Cliff Szu:Bootstrap vs. VC, Blockchain Myths & Don't Wait To Do What You Want To Do - E165

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I actually see a lot of patterns in startup founders where there are people cheering you on. And then there's also a couple of people on the side are saying, Oh, yeah, they're never going to make it anyways. So, let that fuel you and I think you look at a lot of founders, especially the kind of old school, old guard Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, a lot of them are adopted or face some kind of rejection when they're very young. And that extra fuel gives you that kind of unholy drive, that might carry you through the rough spots.-Cliff Szu

Cliff is a serial entrepreneur of enterprise & tech startups. He’s currently a Cofounder & CEO of Multiverse.ai, a blockchain-powered ideation & funding platform for early-stage startups. He previously was at Merrill Lynch, IBM, mobile engineering lead at Google and founder of Fanpop. He’s a Stanford graduate in Computer Science. 

Jeremy Au: (00:30)

Hi Cliff. I'm so excited to have you in the show. You’re from Blockchain world, former founder, you went to Stanford and I think you have a really interesting story to share especially about how you are helping fund and build up the next generation of startups as well.

And congratulations on your recent fundraise of $50 million. I'd love to hear more about who you are and why you're here.

Cliff Szu: (00:58)

My name is Cliff Szu, one of the co-founders of Multiverse. Really excited to talk about what we're up to. 

Jeremy Au: (01:07)

Tell us more about what it was like growing up? Were you always a geek? A nerd? Loved computer science? Destined for engineering and technology and founder life?

Cliff Szu: (01:18)

Actually, no, that's a good question. No one's ever asked me that before. No, I was actually one of those weird kids who actually got a higher SAT score on my verbal than my math. I was going to be an English major, and then my English teacher said don’t be an English major. When I got to Stanford, I realized actually I spent a lot of time messing around with computers and programming, kind of almost unconsciously.

I didn't even realize I was doing that. I think my parents must have Miyagi-ed me. They bought us like an old Mac and was messing around with that. So no, I was actually very much like a kind of wordy person, reading, writing person I ended up loving computer science and loving especially two things - HCI, which is a human computer interaction, and the other one is AI or machine learning and my advisor at Stanford was actually kind of a renowned expert in both.

He's actually the same advisor as Sergey Brin and Larry Page had. I think I'm probably his least famous advisee.

Jeremy Au: (02:10)

Oh, awesome. And what were you like at Stanford? Where you partying? Were you just coding? What were you like in university?

Cliff Szu: (02:16)

I never thought of myself as like a teacher type or anything, but I actually was a staff member on dorm. And the weirdest thing is that out of that dorm, a lot of our co-founders came; not even kidding on that. So four of us became co-founders. So I think that those ties you make are very deep. It's also kind of like a cool factor for a startup because I think a lot of startups, there's a horrible saying that's like a lot of startups die of suicide, not homicide.

They don't get killed by other startups or competition. They die of infighting or internal conflict or internal misdirection. And I think one thing it's nice about knowing your co-founders for so long is that unlike founder dating or some other process, you've known them for so long that kind of whatever drama is going to happen has already happened way back in the dorms or something.

Jeremy Au: (03:02)

So that means at one point of time you're playing beer pong with your co-founders?

Cliff Szu: (03:06)

Yeah. Actually, we ended up…two of us were staffed together, and then the next year one of them became the same staff member I was in the same dorm. That year was very special, I think. Yeah, it's been a good experience. I ended up actually working during school and I actually experienced my first IPO in school and I was an intern, but they gave me stock options because they're awesome.

So that was kind of a crazy experience for someone in college. I guess you could say I was hooked after that.

Jeremy Au: (03:33)

What was that like as an intern watching an IPO? Tell us about how that moment made you hooked.

Cliff Szu: (03:39)

I mean, it wasn't the IPO process, but I think it was just I was in Stanford and then I was commuting. I was riding the Caltrain up to SF to go work this was in Soma before Soma just completely changed over. And we're working in the old coffee warehouse, extremely cool company, the VP of Engineering there, he just really liked me and he made me an offer and I found out I was actually the only one who got stock in the company, the only intern.

