Alex Lazarow on Frontier Innovators, VC & Founder Trust and Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley - E55

· Harvard,Thought Leaders,VC and Angels,Podcast Episodes English

"Today, the innovation capital of automotive has moved everywhere, but it hasn't moved where everyone is building great cars, specializations moved in different places. The capital of durability you might say it comes from Germany and the sassy sports scars are in Italy...I think that's what's going to happen to the world of innovation. I'm not saying Silicon Valley's dead, it's very popular say that on Twitter. I think Silicon Valley is going to remain a very, very important place for innovation, but it will no longer be the place." - Alex Lazarow

Alexandre (Alex) Lazarow has spent his career working at the intersection of investing, innovation, and economic development in the private, public, and social sectors. He is the author of Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs - from Delhi to Detroit - Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley (HBR Press). Alex is a venture capitalist with Cathay Innovation, a global firm that invests across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Previously, Alex worked with Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm that has invested over a billion dollars in hundreds of startups around the world. He has served as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company, a financial regulator with the Bank of Canada, and an M&A investment banker with the Royal Bank of Canada.  

Alex is an adjunct professor specializing in impact investment and entrepreneurship at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He is a Kauffman Fellow, CFA Charterholder, and a Stephen M. Kellen Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a B.Comm from the University of Manitoba

Alex is a regular columnist with Forbes, and his writing has been featured in the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly, Entrepreneur Magazine, TechCrunch, Fast Company, VentureBeat, Business Insider, and Quartz , among others. He speaks regularly on global innovation trends and has presented at Collision, Endeavor, InsureTech Connect, the Social Innovation Summit, SOCAP, and the Corporate Venture Capital Summit. He is most proud of having once been called a ‘sad, low budget Ryan Reynolds’ on Twitter.


Jeremy Au: [00:00:00] Hey Alex, good to have you on board.


Alex Lazarow: [00:00:03] Thank you so much for having me.


Jeremy Au: [00:00:05] I'm really excited to share because I think you have a really sharp eye, not just on the VC war between the West and emerging economies, but also the flow of ideas, talent, and inspiration. And I'm so excited to dive deep in that.


Alex Lazarow: [00:00:18] Well, I'm excited to have the conversation with you, so thank you.


Jeremy Au: [00:00:24] So, for those who don't know you yet, how would you describe your journey so far professionally?


Alex Lazarow: [00:00:30] My work has always been at the intersection of questions to innovation, investing and impact. So, when I was in undergrad, I thought I would do a PhD in Developmental Economics. And I grew up in the middle of Canada, a small city called Winnipeg and one of my mentors at the time had suggested that I go and get some practical work experience and ended up instead of going into academia, working on the Wall Street of Canada, Bay Street Investment Banking and realized that I loved the tool of finance, wasn't in love with selling big Canadian insurance companies. But I thought that was an incredible tool to drive impact. I ended up and started doing my MBA and came out of that, this was during the time of the rise of impact investing, and micro-finance, and all of those things. And that got me down this path of thinking about how finance could drive impact in those new ways.


And by a long and circuitous path, I ended up doing exactly that. I had to realize that I had no discernible skills coming out of my MBA. And so I wanted to, one have some experience working, a lot of interests I care about like financial services are highly regulated, I wanted to understand that. So I ended up working with Canadian Central Bank and later on in consulting across a bunch of different emerging markets to broaden that experience. And then after that ended up in venture first at Omidyar Network and now at Cathay Innovation. So that's been a little bit of the path of how I've gone, and lucky to have discovered a job and a calling that I just really enjoy and resonate with and love every day.


Jeremy Au: [00:01:54] Amazing. And I'm just curious, obviously, you were in consulting at one point and then you went into VC, right. So what was the transition point there? Like, do you just wake up one morning and you are like, I love venture capital or what happened there?


Alex Lazarow: [00:02:11] I think it was a little bit of a evolution of my thinking over time. So when I came out of the MBA, I had this hypothesis that I wanted to do investing, but that I really wasn't in a position to do it. I didn't know about any industries. I wanted to go to the regulatory side. And so the plan had always been going into not necessarily venture, but certainly a question of investing as a tool. When I was at McKinsey, I loved consulting. It had been just really great, especially I didn't like the idea of becoming a partner at the firm. It just wasn't what I wanted to do, but I had really liked it, but there was a point where I felt this is an interesting exit point to do it. And I actually had a pretty structured process about discovering where I might land by speaking and building a network across a bunch of different people and trying to discover what were ideas and themes I liked and what were investors that were doing it.


