and I’m the host, which saves a few bucks.”
That last tongue-in-cheek comment opens the door for me to ask how this mini-media empire is funded, and to his credit, Sposato answers the question easily, albeit with his trademark modesty. JoySauce is self-funding – something he is able to do because his entrepreneurial endeavors have been so successful.
“I’ve been more lucky than good at business,” he says demurely.
He’s also been luckier than most. Sposato, who you may know as the co-founder and president of GeekWire or the co-founder and former CEO of PicMonkey (the world’s most popular web photo editor) or maybe even the founder of the homelessness-focused non-profit WeCount.org , was the first person to sell two profitable tech companies to Google. He was once a Senior Manager in Microsoft’s consumer division, where he personally provided next-level thinking to Chairman Bill Gates on key Microsoft properties and led the development of award-winning software applications, Xbox games and social applications.
“I can fund JoySauce myself, but I want others to feel like they have skin in the game, so I say invite partners, underwriters of certain shows, and investors to join me,” he tells me.
For now, he’s considering several potential revenue streams, including partnering with specific distribution channels to deliver content, add ads to the platform, or build out a subscription model. However, he hopes to keep JoySauce free in the future.
Who is Jonathan Sposato?
Sposato was born in London to a Chinese mother and a Korean father who were not allowed to marry in the 1960s. Being pregnant and single brought a lot of shame, so his mother took him to Brooklyn when he was three. However, raising him alone as a single mother proved difficult, and not long after, she sent him to Hong Kong to be raised by his maternal grandparents.
That choice was undoubtedly painful for her. Sposato remembers looking at his own son at that age and feeling deep sadness at the thought of being separated from him. But, he adds, he doesn’t remember feeling the same sadness as a child.
“I remember being in Hong Kong on my first night with my grandma and she was so loving and kind,” he says. “I lived there wonderfully. Grandparents are great proxy parents, and I got to discover everything I wanted. I was never told there was a limit to what I could do, or be, growing up.
He held onto that belief in his own expansive potential throughout a childhood where he would cross more boundaries. When Sposato was nine years old, his mother married, and her husband legally adopted Sposato before bringing him to their home in Seattle. When Sposato arrived at the airport, the first thing his adoptive father said was “Welcome home, son”.
This is how he came to the insight that it really doesn’t matter what skin color you have: family is family. It would shape his views on race, marriage, division and political division well into adulthood. Still, growing up in America meant that Sposato was one of many Asian-American kids who struggled to find on-screen role models or representations of Asians or Asian Americans that weren’t absurdly clichéd and derogatory.
“Statistics I’ve seen showed that Asian Americans were among the fastest growing populations — up to 27 percent in some metropolitan areas and 8 percent of the general U.S. population, but the number of speaking roles in movies and TV was about 2 percent for Asians. Americans,” he explains. “It felt wrong. Growing up, I only saw people who looked like me as the villain, the sidekick, or the butt of the joke on TV. I had a lot of passion to change that.
He hastens to add that it’s not about playing on trends or capturing something of the moment.
“I have a fundamental belief that there’s an incredible amount of AAPI talent out there who isn’t martial artist, insanely wealthy or exotic,” he says. “It’s people like you and me who are talented, emerging and they need a platform to shine. “
Sposato first met his biological father a few years ago, further cementing his desire to illustrate to Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and allies that there are ways we can “build bridges” – one of his favorite phrases. His view of the future of media representation is broadly inclusive.
“I like it when we can make room for how we are alike and also different,” he says. “We also have to open up to allies, like you, like my white wife. Asian Americans can’t just sit in an echo chamber and talk to ourselves. To bond, we have to be inclusive. For too long our LGBTQ siblings have not been involved, and I want to make sure the trans community is involved.”
One of his favorite programs is Mixed Sixwhich drops a new episode every first Monday of the month.
“It’s 100 percent about how different cultures come together, mixed-race couples, and talking about meeting the in-laws and family issues,” he explains. “It is heartwarming and we need to make more room for those stories. There can be friendship, alliance and togetherness.”
Something less heartwarming and more candid, fearless and daring South gay guys, hosted by Vik Chopra and Sundeep Singh Boparai, both gay men of South Asian descent. No topic is too taboo, which Sposato says is “very JoySauce.” They talk about being in prison, sex, the complexities of healthcare, stigmas in the South Asian community, activism in the American community, domestic violence, and drug addiction.
These are things, Sposato tells me, that are never discussed when you go to an Asian-American site: “Sometimes I think that Asian Americans in the noble, admirable effort to be respectable and gain credibility in normative white America, our warts hide and focus only on the success stories.”
Rule breakers is another fun show that shares relatable and inspiring warts-and-all stories.
“Howin Wong is a wonderful, funny person who is handsome, funny and talented,” Sposato tells me. “This is a shorter, faster show for people with attention deficits. It’s a talk show that favors guests who break the rules: not doctors, lawyers, CEOs, but DJs, artists, people with unconventional travel.”
Another host exploring unconventional travel is Malika Lim Eubank or Travels with Malika, in which she and her husband travel across America in their RV, learning the stories of strangers and exploring what it means to be American. Sposato again speaks of bridge building, which certainly applies here.
“We have so much more in common than differences,” he says.
In an effort to embrace the full spectrum of AAPI experiences, JoySauce has also recognized the historical experiences of individuals and communities that are overlooked in the school curriculum. The 442 is a column devoted to filling in the blanks, according to Sposato.
“The name is a reference to a very famous military unit in World War II that very few people have heard of,” he explains. “The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) Nisei regiment tried to prove their patriotism, that they were as American as anyone else. Their motto was ‘go for broke’ and they are still the highest decorated army battalion of all time.”
From history to poignant personal journeys and all the liberation, joy and discovery that are part of our very human experiences, JoySauce fearlessly goes where the media has not gone before. Like the ubiquitous ingredient that influenced its name, JoySauce is a huge load of savory, complex, delicious umami flavors. And it’s ready to be served on demand now.