I tried as much as I could to have a diverse set of perspectives around me, different people around me. And that helps you understand that there are more than one path in life. And that openness and exposure help you understand what you want in life. And of course, I'm really lucky that I am surrounded by family and friends and that it's not necessarily easy for anyone to do but there are little steps you can do to increase self-awareness - by exposing yourself to different things and different people. - Tammie Siew
Tammie is the CEO and co-founder of Revery, a Sequoia Capital and GGV Capital backed startup using mobile gaming to deliver mental wellness. Revery’s mission is to make mental health affordable, accessible, and fun. Prior to launching Revery, she was an investment associate at Sequoia Capital and a strategy consultant with the Boston Consulting Group.
Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hi Tammie. I'm so excited to have you on the show. A great founder tackling mental wellness through a gaming approach. I'm really excited to see you tackle this. You're also a former V.C. at Sequoia, but before that, also another ex-recovering management consultant like yours truly and some interesting journeys along the way at Cornell and other places. And so, I’m interested to hear your story and share that journey with others.
Tammie Siew: (01:01)
Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I didn't notice that you have quite a few consultants in your roster of guests, a privilege to be part of that as well. So, hi, everyone. My name is Tammie Siew. I am the CEO and co-founder of Revery. We are a startup that's using mobile gaming to deliver therapy, we are backed by Sequoia Capital and GGV, as well as angels.
Prior to starting Revery, I was, like Jeremy mentioned, a recovering VC from Sequoia capital and a recovering consultant from BCG, but Singaporean born and bred.
Jeremy Au: (01:39)
What's interesting, of course, is that you disappear in a really bright light of optimism for many years. Through the community in Singapore I've heard about you for many years through my extended network, like, Tammie’s great and all these different things. And I was just like, oh, whatever, right? Because, you know, you're just doing your own thing.
So it's just interesting to hear that along the way. And so maybe walk us through. What were you like in college? Because you started out in Cornell right? So what were you thinking back in Cornell? What were you thinking you were going to do? And how did you accidentally end up in management consulting of all places?
Tammie Siew: (02:13)
I will say I was vastly, vastly different from Cornell when I first entered university. My ambition was to be an English teacher. So I actually did three months of internship with the Ministry of Education prior to starting Cornell. But I found in my experience that I was frustrated by the fact that I couldn't reach more than the 30 kids in my class.
And there's only so much I could do. So when I took all this a little bit dismayed that, hey, this job of choice I had in mind didn't seem to be the right fit for me. It wasn't until junior year that I joined a social business consulting club and actually found out about Conjoint Consulting because of that, that I found that, hey, I really like thinking from a business perspective or a more scalable perspective to think about impact.
And so that's what led me to consulting as a career choice, I wouldn't say I entered it with a lot of wisdom or intellect. I was just like, Hey, I like businesses. I like finding out new things. I like experiencing new stuff and meeting new people and consulting seemed like a good fit for that.
Jeremy Au: (03:15)
When you ended up doing consulting, what was that like? I mean, do you remember those consulting interviews and things like that?
Tammie Siew: (03:23)
Oh, my God, yes. I mean, I'm sure, you know, the whole road, like, everyone practices all the case interviews and try and get into the top consulting firms, I think that my experience is definitely quite different. I deliberately chose a Southeast Asian office like Singapore office, instead of staying in the US back then because, at least from speaking to people, I heard that the projects in Southeast Asia were a little bit more like starting from scratch because the ecosystem is still so underdeveloped and digital was like the trendy new thing.
And a lot of them were not saying, Hey, I need to optimize my internet business or what is internet or how do we build new digital ventures for the first time? So I think when I entered the consulting industry, I didn't really know what to expect, but I think the exposure that I got in the Southeast Asian ecosystem was a definitely a lot more interesting for what I was looking for than if I had stayed in the US or chosen a different line of consulting.
Jeremy Au: (04:23)
So what was it like at consulting because I remember as a consultant I was quite surprised because I also was in the Social Business Consulting Club equivalent in undergrad, and it was very much like there's a mission dynamic that I love being with passionate people. I love the consulting dynamic of problem solving, and I realized that I was at a corporate consulting club corporation, which was very different.
And so I think there's a big divergence, which I think I was prepared for. My mentors prepared me for it, but it was a bit different. What was your experience like transitioning from a social business consulting club at Cornell to BCG?
Tammie Siew: (04:58)
I think the training was excellent, like the kind of caliber of people you're surrounded with and the fact that, you know, you're working the team some of my mentors, like one of the kind of bosses in my project, is still a mentor to me today, even after I left BCG for a few years. So I think I learned a lot I don't think I would be where I am without it.
