Andy Hwang: Early Financial Curiosity, Capital vs. Coaching in VC & Risk Assessment - E324

· VC and Angels,Southeast Asia



“As a male in Asian society, there is this stigma against asking for help. Mental health oftentimes is brought up as people will look at that and they'll think it’s not real. They think you should just work and that the more you work, the less you'll think about that. But, with everything around us now, all of that noise, I do think it's important for everybody, particularly for those on that startup journey to ask for help. It's well-accepted that if you're a musician who wants to do well in your field, you should have a teacher. It's well-accepted that if you're training for the Olympics you would have a coach. But for some reason, that hasn't translated into all of the fields out there and it hasn't translated as well from the West into this part of the world. So that's something that I want to change.” - Andy Hwang

“There's a myth that VC is about a capital business, but I would disagree. VC is very much about the people because good people will always have options. Good founders will always have multiple investors that want to work with them. Good limited partners or people who put money into VC funds will always have options of where they invest their money. I see it very much as part of Wavemaker and what we do, we are in the people business as much as, if not more than, the capital business because if we can build trusted relationships with founders and with limited partners and bring good people who always have alternate options together, that's the only chance that we do well.” - Andy Hwang

“I've never been a founder. I've only worked with earlier-stage companies. Both capital and mentorship or coaching are important that's why I think a VC firm needs both. Having a bunch of coaches, but no capital isn't going to work and it's not that sustainable. If you have VC firms that have a ton of capital to pour into founders, that only works for so long because my hypothesis is that, if you're going to be a VC firm that delivers the best returns for your limited partners, you're going to need to find the best founders. So when the capital was free, then you saw the founders taking capital from everywhere. But when that capital is not free, it won’t be just about growing. It’s also thinking about how you run a business, build a sustainable team, and eventually create value as manifested by creating profits. Profits are a great sign that your customers value what you're offering, and they're willing to pay more for it than what it costs you. So in this type of environment, which I would characterize as normal, it's got to be a combination of people that can help you on the capital side, and people that can help you on the business.” - Andy Hwang

Andy Hwang, General Partner of Wavemaker Partners, and Jeremy Au, discuss three main topics:

1. Early Years and Financial Inquisitiveness: Andy shares that his early days in Cupertino, California played a pivotal role in shaping his financial awareness and curiosity. His fascination with having access to his bank balance at a young age and investing in Apple stocks highlights his early entrepreneurial mindset. He had a front-row seat to witness the growth and evolution of Apple Inc. which gave him a unique perspective on the world of tech and business from an early age. He also mentioned that being surrounded with family members who are engineers played a role in fostering a learning mindset and passion for tech and innovation.

2. The Impact of Coaching: Andy talks about his experiences as both a recipient and a provider of coaching, underscoring the significance of introspection and self-improvement. He explains that coaching goes beyond addressing technical challenges, and that it extends to the "people side" of building an organization. He shares that instead of founders seeking coaching only when they encounter setbacks, they should see it as a proactive step and seek it early on to equip themselves with tools and knowledge needed to navigate challenges effectively.

3. Risks and Decisiveness: Andy challenges the conventional perception of risk as something to be feared or avoided, and encourages people to have a more nuanced understanding of it. He argues that risk isn’t a binary concept, where something is either entirely risky or entirely safe, but with varying degrees of potential outcomes. He also talks about how fear holds people back from taking necessary risks, and emphasizes the importance of considering the possibility of success and positive outcomes. He also shares that startup founders often need to make decisions and explains that the ability to make choices promptly and confidently helps them navigate challenges more effectively and seize opportunities as they arise.

They also talk about cultural stigmas related to Asian males asking for help, the evolving startup landscape in Southeast Asia, the significance of self-awareness for founders, and the transformative power of empathy in coaching.


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(00:52) Jeremy Au:

Hey, Andy, really excited to have you on the show. You're an incredible coach, leader and advisor, and you're also the GP at Wavemaker. So very much appreciate you coming in to share a little bit about your story.

(01:06) Andy Hwang:

Jeremy, I'm excited to be here. So thanks so much for having me.

(01:10) Jeremy Au:

Could you introduce yourself real quick?

(01:13) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, absolutely. So I was born in California in this small town called Cupertino where I could literally see Apple computer from my backyard. My parents, they came to the Us. from Taiwan for graduate school. They're part of this first wave of Asian immigrants that went to go work into the valley. They worked in tech. My parents bought me a share of Apple stock when I was five. That first got me interested in technology. Over the years, I've worked for a few tech companies, Google, Facebook, Stripe, always on the B2B side. And so that's really shaped how I look at the tech world. And I'm now based in Singapore, as you are, I've been here the last 11 years, came here as part of Facebook's expansion into Asia, setting up their headquarters in Singapore.