And so I felt really honoured by that. After that, we decided that we always wanted to have interns in our company because I think you can make a little difference in someone's life. So we've always tried to hire interns, especially from maybe disadvantaged groups. So right now one of the interns that we have is actually he's Latino and he's actually pretty young because we want to make sure that we try to make a difference in their life, that it's very early in their life so that they can actually like kind of maybe change course a little bit earlier.

Because if you give someone an internship, they're already like a student at Berkeley or something, just for example, they've already made it pretty well in life. And so we want to start even earlier than that. So we've had high school interns in our companies, which is kind of unusual for a tech company.

Jeremy Au: (04:41)

Wow. I guess that's a huge difference from a lot of folks because I think a lot of my founder friends are like yea interns are great in terms of like the fact that they're there, but sometimes it can be a huge hassle to manage.

Cliff Szu: (04:53)

They don't help with anything. Let's be honest. I think it's more giving back into what you can. I mean, I think once in a while they surprise you with something they can do. But when you give an internship to high school students, the best you can hope for is that you can make an impression in their life that's positive.

Jeremy Au: (05:07)

That's really sweet of you, to be honest. Sweeter than most founders I know. And then you decide to work at big companies as a result. Well, not really. Actually, because you look at Merrill Lynch and IBM. So what was that like?

Cliff Szu: (05:20)

I just had this kind of philosophy that I feel like I wanted to learn what it's like to work at a big company before I went to do a startup. Merrill was awesome. I mean, working in Manhattan, just learning about how that side of the world works was super interesting. I did study. I minored in econ, so it was something that I was thinking about maybe doing, and they had great plans for me.

They're like, Oh yeah, we can take over this whole part…they want me to go to Brazil for some reason, I think at the time, it was pretty wild and interesting walking across Manhattan every day to go to work. It was just a unique experience. And then I worked at IBM working in the machine learning team for Voice Recognition.

That's when I realized like, wow, these companies have a ton of resources. And then the second thing was, wow, they have a lot of red tape, a lot of overhead. And that's I think when I started realizing that one of the biggest or maybe one of the only advantages a startup has is speed of execution speed and just kind of clarity of vision.

Anyways, I think IBM was a great experience and then I just went into the world of startups.

Jeremy Au: (06:16)

Amazing. And how did it happen? Because you also went to work at Google as well. And that was actually pretty early in the day.

Cliff Szu: (06:25)

Well, our company got bought by Google. I pretty much was out of there at that point. Just the last thing I wanted to work was at a big company again. I decided to start my startup right then. I remember getting hauled in by the CEO of the company and the VP of Engineering. CEO was super awesome, amazing guy. The VP of Engineering…we’ll just call him Steve. He said, Cliff.

Well, first of all, they're trying to keep me in the company. And I guess one way you can tell if you're valued or not is how many people they haul out to try to retain you. And so the VP of Engineering is talking to me - Cliff. I don't see you as a CEO. I hope I'm not breaking your heart.

That's actually what he said verbatim. So I don't know. I didn't really take that like personally at the time, but I was like, OK, well, I guess I have to prove him wrong. I actually see a lot of patterns in startup founders where there are people cheering you on. And then there's also a couple of people on the side are saying, Oh, yeah, they're never going to make it anyways.

So, let that fuel you and I think you look at a lot of founders, especially the kind of old school, old guard, I guess I should say, successful ones, you know, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, like a lot of them are adopted or face some kind of rejection when they're very young. Larry Ellison was raised by his uncle who thought he'd never make it in anything.

And I think that extra fuel gives you that kind of unholy drive, I guess that might kind of carry you through the rough spots. I prefer love over hate, but like whatever it takes. Sometimes you need a little bit of extra fuel to get it going.

 

Jeremy Au: (07:43)

I like this dark side of the force starter pack you just talked about. And it's interesting because there's a lot of emotionality involved with being a founder because you use that to carry that into being your first start up and saying to some extent proving yourself, but also proving that CTO is wrong. What was that like, building it out, your first company?

