The Sponge Podcast: The Dos and Don'ts of Entrepreneurship, Navigating Startup Success and VC Insights

· Press,VC and Angels,Founder,Mentorship,Southeast Asia

Jeremy Au, Chief of Staff at Monk’s Hill Ventures and host of BRAVE Southeaset Asia Tech podcast, shares valuable insights on successful entrepreneurship and investment. He emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between hard work and intelligence, identifying founders who can deliver on their promises, and the qualities of effective leaders. Perseverance, integrity, and courage are highlighted as key values for consistent success.

Check out the podcast episode here and the transcript below.

Joshua Wong: (00:00)

Welcome to The Sponge Podcast. My name is Joshua, and every week we discuss strategies, actionable tips, and practical advice with industry experts, teachers, creators, and entrepreneurs to help you level up mentally develop strong leadership qualities. Strengthen your personal finances, win in relationships, and live healthy and productive lives.

In this episode of the podcast, I speak with Jeremy Au, the Chief of Staff and VC at Monk's Hill Ventures. Jeremy is also the host of the BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast, which is the number one regional startup podcast. He was recognized by Forbes 30 under 30 for a social enterprise Conjunct Consulting, which he co-founded.

Joshua Wong: (00:48)

He discussed his journey as an entrepreneur, common mistakes new entrepreneurs make, and the art of pivoting a business model. Jeremy also shares his insights into venture capital and angel investing, including the key traits and characteristics he looks for in a startup before investing, how he evaluates the potential for growth and success, and what sets apart successful startups from the ones that fail.

So join us for an enlightening conversation on entrepreneurship. Venture capital and angel investing in Southeast Asia. Thank you so much for coming onto my podcast. You've built such an impressive portfolio. Like for starters, you're an angel investor, you're a VC podcast host, and you even authored a book called BRAVE10, but in your own words, could you give us a brief introduction of yourself? Yeah.

Jeremy Au: (01:35)

Quite simply for myself I grew up in Singapore went to Army, then UC Berkeley, started technology, economics and business. Then I worked at Bain as a consultant across tech and consumer across Southeast Asia and China.

And then I left to bootstrap my first company, which was a social enterprise consulting for the social sector. Grew that to over a hundred clients. And after that it was profitable. And then I handed over to my co-founder and I went to do my Harvard MBA where I built a second company grid it out to about 8 million of revenue.

Raised Pres-Seed, Series A and then sold it eventually to a global day care chain. Then after that was a GM there for a year before coming back to Singapore and joining the other side of the table as Venture Capital. I love sci-fi. I'm a dad of two daughters and I also host yes, the BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast where we have over 20,000 listeners every month. And yeah, we talk about entrepreneurship, leadership, venture capital, especially in the Southeast Asia context.

Joshua Wong: (02:39)

Thanks for sharing. Before we dive deeper into your entrepreneurial journey and investing journey I would like to start in your younger years, like growing up, you've attended some of the best schools in Singapore.So what were you like as a kid? Were you always driven and motivated?

Jeremy Au: (02:55)

Yeah I think self memory is always very different from what other people remember about you. Yeah, I think I was very lucky because at that time, honestly today is such a blood box, to be honest, to get these schools right. Think. Then when I was growing up, it was just, A function of, my mom's just asking a friend say Hey, what's a good school? And then, she went to the school and then said, Hey, can I transfer my kid? And, all these other stuff. So I think I had benefit and privilege of going to, the, going through the Anglo Chinese school system. And I thought it was just a tremendous experience. For myself, I really enjoyed it. I loved the structure. I loved I don't know, just everything about, at the time it was like, oh, every student, every person is an officer, scholar gentleman, it was very like, either you go through the sermons and you go through all that stuff and you're like, yes, I'm going to be a, virtuous person, try my best honor, courage rivalry. So I think that's why I really remember a lot of and I remember trying to live up those values and truth is it's pretty hard to do live up to those values.

hey're all very aspirational. But yeah, you try to live by the integrity just academics. Frankly I wasn't that focused on academics. I was always very much interested at time in, computer club and robotics club and science club. Yeah. Or an athlete. Unfortunately I was not. But yeah, that was what happened for myself. And yeah, I remember, studying. Biochemistry, biophysics math, and I was like, yeah, I wanted to be I wanted to be a me medical researcher actually. Oh. Yeah. So that's why dream actually during secondary school in jc.

Joshua Wong: (04:23)

Interesting. So what shifted because the route you took was really different?

Jeremy Au: (04:28)

Yeah, I think there are two parts of it, right? I think the biggest part, honestly, for me was in, during college, my, unfortunately, my first girlfriend had passed away during that time. So unfortunately it was just very a tough time for myself personally.