And in what I was not fully prepared for was the people element of it, like how much the softer side of things, you can do an excellent analysis all you want, but whether or not this actually translated into action, whether or not the client understands, especially with the nuance of different languages and different cultures in Southeast Asia, both in the BCG team or the consulting team itself, as well as on the client side, I think that was something that no amount of case interview prep fully prepared me for.
Jeremy Au: (05:44)
What was that learning about from your perspective? I mean, what were you feeling during that?
Tammie Siew: (05:49)
Definitely scared, I think, you know, you're a 22 year old fresh grad and you're telling 50 year old people what you have to do and all you have is a bunch of PowerPoint slides. And what I really learned was how do you think about how you're presenting something from the audience perspective and what are the different communication types and how do people learn?
It's all very different and with some set of people, more numbers you throw out at them, the better. For other people maybe is a story that's more important that compels them to move to action. So that was something that I think prepared me a lot especially when I went into BC later on and now as a startup, now as a manager myself, that was something I learned that I didn't expect to.
Jeremy Au: (06:30)
Did you like it as a consultant? I mean, for me, I was kind of like, meh, because I love the people there, but I kind of got bored discussing all the airline points thing. I love the travel by realized I didn't say anything about my real friends after a while. I love learning a lot about PowerPoint and Excel, but I didn't really love Zero Defect and being very super detail oriented on certain stuff.
I don't know. What did you think about it?
Tammie Siew: (06:57)
I think I enjoyed it for that first two years, but once I realized I was not enjoying or learning as much as I wanted to, I was preparing to leave, which is when I started exploring venture capital. I think I really love the people. I do think that there is a tendency and I don't know if that's a cultural aspect where your job becomes your whole life and people didn't really have that much different circles of friends outside of that.
Your immediate colleagues, your weekends, you're basically finishing up work or trying to recover. How do we go ahead instead of exploring other things? I think it could be avoided, but as a young, fresh grad, I didn't recognize that. You know what? Like having a life outside of work is not just about quote unquote slacking. It is investing in other parts of your life for the future.
And I wish I had known that earlier.
Jeremy Au: (07:46)
Yeah, that's always hard to know at that point of time, right? Yeah. And obviously you wanted to be an English teacher and now you're consulting and so busy triangulating, right? And then suddenly you said you started exploring venture capital and then so now you did this secondment and eventually transition to Sequoia Capital.
So so why venture capital? Because, you know, a lot of consultants, they start doing secondments at Nairobi, doing education ministry placements. Like one friend really did that. Other people work in different places. For me, I became a founder. So why did you start exploring venture capital?
Tammie Siew: (08:25)
Yeah, I remember when I was looking at venture capital as a career transition, some people didn't even know what venture capital was in my consulting colleagues and they didn't know what Sequoia was and was surprised why I wanted to leave. I think two things – One, I was very hungry to learn and I was lucky that I had known people in the startup ecosystem while outside BCG.
To that I pointed out earlier about being very absorbed in BCG, I made a deliberate choice to join because of how set I am. I needed to apply to get friends outside of BCG. I made a deliberate choice and joined communities to expose myself to other kind of diverse interests. And I found this ecosystem joining a few founders, joining conferences. I was so nerdy I even took leave to go to the writers conference because I couldn't outside of work at a time. And so I already had an interest and exposure to startup. When I began thinking about a next job. I was also really lucky that prior to starting BCG I actually did a very short one month stint at ABC firm in the Valley, mostly by accident. I was just more like I was interested. I had a few months of extra time. I found this opportunity. I just tried. I didn't really do. I don't think I was very productive. I was just like kind of helping out and listening in. But I saw startups in the Valley. I saw that whole ecosystem at a glance. And so that kept on my mind and even throughout my BCG career.
Jeremy Au: (09:45)
Was that like? You're saying something that's very true, which is during this time we're both there at that early inception of Singapore and Southeast Asia's ecosystem. We would become like Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, etc. and snowball from there. Talk to us more about what you were observing at that time and how were you observing it?
Tammie Siew: (10:13)
Oh, when I first joined Sequoia, it was like early 2018. At that point there weren't even that many communities of young people in the VC ecosystem, it was very largely left by the partners. So I remember trying to round up people for drinks and trying to create WhatsApp groups which have now lived past me. People were still just learning what startups were and there was still very much this mindset that the Western kind of model of Silicon Valley side as opposed to ideal, like who are we to kind of duplicate that?
