12 Questions for Jason Tan, CEO of Sift Science
By Sift /
29 Nov 2016
The man, the myth, the legend, the….rapper? While Jason has been the subject of countless press interviews in Sift Science’s five years, he’s often answering questions about machine learning, fraud, and the company’s future. But today, we aren’t here to ask questions about those topics, we’re here to get to know the CEO of Sift Science. Who is Jason Tan?
When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It’s kind of sad – I actually don’t think I had a dream of what I wanted to be growing up. I’ve never been the type to look at others and say, “I want to be like that.” I think a lot of entrepreneurs have an independent streak in them and want to define their own path.
When I went to college, I majored in computer science because I was good at math and enjoyed tinkering with computers in my youth. I also got the sense that the software engineering industry would pay well and stick around for a long time… that certainly doesn’t hurt.
You grew up in Seattle and studied at the University of Washington. What do you miss about the Pacific Northwest and what do you love about San Francisco?
I was actually born in Taipei, moved to Japan for three years, then moved again to Singapore for five years because my dad had a job where he was getting promoted often and moved around. We ended up moving to Seattle in 1997 when I was 12 years old, and my parents have been there ever since. I also have two younger sisters – one who’s in med school at UW and one who’s at Stanford.
What I love and miss about Seattle is the cleaner air. It’s a smaller city with a more down-to-earth vibe and is so naturally beautiful. I love all of the energy in San Francisco, there are a lot of smart people who are incredibly innovative, and there’s always something going on. There’s also really good food in San Francisco.
You started college when you were just 16 (wow). What was it like starting so young?
It was a weird experience for sure. For context, in my sophomore year of high school, I received an invitation to apply to a new University of Washington program called the Academy for Young Scholars. They would accept 35 high school sophomores across the state to start college the following year, no strings attached.
The idea piqued my interest because two more years of real-world experience sounded valuable to my career. I took the standardized tests and was admitted for the first year of the program. The makeup of my class was interesting– some were ready for college, but some weren’t. Overall, it was a great experience and I have no regrets. I do wish that I was more socially confident and had developed more social circles outside of the program.
But things tend to work out. Shortly after graduating and moving back home, I had an epiphany while playing too many video games – “Hey, I’m 20 years old, I’m lucky to have disposable income. Why am I living with my parents?” Two weeks later, I moved out of my parents’ house and into the University District in Seattle. It was a typical college house, and that really helped me feel more comfortable in social settings.
San Francisco is known for its amazing food culture. What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
La Taqueria – a legendary taco/burrito place in the Mission District. It won the 538 “Best Burrito Challenge”, but I loved it well before that. I used to live a block away in 2011.
If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I would say sushi – it’s decently healthy, lots of variety, and pretty delicious.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve eaten?
Deep-fried baby scorpions in China.
What is your spirit animal and why?
My sisters like to say I’m Po the panda in Kung Fu Panda. I’m pretty goofy and free-spirited; I also tend to be optimistic and resilient to adversity.
What was your AIM screen name?
What’s your favorite TV show?
Arrested Development. There’s always money in the banana stand.
Besides fighting fraud, what items are on your bucket list?
I’d love to attend some major sporting events like the World Cup or Super Bowl. I would love to travel the countries that I haven’t been to – I’m so lucky that I grew up with parents who took us to travel. I’ve already been to 35 countries in my life, but there’s still so much I want to see. And I’d like to become a world famous DJ – my DJ name would be Great Wall.
It’s a known fact at that you’re quite the performer – do you have a rapper or stage name?
I don’t have a rap stage name yet. I enjoy rapping as a creative outlet.
What would the name of your debut album be?
I would tell people to go to rhymecombinator.com.