I'm sure you've read this, right? Jeff Bezos has his regret minimisation framework is like I can become a big executive at Google or some other tech company and is going, fine, I'll make enough money and I'll retire. Will I regret not having started my own company and try to build something totally different. Yeah, I would regret. It doesn't matter how successful I am in corporate and by that time it's too late.- Anuvrat Rao
An ex-Google pioneer of 9 years, with an expertise in launching new products and building ecosystems from the ground up (0 to 1 to 10 to 100). These include launching Google Assistant, Progressive Web Apps, Accelerated Mobile Pages and Firebase in APAC from zero to 100s of partners and millions of users. Prior to this, he launched Youtube in APAC.
His last role at Google was to Head Google Search for the APAC region. Prior to this Anuvrat was a Strategy consultant with OC&C Strategy Consulting in London and an Investment Banker with WP Carey in London/New York.
Anuvrat has a triple masters in Engineering, Economics and Management from the University of Oxford. He is a local Singaporean who went to Victoria School (Top 10 student in O Levels) and Victoria Junior College (4A's in A Levels).
Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hi Anu. Excited to have you on the Brave podcast. You have been a strong executive in the region for Google. You're an angel and now you're off to found something of your own again. So excited to hear your story. For those who don't know yet, could you introduce yourself?
Anuvrat Rao: (00:46)
Sure. Thanks so much, Jeremy, for having me. Hi, guys. I'm Anu and like Jeremy mentioned, starting my own company right now. My personal story starts with I'm from Singapore, grew up here, went to study at Oxford, and did the whole engineering thing started my career in banking, did some consulting in the UK and then came back to Singapore about nine years ago, came back home with my wife and spent the last nine years at Google doing a bunch of different things.
I was lucky that my first job was to be one of the first few employees for YouTube in the region and really launched that business and figured out what we can do with YouTube. Back when YouTube was just known for cat videos and you know, there was no such thing as creator economy and all these things. So, yeah, it was a good…it was a good fun ride, starting with YouTube and then spend a bunch of time in the web space, which we could talk about, like launch of new technologies like progressive web apps and then HTML where I had this big passion about the web and how the web actually is a really good distribution medium for content. Got involved in the launch of Google Assistant in the Voice Space, got into Firebase, which is analytics and eventually was doing a lot of work for Search till I guess sometime last year where I felt, you know, the time was right to jump on and do other things. Got into angel investing along the way which is super exciting, really enjoyed doing that actually for the last few years.
But yeah, that's a little bit about me and excited to be in and share more about my story.
Jeremy Au: (02:06)
I got to ask you, so, you know, you went to a great school, you went to Oxford, and then the first thing you did was decided to become a consultant right as your first job. So, explain how that happened in the early days.
Anuvrat Rao: (02:19)
Sure. Look, man, I'm a Singapore kid. I was a good student. O-levels, A-levels, study hard, get into good university and study hard, get good marks, I guess consulting just happened as if like you were a single guy in the UK and it was the draw of travelling the world and live in fancy hotels and get to meet lots of different companies.
I want to say I don't think I knew what I wanted to do actually. Like what industry or job. And so consulting sounded like fun in terms of exposure to lots of industries. And I got to do fun things like do a restaurant project for Hilton Hotels. I was going round Europe eating food at different Hilton Hotels for about 20 days to rate how they were.
Now you don't get to do that kind of stuff generally. So yeah, and I think that's kind of how that happened. And then, yeah, the rest of the career just evolved from there, I guess, you know, and personal things happening in life and other things.
Jeremy Au: (03:10)
From there, you made a jump into technology, right? Which is you decided to be that crazy person to go to technology and launched for Apex. So talk us through how you made that decision.
Anuvrat Rao: (03:20)
Sure, sure. Honestly, it's very personal linked. So I met my wife and we got married and my wife was like, so you travel Monday to Thursday and when you're here, you work 20 hours a day. And this whole consulting thing that you do, like, when do I actually see you? Which was not a good sign. And about a year into that I was like, You know what? Married life and consulting is not a great combination, at least, personally, for me, it wasn't. And so that's why I left consulting. I still enjoyed kind of strategy work and doing that kind of thing. But also we were like, We're going to start a family, we're going to settle down. And it was always clear that coming back to Singapore would be the thing to do.
I've got a lot of family here in Singapore as well, so when I came back and I was looking for different jobs, I never thought of Google as a thing to get into. I was enjoying the kind of strategy work I did. I did some other projects when I was in consulting, and so that got me interested in tech purely because like in tech it was like not clear what the future looks like in a lot of other brick and mortar industries, the future is really clear and it's more like, how do I optimise either cost or revenue or market or M&A or whatever? In tech, you have really no idea what's going to happen. This is like before mobile phones became a thing, like it was all desktop, it was all web, there was no apps, all of that. But all these things started to emerge back then.