 

Cliff Szu: (08:06)

We made so many mistakes. It's not even funny. And I think that's maybe one of the ideas behind Multiverse is that if we can just help, maybe pass on our mistakes, maybe, as opposed to our wisdom, then maybe some people can make fewer mistakes. We didn't take the VC money. We took convertible debt initially and so we were gunning for profitability.

And so we hit profitability really, really fast, like within the first year. But the problem, I think, is when you hit profitability so early, especially in a small company, you might actually be uncapping your own growth, like if you're taking VC money instead and just like put a rocket engine on the back of it and kept growing it out.

I'm not saying like 60 million uniques a month is slow, but I mean clearly we're on to something, so maybe we should have taken that road. So there's a lot of ways that you can, I think, skin a cat and I think that one was one of them. But it's too tempting for it to become almost like just like cash cow.

I don't want to use that term, but like a lifestyle company, someone once called us that and we're like super insulted because we're like, we're working like 80 hours a week. What kind of lifestyle is that? But the reality is that when you have a company that's churning out large amounts of profit, like per person is like a huge amount.

It's very tempting to just milk that as opposed to figuring out how to take it to the next level. And I think that that's something that we've learned from those past kind of decisions.

 

Jeremy Au: (09:17)

That's really interesting because that's a classic point and rebuttal or just like, you know, you should raise VC funding. And I was like, no, we should bootstrap. And then people are like, we should bootstrap. No, you should raise VC funding. So tell us more about a trade off do you think, for that dynamic on reflection?

 

Cliff Szu: (09:32)

Well, we bootstrapped it, so the first year was kind of funny because I was making like under $40,000 a year that year, which is kind of a little rough in the Bay Area. I remember my banker actually asked me, how are you paying your mortgage? You can always try to bootstrap it. I think things are so fast now that I'm not an expert on this, so I don't have a super strong opinion on this, but I'm actually a really strong believer in that, that if you don't have a lot of expertise, you shouldn't have a strong opinion on something.

But what I do know is from our data point, bootstrapping, if you don't think there's going to be a lot of competition in your space, maybe that can work. But if there is going to be people on your tail, which I cannot really imagine any business that is going to be high growth without competition, it's very hard to do it without fuel.

And VC’s also bring a lot more than just fuel. They bring wisdom and experience. And VC’s are people right? There's good ones and bad ones. But I think that’s same with founders. If you find the right match for you, it's probably a lot faster and more efficient to not try to bootstrap it because you're going to make weird decisions when you bootstrap.

For example, we didn't do cloud hosting for a while, a long time because it was too expensive. Like we had so much traffic. You know, we're doing like billions of page views. So it's like we calculated if you did Amazon it’s like hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. So we couldn't do cloud hosting because of that. And so because of that, we end up spending more time managing servers.

And because of that we spend less time coding and building it. These trade offs are quite expensive. I don't know if you should make a decision just to avoid taking VC money. It can be quite expensive. It can actually kill the company. But yeah, we got lucky. I do think there's a lot of luck in it. It's a really, really tough tradeoff.

Jeremy Au: (11:05)

If you have the boil down to it. In what scenarios would it be better to bootstrap versus in what scenarios would it be better to do VC funding? And I think you mentioned one of them, which is competition, which is that if you have less competition, you have time to bootstrap, you have more competition, you have to move faster. Any other scenarios are things that will push you to recommend one over the other. Since you've experienced both sides of it.

Cliff Szu: (11:28)

Well, this goes back to my not having a strong opinion about something I'm not an expert on like. So I think a VC is pricing this hundreds or thousands of times. I've seen it. I've lived it a couple of times. I don't have a super strong thesis on this, but my theory is like I remember hearing about a guy who like posting on Reddit or something, he's driving a Lambo.

How do you get a Lambo? And he said, Oh, I make software. It's like, What for? I make software for Waste Control for like sewage treatment plants, and it cranks out a ton of cash. I bought a Lambo. I hope this doesn't get misquoted as I drive a Lambo. I do not drive a Lambo, but this guy on Reddit, he drives a Lambo because he makes software for waste management for like sewage treatment plants.

I feel like for that line, if you can bootstrap it, because I just don't see a ton of competition coming in, that's going to undercut you and outrace you/outpace you. That would be probably in my main guidance. I guess the other one would be, is it a capital intensive company? Is it going to take a lot of cash to build?

