Wing Vasiksiri on US vs. SE Asia VC, Mimetic Desire & Paradox Decisions - E73

· Podcast Episodes,VC and Angels,Thailand,USA

"…anything worth doing is hard. Sacrifice is required to practice your craft at the highest levels and that sacrifice is a choice. It's one that I think you have to wake up and make every day." - Wing Vasiksiri

Wing Vasiksiri is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of iSeed SEA, a venture capital firm that invests in founders building software and technology-enabled companies across Southeast Asia. The firm is sector agnostic and focuses on seed stage investments in Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. Limited partners in the fund include global founders like Naval Ravikant (Founder & Chairman of AngelList), Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal (Founders of Snapdeal), and Jonathan Swanson (Founder & Chairman of Thumbtack) among others.

He was previously on the operations team at AngelList Venture where he worked with angel investors and fund managers to invest over $80M into 357 startups. During his time at AngelList, he launched and deploy investments for 25 venture funds, working directly with emerging fund managers across the fund life cycle.

Before that, he helped raised institutional funds for 500 Startups and The House Fund and has personally angel invested in 18 startups and 3 venture funds. He is now based in Thailand where he invests across Southeast Asia and helps companies scale and break into the Thai market.

Wing graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. His hobbies include freediving, scuba-diving, surfing, and jiu jitsu. You can find him on Twitter at @wingvasiksiri. 

 

Jeremy Au: [00:00:00] Welcome to BRAVE. Be inspired by the best leaders of Southeast Asia tech. Build the future, learn from our past and stay human in between. I'm Jeremy Au, a VC, founder, and father. Join us for transcripts, analysis and community at www.jeremyau.com.

Hey, Wing. Good to have you on the show.

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:00:32] Hey, Jeremy. I appreciate you making the time to have me on here. I've been looking forward to the chat.

Jeremy Au: [00:00:37] So, Wing, I'm really excited because you're one of the purest VCs out in Southeast Asia doing the good work and funding early startups where they need that funding. I'm excited to dig into that and everything around it. But before we get started, how should people know about you? What is your story?

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:00:57] Happy to tell you about that and I'm going to get started at the very beginning here. I grew up in Bangkok, spent my whole life growing up here. Growing up there was a very heavy emphasis on education. It was the classic, stereotypical Asian childhood. I did fairly well at this, I was getting good grades in school and really applied myself to go into a good university. Ended up going to UC Berkeley in California as an economics major. When I got there, initially I went into consulting, a very tracked path where it's kind of following the role that you see many people take where get good grades, good university, consulting, blah, blah, blah, a few years doing the same thing. 

And then as I got to Berkeley, I did an internship in consulting, got surrounded by more people and really realized that's not what I wanted to do. At that same time, there was also this huge boom on campus of tech and entrepreneurships. A lot of people starting companies and that was my real first exposure to the world of tech. That and I also liked watching a lot of Shark Tank, that really exposed me to the world of venture capital. I remember watching a few episodes and just thought that was the coolest job in the world. Being able to listen to people pitch their ideas and selectively choose who you wanted to work with, which founder was inspiring to you. 

So, at that point I was like, "This is what I want to do." I was very intentional about wanting to do venture. By that time I was maybe 18, so very slowly plotting my way into the path of VC. Another thing I came across at that time as I was exposed to this world of venture was I just started watching a lot of YouTube interviews, a lot of VCs talking about the future, how they thought about things, and this was just really an incredible group of thinkers I found. So this was people like Chris Sacca, Chamath, Peter Thiel especially who I thought was just incredible. I went on his deep rabbit hole of just listening to podcasts or interviews all day, really learning about them. I think one of the big things I got from listening to all these Peter Thiel ideas and reading his books as well is just, a lot of his work is built around a thesis that you should aim for a monopoly and avoid competition. 

And that's very different than what's taught in traditional econ classrooms, right? You're taught that monopolies are bad, a lot of negative externalities come from that, but there's this one quote from him I really like and he says, "The tremendous parts of asking bigger questions, don't always go through the tiny little doors that everyone tries to rush through. Maybe go around the corner, go through the vast gate no one is ticking." So being exposed to that mentality early on, I started to think to myself, "What's the role people typically didn't really want to do or what path I can take to get there." And I think I landed on VC that way, so I was very intentional about that. 

So from there, I spent time working at a few startups in the U.S and also in Southeast Asia. I started my own thing in Berkeley at the Center of Entrepreneurship, we got a team together, started a fintech company, targeting Pakistan initially at the underbanked population there. That didn't end up working, but all of this in my mind was just building experience, getting myself more into the world of tech to really get into the world of VC. And then from there, I'd say maybe a year or two after working very hard throughout that journey trying to get to venture, I got my first internship initially at 500 Startup, so pretty in venture firm. I started as an intern on their fundraising and investors relations team, and then after that ended up consulting for them for about six months after that. 

So I spent a lot of time working in that team and there I was helping them raise their FundFive at that point. So typically they had a lot of LPs, there were multinational corporations who were trying to reinvent the pitch strategy to target more institutional investors in the U.S. So I did everything from build financial models for the fund to go into very specific tech industry related research and got exposure pitching LPs at a very early age. I think I was 19 at the time sitting in on these LP meetings. We did get a lot of exposure to the team and the whole journey of setting up a fund there. I think there are a couple of things that I took out from that experience as a whole. 

I think one big learning was just the role of luck and risks that ends up playing out in your life. I think so many things that happened in my life for better or worse, are largely out of my control. At that point I was very focused on applying for jobs, getting in the right thing and a lot of that is dependent on how the interviewer felt that day. I saw this firsthand with the LP pitches I was going to as well. It's like maybe that LP was having a good day, had something nice for lunch, got into an argument with their wife. There's just so many little things that are outside of your variables. So things like a chance meeting, whether you met someone and they were in a good or bad mood, it would have turned out to be a totally different situation. 

