Mo Jalil: US vs. SEA Tech Ecosystems, Building Talent Networks & Founder Tips - E142

· Founder,Start-up,Southeast Asia,USA,Podcast Episodes English

One of the reasons to open offices in somewhere like Southeast Asia is because of capital arbitrage. You wanna spend less money. Capex is lower. But actually, what you’ll find is that if you can build the right networks, you don’t have to compromise on talent or skill. A lot of people seem to think that there’s a trade off, and whenever I speak to investors a lot of them mention that and I just say, wait, hold on a second, hiring can be a problem, but if you built a good enough network then there’s good people everywhere, especially as the work becomes more remote - Mo Jalil

Mo is a serial entrepreneur, Goldman Sachs alumni and a guest lecturer at Monash University department of computer science discussing AI & entrepreneurship. Mo holds several degrees and is an alumnus of London School of Economics, UCL and King College London. His work has been featured in Forbes, Billboard, Adage and Mindshare and has won awards at Cannes Lion.

He is currently the co-founder of OpenFren and Metapair and has spent the last decade running startups across Europe, the US and Asia, in addition to being an advocate and conference speaker on the practical applications of NLP.

Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hey, Mo, welcome to the show.

Mo Jalil: (00:32)
Well, Jeremy, thanks for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this.

Jeremy Au: (00:35)
Well, it’s been nice to hang out with you. So, good to see you.

Mo Jalil: (00:42)
Yeah, that was such a great course, great course. So, again, we have to be on the podcast. I listened to a few episodes and they’ve been great. So, everyone else that’s listening in, should definitely go back and look at some of the last ones.

Jeremy Au: (00:54)
Well, I’m also excited because you are on the show and you have such an interesting journey, obviously, as a founder who’s on their second startup, also, your change of geography from Europe to America to, now, Southeast Asia. So, I think it would be an interesting journey for anybody who’s thinking about it. Watching you build up the enterprise automation space is going to be a good conversation topic for everybody as well.

Mo Jalil: (01:17)
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to going into that. I’m reading a book, we’ll touch on this later on in the call, it’s interesting especially when you built teams in Europe, US, and Asia, there’s a lot of learning that I think are non-obvious.

Jeremy Au: (01:32)
Awesome. For those who don’t know you yet, the way I do after six months of hanging out, how would you introduce yourself professionally?

Mo Jalil: (1:37)
I run a company called Metapair. It specializes in the enterprise automation space, particularly in business-to-business collaboration. So, every organization in the world works with other businesses, a lot of that work is manual and we use automation, RPA, AI to kind of make that process a little bit easier. So that’s what I do now. In addition to that. I am also a guest lecturer at Monash University, so I sometimes pop down there to give lectures on enterprise AI and application AI to their aspiring students and recent graduates. Prior to running this stuff, I ran another startup based in the US focused on partnerships as well, but it’s a bit more of a tech-enabled agency. Prior to being in the world of startups, I worked for many years in technology at Goldman Sachs, where I built automated trading platforms and the hedge fund world also.

Jeremy Au: (02:35)
Awesome. How did you make that transition into the technology world?

Mo Jalil: (02:40)
Originally, I’m gonna go back here a bit, but I don’t want to sound like an old man in my mid-30s. I’m going to go back to London, so I was born and bred in London and as a kid, it’s maybe a bit different for other people, my dad actually didn’t really like us watching TV. He was like TV is just like a waste of time and the reason why is - as a first-generation immigrant, he had to work hard like he came from a very hard life. He was the youngest son out of 11 siblings, so for him it was like entertainment is probably a waste time. Just keep working. So, we didn’t have TV, but what we did have was a computer, so I remember my father coming back one day. This was in the 90s and he bought a computer. It’s, saved a lot of money to do that and he said to me I really don’t know what this is going to do for us, but I know it’s important. I know things are gonna change, but I don’t know what it is. So, he’s put in a lot of money, he bought computer over there and that led me into…it’s actually quite a formative area of my life, because it led me into building software because we couldn’t really watch much TV as a kid, and so we spent most of our time learning. So what would happen is that we spend most of the day studying mathematics, studing science, STEM subjects, and if you’ve, I know this might be familiar for a lot of people from maybe Asian families, that this is something you do, you end up studying a lot of science. Computer was like a form of entertainment, form of creativity. So, one of the first things I did was we used to have a game. This was like the first Age of Empires…it’s maybe a long time ago, but the first thing you see if you like strategy games, Age of Empires is a game where you kind of take over other territories and you fight other kingdoms. I used to constantly get thrashed by my brothers, consistently, and I just couldn't take it and what you could do is you could actually hack or I say hack, but you basically modify hex files to increase the amount of gold that you have. So, for me it was a very strong incentive to stop being beaten in this game. I started to play around with Hex files and writing scripts, and that's how I start to get into technology, that's how it first started, and then, interestingly enough, when I started doing that, that had a positive effect on like my brothers, my siblings.

