Michael Smith Jr.: Embracing Generalism, Parenting in the Age of AI and Technology Duality (Good vs. Bad Faith Actors) - E291

· Founder,Southeast Asia,Parents


“The world is going to be more generalist. It’s tough to pick one thing. I find that I can let myself off the hook by not picking one thing and doing lots of things and learning. Fortunately, in tech careers, that can work. A lot of papers call it deep generalism. People that you think are specialists have a background in being more of a generalist until they found something they loved and excelled at.” - Michael Smith Jr.

“​I don't think the Southeast Asia ecosystem is bad. We’re seeing the first true downturn. This is the most layoffs we have ever seen in big tech in our own backyard. I'm fortunate that I'm okay, but I know people that are not and I totally get that, but I don't think you can put a stamp on the whole thing and say it is messed up.” - Michael Smith Jr.

“This idea of unfettered access to a supercomputer for an 11-year-old is not a good thing. I'm glad I didn't experience that, but I do think computers are a part of our life and AI is real. I'm in the camp that says this is going to be like a superpower that will allow us to do more things, but there will always be people that are bad actors. I do think it will help more often than not. It's an interesting time because it's moving faster at a speed that we're not used to and there's still a lot of figuring out to do.” - Michael Smith Jr.

During the discussion between  Jeremy Au and Michael Smith Jr., APAC GM of Microsoft for Startups, several key insights were shared. Firstly, Michael emphasized the value of being a generalist in the startup ecosystem, having experience as an investor, builder, and potentially exploring new avenues in the future. He highlighted the importance of adaptability and learning from diverse experiences.

Secondly, Michael discussed his parenting philosophy, sharing how he raised his children differently by limiting their exposure to smartphones and social media. He emphasized the importance of fostering independence and creativity in children, allowing them to have a childhood free from excessive technology use.

Lastly, the conversation delved into the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on startups. Michael expressed his belief that AI can be a powerful tool for startups to enhance productivity and reach broader markets. However, he also cautioned against blindly investing in pure AI ventures, noting the need for further development and infrastructure before such investments become more viable.

Overall, the discussion showcased Michael's experiences as a generalist, his thoughtful approach to parenting, and his insights on the role of AI in the startup ecosystem.

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Jeremy Au: (01:17)

Hey, Michael, excited to have you on the show.

Michael Smith Jr.: (01:20)

Me too. It's been a while. I know. We've been trying to schedule this for a while.

Jeremy Au: (01:25)

The hardest part about the podcast is finding a time that works for everybody. Well, you know, there's so many people who say good things about you, Michael. They say that you're a thinker. You say you're a doer, and they say that you're not afraid to be contrarian.

Michael Smith Jr.: (01:37)

That's true.

Jeremy Au: (01:38)

Yeah. So, really excited to hear a little bit about your journey. Could you just introduce yourself real quick?

Michael Smith Jr.: (01:44)

Yeah. So Michael Smith, a pretty generic name. Been in Asia since 1999. Moved to Hong Kong from San Francisco, working in tech, and never went back. I've lived in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and Singapore, and been in Singapore for about 15 years, always involved with startups, and yeah, just super excited.

I'm currently working at Microsoft. Before this, I was at AWS. Before that, I was at Seed Plus. I think you know about that. And then before that, I was at various startups and then even Yahoo was my first Singapore job actually, back when Yahoo was a big deal. So yeah, I've been in the region for a long time. Always been in tech, if not even, almost always scope two or around startups, and just loved being in Southeast Asia and loved the scene. And I think I'm pretty lucky to have found it at the time that I did.

Jeremy Au: (02:36)

You were sharing with me personally about how you've really seen not just the growth of Southeast Asia tech, but also you were there before it began, right? The land before time.

Michael Smith Jr.: (02:45)


Jeremy Au: (02:46)

So tell me more. How did you get into it?