And so it just sounded fun. It just sounded fun to get into an industry that you don't really know what the future is. And I say it’s sheer dumb luck that I got into a job to go and be like the YouTube guy to kind of get it into different places. Because I didn't know anything about online media. I was a smart kid with a consulting background and wanted to learn new things, but I got that opportunity and that really opened the door for me to just get into so much more about how the online space works, the media space works and monetisation and content.
And this is like 2012 when TikTok didn't even exist. Instagram didn't exist. Facebook didn't really have much. Twitter was like the only other thing that was there social and like YouTube was the only video platform. Things have changed a lot since then and lots of people doing video in different ways, but it was quite exciting to be on that early days of those journey many people don't even believe that online and creators can be a thing or a viable business.
Jeremy Au: (05:27)
What was it like in the early days? Because that's a common path for many people which is that they are to launch markets of the region right, for a US multinational corporation, well, it’s not really a multinational corporation really back then, but you've actually become this giant conglomerate or this global colossus. So how does that perspective come in from your perspective?
Anuvrat Rao: (05:48)
Yeah, I think with Google, right. There was a few things going for it. The search business is already a very solid business. So revenue was not really an issue. With YouTube, it was clear that there's lots of usage, lots of people were spending time on YouTube. It was not clear whether it could become a business because the perception at the time was I mean, I'll be very brutally honest about it.
YouTube was known for cat videos, softcore porn and piracy. All the media companies are like, this is just piracy. And then the content is like, why would anybody go and watch this and is user generated and nobody even knew what to create like user generated content at the time. But amazing things happen.
People like Justin Bieber start singing in his bathroom and his mom records it and then it gets 10 million views and everyone knows the story from there as to how he became a huge star. So this started happening in the U.S. about three or four years before we were like getting into APAC, so we had some idea of what the future might look like.
And so we had some kind of guidelines of, okay, we've got to find creators, interesting, fresh content, appealing to Gen Z or Gen C, like the kind of different definitions for this there is. And I think we just tried. I think we just tried, you know, we made a lot of mistakes along the way, but some of these things worked.
For example, we launched a thing called YouTube FanFest, which I'm not sure if you know about, but a colleague of mine, Ben Grubbs, and myself, like, had this idea of what if we did a concert and we put YouTube people on stage? It's like, okay, I don't know, but we could try. And so we actually did the very first YouTube Fan Fest in Singapore, 2013, I think, it was at Marina Bay, this very small event.
We had 200 tickets given for free, like we sold them for free. It sold out in like 30 seconds and thousands of people showed up. All these crazy fans to see people like PewDiePie and Bethany Mota and Superwoman like these are the first generation of YouTube stars. And we were getting calls in the office saying, you need to tell us if there's thousands of people coming in, it's a big security risk, blah, blah, blah.
And we had no idea like we had no idea these people had this kind of fandom in Asia and Singapore and all of that. It was just really exciting. Honestly, like a lot of us actually didn't even know, like we didn't know what we were on to. And it changed a lot of popular believes and our own belief and perception as to the power of fans and YouTube and creators.
I think you just go with the ride and you learn. You kind of like accept that you don't know the answers and you kind of accept that all of your experience may not be the thing that's going to decide what happens. And you just kind of like observe and see and learn from your market and learn from your users.
Jeremy Au: (08:12)
That's interesting because you're talking about learning in two ways. One is learning about social media, YouTube content creator, how to create economy as a vertical. And the second part you're talking about is the learning about a geography, right? Which is about Asia as a market that turns out to watch a lot of content in America as well.
So let's focus on the first part is what did you learn about the creator economy from your perspective?
Anuvrat Rao: (08:35)
I think the first thing that we learnt was the definition of high quality got challenged because high quality was always in the media sense perceived as high production value, big team like Game of Thrones or like Inception that is high quality. But actually, when it comes to create a content, high quality is much more about engagement and authenticity and connecting with your audience in a very real kind of way.
So people like Bethany will do a vlog and sit in her bedroom and talk about, you know, I went to Macy's and bought these, like, different lipsticks and everything and talks about them and reviews them actually is high quality content in that sense. And it really, really appeals to an audience to a point where I remember we did this deal where Abercrombie and Fitch kind of had Bethany do a line of clothes and that like sold out in like minutes purely because of the fandom that she has and no one really understood this.
So that changed a lot of things and it was like a long time after that, only that advertisers understood because we would go to advertisers and be like, This is high quality content is getting usage, etc. And they’ll be like, No, like, I don't want to advertise against this and I'll stick to what I do on TV. I mean, that's changed a lot now, but in the early days it was not happening at all.
Even within our own sales teams, we couldn't convince our sales guys to go and sell YouTube. They were like, It's too hard. Nobody wants it. Like, I'll stick to selling search. Now, like 50% plus ends up being all video media, online, YouTube kind of stuff. So yeah, I think those are the kind of things which you…and it constantly happens in tech this is like not one time like short video now is a really big thing in a very different kind of way.
You see so much more in terms of local content. It's not just about Western content that's popular in Asia. It's like local content from very, very different kind of unique places. Hyper localisation is a big thing. So there's many of these things that are happening, right? And I think that's what keeps it exciting. For me, I think personally, like whatever I believe is true is not true in like 18 months.
