Nick Nash on Generational Lessons, World's Greatest Injustices, and Curiosity as Growth Hack - E48

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"Visiting my ancestral village in India inspired me. It reinforces that sense of purpose and mission, which is how you create the greatest amount of opportunity, not just to earn a better living but to become the individual you're born to be, for as many people as possible. That opportunity is denied to a very large chunk of the roughly 8 billion of us on this planet. It's something really worth figuring out." - Nick Nash

Prior to Asia Partners, Nick Nash was the Group President of Sea, Greater Southeast Asia’s leading internet company with a ~50Bn market cap, from 2014 to 2018. He led Sea’s landmark initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: SE), which raised approximately $1 billion of primary capital and which was the largest ever U.S. IPO of a company from Southeast Asia.

Nick joined Sea after more than a decade with General Atlantic (GA), most recently as the co-founder and head of GA’s Southeast Asia business. Three of his successful investments while with General Atlantic are now multi-billion dollar NYSE publicly traded companies. Prior to GA, he was a management consultant with McKinsey & Company in New York.

Nick was a member of the World Economic Forum’s ASEAN Regional Strategy Group from 2017-2018, is a member of the global Kauffman Society for leadership in venture capital, is a member of the Young Presidents Organization, and is a board member of Endeavor Indonesia.

He received an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 2007, where he was an Arjay Miller Scholar. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in Chemistry and Physics, magna cum laude, in 2000.



Jeremy Au: (00:28)

It's going to be a fun chat and I'm a big fan of you Nick, as you know.


Nick Nash: (00:34)

Thank you Jeremy. Thank you.


Jeremy Au: (00:36)

The good thing about this conversation it's very much less about Asia Partners and Southeast Asia and rhinos and more about you Nick as a person. So this should be fun.


Nick Nash: (00:48)

You're too kind, you're too kind. I'm frankly getting still the hang of Clubhouse, but it was founded by one of my classmates from school. And he's just our hero as a class, as a bunch of alums, he's really pioneered something really, really compelling.


Jeremy Au: (01:05)

Yeah. That's going to be an exciting time as they figure out the monetization and fighting off Twitter and Facebook in time to come.


Nick Nash: (01:13)

Very much so, very much so. Jeremy, before we jump in, tell me more about your background.


Jeremy Au: (01:20)

Yeah. Happy to share. So parents Malaysian, grew up in Singapore, standard army, UC Berkeley. I interned at a startup in Germany, that was fun and then a startup in China in EdTech series A and then went on to work at Bain across obviously Asia and China.


Nick Nash: (01:40)

Oh really, lovely.


Jeremy Au: (01:42)

And then bootstrapped a social enterprise to profitability, couple hundred clients, and then handed off to my successor, Harvard MBA. And then there I built a second company in early education from zero to pre-seed, a seed to series A and then sold it. And I was chilling last year as the GM. And then after that, Peng for Monk's Hills asked me to come in to lead strategic projects with them as the head.


Nick Nash: (02:09)

I'm really happy to hear that, my wife and I are LPs in Monk's Hill. So we're thrilled that Peng is bringing on great talent like you, that's wonderful to hear.


Jeremy Au: (02:17)

Yeah. They only have good things to say about you as well.


Nick Nash: (02:21)

Well that's awfully nice. Peng is a really good friend, he was just at my home for Sunday brunch, gosh, three weekends ago.


Jeremy Au: (02:29)

Ah, that's always best.


Nick Nash: (02:31)

So big fan, he's such a wonderful person. He was trying to design a sound system for our house. As you know Peng is a complete audiophile, I mean like an absolute audiophile. So he's like, he's got like his fingers out, so I could do this on Clubhouse and he is sort of inspecting it like, "You should put a speaker over there." And you're like, "Damn, can we get a free quotation from you while we're at it?"


Jeremy Au: (02:56)

Nothing would probably become happier than rewiring your whole house.


Nick Nash: (03:01)

Seriously, literally Peng is like, "Look, I'm really glad to serve on a board with you guys and something, but can I rewire your house?"


Jeremy Au: (03:10)

I don't even think you need to pay honestly, I think you he'd probably do for free.


Nick Nash: (03:16)

No, I think it'll be a pro bono kind of thing. And I have another very good friend who I was in a board with in Singapore, who I thought had the single best sound system in Singapore. This is like, this guy has spent no joke over $200,000 on a sound system.


Jeremy Au: (03:33)

I can imagine.


Nick Nash: (03:36)

Custom programming, electronics, shielding. And I mentioned this to Peng and said, "Peng, this friend of mine has the best sound in Singapore." And he looks at me and says, "Not so sure."


Jeremy Au:

(03:48) How polite.


Nick Nash: (03:49)

He's like then he's fighting the words.


Jeremy Au: (03:51)

It's like, you just took off your white glove, you just threw it on the floor.


Nick Nash: (04:00)

Seriously, seriously, he's like, "God, accept it."


Jeremy Au: (04:03)

That was so funny. Speaking about sound systems. I always remember like as a kid and then my dad was also a big audiophile, right? And we had those long days where he would ask me to run the wires because I'm small and nimble to go underneath the tables, go behind a TV, right?


Nick Nash: (04:20)

So I'm sensing a child labor violation.


Jeremy Au: (04:24)

We're not in the States anymore.


Nick Nash: (04:26)

I was small and nimble, that's terrible.


Jeremy Au: (04:30)

There's no OSHA requirement, we're not in the States anymore.


Nick Nash: (04:34)

"There's no OSHA requirement here, son, take some speakers wire."


Jeremy Au: (04:40)

Run it behind and then put the white one into white one and I'd be like, which white one do I put it in?


Nick Nash: (04:45)

This is like the end of every mission, impossible movie where they're like, "No, no cut the green wire, cut the green wire."


Jeremy Au: (04:54)

Yeah, exactly.


Nick Nash: (04:56)

Well, I think we're starting to see a bunch of folks trickle in and I'd love to make this as interactive as possible, if folks want to jump in and opine and have views, we should absolutely do that.


Jeremy Au: (05:06)

Yeah, we'll do that. We'll get started and start the interview proper in that sense.


Nick Nash: (05:14)

Whenever you're ready.


Jeremy Au: (05:14)

And I'll get to ask you some.