Michael Smith Jr.: (02:48)

So I think, I think a lot of times it's luck. I mean, I was kind of in a startup in San Francisco dating myself called WebLogic. It was one of the first Java things, and it was a startup and funded, and got acquired, and that was my first taste of everything. But then, I kind of wasn't in startups for a while. And then I got to Asia and I started working for Yahoo. Yahoo at the time kind of had a developer thing they were trying to do. So I was the Yahoo Developer Network guy for Southeast Asia. I took over from Zhao Xiong, the guy at, famous coder in our in our Singaporean ranks. And then, what we were, the developer thing, you would talk to startups, but the scene wasn't big yet. I got really lucky and somehow fell into meeting Ming Wong within the first of weeks, and Ming Wong's like, hey, let's get together on a Saturday down in Arab Street. I'm looking for a place to do hackerspace and that was like week two of Singapore and Yahoo. So this pre-dates JFDI. It pre-dates literally all the funds.

I don't think there’s a Jungle or Golden Gate or anybody at that time. There was Hackerspace. Then later, as you know, they built JFDI. So, to me, like, there were people coming in and out and talking about startups. I think Techstars was even here at the time because Techstars helped JFDI get started, but it definitely wasn't like local funds and there weren't all the government programs quite yet.

Apart from Hackerspace, there weren't places people were going, and there weren't coworking spaces. So, I don't think anybody would've known we'd be looking at what we'd look at today from what we saw then, but I also feel like you kind of got to give credit to Singapore, as in the government, for correctly listening and reading the room and realizing that this could be something for Singapore.

You know, the little red dot could be the home of Startup Central, both funds and family offices, and, and I think sometimes people don't give them the credit for what you see today, is because of that, the early matching programs and the grants and letting Block71 have practically free real estate.

Those are big moves and I don't think, you can see even the other governments around the region still can't figure it out to that level, and Singapore's going on a decade of this kind of prolonged approach and it's worked, right? And I think sure, it's come with some of the other problems like inflation and people moving in and you know, you always have some other side of the coin, but you still got to look at it and realize man, you have some homegrown funds that are on, like fund three and fund four. You have exited, you have multinationals, headquartering here. I think it's a tribute to all that. I think it's a great place to be. I feel pretty lucky to find it when I did, but also to have like a front-row seat and watch it all., I remember hanging out with Hian when he was still at Asia Food Channel and then coming to Block71 with the first NSI, North Star, Silicon Island.

So now look at them, Open Space fund, what, three or four? It's pretty amazing how fast it's happened, right? We're not talking 20 years here. You're talking like that growth path is what, seven or eight years? So, Yeah. Excited that it's happened and I'm glad, and I always tell people I don't know why I would go anywhere else even now. I have no desire to leave Singapore.

Jeremy Au: (05:57)

Shout out to Hian, and I think he has really done a tremendous amount of work funding and building out the local ecosystem.

Michael Smith Jr.: (06:02)

It's great he's a Singaporean too, right? It's kind of cool that it's a local because I always associate him with being a Singaporean first and doing this and kind of wearing both hats really well to put Singapore on the map. He's not the only one. I wouldn't say that, but it's pretty important that it's been a Singaporean at the helm of one of these things, kind of like helping the agenda and showing what Singapore can do, plus being an operator who's turned into a funder. It's, it's really awesome because it's, I think it's a good piece of the ecosystem like that. And I know there's other funds that are like that as well, but I think what I always tell people is a lot of people don't know when they come from overseas and even if they're in the system, they don't realize sometimes how many homegrown funds there are, between Monk's and Golden Gate and Jungle, and I'm sure I'm forgetting people, Open Space.

It's pretty good, right? Like it's because you need a healthy mix sometimes of the regional slash international funds and the locals, and I think we have a good calling card of local funds that have gotten quite big and that can, you know, handle now the B's and the C's and that's I think, another healthy part of the ecosystem.

Jeremy Au: (07:05)

You know, there's a lot of doom and gloom, obviously about the Southeast Asia ecosystem. You know, we've had collapses like Zilingo, Zipmex, there's all the headlines et cetera, and I understand that you have a different take on it.

Michael Smith Jr.: (07:19)

Yeah, I think it's like natural that this stuff's going to happen and I think that like, I definitely don't want to get in the specifics of any one of them, but for sure, things went wrong and sideways, but come on, America's got Elizabeth Holmes and so I think anytime, you kind of line up capital and the opportunity to make potentially fast money because a startup growing fast and a founder exiting or taking secondaries, that's much different than someone's like a 20-year career to maybe do that, that's going to entice some people off the sidelines that are bad actors, right?