So when you think about it there's really so many variables governing the outcome of every human interaction that you really want to do your best to have the odds in your favor and I think at that time it was a game of numbers. Pitching as many LPs as we could for 500, for me applying to as many positions I could to get my foot in the door of venture. And that's when I first learned about venture, got started there and really, really enjoyed that whole process. After that, the journey continued within the industry, it was like my first lucky break. And then after 500 Startups, I joined another fund called House Fund. 

So this was a small fund in UC Berkeley, the House Fund was started by the GP, his name is Jeremy Fiance. Jeremy was 21 or 22 when he raised the first fund actually, so fund one was six million dollars, fund two ended up closing close to $50 million. It was a pre-seed and seed fund and the thesis was they only invested in founders of with a UC Berkeley affiliation. So it was Berkeley founders, Berkeley students, Berkeley alumni and Berkeley professors and this was my first real venture into how a VC fund is actually run on the investing side. Before at 500 it was very much just on the fundraising side, and then at The House Fund I got to see firsthand what the investment pipeline looked like. 

So there I saw startups across the Berkeley ecosystem, took the lead in several meetings, started to really develop the diligence skillset. I joined their partner meetings with the investment team, actually created due diligence reports on startups across different verticals, created different processes for our active sourcing process, our internal recruiting process, our pitch response process as well, and really got to know the UC Berkeley startup entrepreneurship. And that led to a lot of other things, which I'm happy to talk about later, but one big thing there, I really learned how to think about portfolio construction at that point. So really just thinking about the power of power laws, and how that really drives everything in our industry. The Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule, its long tails ultimately drive everything and I think this is true not just in venture, but also in life. 

You really see that a small number of events drive the majority of outcomes, right? So in the context of venture specifically, the winner in our portfolio is going to be one or two companies that return the entire fund. Most of the investments go to zero, and it's really a very select number of companies that drive that and you see other things in the public markets as well actually. It's a common misconception that you don't see that, but the returns of the S&P 500 over the last 10 years or so have been concentrated very much in the top five tech companies basically. So really learning that the world isn't linear, and that was a big shift in mindset I had working at The House.I was there for a year, I really enjoyed it, and then after that decided to join the team at AngelList. So AngelList for those who aren't familiar, I think the best way think about AngelList is this giant holding company, and their core mission is really just to serve founders or make life easier for founders. 

I think right now there's up to 10 different sub-companies within AngelList. So there's AngelList Venture, which is the team I was on specifically, there is AngelList Talent, recruiting site, we have product hunt, we have AngelList India, a bunch more different sub-companies. The team I was on specifically AngelList Venture, we worked with angel investors and fund managers to basically get them started. So we had this SaaS software where we would run venture funds on the platform, angel investors would be able to spin up syndicates and start make investments through the platform. And really the whole thesis was if we drive more capital into startups, it's net positive for the work, right? Because by enabling investors to invest more easily, we increased the number of startups to get funding, the number of founders that can get capital and number of experiments that can be run in the ecosystem. 

So on the AngelList team, I was on an operations role. So I took a bit of a break from investing at The House Fund and joined this team for an operations role where I managed syndicates. So I helped people get started manage different angel funds. This is when I would work with different fund managers throughout the lifetime of their fund and help them with things like fundraising, negotiating with company, diligence in companies, negotiating pro rata, really the whole spectrum of it. Another interesting point was that AngelList is also very prominent in the U.S. specifically, right? So this is when I started to make some personal angel investments as well, initially through syndicates at the start. There's a stat that came up this year, that AngelList actually saw 50% of high quality early stage deals. So this meant that of all the U.S. deals in 2020, 50% of them have high quality ones. 

This is measured by co-investor, 50% of them with high quality co-investors was also on the angels platform, so I saw a lot of deals during my time there. Several hundred, maybe up to a thousand and I could selectively just make investments into the best ones. So I'd start writing $1,000 checks into companies that I thought were exciting. And it was the first time I was putting my own capital into the ecosystem, and that really changed things because I was able to... There was a lot more on the line rather than investing other people's money in a fund where I wasn't a partner, investing your own capital, you spend more time trying to delineate the company, get to know the co-investors and things like that. One big takeaway there as well was that I worked with so many different fund managers there. 

At any given point, I was working with 50 or so fund managers and everyone had a very, very different strategy. So there's really no right way to do venture from what I've seen, it's really about what your strategy is for getting into the power law companies because at the end of day no one knows the ultimate results. So what's important is the framework through which you're viewing the world, and you need to have the courage of convictions and be consistent with them. Happy to spend a bit more time on my role at AngelList as well but, just moving forward a bit. At AngelList actually, I got to know Utsav Somani really well. I started off managing Utsav's syndicate, helping him with his fund, and we just got very close and we started to work together on a few different projects at AngelList. So Utsav, for those who don't know is the founder and CEO of AngelList India. He brought the AngelList model to India, and they've been quite successful there. 

I think they've been around for three or four years in India now, and in that time they've become the most active seed investor in India, a portfolio of over 200 companies. Him and I got really close at AngelList and we were always talking about Southeast Asia, given I grew up here, had always been in the back of my mind to do something here; Utsav went to school in Singapore and we were excited about the growth we were seeing. We identified a bunch of different macro factors, which happy to dig in later as well, but we were just very excited about what we were seeing in Southeast Asia. And then towards the end of my time at AngelList, we decided to partner and launch iSeed Southeast Asia together and that's what I've been working on for the past 10 months or so now. So happy to dig in more into iSeed Southeast Asia, but we'll pause there for a bit in case you had any questions. I know I rambled on for a bit there. 