I've got two kids, two daughters, they are ages 9 and 11, they keep my wife and I on our toes. And I joined WaveMaker, as you said, last year, so it's an early stage venture capital firm focused on B2B companies or companies that sell into businesses such as large businesses, small businesses, governments, non profits.

(02:22) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. So I have to ask, Andy, what were you like as a student, university back in the days? Were you curious? Were you fun? I'm just so curious.

(02:33) Andy Hwang: Yeah, even before I was a student, I would say my parents, I think this frustrated my parents a lot as I was growing up because there was always a question and then the constant asking of why. And this is part of growing up in my household, where even though I grew up in California, you've got to imagine, my parents essentially raised me as if I grew up in Taiwan. So there was Mandarin only in the household until I was about five. And then when I started to step outside for kindergarten, that world of the U. S. was just completely different than what I had ever known. And so, my life in many ways, including being a student, has really been shaped by those two perspectives. And I think that got me curious in my younger days, but it also really helps me now because when I approach something, either something I've seen before or something I haven't seen before, just to keep asking questions to understand it.

(03:35) Jeremy Au:

What were the questions that you used to ask?

(03:40) Andy Hwang:

I'll give you an example. My parents opened up a bank account for me when I was five and it was great because this was when banks were paying interest into savings accounts of 7% a year. So we think interest rates are high now and they were much higher then. So I asked my parents, I said, how could the bank possibly pay me 7% interest? And they said, Oh, it's because the bank takes your money and then they're loaning it out at 17 percent for people to buy houses. And that was my first foray into understanding what the role of a bank was. Or the first time that I traveled to Taiwan, I literally thought I was rich because my parents told me that one U. S. dollar was worth 30 Taiwanese dollars. So I counted the money that I had, emptied my piggy bank, and I said I'm going to go to Taiwan and it's going to be great because I'm going to be able to buy all the stuff. And then I get to Taiwan and you figure out, oh, it doesn't work that way because a Coke in Taiwan costs 30 Taiwanese dollars and not one Taiwanese dollar as I thought it would. It's this combination of asking questions as well as the life experiences that I think shapes me to who I am.

(04:56) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. Amazing. I've been multiple times to Taiwan and every time, like you said, the food is great, but definitely it's always a bit of a mind trip. Sometimes currency and everything makes sense. And so there you are, you've been building and learning and then you decided to join technology. And, you know, you did some stint at consulting, but what was it like to make the decision to go into technology?

(05:19) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, for me, because I grew up in tech, I grew up in Cupertino, I think it was natural for me to go the tech angle. Where I was a bit different is that my parents really came from an engineering background. All the friends that I had growing up eventually went into some type of engineering, started their own companies. But because my parents had bought that share of Apple stock for me when I was five, that then got me super curious because every morning when I went outside, I would go get the newspaper and then I would, of course, take out two sections of the newspaper. The first one being sports, have to read sports first, and then the second one was business. And then, in the business section, that's where all the stock quotes, including Apple, was.

And then naturally, I started asking questions, why did the stock go up? Why did the stock go down? And then in 1987, you open up the newspaper one day and it was the big crash. And then all the stocks went down. So it got me curious to then there's one day I still remember I went to my parents and I said, Hey, this whole computer and engineering thing that you're is I think I want to go in. I think I want to do business. And they're like, what does that even mean? And I didn't even know what that meant. I only said business because that was what the section of the newspaper was called. And they said, hey, we're going to be supportive of you doing this, just realize because of our background, we may not be able to help as much.

(06:48) Jeremy Au:

I think it's interesting. So there you are, you focus on the business side of it, for the air quotes there and then your parents are the engineering side. So what was that, I wouldn't say divide, but what was that culture change or difference that you felt?

(07:03) Andy Hwang:

Well, if you're familiar with how Taiwanese and many Chinese households was, the parents don't care whether you're doing engineering or business. I'm like a five year old talking. And even as I grew up in the household, of course, when things break in the house, computers need to get built, printers start to malfunction. I'm the business person, but I'm still IT support, right? And so in many ways, even though I had that interest about what drove numbers, I still learned the engineering side just by being immersed with friends and parents. So I think that's where I come out the other end. Probably a combination of the two.

I can empathize with how companies are started and how much engineering work goes into them. But then I also try and zoom out and look at things from a business perspective.

(07:58) Jeremy Au:

And there you are, either you build your career and you've gone through and worked with multiple tech companies, but also risen in the ranks. You also made a geographic transition from California to Southeast Asia. So walk me through on some of the decisions you made in your career during this time.