So it wasn't a wake up one day, it was more building relationships over time. And then one day, one of those relationships actively looking for someone junior to join their team, and not being very lucky to have been given that opportunity that then brought me there. So it was much more opportunity driven than it was anything else. But it always been a little bit of the plan going in.


Jeremy Au: [00:03:22] Right. And I think what's interesting, of course, as a Bain consultant who's transitioned to technology, as an operator and founder, and now also in VC, I resonate with that. I mean, I what got me curious though it's like you not only chose to transition to VC, but yet you chose to double down on VC, right. So you had one VC and then after that you went on to join Cathay and doubled down on it. So what was that choice there? Because from there you could have gone on to become an operator. You could have did different ways to be part of the ecosystem. That was the real confirmation point, right. It's not whether you want to be a VC it's whether you continue being a VC, which is similar to consulting, I guess right. It's not about whether you want to be a partner, it's about you continue being a consultant to get promoted to partner.


Alex Lazarow: [00:04:07] So I'll start by saying that I have no discernible skills. And so I'm not qualified to be an operator, but to be honest, I have a very good fortune of loving my job, and the opportunity to work for and alongside founders that are trying to tackle some of the biggest and thorniest problems. And also on the side, I teach entrepreneurship, I just wrote this book. And a lot of that has this nice little Venn diagram where a lot of these activities reinforced each other. And so I come from that lens of really liking it. But a little bit like every path of my career being driven by relationships and serendipity. And this is another example. So I'd been at Omidyar Network, it's a family office and venture funded Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre is the founder of eBay, eBay later bought PayPal.


And just really at the nexus of a lot of the things I care about us investing in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S. around questions of FinTech. And one of the investments I had made when I was there was in Chime Bank, which has now become one of the big digital banks in the U.S. and Cathay Innovation fund and led the Series B. And so I got to know them and there's a French Canadian doing global tech. It was pretty fun to meet a French Fund doing global tech. And they'd asked me to join and help grow some of our work on the West Coast. And it was really driven by the fact that they had a global platform or thinking about tech the same way I was doing it. But also an affinity towards the team that got me really excited about the opportunity and why I jumped in.


Jeremy Au: [00:05:32] Interesting. And what do you think were the things that you had to learn? So it's a different form of leadership. It's not a classic leadership. We have worked at McKinsey and Bain. We've worked alongside CEOs, of prototypical leadership skills, would just be able to do a town hall, right. Communicate, frontline. And then as a consultant, we've always on the side or in the wings helping them, coaching them. So I think there's a little bit of that support role, right. And I think VC has some of that flavor as well. So I'm just curious how you see leadership styles being different from the classic CEO type energy versus the VC side.


Alex Lazarow: [00:06:08] I'll say, because you mentioned consulting, maybe I'll give you three points, but three things that I learned about, about how to be helpful to people, how to build relationships and hopefully also grow your own career. One is around thoughtful relationships. It has been something that has really moved me. I grew up in a small town. I literally didn't know a single venture capitalist or frankly, a technologist, or an entrepreneur in the technology world of entrepreneurship. And one of the things that's been really like a gift and opportunity for me, is the opportunity to build relationships with a bunch of folks. And that was how I got into Omidyar Network, Chime, every VC that was around those themes. And by doing that also thinking about ways that I might be able to help them out. And similarly, I think that's the attitude I'm trying to take when I work with entrepreneurs and for entrepreneurs.


And so I think this isn't about networking. I think it's really about building relationships and less is more, less people, but more depth to that, I think goes a long way. I'm sorry, I think that's one bit of it. I think the other is, and this is a dynamic that's becoming really acute for the best entrepreneurs in the most active sectors, is actually the depth is really important. And so some VCs bring a deep operating knowledge and Jeremy you've been a founder before, but I think that the depth you can bring can be a bunch of different things. The lens that I've tried to take is this combination of having a little bit of this global aperture by working across a bunch of different geographies and a pretty deep focus on one or two industries for me, financial services and healthcare is where I spend most of my time. And to try to be pretty helpful in a little bit of a deep way. And I think that has served me well.