It's very risky and at a time China as a startup kind of powerhouse was still somewhat nascent, at least in the mainstream understanding. I think VC’s understood it but people outside or adjacent to the ecosystem were just beginning to recognize that all these other economies or ecosystems outside Silicon Valley has a lot of potential and a lot of interesting stuff to happen and could be built on.
Jeremy Au: (11:10)
What was it like being that one of those early team members trying to like shield VCs – please, take money from us. We promise we don't bite.
Tammie Siew: (11:23)
Yeah, I remember having to explain what a VC was. So a few founders I spoke to in the beginning, like, who is Sequoia? What is venture capital? What are you guys doing? Why are you taking ownership? What do you provide? Those questions I had to field in the beginning. I think right now a lot more people are aware, but back then also a lot of education and a lot of trust building between founders and VCs.
Jeremy Au: (11:47)
A lot of trust building. And they always say, like, always watch out when someone's buying you drinks.
Tammie Siew: (11:51)
Yeah, you're offering to pay for meals, like, they're paying for something else.
Jeremy Au: (11:58)
So there you are, buying people drinks, buying meals and explaining what venture capital is. And so you're seeing obviously in funding at Sequoia you see all these founders come through. What was it that you learn about venture capital in those early days? As an associate, what was it that you felt that you were learning in terms of skill set that was different from being a consultant?
Tammie Siew: (12:18)
I think consulting was very much giving out information and VC was very much how do you take in information and how do you look at diverse sources that information? Following on that point about people's skills, understanding the character of a founder is so important in the early stages, like it's just as much like what they don't say as what they say that’s important, how they treat people younger than them, how do they treat the secretary when they come into the office, how responsive are they to setting up or responding to your meeting when you set up. I think all those signals, which I didn't recognize was important before, and as data points, I need to calibrate. Is this the kind of founder you want to partner with long term? It was a big learning for me, and I think the second thing is that in VCs, interest is the only kind of asset class where the asset chooses you.
Tammie Siew: (13:06)
So it's a two way relationship, but you have to get them to like you as well. So that means that you can just be the buyer. It's that you also have to sell and on top of that, it also means it compounds one mistake you make or one trust that you break is not confined to that one issue as a founder, it breaks your reputation and it's not just for you but for your firm and outside to other relationships in the future. So that long term consequence was something that I learned in BC as well.
Jeremy Au: (13:36)
That's nice. You said very succinctly some interesting power dynamics actually in the entire ecosystem, which is that I think for consulting is very much about giving the right answer. But I think for VC, it’s not just about deploying capital, but also being able to choose and also being able to be chosen by founders. And there you say something also interesting, which is about trust and relationships.
And there you are building trust and relationships in Singapore and learning from other founders who are effectively the same age, maybe older than you as well or younger. So what was that like from your perspective?
Tammie Siew: (14:18)
Oh, that's so interesting because one day you're sitting across someone who just started something, you know, did actually have like a couple of people in turns and in a month later that could spiral like it’s grown 10x. And it was like very humbling and awe inspiring for me. The interesting thing about Southeast Asia as well is that founders come in so many different colors, like languages, cultures, backgrounds.
Of course, like the founders I'm familiar with, this is an example of a founder that came from a very atypical background, and doesn't have the typical roster of moguls. And back then his English wasn’t very proficient. So I think the diversity of founders I think is unique in Southeast Asia. It's in my opinion that you wouldn't necessarily see the same extent in the Valley or even in China.
So that was very fascinating. Like meeting so many different people, so many different perspectives from so many different walks of life that don’t look like me at all.
Jeremy Au: (15:10)
What's interesting is, you know, you say something about it being inspiring because you mentioned earlier, right? So you want to be an English teacher. Then you decided to become a consultant and then you decided to be in BCG and then now you're a founder. So somewhere along the way you somehow decided you wanted to be a founder while you're busy getting pitched by all these founders, you'll say to yourself like, Oh, maybe I should be a founder. So I'm curious what's going on here.
Tammie Siew: (15:41)
Part of that is that inspiration because you meet people that are not traditionally there, you know, white male, rich Harvard grad founders who are doing extremely well and are leading very interesting businesses and makes you think that it’s possible, like someone who is in that kind of standard I thought that you see on the media is a very successful founder is building cultures that are different, has like diversity that I didn't think was possible before. I think if I didn't have the exposure, I don't know if I’ll have the same courage that I have right now to sign up. So I'm grateful to BCG and specifically the Southeast Asian ecosystem for that. I think partially is also just what is the next thing I wanted to learn. Like, you know, when I started, I was like, I want to learn about this, this, this. How do I move on to the next thing I want to learn, specifically startups and innovation. And now I've learned from some bird’s eye view, I don't say I’ve learnt everything, but I’ve learnt enough for me to feel like, hey, the next thing I wanted to learn is how do I build, how do I operate, how they execute especially on something that I really care a lot about.