Jeremy Au: [00:12:36] Yeah. Awesome. I think it's amazing that you've done so much, especially focused so much in VC. Before obviously, we talk about your approach and everything, you were at UC Berkeley, so was I. Go Bears. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:12:50] Yep. Go Bears. 

Jeremy Au: [00:12:52] What was it that made you transition from the consulting, to technology and VC, right? Because I don't think many folks at that time at undergraduate level were thinking, "Oh venture capital is a potential route for me," which is something that's quite unique I think, especially from the way you approached it. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:13:13] Yeah. So at that time, not many undergraduates thought that they could do VC, so there are only kind of two main ways you could get into VC at that point. It was basically you start a company, have some kind of successful exit and then become an investor, or you go the banking route. You'd go and do banking for a few years, you pay your dues with the long hours of investment banking and then get into venture from that. I would say I was very, very determined to get into VC, everything about the job attracted me to it. The primary thing I think that drove me into this field of work, and I think that's changed over time, happy to talk a little later about how my views on the industry and my motivation for being in the industry has changed over time. 

But initially it really was just, I thought there was just such smart people spending time in this space. So I started listening to a lot of VCs and they were influencing my thinking a lot. And my thought at that time was, "Well, if so many smart people are working in this field, there's got to be something about it that is exciting, is new, that wants them to work on it." And I think even to this day, I think it's a very privileged job as a venture investor. You're not the one necessarily taking the risks yourself, I think the credit belongs to the founders. You're in a comfortable position where your product is essentially capital, you're selling capital to founders. They're the ones that are pitching you, telling you your life story, trying to convince you that they're worthy of an investment. 

The smartest people in the world get to come to you and pitch how they want to change the world, their ecosystem, whatever. So it's a very privileged position to be in, I recognize that, But initially I think it was just the quality of thinkers that I saw in the industry that drew me to it. And I'll give you an example. So with Peter Thiel specifically, I think one idea, and it's been said a lot in Silicon Valley, but I think it's very important is, his idea of mimetic theory, right? So at Stanford, he studied under this philosopher called Rene Girard, and Girard is really the one that pioneered this idea of a mimetic theory, and the basic premise of mimetic theory is that imitation is fundamental mechanism of human behavior, right? So a lot of us are living our lives on autopilot, falling momentum, We don't know what we're doing. 

And this whole idea of a mimetic desire comes from the fact that Girard's hypothesis is that we don't know what we want on our own. So it's very hard to think independently and say, "I want X because of me." Our desire is to actually mimic, we copy the desires of others. So for example, in maybe picking where you want to eat, you look which restaurant has the longest lines. Which college you want to go to? Who's applying there the most? And in a relationship we want to date, it's who's the most popular person, right? So you see it is in every aspect of life where a lot of our desires aren't really our own, but it comes from other people. What that results in is mimetic rivalry, which is this idea that conflict doesn't happen because we want different things, but it's because we want the same thing, right? So mimetic desire results in a conflict, and there's been some experiments run that prove this. 

There's been a study with babies where they put two babies in a room full of toys, one baby grabs a toy, and the other baby immediately starts desiring the toy that the baby grabs rather than all the other toys. So the baby's interests in a particular toy has less to do with the toy itself and more to do with the fact that the other baby's desired the toy. And there's obviously some positives to this as well as because this is how we develop as children, right? We learn language and we learn how to behave through our parents, through imitating adults, but if everyone is thinking alike then no one's really thinking. So this is just one of the examples that really drew me initially to this world of venture, just different concepts that these thinkers were talking about that really unlocked a new framework for me in my head. I think a lot of people are drawn into VC from the entrepreneurship side rather than the investor side, but for me it was initially the investor side. 

One thing I'll also just quickly add on to that is that a lot of people think venture is a great way to make money, I personally don't think that's true. So the majority of venture funds go to zero, that's a dirty little secret that not many people like to talk about publicly. Very few VC funds actually return capital and do well from a returns perspective. And even if they do, the time horizons we're operating on are seven to 10 years often longer. So if your goal is to build personal wealth, I don't think venture is actually a great route to take. I think investment banking, consulting, things like that are much more certain. I think it's easy to fantasize that, "Oh, VCs make a lot of money," because you see the outlier case like Chris Sacca's $8 million fund returning $1.6 billion to LPs and they're funding like Uber, Twitter, Instagram, but that is very, very much the exception. And if personal wealth is high up on your list of what your goals are, I don't think venture is the way to go about it. 

Jeremy Au: [00:18:07] I'm a big fan of, I think Peter Thiel's thinking from Zero to One and obviously I think a lot of the thinking by Erik Torenberg recently I think unpacked Rene Girard's point of view. I've never consumed Rene Girard himself, but I think it's interesting to see that unpacking of that. And I think what I really appreciated was you taking it back to yourself, which was that one child likes the doll so the other child wants that doll, right? Was that resonating for you when you were an undergrad because other people wanted to be a VC, so you decided that you wanted to be a VC as well? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:18:42] It was actually the opposite. When I was an undergrad, it wasn't that desirable of a job. I'm sure people were talking about it, but it wasn't as hyped up as it was now. When I was an undergraduate... I think it's also specific to the social circles you hang out with. A lot of people wanted to start companies, there was a lot of founder worship in Silicon Valley and in Berkeley especially, a lot of people want to be consulting. VC not so many, it really was looked at as this thing where it was very hard to get to. you need to have X years of experience doing banking or at a startup before you can get into it. So for me, venture was less... at least that's what I think mimetic desire, but it was more so in my mind breaking mimetic desire of everyone's in consulting, let's try to do a path where not many people take, which is go become a VC when I'm 19, whereas other people are waiting much later in their careers to do that. 