Jeremy Au: (04:38)
Wow! I love that story and I do remember the first Age of Empires and I had no idea until today that you could modify the hex files to get that happening, that’s awesome.

Mo Jalil: (04:50)
Yeah. Yeah, that was an entry point, but that was just the beginning of a much larger story. So around that time Internet had come to the UK, so this was like late, late 90s and AOL was the first Internet provider. I don’t know if many people know this, but what they would do is if you’re in the supermarket they would give away AOL CDs to connect to the Internet. So my dad, one day he’s like at Tesco’s. The Tesco’s is a large supermarket in the UK and they basically gave him like this AOL CD. You brought it home and put it in and he installed the Internet. He installed the Internet when that happened that basically opened up the doorway to the rest of the world ‘cause if you think about, at least, my life at that time was basically at home or at school and I had no real knowledge of the rest of the world and this was a glimpse into places like Japan, Korea, the US, it’s great ‘cause it basically blew my mind and for us that basically was, I think, the gateway drug. From there it’s been an addiction. My first company I wouldn’t really call it a company ‘cause we didn’t incorporate it technically as a company but I was 15 years old. My brother, younger brother, was 11 and what we did is we used to love reading, not Japanese comics. A lot of people read manga, so manga is like Japanese comics but we used to read Korean comics, Manhwa, maybe I’m pronouncing correctly, but the issue is we don’t read Korean like I can’t read the Korean language. What happen is we basically get together a bunch of other geeks like ourselves online, we do this over IRC, would say oh look, there's this new chapter of change guy coming out and that was one the comics or king of bowling like this is another one. It's like hey, could someone translate it and then it turns out that we weren't the only ones other people wanted the same thing and that formed small community online like hey, let's translate and just read these comics and we realized that we were doing this basically every week, we’d do it several times a week. So like, hey, let's like productionise it a bit, why don't we be a bit smarter? So we fired up an IRC server. We started building community and we're like, oh, you know, what? Sometimes the translator is not there. So, we need something like take his place. So, we then started recruiting a bunch of different translators and my younger brother was amazing. He’s great at recruiting. And then we’re like, oh, but hold on second, where do we host all these different files? So then we started to basically call up different service providers where we could host this content. We put together a forum and we and we basically put to the entire community to basically take these Korean mangas, translate them, and then we created a website where we could distribute them. So if you think about it was almost like crunchy rolls for…not for manga, but for Korean comics and we went from essentially 0 subscribes or zero downloads a month to, in four months, a million a month. A million downloads. Think about that and this, by the way, this was, I think, 2001, so we’re talking 20 years ago. So, this is a big thing. That was the first taste of like hyper growth and felt amazing. But then that all came to an abrupt end because one day, my dad came to the room and he was like what’s this massive like bill? It’s essentially a server bill and then try explaining to your dad what mangas are, what servers and basically banker mom and dad shut us down and I do think, actually, this is a really important point – location. This goes back to a theme, maybe in my life, location matters. I sometimes think had we been based in the valley, had we had the right support system, that could have become a business. So, location makes a difference.

Jeremy Au: (08:06)
Yeah, I think it’s so true and when you see all of that, it’s a very deep truth which is that I think there are so many kids who were all discovering the Internet in the same way and the truth of us, the majority of people, all of us, we had freedom and autonomy just to discover whatever you wanted, and some of us got shot down and some of us got nurtured. For me, I think I had a similar dynamic where I was given a computer and my parents had no idea why we just spent so much time on it and it was an interesting, weird place where chat forums and I always remember like we treated our blogs like they were private things. I’m typing my inner thoughts about A, B, C, and I have a crush of this and just wrote this diary and you just shared it online and he just thought like wow five people had read it and then suddenly discovered that 50 people reading it weirded out because too many people are reading it.