Maybe they didn't even initially start that way, but they become that, and I think when there's kind of loose money, which is a little bit what's happened with the low-interest rates, then you're going to see some of this. I don't think it's like a, "Oh wow, the ecosystem's bad", but I do think this ecosystem probably hasn't felt a downturn before, the dot com thing didn't matter here. The GFC didn't really affect startups. So you're kind of seeing the first true downturn. This is the most layoffs you've ever seen in Big Tech in our own backyard. I can get down about it. I'm fortunate that I'm okay, but I know people that are not, they're for sure down about it, and I totally get that, but I don't think you can put a stamp on the whole thing and say it's messed up. It's terrible. I think that's wrong because you still got to look at the starting point to where we are, and I do think the one thing you can kind of say about the ecosystem that's probably a fact is the exit environment's not fantastic, the public markets are not as good as the American ones, and the few that have tried it, their stocks are not going well. So that's probably a fact, and that does create this, you can see a lot of these funds where their fund one is not really exited and they're on their like fund four because of the ecosystem.

I think it's natural and I think it's a problem with the markets. I think it's not China, it's not India, and Southeast Asia isn't one unit, right? People like to act like it is. It's not one unit, it's a discrete group of countries. So I do think that's a real predicament, but I don't think that that's what's caused some of these problems.

I think the loose money, I think the crypto kind of nuttiness, there was some good in it, there was a lot of bad. It all kind of swelled into this, too much capital, people getting rich plus where was the legitimate stuff? It's a fact, you can see it, but I don't think it would be fair to kind of saran wrap the whole ecosystem and say, ooh, it's pretty bad over here, because you and I both thought, you walk around on the street every day. That's not the general feeling, right?

Jeremy Au: (09:57)

I think, obviously, you have a lot of experience seeing this across the region and across different roles. So I'd love to hear a little bit about that. You're an operator, right? You're working in startups, and then after that, you chose to be an investor for a while. I would love to hear a little bit about what was your thinking at that decision. What was going through your mind?

Michael Smith Jr.: (10:16)

I would love to tell you it's all planned, but it is definitely not. I think there are two rules of thumb that I have realized throughout my life. I'm more of a generalist than a specialist, but I guess I just embrace it. I'm okay with it. I've done text up, I've done sales, I've done product management, I've done marketing. I would never probably say I'm amazing at each one individually, but I feel like I'm a solid generalist and I enjoy the context-switching and learning.

Then, I think the second thing, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't as good as a person as I should have been in my late twenties and early thirties. We learn a lot, but I tried to really, over the last 15 years or so, really think consciously about trying to be a good person in the ecosystem, and I think people know me, know that you can book time with me. I'm not an ego about it. I'm like, yeah, great. Let's book some time. Let's have a coffee. I have like seven Calendly links to manage it and because I kind of espouse to networking as a form of paying it forward because it's like if I can meet you and help you, that's great. That's all I need out of it, and maybe you can do the same for someone else. We all won, right? There's no pay gate, or paywall to that scenario. But that, over the last probably 20 years, it is probably the key to my career because literally every job, it is not so much me raising my hand and saying, I want to go there, somebody's calling me, and it's usually somebody that's in a past job may not be the very latest one who says, Hey, this recruiter's asking me about this, and I said, Michael's perfect. You should call him, or someone else says, or they just know the hiring manager. And that's how I've gotten to everything, and it wasn't planned, but I feel like because I kind of trust these people that I've come to like, and I've come to spend time with, when they call and say, Hey, so-and-so's doing this and they're looking for that, you should talk to them. My immediate reaction is I should talk to them, and that's, even if I'm happy in my job, I'm still going to talk to you cause I'm like, I want to hear about what you're doing. And then I'll hear about the role and then I'll go, you know what? It's been three or four years doing what I'm doing. It's not bad. I'm okay with it. But wow, this sounds a little bit more interesting and a change. I'm going to do it. And that's kind of how I've marched through all the roles. And then I think the investor thing also happened because I worked with David Gowdy at Yahoo. And then David ends up at Jungle and then David calls me and then it's like, yeah, I wasn't even thinking about this, but that sounds pretty interesting.