Jeremy Au: [00:19:38] Okay, I get that. So we're using this theory of mimetic desire, right? So in that case, what is true is you're saying that you weren't imitating your fellow undergraduates, and I totally get it. When I was there, Google and Facebook was just starting to hire on campus and everyone was like, "Why would we work at this big tech company?" So I'm just curious about, at the same time, you were saying that at a time you're consuming content from Chris Sacca,Peter Thiel, et cetera. So would you, I'm just saying, would you say mimetic desire, the plane was between you and the role models that you saw on Twitter or their books or their writing? How does that play out? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:20:17] Yeah, no, I think that's true. So I think with mimetic design, I don't think you really ever escape it, just because that's who we are as humans, that's the way we're evolved to learn, to think, other people influenced you, whether you admit it or not. So I think what's important there, once you recognize that, is to be much more intentional with who you end up spending time with. The people you let in your inner circle, who you're talking to everyday because I do believe that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So being very selective about that was part of my strategy, but yeah, I think you can definitely view that as another mimetic plane that I was in rather than my peer group. 

Jeremy Au: [00:20:57] Yeah. And I think you Wing you shared something very important, it's not bad, right? And I think that was a really key point that you just said, it's not bad. I was in a club full of The Berkeley Group, Social Impact Consultants, and you probably know them. And then I wanted to join 8th foundation, a Bridgespan Group because that's what I felt was desirable even though a lot of people thought I was crazy for wanting to do those jobs, but turns out they don't hire internationals, they only hire pretty much American citizens. And so I had to go to my third choice, which was corporate consulting, which turned out to be a Bain, which turns out to be the first choice, and I had no idea, for so many other people who I didn't really hang out with. So there's this interesting that there are different planes and the intentionality of it. And the self-awareness that is happening is such a key component, especially when it comes to your own personal choices on a professional front. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:21:55] Yeah. I think what you said there was really important too. I think the self-awareness is such a big aspect of it, right? So there's a quote Naval said recently, which I really like, and he said, "The true test of intelligence is whether or not you get what you want out of life." And I think if you break that down a bit, it's about getting what you want. Most people do what's expected of them versus what they want to do. And I think when he's talking about getting what you want out of your life, there's a distinction there between being happy and being fulfilled or having meaning. I think my hypothesis is that the purpose of life, I don't think is to be happy. If it was, we'd probably be a lot happier on average. I think happiness is there to approximate and guide you to something closer, which is fulfillment or meaning. 

And how you find meaning is typically by taking responsibility for something, by having a role you play where you're taking responsibility and the outcome of some event is dependent on you. And I think it comes back to the point that you were talking about, which is being self aware. I think that's ultimately what a self examined life is about, It's about working towards a coherent view of how to live your life and it doesn't matter what that is. If you love chess, if you love ballroom dancing, VC, consulting, it really doesn't matter, you should just be able to explain why those things are important to you. And what I found I think is that self-awareness is really like the highest calling. It makes you happier, more successful, it's at the core of self-improvement and it's something that can be cultivated, something that can be trained over time and I completely agree with that point that you made about self-awareness. 

Jeremy Au: [00:23:34] So Wing, what do you want in life? Obviously you raised it, I'm happy to share mine as well. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:23:42] Yeah, I think there's different ways you can approach this question. You can talk about it on the personal front, in terms of hobbies or things that make you fulfilled. I'm going to answer this one in the context of my career and why I picked VC, but I think overall as a whole I think for me personally, I want to keep getting better. Just improving as a person, as a human, I want to spend time with people who take risks and inspire me, but if you're really looking from a professional context of my motivation and what keeps me fulfilled right now in the current role is, I believe that progress and new knowledge is created in the frontier. Frontier meeting, places where not many people are working. So there are people out there who believe something they're not supposed to believe, or believe something that they know is important too and can work, something that's to them, a little scary to talk about. 

If you're not facing any ridicule or backlash, then you're by default not working on anything new. If it's universally accepted, it can't be new. Most people are working on something that's scary or wrong 99% of the time, but these small fraction of people who are right, they're the ones that end up changing the world, making new knowledge and pushing us forward. So for me, I think what I want right now is, I want to be able to build a place where you can go when you believe something you're not supposed to believe, but you know it's important, you know it's true and it can work. So I want to find these spiky people who are not following typical conventions, coloring outside the lines and support them in whatever way I can. 

And right now it's supporting the new through allocating capital and time to them through this fund, that's really what I'm focused on now. But yeah for me, that's what motivates me, and I think what keeps me fulfilled. There's a quote from T.S. Eliot, which I really like, and he says, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and no other place for the first time." So currently that's what's motivating me. It might change over time, but I'd also love to hear from you Jeremy what's currently your meaning or what keeps you fulfilled. 

Jeremy Au: [00:25:59] Yeah, it's a fair question. It's funny because when you shared that and I remember being in a spot and I think one thing that changed over the past year is I got the opportunity to do some group coaching under The Grand Quest, which is run by Anita who's coming on the show, Anita Hossain, but it was a good discussion and it was a very much like a... You can call it mechanically a career envisioning exercise. We have a cohort and a community as well as one-on-one time, but I think the thing that stuck out of me was that in parallel, I was reading the book Atomic Habits, and I think it was very much the fractionating of what I want to do into, what do I want today to be? What is my dream job today? 

What is my dream day? And I think there's a "wait, but why" article that does a great job as well about happiness, which is about, I think they subdivided the years of your life into all these various boxes, and it fills out this giant A1 sheet. For me personally, it was moving away from what is going to happen in the future to what the day is. And I think the day was waking up in the morning, breakfast as family and kids, definitely not driving the kids to school, So I was kissing them on the forehead and sending them off. And then starting the day and doing a lot of white boarding, brainstorming, collaboration, discussion, authentic conversation, and there'll be my day. And then I'll wrap up with some tea and then I would head out and do some deep conversations with people over meals. At a time I did not know it yet, but podcasting also scratches that itch. 

