To the man I want to be when I grow up

4 min read


The world lost one of its best this week.  Unfortunately, the Xendit fam have been feeling mortality in too many ways lately, and you’re the first person close to me to have passed. I’m not one for social protocol, but this is my way of saying goodbye.

Thank you for so many things…

Thanks for the life lessons

Thanks for Entrepreneurship 1A.  I’d pay for the MBA again if only to go to that class.  Toby and you were so wise in your answers.  Each case had a moral, each story was real, with protagonists most can only dream about and conclusions that gave me actionable wisdom.  I remember you talking about Steve Jobs walking by and playing with your kids.  The serendipity of Marc Andressen teaching you about the internet.  The billion-dollar founders that came to class.  Your mastery of navigating startup situations was flabbergasting, and those life lessons I’ll use for life.

“Build deep hooks”

I remember your story about Skyhook wireless – they missed their chance when Steve Jobs asked them for a proposal for their tech.  You faced a similar situation.  Instead of answering Steve Job’s email for a proposal, you worked with his devs to see what a pilot would look like.  You then fixed what you wanted and got the tech even deeper.  Your excuse to Steve was to keep bringing product to reqs.  Eventually, Steve realised your tech was too deep and came by your house to ask to acquire your company.  You then closed the 2nd biggest acquisition Apple had ever completed.

“If it’s not worth a billion dollars, don’t talk to me”

You’ve heard me tell this story nearly every class I had the pleasure of attending.  When I had 30 ideas in my pocket, I came by and asked you for office hours.  The way I remember it is about 5 minutes in, you told me “If the idea isn’t worth a billion dollars, don’t talk to me about it”.  Knowing you, it was much kindly worded, but the life lesson changed my trajectory.  1) I felt bad for failing an expectation, but more importantly 2) you took the meeting assuming and expecting I could come up with billion-dollar ideas.  I came back a few weeks later and have yet to prove you right, but I hope you’re proud of incepting a new me.  Thanks for being the first person to think I could have a billion-dollar idea.

“If you want to predict what people will do,  understand 2 things: a)  incentives and b) personality.”

I use this mantra nearly every month.  Confirmation bias but this mantra seems to be applicable everywhere.  Incentives will ultimately drive people’s behaviour no matter what they say.  Their personality/beliefs will only explain how long and hard they will execute according to their incentives.  I see this everywhere- government, employees, and companies.  No matter what people say about their belief system or position, we just watch incentives and can predict the future.

Thanks for believing in me before I did

You saw something and decided to invest your time in my endeavours.  You took it upon yourself to reply to every email, give advice on matters menial and life-changing with the same gusto and invited me into your home.  These bits of wisdom at pivotal moments have changed the trajectory of my life.  If not for you, I wouldn’t be where I stand today.  So thanks.

“Investors invest out of FOMO”

When we were raising our seed I remember sitting in squalor in Mountain View nervous about how we’d ever convince Silicon Valley to invest in an idea with first-time founders for a nation most have never heard of.  Over 30 minutes, you gave me a playbook for raising funds which I’ve followed religiously ever since, and it’s always worked.  

“The baseball story”

When we were deciding between various senior people to hire, you answered with a real parable.  You explained how Mike Trout got the biggest contract in history and Bryce Harper was not far behind in 2019.  One (I think Mike?) drove himself to training in his pickup truck.  He had brought presents for his team, the staff and thanked them for having him.  In contrast the other (Bryce?) had driven into training with a fancy car.  The coach had set up his locker for him.  Bryce went on to go through a slouch in performance and got booed by fans.  Mike Trout is on a roll.  In classic Rob form, you left the story at that (so elegant) but my instructions were clear.  One candidate bowed out of the race after this tale. The other said they trusted us so much they would take whatever offer we offered.  Happy to pay a lot, but culture is everything.  

Being the first cheque in

But then in classy fashion (as always) you put your neck out there and offered to be as small or big a cheque as we needed.  Thanks for not being a sheep but a leader and putting your money where your mouth was.  Lots of investors have paid lip service or said nice things to us, but you always led with action to match your words.  

Being right, a lot

I can count on 1 hand the number of people who have consistently given me actionable, detailed advice and predicted the future with 99%+ accuracy – I have kept tabs of advice vs right outcome, and I can’t think of 1 situation where you’ve been wrong.  You would break down complex problems into really simple levers and advised what we should do: whether it be managing executives, who to hire or how to think about scaling.  I’ll really really miss your sage advice of what to do when. 

Thanks for being who I want to be

Lastly and by far the hardest, thanks for being a genuinely kind, humble and nice human being that managed to retain integrity in every situation I saw.  You would always pull me back from the edge when I wanted to act out of anger (no matter how righteous).  You stand heads and shoulders above the crowd and inspire me daily to be better on every single dimension I measure myself on.  

Round table

Joy wanted me to remind you about the round table.  You invited us to eat with your family and explained why you always have a round table in your dining room.  You wanted a table that could fit everyone and enforced only 1 conversation on the table so that everyone was involved and wasn’t left out. I think it’s just another great data point of how you think about everyone else. Such a class act.  

Final thanks

Rob, you’ve left a massive, gaping hole in the world.  I’m not sure any others can fill your shoes.  I’m going to miss our catchups at Haas, the comfort of your presence in the board room, a mentor that personified success and confident humility that’s so rare in today’s world.  I’m going to miss that smile when we meet, the swagger of your walk, the lessons in every class.  The strategy of how to hire, how to fire, how to acquire, how to raise.  The baseball story on who to hire (you won’t be here to see it, but you’ll be right once again).  The long emails.  In the end, I figure the best way to honour you is to live a life you’d be proud of.  So here’s to the beginning of however many years of trying to emulate your classy stand-up life.  

Thanks for running the race well, finishing strongly and teaching me how to run.  Thanks for being the man I want to be when I grow up.  May you rest in peace.



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