Mo Jalil: (09:02)
Yeah, like fifty was a lot back then.

Jeremy Au: (09:03)
It’s a lot back then. But, then, none of us were like, no, we should become an influencer; have millions of followers because there’s nothing else to read on the internet. Yeah, you know AltaVista, Ask Jeeves,

Mo Jalil: (09:16)

Jeremy Au: (09:16)
Geocities, yeah, I remember being very proud of me coding my HTML pages. My marquee text bouncing from left to right, chef’s kiss of internet style.

Mo Jalil: (09:28)
The internet back then was different. It was like weird. It was weird different. It was interesting. I’m not saying the internet isn’t interesting now, it’s just a very different beast.

Jeremy Au: (09:36)
Yeah…So, and there you are, we’re talking about location and it being such an important place and you start moving about the place as well because you moved from London where you got your undergrad, you got your master’s in legit institutions and then after that you go off to the US and, eventually, Southeast Asia. So, take us through your geography.

Mo Jalil: (09:57)
Yeah, let me start with London, what happened. I think it's really important to understand some of the motivations around why those need to kind of prep different locations going back to prior to starting a company I was working, I was also in the government, so I joined Goldman's in their technology division, we're building algo trading systems. So I was in an environment surrounded by basically people in finance all the time. Finance, finance was the thing to do and I liked it, but I did think to myself maybe I should do more finance things instead of doing more building and building is something I’ve done my entire life – coding, great, making new things, but the people around me had an effect. These externalities will change the things that you do and kind of things that you want to do. So, I ended up going to a buy side firm and look for a lot of people that work on in finance. If you want an investment bank, the dream is to kind of move to the other sides of themselves like the buy side. What I found was that even though my salary had gone up by many, many folds and I was taking a lot more responsibility, we grew that fund from 45 people to 200 people in a year and a half. I was deeply unhappy. Just quite deeply unhappy. What, I found was that, in my spare time, I’ve gone back to building. I was just like making things again. And around that time, my younger brother, who had previously ten years earlier, had basically done the Korean distribution platform, came to me and he had been working at a consultancy and he’s working on a few projects with a few well known enterprises like Sony Music, and probably he just wanted my help. He says hey, let’s brainstorm a few different ideas and what had happened is that a lot of the things that he was talking about. About the work that they were doing just like basic like task management, playing around with Excel sheets and stuff a lot that could have been automated with macros, so we were just bouncing on these ideas and saying hey, look, a lot of the things that you’re doing could probably be done by software so we started thrashing out some of these ideas and he took that back. That proposal back and he actually pitched in and turned out that he they end up winning that deal so it’s great for his company and we were like…wait, this could potentially…this could be a real company, right? So, what we both ended up doing is just quitting our jobs, we had zero funding, by the way, like 0 funding, 0 support. We just thought we'd do it and I think that takes a certain type of personality. So I've always been quite optimistic. I'm not saying that’s for everyone when you're a very optimistic person, you tend to underweight risk and you overweight potential positive outcomes, and I think that’s very important for an entrepreneur, especially when most things are non-obvious. So, for us we both kind of shared that trait. We were very highly optimistic about how this could turn out. So, we started building this piece of software and basically has zero traction at the time like no one wanted to buy whatever we were building. So we kind of tried out different things. We’re pitching them. It turned out that no one really wanted to give us a shot until we started playing around with a certain piece of technology, which was geolocation. So, iPhones had added Geo location to the phone and you could access on the browser. This was key because what that meant was digital assets could not be tied to a physical object. You could only, for example, access…so this thing that we built…you could access music at physical location. So imagine Spotify, but I’m saying to stream music anywhere. It would force you to go to a physical location and it turned out that that was something that a lot of brands really liked. So, Sony Music, some of the guys at Warner Music. The reason why they liked it was because they could tie that into campaign promotions for new albums. So that end up being like our first kind of first customer we’re gaining towards product market fit and that allowed us to raise some money. It’s just like a bit of Angel money and build out this product. And while we’re building it out, it turned out that the thing that we’re building wasn’t just applicable to like that one campaign that would run, but they want to run multiple campaigns and word started spreading and we started to get interest from some of the guys, not just in London but basically over in LA and while all this was happening and we're building South, we realized a few key things. Yes, we could make money from these deals, but their map of time and effort going into them still quite more technology investment. So, we needed to raise money. That's the conclusion that we came to. That’s the conclusion we came to. We started to do what most founders did, we started to fundraise for the first time. I remember, distinctly remembering, at the time I was deeply into programs essays like that like a Bible for me. It’s like reading the different essays. Think about how, what’s the best way to raise money. We tried, at the time, we tried a lot of different things. We spoke to all the major funds there and this is our first-time speaking funds. What we found was when we were fundraising in LA, turn out that for every hour of works, we’d always measure our basically our all the key metrics. So having people reach out to you, how long it would take from intro to a meeting to a partner meeting to like a cheque. And we found that for every hour of work we would get four times as much back. Whether that was intros, whether that was meetings, whether that was like a cheque. That’s just simply from London to LA doing the exact same pitch, so there’s no difference. And I told you a lot about the difference in ecosystem. Maybe there, how mature the market was at the time. Yeah, so that was the initial move…initial