And obviously it's a lot of grieving for her family and myself. And I think part of that process was kind of like sitting down a bit and just saying okay, what do I want to do the rest of my life? And I realized that I wasn't comfortable with the medical setting anymore. And so I thought it was a very different path, but I wanted to continue.

Idon't know what, being part of science and technology, I wanted to continue helping out and building the future. And yeah, a lot of the same stuff that appealed to me. The ideas of problem solving and so forth were all aspects that I still were very much interested in. And so I think university and my first job was me just Testing out different iterations of it, right?

It's do I enjoy the role of I was considering like a role at, gates Foundations, to work on vaccine strategy. I wanted to work at Bridgespan Group, which is, consulting for the social sector. So these were all different aspects that I was very deep in, in terms of doing their, even university as I work with eight different nonprofits. Most of them were healthcare, for example, consulting for them. And what I realized of that whole experience was yeah, like I said I love the future. I love helping people and society.

I love taking that broader prism. And probably the domain isn't within the lab. And it's probably going to be something that's more on problem solving, more working organizations and people. So yeah. That being said I'm a huge bio nerd still. If you go to my YouTube library, it's like all this biology stuff, anatomy to me and all this other stuff, but, I'm not going to be a doctor, a medical researcher, unfortunately. Yeah

Joshua Wong:(06:06)

It's still great that you're still doing things that you're passionate about though, right? Despite going through a different path in a sense. But you still do, you're still doing what you like to do. And moving on, you actually studied you got your MBA at Harvard Business School. Yeah. So I'm actually really curious, like what's your experience there and what are some lessons that you took away during your time there?

Jeremy Au: (06:27)

I think it was a really wonderful experience and. I'm so sad it's gone. I wish I could back the time and just hang out. I think there's something special when you go back to grad school because you already went to university, you went to work and that's the last set of school you have to go.

So you end up doing a lot of stuff. This time around you go in, it's okay, I'm not going to be the loner there, orientation, I'm going to meet people. Yes. I'm, I am less nervous now and I know that nervousness is normal, and so I can, meet folks. I can introduce myself.

I can have fun and, that's, four years and undergrad passes by so quick and the proof is, I think two years in grad school passes by so quick. So I think that's this. Huge urge to live it up, right? Live up this experience of being a student again, but also I think it's a bubble, right?

In the sense that you get to work with these world class professors, these world class career development folks, and you ha get hang up with so many hungry, ambitious people around you who are at the same stage of life. And so it's a little bit like It's a very like traditional cocoon where you can come out the other side like a butterfly.

Yeah. And so I think it was a very wonderful period for me to reset because at a point of time I already done a consultant. I had been a social entrepreneur. And so during that time, I remember in my mba, I remember I joined tree clubs, which is a pretty good example, I joined the social entrepreneurship club.

I joined the healthcare club. I enjoyed the technology club cause quite clearly you tell that I was actually experimenting my career cause I was like, had done all these things, but which part really resonates with me. Yeah. And what I landed up on was like, hey, I really looking back, really enjoyed the entrepreneurial side.

I enjoyed the future. I love the technology side. And so I thought it was a good experience. I think my biggest insight I got out of business school was that at the end of the day, the most incredible people in the world out there, they were their thirties once, yeah. Yeah. So their twenties you, I remember I met some of these world class folks, right?

And now everyone's Wow. They're on Twitter, oh, they destroyed a global economy. Oh, this, there's an evil person. I met all of them at Harvard Business School cause they're willing to give talks. And I go up to them and I shake hands. And I remember, I was like, one person I met, I was like, oh wow, he's shorter than I taught.

He was a camera. Such a powerful, he's he shot, he's got spots, freckles. And Yes, you hear him go shake his hand, and then you're like, oh, this guy is a human person. He's not what's the word? It's not the dead. God was just an interesting experience. So I think what I realized was that at the end of the day, all these people who were successful, they're in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and once upon a time they were in their twenties and thirties as well, right?

Yeah. And so I think it's a function of intentional habits, everyday emotion and like very structured. Direction and then you can become a specialist. You can become an expert in that space. And I think that's given me a lot of patience cause last time, you compare yourself like, okay, why can't I be like this person?

Why can't be like that person and be like, yeah, because this person has 40 years of like consistent effort in That's very structured. And so you're like, okay, you. It makes certain visualizations of who you could become a lot more possible. And at the same point of time, it also gives you a lot more patience for doing the things that will get you there while also making you have a much lower threshold for I think the activities that you know are not going to get you there, and so I think it's an interesting switch from sprinting to more of a marathon or even more like a nice hike. To be honest. It's about navigation, yeah.

Joshua Wong: (09:41)

You mentioned you're a social entrepreneur and you've actually appeared on the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2016 for your company Conjunct Consulting, right? So what actually got you started to be an entrepreneur? What inspired you to go on this journey?

