Accidentally ending up with a Mustang

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A weird decision

When I arrived at the rental car service, they asked me if I wanted something fun or something fuel efficient.  For some subpar reason (jet lag, temporarily low ego and a wanderlust for something cool), I opted for the “fun”.
Rarely, do I ever make such uncalculated decisions, so much so when skipping my wife she didn’t believe me, her mum or brother that I had rented a 2017 Mustang.  It took her brother going outside with a camera to make her believe*.
Her first question “Do you feel like a tool driving that car?”

3 things I’ve noticed since being in a Mustang

  1. People give way when they don’t need to
    This may be confirmation bias but I was in several situations where someone else had equal or slightly more right of way, but they let me go.  First, I was in a carpark where I was merging onto the main thoroughfare.  I stopped to let a driver pass by on the main road.  He instead stopped and signaled for me to go.  An hour later I was in the carpark of Best Buy, I had a stop sign and a lady on my right had none.  I stopped.  She stopped and signalled for me to go.  I signalled for her to go.  She insisted I went.  Finally, some lady was being a bit retarded and I beeped her preemptively to avoid the rental getting touched.  She said sorry, which is the first time anyone has said sorry.This could be attributed to coincidence but reflects a different experiment where people gave in to richer cars like BMWs when they didn’t have to.  Also, fun fact BMW drivers are jerks.  Incidentally, I’m not purposely less willing to give way to a BMW because of this research.
  2. I don’t appreciate it
    I’m not a car geek.  I consciously made a decision not to be.  About 13, I was choosing between cars and computers.  Most of my friends went to cars but I went to computers.  1) cheaper depreciation activity  2) I could actually make money and so I made a bunch of computers for my friends and maintained others as my first side income.So I’ve noticed I don’t know how to “feel” the horsepower from behind the wheel.  I wouldn’t know what constitutes a ‘good ride’ so I can’t fully appreciate whatever awesomeness I’m meant to be feeling.
  3. I’m more stressed using it
    When I was a kid, my mother never let me run near glass without a good chiding or yelling.  I think that data point represents an innate fear instilled – I have an irrational fear being around rich things.  It turns out this extends to the car.I drive even more like a grandma around it, am way more cautious and generally scared of it getting touched.  Such luck as I’ve never had a car roadside issue and today I have a flat tire from a screw on the side of the road.

*As more context, all the other vehicles I’ve owned.  TL;DR – a bunch of otherwise very average rides because I’m cheap.
  • Hyundai Excel 1991 (Manual) – roof leaked water, no zircon and everything was cracked or worse for wear.  When I tried to sell it, I didn’t get one bite and the shop wanted me to PAY to take it away.  I ended up giving it to a friend of mine
  • Suzuki GSX-250F Across – motorbike that was way to heavy for my small frame and wiggled violently in the wind.  Otherwise a lovely ride
  • Acura TL 2001 – my first ‘luxury’ car with automatic windows, air conditioning and a working radio.  Bought it for $3,500 from the original owners and that car so plenty of action.  The radio even worked.

Neophyte leadership

As our team as quadripled this year, my role is starting to change. I’m starting to replace “doing” with reviewing and managing. Given the YC mantra to focus on building a great product I feel angst when not directly working on product. I’m on a bullet train in between two South East Asian cities. It’s a rare moment to reflect on what has been thus far in a growing leadership role.

1. 1 on 1s are powerful

BCG taught me to institute process. I am naturally averse to adding process but I’ve found that honest 1 on 1s allow me to manage my people better than any other technique. It allows me to truly hear their dreams, issues and what I can do make it better.

More good suggestions have come from here than any other forum. For example, our current set of publicised metrics are the result of someone’s feedback. Feedback has also helped warned about someone’s unhappiness which allowed me to prevent churn. As we continue to grow, 1 on 1s remain my favourite process activity.