moves…a lot of it was motivated by raising more money to continue to run the company.

Jeremy Au: (14:52)
So, how did that transition happen from the first company startup that you had, all the way to where you are today, in your second company tackling enterprise automation.

Mo Jalil: (15:01)
Yeah, so, we ended up basically doing tonnes of partnerships. We worked with Activision, Call of Duty, I think this was for Call of Duty Black Ops 3.

Jeremy Au: (15:11)
It’s one of them. It’s like the Fast and the Furious franchise, it’s one of those.

Mo Jalil: (15:15)
Yeah. I think it was Call of Duty Black Ops 3…or maybe Black Ops 2.

Jeremy Au: (15:19)
Some gamer is screaming into their headset right now.

Mo Jalil: (15:23)
Yeah, they’re like Mo doesn’t know what he’s talking about! This podcast is trash!!

Jeremy Au: (15:27)
It’s trash!

Mo Jalil: (15:29)
So, yeah, so, that was part of it. We worked with Disney on some other promotions, we’re not going to talk about that. Basically, like kind of partnerships with some of the largest companies in the world, Unilever, Coachella, Golden Voice, we went to Coachella, we ran a massive campaign there. It was a lot of fun, but what we found is that our original vision of could we make the person in these partnerships more automated with software? We didn’t achieve it, what would happen is because we were making money as like a hybrid tech agency because that’s what was happening, you start to fall in to the problem of. We weren’t even a big company, we were basically making money and that model of running an agency can be profitable, it can make you money, but it can also divert you away from maybe what your core goal was initially. Our goal was rather than make kind of like a nice side business that runs an agency or hybrid tech agency where we built technology that kind of worked with each partnership on a campaign by campaign basis. It was fun, we could try different technologies, but it was also very laborious. Every new deal that we got, we had to hire new people. For every deal that we lost, we had to maybe get rid of some people. The company basically scaled with headcount – you could do more with more people, you could do less with less people. That wasn’t the direction we wanted to take with the company. Some of our investors, that was definitely the thing that they wanted to do so we decided that we wanted to continue building a tech product. So, we formed Metapair so that’s when we moved off to SF and we basically founded the new company. The idea behind Metapair was that we were not going to do a hybrid agency model, we’d already done that. We want to solve the problem that we had been facing with the number of different partnerships that we’ve already done. And those partnerships were successful, we’ve done so many, we had been able to open an office in Egypt remotely, we had an office again in London because we were basically taking so many deals. So, we understood that it could be a nice business and we met many brokership type agencies in LA that did partnerships like that as well. So, we knew it’d work, but the problem was the price. It was very frustrating and that business very challenging and we just kind of go back to our original hypothesis a few years earlier. So, when we were drawing out the new company, we spoke to actually one of our investors who was, at the time, on the board of Unilever which was a massive company and he said hey, look, you guys should think about how you want to build up the company from early on. I’m not sure how much you know about this but it’s actually quite common now when you’re building a company, to raise funding, to have a multi-office strategy where you might have some headcount in one area and one head count elsewhere because you want to efficiently use capital. Which is one of the reasons capital efficiency is one of the reasons to do a location arbitrage…there’s a lot of other reasons I can get into. So, what ended up happening was he’s like hey, look, you should think about Southeast Asia, you need it as a AI datacentre in Singapore, so, a people datacentre, I think Southeast Asia might be a great place. So we did a small backpacking trip again – booked a ticket, no plan, the idea was that we’d be there for one week, go to some different countries, it was a month later we went to Japan, South Korea…I know Japan is not Southeast Asia, East Asia, but, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, went to Indonesia, went to Singapore, went to Malaysia. We basically travelled everywhere to try and figure out what would be like actually if we could start a company there. What became immediately obvious was the language barrier. Both me and my cofounder speak English, that’s our primary language. If you’re going to start a company, you need to be able to communicate…this is going to sound very obvious…but you need to be able to communicate very clearly to the people in your team, they need to know what you’re building. Not just what you’re building but what the mission is. Why are you part of this company. For us, that meant there was a certain bar that we have for the English language because me and my cofounder, we didn’t know any more languages. If you’re doing that, if you’re going to build a company where English is the primary language, that’s basically, people are going to have different opinions about this I know because I’ve spoken to so many founders, but the option is Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore, primarily, and Malaysia are the two countries that you can go ahead and build in. I’m sure you can obviously do it in Vietnam and Thailand, but I think it’s a bit hard when it comes to hiring, especially if you’re not from there. So we were playing out that you were going to Singapore, but it happened by you know what we’re doing this trip, we came across a quasi-government organization at the time - MDEC. So, this is like an organization that their goal is to build a Malaysian digital economy and they said hey look why don’t you give us like a meeting, we’ll give you a pitch and we end up going to one of their meetings and they basically rolled out the red carpet. They were like hey look we’re very, very, very friendly when it comes to getting foreign companies here that could help digitize the country that could bring in new skills that could allow us to create jobs in industries that were really interested in developing. So like digital industries, technology, AI, that kind of stuff and not only would they help, I think the key reason was there’s also a few traits about that program. One of the programs included entry visas so if you want to bring someone from SF in for, let’s say, three months, it’s very, very easy. If you wanted to like have a founder come in, very easy. Another part of the program was they’d help you set up the company so I'm a big believer in when you're running a startup you want to focus as much as you can on product and customers and anything that's admin related, even though it's really important, should basically be delegated if possible and they basically, they were offering to set that up so we ended up yeah, we end up coming to Malaysia, and two of us had no idea it’s gonna be in Malaysia until that meeting.