Nick Nash: (05:16)

Well now, happy to help in any way. Jeremy, tell me about Brave Dynamics. What does the brand mean to you? The Brave Dynamics brand.


Jeremy Au: (05:26)

Brave Dynamics, and I think one funny thing was I was chilling and relaxing and I was thinking, "Okay what would be something I care about?" Right? And that's one. And then the second thing I said was, "And it has a dot com on the domain name?" As of the divergent and convergent. And I think the part for me, what resonated with me was I think bravery, right? I mean, there's all kinds of crazy things that you can do with technology, but at the end of the day it's like founders are brave enough to figure out hashtag product-market fit.

But brave enough to do something really stupid, like building a startup, but it was so brave enough to get feedback and brave enough to hire and fire the first employee and things like that. And I think obviously it's also kind of like looking at it, like inside out also like the bravery of everyone else, right? The angel investors and other investors who are making an early bet on very limited data to say the least, and then also the people in the ecosystem, right?

So I think that's the bravery part. And I think the dynamics was the part that resonated was the whole conversation between the different dynamics, I guess, between the various folks, right? That's what has always fascinated me being a founder, but also that's why I also joined Peng to see the other side, right? And see the dynamics of it.


Nick Nash: (06:47)

And is that part of why the book is called Brave Becca?


Jeremy Au: (06:52)

Yes. You spotted that. Yes, putting together that children's book, Brave Becca was such a fun one, a fun journey. And we actually, the first name was be able to came up with was, well, the key concept was we wanted to adapt Lean In and bring it in for as a children's book, sort of explain the concept to girls at a younger age, right? Because you don't need to be like, I don't know your twenties or thirties or forties to Lean In.

And it's about parents reading to their kids. And so we look at Lean In and then a key thing that we saw was like bravery. So I remember the first time we came together, get the name we got was like Courageous Charlotte. And I was like, no, no, no, no, this is too long, we got to go shorter and so we went for Brave Becca, which is a nice synchronization.


Nick Nash: (07:38)

That's wonderful. That's wonderful. So what do you want to be Jeremy when you grow up?


Jeremy Au: (07:47)

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a vaccine scientist and researcher and a poet on the side.


Nick Nash: (07:52)

You're eerily prescient.


Jeremy Au: (07:56)



Nick Nash: (07:57)

What else have you been predicting for the next 20 years?


Jeremy Au: (07:59)

Yeah, no, I want to scratch my head. I know, I know.


Nick Nash: (08:05)

You're literally like the who is the guy that had those predictions in Russia, not Rasputin. There was like this guy that had these views of what the world would happen, but anyway, please continue.


Jeremy Au: (08:19)

Yeah. Vaccine scientists and poet on the side that was in secondary school. I think along the way I went to undergrad and funny story is like, long story short as I pretty much like was in the bottom 1% of junior college. So that went by dreams of doing that stuff. I also realized that I wasn't in to be an introverted scientist in that sense. And then I went off to UC Berkeley and my friend was like, "You got to check out this social impact consulting club."

And I was like, "Okay. I don't know what consulting is, but I like the social impact side." And it was a very selective club, very tough interview. And the first interview they gave me was the case interview was, "Jeremy, if you had 100,000 doses of vaccine, how would you distribute it across the city?" And I aced it, right? Because I knew everything about vaccines and I knew nothing about consulting, which they would discover very shortly afterwards I got into the club, but that's how I got started in the consulting side.

And then I ended up down the road, getting rejected by Gates Foundation and Bridgespan Group because they didn't take non-Americans. So I went to Bain as my third choice, to be honest. Anyway, that's a funny story about how I ended up not doing vaccine and ended up going to consulting.


Nick Nash: (09:35)

Interesting. Very interesting.


Jeremy Au: (09:37)

But Nick, how about you? Your story, so well, everyone knows of you. I don't think many people know you, right? So where do you begin to the story? Do you start a story from Harvard university? Is that how you start a story at the university level or how do you start?


Nick Nash: (09:57)

No, actually that's probably the wrong place for me to start the story, the right place to start. The story is a few generations ago because I think what's so not often talked about, but is really fundamental to our values and our ambitions and ambitions a good word, not a bad word, is the longer story arc of our families. And of course, when we think about families and business, we think about the very large family businesses, but actually on a logarithmic scale, every single one of us is part of a family journey.

Most of whom involve folks who were farmers or fisher folk or other folks basically living off the land and the oceans, just as recent as in some cases, two or three or four generations ago. My grandfather grew up in my dad's side, in a farming family in India. And I emphasize that because that's really where the story begins, through hard work, through enormous self-discipline and a real focus on his part to getting an education well before the British handed India back to the independence movement.

He really trained himself to become a professional, an engineer eventually became the CEO of a number of factories of textile mills in India. That in turn gave my father the opportunity to get an education. He went to IIT and eventually he came to America with just $400 in his pocket. In parallel, on my mom's side, she had come from a slightly more affluent family, but not dramatically so. So her father was an entrepreneur who built a number of very special buildings and structures in Bombay.

Served as the rotary governor for a region of India. And she became a physician, the very first certainly woman in her family to become a physician. And we ended up having a chance to move to America because way back in the 1970s, a couple of years before I was born, America was actually handing out green cards on arrival, if you were a doctor. So the combination of my dad coming with $400 in his pocket and an IT engineer degree, and my mom having the opportunity to basically give our family permanent residency in America because of her medical degree made a whole new generations' journey possible.

And they worked so incredibly hard in their lives to give us our generation, my siblings and I an opportunity to likewise, to work hard ourselves, to get an education and all those things, I think really none of them would have been possible. Had it not been for the extraordinary efforts of our four grandparents, multiple grandparents over the years. So the journey like so many people in this call really is a multi-generational story of working super hard, saving, focusing on education.

And in many cases, trying to sort of think about what might be next, both geographically, and in terms of profession. I had the enormously good fortune to have the opportunity to move to Singapore in the middle of my career, I was in my mid thirties, I had just about crossed the six or seven year point at a global investment firm called General Atlantic, which has become a really wonderful and very large firm over the years.

And they wanted to start a Singapore office, I came out over here, I co-founded it. And I ran it and we built up a great team on the ground, began looking for companies and then had the double good fortune to invest in a company that used to be called Garena back in 2013 and 14. And today has been renamed SEA, I was part of that decision as well. But again, I could never have predicted Jeremy any of these things 15, 20 years ago, let alone even 10 years ago.