2. Coaching as a method

I’m a wartime CEO. I thrive under pressure, when things hit the fan and I love making calls when things are crazy. However, wartimes require fast decisions from the top executed well – which is a poor method for developing your team for initiative.

I took some coaching classes at Berkeley and underwant some professional coaching myself. I’m now convinced that for me, the 1 on 1 style of gaining rapport, leading by example and coaching through feedback in the first 30 days yields the best results.

3. Hire for long term, fire fast

The hires that have been the best are closely correlated to the ones which we interviewed and closed within a week. The worst performers are the ones we’ve made when we’ve been desperate and an applicant has just been below standard. “He is good but…”

I’m now convinced that even when we’re desperate we have to be patient for the right person. Chemistry has to click straight away. For us that means intelligence, work ethic and ownership mentality. Cultural chemistry normally means an underdog with the humility to learn and the willingness to work harder than all their friends.

4. I have become more impatient

I’ve noticed that my willingness and ability to tolerate bullshit has dropped.  The subconscious frame is that I want to leverage my time well.  If someone comes up with a well thought out problem, proposed solutions with a recommended one based on logic, then time spent with that person has high leverage. I can make an informed decision and trust the assumptions on which it is based.  However, when someone hasn’t done the work to go the extra mile, time spent with them is a wasted hours I’ll never get back.

If someone’s slides don’t meet expectations, they’ll need to humble themselves for review by someone who is good. If people haven’t thought through a problem, then I don’t really have time to think through it for them. I now realise why some of my managers were pissed off – there was a tonne of pressure to perform and people who hadn’t put in the extra mile were more negative than useful for the cost of switching context to talk to them.

It does mean I can recognise performance easily.  It’s easy for me to assess what someone’s strengths and weaknesses are.  In an impatient world, you clearly can see how someone can outperform.  When I ask someone in passing to register a website, they quickly come back with options that I need to care about and then a few days later it’s done and connected to the existing one in the right way. That’s a good leverage on my time.

 

6 months in

I’ve spend the last 3 weeks spending time with my alma mater, my investors and YC folks.  It’s been a rare opportunity to abstract myself from the grind of a startup and zoom out to 10,000 feet and think.  Here’s my learnings from the most recent experiences:

Successful people are human

A recent weekend brought the second ever YC Camp.  YC alums are invited to get offline for a weekend of mountain air, campfire chat and conversations with some of the most intelligent and successful folk in our part of the world.  Topics ranged from Trump to what’s more likely to end us: AI or synthesized biology.

You would be chatting to someone for 15 minutes around some smores about something interesting like what’s the real potential of chatbots, then I’d ask hey, what do you do.  Nearly always, my mind would be blown.  Amongst the ranks were Dan Ingalls, pioneer of object oriented computing; Justin Kan, founder of Twitch which sold to Amazon for $1b; Kevin Hale, who with little investment led a remote team to win in the online form space; Jared, who built Scribd and John Collision, who founded Stripe.  An illustrious list of successful folk.  There were lesser known names who demand just as much respect.  Oh, I just got acquired for a cool hundred million.  I’m from XYZ, which later research would reveal was worth a few billions dollars.  Yet, we invariably wore the same things: nike shoes, chinos, collared shirt and patagonia jacket.  We talked as equals and I was treated like one.  

Takeaway: success or failure – be human.

Be bold enough to have a conversation – they’re human too.

Be humble enough to never talk down – they’re human too.  

Think Big

I had many conversations with investors and advisors.  There were as many great pieces of advice relevant to our situation.  However, I was having lunch with one of my mentors when he  blew my mind.

We are going into a period of experimentation and had unconsciously drawn some constraints around our future paths: geographically and functionally.  Given our current status, we were looking to launch experiments that are a slight extension from our current product.  Instead, he smashed those thoughts by reframing our path to date.  We’re in a highly enviable situation.  We have time, a team, exciting markets and a willingness to fight.  We should think about solutions that can scale globally to solve the biggest pains we can find rather than limit our option set.  Mind blown.