Jeremy Au: (20:56)
Wow. Now that you’ve gotten a bunch of different transitions from a first start up to a second start up, from the US and London to Southeast Asia, I guess I’ll go into the more direct one which is what would you say are the biggest differences in the entrepreneurial ecosystem between London, the US, and Malaysia?

Mo Jalil: (21:18)
Yeah, actually I want to first ask that question with…that’s fantastic question. I wanna start a question with a quote from Mark Zuckerberg and I know he’s not the only person who said this but he did say that opportunity is not evenly distributed but skill and passion is. So there’s many people have a lot of passion or drive, but they don’t always have the opportunity kind of clocking back to the original story about me and my brother during the Korean distribution manga. Had we been in a different location, my life could have been very different and the reason I harken back to that is because I mentioned one of the reasons to maybe open office in somewhere like Southeast Asia, in certain places because you know capital arbitrage. You wanna spend less money, capex is lower. But actually, what you’ll find is that if you can build the right networks, you don’t have to compromise on talent or skill. A lot of people seem to think that there’s a trade off, and whenever I speak to investors a lot of them mention that and I just say, wait, hold on a second, hiring can be a problem, but if you built a good enough network then there’s good people everywhere, especially with the work done more remotely. It’s worth just highlighting that before I answer your question. The difference between London and, let’s say, KL, in London I found there to be a lot of very intelligent people, and at the time that we’re building our company, you have to understand this was years ago, the London technology ecosystem was not as developed as it is now. So what that meant was most of the talent. Most of the most interesting, most intelligent and most hardworking people would end up going to one or two industries which was either consulting or finance. That’s a very common story. You go to a top tier school, then you’re not going to. I mean, I did the same right, so hiring good people was quite challenging. There weren’t that many Unicorn stories yet, and if you were, you’d have to be in fintech like fintech is really it was really the thing in Entrepreneur First, I think, what didn’t exist that I had just started, Entrepreneur First now this is a beast. So what we found was that to hire people or people weren’t bought into the notion of like join the company, see a scale, have some skin in the game. That, from a hiring perspective, is a bit more challenging and from a fundraising perspective I’ll slice into a few different ways of like accessing it. So hiring was a bit more of a challenge because of that. You’d have to find people that may be more of a hacker, so, actually, our first few hires in London. One of them was a French. It’s funny because he’s like a 19 year old French hacker. One of the first people that introduced me to actually blockchain and Bitcoin. So at the time, Ethereum hadn’t even launched yet, and you know, we’d come into the office, we build the source code together. Check this out. This is before Ethereum launched and I remember it was because of him, I got into Ethereum ‘cause I bought it at launch it was at February the 12th, can’t remember the exact date, but it was like $4 ‘cause it was super cheap, it was super cheap so we had these random hackers that joined us because we just couldn’t get normal people. For us, normal people who had gone through like the typical education system, which I thought, given my background. That’s who you should hire. What we found is that you have to be a bit creative around that, and then from the fundraising perspective, what we found was that it was that most of the investors were, so there’s a few things that you have to understand that specifically about the UK ecosystem. Very specific. They have certain programs that encourage money to go into like companies, those programs designed in such a way that if the company fails within, let’s say three years, you get all your money back. Now that sounds like a great thing from an investor’s perspective. But now there’s an issue where if the company lasts past the three years, but they still haven’t done that hockey stick growth, it ends up being divergent interests between the investors and the founders, ‘cause the investors might be thinking, well, it’s better this company dies because then I get basically all those tax credits back and the founders like we want to keep on going. Now that’s one thing that just highlights. Maybe some of the nuances of the UK ecosystem when it comes to early stage funding. Another thing that we found was that most investors had had really big exits; had seen, for example, if you’re in the valley, you constantly see new companies being built. You have a lot of faith in taking risk and the mindset at the time was more about being risk averse than like risk taking. So, it’s still thinking about opportunity as the key driver of whether or not you should invest in companies more like hey, what the key risk factors. OK, I think I’m out. So that’s one thing about London and crashed into when we were in the States. What we found was that, first of all, if fundraising is a marketplace, then there’s just a lot more people have money there, a lot more capital, so you could have a lot more meetings. Two, there was definitely more of an appetite or around opportunity like what could this become and that’s primarily because the ecosystem’s a bit more developed. I feel like other ecosystems around the world will definitely get there, if they’re not there already. Once you see a couple of exits once you start seeing your colleagues or your friends or your nephews or nieces get great equity packages that turned something real. Then you become a lot more accepting of