And going out, doing improv and rehearse that once or twice a week. So that was my dream day. I think that's an interesting shift because I don't think 10 years ago I could have ever articulated that, I couldn't have articulated what my dream day was, I could only articulate what my dream future job was, future title, or a future, I don't know, something, X, thing, object. So that's why I really like what you said about Naval and what I want out of life is that perfect day. And I just get it not every day of my life, they'll be perfect, but if I get it three or four days a week, that'd be perfect. Right? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:28:21] Yeah, no. Thanks for sharing,that's a great point. Naval does I think talk about that quite a lot. It's just this idea of retirement is when you stop sacrificing today for some imaginary tomorrow, when today is complete in and of itself. And I think that's what I've always tried to optimize for too. It's just wealth in the form of being able to have complete control of your time. I think the ultimate sign of wealth is if you're able to wake up every day and you can pick what you do, where you work from, who you work with and when you work as well. It's very closely tied to this idea of just really trusting the process, and what I mean by that is you have to find edification and gratification in the process itself. Finding fulfillment in the sacrifices is very important because the fundamental illusion is that there's a goal out there that will make you happy and fulfilled forever. 

Naval talks about this all the time and he's like, "Nothing out there will make you happy and fulfilled forever except death." I think this is true in the pursuit of a career, completing a task, buying material items, go on vacations, in relationships as well. I think everything we do or achieve, after some time it becomes the new normal, right? So no matter what you achieve in the future, you'll be about as happy as you are right now on average should I say. I saw that personally when... oh, okay, you get into a great university, you'll be happy. Nope. You get a great job, you'll be happy. Nope. You finally get to do VC, you're an associate at some firm, you'll be happy. You finally have your own fund, you'll be happy in it and at that point, the goal line always moves. So I think not getting too attached to the outcome and realizing that the beauty is in the job in and of itself has been a big unlock for me as well. So I definitely resonate a lot with what you've just said there. 

Jeremy Au: [00:30:11] Pushing on the journey to get towards that perfect day is the tough part. And that's interesting about your journey, when I look at your journey as well Wing is, when you said it, in undergrad and said, "I want to be a VC or at least in be in that ecosystem," I get it because it's something, it's something to do. Now what's interesting to me is that you got into it and then you stayed. Over time you changed companies, but you stayed in this vertical, which is interesting because there's a decision to join something which everybody does because they're trying something. You can do any internship for eight weeks, you can do any job for one year, but I think what's interesting is that you chose to stick and keep deepening the craft in this one. So I'm just curious, and you signposted this earlier, you said your motivations change as well about why you joined VC and I think by extension, why you're continuing VC. So could you share about what shifted from your initial impulse to join VC versus why you choose to stay in VC? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:31:15] Yeah, definitely. I think that's a great point. I think it falls under this idea of... Well, actually I just listened to a Harvard commencement speech about this recently, it was called Liquid Modernity, I would definitely recommend it. The basic thesis is that one of the biggest problems we face now are distractions. So it's everyday boredom and uncertainty that comes from our inability to commit to anything in the long haul. He talks about infinite browsing, which is you're browsing through Netflix, maybe you spend 30 minutes trying to find out what you want to watch, but this is applied for everything in our lives. It's the pursuit of optionality for optionality's sake. Optionality is basically the state of enjoying possibilities without actually being on the hook for anything, but the main thesis is that we do something wholly when we choose to commit to something. one of the most satisfying things to do is to commit to something, to a place, to a profession, to a cause, a community, a person, to show our love for something by working on it for a long time. 

I think that's the big paradox of decision-making. It's better to choose, commit and get started instead of waiting for the best possible option, so the correct decisions are actually always sub-optimal. I think whatever you choose to do, the person you choose to marry, the job that you pick to do for the rest of your life, there's probably a job out there that's a bit of a better natural fit for you. But the paradox is it's almost always better to choose and commit and work on something for a long period of time than to just keep infinitely browsing. I think that's one of a big idea that I've had throughout my life as well, is that compounding is really where the magic lies. You need to play long-term games because that's when compounding takes place and compound interest is one of the few non-luck based ways to reap rewards, it's true in your craft, your hobbies, your relationships. The way you get good at something is fairly simple, you do it again and again and again, and then consistency over time ultimately equates to results. 

But the additional thing to say about that is also that it requires a long-term commitment, anything worth doing is hard. Sacrifice is required to practice your craft at the highest levels and that sacrifice is a choice. It's one that I think you have to wake up and make every day. I think there's so much noise, so much distraction in the world that when it comes down to really staying true to what you committed to doing, that's where a lot of the compounding and a lot of where the magic ultimately happens. So for me initially in VC I was drawn to it by the speakers, by the thought leadership in the industry, but now it's more about me wanting to do this craft at a very high level and realizing that it takes time. I think investing in one of those areas where it really takes a long time to develop a taste for investing. So I want to get good at this, and I recognize that it's going to take a long time and that's why I've chosen to commit and stay in this field, and I think work on this for the foreseeable future. 