(08:17) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, after undergrad, I went into consulting and the consulting that I did specifically focused on Strategy consulting in the tech sector and within tech, I could quickly see, got my first exposure to hardware companies, software companies, internet services companies. And I could quickly see internet services was, where a lot of the change in innovation was happening.

After business school, I was fortunate enough to get at Google, but I remember when I was talking to the recruiter at Google, she said, Hey, we definitely want you to join, but it's about nine months before you start. We're growing really fast right now. So we'll let you know two weeks beforehand, which group you're going to. And then two weeks before they said, Hey, you're going to be working on this B2B marketing team. And in my mind, I'm thinking, what is B2B? Isn't Google just a search engine? And then I quickly saw once I joined, Oh, this is interesting. B2B for Google means how do you bring new advertisers onto the platform?

And then this is how companies like Google make their revenue, the margins and the profit. That got me really hooked on B2B. From there, then I joined Facebook when it was a much smaller company. Just as it was starting to think about how do you bring new SMEs onto the platform? Because by that time, Facebook had a lot of users using it, but not necessarily a lot of smaller businesses yet. They haven't figured out how do you bring on small businesses at scale.

And so because I was early... at headquarters. Then after a couple of years, they came up to me and they said, Hey, Andy, we're interested in expanding to Asia. You're Asian. We trust you. Can you go with a small group of folks and help us set up our presence there?

That was late 2011, early 2012. Came here with my wife and our newborn at the time. And then it was an incredible run because frankly, the business grew faster than any of us thought that it would. And I could also see that because I had come in on the ground floor, I've gotten off the airplane with that Facebook t shirt, people trusted me for right or wrong. Probably their mistake, but then I was able to ride that wave as the business grew for Facebook, the SME platform, and for us at Facebook at the time, Asia meant everything from India to New Zealand, and so we were into a sizable business. And then, of course, a lot of learnings came out of that as well.

(10:51) Jeremy Au:

What was interesting is you also made a geographic shift as well. And I think that was a very non intuitive move from my perspective, because, 10 years ago, right? I think obviously Southeast Asia, there's a lot of demographic and all these other things that we all say and talk about, but to make the decision to do that and to rotate and help be the founding team member in APAC. Can you walk us through a little bit about what you were thinking about that?


(11:15) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, this is probably one of the lessons that I've had over time because prior to that, I had had a couple of opportunities and I had in my mind, overestimated the amount of risk. And this is what I mean. When my parents first came to the U. S. from Taiwan, their parents would have given them a little bit of money to pay for the plane ticket. And then my parents would have gone to the U. S. and had to send money home, right? And so, for me, that is real risk, because if you go to this new geography and things don't work you're, you're really stuck. You have to make it work. And I think because I had seen my parents go through all of that efforts, I had associated risk in those terms, rather than thinking about different safety nets that were created over time.

When I was working at Google, there was an opportunity to go to Latin America. When I was deciding whether to join Facebook, or initially it was a hard decision because Google is a great job and then when I finally got my head around the fact that if you do right by the people that you work with, there's always going to be some sort of safety

(12:31) Jeremy Au:


(12:32) Andy Hwang:

And they'll always be supportive of you going back. When I finally realized that and was able to assess risk correctly, then that made it much easier for me to do things like work at new geographies or even change companies.

(12:47) Jeremy Au:


(12:48) Andy Hwang:

Knowing that the people that I had tried to help along the way, If I ever needed it, they would be there for me as.

(12:54) Jeremy Au:

Why do you think people misjudge risk from your perspective?

(12:59) Andy Hwang:

I think people oftentimes see it as a zero one thing and there's this book that I've been reading by Sukhinder Singh Cassidy. She used to Run StubHub and then also APAC and LATAM for Google. I agree with her assessment risk. Oftentimes is I either sit here and do nothing, or I jump off a cliff. I think this is really what prevents people from moving, even, or even standing up versus risk, in my eyes, is much more, here's where I am today. Here's where I want to grow. Here's where I could be. Here are a few things that I can test along the way, so that at some point, if I decide to take an alternate path, It won't be this leap of blind faith. but I'll Already, I'll already know it won't be 100 percent safe because that goes against this definition of risk, but at least I'll have an idea. And I think it's because people often see risk as being 01 that appropriately they say, well, I'm not doing that. I'm not going to jump off a cliff from where I am today. So, I'm not going to do anything then. I'm going to stay comfortable.

(14:13) Jeremy Au:

So you've gone through that set of decisions about understanding risk and you made that set of decisions. How else do you think it has shown up in your life?