the idea of like we should find funding from there which basically investing in young companies. From a hiring perspective, what we found was actually even though we could potentially get more interviews, it was a lot more competitive, again, primarily because if you’re doing a tech company in the valley, there’s millions of other tech companies, so you really need to get people who are mission aligned. If you get people that are mission aligned, this is very important actually, let’s say you’re hiring a young engineer, so most young people don’t have that much work experience, so they’re most likely going to relate to things that are B2C focused. Like if you are doing like Uber or Grab, they can understand it, they can relate to it. They could even buy into the mission. But if you’re doing something that requires, like enterprise companies, sounds a bit boring, you know, like an enterprise company in their words doesn’t sound so great, it becomes a bit more challenging. We found the challenge around competition was high, but what we did find was that there was more. There’s like genuinely a lot more people accepting there’s a lot more people that willing to take equity instead of taking financial compensation, like in salary. That was less of the case in London, like in the US, that was actually compensations are far more popular and we were also found was that it was easy to get advisors and executives on board because a lot of people willing to like come on your Advisory Board, maybe for some kind of equity deal. So yes, that’s definitely SF and I think that that was definitely quite formative. It taught us a lot about how to raise money, how to run a company you could learn from other entrepreneurs as well ‘cause it’s so the market so deep and things could move a lot faster because of that. Now like now, comparing all those three to Southeast Asia, I would say I found KL to be a bit more like London, but maybe even a bit more conservative around. What's it like to work in our company and should you take the equity package? For example, if you are hiring in KL, you're hiring in KL, you’re more likely to get a great candidate if you increase their base salary as opposed to giving some equity and the reason why is because. While there have been some exits in Southeast Asia and there's some great ones you know, like Grab is great, a lot of specs are happening now. Going back over the last year and a half. That wasn't the case. I don't think many people have been in the company where they exited and had a significant deck, their life has changed, they haven't seen that as much. A perfect example like when Microsoft IPO-ed, so when Microsoft IPO-ed, that's 1200 people became millionaires. All those people then reinvested back into the ecosystem, or they then started on venture funds and Microsoft is just one of many, many companies that have basically become unicorns, and so the ecosystem is a lot more developed but that hasn't quite happened here, I don't think, in my opinion. I know, Jeremy, you might be looking at me like Mo, you know, that's not true or I don't know your opinion on this. I'd love to talk to you about it, but because of those things haven't happened. Quite happened yet. You end up having to maybe pay up a bit more as opposed to and people are more potentially financially inclined as opposed to hey vision inclined around how they should be compensated. But another thing that I found was really interesting and one reason why you should consider a place like Southeast Asia is because you can pay someone very well here. You can pay them two to three times what you will pay them other regions and they will be happy they could. Live like kings and they could have a great life like you generally giving them a good life at the same time they get to work in a company where they can build new really cool things during that same that doing that in for example like SF could be really difficult. The thing about the market rate is really hard to give you a few ballpark numbers for people that don’t know one of our first hires was 120,000 base salary and that was with I think, two months experience at university so that’s more like a financial perspective then in terms of talent like a skill set, the things that indicate to keep bear in mind. London has really good talent. They have great institutions there, so some of the some of the best features that comes out of artificial intelligence, AI, come from the London institutions, so you’ve got good access to talent there. If you do like deep tech. The reason, one of the reasons why Entrepreneurs First start in London just great talent there. Obviously talent’s great in SF as well. A lot of questions I get from founders that want to start maybe a company in let’s say a place like KL is what about talent like are you gonna be compromising on talent? I would say that could happen, but if you spend enough time, build the right networks, you can get around that talent problem. One of the best engineers I’ve met globally, but with one of the best hands down one of the best AI engineers I met was a 17 year old kid in LA, I met him in LA. He’s from Ipoh, so. When I first met him, I remember saying hey look so like where you from and he said I’m from Ipoh and this is going to sound really bad but I said what’s that? It’s obviously a place I didn’t even know what that was. He said it’s a place in Malaysian. Oh, Malaysia, you know, I have a few friends that like near KL and I at that point that really made me realize. Well, again, opportunity may not be evenly distributed but passion that somebody cares about something you can talk to the right communities. Then talent is. So we’ve been fortunate that being part of a few different networks here, we’ve been able to kind of hack around the talent gap. So we’ve been able to get a few great engineers that have stayed with us. Yeah, any questions about that, Jeremy, I know I, I kind of went to a lot of different topics.