And then the third thing that I think is really valuable, which is going to sound counter to the depth point, is actually a little bit of taking a multi-sector lens. I think that we have a tendency, and I live in San Francisco, where we think of technology a little bit as this panacea that can solve all of the world's problems. And the reality is that's not true and big businesses will succeed within an ecosystem of government policy and regulation, of corporates that might be supporters of the startup within the ecosystem of a wide range of partners in it. And I think that having a little bit of this lens is something that's great for any leader that's emerging, is taking not just a deep functional of understanding your industry and your problem, but also a little bit of a multi-sector lens. See how other people might think about it and how you are acting within a system.


Jeremy Au: [00:08:33] Amazing. Let's get deep on that, right. So I think what you said about thoughtful and depth and this multi-sector, they're all intertwined. I think you're right to say that it does sound paradoxical from that perspective. So let's examine the linkages of that, right. So obviously to have a tougher relationship, you need the value and you have to know what you and what you don't know. Can we talk a little bit like what are VCs good for? I mean, they bring the money, obviously. They're on the board. So what's the value, I guess, in depth. So one is like industry, you mentioned the scanning, but I guess for founders out there, as well as I guess, new VCs thinking about how to show their value or be clear about where their value is in there. Like what are the major parameters that people should consult VCs for and should not consult VCs for.


Alex Lazarow: [00:09:28] I think the point you started with is really crucial, which is knowing what you don't know. And I think that VCs will add value in different ways. And I think it should be authentic to who they are. And founders should select who they choose to partner with based on where that particular person might be able to help, in tandem with the money and a bunch of other factors. But I actually think that piece is important. I think for instance, having folks that are operator VCs, can be really helpful as having a peer where someone can talk through some of the challenges that will be exact same situation. I think there's some ubiquity there. But I actually think that, and this is obviously a little bit self-serving, that other VCs that are not operators can also add value in different ways. But it's really knowing where you as an individual cannot like, I shouldn't be giving very direct, prescriptive operating advice to any founder, because I don't come with that lens.


And for example I don't think any VC should come with prescriptive very specific, but definitely not me. Like that isn't where I can add. But I do know the lanes where I think I know something about something. But I also think it's just really important to know that context is always different. The founder is the one that's close to the problem full time. I'm there as a cheerleader, a helper, a networker, a lot of BD all these things, but I don't know the problem as deeply as the person who I partnered with. And I partner with because in part how well I know the problem. And so I think keeping that humility of that as well is critical, but I'd say it's really important to know what you don't know, and know where you think you can be most helpful and lean in as hard as you can there as well.


Jeremy Au: [00:10:58] God, that's so true. I think knowing what you don't know and being articulate about that with your partner. I think it reminds me a lot of strong teams. I think so many founders I've met, honestly, look at this as like an adversarial contact sport or it was like the VCs on one end and then you got to figure out how to approach, and have a plan of attack. And there's a lot of adversarial components. And that's useful in some frames, I think in terms of mobilizing to figure out how to fundraise, but not so useful when things about how to pick the right VC, that is actually the best team of you. Of course not every founder has the ability to pick multiple VCs or have a choice, right.


Alex Lazarow: [00:11:38] I'd make one little point / reaction to that because I really agree with it. The first is, I think when you select the board that you're coming, I think it's important to understand where your particular board is adding value or where are your whole cap table is adding value in different ways. And think about it is a little bit this Venn diagram of where are there gaps. And for this round of funding, I want a Series B, I want a Series B but where are the special, and those gaps will change and they'll evolve as the company scales, but where are those gaps right now? I think that's a pretty important lens to keep in mind because it is a team. And I don't think, when done really well, I don't think it's adversarial at all. I actually think you're all on the same team, hopefully over the longterm, right. The average venture relationship is longer than the average American marriage. So you need to be really sure.


Jeremy Au: [00:12:24] That's a great comparison. I got to remember that. So I think there's a huge amount of truth there. And of course I think, the reality of course is that, and I think founders are going to be scared, right. I mean, obviously they're pitching and everything, and then they walk into this team with Alex for VC, right. And it's hard to be authentic or real, show your true leadership. So I guess what tips would you have in that leadership development or partnership as between a VC and a founder?


Alex Lazarow: [00:12:59] I'll say, maybe harking back to my comment about marriage a second ago. I think I really don't like some of the dynamics that's playing out around shotgun weddings, preemptive rounds, a lot of this. And the reason I don't like it is because the venture entrepreneurial relationship is really a relationship. You need to trust each other quite a bit. The founder needs to trust the VC and vice versa. And so I think one lesson is that relationships take time. If I look back at the investments I've made, most of them, I've known the founder for a long time, a year before I've made the investment. And by the way, that makes it possible to do things like move very, very quickly on a round et cetera. But it starts with some type of foundation of having a relationship. It feels like the dynamics in venture are changing a little bit when rounds are happening, way faster and I caution that actually.