But through a wonderful set of happenstance invested in the company, because Forrest was my friend from school, we were business school classmates together. And then eventually at his very kind invitation, accepted the opportunity to become the number two executive in the company to become the president. And then to have four amazing years hand in hand with Forrest and the rest of the team building, which ultimately culminated with our launch of Shopee and the IPO of the business back in 2017.

And then I did something that people thought was nuts when I retired and I retired with a very specific mission, not to chill out. I took, I think about a weekend off, maybe a week off, can't remember and along with five other friends formed a private equity firm, which was the intention all along, that's why I retired, to take the equity that I had earned in CEO over the years, and to really redeploy it back in the next generation of up and coming startups in Southeast Asia.

And that's been such a treat to be able to take a lot of the mistakes that I made at SEA, the learnings I had, and to try to share those in an efficient and the helpful way with the next generation of founders that are building wonderful companies here in Southeast Asia. And that brings us to March 12th, 2021, talking to you Jeremy.


Jeremy Au: (14:54)

Amazing. I love that story. I love that you begin with your family, right? I have a similar journey where if my grandfather, on my father's side, hadn't decided to leave China and a funny thing, his boat was supposed to go to central America, but his boat was late. So he decided to saw a ship at a harbor that was going to Malaya. And he stopped this ticket because he didn't want to wait and that his journey and he found that some businesses as well, helped educate my father, which would in turn help give me an education to get where I am today. So I love what you said about family, Nick. And I just want to say that.


Nick Nash: (15:33)

It's super, super important. I think the more we think about all the happenstance and all the incredible heavy lifting that's been done by our elders and our previous generations, number one, it reminds you every day to be humble. And number two, it really forces wonderful, ongoing glow of gratitude that we go through our lives with. And I think the more grateful we feel in a weird kind of way, the more we also want to help other people.

Because you suddenly realize that there really is such a joy to teach, to share, to give. And I know that sounds incredibly eat, pray, love instead of motherhood and apple pie. But the reality is actually that is probably the only true sustainable source of happiness is trying to sort of be grateful and trying to help other people along the way.


Jeremy Au: (16:18)

That's so true. Nick, I'm just kind of curious, when growing up, did you hear any stories about your grandparents and how they were entrepreneurial? Any stories that you remember?


Nick Nash: (16:29)

Well, there's are really great one actually. And by the way, I just see so many wonderful people that have joined us, JL is on this call, Ian, so many others. Hi Kayla, nice to see you on the call as well. A lot of folks in the community and we can be efficient with everyone's time, but if we run this up to talk about, we'll let you get back to your Friday night evenings dinner, but I'll tell you a great story. My grandpa, my father's father had literally no money.

So typical of all of our grandparents or great-grandparents, all of us growing up here in Asia, but he had a determination to get an education. And back then, if you were in the textile industry, the single best way to learn the trade, because it was still a very North American business was to go to Boston of all places, Boston. And if it turns out that actually Boston had a thriving textile industry, so thriving that actually there was a company called Berkshire Hathaway.

Which was a textile company, which probably was the worst investment Warren buffet ever made, but he kept the name for nostalgia's sake and built his incredible empire on the basis of that brand name, but not necessarily that business. Berkshire Hathaway was a new England textile mill. But my grandfather had the notion that if you wanted to learn the business, he'd want to go get a degree in textile engineering and the best way to do that was to go Stateside and learn from that. We didn't have any cash.

So what he did was fascinating. He convinced a mill owner in Bombay to basically pay for his transit in exchange for working and got himself a ticket to go there. And then in parallel, simultaneously got himself a job at one of the mills that could cover some of the tuition and expense while he was studying. And then to go one step further, this is just a great example of how entrepreneurs figure things out. At one point, he said, "I can learn a lot in the classroom, but I really want to learn how this business is run."

And I think he might've even asked them to maybe pay him a bit less, "Would you mind that after everyone's gone home, I can sit and I can read through all the board papers. I mean, if there is anything terribly sensitive, leave it out, but I just want to learn how you actually run this business, let me study it." And they gave him the opportunity to do that. So he literally went and kind of reverse engineered the textile business and then came home to Asia to go run those companies for the next 20, 30, 40 years of his life.

And that just so incredible because a lot of knowledge is actually out there. And if you're willing to subjugate your sense of title or your sense of current compensation or whatnot, just to learn it in a really practical way, then you can apply it for the rest of your life. And there's a lesson I think for myself and all of us and that really cool, almost educational growth hack that he discovered.


Jeremy Au: (19:09)

Amazing. What was it like listening to those stories? How old were you or are you like teenager or younger? Did you hear it from your grandparents or your parents? How was it like?


Nick Nash: (19:20)

I had the very good fortune to have my grandfather alive with us on my father's side, well into my thirties, which was super fortunate. So I got to hear many of these stories for decades in different iterations and different flavors and different nuances. And with him, I went to the village that he was born in and grew up in. It's a very, very small village in Central India called Erandol. And most people on this call have certainly not heard of it.

India has probably a million such villages of any different shape and size, but we went back and we saw where he grew up. And what you realize is such a sense of place and origin, but also what you realized is how difficult it is to break away from that and to create a new life through education, through savings in some ways through entering the world that all of us here in this Clubhouse chat take for complete granted, which is sort of a more meritocratic, skills based world of service businesses, as opposed to sort of toiling the land. So it's really cool to be able to go back and see where we all come from and to be all the more grateful for the opportunities we have to go somewhere else.


Jeremy Au: (20:28)

Tell us more about that place. Was it like a sunny day? Was it raining? What did it you smell like? Tell me more.


Nick Nash: (20:37)

The sad thing Jeremy about poverty on a global basis is how banal it is, how quotidian it is, it's a bit like the Russian author said every happy family is the same, every unhappy family is unhappy in their own way. I feel it's the opposite when it comes to poverty, every thriving, booming, economically resilient city is unique in its own ways. But when you see poverty, there are so many tragic similarities. And I think the thing that this is the saddest of all is the sense of a decoupling between the amount of work you do and the outcomes that happen over time.