Jeremy Au: (09:59)

I think frankly when we started out, we actually intended for it to be a nonprofit. We wanted it to be an organization that would basically provide consulting services for social sector.

At a point of time, the social sector did not really do consulting. And I remember at that point in time people were very skeptical. I was like, oh, why would. Anybody want to do consulting? Why would anybody want to do that kind of like change management? And I was like, yeah, I think we can, we just have to help them understand what the value of that is going to become.

So we wanted to build that and we built that in partnership, obviously with students, working professionals. And what we quickly realized about year in was that we needed to get it to a place where it needed to be financially sustainable. It needed to charge fees. And so that was really the crux of how we ended up.

Becoming more of a social enterprise. And that's what we landed on to make it financially sustainable. And I think part of that journey was like, okay, you knows, especially a lot of different dynamics, right? When you're soliciting for donations versus charging for services. I think there's a lot of dynamics that make it quite different, right? And yeah. I'm glad I got to learn those lessons.

Joshua Wong: (11:04)

What advice would you give for young entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own business?

Jeremy Au: (11:09)

Yeah I say this in the knowledge that when I was a young entrepreneur I was terrible at taking advice. So I know that my advice is probably I don't know up to you if you receive it or not, right? But let me see why it is. I think that, I think what's definitely true is that if you are hungry to build something, you should build something. And I think you have to build something to know how hard it is. You can't theoretically build something, you can't theoretically think about a t-shirt shop.

You can't theoretically think about a BSE and so that's a lot of a dynamic there, where only by doing it do you have the skin in the game to actually learn about what it is to build business. That being said, I think a lot of young founders and situation where they're building for very subscale problems, right? When I say subscale means, and it doesn't necessarily mean subscale, but it's a problem that maybe they're not interested in. It's a problem they think they can make money in, they think people will be interested in, but it's not really something that clicks, right? And I think where the danger zone comes in is that when you're young, you tend to be a little bit more like.

Tense about feedback. You tend to be more defensive, right? About how to change the company and, a little bit less plugged into networks that can help give you advice and support and taking this true. And so I think basically they end up from a res process perspective, they don't necessarily research product market fit sufficiently. They don't iterate, they don't change, they don't evolve, they don't adapt. And so they end up building a company that's. May still succeed slowly, but it just never unlocks because it's such a, It's not there. So a classic example would be like, there's so many students that always joke that wanted to split the bill.

That's, so every year there's like at least two or three apps that help split the bill, right? Yeah. And I'm like, whoa, yeah, now was that time was cash. They became online version. They became instead of buying food, it became buying bubble tea, buying stuff, buying tokens together.

But the content is basically like how in a group of five people, how do you split? The bill. In a way that makes sense and everything. And it's a feature, right? Yeah. In the sense that if you're, someone's buying, just want one credit card maybe in a restaurant, and they'll be, they'll let you have two credit cards to pay for it.

But actually most people can pay. Full. And then if or if they paid the full amount, then somebody else will wire them the money. Yeah. Yeah. Pay now pay lot. I don't know. Whatever form or version you want to do it. Who doesn't want me to do it? Or you can just take cash and you spit it out. So what I say is the pain point is very small, and I see a lot of founders who are like Jeremy's Jeremy, this is the group buy for bubble tea. How about each of you buy one bubble tea? And I'm just like, I think it of course is a minimum order, et cetera, et cetera. But. I'm just trying to say is that the problem is not very huge, right?

And so if you say okay, I want to build a very small micro, I don't know, free tool or like a small app for $1, I don't know, a month, something very due to do that because it's a very small. Pain points. Yeah. Then I think it makes sense because then your monetization model aligns with what you're trying to do, which is aligned with significance of the problem to user.

But then I think where it goes bad is if you say to yourself like, okay, I'm going to build a billion dollar company based on people paying me a hundred dollars a year in order to split the bill. And then you're like, whoa. Like I don't think anyone's going to pay you a hundred dollars per year to split the bill.

Don't get me wrong. I say there are many problems that people will pay you a hundred dollars per year. In fact, I would say there are many problems that people will pay you. 1000, 10,000, a hundred thousand. In fact, there's some PE companies that'll be happily pay you a million dollars per year to solve the problem, right?

So the question is, what problem are you solving for them? And so I think you just have to be aligned as does your magnitude of problem match up with your solution and does your solutions benefits match up with the business model you want to get to, right? And I think that can be quite difficult to articulate. And it's hard to see because, when I was young and when I was a fresh grad, I just didn't have enough work experience. I didn't know, okay. I was like, I don't know what the HR of. A top three consulting firm look like, I don't know what they want to buy, but they happily spend millions of dollars a year.