Jeremy Au: [00:34:16] Interesting. Firstly, thank you for sharing and being so open about the evolution, which is this is something that you desire to, now want to get good at this. And interesting because there are so many people who become a venture investor and then after one or two years, they peace out and go back to being a top operator, or a top founder or an executive even. So for them of course, maybe they ran into bad hygiene factors in terms of maybe it was not the right firm or not the right fit or maybe it wasn't what they were expecting. So I'm just curious as when you say that you want to do this VC thing it's all about interesting motivation, about mastery and craft, I don't know, it sounds very Zen, very Japanese. You know what I'm saying? Versus other people might say stuff like, "Oh I like being VC and I stayed a VC because it was fun. I get to meet new people, more thrill." So I was just curious what you think about that. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:35:11] Yeah, I think it started off that way. I definitely was like, "I'm going to meet some super smart people and then I'm going to see what happens." I think part of it might just be my personality trait as well as I like the grind, the commitment of waking up and doing the same thing again and again, and getting better at it. So over time I think it evolved into that, and I see that in other aspects of my life as well, so it's my hobbies outside of venture or things like that. I think it might be a personality thing as well, but yeah, at the start of it, and that's definitely still a part of it, I think being able to just spend time with super smart people, building companies and playing a small role in their journey is very fulfilling as well. 

But for me right now, and that same unlock is there's nothing out there that's going to make you happy and fulfilled forever. It's really about the journey and not the destination, so I'm just going to spend as much time and do the best I can on this journey rather than focus on the destination. So I think those two things play in together there. And I think for me, I feel pretty lucky with the fund I'm at now, given it's my fund I can pick the culture, really build this from the ground up of what I ultimately want this to be. It won't be the same if I asked to join a company or join a separate fund, I think a lot of it is dependent on who you're able to work with. And because I can be very selective about who I spend time with, who I work with, that also I think plays a part in making why I'm so excited about this and why I want to work on this craft and spend a lot of time on it. 

Jeremy Au: [00:36:44] Do you ever think about being a founder or, why would a VC want to become a founder? Because we see that all the time. We see lots of VC associates, even middle stage folks, jump back or jump into being a founder. So I'm just curious what you think about that. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:37:02] There's a couple of different schools of thought on this. One is that in order to be able to work with founders, you have to have been a founder to be able to truly empathize with them. I think that's true to an extent, I think that if you have had that founding experience, you know what those long hours look like, you really know the highs and lows of the job itself so I think it definitely adds value to the job of being a founder. But if you look historically at the best VCs of all time, not all of them have been founders, they all come from very different career paths. So you look at Michael Moritz at Sequoia, he was a journalist, Bill Gurley at Benchmark came from a public markets investing background. So I don't think it's a prerequisite, I think it can definitely help and it's another tool that founders who turn into VCs have. 

And I think it helps in attracting other founders to work with them, but I don't think it's by any means a requirement. So for me, I have definitely thought about being a founder, but I like this job a lot and I would only think of it in the context of how much does it serve this job? And I think the best way to become the best VC is to just be a VC and start investing. Because I think it takes a very long time to develop investing taste, to know what you like as much as what you don't like. And I'm very early in that, so I think the optimal use of my time for my goals is just to continue on this path, be open for it, but no immediate plans to become a founder or anything like that right now. 

Jeremy Au: [00:38:31] Yeah. That makes total sense. One interesting part about it of course, and that you and I have done some similar shift, right? Because we grew up in Southeast Asia, we spent time in the States both studying and working, and then you and I both made the move back to Southeast Asia, right? So Wing, could you share more, did you always intend to come back to Southeast Asia at some point, or was it more opportunistic? How were you thinking about it? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:38:56] That's a great question. So the short answer is no, I actually wasn't planning on coming back initially. Even though I grew up here, family is out here, and most of my friends I grew up with are out here too, I always thought, and I think I still do believe to some extent that the smartest people working on the most interesting problems is not necessarily in Southeast Asia. I think that they are still aggregating around Silicon Valley or San Francisco. As much shit as the city's gone over the last few years, I think it's still a very special place there where tech culture has seeped in I think and that's a function of the type of people who grew out there as well. Initially that was the frontier, right? America was the frontier, it's where all the people in England left to explore the world, literally set sail on boats across the ocean to this new land and set up camp. 

So it's very much baked into the DNA of the country. In addition to that, it's also a lot of where people immigrate to, to work on so I still do think, believe that the smartest people, founders or investors are still congregated around that area. With that being said, that made my decision to come back pretty difficult. There was this opportunity to start a fund with my partner now, and initially it was just opportunistic based. I thought that this was a chance to start a fund, becoming a partner at a very early age and really get to practice this art in an area, in a geography that I cared deeply about. So I wanted to take that chance, but since then I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of founders, the quality of other investors and the depth of the ecosystem here as a whole. I do think that a lot of value is going to be captured in this region over the next 10 to 20 years, a lot of value's going to be created. 

There's going to be some amazing companies started, and a lot of great founders, a lot of great companies will be built just based on what I've seen, and I think we're really riding the wave of investing here to a degree. If you look at Silicon Valley or San Francisco early stage tech in the last 20 years, if you're a halfway decent investor, it's been hard to lose money investing at the early stages there because there's been so much capital, so much attention that that ecosystem has grown incredibly well over the last 20 years. I think we're at the stage of something similar in Southeast Asia, just based on conversations I've had, the more time I've spent learning about the ecosystem. So I'm very excited for all the value that's going to be created here, and a by-product of that is I get to work in a geography that I'm very passionate about. My family is here, I grew up here, I care deeply about the people in this region, so I think my thinking on that has changed over time in a good way. 

Jeremy Au: [00:41:32] Thanks for being so honest about how your thinking has changed. I think most people try to be like, "I achieved point B," without sharing how point A to point B happens. Personally I had a similar shift in terms of thinking between the U.S and Southeast Asia ecosystems, and a similar dynamic between family and the opportunity upside. I guess what's interesting as well is that you're Thai, right? And that's been an interesting piece because I think we're looking at that and you're also looking at a regional space as well, so I'm just curious how do you feel about that? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:42:06] So with our investments so far, we've funded nine companies since we've launched the fund, primarily in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, and only one company has been in Thailand. We've helped a lot of portfolio companies in terms of expanding into the region, and I think it's a very attractive second market for companies to expand into, but I think the Thai ecosystem as a whole has definitely lagged behind our neighbors, namely Indonesia, Vietnam, and Singapore. There's a couple of thoughts as to why that is. A lot of my friends, other investors here think it's a capital allocation problem. I don't think that's true, I think that if the talent is here, if great companies are being built here, capital will be deployed. So I don't view it as much of a capital problem as much as more of a talent problem. I think that in reality, I think in Thai society and Thai culture, a lot of value and emphasis is placed on social status. 