Takeaway: reframe your current situation based on your strengths.  Now think global and do forward planning.

Think Small

Some of my favorite moments were outside, breathing in the crisp Bay Area air and contemplating life with some of the folk I get to call my close friends.  It seems our generation is one of contemplation with a willingness to change often and a desperate desire to find purpose and profit.  A recent Tim Ferris podcast had incepted stoic philosophical discussions amongst many of the conversations.

Strangely, it’s in these small moments I’m happiest.  When I abstract myself out and watch our conversation from above.  When I see a smile in my wife’s eyes.  When an investor/advisor or mentor blows my mind.  

In the grind of startup life I hadn’t had many of these moments in the past few months.  The last one was when one of the team sent me a Slack message that joining us was the best decision her career and that we felt like her family.  

Takeaway: I’m going to go for more small moments

The Berkeley MBA Experience

After two years of business school, I remain Australian.  This means I recognise both good and bad.

The good:

  • People – I am grateful for the fellow human intelligence that will form my closest network many years into the future.  It’s the closest I’ll have to corporate unconditional love and support in a professional setting.  My peers allowed me to experiment, grow and supported every move.  It’s a tight knit family I suspect no other top tier school can closely replicate.

  • Platform – Berkeley has given me an incredible platform to launch my new self.  I’ve found a founding team, learnt from incredible professors and been able to access things my previous self couldn’t.  The name “Berkeley” carries amazing weight in this country and beyond.

  • Fun – The last two years have been amazingly fun.  I’ve explored, experimented and learnt an amazing amount in a safe playground.   I’ve been to the best party of my life in Vegas.  I’ve experimented with negotiation tactics and put them into practice in the real world.  I’ve decided that the world is my oyster and I can do nearly anything.

 

The bad:

  • I’m now in some box.  Good or bad, I will be judged for the letters “MBA” and the institution they are awarded from.  That’s the American way.

  • Value/Cost equation – it’s surprisingly expensive.  I think if I was born American and had studied here undergrad the MBA equation would be hard to justify given the cost.

  • Politics – Berkeley is Berkeley.  We are extremely tolerant of everything except those who disagree with the left.  There’s an amazing expectation of self-censorship lest you be labelled a bigot or your name whispered in hushed tones in the corridor.  I didn’t appreciate the double standard.

  • Public school – Berkeley is a public school.  This means bureaucracy.  It means friction.  It means we have the most student led initiatives (because we don’t have enough staff to lead them).  It means awards and scholarships aren’t based on merit, they need to be spread out amongst the crop.  It means what is rewarded/praised is the loudest and most politically correct, not the most successful.

 

Conclusion

Berkeley was the right next step.  I chose Berkeley over my other choices for its location, and its technology/startup lean.  I came into school with specific goals and achieved them. With what I know now I would have chosen the same path.  As I move forward on the uncertain path, I look back and reminisce on the best two years of my life to date.

 

So you want to be a Management Consultant

You’ve decided to become a management consultant. You’re about to graduate and are ready to take on the world. But where do you start?

I’m hoping the following can give you a jump start into your new full time job – getting into one of the world’s most reputable management consulting firms. This guide will be applicable to anyone who’s thinking about transitioning into the management consulting industry.

Understand what we do

The term “management consulting” is often misunderstood and misused. Make sure you learn what it actually means:

  • What do we do?
  • What do the firms look for?
  • What’s your relevant superpower that will have you stand out?