Then I'm there, right? And then that led me to AWS. And AWS led me to Microsoft. So I think it's, I'm lucky I'll always admit that, because I think it's true, but at the same time I think I've had to try to embrace generalism and I also try to make sure that I'm, I always say, come hell or high water, try to be nice to people, even in my work environment, because I think that leads to these other things.

So these two things together have allowed me to move around, and I would say the North Star is, it must be around startups. So if I'm doing the seed fund, it's for startups. If I was at AWS, I was selling to startups at Microsoft. I'm trying to do startups. Even the SingTel thing was a startup inside of SingTel. I have to be around that because it moves faster. It's a little more democratic and it's tech that's interesting. If you took me out of that pattern, I think I wouldn't do very well, and I wouldn't be very satisfied either.

Jeremy Au: (13:40)

What's interesting is that I think your love and passion for startups kind of like comes out and shines through. It's interesting that you got the experiment with being an operator and an investor, and your comrade and colleague Tiang, for example, your partner in crime back then, you know, he was on a previous podcast and he shared that he joined for a certain set of reasons, different. But then, more importantly, he chose to continue being an investor, and so, they often say, even if you embrace generalism that different roles you can embrace generalism with. So what was your learning that said like, okay, you know what, I'd rather be an operator and an executive with this path? How is that?

Michael Smith Jr.: (14:17)

I think it wasn't super thought out. I think it's like, without getting too much into the weeds, I don't think we probably thought that Seed Plus was going to be one fund and that was it. I don't think it was really the roadmap per se, but that's what happened. When it came to that juncture, I think I probably have, you know, I have three kids. I'm a foreigner living in Singapore. It's not quite as cheap as a Singaporean living here, but I was kind of thinking like, one of the things, when people talk to me, I'm overly candid, I'll admit that. The startups and funds are always what I call delayed compensation jobs.

If it works, if you get an exit, you're going to get paid a lot of money later. Same with the fund, right? But it doesn't really come to you a month to month or even annually, and I think I'd kind of looked at my career for 10 plus years as being on what I call delayed compensation type of jobs that they were startups or they were funds. And I haven't had an exit in any of my paths in Asia and my kids were getting older and I'm like, you know what? I probably just need a normal job for a while, but in startups and maybe at some executive level, as kind of a stop-gap to doing something different down the road. So that's what led me to AWS and then AWS led me to Microsoft, but, I definitely miss investing a lot and Tiang knows. I bug him all the time. I think we were all sitting there together trying to figure things out, and he was very headstrong about "I'm going to go start a fund," and I really applaud him for sticking with it and doing it and I think he's built something pretty amazing with Forge.

But for me, just the timing was off for what I needed out of life, but I suspect I'm going to eventually come back around at a startup or add a fund or even build something myself because I don't think I'm a little bit older than everybody that I'm usually working with. I still feel like I have one in me or have this desire to craft something or like I say, just build something. I don't know if it's a fund to start up a studio. I'm kind of leaving it open-ended, but I think once you kind of do those things, it's hard to think you would never do them again because it is very interesting and fun and can be financially rewarding, but at the same time, you're just constantly meeting founders and doing stuff and it's very invigorating. I would say I miss it pretty dearly.

Jeremy Au: (16:39)

You said this phrase “embrace generalism”. What does that mean to you? And I think you implied that there was a trade-off. There are some requirements to come to grapple with it.

Michael Smith Jr.: (16:49)

That's a good question. So I think like my upgrading's pretty non-standard, so I went to grammar school through eighth grade and America's one through eighth and then ninth through 12th. So I went to grammar school through eighth grade at a small school, and then where my parents lived and where we were at the time, high school is quite a ways away, and my parents were kind of like, I think we're going to homeschool, and then my other brother and I'm like, okay, great. So I did homeschooling for high school. I never went to high school. Never set foot on a campus or anything. It was all remote, and this is before computers. You're not even talking about remote computers. It's, they send you a box of books every quarter and you have your tests and your mom administers the test. So that was my high school, and then I went to junior college for computer science and writing and mostly had to go to night school and work during the day to afford it.