Because I don't understand what their problems, I don't know them. I don't hang out with them, therefore, I can't solve for that problem, right? So I end up solving for a smaller problem, right? Yeah, I think it's a interesting reflection point that I do think about quite a bit, which is how do I make sure that, how do I avoid being a frog in the well, yes. And how do I say, see the broader world, get myself exposed to lots of different folks and hear the ideas, and then from there. Then once I have the landscape actually say, okay, this is the exact problem I want to solve.

Joshua Wong: (15:36)

Yeah, great point. You've been an entrepreneur and now moving on, you are an angel investor, so you've seen a lot of pitchers and a lot of startup companies, pitching to get an investment. So what are like some of the key traits and characteristics that you look for before investing in them?

Jeremy Au: (15:53)

Yeah, I think at the end of day I think there are three parts. The first is this company something that's going to become a billion dollars worth? In other words, are they going to generate about a hundred million dollars of revenue in the next 10 years, and that's a function of the problem they're going after, the magnitude, a problem, the pain, or a problem on a per user basis. The clarity and the sophistication of the solution, right? Whether it's been built or it's in the process of being built and last year, honestly, it's the quality of the team, right?

To be able to achieve that. And so those three work streams are there and the three criteria is then I think honestly, if you look at a world today like. I think every podcast is going to say that. Every book is going to say that. It's these are the key aspects. Some variation of it is like seven criteria, 20 criteria, or three criteria, right?

I think so. What I want to add is actually it's about the relativeness of that issue, right? It is yes, those are the three aspects of it, but at the end of the day, like there's so many startups that out there. Yeah. And the truth is, in, in Southeast Asia every year there's only going to be about what, a hundred investments a year. Yeah. But there are thousands and thousands of startups. You know what I mean? Yeah. And so think about it, right? It's like I always tell people, it's so Jeremy, what's the criteria to be a Olympic gold medalist? Sorry, Jeremy. What is the criteria to be a Olympic rather? I'd be like I want somebody who can win an Olympic gold, silver, or bronze, and the way that person does is that de can Ron Fos. Run for a long time and they are willing to work hard and train and practice for a long period of time. All the way until the thing, and then everyone's oh, but it's so obvious to all of us all of a sudden. Which is, the criteria is very obvious once we say it. But what's hard is actually there are thousands of people who can run. But only a handful will get picked for the national team to be going to the Olympics. Yeah. And now it's the Olympics on the global stage of, I think it's everybody's best.

So it's less about the criteria, but more like. You know how good you personally have to be in that product, your solution and your own personal and professional approach that lets you hit that escape velocity, and like really reach that, podium, and get a medal.

Joshua Wong: (18:10)

A lot of people, including myself, we watch Shark Tank a lot. Yeah, I love that lipstick around. I always like to watch the clips and miss the wonderful roasting people, things like that. But for yourself, were there any pictures that really stood out to you? Were there stories of the investor really amazed you or wowed you with their pictures?

Jeremy Au: (18:30)

Yeah I think what I got from, like Shark Tank and watching it was like, This is tv, but I think there's an element of truth of it, right? Yeah. Which is that these entrepreneurs have been working their assets off for years and years, and so now they're looking for capital. That being said, of course, I think the type of people they let through the final round, they're not really VC backup or startups, although a few of them come on and they ask for outrageous valuations from their perspective, and then you're like, the sharks are like, no, and.

The next month they announced like, yes, we raised it from a venture capitalist Cause Yeah, it's a different type of business. I think the people on the Shark Tank, they're looking for what I call they're looking for breakout, especially consumer companies, things like that could potentially become huge true distribution, et cetera.

So they're the small businesses that can be made large, but they're not really classic technology venture back. Approaches. Yeah. But I think what was interesting is that, I think we saw companies like Ring, right? Yeah. The Ring doorbell. Yes. He was on Shark Tank and he got nobody invested in because it was like, again, technology company is a big vision. And everyone's that's way too expansive and blah, blah blah. Yeah. Those sort of things. And then so yeah. I think he succeeded and made camera doorbells arena. Yes. It is everywhere. I think you can argue that.

The sharks were correct because he ended up being not a great investment return because of how expensive it was and how hard to build out. I think they were overly bearish in the assessment of the company at that time. And I thought it would been a. Very interesting investment to make. So yeah, I think Shark Tank folks are looking for a different type of investments similar to how private equity folks are looking for a different type of investment. Which is different to how VCs are looking for different type of investments. And so I think that's very important because what it means is that you as a founder can succeed as a small me medium business, as a coaching business. As a consultancy business. And they're not going to be, People pitching me, for example. So I think there's some thoughtfulness that needs to exist when receiving all the pitch advice, which is okay, is this pitch advice for a venture backed startup or is this advice for a small, medium business?

Yeah. And I think. As a result, I think for me, I think the best pitch I've seen so far is, I think I really enjoy iterative scopes. It's a Singaporean founder, Jonathan Ang. His story is on the BRAVE podcast. So Don Ng is a Singapore doctor. And after a car crash that, injured his wrist, he decided to like change career and be, become a medical entrepreneur.