Fun, scary, but also fun.
Jeremy Au: (10:27)
That’s the crazy part of it especially. And before going to the markets, that you talked about. I think one thing that you talked about is the definition of quality, which is that the definition of quality has changed from high production value to authenticity. And even now from authenticity to short form video. Could you talk a little bit more about what you learn along the way, about what quality means?
Is this something that has to be algorithmic in order to make it relevant as well? How do you think about that aspect of quality for the right person?
Anuvrat Rao: (10:56)
Actually, it's really not about the algorithm. I think it's about learning from your audience because your feedback loop is pretty much instant comment likes shares happens instantly. And so learning from your metrics and from your audience as to what people want to see and what people connect with is the biggest feedback you can get. You don't get that in the movie industry or the TV industry, right?
Like you make a movie, takes you three years to make it, then it takes you two years to distribute it and you get some sales and your definition of success is revenue or costs, etc. But when you think about video or let's say YouTube or TikTok, you can take 10 minutes to make it. You put it up, you get viewers engagement immediately and you get feedback from your audience immediately.
Good. And bad. And so if you actually take that on board and like kind of address your audience and your consumer, quality just happens very organically, not very different to like, you know, if you're a start-up trying to find product market fit is like talk to your customers talk to your users solve like important pain point and problems.
Like it's a very similar thing because I think many of these people now is less like just a channel or some dude making videos. It's actually a business. They've actually got big businesses. If you're a channel with like five, 10 million subscribers, that's bigger than most TV networks. You have an audience, you have a programming schedule, you have revenue coming in, you have a team, you're selling products, selling services, you're doing merch.
It's a proper business. And even today, a lot of people don't understand that a lot of these creators are actually now businesses as opposed to just people who make content.
Jeremy Au: (12:17)
Interesting, so there’s where businesses can’t get it and then creators kind of disrupted it. And now you're talking about creators becoming businesses. Could you share a little bit more about that perspective or evolution from your point of view?
Anuvrat Rao: (12:29)
Sure. Of course. Look, I think it's a natural evolution that kind of happens and people start off making content and they're like, just make it for fun, or they make it because they want to express themselves. Suddenly you start getting views and traction like, Oh, like people like this, and you get this popularity and then you start making more content because you're like, Hey, I'm popular.
People want to see this stuff. Eventually you start making some money on it because you know, you get to monetise and whatnot and then you start going, Wow, I'm making revenue and then you start making serious revenue. And I've had this conversations before, and people would come to me like, Dude, I'm making enough money that I can quit my job and just do this full time.
And then they take the plunge. And at this point now it's fast becoming like your job starts to grow three or four or five years later. You then start thinking like a business. And so what we're seeing is this evolution of creators then like not just one platform, but on being on multiple platforms, not just creating one type of content, you got people on YouTube and TikTok, shorts, reels, Instagram, all of the above, and getting into different, different audiences and segments. And then you start seeing merch or product selling, right? Many creators now have Shopify stores, which are very easy to set up and they're selling product through those Shopify stores, or people are doing grand deals, doing influencer marketing deals, people are doing affiliate marketing deals. There's multiple different ways in which monetisation and business is getting unlocked. If you just look at that on itself and just didn't know that this was a creator, you would think it's a business like a normal business…just happens that it started with like one guy doing music or something and going to build out all of the different business lines, creators are now become investors like as I've been doing angel deals and as I've been raising money from my own company, like I've got creators on my cap table as angel investors, it's a totally new thing. These guys have made money and they want to give back to the ecosystem for companies that are building for the creator, economy, etc. You would never expect that, you would never imagine that even like two, three years ago.
I think that's where it gets quite exciting. And there new business models emerge, right? So new ways in which that happens, new ways in which you kind of like develop monetisation or audience relationship. Things like Patreon will come and multiple other things.
Jeremy Au: (14:31)
From that perspective as well, you are a target audience which is looking at the Asia Pacific as a market, which is also quite different from the US market. So you talked about some of those learnings, for example, that you didn't realise that the launch would have so much fan base already here in Southeast Asia, that there's also a different set of localisation requirements.
Can you talk more about that from a geographical perspective, your learnings about this?
Anuvrat Rao: (14:55)
Sure. I think local language is the number one thing. People will resonate so much more with local language content. Great example of this is just wiki. Not sure if you know this business, but literally what they started off doing and they do many things now they started off doing is like taking existing content in one language and putting subtitles with another language and that's it, like bringing content from one place knowledge just by doing that, huge growth. Huge growth. And so like the ability to consume content in your own language doesn't matter what content it is, is a hugely empowering thing. And the fact that you've got online media platforms now, like things like YouTube and Facebook and TikTok, global platforms, region distribution is no longer a concern. This used to be the biggest problem. Like TV shows couldn't travel countries, movies couldn't travel countries unless you had distribution for it. Today you make something in Indonesia and in Jakarta you put it up. Someone in Brazil can consume it. When PSY and Gangnam Style took off, you would think it's a great Korean thing. The guys like a Korean Singer, but then actually it had so much global appeal. The second or third biggest country at one point was Brazil, who would have thought these Portuguese speaking people in Brazil would be in to PSY. Well, that's what the numbers suggested and the numbers showed.