You can imagine why different political persuasions are tempting for folks that live in environments like that because they really do feel that frustration every single day, going through the lack of opportunity. As beautiful as it is, there's also to a certain extent, a sadness, visiting parts of the world like that. And I think many on this call, know what I'm talking about having visited their own ancestral villages or hometowns or whatnot in the countryside.

Because you're simultaneously struck by how few as a percentage of the kids that grow up there have a chance to do something different than what their parents did. At the same time you're suddenly struck by the fact that the process of being one of those few is although definitely enabled and enhanced by hard work. It's so random and so luck dependent that it can be more than frustrating, it can be downward depressing.

Now I was inspired and just thrilled and grateful to have had a chance to go visit that place. But I think what it does reinforce for all of us is that sense of purpose, that sense of sort of mission, which is how do you create the greatest amount of opportunity, not just to earn a better living, but to actually become the individual you're born to become for as many people as possible, because that opportunity is denied to a very large chunk of the roughly 8 billion of us on this planet. And it's something really worth figuring it out.


Jeremy Au: (22:40)

Yeah, that's so true, that brought me to my ancestral village, I guess. And it's a gu zhen (古镇), near Zhongshan, it's in Guangdong, China. And it turns out to be now the lighting capital of the world, so all the lights chandeliers are manufactured there. And I too got a sense. I was like, whoa, my life would be so different if I was here versus my grandfather's crazy decision to leave, right?


Nick Nash: (23:05)

Why did he leave Jeremy? What was it that sort of struck him to say, "Gosh, let's try Singapore."


Jeremy Au: (23:12)

Well, I think it was more of a push because at that time he was born in the last few years of the Qing dynasty, right? And then he saw like the fall of the monarchy, he saw the rise of the warlords, he saw this, the rise of the nationalists and then the civil war. So he grew up, I think, as a kid, I didn't really understand this, but as I get older, I was like, and I've watched these documentaries. I was like he grew up the steady drum beat of insecurity and war.

And in his late twenties, he basically said, "Well, I'm going to build a better life somewhere." That's why he wanted to go to Central America and he ended up changing his ticket, right? So I think it was very much a push rather than a pull, I would say, as evidenced by him just changing his ticket, right? And I think to me, when I think about that story, it makes me very empathetic because today he'll be considered a refugee, right?

Because he's leaving a politically and militarily insecure area, right? So there's something that I do think about a lot and I think a lot of people look at refugees, for example, in the first generation and say, they're not educated or less educated and where they're arriving obviously there's not much they can carry on their back. But as someone who's a third generation from his choice, I am as assimilated as you can be, right? And I sometimes look at my friends who are thinking about these things and I'm just like, whoa, like we'll probably only no more than three generations out from being an immigrant, right?


Nick Nash: (24:45)

Well, it's so interesting that you say that because there's a saying that oftentimes family fortunes are also lost in three generations. So it's interesting that when many people say we're all just three generations away from starting ground level, that's probably bi-directional, which sort of basically says that there's a constant discipline involved in basically staying relevant and giving ourselves and our children the opportunities to really shine.

But let me build on what you're sharing Jeremy, because this is a super intriguing conversation and I'm glad we're having this because all too often, the conversations that seem to be happening in 2021 are about ra, ra, tech, tech. And there's just so many other things we're thinking about than just those topics, a conversation that I love to have with people over dinner is to say the following. If you went back to the mid 18 hundreds, you'd be shocked how many parts of the world still condoned slavery?

Then of course, wars were fought about this, like in America, the Civil War. If you went back to the turn of the 20th century, 1900 or so, you'd be shocked how many people in the worlds still didn't have universal suffrage. Women couldn't vote. If you went back 50 or 60 years, you'd be shocked in many parts of the world still didn't have civil rights. And we look back at that and we'll say, "Shocks, that was so backwards, that was so wrong." And we were right about that.

So my question is this, what is the great injustice in the world right now where Jeremy, your grandkids will look back and say, "Grandpa, this is shameful, why did you guys let that happen? Why was it our generation's responsibility to fix that on behalf of you guys?" So what would be your answer to that question?


Jeremy Au: (26:31)

So many, so many things. I think the one that I think is going to be is like immigration and a search to be in a better place. I mean, I think the impermeability and the walls around borders is actually a really relatively new thing, right? I mean, like my parents, they were able to travel the world, like visas and all this other stuff. And I think people were much more open to the free flow of people around the world, right?

And such have a better life, right? And I think that thinking about ingroup and outgroup, it's a tough one. I don't know if there, in fact, I would say like, I think 200 years time, I think people would be, my kids will be really surprised by that. But I also wonder to myself, if that might be an immutable thing, right? The building up of insider versus an outsider at a broader level, I don't know if it's going to go away. I think my children will be surprised by it, but it may still be true. It'll just be a new definition of insider versus outsider.


Nick Nash: (27:38)

That is so interesting. In fact, it's funny, Jeremy, you mentioned that one of the most thoughtful responses I ever got to that question was from an academic, a very senior academic who told me the existence of national borders in his mind is the greatest injustice in the world right now. Because why should it matter what country you happen to be born into, in terms of deciding where you want to live, what opportunities you want to have? It's a fascinating question. And there's lots of political ramifications in all directions, but like you get a very similar answer, which is kind of fascinating that you both had the same choice.


Jeremy Au: (28:11)

How about you, Nick? You've you've asked this question a couple of times. So you've got a point of view on this one, right? So I got to hear it.


Nick Nash: (28:20)

I think if I'd pick one that I think about a lot these days, I think it's the still very, very inefficient meritocracy in the world. Meaning people are not well matched with the opportunities that they'd be incredible apts in terms of roles and jobs and responsibilities and whatnot. And that may seem like a very prosaic kind of work answer, but truly a huge part of what we do in our lives is our work. It's what we create in our lives, in addition to our families.

And in Harry Potter, you've got the sorting hat, right? So Jeremy walks in and what Jeremy, you're definitely a Gryffindor, right? You definitely don't strike me as a Slytherin. So you're going to get sorted, but there's no good sorting hat for humanity, it's not like LinkedIn is going to tell you what you ought to do when you grow up. So I think that is a very poor matching off 7.8 billion humans to all the different myriad things we could be doing with our lives at different points in our lives is a great injustice, because we ought to be smarter at that and put huge resources into optimizing that for the planet.