(14:23) Andy Hwang:

I would say, in terms of, a key part for me was even making the decision at some point to leave and set up a business of my own, angel investing, as well as starting to coach startup founders on all of the things that I would have learned from previous companies. Because on paper, that decision doesn't make much sense. Because from the outside, you're in this role for ten years where people know you and you keep getting more and more responsibility. And then at the same time I look back on those nine or ten years I, I finally had the courage to ask myself, why is it that from the external perspective, I keep taking on more responsibility, but I may not be enjoying it as much as I did in the earlier days?

So then I asked myself that question over the past 9 to 10 years. What was my favorite part of the journey? And I came to the realization that it was when I was in smaller groups, either coaching founders, the SMEs that I was working with, or it was coaching folks on, on, on my leadership team and then watching them to go on and do great things. And so after that, then I asked myself an even harder question. I said, What might it look like if I were spending 70, 80, 90% of my time doing that? And that was a difficult question because that was the question that made me realize this was probably the time that I needed to experiment and try and create that career for myself if it didn't exist in the company. And again, using that risk assessment that we talked about earlier, if I'm wrong, then I would just jump back in and go back to what I was doing. But what if I'm right? What if I'm right that this is an area that I both enjoy and where people think that my strengths are? If I'm right, this could really be the beginning of a new 10 to 20 year career. And so I, I did take that jump and it's led me down, a path where now it's incredible. I get to work every day with founders building amazing companies.

(16:42) Jeremy Au:

And what's interesting is that you've actually taken the time out to build that coaching certification as well to learn that deliberate practice. I think coaching is something that a lot of folks say they do. A lot of people say that they advise and so forth, right? So I'm just so curious that as you put down this structured practice to learn and get certified and dive deeper into it and master into it, what have been some lessons or changes in behavior that you had to make, or some insights that you had to learn in order to step up to that different level?

(17:16) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, as I think about coaching founders in the startup ecosystem, I think it starts from this place. Founding a company, working on a startup, it's a pretty lonely path. Most of the startups that we back, it's a difficult process. It may not work out and there's a lot of stress associated with it in terms of people, in terms of, managing your costs, and you may feel that there's not a lot of people that you can talk to. And then add on to that, oftentimes being a male, or even being in Asia, there's even more of a stigma to asking for help. And so for me, I said, how in the same way that I've benefited in 10 years ago, I made a call that even though things look great on the outside, I felt like I needed a coach. And so I asked for help. And I said, what might it look like if I could provide a level of support to the founders when they needed it? And that I could be their first call or first text when things go right or when they go wrong. And I said, there's so many people like me out there, so many people on that founder journey. That was an investment that I was willing to make. And probably the part of that journey that surprised me the most, was that I ended up a very changed person and maybe that's intuitive to most folks as you go through the training to become a coach.

That, of course, you would have to ask yourself those same hard questions that you're about to ask your clients. For some reason, I hadn't thought so much of it. And so to then ask myself those probing questions and have, having to reflect. Then really helped me validate that I was in the right space working with the right

(19:11) Jeremy Au:

That is ironic. I'm so curious. What are some questions that you were practicing a mastering to ask that you ended up asking yourself?

(19:21) Andy Hwang:

Questions such as where should I be spending my time? How do I find the intersection of where, what other folks say that I'm good at and what I enjoy? Because oftentimes in Chinese and Asian society, we're brought up not thinking about how much we enjoy something, but purely based off of how we're performing off of it. Because especially if you look at newer immigrants, you're not thinking about what you aspire to be at all. You're just thinking about taking whatever job to put money on the table. So it's super practical. And so then how it applied to me was once I started asking myself those questions. Making sure that I was spending my time doing the things that I enjoyed as well as where founders said I was helping them the most. And then where this then translates into my conversations with founders and startups is, each one of them is coming from a particular space of strength as well as enjoyment, and then encouraging them as founders to then surround themselves with the right people so that they bring on other strengths or even compliment the strengths that they have, but potentially, in areas that they enjoy less, because to me, especially in the early days with how lonely a journey it is for those founders, if they can build that team, that's really where it's going to make the difference.

(20:52) Jeremy Au:

On reflection, how do you think founders balance the loneliness of being the first to found something versus the tension of building the team that actually works right? What advice have you normally given or what mistakes have you normally seen that could happen along the way?

(21:09) Andy Hwang:

Yeah. The types of founders we work with at Wavemaker, it's very early stage. So some of these companies, one or two founders, cofounders, oftentimes there's not much revenue as, well. And so we want to be the ones to step forward and take risks along with the founders to say, Hey, we believe in your vision. And frankly, these are risks that a lot of investors are not willing to take, but we, we do want to step up to be that partner. And for us, it's all about letting founders know we believe in their vision and let's work together towards this. And this is where me coming over to the VC side a year ago really reflects my background as a tech operator, but also as a coach, because I want to be there. I want to be that first call or first text either when things go right, or things go wrong.