So that's I think, one of the biggest learnings like we found in Asia, where local content and local market, but also like content from one place to another. Tamil movie content short like Rajinikanth who's this big Tamil star, his movies and his content through YouTube was super popular in Japan. I would literally never guess that, honestly, when I saw the numbers, I was like what? Like, I guess this is a thing. You look at Australia market like 90% of Washington consumes US content. The Philippines, you might know, but they want US content all the time.
Now you've got all of these interesting cross dynamics and cultural things that are happening. K-Pop now is a big thing. Everyone knows about it. But when K-Pop first started, yeah, no one thought it would go outside Korea. It was actually a global phenomenon. So I think that was one of the biggest learnings, right? For us. The second thing was short video. Short video took off massively in Asia first before anywhere else, probably Asia, LatAm, Africa, like emerging markets.
Platforms like TikTok, it was all Asia before anybody in the West even took notice of it. And so I think those are the kind of things where mobile dimension, vertical people want snacky content, tap through and flick through. This was very much an Asia thing, even like the use of mobile and mobile as a way to communicate and do business and everything was much more Asia first and my colleagues in the US would be shocked when I would tell them that, yeah, I do all my deals on WhatsApp.
Like, What do you mean. These are all the CEOs, this was how I was doing deals and I would send them PDF on WhatsApp and they would sign the contract and they were shocked because they're like no way would they do deals on chat. It is like email based and everything. So I think some of these trends, you know, they start in different markets and then it goes from there.
Jeremy Au: (17:35)
Yeah, that's amazing. And I think one interesting aspect that you just mentioned was the webbing. So you said Japan is consuming some Indian content, the Philippines consuming American content alongside Australia. So does different webbing or linkages and some of it is being done by subtitles or translations. Can you talk about how else the linkages happen as well?
Anuvrat Rao: (17:58)
Oh there's so much more. There’s AI ML that can automatically dub and translate content. There’s lots of things happening today which makes it much more rich. Subtitling is the easiest or the starting point. Dubbing is the next one, cutting content in different ways. I give you an example of something that happened in India.
Shahrukh Khan was the biggest movie star there. He did this campaign with Cadbury and a start up called Rephrase AI, which kind of help with this. They shot an ad of Shahrukh Khan talking about local stores and like how you should buy sweets from your local store for Diwali, which is a big festival that happens. And he shot it once, but then the voice and even his mouth modulation was customised so that every user who got it, got it as if it was his local store in his corner.
And so there was like hundreds and thousands of variations of this ad using the local store of the audience in the place they were living using the same ad. But like AI is modulating his voice and his mouth. And so it's kind of scary to be honest, but at the same time I'm like, that's like totally next level because you have as if you have shot the same ad 20,000 times, which normally you would not because you’re only replacing one line, but the AI can now do it.
So yeah, I mean, honestly, the sky's the limit with this kind of stuff. It's also where things like Deepfake and all this stuff comes, which I think is a bit scary. And you know, you can take someone's voice and their video and make them say different things. And when you put it up for a lay man, it's like, yeah, he said it because it's on video and you trust that it's on video, but actually he may not have said it.
So, a lot of technology, you know, force for good, but also like a recipe for disaster potentially, it’s always there. Lots of things have to fall into place for this to make sure that it goes in the right direction.
Jeremy Au: (19:34)
What's interesting is that, you know, you talk about that technology and it's localising and that makes a lot of sense because even for example, in India, there are so many dialects and regional differences and accents that there's also multifactorial dimensions, I think, for Southeast Asia as well. When you think about all that, how do you see Southeast Asia as a creator economy evolving for yourself?
Anuvrat Rao: (19:58)
That's a good question. I think it's very exciting. Personally, I'm a big believer in the Southeast Asia content space, the creator space, the tech space. A lot of the challenges we would face in Southeast Asia are similar to like different states in India in a way, because like every state, it's got different culture, different language, different everything, but it's even more pronounced because you've got oceans separating us, you've got geopolitical things, you've got Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand all very different.
All very different in many different ways. The challenge is scaling across the region is always hard because no matter what industry you're talking about, but also the opportunity comes from that, I think a lot of it is down to localisation, a lot of it is down to meeting customer needs in a very, very nuanced kind of way, not just even like, you know, Bahasa for Indonesia, but like go by different dialects and different localities and different cities and different geo-based things.
I think that is going to be one of the biggest things that needs to get solved. You're seeing a bunch of this happening in different industries, fintech’s doing things in the space where it's super localised as to how like payments work. You're seeing it in commerce by local merchants and like digitising them and bringing them online. And as a lot of start-ups in this space, we're doing a lot of interesting work.