If you're just making software for waste treatment plants? Probably not. If you're going to make rocket engines, it's probably pretty cash intensive. You know, you're going to make VTOL electric aircraft. You probably need some serious funding, some serious backing.

Jeremy Au: (12:35)

I would say that was a pitch perfect set of yardsticks, I would say to push you one way or the other which is described as one, is competitive intensity. The second one is the size of the niche, and the capital intensity of what you intend to build. So I think that's all great. 

And so there you are. You start to say, I'm going to wrap this up, even though it's kind of like on that steady path of profitability, etc. What was that like? Did you find yourself getting more tired or bored or what was it that said like, OK, instead of keeping going on figuring out how to unlock this to the next stage, OK, I want to do something new.

Cliff Szu: (13:11)

Ask you a question. Actually, this is really stupid, but I've done three startups and one of them is a stealth right now, so I can't talk about that one. But that one's quite special. And so I have this kind of obsession with not ever failing. So we actually a pretty big finance for ramp up also, but it's going to come after multiverse just because multiverse, it's what the world needs now, especially focused on developing countries, especially focusing on people who are unable to access capital, especially in these areas that are really hit by the pandemic, really hit by government instability. It's probably maybe a weak point of mine, which is like better to sell a company and so you can move on. And we actually had a lot of offers to self amp up. One of them was from a really, really big media company. It starts with “T”. What we ended up doing is I wanted to take care of our investors.

So we had a convertible debt, remember I told you about? So the first thing I did was spinning off all this cash. So I was like, give the investors the returns so that they can enjoy something and they supported us all this way. It's only right. So that's the first thing I did. And then after that I hired a team of people to help run it.

And I think what we're going to probably do in the in the future is to give some people a stake in the company to help grow into the next level. To me, the very obvious way to next level is actually going to, of course, involve blockchain. So stay tuned. There will be more. So we never ended up closing it down, but we do have other people running it that's a responsible thing to do. The responsible thing to do, if you're going to do that, is to make sure your investors get their exit because they didn't sign on for like a 20-year ride. So we took care of them and then and then we're able to focus on Multi-verse.

Jeremy Au: (14:42)

Cool. How did you personally know? Was it energy levels or was it you went hiking somewhere and an epiphany hit you? I mean, what was driving that? Because I think many founders for those who hit some level of success, they find lulls in their levels of energy and I went through those as well where you're like I feel less energy now and so is this temporary versus this is something I should start looking at how to hand over to the next person or someone else or do something new.

Cliff Szu: (15:20)

I remember watching an interview with Paul Orfalea. He's like the founder of Kinko's. He reveals that he's actually dyslexic, which I think is super interesting. I think it's another one of those challenges that's like Charles Schwab also dyslexic. And I think these people have these extra difficulties. So you almost have something more to kind of drive them forward.

And I remember watching him say, Do you think I care about your copies and your prints? I can't even read them. Like, you know, I'm dyslexic. I can't read. So do I care about that? No. You know, he did it for the money is what he says. And I think for Fan Pop, I can't say I did it for the money because I was never sure if we're going to make money.

But I can't say that for a long time I never owned a TV. And so to be a website that's about pop culture, TV, music, movies, it's not really my thing. So AI systems are super interesting, really, really interesting. The content, while I think is amazing to see the passion of the fans, I could never really share that passion because I could just never get that into Justin Bieber, to be honest.

I think that's when I realized for a dude who doesn't own a TV, is it really the best thing to do? And there's another reason. Kind of fairly early on in my life around mid-college, I actually had kind of a health scare where I actually had to go and get surgery to get like a tumour removed and I wasn't even sure if it was going to be malignant or not. And the surgery was painful because I just had this weird thing, I think a lot of Asians have this where you metabolize anaesthetics faster than Caucasian people. And so I'm in the surgery and I'm like, oh, wow. I can start to feel everything.

This really hurts. But I can't like I can't stop the surgery. Right? So it was a very intense experience, but that wasn’t the worst. The worst was at the end. And so they took the excise tumor and they go and do their thing and and I never hear back from them weeks, months. And I was like, are they trying to soften the blow?