I've always been kind of like, there's a different route, but I always was around the technology, but when I dropped into technology, I started to realize pretty early on, I'm not a good engineer. I'm not a good coder. I like it. I actually still make myself crazy by like, let me try to play with rust. It's a new language and I literally like hate all three hours of it, but I'm trying to keep my mind around code, but I realized engineering was not going to be my thing. So then I kind of said, well, okay, I got into sales engineering, and then I got into product management. I started to systematically work it as a way of getting better at the whole thing, but I would probably never say I'm amazing at one thing. Now, sometimes I suspect if I was doing one thing and I finished university, maybe my path would look more like this. I don't really know, but I actually think the world's going to look more like a generalist type of thing, and I talk to my kids about that, that how do you know what to focus on? The world is changing, especially with all this AI stuff. It's tough to pick one thing, but I find that I can let myself off the hook by not picking one thing and doing lots of things and learning. It's okay, and fortunately, in tech careers, that can work. And there are a lot of papers about this, deep generalism, they call it, and I think, one of the ones I always like is the guy that I'm spacing on the name. He wrote a book about this and one of the things is that they always use the Federer example where you might have thought Federer's been doing tennis since he was four years old and he's not. Tennis was one of the things that he did. He liked football, and I think something else, and his parents always told him to do everything, but then later he just started getting better at tennis than anything else, but I think it was not until it was like late teens, early twenties that he focused on it, but he always kept talking about football.

So, I think it's called Rome. It's this idea, but a lot of people that you think are specialists actually have a background in being more of a generalist, but then found something they loved and they excelled at, and I think that's what's happened over the later stage of my career. I do think there's some conscientious to it because you could do a lot of things and not do them well, and that might not be a good strategy either, but I think it works well to say I can cover a range of things, but articulate them around startups and an ecosystem, and then that's kept me quite grounded. And I don't know if this works for everybody. I think it's, I see other people that just say, I'm going to be a really great coder and that's what I do, and that's, great. I think it depends what excites you. What floats your boat probably might help decide this for you, but the advice I give my kids is, Hey, I'm kind of worried about the future. So the best way to have an insurance policy for the future is either be an amazing specialist, like you really nail something, or realize that you're probably going to have a lot of different careers in your life and you should just be ready for it now, that that's kind of how it'll work.

Jeremy Au: (20:30)

So I got to ask, you have a four-year-old, a ten-year-old, and a fifteen-year-old, right? And you know, I think a lot of parents out there are very anxious. People were really anxious before, right? Security, economics, and so so forth. Technology. There's this big wave, and you kind of actually have like what kids both in the Gen Z and probably the generation alpha, that's what they call that.

Michael Smith Jr.: (20:49)

Because they're split.

Jeremy Au: (20:50)

It's a split, right? So they're actually on both sides of that arbitrary definition, right? So I'm just kind of curious, so to talk a little bit about it, which is what about your own childhood are you still teaching your kid in terms of principles, and what are you doing differently from how you are raised versus how you're raising your kids?

Michael Smith Jr.: (21:06)

Yeah, I think one of the differences, is I grew up in the mountains and like free-range kind of thing. So I think it's a little bit different than your Singapore, but one of the things I try to teach all my kids is just some level of independence. And I think Singapore's, for some people they might realize it's a really great place for kids to teach independence. When my kids start Primary I because they're in a local school, they take the public bus to school. That's what they do, and I just start teaching them a couple of weeks before that. That's the route that you're doing, and I put them on the bus. I'll probably ride with them the first week and then I'm done, and in fact, my daughter had to get special permission as a Primary I to leave the school campus because, in Singapore schooling, they don't like Primary Iƒ students to leave the campus alone. You have to be the Primary II. So I had to go down to the school and sign some papers that said she's allowed to leave by herself because that's the way I'm okay with parenting her.

Michael Smith Jr.: (21:58)

So independence for me is big. It's like there's the laundry, there's the food. And that's something I learned from my mom because my parents had five boys. We're each four years apart and Mother was not going to do everything. There was always an age where she would say, that's the washing machine. That's the thing to cook. So I try to do that. I don't think I'm doing as well as my mom did, but I try to do that.