And basically what he noticed was that if you're doing, colonoscopy, it's a, sign up a video feed right? Of a doctor sends it up, a probe to have a look inside your body and see if there's any polyps, right? That potentially are cancerous, pre-cancerous or for investigation or.

Everything's fine. So there's hours and hours of this footage and a human has to count, right? Yeah. 1, 2, 3. And then if you are not paying attention and you miss it, then hey, you know the patient you may turn out to be. A huge problem for the patient down the road, right? Yeah. And it can be a grounds for lawsuits for the hospital and a doctor who didn't see it, for example. And also, it's actually a lot of work and it's quite tiring and so far for the doctor. So yeah, he was able to basically build iterated scopes, which is basically computer vision, right? So you set up the probe, but instead of a human counting, it is AI counting the number of polyps, tabulates and max out the location.

And it turns out, hey, hospitals want it, doctors want it, patients want it. But of course, the hard power was building out the technology. It was really hard. Fundraising for technology was hard. And of course, commercializing it is going to be hard. And they have those letters of intent.

They have those sales contracts, but, just think about. The amount of work you had to do. For example, a world class team to be able to do the computer vision, to get f d a clearance to fundraise for that money in between. It's just super tough. And I think but when he pitched me and, we were, in Boston together, we were only two Singaporean founders in Boston at a time. Oh wow. And we've been in France, and he pitched me about it and I was like, yeah, it makes total sense, right? I was like, it was just like, no-brainer, right? Yeah. So I, I think one person here is I think the best pitchers at some level, once you explain it a certain way, become no-brainers, right?

Yeah. But sometimes if real hit scratches, then you just end up, is it because of communicating is badly or is it because it's just not a good idea, right? I remember there was this team that was relatively young and they were like, yeah, Jeremy, we want to. Create a token, right? And if you buy this N F T then you get rewards to go to various places, like coupons and stuff like that, and I was like, so this is a membership card, right? And then it was like, no, it's a nf. The business model is that you're going to get coupons and then you going to charge people to have access to the coupon, right? Yeah. I was like, no, it's not. I'm like, I don't get it. I was like, and yeah. Cause I'm curious. I'm trying to find out what's going on, what's the business model, right? Yeah. And then, yeah, it's me, Shakar, and it could be a beautiful small business. Why not? There's lots of membership cards at small businesses, but to raise money for venture capital to become a billion dollar company, I see this story, the full knowledge.

There's some person out there listening to this Jeremy, you clearly don't get it. NFTs, cards Q coupons. It makes total sense. It's, and I'm like, don't get me wrong. I'm very deep in cap crypto web three, but just that there's so much random stuff where it's just yes, so many. Yeah. Another one was like, okay, what was it like? Anyway, there's so many stories that have, it's like we explained it and you're just like, wait a moment. I think one was like, okay, we have people who are very poor. Yeah. People who are very rich and successful. And then the idea was, okay we are going to pay the rich people crypto to coach the poor people. Oh, wow. Yeah. And I was like, okay. And then I was like waiting. And I was like, and then I was like, there was nothing else. I was like, wait, so wait, so who pays you to pay? Yeah. Rich people for them to coach the poor people, just an example, right? I'm just using this. Yeah. And then basically there was nothing, right? And then I was like it was like Crypto Tokyo. And I'm like, okay. It is So I think there's, that's there isn't that no-brainer ness I think of the pitch that makes it very clear. I think another company, for example, does strong and frankly a no-brainer.

For example is like Poland, right? So Poland is a different thing, right? So Poland is a B2B liquidation platform. So basically Unilever, p and g, basically, they systematically overproduce, tons and tons, thousands of tons of stuff, because for them, for production factory basis, it's better to than under produce, right?

Yes. Yes. Yeah. So then they have all this inventory that's all aging, getting too old. So instead of four years of 10 years expiration, now they're like, One or two years, whatever is Yeah, it's on the warehouse. And then they're like, Hey, we've going to incinerate it. I put a landfill. Yeah.

And by the way, we have these ESG requirements that ask us to be more sustainable, and then Poland is Hey. How about we create a marketplace where you give us all the inventory that's going to be incinerated landfill anyway. We take it off from you and we sell it to somebody else. Yeah. And then they're like, oh.

From their perspective, it was like, yeah, this is a no-brainer. Because yeah, there's no of paying money to ate, and move. Now you get some money and you have your ESG goals, right? Yeah. And then somebody else who's in, their, have clients in, different parts of the world.

They're like, yeah, of course it makes sense. Because for them, yeah, the cosmetics are going to expire in six months, but they believe they can sell it within the six months and it's much cheaper as a result. And they can handle the shipping. Yeah. It makes sense for their perspective to, to do it as well.