Jeremy Au: (29:25)

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Then I actually totally agree with you. I think we look at education and we just say like, it's okay if not everybody has this education and I'm just like, whoa, like there's so much human potential, right? And I have a four month old daughter who turned and I look ahead and it's like, she could be anything, and I'm lucky because.... And she's lucky because she has parents who have won the educational lottery and are willing to do everything, to fund her ability, to climb the educational ladder and be match to whatever job that she's going to be the best at, right?


Nick Nash: (29:59)

But this is an interesting conversation to have Jeremy because there's a terrific thinker out there, very sharp, named Peter Turchin, T-U-R-C-H-I-N, and I would like everyone to go look this guy up, he's a sharp guy. He fancies himself the modern day equivalent of a guy named Harry Seldon. Harry Seldon is a fictional character in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Some if you've read this from 1960s and 70s, one of the all-time great science-fiction trilogies.

Harry Seldon says, "If you give me a ton of data, I can predict the future." And he predicts the fall of an empire, that creates kind of, if you will, the ante for the story. The reason I'm telling you this is that Peter Turchin alive and well, a real flesh and blood human being thinks he too can predict the future because he sees these patterns and how businesses rise and fall and countries and people.

And what he says to this conversation we're having is that one of the single greatest sources of instability in societies actually stems from education. And it's not the lack of education. He says, it's too much education. Now, before you think I'm going off my rocker and saying, this, here's what he mean very specifically, he's defined a term called elite overproduction when too many people all have MBAs, but there aren't enough things for them to do with an MBA.

Too many people all get law degrees, but there aren't enough things and they all just start suing people. So I think what's super interesting about this challenge that we're dealing with. And by the way, technology can be very much part of the solution is part of it the education, but part of it is the off-take. What do you do with those people? How do you help them find meaning with the educational ladder they've climbed up?

That I think is a still very unsolved problem. And the answer can't possibly be, they should all just watch Netflix, as good as Netflix is. I think we've got to be a lot more simple to give up matching those trained people with tasks and projects that are just really interesting. And I think we're really bad at that right now as a species.


Jeremy Au: (32:07)

Yeah. And that's really true. And you and I, we both won the educational lottery that way, right?


Nick Nash: (32:12)



Jeremy Au: (32:13)

So UC Berkeley then have MBA for myself, yourself, Harvard, and the Stanford MBA. So I'm just kind of curious, obviously I have my point of view as well, but when you entered Harvard and Stanford, you entered the golden gates I guess, and do you sometimes struggle, like explain your experience at a place with other people who never got a chance to think about it? So, because I sometimes struggle with that. It's hard to explain what's inside rather than for those who have never seen it inside.


Nick Nash: (32:41)

It's an interesting question. And I'll just give you the honest, brutal answer. I try to think about having gone there as little as possible, and I barely ever mentioned it to people, for one simple reason. I just feel so fortunate to have gotten a good education, but I don't want those things in any way to define who I am, most of all in terms of my own self definition, because that's the simple slippery road to a sense of elitism or even worse resting on laurels.

So I think if you have that sort of self built, it's more than humility, it's a disregard for those things because they shouldn't be how you define yourself or get comfortable with the feeling that you've done something useful in your life. So I got to tell you, I don't think much about them. I have a t-shirt from one of those schools and I'm kind of embarrassed to wear it.

Because I feel like it would be sort of like, I don't know, what's the word for it, it would be sort of like the wrong value set. So for me, it's much less about that, It's just a sense of gratitude like, wow, I had some great teachers made a bunch of great friends, but now it's time to do it, go off and do the real work that actually counts a whole lot more.


Jeremy Au: (33:47)

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I struggle and I also try not to think about it. Of course, it's a useful signal for our folks looking at resumes, talking about opinion leadership. I think sometimes I try to explain it as more like it's like getting a 5% increase in your interest rate, no matter what you do on your yearly bank account, because once you get in, it just keeps accreting, right? And it's not obvious in the short term, but it's invisibly working in the background all the time in terms of network, in terms of what I learned, in terms of the skills I gained along the way.


Nick Nash: (34:20)

It might, but I would also argue, and again, this may be controversial, for many folks that they go to institutions that have some degree of sort of brand. It's also a negative 5% inhibitor because so many people exhaust so much energy in the application process and whatnot, that to a certain extent they're like, "Okay, great. We're done." It's a little like that, very cynical and kind of mean statement that the definition of a Rhodes scholar is someone with a bright future behind them. And obviously that's super, super, super tongue in cheek and not in any way a reflection of reality.

But the reality actually in this world is what matters so much more is not what your diploma says, it matters what the hell you do with it. And one of my favorite entrepreneurs loves to say that he went to the best university in the planet, which was the school of hard knocks. I couldn't agree more if someone can like get me like a football Jersey for the school of hard knocks, I would totally wear that every day.


Jeremy Au: (35:16)

Well, that sounds like a merchandising opportunity very soon.


Nick Nash: (35:20)

Man, I'll totally make one and like whatever, this is a brand, would love it, would love it.


Jeremy Au: (35:25)

So let's talk about work, right? So school of hard knocks and your first school of hard knocks was I assume, McKinsey, that's your first time entering and doing a job, right? What was that like?


Nick Nash: (35:37)

Well, McKinsey is super interesting place because it, as much as is possible in a fairly practical world of business, it tries to actually figure things out on first principles. And it's not the only shop. I mean, Bain is wonderful and BCG is wonderful and so many other firms, but for what it is individually, it is really good at trying to sort of ask questions and sort of try to build things up in building blocks, to come up with a reason for why things are happening. I just loved it.

It was a really great place, you make a bunch of great friends, my wife is also from McKinsey. My office mate introduced me to my wife. So you end up becoming part of a just a bunch of fun people to be with. I think there's a lot of similarities to almost thinking of it as a kind of a masters program, that you get to go to kind of right out of college. And then the other thing that I think you'll learn a lot about is as you're puzzling things out and trying to sort of work out the solution to something, as intellectual as that may seem and not very practical, you also learn a lot about the deep linkage between how you write things and how you think things. And that may seem kind of academic, but actually is very important. The quality of thinking generally improves if you're a better writer and the quality of writing generally improves, if you're a better thinker and no one shows up to work being very good at either of those two things.