Is it because it's not a big deal? What's going on? I finally asked my folks who knew the surgeon and they ping them and he's I'm really, really sorry. It was benign. You're fine. I was like, OK, during those weeks and months, you're kind of like wondering, should I make plans? Should I not? I guess I should never talked about this publicly, but I think that that made me realize, like, you really shouldn't wait to do something that you want to do because you never know how much time you got.

So I think that at that point, I was like thinking like, I don't really watch TV. I don't even know where some of these things are following a game of ice and fire. I'm like, What the hell's that? They're like, Oh, it's Game of Thrones is OK. I don't have HBO. So it's equally irrelevant to me. I'd much rather be out hiking or something.

So that's when I realized like, well, I probably shouldn’t wait longer, and I think I had really good advice from my co-founder and what he said was, Cliff, take the straight direct road. You know, just go to where you want to go. Don't take a winding road. When you told me that that year, also, I think he had faced a lot of loss so I think that message has kind of stuck with me.

And I think that founders should follow that, too, because I actually disagree with Paul Orfalea where yeah, you could do something for the money, but you're going to hit a lot of rough patches and if you're not really into it, it's going to be tough to kind of carry through. But if you really, really believe in what you're doing, then it doesn't really matter.

And he still matters. It still sucks to hit rough patches, but you'll be that much more resilient because there will be a lot of rough patches. Like no matter how great things seem like they're going fine. Being a founder is probably one of the craziest things to do.

Jeremy Au: (18:20)

Wow. That's deep. I love what you say. At the end of the day, don't wait to do what you want to do. I think that self-discovery moment is huge, actually. What's interesting is that you chose to also purchase from a blockchain perspective and also from funding and startup support. So those are two very different angles. So how did your ideate to then come around to this second approach?

Cliff Szu: (18:41)

Yeah, from our previous startup and also from the multiverse experience. We realized that actually a lot of times investors get the short end of the stick and founders often feel the same way where they feel like they're kind of both being screwed. And I think that one of the hallmarks of blockchain is, which is very contrary to, I think with a lot regulators think but is extremely transparent, it's indelible, it's transparent, it’s permanent.

And so I think that's one of the most powerful things about a blockchain. To me, it doesn't make that much sense to run a competition on chain or to run a database on chain. I think most people who study computer science would kind of see it as it's kind of like a write once database, not like maybe the best place to run a ton of parallel computations or something, but for something that needs to be indelible, that needs to be transparent, it’s amazing.

And so our idea is when you're an investor, a lot of times, all you have is the honesty of the founder and maybe a dock like a theft or a safe, and that's all you have that's kind of between you and them, kind of, screwing over the investor and other direction too where there's a lot of he said, she said and I think a lot of founders feel that burn also.

So our ideas that we write, everything goes on chain, everything from the vesting schedule of the founder to the lockups to the actual safes, all those things go on chain. And so there's no more he said, she said. There's no question about what you signed up for and there's no way for someone to like, oops, I drained a whole bank account. Bye bye. 

That can happen because everything is controlled by these Onchain Smart Contracts in our platform. And so there's a very, very fixed vesting schedule. There's ways to get out of those if you need to, but that involves a governance of people voting on chain again. So I think all of those things provide this transparency that is so essential for people to make startups in a safe way.

And as far as we know, I think it's a fairly unique approach, especially given that we allow this to work for startups, for nonprofits, for essentially any organization that's doing this kind of contractual agreement between a funder and a builder.

Jeremy Au: (20:37)

Why blockchain? So there's so many ways to power this. That could be as simple as, Hi, I'm a trusted database, and I won’t screw you over as a platform all the way to blockchain. So why that choice as the infrastructure?

Cliff Szu: (20:51)

I know that I trust my co-founders and I think our investors trust us. But if you're a founder who is using our platform, they don't necessarily know us personally. Same with another investor who's using our platform. They might not know who we are. And really, we look at a trusted database. Let's say it's a central database that's like saying, OK, we're just crafting a database and it'll be fine.