Jeremy Au: (16:46)
During that process of getting activated, to start feeling like you want to become a founder what did you notice about yourself? I guess, did you feel like your brain was expanding to become like a switch from the judging to like becoming more creative? Was there any like interesting things you notice about yourself as you move from like I'm a VC and my goal is to work up the track to keep going and take a left turn to become a founder.
Tammie Siew: (17:19)
That makes me sound like smarter than I actually was. I don't think there was that plan. It was more like an itch, like, hey, you know, what's the next thing I can try? So even within Sequoia, I tried like trying to starting launching more events within the company, try to drive this growth path through my founder initiative, tried to do things that weren't done in the firm for the first time and then between like before I left Sequoia, I actually did a six month secondment.
So that's also part of me like exploring that itch thing, you know, whatever I worked with when I was still learning a bit more about how startups worked inside out. So yeah, I don't think I was very smart in planning like a very linear path. It was more like, Oh, I want to feel like trying something else let me try in increments and then slowly build that.
Jeremy Au: (18:04)
Talking about incremental experimentation, which is I think quite an interesting feature, actually, I'm starting to notice becoming a recurring component here. So that six months secondment, what was that like for you? Did you learn something from there? Feels like you did based on what you just shared.
Tammie Siew: (18:23)
Yeah, no, for sure. I think I was super lucky to work directly with Kunal. So I got like speaking every week and I don’t know if you’re familiar with Kunal like everytime he speaks, there's always something new to learn, to kind of reflect on something. I was working on like a couple of products and a couple of new strategies for credit.
So I got exposure to everyone. And fortunately because of the pandemic, I was supposed to be in Bangalore, but I never managed to get there. So I think that experience wasn’t 100% what it could be, but just seeing how things work from mean, especially something like credit, which is there is no equivalent of credit in the world.
And if I was given very well in a very short amount of time and just kind of thinking and culture that went inside the building was super eye opening for me. Like I remember the all hands head and people are roasting each other like, you know, this is like a few hundred person company and then Kunal is there like allow himself to be roasted or roasting others.
Just that openness in ideation was super interesting to me. Kunal does have this and I think he's tweeted about it before. People of diverse backgrounds have interesting perspectives. He likes to look for people who have performance arts skill sets, for example, when it comes to building consumer. And you can see that in his team that he's built like the GM like the rockstar and the CTO and like GMs are like poetry writers and all of that.
Tammie Siew: (19:43)
So super interesting kind of team building and just a process of like seeing consumers respond to products for the first time, I've not seen that like a very like bird's eye view, you see what is the culmination of millions of micro decisions over the last year. But you only see in a slice of time you don't really see all the different revisions in the UI, all the customer feedbacks, all the bugs in API, which I'm experiencing now in my own company. But I saw that for the first time that I didn't even see.
Jeremy Au: (20:16)
Wow, there feels like you learned a lot from that piece, and I think it sounds like it gave you the confidence to kind of push off in your own right, which is interesting. I remember obviously hanging out with you in that transition period for brunch, there was a part where you're searching for the right set of ideas, right? Going through multiple iterations. I love catching founders at this stage because the story hasn't gotten too crystallized into a perfect story. So obviously we're not going to go through all the ideas. But I think the question is, how did you go about that search process? It's interesting because obviously there’s a, you know, every founder goes through a search process, but you also have a VC hat on where you're always going to that piece where I was like, oh, does this have a big enough total addressable market? Is this a good go to market? So there's a bit of a judgemental eye as well in parallel, which most founders have the bliss of not having, I guess at the same time. So I'm just curious about how you went about that process from your perspective.
Tammie Siew: (21:18)
I definitely came in with maybe a little bit naive kind of VC hat being like hey, what are the markets that are really large. What are the business models, what are the cons? How can I try and build it from there? So that was a non-negotiable for me. Like I wanted here's an opportunity cost and everything that we do, so we need to make sure it's worth it.
And I wanted an ambition to build a large company. But another thing that I was really interested in was the people that I would build it with. I really wanted to enjoy my co-founders and enjoy going to work. And so I was very, I guess, strict in finding a co-founder. I am so lucky that I met my current co-founder because we click so well and we're very close now, but I will say that it took me a few months to kind of find the right person to start up with.