I think, is worth investing the time. And particularly in the Zoom context where we might not even have shaken hands. I actually think one of the ways to navigate through that is actually spend even more time through the process. And really get to know besides just the couple of Zooms where it's very easy to have one perception of someone. I think you build that over time. So I think that's one lesson I would think about. And I think it's something I'm trying to build into the way I practice and I work. And so, its something I think in Zoom, I'm still learning how to do it and I want to be better at.


Jeremy Au: [00:14:16] I think that's an interesting piece, right. Because I think you're right to say, with the preemptive and all that stuff, obviously it's a way for a capital competing for great founders, right. Which is good and people are moving faster and faster. And I think from a founder perspective of course it's good, from a evaluation is speed basis. And I think there's a balance between also having that intentionality about who you're, like you said teaming up with for the next round or the next foreseeable future. Like you said, cap table is longer than average marriage that's one. One thing that also came up to me I think, it was interesting about what relationship was like. I think a lot of people don't see that the relationship is phased, right. Just because they are a great VC now doesn't mean they're going to be a great VC partner for you, when your company makes it to the next stage. Then it's a new round of VCs who are better able to nurture you to the next stage.


Alex Lazarow: [00:15:09] By the one that I think is not just about the relationship with the person, there's a person will be on your board. Like you need to have a good... We also, if I was giving advice to a founder I would say, also build a relationship with a couple of the other partners in the firm, or just more broadly a lens of relationship. Because partners might leave, right. The partner might leave the firm and you'll be joined by someone else. I think you need to be comfortable primarily with the person that sponsored you to do it. But having a really good lens of the shared values of the institution you're working with, because I think that's critical.


Jeremy Au: [00:15:38] Oh yeah, no, I think it is. I know that's exactly spot on. I think you answered one of the key questions which is, I think you've got to invest in the partner because that's the direct point of contact and you have to invest in the relationship with the firm. And I think that's an interesting challenge. Now I'm just curious across this journey of like leadership development, and partnership, et cetera, and your own professional development across McKinsey and VC, what professional hurdles have you faced, obstacles have you had to overcome over time?


Alex Lazarow: [00:16:08] So many, but also I've had the really great fortune, a lot of very great fortunes too. I think one, maybe it's all coming back to the point on relationships. I'll just make this point and share one piece of advice for some of the listeners as well. I grew up in a small town. I literally didn't know a single person that had been in venture, had been in the industry. And I think that was tough to break in. I was given my shot to join and the way I had done it, and maybe this is advice that might help folks, is I had been interested in questions of financial services for the 99% for the rest of the world, as a tool for socioeconomic development and to uplift people. What I had worked on was a list of 50 people that I thought were working on really interesting things within investments, not even necessarily venture capital. I was looking at some private equity stuff. I was looking at a range of things.


And even in the grant making world to, or just of working, but with an innovation or startups. And one of the things that had worked was actually just trying to target every company in a portfolio and the GPs in the team, et cetera. And then over time triangulating what are the things that really worked. But over time also by virtue of the fact that you know a bunch of the same folks in the same circles, that then brings a little bit of this value out that you might do to the person and just continue. And so one of the things that had been really helpful for me was actually being very tactical and methodological on, what are the institutions that had shared values on paper at least? You don't really know until you spend time. What are the companies that look interesting?


And then with that building the foundation of things, a relationship that then can open other doors to meet other folks. And so it had been probably a year of work in some ways of slowly building those things and taking that lens. But I think that was one that my transition from growing up in the middle of Canada, to eventually land in San Francisco and working in venture.


Jeremy Au: [00:17:58] Was that tough transitioning from middle of Canada, like smaller network place and feel, to becoming somewhat of a networked person? Was that a tough transition, maybe an identity or practice or behavior?


Alex Lazarow: [00:18:12] Yeah, I think I have a very confused identity as a starting point. So my mom is Belgian. My father is American. They met in Montreal. They're doctors. So for residency and eventually landed in Winnipeg. But I always felt a little bit from, I had the opportunity to travel a little bit and with three passports, I always felt a little bit confused. So it's a little bit of a mix. To be honest, it's a little bit of a mix of Winnipeg, but of a bunch of different other places too, where I had family and relatives, et cetera.