And then you look at like Microsoft just got hacked yesterday. I think their cloud database offering just got hacked. In that case, I think they're able to export data. But what if you're able to import or write data into that? So what if data gets corrupted? And then I think an even bigger risk is the human factor. And maybe like in the company, everyone is great. No one's ever going to mess anything up. But you never know. As a company keeps growing, you have more and more linkages, more and more people coming in and out. You hear about like in Tesla, where people are paying people to inject malware into their systems. It's much safer, I think, to have a blockchain that's publicly visible, publicly verifiable. 

When it's publicly visible and verifiable then there's this extra level of trust between the founder and the funders, right? We should be transparent. We should be just getting out of the way, letting them work their magic, build their company. And if they have to worry about our database security or worry about is someone in the back going to flip a bit so that the vesting schedule goes from six years to six months. That's something that no founder needs to worry about in our system.

Jeremy Au: (22:05)

What's interesting about this is that you're making a set of decisions going from point A to point B, which is saying, I'm going to help these people get to the next stage. You're going to be handling these records. We have a blockchain approach. From the outside in, a lot of folks I know are kind of confused, and so from their perspective is how do you know whether a blockchain startup is legit, are not legit? Because there's quite a lot of bad apples we know running around as well. So how do we go about doing from an employee or joiner perspective?

Cliff Szu: (22:38)

Yeah, that's kind of like the million dollar question. I think the easiest way to tell is just look at who's backing them because they can do a lot of due diligence. These are professional investors. They're VCs, their funds. They've seen like hundreds or thousands of good and bad from every scam to every top quality company or project. I think that proxy’s very powerful.

But I think that despite that, that filter is very, very powerful. There's no reason not to kind of leverage the expertise of those professionals. I've heard of other ones where they're like, Oh, they look at their source code or something. There's very, very few people who I think are qualified to evaluate source code for quality, even verifying that it's not just copied from somewhere else and just modified a little bit.

Maybe there are, I could be wrong. I'm not an expert in this one. But I do think that the strongest filter I can think of is professionals. I would be very hesitant to just rely on what this team looks amazing. The people they list on their team page aren't even on the team. So I don't think that the team page or what they post on their medium, there's a lot of sophisticated bad players that doesn't really improve very much, but you have to figure that they're investors, they're meeting with them regularly, they're talking to them, they have contracts with them, they're doing due diligence on them.

It's a very different level of diligence. I hate to say that's like the only way because I think, again, I'm a big believer and if you don't have a lot of expertise in area, you probably shouldn’t have a strong opinion about it. I mean, that's actually the thing we leverage on our platform. We leverage to professional investors as well as advisors.

So it's kind of like a pre-filter for people who want to see, OK, well, I don't know much about this space, but this VC really knows their stuff and they think it's a good idea. Or they have these problems and I agree with these problems.

Jeremy Au: (24:18)

That's actually a fair point that you’ve raised. I think, the difference between startups and blockchain in terms of verticals is just that I think the sophistication of the bad apples in blockchain is really the big difference versus bad apples in marketplaces. Pretty obvious in a marketplace thing. It’s like do you have the transactions or not? You have the customers or not.

To some extent there's a little bit of what you talked about is like the arcane-ness or the difficulty of also going to the fundamental reality what's happening. How would you recommend someone to figure out the fundamental reality? Like how do they get smart? Is it like reading coin telegraph? A lot of early stage startups, they may not yet have the legit investors coming in, so they're trying to join a team early.

So how do they go about understanding the fundamental business of what they’re trying to build? Any books, resources, approaches to get smart quick?

Cliff Szu: (25:09)

I can just list of mistakes that we've made, I guess…maybe for the best way. Definitely, I think you have to be careful who you listen to. So actually, big fan of Ray Dalio’s Principles book. He defines it as someone who's believable is someone who's done something successfully three times at least. And I kind of agree with that. Founders, if they've had one successful startup and then they think that they now can see the future of the universe.

And I think that there's not a whole lot data points. Maybe they're lucky, maybe not. And so when you do try to get expertise from someone, make sure that they've been successful in understanding space or investing in space or understanding companies of these couple of times, hitting it lucky once doesn't really give you expertise. So I would look at the true experts in the space.