Resume

Management consulting resumes are very different from the norm. From what I’ve observed people often don’t know how to write one even after being told. As someone who’s been through hundreds of resumes you in all likelihood have less than 30 seconds to impress the person you’re dealing with. So make sure what you want to highlight pops from the page. Here are some high level tips for Australians. I know the US has slightly different rules…

General tips:

  • Keep it to 2 pages (even the most accomplished people I know can do this)
  • Always use the STAR approach
  • Format to your strengths
  • Know and advertise your superpower
  • Get someone in the industry to tear it apart

A quick note on the STAR approach
Always use the STAR approach (there are alternative yet similar structures): Situation, Task, Action, Result. Then always lead with a quantifiable result. Compare the two below:

President of FMAA society 2011-2012
Led student society on campus focused on the finance industry. In my time I saw membership double and the worked with my team to increase participation. I also oversaw the addition of three new sponsors

President of FMAA society 2011-2012
– 200% increase in membership through targeting advertising at 1st year students
– Managed $50,000 budget that saw greatest active participation to date
– Signed on 3 new sponsors worth $7,000 each per year, doubling our sponsored funds

I hope you can see that the content is basically the same though the impact for the reader drastically different. The second clearly highlights the quantifiable results first then speaks to how this person accomplished the result. Note the dot point format which doesn’t waste space and clearly says what needs to be said without all the filler words (I’ve hardly written full sentences in my time in management consulting).

Cover Letter

As always, it’s another important opportunity for you to stand out. Make sure you’re not just blabbering because you want to fill a page but put some insightful language around why you’re the best and why you’ll fit into the firms like a hand in glove.

General tips:

  • Keep it to one page
  • Explain your superpower in the context of what’s important for this job
  • No FAFF, just succinct successes explained
  • Find some truly genuine words about why you want join the industry and a firm
  • No spelling mistakes

After a whole day of looking at cover letter two things stand out: structure and originality. Some cover letters just are a brain dump and don’t appear well thought out. Each paragraph should have a different purpose and execute that with precision. The other big boo boo is when a cover letter sounds the same as the hundred before. Everyone ‘loves’ a firm for its reputation and people. Now go a step further and prove you actually know something about the firm.

Case interviews

Management consulting is famous for its case interviews. For those of you brand new to the idea, instead of only asking you behaviourial questions, e.g. “Tell me about a time when…”, your interviewer will ask provide you some brief information about a company and then ask you something like “What should our client do?” It is then up to the interviewee to set up a structure/framework for asking the right set of questions that will get them to the best answer for the client.

The interview is specifically testing skills that consultants use all the time:

  • Developing a structure/framework that guides the answer
  • Quick and accurate math skills
  • Business acumen and common sense
  • Competence under stress and ability to think on your feet

They are not testing for:

  • The ‘right’ answer
  • Knowledge of specific business topics
  • Knowledge of prices, exact figures or facts

Hopefully that helps.  Feel free to ask me something below.

Sam Altman visits UC Berkeley

Sam Altman visited UC Berkeley and took questions from the audience.  Here’s a quick summary of what I found interesting.

What industries are excitable?

  • Software startups still have a long way to go
  • Energy
  • Biotech (cycle times have come down)
Markets
  • YC funds the best startups it can find – even if its the same market it’s backed before
  • You should be skeptical if heaps of people are doing what you’re doing
  • Most successful companies have been the first to their markets, e.g. Facebook was the first college social network (when everyone said you can’t make money of poor college students); Google was the only search engine to launch that year
Traction
  • The best way to get traction is build something people want and will tell their friends about
  • Focus on the product at the beginning –> growth hacking comes later
  • Charge early customers so they give honest feedback
Other random tips
  • You should only ever go to 1 incubator/accelerator (if you’re not accelerated then there’s something wrong)
  • Companies that raise $30m early fail more often than those who raise $300k.  The sense of frugality and resourcefulness early on is super important and set the culture for the company which is really hard to change
  • Founding team should be able to carry the company a long way.  Avoid hiring people for as long as possible
  • YC funds the best founders who have a passion around an idea we like

Hooking up Technical and Business

I was recently asked by a business mind to write a post reflecting on how I found my technical co-founders.  It’s a question I’ve been asked a few times now so I figured I’d do my best to answer based on discussions across both the business and technical fronts.  I’m hoping my thoughts help both business and technical find each other just a little easier.