So I was very lucky about that. And I think the last thing is just a question I asked myself that other founders advised me on as well. Is this something that you would enjoy doing even if there is no financial reward? And everything goes to hell, like when everything is like not working, is this something that you still believe in like a product, a space, a mission you care about?
Like when everything is going well, it's easy to say, Yeah, of course I enjoy it. But the worst case scenario is this still something you would pick. So those are kind of the three parameters I’m looking at for the startups.
Jeremy Au: (22:36)
Yeah. And I think what's interesting is actually when you finally kind of clicked on this, actually, I felt like this did not feel like the VC approach pathway that you and I were discussing at that time. We won't talk about what it was, but there's this very VC approach. But then when you told me when this came out, I was like, Oh, this feels like something that you've been passionate about for a long time. I've known you've been passionate about mental wellness for a long time, and you've also been passionate about gaming for a long time as well. So, it felt like you didn’t even need to be a VC to have that process to have landed on this approach? But of course, it's a verification approach. But so let's talk about those two threads without talking about a startup, but let's talk about why have you been passionate about these two threads for some time now?
Tammie Siew: (23:28)
Yeah, you're right. I think what I ultimately ended up doing didn't necessarily follow the VC playbook of an ideal startup journey, but that's partially why I enjoy it even more and no, you don't need to be a VC to start up. It helps in certain areas. It doesn't help in others.
Mental health in gaming, mental health is something I've cared about for a very long time. I wrote about it a little bit in my latest media personal post where very close people to me have gone through things. I’ve physically stopped someone from committing suicide. I mean of course like with that you've seen Sabrina was a friend of mine running Calm Collective and talking about the stigma and how you know how she herself went through a lot of challenges when dealing with her own mental health issues.
So that's something I really cared about. I was volunteering to do some work around mental health when I came upon my co-founder. And so that was really much by accident. I wasn't planning to, Hey, you know what? I'm going to choose mental health as a vertical. I was exploring another idea, but because I had done this side volunteer project out of passion, I was introduced to my co-founder so kind of in that way, my passion led me to the right person.
And so that's more of a personal mission for me. The gaming side is something I love. I love video games. I can talk about it for hours. I started video games because when I was a child, I had neighbors who were boys and they always had the latest games. But I’m never allowed to play them because games are always seen as a boy’s thing.
And then so I got a little bit frustrated, like, why am I always watching and not playing? So about 13, 14. I asked my neighbor to teach me, and that's when I started. So I started playing mostly because I was like out of pettiness maybe, but I ended up really, really liking it. And I continued to play my whole life. It never fully clicked on me that I can triangulate something as personally meaningful for me like mental health, something that I enjoy, which is a gaming and something that I think makes sense for my learning in my career, which is that the market opportunity was large. So I was more like a serendipitous, like intersection of these things that I was like, OK, you know what? This makes sense. But when I was in my life, I'm going to find all these things that fulfill and something that I really enjoy then I need to go ahead with it.
Jeremy Au: (25:40)
I'm really happy for you because when you landed this, my brain was like and my heart was like, I was really happy for you because my heart was like, you know, you're just going be happy doing this because, you know, I know you've been passionate about these two things for years. And my brain was like, yeah, you're going to be able to survive all the tough times because those are things you actually enjoy talking and doing, which is like, you know, you you've been gaming and you've been an advocate for mental health issues for a while, actually. So there's an interesting dynamic, right? Which is honestly like it's hard to tell if you'll be successful because we know that only one out of forty C stage companies would be a unicorn using, you know, American data. But at the very least, we know that you won't be because you are not enthusiastic about the problem, which just a lot of the you know, most of our companies commit suicide and rather than any true failure dynamic from competition. So there you are building this dynamic here and building this Revery from a mental health and gaming dynamic and being thoughtful about how you build it now because you’re a founder and you've also seen so many founders. Now that you’re a founder, what surprised you about being a founder now that you’re on the founder side of the table and not the VC site?
Tammie Siew: (27:02)
I think two things. I'm very, very lucky and so grateful for my co-founder because his background is product management and engineering. And he hadn't been in the kind of like the startup ecosystem like I had. So he really balances me. Like I'm always constantly thinking about the long strategic path and if you invest so much in that five year timeline and not looking at what's in front of you today, you can stumble and that's where he comes in and he’s excellent at getting us to the next milestone and execution and prioritization.