It's very hard, but that's the kind of challenge at hand. I think when you do it, then you start getting traction in different markets and certain things do travel. Some of the challenges that you have in, let's say, Malaysia and Thailand, maybe Philippines a little bit. Okay, language differences. Japan, Korea, very similar and in many different kind of ways.
In fact, you see a bunch of India, Southeast Asia, but like India, Indonesia happening. So Indian companies trying to go to Indonesia and like a lot of the Indonesian kind of wins and sort of successes then can apply to places like India. You see that happening as well because of similar geopolitical situations and economic situation, populations, etc.
So there's a lot of this happening. I mean, if you ask me like, there's not a lot of coordination and there can be more coordination and like, you know, as a region kind of working together, which is always hard, but I think that's where the strength will come, right? The more we can work together and everyone plays a role.
I think the Start-Up ecosystem, the investor ecosystem, the way exits are happening, the way people are moving around, the way people are working in different jobs. And this is one of the advantages of places like the Silicon Valley, where it's a very close-knit community. Everyone's helping each other and it's like you win and I win, when you fail, no problem, come do more, whatever, whatever, versus I think it's a little different in Southeast Asia.
I don't think we have that kind of culture yet. But it’s getting there.
Jeremy Au: (22:26)
When you talk about all that, it’s interesting because there's a certain stack of upside. So I think that a lot of Southeast Asia folks have this envy of America. America creators are bigger, America start ups are bigger. In fact, I was just talking to someone today who was just talking about this as well like all American VCs are big, there's always that contrast.
And I think as someone who you have your feet on both sides, right about the American side and Southeast Asian side, how do you feel about this envy or comparison that keeps going on?
Anuvrat Rao: (22:57)
I have a fairly strong view, actually, and that's very like rooted in maybe patriotism, if you want to call it that. When I left Google, I put this post out saying like, I believe that big things can come from Southeast Asia and Singapore and like Singaporeans and locals can do big things on a global scale.
I’ve believed it. I've invested in companies, all local founders, trying to do big things and the time was right to jump in and do it myself instead of just sit on the side and invest and kind of help. Funny fact like I'm in with this company I started, we got into Y Combinator, which was like, Oh, amazing, you got into Y Combinator, like, great. You know, it's going to be amazing. So I went, I started and I was like, Yeah, sure, I guess it must be amazing for Start-Ups. Actually, I didn't find it great. I was not enjoying it. I didn't see this working for me. It's my personal thing. Nothing against YC. I think there's a lot of great things about.
Just didn't work for me and I felt like, you know, in Southeast Asia and doing businesses from here doesn't mean you follow the same ways that work in the West. It doesn't mean that the same path to success that the valley follows or the VC’s in the U.S. follow is the only way to success. And so I actually left. I don't know how many people do this, but I kind of got into YC, then cancelled the contract and got out of Y Combinator.
And I've been doing it my way since, which I feel good about and I feel happier about. There was even a discussion of like, you should maybe become a Delaware C Corp because it’ll help you raise money from U.S. VCs. It's like, no, I'm a Singapore incorporated company. I'm going to stay here. I don't think there's any issue raising money as a Singapore company, but a lot of the envy and a lot of that kind of history comes from that.
Yeah, I mean, my personal view is like, no, we can do it and we can do it our own way. I also think the successes and the way business works and the way users and consumers behave is very different. One of the big use cases of content consumption that I'm trying to tackle is WhatsApp and Chat, and people send content to each other on chat all the time but has never tried to monetise and distribute it properly.
And so I've created a format that works in chat. Nobody in the U.S. understands this. Like, what do you mean content in chat? And if you talk to anybody in Asia, like Ya, I get like WhatsApp forwards every day and tons of stuff I get sent. And so I think the business models will be different and the use case it will be different and I think that's exciting.
Jeremy Au: (25:01)
Do you think that's because America is awesome or do you think it's because we're young or is it because there is confidence gap or what is it that is driving this from your perspective?
Anuvrat Rao: (25:15)
I think a little bit of a little bit of all of the above. By the way, I do think like I potentially am a bit of an unconventional kind of guy, like people at 35 with three kids and what I did, don't normally go and start companies, but I did it anyway. I think firstly it starts with like you have to give it to the U.S. and the West like they started a lot of this sort of ecosystem, VCs. The biggest VCs today mostly are all American because they started in the US, they started in Silicon Valley.
The biggest exits, the biggest Start-Up successes all come from that. And so the industry grew from the U.S. and so like that became the playbook for the world. That's always the way things start in many ways, but I don't really think that's the way things will evolve going forward. I think there was also a time and this is not true today, but, you know, five years ago, SEA, like the VC ecosystem, was not that developed?
If you wanted to raise real money, you wouldn't really get it here. The VCs were not that professional and all of that kind of stuff. So, you had to go raise money from the West. If you’re raising money from the West. Then you have to like appeal to them, do it that way and all that jazz is going to happen.