Jeremy Au: (30:41)
Yeah, well, turning to a last chapter here, could you tell us about a time when you have been BRAVE?

Mo Jalil: (30:48)
Yeah, going back to that time when I was at the fund, when you start a company, when you start one out of university and you don’t have much to lose, I think that’s a challenging proposition. You’re taking a step in an area you don’t know. There’s a lot of ambiguity. I think it’s much harder when you already have a social network that incentivizes you to continue doing the things that you do. When you have parents that may rely on you for capital and when you have a career path that’s doing very well. So when I was at the fund this it was doing really well like the company is growing. I know KPIs and our headcount aren’t the best, but he went for 45 people 200. The fund size went from 7 billion to 65 billion AUM right it was growing really fast. There’s a lot of opportunities. And at the time I was really contemplating. Even though I was in as well, contemplating, is it the right move? Should I kind of like leave everything I’m doing. If I stayed here, my path would be set. I already knew what was going to happen over the next few years. I could see it like, you know, I’d go into your managerial position then for my personal life, eventually meet. Maybe a nice lady, get married, have kids, stay in London. Being a fund, right? That’s going really fast and that would give a lot of different opportunities. Parents will be very happy but I wasn’t and, ultimately, you need to look inside, what drives you. What makes you the person that you want to be. And I found that the things I do on the weekends, the things I did in the evenings were the things that make me happy. And what was I doing, I was like building products. I was, I was reading programs essays you know I was reading Peter Thiel Zero to One. Like that’s the thing that I was reading up at night. That’s the thing that I really wanted to do. I know a lot of people. They talk about the entrepreneurial journey. It sounds like it’s so obvious in hindsight, but for me, making that decision’s really tough because I had grown up in a family where I didn’t have a lot of means. So money was like a big reason why I went to finance in the first place, and I had to basically discard money for what I knew I really wanted to do which was build things with other people.