I don't think I would be successful without him or a co-founder like this. I'm very grateful, but yeah, I think I was really lucky to be able to have that path. I don't think many people have that opportunity to find people that they could work with.
Jeremy Au: (27:50)
You're on the VC side, right? You're saying all these founders and you're like, OK, I think I really know what a founder lifestyle thing is, and then you cross to the other side and then now you know what it actually is. So I just wondering, now you're in it, what about a founder lifestyle slash workflow? What about it has surprised you now that you're actually on the other side of the table?
Tammie Siew: (28:12)
I think it's that micro decisions I mentioned earlier that every day you make so many decisions and all of them compounds. And as a VC, you don't necessarily understand that like we changed our sprints to be one week to kind of accelerate our learning experimentation and it seems like a small thing to do like on two weeks versus one.
This really accelerated our learning and it's something I don't think I would have recognized it was a big deal in VC and it makes more sense. As the founder you don't only do it right, you do everything. You handle the people, how do you fire someone in a way that’s graceful? How do you hire someone and how do you decide communication and culture? How do you manage conflicts? All these decisions are daily events that happen. I did not have full visibility in as a VC. I think that was surprising for me. I think the second thing to the thread of everything that's been surprising to me is people; just how much of a difference a person makes like a hire can make or break the morale of the team.
When you have a conflict, how do you solve it? How do you talk to it? How do people respond to stress, especially when you have like five, six people just like one person being allowed back affects everything, affects productivity, affects decision making, affects the kind of ideas you even come up with. And you know, on paper you may be doing everything right, but off paper, like, how are you actually facilitating the environment to build your company?
Because all you have is people the only input of resource you really have is your people and your environment. And I didn't understand the full, I guess, importance of that until starting up now. When you're in consulting or VC, you have branding. You have something that someone built before to your name and people understand it and respond to that.
Tammie Siew: (30:12)
When you are a startup, all you have is you. They have quit their jobs to join you because of whatever stories you sold them and you have that pressure to make sure that choice was worth it and it's just you. You can’t say today was a bad bet because you belong to some brand name company you're OK to go to a bit, no it's your relationship with them as a founder and a colleague and that was a huge learning for me.
Jeremy Au: (30:38)
Wow, that's actually a super solid learning, which is yeah, I think as a founder you don't have a brand because if you're working at any company like Unilever, IBM, BCG, Microsoft, anywhere, like there’s a brand that you represent and the brand represents you and it’s the code for pay attention, that's something that people pay attention to. But now Revery is not. It's really Tammie Siew that people are paying attention to. And I do pay attention to Tammie Siew, but not necessarily to a stranger right. So that's the tough one. That's a really good point that you have there. And so how do you feel about VCs now?
Before that, you know what, emailing, giving calls, doing LinkedIn connections, and now you're, you know, all these other folks. And now you have a bunch of associates and folks kind of pinging you. How do you feel about all these pings now? Distracting? Value add? What do you think?
Tammie Siew: (31:38)
Now, looking back at all my previous communication and thinking I hope I wasn’t rude or anything because it matters so much. Like when you're a VC and especially young when you meet like, you know, five, ten meetings a day, you don't realize that for the founder, it's like a huge meeting you have for the day and what you do in that meeting matters so much.
Tammie Siew: (31:57)
I met a founder who once told me the trap if you or how the VCs treated them in calls. And I thought of it and he remembered it and they shared it with other founders, you don't realize that as a VC, especially as a junior one, how important that one meeting is. And I appreciate that so much more now. I do think that I was very privileged to be part of Sequoia. I mean, it sounds very biased but I do think that journey was really fantastic because now I met a lot more investors, and I think there are different investors for different types of founders and different types of companies, there’s really no one size fits all.
And you could be one invested in media and branding. Sounds great for you, but that is not the kind of relationship or advice or support that you need at that point in time. There's no use chasing after capital for the sake of capital. Not all money’s the same. Now I really believe it because I've seen the vast difference in how we've been treated by investors, including investors who pass on us, like how they treat us as a member of the ecosystem really says a lot about who they are as investors and makes you a lot more cognizant of like who you really want to partner long term for your company. Basically a lot more variance and investor types than I thought and a lot more selective in who you really want to partner with.
Jeremy Au: (33:19)
One thing you've shared and talk to me about in the past is that you've really pushed hard to really want to help inspire people to be more representative across both VC and founders is something you do care about. And this kind of curious about why you care about it from your perspective.