Michael Smith Jr.: (22:19)

Then the second thing is just trying to like, not grounding them that it's the academic testing regime that's going to make you successful, that those things will help you, but it's kind of getting grounded in what you like to do and the way you learn and the way you might become self-sufficient. Also, making money is probably more important because I can't recall what I did on my tests when I was young at this age of my life. Does anybody, but you know how Singapore works? They're very focused, your PSLEs, and I get it. I think for some people that have an academic path, they're really focused on it, but what I try to tell them is it's not the only thing. It's important, you should spend some time on it, but you also should get outside and play at the park and you should learn music. So I'm trying to make them a little more of building that range idea into them and make them independent, and hope for the best because I think they still decide what to do on their own. I'm not sure if I'm winning that battle, but I try to say that it is your life. You should try to be happy, but I think sometimes they can get, to lose a lot of kid time because they're so focused on these academic principles.

And I did well in school, but I wouldn't necessarily say that school made any sort of special difference in my life other than learning how to learn and learning how to test. So I'm doing my best there to try to say life is going to be a long journey, and this generalism thing might work a little bit better for you, but you also need to be self-sufficient. So when we talked to my son about careers, you're going to need to make money. It's a fact. What type of things are going to work for you? What do you like? Is tech something you like? Is it the media stuff? Is it security stuff? Is it programming? You won't know until you probably start doing it and figuring it out because you might find that you're picking it today. But if that was your eight-hour-a-day job, you start to go, Ooh, I don't like it. Well, you won't know. So I told him, that's when you want to intern and play around a little bit, but I think it's back to that range thing. I think you can be a safer human in that mode, but that's my personal bet, but you're probably right to ask if that's what I'm imparting on him. I think so, but I think you'll have to look at them in 10 years and figure out if it worked. You have kids, you know what mean.

(24:22) Jeremy Au:

It is a delayed compensation as well.

(24:24) Michael Smith Jr.:

Yes, delayed child reading. How did it work? Ask me in 10 years.

(24:27) Jeremy Au:

I think that's the core of it, which is, I think every parent is kind of like scratching their head, myself included. I'm like watching my little kid. She sees an iPhone and she's like, oh, I'm going to leopard crawl my way there. Highly motivating.

(24:38) Michael Smith Jr.:

Yeah, and we're all very double standard, right? Like, oh, don't use your iPad more than five minutes and we're sitting there with our phones like, oh, it's work. It's okay, honey.

(24:44) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. Oh, here. Smile for the Instagram, you know.

(24:47) Michael Smith Jr.:

My four-year-old gets really good at this. She's like, put down the phone, look at me, she's already doing that, and I'm like, okay, put down the phone, because I know what she means. I'm trying to pretend that I'm paying attention to her, but I'm not. So it's fair, right?

(25:00) Jeremy Au:

It is totally fair.

(25:00) Michael Smith Jr.:

I think parents want double standards.

(25:02) Jeremy Au:

Oh. I was like, welcome to the world. My first lesson: hypocrisy.

(25:07) Michael Smith Jr.:

Exactly. Can you spell that, please? Yeah.

(25:10) Jeremy Au:

I think that's an interesting piece. Like you said, that duality right? Parents love screen time and parents are guilty and confused about screen time for their kids. And I think there's that same dynamic for so much of technology, for every technology change or innovation.

(25:24) Michael Smith Jr.:

Yeah, my daughter loves to, because she's so wordy, for some reason, at four years old, and so she'll say some sentences with a new word. And I'm like, well that's pretty good. Where'd you learn that word? And I'll say, did you learn that word at school? She's like, I learned it on YouTube Daddy. And I'm like, oh crap. I can't say YouTube's bad. She's learning words. It's like she's probably lying just to kind of like prep up the YouTube thing, but I also realized, yeah, they do learn from it. Should they be on it all the time? Probably not, but they are learning things, so it's, I don't know what it would look like because I can't, like when we were young, myself, there just wasn't anything like this. I don't even know what, how to come compare to it. I remember being kind of latched to the TV and my mom said, I've watched a lot of TV. And I'm like, really? I did? She goes, yeah, all the time. I'm like, because she goes, there was something to watch. She goes, now you've changed into the YouTube thing. It's like a TV. Maybe we're all like this.