So you end up getting a lot of practice, almost like a medical resident in figuring things out. And I just, I'm very grateful for all the training and frankly, all of the tough love that you get in a place like that. And interestingly enough it ends up giving you, I wouldn't say a versatility, but it gives you sort of a curiosity about how other things work. That's actually really, really fun.

The best McKinsey people or the best consultants in general are actually special not because of what they happened to have learned a memorized, but because of their kind of very sharply defined curiosity for figuring the next thing out. A great skill, I think to have, because you'll have to be able to walk into any dinner party and be utterly fascinated by the person sitting to your left and to your right. And that's a wonderful gift to be able to have. And consulting firms do a great job of teaching that.


Jeremy Au: (37:42)

Well, that's funny because my wife is also McKinsey.


Nick Nash: (37:46)

That's brilliant, that's brilliant.


Jeremy Au: (37:48)

Well, the joke is more like I joined Bain, I looked at my partners and I said, who left their poor wives at home and their husbands at home. And I was like, "I'm not going to do that to my plus one." And then of course, years later I left Bain and years later my wife was like, "I want to join McKinsey." And then I realized I was going to be the one left at home.


Nick Nash: (38:08)

There you go, there you go. I think you can write her a slide deck about it.


Jeremy Au: (38:12)

Yeah. Nick, we're kind of curious, what feedback did you get at McKinsey? I'm just like, because consulting firms, they give a lot of feedback, right? Like this is what you got to work on. What feedback did he give you Nick in your first year, do you remember?


Nick Nash: (38:29)

Man, it's been so long. I probably buried it all subconsciously. Not really sure, let me think for a second. Gosh, it's been so long, Jeremy. I think it's some of the usual stuff in a funny kind of way, maybe I can wrap into a broader theme and something that I've learned and I really encourage folks at our firm to sort of adapt and think about. There's an inherent shyness that people often have when they're starting in a new organization.

We all know the drill, you sort of show up to work, you kind of don't want to sound stupid. You don't want to feel like you're talking much when instead of it's the senior partner's job to do the talking, and frankly, even, if you don't want to sound stupid, you don't have a whole lot to say when you're just figuring things out in the very beginning. And what I learned over a lot more years, post that point was the following.

Number one, there is enormous value, so you can see we're going to this part of the feedback I got was please try to speak up a little bit more. Sort of don't be a shy and I've obviously broken through some of that shell as the years come by. But here's the interesting takeaway, I have come to sort of maybe have this view, for right or for wrong, that there's a lot of stuff that people can learn autodidactically in life that most people don't bother doing.

Let me give an example. Let's say hypothetically, you're on a McKinsey project or a BCG project or whatever. You're at a startup, you're doing something. And you've been asked to go think about some new area. Let's just say it's E-Wallet, let's pick an area that's on everybody's minds. These days, FinTech and E-Wallets. It turns out there's like six awesome books on Amazon about how visa was build, how PayPal was built, how parts of China's payments ecosystem were built, how it fits into e-commerce, how regulation works.

And if you really worked at it, you could read them all cover to cover and ingest them properly over probably three weekends. And you would not spend even the fraction of what it costs to get a Gerson Lehrman. One of these expert networks to have one of their experts talk to you for an hour. You would literally spend about $87 on Kindle expense and would walk out really knowing a lot, but no one does that which is just fascinating.

And interestingly, when I sort of came to learn over the years, is that a lot of my shyness in early meetings when I was younger was to a certain extent, maybe it's because I have a science background, I felt I didn't know anything worth saying, but if you do a lot of the work to read stuff, and then once you've read stuff, you can talk to some more people and ask them maybe one or two interesting questions and they start to open up to you.

Because you asked them a question that they thought was kind of interesting, it kind of triggered a few more thoughts, all of which cascades into actually having much more interesting conversations with people. And it's not that you want to sort of become some sort of jeopardy contestant and know what team won, the world cup in 1973. It's less that it's more like, wow, what's happening right now seems to be very similar.

Some the challenges that Visa was going through, and I'd love to ask you if there's a similarity, whatever, whatever, whatever, and kind of making this up on the fly. But you start to see the patterns of things a little bit more. And even more than that, you just start to find it all very interesting. So if there's something I learned at McKinsey indirectly, it's that the best way to actually be more engaged in a conversation in a meeting or whatever is to actually do a lot of legwork behind the scenes.

It reminds me Jeremy there's a great mark Twain quote, he used to say, "A really great extemporaneous speech requires about 24 hours of preparation." And that's obviously sort of a little bit of a, kind of an oxymoron, but it's true. And oftentimes like Steve jobs would say you discover only late in life, how the dots connect, but it behooves all of us to put a whole bunch of dots into our lives often through reading and then sort of learning about what's already transpired.


Jeremy Au: (42:21)

Yeah. Wow. I think that's so true. You just got to do the work in, you're just always going to revert to the mean or become a politician in terms of like finding common ground, but it's hard to be spiky and have a clear point of view if you haven't done the work beforehand. For sure. Nick, I think obviously you went on to build this career in New York and you started out in the States and then you made a move to do your first ASEAN investment. So tell us more, how did you, how did Southeast Asia enter the picture for you in your orbit?


Nick Nash: (42:55)

Well, it all began in a very unusual way. I first came to Singapore to work, not even as a tourist, in 2006. And it's a part of my story that I actually, I don't know many people know I came here to work at Lenovo, of all places. And the reason was very straightforward, one of my bosses at general, Atlantic, who is an extraordinarily interesting and fascinating and very, very thoughtful business person, his name is Bill Grabe had been one of the top people at IBM, literally top five globally for IBM.

So much so that Sam Palmisano who ultimately ran IBM after the famous Louis Gerstner, Sam Palmisano, I think it was the guy that built it hired, or at least a trained along the way. So this is just really special. He came to General Atlantic in roughly 1993 and amongst many, many things he did by the early two thousands. He had this great idea that we would help Lenovo buy the very, very famous IBM PC business.

Many will know that back in the early days of computing, there were a few different brands, Commodore, Amiga, of course the old Apple IIs and whatnot. And then out of this now legendary and famous story, out of their Florida R&D center, IBM built a PC and this wasn't IBM's kind of knitting, IBM was sort of in the mainframe and the big and iron business OS360 and the big stuff, but a bunch of guys kind of put together the first PC, the IBM PCXT on the 8088 processor.

