Serial Entrepreneur Jonathan Sposato’s Newest Venture Is a Media Network

Sposato, who you may know as the co-founder and chairman of GeekWire or the co-founder and former CEO of PicMonkey, was the first person to sell two profitable tech companies to Google.

Entrepreneur and angel investor Jonathan Ng Sposato makes launching media empires look easy, and you’ve likely heard of his biggest projects even if his name doesn’t ring a bell. His latest, a newly formed platform called the JoySauce Network, is home to his own talk show—JoySauce Late Night—along with a comprehensive lineup of podcasts, TV programs, games and social channels designed to shine a light on the AAPI community.

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A selfie taken by a man in a newsroom
Sposato’s new self-financed network showcases the AAPI experience. Courtesy Jonathan Ng Sposato

Sposato recently won a Silver Telly Award for his hilarious show, but he’s not interested in hogging the spotlight. During our conversation, he’s eager to talk about the wider community of creators involved with the project—and the whisky that fueled the seven-minute brainstorming session that led to the platform’s name. That, he tells me, was the easy part.

“The harder part was feeling confident about the name and whether it was reflective of our ethos and what we wanted to do,” he recalls. “The name obviously has a levity to it, a sense of happiness and positivity. The word ‘joy’ is important to me. The fact that it’s a play off the word soy sauce, I loved, because it’s an ingredient that is omnipresent in Asian cuisines, whether Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Southeast Asian.”

From there, it was important to Sposato that he was creating 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 happening in the world.

“I deeply respect folks examining intergenerational trauma that a lot of Asian Americans face or the changing intergenerational values or how we deal with anti-Asian hate crimes,” he explains. “We acknowledge that those are serious issues, and we talk about them, but we want to have a joyful context to talk about those issues alongside celebratory and positive issues.”

In each week’s new JoySauce Late Night episode, Sposato interviews celebrity and musical guests, filling the gap where 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 to be 100% Asian American.

A man in a suit at a TV news desk
Sposato on the set of ‘JoySauce Late Night’. Courtesy Jonathan Ng Sposato

“The cast, crew, host, writers and producers are Asian American,” he adds, “And I am the host, which saves a few bucks.”

That last tongue-in-cheek remark opens the door for me to ask about how this mini media empire has been funded, and to his enormous credit, Sposato readily answers the question, albeit with his signature modesty. JoySauce is self-funded—something he can do because his entrepreneurial endeavors have been so successful.

“I’ve been more lucky than good at business,” he demures.

He’s also been more lucky than most. Sposato, who you may know as the co-founder and chairman of GeekWire or the co-founder and former CEO of PicMonkey (the world’s most popular web photo editor) or perhaps even the founder of the homelessness-focused nonprofit, was the first person to sell two profitable tech companies to Google. Once upon a time, he was a Senior Manager in Microsoft’s consumer division, personally delivering next-level thought on key Microsoft properties to chairman Bill Gates and driving the development of award-winning software applications, Xbox games and social applications.

“I’m able to self-finance JoySauce, but I want others to feel like they have skin in the game, so I’m putting it out there that I invite partners, underwriters of particular shows and investors to get on board with me,” he tells me.

For now, he’s considering several potential streams of revenue, including partnering with specific distribution channels to deliver content, adding advertising to the platform or building out a subscription model. However, he does hope to keep JoySauce free moving forward.

Who is Jonathan Sposato?

Sposato was born in London to a Chinese mother and Korean father who were forbidden to marry in the 1960s. Being pregnant and unmarried carried a lot of shame, so his mother took him to live in Brooklyn when he was three. Raising him alone as a single mother proved difficult, however, and not long after, she sent him to Hong Kong to be raised by his maternal grandparents.

That choice was no doubt painful for her. Sposato recalls looking at his own son at that age and feeling a deep sadness at the thought of being parted from him. But, he adds, he doesn’t recall feeling that same sadness as a child.

“I remember being in Hong Kong on my first night with my grandmother and she was so loving and kind,” he says. “I had a wonderful time living there. Grandparents make great proxy parents, and I was left to explore anything I wanted to. I was never told that there was a limit to what I could do, or be when I grew up.”

He held on to that belief in his own expansive potential throughout a childhood that would involve crossing more borders. 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”.

That’s how he came to understand that it truly doesn’t matter the color of your skin: family is family. It would shape his views on race, marriage, divisions and political divides well into adulthood. Still, growing up in America meant that Sposato was one of many Asian American kids who struggled to find role models or representations of Asians or Asian Americans on screen that weren’t absurdly cliched and derogatory.

“Statistics I’ve seen showed Asian Americans were some of the fastest growing demographics—up to 27 percent in some metropolitan areas and 8 percent of the general American population but the number of speaking roles in movies and TV was something like 2 percent for Asian Americans,” he explains. “That felt wrong. In my childhood, I only ever 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 around changing that.”

He hastens to add that it’s not about tapping into trends or capturing something that’s of the moment.

“I have this fundamental belief that there’s an incredible amount of AAPI talent out there who are not martial artists, crazy rich, or exotic,” he says. “They’re people like you and I who are talented, emerging and they need the platform to shine. “

Sposato met his birth father for the first time a few years ago, which further cemented his desire to illustrate for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and allies that there are ways we can “build bridges”—one of his favorite phrases. His vision for the future of media representation is broadly inclusive.

“I think it’s beautiful when we can make room for how we are similar and also different,” he says. “We have to open up to allies too, like you, like my wife who’s white. Asian Americans can’t just exist in an echo chamber talking to ourselves. To bond, we have to be inclusive. For too long, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have not been included, and I want to make sure the trans community are included.”

One of his favorite shows is Mixed Six, which drops a new episode on the first Monday of each month.

“It’s 100 percent about how different cultures come together, couples of mixed races, and talk about meeting the in-laws and family issues,” he explains. “It’s heartwarming and we need to make more space for those stories. There can be friendship, allyship and togetherness.”

A little less heartwarming and more candid, fearless and bold is South Gaysian Boys, hosted by Vik Chopra and Sundeep Singh Boparai—both gay men of south Asian descent. No subject is too taboo, which Sposato says is “very JoySauce.” They talk about being in jail, sex, healthcare complexities, 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 if you go to any Asian American site: “Sometimes, I think that in the noble, admirable effort to be respectable and get credibility in normative white America, Asian Americans hide our warts and only focus on the success stories.”

Rulebreakers is another fun show that shares relatable and inspirational warts-and-all stories.

“Howin Wong is an amazing, funny individual who is handsome, funny, and talented,” Sposato tells me. “This is a shorter, quicker show for folks with attention deficit. It’s a talk show that champions guests who are breaking the rules: not doctors, lawyers, CEOS but DJs, artists, people with unconventional journeys.”

Another host exploring unconventional journeys is Malika Lim Eubank of Travels With Malika, in which she and her husband travel around America in their RV, getting to know the stories of strangers and exploring what it means to be an American. Sposato again mentions bridge building, which certainly applies here.

“We have so much more in common than we have differences,” he says.

In an effort to embrace the whole spectrum of AAPI experience, 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 2 that very few people have heard of,” he explains. “The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) Nisei regiment sought to prove their patriotism, that they were just 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 harrowing personal journeys and all the liberation, delight and discovery that make up our very human experiences, JoySauce goes intrepidly where media hasn’t gone before. Just like the omnipresent ingredient that influenced its name, JoySauce is a huge splash of savory, complex, delicious umami flavors. And it’s ready to be dished up on demand right now.

Serial Entrepreneur Jonathan Sposato’s Newest Venture Is a Media Network