(26:09) Jeremy Au:

I mean, yeah, I grew up listening to, watching GI Joe and all these TV shows. Now, I think everyone's watching YouTube. I think a lot of folks are obviously worried about AI, right? It's like the monster under the bed a little bit. It's like it's going to take our jobs. It's going to take our communication. It's going to lie to us. It's going to be the new best friend, or it's going to murder us in the form of a robot that is our kid's best friend. So there's a lot of anxiety, and so I think a lot of parents are asking themselves how to prepare, how to do it, how do you think about it?

(26:35) Michael Smith Jr.:

It's really funny I keep telling my kids, to use Chat GPT, you might love it. And they tune it out pretty quickly cause they like the interaction with their friends and stuff. So I don't know. I don't think any of us can really predict this stuff, but I also think it's important as people in technology to do our best, to do the right thing with it. But as you know, I think crypto is a fantastic example of people doing the wrong thing, but you could also have done the right thing, but a bunch of people did the wrong thing. I think the world is so close to feeling that and some of the social media things, that I do think the governments, all kind of saying we should be talking about this, is really a good thing. I'm not against regulation. So I think it's good that everybody's having this dialogue that says, Hey, we kind of saw what social media does to kids of a certain age, and that's bad. A lot of my kids, they don't have a phone. My son didn't have a phone until he is 15 because I just think it's bad for them. And my daughter has a, I found this phone that's like an LCD screen that only makes phone calls and does messages and that's her phone. because I want her to have something if there's an emergency, but there's nothing she can do with it. There's no social media, there's no camera.

I think this idea of unfettered access to a supercomputer to an 11-year-old, it's not a good thing. I don't think it's a good thing, and I'm glad I didn't have that situation, but I do think computers are a part of our life and AI is real. I'm mostly in the camp that says this is really going to be like a superpower and allow us to do more things, but obviously, there'll be people that are always bad actors for everything you do. But I do think it will help more often than not, but I do think it's an interesting time because it's probably moving faster, at a speed that we're not used to. I think there's a lot of figuring it out.

It's good that the governments are having a dialogue. I think it's good that big tech is having kind of an open discussion about this. As a parent, I don't know where to go with it. I told my daughter you might, so she does little stories with it. She thinks it's kind of fun because she writes a couple sentences and says, let's make a longer sentence. So I do think there's going to be an interesting aspect that kids that are used to computers are probably going to glom to this. The other thing I would say is, haven't we always wanted to talk to computers? And this is where I kind of get back to when people get really crazy about this stuff. I'm like, guys, it's mostly been in the domicile people writing code because that's what they're doing. They're talking to the chip with code. This is going to allow everybody to talk to the chip and also have a lot more data. Isn't that pretty cool because, mostly when I watched Star Trek, I'm excited by it. But I think it's just early days, but I kind of feel like we're getting down to where the communication style is almost generally how we work, which is speaking. I mean, come on, reading came when in our lives? Speaking was before that. So I feel like in some weird way, this is like coming full circle, that you're going to be able to speak to something that has all this knowledge and stuff, and of course, the good or bad could come out of it, but you could get what you want, what you put into it, which is mostly good. So I'm excited about it.

I do think if you bring this to the startup ecosystem, I think it's a pretty potentially scary and or amazing moment because I think if you're a startup that's not using it, and I don't mean to say that it takes over the world and you have to use it, but I think simply to say if you're a startup and you're not using it, you're probably going to get disrupted by somebody who does. And I think that's just a foregone conclusion, and that doesn't mean you become an AI startup or you're crazy about it. It just means if you can use this to be more productive, as your startup, your capital will go longer, you'll reach more markets, you should. And if you're not, somebody like you in the same business is going to, and that's probably going to disrupt you. And I think the pace of this will move quite fast. So I think in the startup scene, you got to pay attention to the stuff. You got to use it and you got to have an opinion on it.

I don't think you can sit back and say, Oh, I don't really need Chat GPT yet. It's like that's not what it's about. It's about AI kind of hitting the next step up. And I think as investors, you got to think the same thing. This thing that I'm investing in, if they're not using AI to do their job better, are they going to get disrupted by somebody who is? But on the other side of this, I would be really careful about investing in pure AI things because I think it's so early and I think the infrastructure people are going to get settled. I think there'll be a lot of new incumbents. It'll probably be a heavy capital gain. So I'm not sure I would go raise a bunch of money as a local startup to kind of go head to head with the AI players yet. I think that's pretty dangerous. But I think you got to have an opinion. I think you got to look into it. And I think generally speaking, the world's going to improve because of these things, but I know there's always the other side of the coin.

