UC Irvine alum Peter Pham is co-founder of Science Inc., the startup incubator and investment firm behind companies such as Dollar Shave Club, DogVacay, and Liquid Death water.
Born in a refugee camp and having grown up in a one-bedroom apartment with six other family members, Pham reflects on his journey to becoming a key player at L.A.-based Science Inc., which has raised more than half a billion dollars to support entrepreneurs since 2011. “We came to America with nothing. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to go to college. Going to UC Irvine was a big deal. I was supposed to become a doctor.” Though he graduated with a degree in biology, Pham picked up a minor in business and decided against medical school. “Within nine years, I had like 11 different jobs, mostly at startups.”
His big break was being hired as one of the first five employees at Photobucket. “We eventually sold that to Myspace for $300 million, and I moved up to the Bay Area. The difference between O.C. and the Bay Area was so vast. It’s nonstop work up there, and it’s hard to have work-life balance.” After working at a few more startups, including BillShrink (acquired by Mastercard), Pham returned to Southern California “looking for the beach life” and started Science Inc. with former Myspace CEO Mike Jones.
A lot of people have great ideas; but if you can’t market it, it doesn’t matter.
Science Inc. provides funding, advice, and more to companies such as Dollar Shave Club, a subscription razor-delivery service acquired by Unilever in 2016. “With us, they went from zero to a billion-dollar exit in five years,” Pham says. Current interests include PlayVS, a high school eSports league the company was inspired to invest in after UC Irvine became the first university in the nation to open an eSports arena, and Liquid Death Mountain Water (tagline: Murder Your Thirst).
“Liquid Death is one of the most viral companies we’ve worked with. It’s water in a can, which is nice because for every can we’re selling there’s one less plastic bottle being sold, and a portion of the proceeds go toward cleaning plastic in the ocean. But it’s also really fun, and it’s great for someone like me who doesn’t drink—I’m allergic to alcohol—but likes to party and have a drink in their hand. I’m the first one on the dance floor!”
Pham describes himself as “focused on doing good, but I also don’t care what anybody thinks.” He attributes part of his success to having ADHD and says he loves to do something different every day, travel the world, and “obsess about different brands and companies,” working with his partners to figure out the right moves.
Earlier this year, Pham returned to O.C. to attend his alma mater’s basketball games during March Madness. “When I was at UC Irvine, we built the first spirit club. This was when the team was losing. We used to streak the campus. So when they made the tournament, I flew out with face paint and foam fingers. I’m an all-in person, in general.”