So I thought it was just a, I think people underweight that. But it's hard to get to that no-brainer kind of problem. It takes a lot of experience and exposure. It's just hard. Yeah.

Joshua Wong: (26:09)

You mentioned a lot of stories and a lot of like great, no-brainer investments. Yeah. But there are so many ideas out there, there's so many businesses out there, there's so many entrepreneurs out there. So how do you evaluate the potential for growth and success in yeah. In their company?

Jeremy Au: (26:25)

Yeah. I think first of all, it's like, is a no-brainer problem. That's very painful for the customer. That's the biggest part of it. And actually, consumers and customers are very happy to tell you the number one problem.

I was talking to a lawyer recently and he told me all the problems. He's Jeremy, I have to do a ton of work to discover, when I, when we sue each other, we have they give us tens of thousands of pages of Slack, WhatsApp, emails, documents, and it's, I need to figure out, Whether this person knew about X information before that thing happened, right?

Yeah. And he's it's a pain in the ass. I'm too expensive in terms of my billable hours to do this, and I don't want to do it. So I sent my junior lawyers to do it. But I don't trust my junior lawyers to do it because they're junior lawyers. They're apprentices. So we have chicken egg, right? And I said Jeremy, I heard about this AI thing. Can you like, just, can someone just read all this stuff for me and tell me this and that, and put a timeline. And of course I still have to do the homework, but, and to make sure it's correct and everything. But and he was like, yeah, and I'll pay tens of thousands of dollars for the solution.

And he's just that you just said it. You know what I mean? So I think when someone says that, then you're like, oh, you didn't talk to, 10 other lawyers who are on the same field, and you're like, oh yeah. If 10 lawyers each pay you $10,000, there's a hundred thousand dollars revenue. You know what I mean? Yeah. And there's way more than, 10 lawyers. World. I think the pain of the problem is really Creates the no-brainers, which creates the dynamic for you to believe there's growth. And obviously after you believe that the problem exists, then you believe, can a team actually execute it, which is another big thing, right? Yeah. So for example, I give an example would be like a simple one is everyone's trying to create longevity drugs, right? And it's quite simple, right? Which is longevity is basically saying, Do I want to live one more year of life for no work other than eating a pill?

Does it make sense like everybody else? One year more or 10 years more, which is exercise every other day, right? Yeah. But that's very hard. That's not longevity. No one says exercise is longevity drug, right? Cause no it's not. You know what I mean? It's stop smoking, wear your seatbelt, wear helmet while biking and don't do anything dangerous. Don't skydive and don't climb a mountain, right? These are all things that, all longevity and obviously yes, enhancing. But a longevity industry is basically saying for. A very simple, a lower amount of work. I can get to live longer or I can postpone my death by a few more years. And obviously if you're older, you care about this problem more.

If you're younger, you care about this problem less, right? Yeah. But the simple thing is this, if you think about this, like if, think about it, right? It's if this pill costs a thousand dollars per year, would a hundred thousand people around the year pay $1,000 for one more year of life? The answer's duh, no-brainer.

Hundred million of revenue. It's like everybody around the world was 3 billion people simultaneously figure out $1,000 day I want to live on my life. If I just had to eat a pill, that's it. Like me pill, right? Yeah. So yeah the brain, the problem is a no-brainer problem because everybody is there If you can demonstrate that, but of course you passed your FDA. It has been demonstrated. You do clinical trial cause you know the world also very scammed too many times. Oil and everything, mango, steam juice and all these other stuff. So you just people are just tuned out, right? Yeah. It's medication.

Then people are like, okay, this makes sense, right? Then the question that of course in that scenario is a no-brainer field. But then the question is, which team can do it, right? Yes. So you have all these teams are out there, medical team, some are very rigorous and hardworking. Some are rigorous, but not hardworking. Some are hardworking, but they don't have any domain expertise. Yeah. And some of them are just don't have any of it. Yeah. And so obviously as an investor, you get to see the landscape of all these teams who are trying to build it. And you say, okay, which one is the best team? That's going to go after it. And I think oftentimes the investor's wrong, right? Maybe they made the wrong judgment. They overweighted maybe smartness over hard work sometimes the other way around. They overweighted hard work over smartness. And so I think those are the two aspects that I think investors think about, right?

Is a problem, a no-brainer in the sense that is a huge problem that's very painful. And the second part is this the best team out of all the competition.

Joshua Wong: (30:27)

I'm sure during your time as a VC, you have met a lot of people who tend to overpromise and underdeliver.

Jeremy Au: (30:35)

Yeah. Everybody does it.

Joshua Wong: (30:38)

Yeah. How, as an investor, how do you identify these people? Are there certain things I'm, as experiences you are, I'm sure there are certain things that you look out for in an individual who tend to do things like that.