Jeremy Au: (31:10)

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

Michael Smith Jr.: (31:15)

I think for me, it was my move to Asia as a person, restarting my life was probably the bravest time in my life because I'm born and bred in the States. Sure. I traveled. I've been in Europe. I've been to Asia. I've worked, but it was just literally like, I'm going to relocate and I was thinking between Europe and Asia. It ended up being Hong Kong. For me, Hong Kong was a pretty big deal at the time, to move to something like that because I wasn't knowing a lot about Asia and I didn't speak any languages. I just was kind of like, this looks like the heart of Asia at the time that I'm looking. So that's 1999 and I'm going to go. And it was kind of a one-way ticket on the move because it was like I was moving, but I didn't really have a plan. And 24 years later, I'm here. I think that was my bravest moment as a person because I didn't have any family here. I didn't have any idea of where to take it next, but after a year or so, I was like, I'm staying in Asia. I don't have a plan, but I'm staying in Asia, and that's what I did. And I'm glad I did it. It's brought a whole different, you know, everything from family to just even being in the startup ecosystem because I think if I was in America starting at the same time, maybe I could have done okay too, but I think it would've been a much different thing that I'm experiencing today because there are all the cultures that come along with it and it's so diverse. So for me, I think that's my bravest life moment. There are probably other mini ones, but that's a pretty big one, and it put me on a trajectory. And it's the reason I'm even talking to you, is because I'm in Asia and I'm in the scene because I got on a plane how many years ago and said I'm moving to Hong Kong, and I'm glad I did and it's been a great experience.

Michael Smith Jr.: (32:55)

I think it's a little bit tough as you know when you get older and you have your kids to keep having this mobility. I missed that because I kind of think maybe there's another country to go to in Asia, but the kids kind of need that stability right now, but, I think that's my bravest moment and we'll always say like, I think I'm also very lucky that it's all worked out quite well for me, both from family. My wife is Thai. Meeting her when I lived overseas, having the kids, to becoming a resident in Singapore. Again, not a plan, but it all kept falling into place and I'm here. I'm pretty thankful for it. Yeah.

Jeremy Au: (33:25)

Wow. On that note, I'd love to summarize the three big themes I got from this. First of all, thank you so much for sharing about how you've embraced generalism, both as a philosophy, but also in all the different steps along the way, right? You love startups, you love tech. You discovered that, and yet you also use that time to experiment with being an investor, being a builder, and as you said, maybe you have one more in the gas tank for one more down the road, whatever that is. But I love that trade-off slash decision you made, and I thought that was a very reflective and thoughtful way of sharing it.

Jeremy Au: (33:54)

The second, of course, is thank you so much for sharing your parenting philosophy in terms of how you were raised versus how you're raising your kids differently in terms of the environment. I really like what you said about really holding true to the concept of sharing independence. I think it's such a beautiful story about what your mom gifted you and your siblings, and I think it's such a beautiful story about what you're gifting your kids as well. And now I know in Primary I, I need to get that waiver form because do the same.

Michael Smith Jr.: (34:19)

Teach them.

Jeremy Au: (34:20)

Yeah. Teach them. And lastly, I really enjoyed what you shared, a little bit about, it was a really parenting technology, waves, and artificial intelligence, but I think I really liked what we discussed a little bit about at one level you could say double standards and hypocrisy, but if you go deeper level, it's more like, Hey, there's good faith actors. There are bad faith actors. There's the future, there's a current, there's the certainty, the uncertainty. And I thought you did a nice way of sharing some of the duality that's happening there and it's not to say that there are any answers, but I think, as you said, there's a certain approach that you are taking personally, and thank you so much for being transparent about how you're doing it. And as you said, we have to find out in 10 years or more how it goes. In 10 years we're like, oh, we're wrong. Who knows? But I thought it was very nice for sharing that.

Jeremy Au: (35:02)


Michael Smith Jr.: (35:03)

Thanks for having me on too. It's fun.

Jeremy Au: (35:04)

It was fun. Thank you so much.

Michael Smith Jr.: (35:06)