Tammie Siew: (33:39)
In my own personal journey, I think I've only, not only, but I've been limited by how much I thought I could do. In my early years. I thought that, OK, consulting is the end all of the career world for me. That's as much impact I could ever hope to make. But slowly I've been learning there's always something more you can do in VC, in startups.
The skill that they can reach is so much more than I ever imagined. And now, as a founder, I have the opportunity to create and decide on the path of my company, what my customers experience and what my employees experiences with me. And like I said in the beginning, talk to 19-year-old Tammie, she would not believe it's possible.
30 kids in the classroom, I already struggle to kind of scale impacting their lives. I think I believe very strongly in role models. I believe very strongly in allowing people to understand that their limitations are very much, not always, but are sometimes enforced wrongly by internal narratives or societal narratives and I'll have to break that for as many people as I can.
Jeremy Au: (34:40)
As you think about that, what do you think are the challenges you see really within the Southeast Asia context? Because I think we tend to see that in a very like honestly, a very fuzzy global thing. But we say global actually, to be honest, it's actually very U.S. centric. You're reading in English and reading this at TechCrunch and then the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
This is very American centric. But I'm just kind of curious, you know, now that you and I have really been in this Southeast Asian context, for quite a while now, how would you define that; what would you say are the challenges from a Southeast Asia context and your hopes and aspirations within that scene?
Tammie Siew: (35:18)
I think if I started up like five years ago, I don't think any investor would have said try to go to the US. I don't think anyone would have thought it was possible. But I think knowing that even a Southeast Asian company can have global reach and influence is not only possible, I think can be very enlightening. Like the precious IPO recently. I think a lot of Indian entrepreneurs are inspired by that and the reason that, you know, the fact that now we actually have tech companies in Southeast Asia being listed on the Nasdaq I think is very inspiring. And so I think it's still nascent. I don't think that it's fully reach like not every young entrepreneur actually understands that it can…I think they're beginning to and the more stories we tell, the more exposure we can give I think the better and the more we can have, you know, Southeast Asian founders actually having a footprint.
Jeremy Au: (36:09)
Yeah. Amazing. And starting to wrap things up here. Could you share with us a time that you have been BRAVE?
Tammie Siew: (36:15)
Yeah, I think all the times I've been brave was when I did something I really cared about, despite conventional wisdom, I really loved English literature and I took it, you know, as a major in college, even though, you know, most Asian parents see English is like, you know, you're not going to make money off it. It's not a career choice.
I love gaming. When people told me back in the nineties, it's like, a boy thing like why would you play a shooting game as a girl. I quit Sequoia and a lot of people tell me, This is such a great job, why are you leaving? And I loved it. It wasn't because I didn't love it. I was just more like, What's the next thing for me?
So I think when I listen to things like the fact I did mental health instead of some maybe like quote unquote logical choices based on my background. And the fact that I started with someone I've never met in person, which is like, you know, conventional wisdom would probably say that's not necessarily the most ideal path to take. I think those are the times when I had to summon the courage to go ahead with it.
But I will caveat by saying that for me, true bravery has to stem from self awareness. That is not just very reckless like society told me to do this. You have to understand what you really care about, like if you love being a mom and that is your mission in life then that takes a lot of courage as well. But you have to understand what you want and maybe people may want to say you should be a working woman, blah, blah, but if that's not what you care about then take that courage to do what you really love. So I don't think reckless bravery is what I resonate with. I think that bravery that comes from the internal locus of understanding and awareness.
I would also caveat that we like to glorify courage and bravery as like, you know, where you throw everything to the wind and you jump off a cliff and you figure out the way down. And it's part of it, of course, but I don't think it's a zero sum game. I think you can be brave and smart and you can be brave and prepared.
I think you can use bravery as one of multiple tools in your arsenal to achieve what you're looking for in life. For example, if I did an English literature as a major, but I also did economics. When left Sequoia, I didn't do it recklessly. I didn't burn all bridges. I was deliberate in testing and trying out things first before I decided to start up.
Mental health was something I've thought about for years. So it's not like out of the blue. When I met my co-founder, I had been speaking to multiple co-founders before, so I wasn't like, oh, one time. It was a very fast decision, but I had enough experience that I believed in that intuition so I think that all those moments where I had self-awareness in what I really cared about.
And I knew that I was using everything in my arsenal including my experiences and skill set and networks to go forward with what I cared about. And despite that conventional wisdom, quote unquote, or challenges. And in those moments when I believe I was brave, I hope, your moments of bravery.