How did you meet your co-founders?

My particular story is probably not applicable to most.  It relies on a whole bunch of serendipity and blind luck.  I so happen to be the co-chair of LAUNCH – UC Berkeley’s Startup Competition.   It has been traditionally organised solely by MBAs though this made no sense to me.  As part of that role we wanted to include more engineers and undergraduates to the fold.  My other co-chair found a friend through her connections and so I was introduced to a young gentleman who had won awards for his academic efforts.  One day he approached me to discuss some ideas and we set up the time to brainstorm.  We hit it off and now are working several ideas together.  He has since introduced me to a couple of his mates and so the network builds.

Another founder I met through a chase.  I had heard stories about a guy who had won a hackathon, was a great bloke and interested in bitcoin.  I hunted a little until a mutual MBA friend introduced us and we set up a meeting.  Turns out my first co-founder had actually traveled with him and the organizer of that trip was another mutual friend.  We through around a couple of ideas and started working together.

The rest is history.

 

General principles

“Chance favors the prepared” Louis Pasteur – inventor of pasteurization

I suspect most people’s stories on finding co-founders relies on chance or some serendipity.  In my efforts to cultivate such fortune I did several things which I can recommend to others.  Below is a consolidated list based on my experiences and discussions with both sides of the table.

  • Go to events that interests engineers.  Events held at the business school probably aren’t attracting engineers in droves.  General entrepreneurship events, pitch nights or topic specific events e.g. bitcoin probably will.  
  • Be an extrovert – sounds dumb but I go to events and see all the business kids talking to each other, and all the engineering kids hanging together.  Now in this case the engineers are the hot girls at the party, so the business kids need to go over and start the conversation
  • Be  friendly – my mum always said “If you want friends be friendly”  Often I hear the anecdote that a business guy will come by and ask “Can you code” and then pitch their idea.  The plain audacity of this stupidity confounds me.  My rule in life is always ask questions – another Chinese idiom I remember is “You learn a lot more by listening than by speaking” so I will try to engage whoever I’m talking to be an interested in them.  I’ve seen business peeps do this soliloquy time and time again to no avail
  • Prove yourself – to business minds coding is some black box.  To engineers, the business side seems almost pointless – build a great product and they’ll come.  Both are true and false.  I never believe I deserve the respect of someone, I’ll always work to earn it.  That means busting my ass and proving to others (business or engineers) the value I can add.  This work ethic and results build trust and an appreciation of value

I think finding founders is like dating.  I think with a bit of work and humility one can find their better half.  I don’t think any of the above is groundbreaking insight.   I suspect this is common sense.  What is clear though is that it’s much harder to execute.  Go execute!

Happy New Year!

Three thoughts to bring in the New Year!

1.  Malaysian and Singaporean Hawker Centre

I’ve always thought Malaysian food was the best in the world hands down, and specifically, that of Penang.  It’s the best of multiculturalism – the blend of Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisines makes for an absolute gastronomical explosion.  I’ve also always wanted to ask someone who earns $2USD per dish if they’d send their family guarded recipe overseas and charge $10-15 per dish.  The numbers look good, the quality of life would improve and the best food in the world would starting making headlines and the western world would drool.

Well, Anthony Bourdain got to it first in NYC.  It seems one of the world’s most renowned chefs agrees with me.  http://pagesix.com/2014/01/09/anthony-bourdain-to-open-world-food-market/

Let me know if you want to start it in Australia or San Fran…

2. Bitcoin

I think there’s a tonne of potential in bitcoin.  I think there will continue to be a huge illicit demand from those who wish to move money around without government interference.  But I also think it has HUGE potential if the market becomes a little more efficient and the value less volatile.  One that really appeals –  making remittance extremely cheap?  In my case, I saved quite a lot in bank fees and foreign exchange rates between the AUD and USD.