And of course that spawned along with Microsoft, the whole PC revolution, fast forward to 2003, 2004, that business was sort of maturing, Dell and others had sort of made a lot of hay and it actually made all the sense in the world to do this wonderful East meets West merger, which of course could never happen in the current geopolitical climate. And as a part of that General Atlantic, a hundred million dollars to help Lenovo buy this business. And my boss Bill joined the board.

I was at business school at the time just after that. And my return offer to General Atlantic was conditional on spending the summer with GA ideally at a company. Then I want to emphasize that for one quick second, a bunch of folks in this call probably have a background in different aspects of venture capital or investing. What are the fun things that we've done in Asia Partners? It's central to our culture, is that no one can get to the vice-president level in our firm unless they have simultaneously done some investing work and have worked for at least two years in a line role in an operating company like a SEA or a Go-Jek or Grab, or what have you. There's a workaround to that. If you go get an MBA, then you just have to work for one year in an operating company, but we'd actually prefer it. You just do the two years and not even get the MBA if need be, but where am I going with this?

Bill's view and GA's view was, "In the same way, you're getting your MBA, but go work in a real company, go, go learn how businesses get run and managed." And they said, "Why don't we send you to Singapore? We've just bought the Lenovo IBM sort of combined business, go out and help." So I got my first introduction to Singapore in a long-winded answer to your question by running around the Funan IT Mall back in 2006, trying to figure out how we would sell people consumer PCs, because we didn't have any in Southeast Asia.

We had a nice little office at Lorong Chuan, many of you in Singapore will know, and I just fell in love with Singapore and all things Southeast Asia, unbeknownst to me, my wife also loves Singapore. That's a whole other story. And when the opportunity arose in 2011 and she goes to the office, it was an absolute dream come true. We loved it. I remember coming home to sort of ask her, "Hey, but GA wants us to move to Singapore. What do you think?"

And I'm sort of taking some creative liberty here, but the summation of her answer was, "You're numbskull, why didn't you just accept on the spot? Why did you have to ask me for permission? Let's go, let's move to Singapore." And that of course was in 2011. And I think it's a fun conversation, Jeremy, if you'd like to take the conversation in that direction, which is to talk about how much has changed since 2011?

Because we talk a lot about how Southeast Asia is having a moment right now and we talk about this golden age concept, but it didn't happen overnight. I mean, Southeast Asia has been working very, very hard to get to this point, thanks to your efforts and many on this call. So that here in 2021, about 10 years after I moved here, things are starting to really finally take off.

Yeah. I'd love to go into that because I remember that. And I moved back to Singapore about 2011 as well, or so 2012, and I remember the first co-working space opened up it was called Impact Hub Singapore by Quayside, 2012, I remember. And then Golden Gate and Jungle Ventures was running around their co-working space with me. So, but things have changed a lot. Nick , compare and contrast, what was it like then when you first moved for real with your wife versus today?

Maybe I've been talking to you about Jeremy. I'd love to hear from you and others on the call. Maybe we can all just go around and ask folks from the audience to talk for a literally give us a single sentence. Maybe we can have four or five people, what's the single biggest difference in the tech ecosystem, 2011 to 2021 in Southeast Asia? If they could say it a single sentence, maybe we can just ask folks to raise their hand. And do you want to kick us off Jeremy? You want to kick us off with an answer? In your mind, single biggest difference over 10 years.


Jeremy Au: (48:27)

Yeah. And everybody feel free to raise your hands, we'll be able to rotate you in. I would say the biggest difference is that the word founder exists, like the word, the concept, the career, the mind share that the founder has. I mean, in 2012, we didn't even call ourselves founders because we were like, that's a weird thing to call ourselves. We need to call ourselves like president, a CEO.

I remember all our friends were like, we don't call ourselves founders nobody would take us seriously. Nobody would fund us if we called ourselves founders. And to some extent that's changed dramatically over time where people think it's great, people think it's awesome, people think it's an acceptable job. I remember my mom being very disappointed in me when I told her, I was like, "I'm setting up a business." And my mom was very disappointed because she thought I was a consultant and she didn't really know what consultant was. I told her it was being a doctor of the companies. And so that made it acceptable, but I couldn't find an analogy for being a founder at that time.


Nick Nash: (49:30)

Fascinating, fascinating. And there's a great book by Richard Feynman, which is a quote that at the time his wife had shared with him, "What do you care what other people think?" And that to a certain extent is worth of some conversation with the group. Because I would say at least here in Asia, we think a lot about what other people think, especially our parents. And it's fine to think that way about ethics and morality and values, but in terms of like pursuing a path of creating beauty in this universe, why should you care what other people think? A great question to think about, but let's ask some other people to say, what's the single biggest difference over the last 10 years?


Jeremy Au: (50:10)

Yeah. Melvin, you go ahead and then Oliver, and the JSP.


Melvin: (50:13)

Hey guys, thanks for a really awesome chat. I enjoyed every minute of it, but you see 10 years or 20 years because I heard 2011 versus... Wait a moment, it is 10 years, my God. I wanted to answer this question because-


Nick Nash: (50:24)

Hey Melvin, by the way, we have an amazing ed tech company that focuses on math, if you ever want a discount code... No, I'm just kidding you.

Fire away my friend.



I really wanted to answer this question because I was thinking about this very recently and I'd say the biggest difference is the unicorn expectation. In 2011, I just founded my first startup and we exited to Ruckus in 2013. And back in those days like that small little teeny weeny exit was like really celebrated with family and friends. But today, if you're not doing a unicorn exit, you're like don't bother.

Super interesting, thank you, Melvin. Oliver, you want to go next?


Oliver: (51:01)

Hey, thanks Nick, thanks Jeremy for bringing me up. I think for me the biggest difference is just the explosion of product and engineering teams based out of here in Singapore. And I think the reason that really, really matters is not only does it build a culture where people are just like experimenting and launching stuff, not just for the country, but for the region as well. Great example is how like new products like Google Pay for India and now in the US are partly built out of Singapore in addition to products that also creates like a cool pipeline of like founders, right?