None of them had even set up shops here, right? People like Sequoia, Lightspeed, all these guys, they didn't exist in South Asia. Now they do. And so it was a very different ecosystem back then. So a little bit is like just it wasn't there like a different option and a local option. And a second part is just it started there.
But I'm seeing it changing which I feel good about personally. So I mean, we'll see. We'll see. I think it's going to be exciting how this whole thing goes. The envy thing, honestly, is not just that, it’s everything. I think about the media industry. Everyone follows Hollywood. Why? It just is right.
It's just the way. Or even the music industry. Many other things. A part of this is capital and money and how that money flows work. But also just things started there and we all love Hollywood. I mean, I'm a big fan of Marvel movies. I'll be honest. That's like the my binge thing is watching lots of Marvels stuff, and that's classic Hollywood.
Jeremy Au: (27:05)
One interesting thing that you mentioned earlier was that you also started angel investing in local founders as well. Could you share a little bit more because that felt like it's a bit of a transition, right? So you become an executive and you started Angel Investing and we actually share some similar investments.
So, can you share a little bit more about what that transition was like to become an angel investor from your perspective?
Anuvrat Rao: (27:31)
Sure. Honestly, I stumbled into it. It was not planned. I was enjoying my time at Google. But, you know, I had some spare time, I guess. And also I had this big belief on the Singapore ecosystem, in the Start-Up ecosystem in Southeast Asia. But I was not doing roles where I had the chance to focus on the Singapore market or SEA market that much.
When you're running APAC at a place like Google, it's true for most big tech companies, you go by population. So, China market, India market, Indonesia and then a few others. And then you go revenue markets, which is Australia, Japan, a lot of the Southeast Asia stuff doesn't get touched so much, but I was personally interested being from Singapore, being Singaporean and knowing people here, and so I just started advising people for fun. Like I got involved in this thing called the Indus Entrepreneurs Organisation.
I was helping them identify some good start-ups, started advising a bunch of other people, local founders, and then advising led to them saying, Oh, this is awesome. You're helping us a lot. Like, you know, you should be an investor. And I was like, I don't have millions of dollars to invest like, no, no, no, you can be an angel.
And then I learnt about the angel thing and how it worked and so I slowly became an angel investor. The guy who started are all good friends of mine and they were like, Hey, you're doing a bunch of this stuff, you should become part of XA. And so I joined XA and through that I started doing a bunch of other deals, and so it just happened organically, and I just do it as a way of giving back and like selfishly, it's fun.
And people ask me, why do you invest? It’s like, it’s not the money return at all. And I actually write it off. It's more like I'm going to put some money to buy myself work to do and buy myself time with these people to do some cool stuff with them and learn from them and if I can help along the way, that's exciting.
So that's really why I do it. And I've continued. I mean it slowed down a little bit now that I started my own company because I'm having to do a lot of work setting this company up and getting the early days done and all that kind of stuff, but still enjoy spending time with my existing portfolio and looking at new companies and all of that.
Jeremy Au: (29:21)
What would you say that you learnt because you're an executive at Google, which is as big tech as it is today, transitioning to be an angel and a founder. What was that transition and learnings that you had as you kind of like started working with an earlier generation of Start-Ups?
Anuvrat Rao: (29:36)
Oh, a lot of difference actually. Like what do you do on what you need to be successful in a place like Google is very, very different to Start-Ups. So, for example, if I have an idea, I'm running Google Search and I have a new idea or something we can build for search that's good for users. Is it going to take six months to even get approval and get it out there?
Because the stakes are high. You're talking about a billion users. You're talking about a product with strong brand and reputation to maintain, policy, PR. There are multiple things that need to address before you can launch something. You also have to do like tons of research, tons of testing to be sure it's actually going to help because you can't take the risk of like I tried this and your revenue went down 5%.
That's a lot of revenue that's going down 5%. And so, you can't just try. Versus when it comes to Start-Ups, I think you can experiment much more quickly and instead of spending like three months analysing something, just try it. If it works great, it doesn't work. Try something else. The risk of that iteration and experimentation is not that high, especially if you're like, pre-product market fit and you're trying to figure things out, just keep trying stuff.
So that's a very different approach. And even for me, like as a founder now, I'm like, let's just do 20 different experiments, try a bunch of use cases, see what happens, if it works, great. If it doesn't work, then that's fine. Versus analysing a lot and spending a lot of time on research, you know, just do stuff. And so that's kind of one thing.
I think the other thing is you have to just operate and make decisions with very little data. I think in Google you have a lot of data, in YouTube, you have lots of data. So, when you are making deal decisions or product decisions, we have so much data and history of data to know exactly what the trends are, where the gaps are, what makes sense, what's going to work.
I mean, we don't know exactly but we have good data. In a Start-Up, you have no history, you've no data, you don't have a big user base. And so you kind of go with gut feel a lot more. You go with kind of like the founder intuition, which is another thing. And then you almost like, okay, this is kind of working, let's just go do that and then we'll then try another thing and another thing and that's how a company slowly grows and evolves.