And right now that is gained in jobs like consulting, working at one of the big four consulting firms, investment banking and things like that. So all of my smartest friends are still somewhat in that line of work, they're doing consulting, they're doing iBanking and there's not a huge founder worship culture in Thailand. Taking risks is not looked on as something that's good, I think, a lot of Thai people are pretty risk-averse so I think there's a cultural and society aspect to as well, but I think that's also slowly changing over time. So you're seeing a lot more people want to work at big tech companies. There's a lot of excitement around the U.S companies like Facebook and Google in Thailand, and then also the more regional companies like Grab, Gojek, Lazada, Shopee. 

A lot of smart people are slowly transitioning into roles there. And then I think that the logical next step from there, once you work in a big tech company, eventually you want to start your own company. So I think there's this small shift that's going to happen over time where more and more smart people start companies, and I think once you see role models happen, that's a big shift as well. We haven't seen a big Thai unicorn yet, there's no Thai founder role model to look up to as there is in these other countries. Once that happens, I think it's going to snowball and a lot more people, a lot more talent, it's going to look and be like, "Hey, that's what I want to do as well." So I think we've lagged behind, but I'm pretty optimistic that that is going to change over time. 

Jeremy Au: [00:44:23] And I think a big part about why that's going to change over time is that you are choosing to be a seed fund, and seed funds are so critical because you're making a bet on founders at the product market fit stage. So it does have a picking responsibility, but you also have a nurture and help them achieve product market fit side. But at the same point of time I think you and I have discussed this before, which is that we do see a retreat of seed funds, it already it feels like there's a hollowing out of this, all the seed funds that have been moving around. And so there's less dedicated seed capital or specialists that exist, which causes signaling risk, and so and so forth so I'm curious to hear your hot take on why that's happening. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:45:09] Yeah, definitely. So before we launched the fund in Southeast Asia, we talked to a lot of investors and a lot of founders. On the investor side, we were hearing similar things as what you're saying now. You saw the first generation of venture funds do really well, and we're just talking to local funds here, and these are Monk's Hill, Jungle, Openspace, Golden Gate, whatever, their early seed funds have done well, very strong multiples. So what they ended up doing is they end up scaling up, they raised larger and larger funds, and incentives in a VC fund is so that if you do well, you scale up. It's higher AUM, more management fees, more responsibility, and I think it also means you're playing at a bigger scale, you have more capital to allocate, your work to an extent is more meaningful. 

But once you become a $100 million plus fund, you're managing $200 million, it's very hard to be a true seed fund. The fact with seed is that it is where the majority of returns lie, but you can't allocate too much capital at this stage. Partly because one, the ecosystem is also very early. It's seed, the rounds are small, you can't inflate them too much so what we saw was that all these seed funds that do well, they're now Series A funds and they're competing with each other at that stage. And this really opened up a gap in the market for true seed funds. I'd say there's only two or three core seed funds where seed is all they do. And I think it's good for us, given we're the new guys in town, we want to carve out a little niche for ourselves and I'm sure other funds have seen this as well. 

We've seen a few emerge, but as a whole, I think the competition has moved upstream to the Series A stage and seed is open. Although you are seeing Series A funds start to invest at the seed stage again, just because they need to win the allocation, they want to build the relationship with the founder early. And that's another very interesting thing about venture is that as the size, so your fund size is ultimately your strategy and at different fund sizes, the zero sum game changes. So who you compete with, who you collaborate with is very different depending on your fund size and how much capital you can allocate at any given point in time. So I think it's just a really, really interesting game and we're seeing it change over time. I think I'm less concerned about seed as I am about the later stages, namely Series C onwards, although that's also slowly changing. I think overall it's just good for us given there's not that many truly pure seed funds out there in the region at least compared to in the past. 

Jeremy Au: [00:47:37] Yeah, definitely true I think. You mentioned so many good points about the hollowing out, and the mechanics about why VCs that succeeded with a seed approach are expanding beyond that, and that's causing that whole structural change. Good news is of course, on the later stages like Series C and plus we have people like Nick Nash who was on the podcast recently, raising a large $384 million fund for that set of rounds. But I think I always have a special place in my heart for specialists seed firms, I remember getting my seed round in my last company from the east coast of America, there was NextView Ventures, BoxGroup and Founder Collective were the top three seed specialists. 

And they had a very special role because they were trusted by all the other VCS because they stuck to their lane in essence and were able to not only be good at picking, which lots of people can do, but also very good at shepherding and unlocking the value and potential of the founder. And that's a really tough thing to do because it requires not just time and attention and coaching, but also side by side product market fit, experimentation, and hypothesis building. It's an interesting and tough role, but a rewarding one for the right people. What do you think Wing? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:49:03] Yeah, no, I definitely agree. I think seed it's the most challenging and I think the hardest part about this job at the seed level is just, I really have no idea if I'm good at this. I won't know until five or seven years from now. So the way that we're running the fund now, the way we're picking companies and partnering with founders, I'm not going to know if I'm any good at this for a very long time. But there is something very special about being one of the first people to believe in a founder, one of the first institution or funds that are not angels to come in, believe in a founder and really build that relationship from day one and nurture that as they grow. I think that's hard to replicate, to do at the later stages because later you get the more capital just becomes a commodity versus the early days when you're really in the trenches with the founder, able to work closely with them and build that relationship. And I think that's incredibly valuable, building that relationship early on and being a trusted partner for the founders is another thing which I find very fulfilling about this as well. 