Jeremy Au: (39:07)
One interesting thing that you talked about besides the mental health and gamer passion and how that long thing made it a very intuitive click when you met your co-founder and all those dynamics. And one thing you talked about was really the self-awareness dynamic which made all of that happen. Could you talk a bit more about how you approach self-awareness. I mean, how do you become self-aware?
That's an interesting question, I guess. I mean, I guess if you're asking how to be self-aware, you are self-aware. But I mean, I was kind of curious about how you approach self-awareness as a process.
Tammie Siew: (39:40)
I think I'm still learning, I don't think I'm super self-aware, especially being a founder is the greatest exercise in self-awareness I've ever gone through. But I think your people you surround yourself with are super important. People who challenge you, people who create a safe space for you to question, to explore people with different backgrounds.
I mentioned I'm BCG, I also went to apply for like Sandbox Community, which is like a community of different folks because I wanted a set of people I interacted with that wasn't just BCG people, even in college, I worked in a dining hall as well as went to business clubs as well as an illustrator for the human magazine.
So I tried as much as I could to have a diverse set of perspectives around me, different people around me. And I think that helps you understand that there are more than one path in life. And I think that openness and exposure help you understand what you want in life. And of course, I'm really lucky that I am surrounded by family and friends and that it's not necessarily easy for anyone to do but I think there are little steps you can do to increasing self-awareness - by exposing yourself to different things and different people.
Jeremy Au: (40:47)
Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing, Tammy. And I think that it's kind of like wrap that little bit here. If you could travel back in time to you going into college where you thought that you wanted to potentially be an English literature teacher, what advice would you have given yourself, I guess, in that quiet moment of a cup of tea.
Tammie Siew: (41:11)
Try more things earlier. It doesn’t matter whether or not people approve or not. And I wish I tried more. In fact, I had tried to do a gaming college, but I gave up halfway imagine if I had done that earlier. I mean, I'm really glad that I went through what I did and I have the wisdom I have now, but to mini Tammie, try more, try earlier, and try different things.
Jeremy Au: (41:33)
Well, I'm so happy that so many years down the road you're finally making that Tammie dream come true of making a gaming college. So, Tammie, thank you so much. I’ll love to wrap things up by paraphrasing the three big themes that I got here.
The first is, of course, thank you so much for sharing I think the big theme, which is I think your journey obviously in terms of your career arc from your passion in terms of impact, which is why you were exploring being a teacher, teaching 30 people to exploring becoming a social impact consultant, to becoming a corporate consultant at BCG, to becoming a VC at B Capital and Sequoia, to working at startups and eventually becoming a founder yourself and I just love or realized that in contrast to other founders, I think who are much more intentional and have maybe a bigger strategy with big arcs or big plans. I think you're much more of an experimentalist, I would say, with clear steps of time bound experiments, which is, I think, a much more true approach to you and I think it works, and I think that's a good way of doing it. And I think you got what you did within a very strong and structured approach. So I think I just love all those clear learnings at each stage. And I think at each stage you also were able to crystallize different learnings along the way and be able to look back at what you learned along each stage.
Second, of course, I really enjoy it was hearing about your passion for mental wellness and health, which I've known for a while, as well as your passion for gaming, which I've seen for myself since we've gamed together as well. I got to say Tammie’s really legit better than me, definitely, on some maps, I'm going to say that it really goes to show that I think there's a certain dynamic where I think it was just really inspiring to hear that because it was not just a click, of course, in terms of how she's been dedicated to that across multiple years, but also I think you helped show up in terms of it being an intuitive click, in terms of it being able to come together, in terms of product market fit as a business, but also be able to come together in terms of intuitive click, in terms of finding the right co-founder and also being able to map to the right co-founder. And I think that's an interesting dynamic obviously to talk about that overall search process that we talked about in terms of our personal approach and maybe very Ikigai kind of dynamic, I would say, versus a more VC top-down investment memo, big addressable market approach that grew up in there.
And lastly, I think thank you so much for the big theme I think you talked about, which is being smart while also being self-aware. I think self-awareness was something that was a big theme throughout. And I think I love about being self-aware at each stage about where you were at each stage. I think you actually give a very clear, succinct snapshot of what you were thinking at one point of time without giving away or trying to over-correct for the future. And I love that part because I think it allows us to have a much truer understanding of who you were at that one point of time and how you actually learn and what you actually learn from each transition over time.
Thank you so much, Tammy, for coming on the show and sharing your journey with so many folks.
Tammie Siew: (45:05)
Thanks so much, Jeremy. I'm looking forward to our next gaming session.
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