I'll tell you a quick story. When I was first coaching, I had brought on a number of clients, and I realized that the busiest part of my day, the busiest part of my week, was something that I didn't expect at all. It was around Saturdays or Sundays around 9PM and so I would get this text from a founder, and it would say, Hey, do you have five minutes to talk? I said, sure. And those five minutes would then turn into 90 minutes. And this started to happen from different founders over different weekends. And then I asked myself, why is it always Saturday or Sunday at 9PM? And I came to the realization, it's because this is finally when founders don't have meetings. And they're still working on the business because they're on all the time. But this is when they start to worry. They start to worry about their employees, about hiring, about their families, about the funding. And this is when they started to ask for help.

And so once I saw that again, it's coming from this place of out of all the people that the founder could have reached, they chose to reach out to me. And for me, I hold that trust sacred, and these are the types of founders I want to work with, and not only as a coach, but as a company. We want to be that first call good things or bad things happen, because we want to build a trust a trusted partnership.

(23:27) Andy Hwang:

I think there's a myth in VC that VC is about a capital business, but I would disagree. I think VC is very much about the people because good people will always have options. Good founders will always have multiple investors that want to work with them. Good limited partners or people that put money into VC funds will always have options of where do they invest their money. So for me, I see it very much as part of Wavemaker and what we do, we are in the people business as much as if not more than the capital business because if we can build trusted relationships with founders and with limited partners and bring good people who always have alternate options together, that's the only chance that we have to do well.

(24:15) Jeremy Au:

Right. This is really fascinating because, I, too, also love coaching. And I'm also in venture capital, and I think one thing I do feel and I agree with you especially is that, there's both a lot of parallels and overlap, but there are also like dissonance as well, in terms of the role. And the way I agree with you is that, I was an early stage founder. I was a newbie, a noob, as I would normally say. And I got a lot of help from some great VCs who had that coaching relationship with me and I had good trust and then we kind of walked through a lot of stuff together.

And I grew a lot during that time. So I think there's definitely something to be said about great investors who are great coaches as well, but I think from personal experience, also from the experiences of others, there are also VCs that are not coaches. And I think that's a totally viable investment strategy, actually, from a capital allocation perspective, from returns perspective. So, I think there's that dynamic where I'm kind of curious from your perspective, when you look at it, in what areas, if you are a founder, would you trust and be able to have that coaching relationship with VC and what areas perhaps should a founder be more cautious about what that relationship is with their VC?

(25:21) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, as a founder, and let's be clear, I've I've never been a founder. I've only worked with earlier stage companies. I think both capital as well as mentorship or coaching is important. And that's why I do think a VC firm needs both as well. Having a bunch of coaches, but no capital isn't, going to work and it's not that sustainable. So in the example that you gave earlier, If you have VC firms that have a ton of capital to pour into founders, I think that only works for so long because my hypothesis is that, if you're going to be a VC firm that delivers the best returns for your limited partners, you're going to need to find the best founders. And why is it that the best founders will want to work with you? And so when capital was, free, even 12 months ago, then you saw the founders taking capital from everywhere. But now that capital is not free, then it comes back to, okay, because capital is not free, this is not just about growing. This is also thinking about how do you run a business? How do you build a sustainable team? How do you eventually create value as manifested by creating profits? Profits are a great sign that your customer value, what you're offering, and they're willing to pay more for it than, than what it costs you.

So in this type of environment, which I would characterize as the normal, it's got to be some combination of people that can help you on the capital side, but also people that can help you on the business. And this is why even in VC, there's always this debate on whether a VC firm just with operators or with with capital can make it. I think this is where even the firms need both.

(27:14) Jeremy Au:

A hundred percent. So as we double click on that, what areas of coaching do you feel that is most productive for VCs and founders to work together on? And what areas they feel like perhaps is something that a founder should get help from other domains in their life? In relationships, or networks, or community or other coaches.

(27:33) Andy Hwang:

This is where I'll say it depends. It depends a lot on the founder. It depends on the type of company. It depends on the type of business. One of the characteristics that we see from our best founders, we've backed about 200 of them over the last 11 years, is that they put as much time and effort into building out their organization as they do building out their business. And because one of the sectors that we invest in is deep tech, oftentimes you have these amazing founders with Engineering PhDs who have created something world class, but they're not used to building teams or running companies. So we find that a lot of the coaching or the advisors that we bring in to help are about how do you build a team of people?