Because eventually everyone will either start a startup or work in a startup. And I think it's a big major change. I was first in Singapore in 04 or 08, my first job was here and I was working in marketing analytics. And one of the biggest problems we always had was like building all of our data pipelines, we build really cool software. And now I think that's, that's less of a problem. And I think it's been a great change, great shifts, looking forward to see how that exponentially scales in the next five years.


Nick Nash: (52:06)

Super interesting. How about JSP?


JSP: (52:09)

Thanks Nick and Jeremy for having me up on stage. For most of you who actually have never met me in person, you might remember me from Tech in Asia in 2019 in Jakarta. I was the guy that won Nick's T-shirt for having been to the most cities across Southeast Asia.


Nick Nash: (52:27)

Of course, how have you been? Oliver says hi, by the way. Oliver says hi.


JSP: (52:31)

Yes, yes. I sent over a congratulatory note the other day for your raise, congratulations as well.


Nick Nash: (52:38)

Very kind.


JSP: (52:38)

I think the biggest difference in the last 10 years, it's possible and people are talking about it. I remember being in Bangkok in 2012 and people were saying to me like, "What are you doing out there? Everything is going to be in Silicon Valley or it's going to come out of China or India. There's just nothing going to be there." And you fast forward 10 years. And now we've talked about how many unicorns and where are they going to go public? And when's the next one coming up? So I think to me the biggest difference is, like you said before, there are rhinos out there and we're excited about seeing the next one come through.


Nick Nash: (53:17)

I think I've been muted by a moderator, maybe it's my cue that I'm talking too much. Valerie, should you go next?


Valerie: (53:25)

Hi, Jeremy and thanks Jeremy and Nick for bringing me up. I have two differences that I want to share. The first one is the amount of venture capitalists in Vietnam. That's where I'm from and based even currently. I talked to a few of the industry veterans and the time that I was in college, there was only one Vietnam fund, venture capital fund. But now we have at least four to five VC focusing on Vietnam and have headquarters in Vietnam.

And I can think of if every single VC fund in Southeast Asia has Vietnamese associate or Vietnamese representative, which brought me opportunity to join the VC industry as well. And the first company in my portfolio just made the first Vietnamese startup to be accepted to Y Combinator. So very exciting. And then the second biggest difference is now coming back to Vietnam to work is not considered like a loser anymore because I was bringing up that idea.

And none of my friends really considered as a career options, they always think Silicon Valley or US is a better path, but now a lot of people asking me like, "Hey, should I come back to kind of home country now? I really want to explore opportunities in Vietnam or Southeast Asia." And my family started to look at me going back to Vietnam, not as bad as before. And so yeah, I wanted to share those two things. Thank you.


Nick Nash: (55:00)

Super insightful. Thank you, Valerie. Maybe Jeremy, should we give Rajeev a check-in and then we can all maybe broaden the conversation?


Jeremy Au: (55:07)

Yep. Sounds good. So Rajeev then.


Rajeev: (55:10)

Appreciate it. Thanks, thanks Jeremy. Thanks, thanks Nick. Hello again, Saw your son today at school.


Nick Nash: (55:18)

Is your child at Little Hands also?


Rajeev: (55:20)

Same one, same one.


Nick Nash: (55:21)

I'm so sorry. It was raining a lot. I might've had the umbrella and didn't see you. Sorry about that.


Rajeev: (55:25)

All good. All good. So I think the one big change and is sort of piggybacking a little bit of on all of this point, but slightly different is a good hallmark or inflection point of any ecosystem is the ability to export your tech to other parts of the world that I've seen in the last 10 years. We've sort of moved away from not only being building tech that is for self consumption, but we're starting to see quite a substantial proliferation of tech being built.

That's being exported into other parts of the world and competing and winning. And so as we sort of grow and mature, I think that's one trend that we're keenly looking at and one we're happy to see as part of a maturing ecosystem.


Nick Nash: (56:10)

That's super insightful. Rajeev's colleague, Alex Lazarow is one of my best friends and Jeremy he'd be a killer person to have on the podcast.


Rajeev: (56:11)



Nick Nash: (56:11)

Has he accepted it yet? Did he make it go through for you?


Rajeev: (56:11)

Yes, he's on here. He's on here.


Nick Nash: (56:11)

That's awesome. That's fantastic. He'd be great. He'd be great. Well, we've only got two minutes left, I'd love to pose a question to the group and Jeremy, maybe you can start by responding, others can as well. One final question, which is the following, markets go up and markets go down and based on our sort of feeling about these things and based on the data, there tends to be a big tech bubble roughly every 20 years. If you think about it 1969 was a very, very big tech sort of bubble.

There was obviously a massive tech bubble, maybe 15 years, there was a massive tech bubble in 83, 84, there was a massive one in 1999. This one seems to be happening in 2021. How would a 70% crash in the NASDAQ, which is already down about 20% from its absolute peak, certainly for Tesla. How would that change people's determination, grit, resilience towards building tech companies?

I'm super interested this question because actually sometimes the world's best companies get created during times of recession because it's the entrepreneurs that are truly the ones that are the most passionate, the most committed to building great companies that stick it out and see it through. And others maybe think that other career paths might be a little bit of a better way to spend their time. So just curious, Jeremy, to get your reaction, the last minute we have.


Jeremy Au: (57:32)

Yeah. I think the data shows that great companies have been built regardless of time, right? It doesn't matter what time it is, there's a great company there. I think the interesting part is I think the whole ecosystem around it, right? I think it's more about the unthinking optimism/unthinking pessimism that tends to follow these cyclical components, right? And that can be a downer in terms of fundraising.

It can be a downer in terms of like community and personal support by friends and family. So I think that would be the biggest change I think. And it's not a bad thing because we're also going to see, there was the stories like when low tide comes, you figure out who's been swimming without the shorts on. So I think that's not necessarily a bad thing as well because for the good faith builders, they're going to persevere in good times and bad, right? So that's how I think about it.


Nick Nash: (58:30)

Interesting. Fascinating. Well, this has been a lot of fun. I've got to go take my kids for a walk. And nice to see all of you guys here. Thank you for sharing your time with me, I learned a lot from what the group shared and I just wish you all a very healthy and a very happy 2021.


Jeremy Au: (58:46)

Thank you so much, Nick, for spending your time.


Nick Nash: (58:48)

Thanks Jeremy. Thanks for hosting this. See you later.


Jeremy Au: (58:51)