Jeremy Au: [00:18:45] Interesting. Well, thanks for sharing about that. It feels like making a dotted line here, but is there a dotted line between your childhood in a multicultural household and working across the world? Is that dotted line all the way to your book?


Alex Lazarow: [00:19:00] I think that when you talk about your career in retrospective, you can paint a very linear dotted line. It's not the case for me and I think it's rarely the case for anyone. But I will say the fact that I'm really interested, I thought I was doing a PhD in Development Economics, and I've always been interested in teaching and writing was part of a foundation. I ended up teaching a class at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the Middlebury college's graduate program. That was stemmed out of that, I started writing a lot in blogs and publishing in a bunch of platforms, Forbes and others. And then those things then gave me the opportunity to develop a concept for a book, which I then submitted at this contest. And by the way, full circle, the contest called Bracken Bower after Marvin Bower, the founder of McKinsey. It's a joint prize with the Financial Times and McKinsey.


In that contest placed top three and launched me down the book path. And so a bunch of things that didn't appear linear, but were based on genuine interest, that is very original, right. It's something I really was interested in since I was studying in university, that naturally, and luckily it offered a bunch of stepping stones that gave me the chance to write a book. And I did my MBA at Harvard and my publisher was Harvard. So it was a lot of these circumstances, unrelated, but part of that journey as well. And so yeah, I think that was how I did it. I just published this book. Maybe to just complete the thought, called Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs from Delhi to Detroit Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley with HBR.


And in some ways talking about some of the lessons and frustrations I've had in my career, from the lens of an investor in startups all over the world and as some of the teachers around global innovation. It was really frustrating to me that there was no books available about what it's like to scale and tougher ecosystems around the world. There are only books that are rooted in a particular context, Silicon Valley today. And for a very particular type of asset, like a software based company that must scale exceedingly fast. And so to solve that problem, I interviewed about 200 founders, mostly folks leading some of the biggest startups around the world, to share their lessons and their best practices, which I think taken together are evolving a new playbook on innovation and mostly it was, and this is one of things I admire about your work with the podcast, is start a conversation to be part of the conversation about building and scaling great businesses, but also creating community of conversation around the same issues.


Jeremy Au: [00:21:28] Awesome. Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much. Let's dive deeper into some of the themes that you explored in the book. So obviously you have many examples of how historically ideas have traveled all across the world, right? So you talk about algebra traveling from, I think multiple people were helping along the way in Asia, in the Middle East, in the States and the Europe. So all kinds of different innovations and everybody contributed and helped each other build algebra math today. So that was one example in the book. And then you gave an example, obviously you use the homegrown example as Southeast Asia where you talked about Gojek and how there was an Uber component in the States. Some people may know, obviously there was a Harvard connection. So the Grab founder and the Gojek founder were both Harvard business school MBAs who brought the experience of Uber to States and brought it back to Indonesia and Singapore respectively.


And then what's interesting like you talked about was that, there was a localization aspect of that. And after that, in some ways there's a reverse export of it because the super apps alongside the Chinese ones are getting re-exported back to the West as ways to monetize or build the model. So I'm just curious when you talk about that, I don't know what it was about flywheel loop, what personally struck you or what did you find surprising when you were doing that research?


Alex Lazarow: [00:22:46] I'll answer the question on that chapter specifically around cross-pollination and then I'll give two other thoughts that surprised me as I dove deeper. On cross-pollination, it's exactly as you said, one is who is generating the ideas and how? Two is how are the business models evolving and what are the inspirations? And three, how is this, what I call the innovation supply chain, how is that manifesting itself? So on first on the who, one of the things that's really struck me is that the best global entrepreneurs and frankly, the best American entrepreneurs defy the stereotype. We often think of the 22 year old hoodie warrior toiling in the garage until late hours, but it's not like that. Right? Most of the biggest businesses around the world, and certainly in Southeast Asia included, are folks with some amount of work experience that have had a global experience as part of that, and really deeply studied a model in Silicon Valley, for instance.