Jeremy Au: [00:50:05] I'm just curious, as we wrap things up here, is if you could go back 10 years in time, where would you be and what advice would you give yourself? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:50:16] That's a good one, 10 years in time? I'd say two things. One big thing is this idea of everything exists in juxtaposition. So in the context since we're talking about VC and I was rejected from a lot of jobs, probably a 100 plus companies, a 100 plus funds I've applied to rejected me and you really have to be able to get used to rejection and be able to keep moving forward. So this idea of juxtaposition is that when you're feeling down as a founder or just personally through your career, it's very valuable to keep in mind that the good doesn't exist without the bad. So you can't have one without the other, it's the same for happiness and sadness. If you are happy all the time, you wouldn't be happy, right? It'd just be a constant state. You need the downs to feel the ups. And you see that principle everywhere too, it's like you see that in your strengths and your weaknesses, it's all relative and that exists everywhere. 

So the moments when it's hard, when you're sad, it's really okay because you need to feel that in order to be able to have to highs so I think that's the first thing. And another piece of advice I'd give myself is that I think I was very Type A personality growing up, very motivated to do my goal, tick boxes, do this, what's next? What's next? Always chasing the next accomplishment. And I'd say that, I like this quote a lot from I think it's from Billions the TV show, I don't know if you've seen it, but there's one line which says, "In the great expanse of time, we're already dead." So it's hard to lose context and lose sight of the fact that we're literally on a spaceship that's moving 30 kilometers per second around a burning sun and a lot of people lose sight of that. In the long run, we're all dead so don't take yourself too seriously. Don't get too hung up on the downs and just enjoy the ride. I think that would be the biggest takeaway and advice I'd give to my younger self. 

Jeremy Au: [00:52:13] Awesome. Thanks so much Wing. For those who want to reach you, how can they contact you? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:52:18] I'm pretty good on email and I check it every day. I try to respond to everything I'm just w@iseed.vc, and then also on Twitter @Wingvasiksiri. I'm pretty active on both, so I'm pretty not difficult to reach out to. 

Jeremy Au: [00:52:37] Well I'm going to recap what I found most enlightening from our conversation, and obviously in a bit of time we'll open it up for questions. So if anybody wants to raise their hand to ask Wing a question, feel free to raise your hand. Well, first of all, I think you have a deep sense of life and mortality, which is two sides of the same coin, which allows us to have a much deeper conversation than just the mechanics of VC, but also life philosophy and why you chose VC. So I think that's really a great piece there. I think the second piece that everybody enjoyed and we got to cover of course, was you have perspective on career transitions and venture capital as a life journey, which is not a common one and also not necessarily a desirable one, especially in the context of mimetic desire. And then thirdly of course, I loved our conversations on Southeast Asia as well as the seed ecosystem. So thank you so much for sharing all of that. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:53:31] Thanks Jeremy, and I really enjoyed the conversation too, and I appreciate the time. 

Jeremy Au: [00:53:36] Well, if anybody wants to raise their hand we have time for one or two questions and then we'll wrap up from there. So feel free to raise your hand. 

Speaker 3: [00:53:42] Is that okay if I ask question for investment here in the group? 

Jeremy Au: [00:53:46] Hi, yep. Go ahead to ask your question. 

Speaker 3: [00:53:50] Oh, nice. I have a startup for integration, a very crowded market, but I could sell product. We are a Vietnamese-based startup so what's best way for us to raise funds from Southeast Asia? 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:54:03] I'm happy to have you reach out by email, I'm just w@iseed.vc. I think the best way, best format I like for looking at pitches over email is just maybe three or four bullet points of a high-level overview of what you're building and then a pitch deck attached to that. And we have a pretty good sense of what you're building, and then happy to revert back with some thoughts. I think a general point I want to make about that is that a lot of times founders ask VC for feedback on what they like and what they didn't like. I would be a little careful of what feedback you get from your investors because the reality is this job ultimately comes down to allocating risk and there's different types of risks. 

There's founder risks, which is do we think you've built a company? Have you built something successful before? There's financing risk, can we go down? Do we see you being able to raise the funds in the future? And each VC has a different appetite for risk. And just because a venture fund says no to you as a company or as a founder, it doesn't necessarily mean that your company is bad. It could, but it doesn't necessarily mean that. It's because you have to keep in mind that the job of VCs is they're evaluating your opportunities relative to whatever other opportunities they have. So it might just be not as attractive relative to opportunity B, which is two times repeat founder, previous exit, blah, blah, blah. So I would be careful of taking advice from VC because the job is saying no a lot, and I think that's the worst part of the job. 

And a lot of times feedback can become generic where you say, "Oh, the market's not big enough," or something like that. When I think in reality, what it comes down to a lot of times is we have scarce capital to allocate, and if we're saying no to a company it just might mean that you're not as attractive to option B. So that's something to keep in mind, but for your specific context if you send over a pitch deck to my email I'm very happy to take a look and share some thoughts and see if it might be a fit. 

Speaker 3: [00:56:04] Thank you so much, Wing. I will drop you an email when I have my pitch fulfilled. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:56:10] Yeah, no problem. 

Jeremy Au: [00:56:11] Awesome. Thanks so much Wing. It's been an absolute pleasure having you. 

Wing Vasiksiri: [00:56:15] Thanks Jeremy, I appreciate the time and we'll talk soon. Thanks everyone.

Jeremy Au: [00:56:19] Thank you for listening to BRAVE. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share this episode with friends and colleagues. Sign up at www.jeremyau.com to discuss this episode with other community members in our forum. Stay well and stay brave.