And that's my perspective on these things. To me, it’s like just be less sophisticated and simple and just try. This also means we can move faster. It's a very different ballgame. I think that changes once you’re like post product market fit and post kind of like maybe Series A or whatever. Now you're like, okay, I know what I'm doing.
I need to scale, I need to grow revenue and optimise cost, automate then a lot more of the Google exec or whatever kind of learnings actually apply because a lot of that is very good in places like Google and Facebook and Amazon, very good operating processes, very good systems, very good ways of doing things. And you learnt over time of how to do things at big scale and not break things and process works.
More start ups right in the early days have no process, really, and you kind of have to learn that as you go along. So yeah, I mean, it's a good and a bad thing that's like and I think that's just the nature of early stage companies and bigger companies.
Jeremy Au: (32:19)
As you kind of gone through, you know, you're in the early days, right, of building and founding a Start-Up yourself now, which you just mentioned, what has been one surprise, I guess, one thing you've had to consciously unlearn. I think you mentioned some of it, but I’ll just love to hear that.
Anuvrat Rao: (32:35)
Consciously unlearn, I think overthinking because I think when you're running big teams and working on big products, you have to think a lot and be very thoughtful just because you have to think of all the downsides a lot more versus like, okay, there's like a million downsides, but let's not think about it because then we won't do anything.
And just got to try and be okay with failure and be okay with things not working and be okay with things breaking. When I was a tech executive like fires, I would then spend time putting out. But as a founder it's like, Yeah, I mean, there's some fires, there's some things that are not okay but it’s fine. You can't put them all out.
Just do the important ones. And as long as you're going like some of these fires, like just let it burn, it's okay. We'll figure it out later. I think that's one of the biggest things to unlearn. But there's also been some good surprises, like fundraising actually turned out a good time to fundraise. It turns out that it's not that much of a challenge fundraising, which I didn't expect, like as a first time founder and doing something different and unique.
Like I thought it would be very hard to fundraise. Investors are very helpful that's a really nice thing at least so far and, again, early days but so far it's been really positive. I think that's a good thing right for the ecosystem. People have new ideas. People want to start new things.
The barrier to starting is a bit lower now. You have people who are willing to take a bet on an idea with limited kind of real number traction because they believe in someone trying to win different. So I think those are kind of very positive things.
Jeremy Au: (33:57)
On that note, could you share a time personally where you have been BRAVE?
Anuvrat Rao: (34:02)
Of course. So this is actually very personal to me. In August 2019, I was actually in a hospital going in for an operation, not knowing if I'll come back with two legs. It was a very tough time for me, actually. I was in the hospital because my kid was not well and so I went to take care of her, but then she was fine and then I told her, Doctor, I'm having this pain in my leg.
Which she then said, Oh my God, you have an abscess, you have to operate immediately. It was like some big drama and people scrambled and got me to an OT immediately. But anyway, like, I had to go for this operation and I'm like, Yeah, they're like, We're going to open you up and we're going to see how bad it is.
And if it's really bad, we have to amputate. So I went on a GA not knowing if I'll wake up and have two legs, which honestly just makes you think man. So yeah, I went to Oxford and did all the stuff and Google and whatever and you know, like you make a lot of money and very successful, but what's the point? At that moment where I'm waiting for GA to kick in and I'm going to sleep, the only thing on my mind is all the things I should have done when I had two legs. You never think about it, like, literally never think about it. And when I woke up 6 hours later, the first thing I did is check, okay, I have two legs and I'm super grateful and happy, you know, and that's it.
I have two legs, that’s it, end of story. I'm super happy just for that. Which, again, you take for granted. To me, that was a big, big eye opening and awakening moment personally, and I took life very differently since then. I'm now a father of three kids. I had one kid then. I care about my kids a lot.
I care about family and home. I care about health much more, much more than I did in the past. You know, I always like from professional success and chasing whatever the next promotion and there's that the other. I just see life very differently now. There's a lot more to it. I started a company because partly it was like God gave me a second chance with two legs, might as well run and to go and try and do something more meaningful, go and do something bigger.
Not because you want to make money, but just if you can actually go tell a story that transforms the world in a very different kind of way, what I will do for me personally, I have no idea what I want, enjoying that journey. And so, yeah, I talk to people very differently now than before. You know, I talk about life more and I guess I'm a little bit older, but I am a lot wiser.
But that was honestly the bravest moment and it was a very low point and I haven't lost a leg. Great. I was bedridden for six months. That's not fun. And I had to go to the hospital every day. But it was a learning experience and so I'm glad I've come out of it stronger and glad I've come out of it with a different life perspective.
And probably if all that didn't happen, maybe I would not have even started a company and continued on the corporate path and would never have left. But it is what it is, right? Things happen in life and then you kind of make decisions and then go in a different way.
Jeremy Au: (36:30)
Why is it that when you now have the opportunity to keep both legs and you get the run, that you choose to be a founder…because you could have chosen so many other different ways to run. You could have been like, the way I'm going to run is by rising up at Google and continuing to rise the ranks, or you could be like, Oh yeah, the way I'm going to run in life is to do a lot more angel investments, and what's interesting is that you have chosen to run by choosing to be a founder.