And to even put a little point on it where the stereotype is totally different. The average successful founder folks with big exits are 35 to 45. They tend to be immigrants, which you might argue are the ultimate cross pollinators. And even if you think of Zuck and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, what's amazing about those stories just to share, is that if you look at the stock performance, that are companies in their twenties, they are dwarfed by their stock performance when they're in their forties. And so this long-term experience really matters. This cross-pollination of a bunch of different experiences, industries, et cetera. So I think that's one. I think the second is where the best ideas are coming from, the inspiration. And like you alluded to, the best ideas are coming from everywhere and make a point to the third one they're improving as they scale.


So the Gojek story, in some ways inspired by Uber and Lyft that emanated in the Valley scales internationally at the same time as 99 Taxis, at that time, Careem in the Middle East. By the way the biggest ride hailing service in the world is in China, right. So the biggest ones are actually split longer, even in the Valley and that inspired Gojek to the super app. And by the way, it's no surprise now that Uber has that Uber credit card and it breeds a fast growing segment. So that's really how the best ideas are manifesting and we're seeing it over and over. We're seeing a buy now pay later, for instance, we saw Affirm. And then one of the rising companies in Southeast Asia FinAccel which happened to be a portfolio company of ours, in scaling or in Europe, Alma, or obviously there's a litany of these other massive, big ones like Afterpay, et cetera.


Every trend in innovation or many of the trends, particularly in consumer or SME are having some amount of this inspiration around the world. So I think that's a really critical idea and I believe it's one of the reasons that global trends innovation, are more critical than ever seemingly looks like borders are coming up. I think that's horrible because actually the way we need to innovate needs to be horizontally around the world. So that's point one. I'll also mention that I think that the best entrepreneurs around the world are solving different problems. So they are in the book, I call them creators. They're solving things that really matter for the mass market. That are mass market from day one in industries that are generally not formalized or exist to really building it. And third is they're often standing on the shoulders of giants that have come before them.


And so I think that's a really key insight. It looks totally different than in the Valley. In the Valley you are obsessed with disruption of creating software tools to really make an existing market more efficient. Gojek is really formalizing an entire industry in building a super app. A million people get their primary income from the platform and they're offering some pretty critical services. And then the third point that I mentioned in the book, which I think is a really valuable lesson that flies in the face of blitz-scaling and Silicon Valley orthodoxy on how you build a business, is this notion that in many emerging startup ecosystem, particularly those with less capital, end up building based on a foundation of sustainable unit economics. They of course grow, they're growing massively and rapidly, but they're doing it while also managing burn. They are keeping things under control, they are keeping that long-term perspective on building. And so in the book I call it, taking the camel approach of really building on these foundations and you could still be a unicorn, right. You can still be a billion dollar business, but you're building it in a different way. So I think that's the third point I mentioned in the book.


Jeremy Au: [00:26:58] Yeah. That's really strong. And I think, and I always talk about, these are stuff that we hear it, we're not utterly surprised by individually, but I think to get it as a really strong set and point of view, right. That's much stronger, because we all know about unit economics. We know about that. What's interesting I really liked about your book of course like I think the lens of the world. Because in the past it used to be like USA, number one. I'm just saying. If it's a US idea it's good, right. And then I think we're currently this paradigm, which is like East versus the West, right. Which is like this Eastern models of innovation and as Western models of innovation.


And I think what you're talking about is like, hey, this is the everywhere model. It's getting stacked. It's a feedback loop. It's a dynamic loop of action rather than a static East versus West, left versus right, up or down approach. I guess it's less catchy I will say because I love those East versus West, China versus America click bait articles, but I like that approach.


Alex Lazarow: [00:28:03] Let me try and give you more click baity one, which I think is the Detroit model. Although I really do like the Evergreen model, but this is how I predict innovation is going to unfold in the coming decades. A hundred years ago, the capital of innovation wasn't Silicon Valley and the tool wasn't software. It was Detroit and it was automobiles. And hundreds of entrepreneurs were moving to Detroit. Start companies, or join the big three and it was really the dominant force on an innovation that we made, how we worked, where we lived, et cetera. Then what happened, right. Today, the innovation capital of automotive has moved everywhere in your way, but it hasn't moved where everyone is building great cars, specializations moved in different places. The capital of durability you might say it comes from Germany and the sassy sports scars are in Italy. And the smallest cars have come from India. And the capital of electrification you might say is San Francisco or Shen Zhen. And by the way, the most reliable cars come from Japan, think of Toyota and things like that. And not only did specialization, globalized different places became the capitals of different things, but so did best practice. And I think that's critical. That's why I wrote the book. Think of just-in-time manufacturing coming out of Japan and now becoming standard manufacturing practice all over the world. I think that's, what's going to happen to the world of innovation. I'm not saying Silicon Valley's dead, it's very popular say that on Twitter. I think Silicon Valley is going to remain a very, very important place for innovation, but it will no longer be the place. And I think places like Singapore are going to become, obviously already are regional leaders where some of the biggest businesses in Southeast Asia emanated from Singapore.