I think actually the popular media explanations are pretty good. Nathaniel Popper, he writes very well researched articles about the space and I think that's a good place to start because I think if you go straight to coin telegraph, it's really technical. I'm not sure if I understand all these terms. So I think starting with like New York Times articles and stuff like that, it's not a bad place.

It's not a bad place to start, but definitely find those people that aren't just good talkers but actually have done it a couple of times.

Jeremy Au: (26:18)

What do you think are some of the myths and misconceptions about blockchain?

Cliff Szu: (27:25)

There's people who are like security maximalist? Going maximalist is probably not as risky as going fast and loose like famous Twitter people. Without taking into account like how long is it going to take and how many people can participate in that network. I think those are the things that people forget. You end up with a non-distributed network because only people of super-fast connections can actually run a node.

I think the biggest myth is that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what blockchains can be good for and what they're not necessarily good for. I remember like in 2017/2018, there was a lot of kind of just run everything on blockchain and a lot of big companies were guilty of this too. They're like trying to kind of catch the wave.

There's a need to separate the kind of marketing hype from what's actually possible from a computer science standpoint. I think the other one I would also say is a big myth is that I think a lot of products really do need to have a lot of techno babble in their project to make it seem like very technical and very almost like obfuscated.

I don't think that's necessary. I think it's actually better if things are more easy to understand. We're still trying to figure out that balance ourselves. We're definitely not innocent of that sin. The good news about our team is that we do know that we don't know a lot of stuff, and so we're really open to learning.

I think those two things are the things I see a lot of. And then I guess there's also this final one, which is kind of like meme ideas, meme powered tokens. Because they're not powered by something that's kind of fundamental, they don't tend to last.

Jeremy Au: (27:48)

What's interesting is that you touch on a whole bunch of different myths, and it reminded me of another point of view from a friend that I'd love to get your point of view on. And I think the way that she articulated it was at one level, this idea is about infrastructure. So building the infrastructure for what's the value that can be created. And so that there. And then the stuff that has economic value, which we're trying to figure out, can this be done on a blockchain or is this better or 10x better because it’s on a blockchain, and if people are figuring it out, which is fair and then there’s a big chunk which is there's no economic value, so everyone's kind of scratching their head a little bit.

And so that's how she articulated that box. And I kind of laughed a little bit because that's like the outside-in box. I think one of the tricky parts is that there's also a huge amount of like funding velocity because a lot of the cash flow for blockchain is coming internally from a blockchain ecosystem, which doesn't respect, frankly, the traditional gatekeepers of capital, like you said, VC and legit people.

And so these people who are new gatekeepers or new nodes of legitimacy and signal are also a kind of like different or less clear from other people's perspective. So how would you think about that?

Cliff Szu: (29:00)

There actually is respect for the traditional gatekeepers. The only data point I have is really our own project. I think I talk to people and I've asked them is like, why did you back us now? Well, the main reason I backed is because I know that these other funds, they're smart. But at the same time, I do think that there is a need for democratization of it, because if you look at the whole GameStop, EMC, all these things, there's this desire to kind of like to stick it to these kind of big hedge fund people, which I totally get.

Having worked at big banks, I think a lot of those people are actually really great, really wonderful, nice people. But at the same time, I can see that it's frustrating. I hate to say it, but the system is set up in a way to really, really give private equity. And maybe to a lesser degree, hedge funds like insane amounts of tax shelters and protections that normal people don't get.

So I could totally understand the sentiment. I want to stick it to the man. I don't think it's like as much about sticking to the man, in my opinion, because it's the thing of don’t hate the player, hate the game. If the game is set up in a way to favour carried interest, then funds are going to be set up to exploit that because otherwise they're paying twice as much tax. And of course, they play a hand in shaping those policies.

But anyways, I digress. The point is, is that I think people want to at least have a level playing field. I think that that's the key part right? People don't want to be like getting leftovers after the big funds are kind of done with things. And that's that's kind of the fundamental premise of our platform, is that VCs and ordinary people can support a project at the same time.