From current conversations with friends, classmates and family, not everyone shares my optimism.  I suppose we shall see but I’ve got my money where my mouth is.

3.  The decline of the desktop computer

The break gave me a chance to reflect upon my gaming days and how I miss assembling desktops.  It appeals to some inner want to put things together and build something tangible.  There’s something about researching, assembling and troubleshooting till you have this working machine.  However, a quick bit of research clearly showed the decline: there are much fewer computer magazines around and they’ve all intelligently diversified their focus from the desktop to personal computing in general.  Gamers have moved to the consoles and PC games in San Francisco’s Gamestop have been relegated to one shelf in the basement’s corner.

Cheers!

Reminiscing on a half

My first seven weeks have been a whirlwind of learning, fun and extraordinary life.  I reflect on two learnings currently salient.

Professors are insane

So the lecturers are at a top business school for a reason.  They’ve come from amazing places and for some reason have ended up teaching dim witted neophytes for punishment.

My favourite lecture to date was a Private Equity case walkthrough with Peter Goodson – yep, the CD&R one.  There’s a certain lack of care for what others think about you once you’re in his world and the honesty appeals to the core Australian within – just say it as it is.  Super impressive teacher and backed by a litany of successful experience.

Then there’s the microeconomics professor who previously worked for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.  He looks like any professor does then when pressed produces casual photos of the President and him chilling at the White House.  No big deal.

Also, proudly for Berkeley, the next Head of the Federal Reserve will be a proud Berkeley-an.  Yep, we don’t get this kind of calibre back home.

These wins help make up for the football team’s record of 1 win and 10 million losses.

 

 MBAs are just people, and sometimes not that good

One activity which  takes up a more time than initially expected is running bplan – Berkeley’s startup competition.  As part of that, we try to connect up diversified teams amongst the various schools at Berkeley, e.g. engineering and business.  However, we’ve recently found that business students have a less than ideal reputation with the engineers – something we’re working to reverse.

By walking a few miles in the engineers shoes, it’s easy to understand their point of view.  These guys are pushing the boundaries of knowledge in machine learning, voice recognition, search algorithms and robotics.  In contrast, I’ve mainly been pushing boxes around a slide (though amazingly beautiful and insightful thoughts, I might add :).  These guys who have a modicum of business sense probably don’t need an MBA, and especially the kind of Type A personality that the MBA programs tend to attract.

 

Till next time…

O-Week closes

I wasn’t quire sure what to expect from O-week.  I figured it would be slightly different than my undergrad version with 4am wake-ups, shavings and aerobic performances whilst being doused with cold water.  Those were the good old days.

Instead, I got to experience amazing speakers, do the aussie cheer, and party hard.

1. The speakers were amazing:

  • DaNae started Indiegogo and pushed us to seek our calling
  • Barbara from BoA awed me with her tenacity and ability to maintain a strong network
  • Tom Kelley introduced vuja de – seeing your routine with new eyes
  • Guy Kawasaki taught me to man up, say yes, give first and be succinct

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2. As part of the program, we’ve been assigned to cohorts and I’ve had the fortune of being placed in Oski.  Fortune because the cheer reminds me of home “Oski, Oski, Oski – Oi, Oi, Oi”  We haven’t won much yet, and our wins have no correlation: trivia, flag football and twister

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3. Oh, the parties have been good.  A quick trip to “Saddle Rack” allowed me to quickly dip my toes in country-esque nights out.  The mechanical bull was a highlight.  We’ve also managed to squeeze in some good nights out at local pubs and an 80s party which I enjoyed more than I had anticipated.  You can’t say no to a free photo booth.

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Overall a blast – they say Berkeley purposes chooses its people to form a particular culture. Oweek has definitely been the place to see that – here’s to the next 2 years.

P.S. Here’s to XAUUSD, which appears to be back on the climb after a few hiccups.