But I think that we're also going to see more and more global businesses come from that. We're already seeing some of those trends. I think when we see places like Estonia become capitals of e-government, we've already seen London become arguably a better place to start a FinTech. Let's see post Brexit, how this unfolds, but one of the best places in the world to do a FinTech business. I think that's how it's going to continue manifesting itself over time. And that's why by the way, there's a lot of value for a Singaporean founder or a VC to learn what are the best practices in other emerging ecosystem because those will be true. But also for Silicon Valley to learn about what's working in Singapore, I think more than ever learning the lessons and the best entrepreneurs everywhere will be critical.


Jeremy Au: [00:30:20] Amazing. I love it. I love this global bazaar, and not a marketplace, a Bazaar of ideas and innovation, right.


Alex Lazarow: [00:30:29] I look it more as a university where you go to university and you study economics, you can study dentistry, you can study arts. And I think it's important to take a holistic perspective and understand that the answers on how we work around society will not come from one lens alone. We need to take many lenses. So, but I like the bazaar. The bazaar analogy too, because in some ways like the way it's evolving is so dynamic. So I'll let me think about that.


Jeremy Au: [00:30:56] Yeah. I love the idea of just like all the different shops, hocking new wares, right, everywhere. And it's like way making your way through all the founders, and ideas, and inspiration, and podcasts, and stakeholders. Well, coming on time, yeah I understand you know, you're out of time. So let me ask you one last question before you head out, which is if you could go back in time 10 years ago, right. What advice would you give to yourself if you teleport back in time? What would you say? And I think more importantly, how would you say it to yourself?


Alex Lazarow: [00:31:27] I think one of the things that I often wish I had done in a little bit, I alluded to it before of having this horizontal perspective having done more of that. I took a finance degree with international business. I wish that I had joined a degree that was maybe dual major, where maybe I'll learn something, which at the time was not purely on my radar. But learned basic software engineering or something like that. Or taken a lot of art classes. And I think the way I might have told myself is most of it, most of the university, what I think you learn, you don't need to take all the classes, but I actually think what it's this unique lens to take a little bit more of a horizontal multisector, multi discipline approach.


And just say like the rest of it will figure itself out, but actually that foundation will be able to speak a bunch of different languages. It turns out to be, I think more, it's the thing that I think becomes more valuable, the farther out you are from school. Whereas I think a lot of stuff I studied was very directly applicable to the first and second jobs. I wish I had taken more things that were brought or based in foundation study that ends up being really valuable. And by the way, the study was done around some of the founders and some of the leaders founders around the world. One of the things that struck me is the preponderance of philosophy degrees, right. Not finance, not management, right. But it's like learning the art of thinking. And so that's just one example of why I think this stuff is important. And that's probably the advice I would've given myself, is give yourself a break to learn the things that seem just really, really inspiring and orthogonal to what your major is.


Jeremy Au: [00:33:04] Awesome. Thank you so much. Well, I wish this podcast could be longer, but Alex, could you just share very quickly the title of your book, where they can find it and your own, I guess social media handles.


Alex Lazarow: [00:33:16] Oh for sure. Well, this has been a lot of fun. I feel like the conversation flew by. So my book is Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs from Delhi to Detroit Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley and you can find it anywhere where books are sold. Although I would encourage you in this day and this time of COVID to buy at a small bookstore, or independent business to support small business. And if you'd like to follow my work, I run a newsletter, which you can register at my website,, A-L-E-X L-A-Z-A-R-O-W. And you can follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn, my handles alexlazarow on both. Thank you so much for having me. This has been a lot of fun. I didn't expect talking from everything about camels to my childhood, but this was a lot of fun.


Jeremy Au: [00:33:58] Awesome. Well, for those who want to discuss more about this, we do post the transcript and then have a discussion thread on We do have a discussion thread to discuss this and highlight key insights and quotes that we liked, and we welcome you to the community. And again, Alex, thank you so much.


Alex Lazarow: [00:34:15] Thank you. Have a good night.

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