Jeremy Au: (30:48)

I think it's the opposite, right? Which is, that is the person discussing what they can promise and are they very sober about what is an over promise and what's an under promise? So definitely, I think, frankly I think I've definitely met founders who are overselling what they're doing, but I also met many founders who are underselling themselves. So they're like, so I think it goes both ways actually.

It's like a bell curve right? Thing. Okay. Yeah. So it's quite interesting actually. And obviously. Then you are as a third party, right? You mentioned you're on the other side of the table from them. And myself, I'm a former founder. So you're listening to them and you're like, at some point you're just like, okay, after half an hour you're like, okay, I think this person's underselling what they're doing.

I like, oh, we only have a million dollars of revenue and only 70% every year. It's very disappointing. And then you're like, Oh, that's pretty good actually. Yeah. And then you just, you know the numbers. And, versus I think that, other folks who are like, I'm making a hundred thousand dollars, but there's no competition and then at some point you listen to everything about, the way they answer questions, the way they're thinking about the competition. You guys say, okay, this person's probably overselling, if that makes sense. Yeah. But that's okay. Because at the end of the day, whether you oversell onsell at the end of the day as a third, Party person, you're sitting down, you're going through the numbers, right?

You're going through the performance. And so I think the numbers will help you put reality. Of course I put fraud, sideline, in which case better do your homework, make sure fraud, right? Yeah. Which also happens a lot in Southeast Asia, Frank. Yes. And so you got to do your homework. So then you zoom out one step lower, say, okay, but who are the, what are the best founders we've seen, right? I think best founders, I think, are very clear about what the vision of the world is. They're very clear about what it could potentially become, but they're also very realistic about what needs to happen between now and then.

They understand how hard it is. They understand what errors are there. They understand what the problems that going to be help be solved, and what are the experiments they need to do and what are the things they need to learn in order to achieve those things. So I would say like most people oversell, undersell sells. That's right. But the best founders that are the most experienced, so they normally have sold a company before or they've been part of, these early stage growth teams, they're like, they're like, this is the vision. If it achieves, there's going to be made a lot of money. And it's a no-brainer problem, but it's hard to do. And these are things I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for us to solve. But honestly, this is the things that will kill us. And so if you fund me now, you're giving me the time and runway to experiment and do this. And that's a very sober way of doing it. If you think about it, and honestly, if you think about it, there's the difference between a leader and a manager, right?

I always tell people, yeah. There's yeah. Everyone's oh, what's the difference between a leader and manager? I always tell people it's very simple, right? Imagine there's a night, there's a fire, right? Yeah. Everyone's very comfortable around the fire, right? Yeah. A manager is going to keep everybody around the fire, make sure people rotate around, it's not too hot, not too cold, the fire keeps going, et cetera, et cetera. And the leader actually looks very similar because they're doing the same thing, right? Which is like making sure everyone's fine, et cetera. But then the way you can tell a manager leader is that if they say something like this which is. Let's leave the fire, the manager, you know the people will not leave the fire, right?

Yeah. The leader's going to say we're leaving the fire because there's a better place out there. Or because we have to do it. I don't know. To defend our country because of this mission, we, and it is not easy between here and there and we acknowledge it's nice and cozy by the fire, but if we do it, we will do it, and then that's when you can tell. Does it make sense? Yeah. Yes. Yes. If the person will leave the fire and Right. Walk into the darkness with the leader. That's how you know this person, a leader, right? The inspiration rally, and that often you find that best leader, they are obviously, at deep level. They are optimistic about what they're trying to achieve and their confidence in their skillset, but they're also realistic about the challenges. Yeah. And I think that's the best kind of leader they want to have, right? Yes. And so to flip what you, the question what you have is I think oversell on the cell, I think definitely see that as a bell curve.

But I, I challenge people how to show the leadership this division one B, this is where we are right now, and this is how we can point A to point B in a very solar and realistic way. And you can see the future. It requires a lot of work to make something that clear. Takes a lot work.

Joshua Wong: (34:49)

And those are the people that usually grow successful companies, right? Like the leaders that you mentioned?

Jeremy Au: (34:55)

Yeah. And I think it's a skill, right? It's not, I wouldn't say it's innate as well, it's not, we tend to say like leaders or manager as if this is type of one-off thing. But I'm like, no, I think people can succeed as long as. Obviously, there's all kinds of factors, right?

Your education, your IQ, your EQ, right? Your ability to be charming, street smart, which country you're in. The networks around you. There's all these other things, right? Yeah. But I do believe that there's a lot of skills that an individual person can. Learn and build to be able to fundraise well.

Joshua Wong: (35:27)

Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing, your insights and a lot of valuable, a lot of wisdom. Yeah. To wrap up the episode, what are three values that you carry daily that helped you become consistently successful? Yeah. I think there are three values that I really think about all the time.