(28:21) Jeremy Au:


(28:22) Andy Hwang:

How do you actually commercialize this amazing product that you've built? How do you think about going from managing a team of individual contributors to having to grow your organization two, three, five, ten times when that next round of funding comes in? That's probably the area that's a lot of founders are not equipped to do, and they don't think necessarily about it in advance because they think that the product will carry itself and oftentimes it, it won't.

(28:51) Jeremy Au:

I think one interesting thing that I do reflect on is that a dollar in the U. S. goes a lot further in Southeast Asia, right? And so I think there's a certain type of fundraising pattern that startups go through. And one thing I've noticed is that I think founders are able to raise a certain amount of capital, but also able to, as a result, hire a lot more people than they normally would have had to in the U. S. for example, because of the cost of human labor in that sense, right? And so I think one thing I noticed, I'm starting to reflect on, compared to my Southeast Asian and U. S. experience is that I think a seed company often has twice the number of people I would normally in the U. S., and a Series A company is like maybe three or four times the size. And, one reflection I had was that it just took me a long time to become a people manager. It just took me time to just slowly get from point A to point B, how to manage 10 people. I think everybody can do, but 20, 30, 40, that's when things start to go sideways.

And 100 is just another ballgame altogether. So I'm just curious. When you talk about an organizational leadership perspective, what are the areas that you often intensively coach people on? Versus if you like, you can let them be a little bit more.

(30:01) Andy Hwang:

Yeah. This is Jeremy, maybe where I'll share my point of view on why within startups and in particular in the tech sector, coaching people, motivating them is so important because if we go back a couple hundred years, let's say the industrial transformation, and we're all working at a factory where there's one factory manager and there's a thousand workers, this at the time, the pinnacle of efficiency. But now if we look back at that, each of those thousand people are probably doing exactly the same thing. And then if one of them were to step out from their role, there's a thousand people outside the factory that want that job. In that world, it doesn't make sense for the factory manager to do one on ones with each of those thousand people every week because what they're doing is not differentiated. Now in the valley, what they found out during the fifties and sixties is that when you had a very great engineer, he or she could create hundreds of millions, if not billions of real value by themselves. And that the value of a great engineer versus an average engineer was probably 100x if not 1000x.

(31:16) Jeremy Au:


(31:18) Andy Hwang:

And so it really was based off of this kernel of the engineer who could create something very valuable from nothing. And the fact that a very motivated engineer, who is technically strong, could create a lot more value than somebody who is average. That then got the tech companies saying, Wow, if I could harness the power of this collective workforce, then this would be my differentiator.

And I really do believe it's based off of these truths that then tech companies started to pay a lot more attention to things like span of control, or how many people each manager manages, as well as talking, having weekly one on ones with your direct reports, because if you've hired the right way and you have that hundred or thousand next employee sitting in front of you, then the best thing that you could possibly do as a manager is to guide them, to unblock them, and then to get out of their way. And this is where I think technology, this industry, is very different than the others, where there are physical limitations.

I'll give you one more example. If we look at the Olympics, the fastest runner in the world can run 100 meters in, let's say, 9.7s, and I'm a below average runner, and I could probably do 100 meters in 20 seconds. And the delta between somebody who is the best in the world at doing something with somebody like me, who's below average is only two X. And so it wouldn't make a lot of sense to recruit the best athletes in the world because there would be so much effort associated with that if you needed a hundred or a thousand of them.

But again, if we're talking about the engineer example, where you're bringing things into the online world into bits. Then if you find the right engineer, the right person, they can potentially create a thousand, 10,000x more value than somebody else, then it makes a lot of sense why we as managers and leaders would want to invest heavily into them.

(33:23) Jeremy Au:

Right. And how should managers, especially founders, and you mentioned, for example, first time founders think about managing and coaching and developing people.

(33:39) Andy Hwang:

This is a tough one because they're coming at it from different angles. In the beginning, we find that a lot of the founders are really on building that product, which is great, which is absolutely the right thing to do. But what we also find is that for those companies that do see that traction, then they're going to need growth. They're going to spend more on sales and marketing. They're going to get funding. And then it really is at that point. Oftentimes the founders say, okay, now I feel stuck because now I'm being asked to do 10 or 15 things. And half of them are outside my comfort zone or my zone of strength and then they say Well, I should probably hire 10 or 20 and that is already too late because to find the really good people then you have to be looking all along. So the lesson we oftentimes coach our founders on is how do you start thinking about building the organization as if it's going to scale so that you're ready when the time is there, rather than after your product already has traction after you've brought in the money already.

