A month ago, in an effort to grow an online presence, one of my first tweets gained significant traction. It was re-tweeted by Mr. Keith Rabois. Fortunate enough to meet him, this exposed me to some great opportunities as I start my next chapter in life.
Around the same time, I received one of the best pieces of life advice from Mr. Jeremy Liew in an email exchange. A recommendation I have forgotten in these exciting past few weeks.
Make bugs into features.
At a young age, I had been diagnosed with ankyloglossia: a short tongue, and a speech disability. However, I was argumentative, curious, and talkative. So, I joined speech and debate not only to overcome my disability but explore my personality.
Ankyloglossia became a starting point for unconventional arguments and styles. My experiences and outlook for debate differentiated me from competitors. I lost my stutter in Year 1. By junior year, I ended up as a top-eight debater in the country.
Debate exposed me to analytic and continental philosophy I wouldn’t have been exposed to in middle school. Building the foundations of how I view investments today and evolving my thinking.
A teacher recommended once I write about Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscious Conservative.” I was more curious about my identity and rap. I created my topic: Asian American Diaspora and Yellow Power in Black Jazz Anthropology. This material had few sources and historiographical works for a favorable grade.
However, I took my research personally and with passion. I succeeded. My research informed my junior thesis on graphic imagery and psychosocial violence in Native Son. It published in an international humanities journal.
I read the entire value investing cannon in middle school. I was less focused on returns at first, but the “whys” to investing and markets. Something the Alchemy of Finance and similar works provided me. I constructed most of my mental frameworks around markets in philosophical foundations. As a younger, inexperienced investor, my unique approach created a comparative advantage in markets. Producing market-beating returns for me and our portfolio.
When I felt pressure to be more systematic, I explored Quantitive Finance. Yet my bugs were not features in this field. My views on market efficiency did not align with algorithms. I had no edge for academic computer science, physics, statistics, or math.
My peers’ problems in sharing goods and payments inspired my first startup idea. I wanted to create a local marketplace for used goods on a group-messaging platform. I laid the early foundations of what I could build. None of my peers had an interest (senior spring) or had technical talent. I went to hackathons and began to explore recruiting young engineers. I grew my network locally. I took notes, met, and worked with great designers, program managers, product managers, engineers, and other founders. I decided to close the idea right before the launch for reasons beyond this piece.
The experience was still invaluable. My understandings of business radically changed. I consumed more books, articles, and more in the past eight months than I have ever read in my life. I didn’t see the company as a failure but a channel for curiosity and obsession. This instilled in me an increased sense of purpose, ownership mentality and maturity. I learned more about myself and how much I was willing to sacrifice.
First Seed Investment:
My journey showed that my true aspirations were in venture. Finding, backing, and supporting Entrepreneurs with missionary zeal. This aligns most with my innate passions in investing, technology, and philosophy.
For the first two months, I avoided cold-emailing and figured out everything myself. After 30 potential companies, I finally found my first investment. The founder and CEO had a bold vision for the company and fantastic product sense. I could see a missionary, not a mercenary with execution excellence. He had a methodical plan focused on risk minimization in company building.
I sensed my obstacle for my first investment was not the quality of the company, but the quality of myself. However, I turned my inexperience and youth as bugs into features. Oddities and even liabilities translated to extreme preparation, fresh insights and network alignment in my meetings. Especially given I made a personal investment.
I look forward to talking more about the company soon. Vertoe is hiring. We closed the seed round in September:)
A week before I met Mr. Rabois and tweeted, I could have joined an established hedge fund. This provided security for my next two years. However, it would run contrary to my goals and passions. I wanted to go to SF instead and explore my true ambitions.
I was rebalancing our portfolio before I left SF. I spent more time on Alibaba’s 20-F and noticed inconsistencies in their accounting. This led to diligence on BABA’s dependency on China’s economic health which was poor.
Noticing Silicon Valley’s romanticization with China, I shared my thoughts online. The Twitter thread might’ve seemed trivial. However, my innate curiosity drove an appetite for risk and sharing unique insights. I would not have taken the next step forward in my journey otherwise.
I have significant decisions to make in the coming weeks. I am fortunate and privileged to be in this position. I have a lot to learn.
I have written a more personal post to offer a quick reflection on what “bugs into features” has meant for me. (And also to finally start my blog.) These events in my life are trivial in the grand scheme of things, but they were indelible elements to my maturity.
Turning bugs into a feature is creating a comparative advantage against others. This idea strikes at the core elements in the most legendary technology companies of our time.
1. Do something against conventional wisdom and succeed.
2. Do something that nobody is doing and succeed.
3. Do something that no one else can do and succeed.
Peter Thiel has a great question he asks people he hires and invests,
“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
Here is my follow-up question I use to understand people and founders better,
“What is your greatest liability, how can it be an asset?”
Strengths often have corresponding weaknesses. There is a yin/yang relationship. If you mitigate a weakness and play towards other people’s strengths instead of yours, you eliminate an asymmetric upside that was unique to you.
A reminder to myself and readers:
Be your best self. No one can do it better than you.