Jeremy Au: (35:45)

I very much think about, first of all, perseverance. And then secondly, I think very much about integrity. And thirdly, I think a lot about courage. And those are very different aspects of it. Yeah. I think perseverance is very much in. Just keep doing right. And I don't, perseverance doesn't mean do a lot in a short period of time, but I think do a small thing over a long period of time. I like walking. I like hiking. I'm not a big fan of sprints, yeah. So I think perseverance is like, Hey, you keep walking slowly towards where you need to be. And some wisdom about your navigation is where I think perseverance is. Very much important to me personally. And yeah, I, I think I'll give an example.

It's yeah, in Army, like at some point in time I realized like, Hey, I'm not going to sign on to the Army. Yes, my grades suck, and therefore Army seems like a very easy thing to sign my life over too. A clear ladder to grow. But then I was like, whoa. Like after that I was like, Okay. So yeah.

I should probably apply to university, so let's study SATs at night. Let's put together my application package to university. Yeah. Yeah. And sometimes some people, some friends, some army buddy mates were sportive. Some of them made fun of me, but, perseverance is just Hey, I just, every day I just try to study a little bit, I would. Cut up my books and put in Ziploc bag and I read it at night. My hot slide jungle, like a bit, little bit a day, right? Yeah. Then eventually, I got there, right? Over, so thankfully I had two years of time in Army to study, figure my stuff out. And then yeah, I think that perseverance let me be in a good spot, right?

So be moving towards the right direction. I think secondly is integrity. I think the truth is everybody struggles with this, right? Because I think the world is full shortcuts. And I think that's something that is more of an aspirational value, right? Because, how do you do things well, right?

Yeah. I just think that at some level, at the end of the day, life is full of long-term games, of long-term people. And what I mean by that is, you want. You can play a short game with is I'm going to cut you out a deal now and I'm going to be greedy now I'm going to steal from you now, and this other stuff is like short term game. And I think it works, especially when you play short term games with long-term people. So long-term people, like people who want to play long-term games. You can play a short term game with long-term person. Yeah. And you can now make, get a very good dealer.

Cause that means you true miss them for something. Yeah. And I think it's. It's not a bad way of talking about day trading. It's like short term gains to short term people. Because all the traders all trading against each other. And the retail investors. Yes. So it's now the game is every mi millisecond every second. But I think being able to have that integrity over the long term is something that has be done. And builds trust over the long term. And I think that's, Something I care about. And I think that's led me, I think over time, continue to, yeah. Try my best. If I don't do my best, I tell them why, and then so be it. And then that builds the trust, right? Over the long term, right? Yeah. With the networks and the community. And then lastly, I think it's really about courage, right? And I think it's about. Action over fear. And what I mean by that is you can't have courage without fear, right?

Because if you weren't fearful about anything, then you're not courageous, right? Just naive, just oh, like I was tap dancing on The roof and I didn't know the roof was going to break. Like that's, that's not courage. Yeah. So I think courage requires that self-awareness around some of that fear that happens.

And I think it's normal to feel fear's, normal fear. Anxiety's normal fear. Nervousness. At the end of day where animals biological machines that have hormones, yes, of news flash. Like with flash, muscle, blood, bone, yeah. And we are, we, we have all these natural components and we're not going to be able to run away from feeling those things. I think the question is we feel these things and then what?

Yeah. So we can freeze, and I think that's gift that we have. So I think that is, It's not. It's not easy. And I think I always remember people always oh wow, BRAVEs obviously podcast. It's is that cause you're very brave? And I'm like, no. Like I, I was like, this podcast is cause I want to talk to people who I think are brave or actually, and I want to learn from them, right?

Yeah. And yeah, hopefully that helps me lead a braver life, but it doesn't mean that I am brave, and so I think there's a very interesting dynamic where getting from point A to point B is, Requiring to acknowledge that you are at point A, right? Yeah. And still feeling the dynamic to push on, right? Yeah. So yeah. So I think those are the three kind of core values I really care about. I think perseverance. Integrity and courage. Yeah. Yeah.

Joshua Wong: (40:06)

I think those three are really great values that most brave people that you mentioned carry along with them as well. Just try aspirational.

Jeremy Au: (40:13)

Aspirational. Yeah.

Joshua Wong: (40:15)

Yeah, once again, thank you so much for your sharing. Yeah. And thank you so much for coming out to the podcast. It's really been an honor to have you take your time to do this. And yeah, I learned so much. Yeah.

Jeremy Au: (40:27)

Awesome. Yeah, and if you're interested go to Obviously, we have past podcasts. We broadcast twice a week on leadership on the weekly tech news of Southeast Asia, and we also have a lot of resources and community memberships as well. So yeah, thanks.