So just share why is that?
Anuvrat Rao: (37:01)
Yeah, sure. Well, two things. I'll tell you two things. One is the trigger, which is, I think, a bit different to most people. And the second is the why I'm doing what I'm doing. The trigger was actually things were going really well and I was like, okay, I'm on a good track and promoted again, have a bigger team, all this like positive stuff in a corporate.
And I was like, Yeah, you're like the next big, whatever, whatever, whatever. But I was just not happy. I was like, This is great on paper, but I'm not enjoying this because the money and all the accolades and everything is great. But I actually want to be learning, be challenged, be kind of out of my comfort zone. I was actually in my comfort zone and you don't get that unless you actually get yourself out of their comfort zone and kind of like get scared, honestly.
So that was the trigger. Things were going even better and I was like, this is not that exciting. Which means if this is the best case scenario in a corporate, you don't want it, which is promotion, more money, bigger team, and you're not excited. And then, then what do you do? Like take another job. Do more angel, join a Start-Up? Whatever, right? I didn't have a plan. Actually quit. I want to spend the next five years optimising for learning and going out of my comfort zone and doing meaningful things. Meaningful defined as, you know, having impact in the world. Because again, I was given the second chance. It's like, what am I going to do? I was like, I'll do more Angel, I'll do my advisory, I'll do more this and that and then the idea came and it organically manifested into a company and fundraising happened and team came and so it all just happened.
And why like this company and this kind of like starting a company…I think is the maximisation of learning for me is I've never done this before. Start a company, fundraise, hire a team, build a business, build a product, try to disrupt content, whatever, whatever. So I'm scared every day, but that means I'm learning every day. And the second thing is the mission is to empower and enable everyone to tell their stories, which is something that I think is bigger than all of us.
It's not about I will become a big billion dollar company or whatever. It's more if I can do this, lots of people get to tell their stories. They basically get to own their own tech. They basically get to own their own distribution, they own their own monetisation and they own their own analytics and everything. And if that works, it's like, Wow, you as a content person or someone who has a story to tell now owns holistically the whole end to end spectrum.
That's really cool, right? It's like owning your house versus renting it, if I can enable that, I get excited about that. So that's the plan. And the plan is a five year journey. We'll see where it goes. And I was like, okay, if I get nothing done in five years and I burnt all my money in savings, then I'll go back and do a job to earn money because I have to still take care of my family and home.
But I would have learnt a lot and I won't have any regrets. You know, the other thing is you want to regret, I'm sure you've read this right, Jeff Bezos has his regret minimisation framework is like I can become a big executive at Google or some other tech company and is going, fine, I'll make enough money and I'll retire.
Will I regret not having started my own company and try to build something totally different. Yeah, I would regret. It doesn't matter how successful I am in corporate and by that time it's too late. Right? I think I'm a 50/60 like you. And if I have a big idea, it's too late. So, I mean, KFC did it at 69, but that's an exception.
So that's why I said, Yeah, then do it now. And if it fails, fine. But at least I gave it a try.
Jeremy Au: (40:03)
Amazing. I love what you said, which is getting promoted didn't feel exciting. That’s a sign. And on the other side, really maximising for learning from that perspective, that's a really set of good learnings. On that note, I’ll love to wrap things up by paraphrasing the three big themes that I got from this conversation.
The first is thank you so much for sharing about your experience launching YouTube and Google APAC. I love that set of experiences I think from two angles. The first of course, was talking about the creator economy, some of the insights you had about how it was a shocker. Asian fans already existed for American content at the time, but also the definition and redefinition of what quality content is, and also the linkages of country to country within Asia of that content and furthermore, some additional learnings that you shared. A whole bunch of useful anecdotes, right, about short form video coming out, chat messages and views happening to so many great anecdotes around that creator economy, but also how that is cross-referenced against that of the geographic uniqueness as well. That's a good part I really enjoyed, I think, was the manifesto versus Southeast Asia envy of America. I love that dynamic about talking about why that manifests in terms of how America obviously has been and started as a more mature ecosystem, but also why Southeast Asia has that perspective. And some of the ways that you personally want to address that is really interesting because I think I share some similar feelings as well about it as well.
And lastly I thought I really enjoyed I think you kicked it off with almost losing a leg and not knowing whether you going to wake up with two legs or not. And I really love what you said, which is that now that you do have two legs and you still have them, you kind of think about if you had an opportunity to run, is that to run by getting promoted more which you're not comfortable with to maximise learning and being a founder.
So I really appreciate you sharing everything that you learnt and you had to consciously unlearn from being a high flying Google executive to be an angel investor in early stage startups and being a founder yourself. Thank you so much for sharing with everyone here today.
Anuvrat Rao: (42:09)
Thank you so much. Thanks, Jeremy, for having me. And it's been really fun chatting, so thank you so much for doing that.