Jeremy Au: (32:37)
Amazing. What advice would you give for founders to build things with other people because it’s so scary. There you are in the finance sector with your nice salary and a stable career and a stable life. How do you switch from managing capital to building things with other people?

Mo Jalil: (32:55)
First of all, if you wanna be a founder, I want to say starting a company isn’t for everyone, and this might be counterintuitive but everyone like wants to be independent. Definitely don’t start a company because you think you want to start a company like there needs to be something that you’re kind of really solving. But if you are, you’re gonna make that switch, piece of advice, one, definitely, definitely, definitely think about bringing someone else onboard. Being a solo founders, it’s really, really hard. Being a founder is hard. Being a solo founder is much, much harder. There’s a reason why if you applied to YC they even though they take solo founders, they definitely recommend you find a cofounder as soon as possible. Someone to share the burden to share their struggles and build something together someone that compliments you. So, find a cofounder if you already know what you want to solve, the next thing I would say is you want to get to a place where you can kind of be as self-sufficient as possible. So, try and be in a place both with you and cofounder, where you can actually kind of solve the initial version of that problem definitely be able to do that, because that’s going to allow you to then really, when you go off to fundraising, want make something you can really leverage that and get that the highest valuation of or as much money as you can. They’re also really allow you to understand the problem, because when you start their company, you have a lot of different thesis. You have a lot of different hypotheses that need to be tested. You actually don’t know, a lot of people think they do, but you actually don’t know until you go out to the market and you’re able to test each one of those as much as you can with as little resources as possible. So, get to place, where you can kind of do that. Don’t raise money if you don’t have to. Never raise money if you don’t have to. It’s the I don’t think I’ve come across any founder that says they love fundraising, so that’s another, another tip. Don’t do that if you don’t have to, but I understand that a lot of people want you because that’s what’s being idolized, especially with TechCrunch where you hear about all these different companies with a lot of different money. You also get a lot of admiration from your fellow, you know, startup founders, and then the next thing is. If you are building a company. Or you think about building company and you’re not quite sure yet join a startup. One of the things I would say to my younger self if I could go back between joining a large business with a great reputation that’s good for your career. I’d say join the fast growing company if you can. You will learn so much more in such a short period of time. And top of that you’ll get real insight into what it’s actually like. The things that you read on the Internet only cover part of a startup’s journey. Once you’re inside the company, actually see how things are run. Most startups are, can I swear on this podcast? It’s basically a shitshow. Most startups are just figuring things out and you don’t really understand until you’ve gone through that process. So join a company if you can, and if you already know what you want to build, then. Find a cofounder. Start building it.

Jeremy Au: (35:25)
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Mo, for coming on the show. I want to paraphrase to three big themes that came out of this. The first was your amazing personal journey from hacking the HEX file for Age of Empires to your Netflix slash unlimited Korean manga website directory and now I'm wondering how big that bill was and getting it on to becoming someone in the finance sector to eventually building out your first company and then building out your second company from there as well. Just an amazing personal journey. I think you did a great job just showing who you were and how you became the person you are today. The second thing I really enjoyed, of course, was that discussion between the comparison of different ecosystems in London, LA, San Francisco, and Malaysia, and really comparing and looking at how a lot of what your observations are for this Southeast Asia ecosystem really applies to not just Malaysia but also for Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore as well, and I think there’s this is interesting parallel where you drew that and then said at one level it’s about the ecosystem but at an other level, that you said, passion and skill is evenly distributed, and I think that’s a great reminder because you shared about the episodes where you spot the great talent in Southeast Asia that had to move to America or had to be discovered in different ways. And then thirdly, thank you so much for that last drop of wisdom here around advice to future founders about how to really be thoughtful and intentional about setting up a business of their own. And that’s okay to take intermediary steps along the way as well.

Mo Jalil: (37:01)
Exactly. You put it so eloquently, Jeremy, I’m really jealous of your ability to take information and just like summarise it.

Jeremy Au: (37:07)
Yeah, I was taking notes right there while you’re talking so…awesome…well, thank you so much, Mo, for coming on the show.

Mo Jalil: (37:13)
Yeah, thank you, Jeremy, for having me, and hopefully I’ll be speaking to you soon.