How do you bring in people from the outside or co found the company with who have seen your current stage of growth? But I've also seen one to two stages past that, and they understand what does it mean to add a zero and adding a zero could mean adding a zero or adding two zeros could mean increasing your number of customers by 10x. What breaks internally in terms of systems in terms of processes? What happens when you go from 10 employees to a hundred to a thousand? What would break in your system? What types of people would you need? And then in a company that's three zeros away, you're one person this year and a thousand people a few years after that, what do you, as a founder, still want to be doing?

Do you still want to be on the engineering side? Do you want to be the face of the company on the fundraising side? So these are the conversations that we want to have with founders. And again, the best ones that we see are not only strong technically, especially the deep tech founders, but it's those that put as much thought into building the people side of their organization. So, honestly, there's not much we're going to be able help them on the technical side. We've got quantum computing companies, with six PhDs on their staff. There's absolutely nothing I could teach them about their field of study. But maybe I can offer them some guidance on what does it look like when you grow your company from 10 to a hundred, or what does it look like when you're trying to sell into a government entity.

(36:25) Jeremy Au:

Right. You mentioned like a zone of strength multiple times. How does a founder, decide or become self aware about what is the zone of strength versus the zone of less strength versus a zone of no strength.?

(36:37) Andy Hwang:

For me, if I've learned anything, it's that people typically don't have a good sense of what their, where their own strengths is relative to how it is objectively in the world. And why do I say this? Depending on the culture that you're coming from. Sometimes, some cultures Would overrate people would come in and think that they are far above where they actually are and you have certain cultures Mmany of which are on this side of the world where you're brought up believing you're not very good at something but then everything else would suggest otherwise.

(37:12) Jeremy Au:


(37:12) Andy Hwang:

And so I actually find that when looking for strengths It's important to chat with people around you from different circles and see what are some of the trends that come up. And if there are people that you know are strong in a particular area and they also say that you are strong in that same area, that's when you should start to listen more. And then if you have multiple people from different circles starting to say the same thing, that's also where you should listen to. And so we try and be that validation. Oftentimes for founders, we'll bring in advisors and others that look at a product or look at a founder and try and validate and then base our investment decisions off of that.

(37:58) Jeremy Au:

Great. And on that note, could you share about a time that you personally have been brave?

(38:04) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, absolutely. It goes back to 10 years ago. Things were going really well. I was taking on more responsibility Facebook, but just in my mind, it wasn't in a good place and something that I struggled with for a while was whether to ask for help or not. And I ended up getting an executive coach and that was just great in terms of being a sounding board for me to chat with, and I would attribute a lot of the unblocking that I've been able to do and the reflection because that person was able to both encourage me, but also challenge well.

(38:43) Andy Hwang:

And as a male in Asian society, there is this stigma against asking for help. And then mental health oftentimes is brought up as people will look at that and they'll be, that's not real, right? It's like, you should just work, and the more you work, the less you'll think about that. But, with everything around us now, all of that noise, I do think it's important for everybody, but particularly for those on that startup journey to ask for help. It's well accepted that if you're a musician that wants to do well in your field, you would have a teacher. It's well accepted that if you're training for the Olympics that you would have a coach. But for some reason, that hasn't translated into all of the fields out there and it hasn't translated as well from the West into this part of the world. And so that's something that I want to change.

(39:36) Jeremy Au:

What's interesting is, it's less about how to get help, but whether to ask for help. And I think that's interesting thing, what prevents people from saying I should get help versus I should not get help from your perspective.

(39:50) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, I think sometimes it's about pride and ego, and then on the flip side, sometimes it's maybe related to that, but it's a sign of weakness in many ways if you're asking for help. We've all grown up or heard those stories of our friends where they'll wake up with a headache or they'll say, hey, my mind's not right today. And then, as youngsters, we'll be told by our parents, Oh, just study more, it'll go away. That's the best way to make stuff like this go away, right? And I think, again, the more traditional generations, they're just coming from a different place because when you're coming from a place of thinking about survival, that's ultimately what you do. If you're coming from a place where we have the luxury of wanting to aspire to something and all the complexity and all the difficulty that comes from building something that can positively impact, let's say hundreds of millions of people, that wasn't possible a hundred years ago. There's also just the associated stress that comes with it. The thought that somebody could do that on their own and carry it on their own shoulders without asking for help to me, it just isn't possible. And so it's important to me for the startup founders, but for all of us to continue to seek the areas where we're strong and focus more time on those, but also be really willing to ask for help as well.

(41:21) Jeremy Au:

If somebody is telling themselves, they shouldn't ask for help, but they, at some level, also feel like they want to ask for help, how would they, how should they go about unblocking or I don't know what's the word. Is it I'm contradicting themselves and moving from one side to action and getting help.