They don't have to, like get the leftovers after the VC’s are done with all their rounds. And I think that that kind of collaboration is pretty powerful because if you look at the power of the Reddit community here and look at the power of the short squeezers, they have incredible power when they think alike and that kind of market moving power, I think, is something that professional investors should probably look at also.

So I think that collaboration, it's not just regular people learning from the VC’s it's the other way around as well. VC’s learning from like what regular people want, what regular people are feeling and the sentiment of the community, I think is really, really powerful. That's the entire premise of our platform, really. It's just like leveling the playing field, not to give an advantage to one or the other.

We're not like blocking out VCs either. Let's be honest, if a VC wanted to create account on our platform or sibling account, they can still do that. So we can't, like, block them out anyways. You could just register as an individual. So I think why not kind of create the synergy between these two groups and realize that we're all people and will actually just excited about startups and so why don't we learn from each other instead?

Jeremy Au: (31:28)

Wrapping things up, could you share with us a time that you have been BRAVE?

Cliff Szu: (31:32)

I think that what I did to create a great paying job with a stock and I was going to turn it into like Google stock. I think a lot of founders have done that. I don't think it's that exceptional to leave something that seems like a sure bet. I did finish school. I didn't drop out, so I didn't do any of those crazy things.

I can tell you. How about this? I'll tell you a future brave thing I'll be doing in the next 75 days. So I don't know if it's brave. It's maybe more just crazy. I've kind of realized that I started living like a maximalist life. What I mean by that is like the opposite of minimalist. Anyways, yeah, without going into too much crazy detail.

At one point, I was living in Palo Alto, and then I had two other homes that were not being used, and I was like, This is getting kind of ridiculous. And so in about 75 days, I'm going to be vacating my home. We're going to let some other people who are maybe slightly less fortunate live in those homes.

My wife and I are going to pack everything that we need into carry-on bags and become nomadic. And I'm going to go and visit all the founders on multiverse, capture their story. I mean, most of my luggage is going to be like camera equipment, some clothing, of course. It's not something I've ever done before. I used to travel a lot when I was younger, and that's actually what made me realize that there's a lot of smart people out in the world who just need better access to these startup tools.

So that's what I'm doing soon. And we're going to do it in the middle of a raging pandemic, which I heard is either a great time to travel or completely insane. Yeah. Next time you'll see me, I'll probably be in Southeast Asia or something like that and interviewing some cool founder who's trying to make change in the world.

Jeremy Au: (33:05)

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Cliff, for sharing all of that. I'll love to wrap things up by sharing the three big takeaways I got from this. 

The first, of course, is thank you for that very frank, professional and personal view on bootstrapping versus VC. That was a strong set of articulation around the fact that you're successful in bootstrapping it, and also you felt trapped by that success versus what could have been in terms of pushing harder and faster for more growth, especially with such a strong set of foundations and to some extent the dark side of bootstrapping, which is a super advanced form of having a good business. Most people never get to see their side. I think it's interesting to just share that so that people are aware and it’s interesting that you're building this new startup, that is using venture capital to go for the next stage. And we talk a little bit about some of the legit signals and folks that provide some level of authority and legitimacy and the space as well.

The second of course is thanks for sharing about blockchain myths. I had a great discussion about how you got into it and why you're building the multiverse AI in terms of helping other founders over blockchain approach. I also enjoyed, I think, a little bit of a conversation about how to differentiate between good blockchain teams versus sophisticated bad players. I don't think we really got into enough detail there because it's hard for everybody, even for sophisticated folks to understand. And I think there's a lot of good references that you've referred people to or reading materials or how to think about problem, including seeing who are the people who are backing them as well. 

And lastly, I love your philosophy that kind of permeated the entire thing and conversation. I'll paraphrase it as don’t wait to do what you want to do. That realization after your personal health, your epiphany there and making a decision to move to the next company, but also how you just articulated that in a different way. Your story about bravery, about leaving to build a company and using some of the dark side of the force, but also more recently in the next 75 days about don’t wait to do what you want to do, which is to travel and live a simpler life based on experiences.

So thank you so much, Cliff, for sharing everything with us.

Cliff Szu: (35:16)

Thank you. Thanks for doing this podcast.