(41:42) Andy Hwang:

Yeah. I think I go back to the examples Yeah. I think I go back to the examples in other industries and other domains. If you're training for the Olympics, that means really good at

(41:54) Jeremy Au:


(41:55) Andy Hwang:

And you're boarding on world class. You would never train for the Olympics without asking for help, not just from anybody, but from somebody that probably has gotten the medal that you want. And so the more with ourselves that we can get away from this thought that when we ask for help. we, When we hire a or or just get somebody to coach us, if we can get away from the stigma that we get a coach when something has gone wrong versus we get a coach when we're doing well and when something has gone right, I think that could really help the, the the mindset sets and clear the for people who need the help to get it.

(42:34) Jeremy Au:

Right. As you kind of take a step back, obviously, you've done a lot, you've built a lot, you've learned a lot, and you also changed directions quite a few times, including geography. If you could go back 10 years in time, I guess when your kid was, pretty young, one year old, then is there any advice you would give yourself back then? If you're catching coffee, you're that younger version of yourself.

(42:56) Andy Hwang:

Yeah, I would honestly just tell myself not to be so scared. I would say, you, when you're at risk today, a lot of those things that you think could go wrong, I was thinking a lot back then about what could go wrong. And part of that was how I grew up. But I wish I could go back and tell that person, what if it goes right? What are all of the possibilities that could be created? And this in many ways reflects how we interact with founders today, rather than coming from a place of, what if this goes wrong? We're early stage investors in Southeast Asia. It's all about imagination.

So we're asking ourselves, yes, of course there are risks, but what if it goes right? How valuable could this company be to this society? And if I've learned anything over the past 10 or 11 years, we're having more world class founders building amazing companies out of this industry. Just to highlight a few, we've got this company called Qorenext. So Qore with Q. They're building picks and shovels for the industry where we are. We've got this company based out of Singapore. Another one based out of Singapore called Portcast. They're building software to help shipping companies predict demand, right? So that they can, companies like FedEx can then move the ships to those ports with higher demand.

Ten years ago, I don't know if we would have been having the conversation that these types of hardware, software services, best in class, were being built in the region, but they are being built here today. And that's why, one of the reasons why, even though I was Supposed to come to Singapore for two years and then go back to the U. S. At some point I said, no, I'm not going back because why would I go back to the U. S. wehen so much of the innovation and so much of the growth in the startup ecosystem is happening now. I came out here because I wanted to see all that stuff. And now 10 years later, a lot of it has happened, but a lot more is to happen.

And if I went back to the valley today, I'm sure things would be fine, but I also think there's probably thousands of people that look like me with that type of experience. But then being here today, I do think because I've grown up in the valley and been fortunate enough to see the startups here over the last 10 years, I've got empathy for some of the local problems, some of the local challenges, some of the cultural distinctions, I also have ingrained in me.

What happens when people believe that a founder is capable of anything. That's the confidence that I see in founders now, almost that Silicon Valley mindset where they're thinking about through a lens of imagination and what could go right.

(45:58) Jeremy Au:

Wow. Amazing. That's a great way to wrap things up here. I'd love to summarize the three big takeaways I got from this. First of all, thank you so much for sharing about your early days, your early years as a student about being curious about having that bank balance open up at five, having that Apple stock from a young age and being able to see Apple. From your home I thought it was a really fascinating journey about, what you learned early days, but also your curiosity about, exchange rates and travel take, but also, I think the early years about what it means to have that learning mindset and I thought it was really fascinating to hear that navigation between technology, business and all of that. So really fascinating conversation there.

The second thing that I really enjoyed was actually hearing about your perspective on coaching. I think not just about what it is to coach startup founders and what startup founders should be coached on, but it was more interesting to hear about that personal journey of yourself, that you want to take on more coaching, that you took on the practice of coaching, that you got coached to be a coach, that you had to face up to those questions that you were asking other people, but you had to answer it for yourself. So that was, that's a really fascinating, I think Dynamic, right? And obviously, we also went on to talk about applications of that in the context of startups and founders and so so forth. So I thought it was really interesting to hear that.

Lastly, thank you so much for being so open about risk and the judgment of risk. Is it actually risky? Is there a binary risk between, like you said, sitting at home versus jumping off a cliff, but it was fascinating hear about it from a theoretical perspective and also how you've seen it show up in the lives of the people you coach and the founders you work with. But also, I think it's interesting for you that this was the same advice that you would have given yourself 10 years ago, to be thoughtful about fear and risk and decisiveness. So thank you so much for coming on the show, Andy.