Year One.

It’s been one year since I, like Harry Stebbings would describe in his podcast, stumbled into the wonderful world of VC. I couldn’t ask for a better set up and colleagues, in the likes of Michael and Gabriel , and the wonderful support and mentorship from the team at Jungle Ventures.

I’ll like to share a few quick notes on some lessons learned, and also observations along the way. These are far from exhaustive I am sure.

Pace.

The pace of decision making is quite different. When you are an operating executive, especially when you are in a start-up, you need to make decisions quickly as the cost of not moving fast enough is higher than the cost of mistakes. In most situations, the downside cost of mistakes can be limited, as the feedback cycle of each decision is fast and you get a chance to course correct. On the contrary, one almost has to slow down decision making in investing as the cost of mistake here is high, and the feedback cycle is long. It should be a calculate and deliberate decision, and to a large extent a very uncomfortable environment for me. A lot of the time I wonder if I’m actually making progress, or I’m just getting busy without moving the needle. 

It’s about people.

What surprised me is how much the people factor weights in the business, from building relationships with founders, colleagues in the industry from other VC firms and potential (and current) LPs, VCs spend a lot of time managing these different stakeholders and relationships. It’s interesting to think of the VC industry of the few industries which incentivize participants in the ecosystem to be good actors for the long run (H/T: Anjney).

(Not) knowing it all.

This sounds cliche, but I truly feel that VC is a really humbling profession. Day in and day out I work with truly smart and driven founders, and I meet many more from different pitch meetings and demo days. It’s both humbling and scary to learn about many cool new technologies and innovation gaps in many industries, and at the same time I can’t help but think about how much I don’t know. In some sense it’s a really subtle but important shift in mindset between operating and investing – in that when you are executing, your job is to provide the answers but when investing the job is about asking the right questions and getting comfortable with not knowing it all.

Bitter work (苦活)

I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with the legendary Jenny Lee from GGV, and what she shared struck a chord with me:

VC is hard work. In Mandarin, we call that 苦活, which literally translates into bitter work. The real work starts post investment when you are working with the founder, it is a 24/7 service oriented work. One minute you could be interim CFO trying to help the founder with cap table modeling and budgeting, the other you are playing the head of HR, listening to founders and providing emotional support. It’s highly unstructured work, and the glory (should the company succeed) belongs to the founder, not you (rightfully).

I am sure there’re much more lessons to be had, and much more work to be done, and we are just getting started. Interestingly my one year anniversary coincided with this piece of wonderful news: https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/31/seedplus-is-an-early-stage-fund-focused-on-finding-global-startups-in-southeast-asia/ so that’s one happy happenstance.

On that note, if you are a founder looking to build a globally disruptive start-up from Singapore and beyond, I look forward to partner with you. If you have questions about fundraising, or start-ups in general, I am happy to talk to you. You can find me on Twitter at @tianglim.

30 Things – 2017

10% into my next decade today. If there’s one word that i can use to describe 2016, in my own life and the state of affairs in the world, that will be ‘flux’. Throwing out some keywords here, in no order of priority and definitely some recall bias at work here: Brexit, Trump, A.I., CRISPR, 1MDB, ISIS, Deep Learning, Blockchain… and the list goes on. It’s difficult to resist the feeling that the ‘new world’ is coming, and collectively we as a species are both excited and nervous at the same time.

Personally it’s been an interesting year as well – most markedly due to me hopping to the other side of the table. To be honest venture capital was never really a career consideration. In some sense I sort of stumbled into the industry. For that I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity that i was given by the crew at Jungle Ventures and SeedPlus. Looking forward to kicking things up a notch for sure, in honing my craft and hopefully play a part in the technology ecosystem building of Singapore, the region and beyond.

Now that I’ve set the context of 2016, i want to take the opportunity to review the list i wrote for myself last year when i turned 30 (The first iteration of the list is here: http://tianglim.net/wp/30-things/). Not sure if this will be an annual thing, but i do want to build some sort of habit of self-check, and perhaps this will serve as an opportunity for me to revise and solidify some principles and axioms i think make sense as a guiding list for me. It will be interesting to compare and contrast how some wordings will change over the coming years, i think.

Here goes:

  1. Always prioritise your family and important relationships over everything else.
  2. Never underestimate your ability to augment your immediate reality.
  3. Never take yourself too seriously.
  4. Be kind. (Which is different from being nice.)
  5. Be patient. (I think the virtues of patience comes from kindness in principle, though i do want to break this out as a separate item to work on.)
  6. Take chances on your career, and never be too comfortable.
  7. Leave room for uncertainty and surprises. This takes some conscious effort – uncertainty and surprises lie beyond your comfort zone. Get out of your comfort zone often.
  8. Protect Earn your reputation. Your reputation will be the greatest currency you have in your career. (One realization in 2016 is that you have to earn your reputation – it is not handed to you. This comes from putting in the work and the hours. No shortcuts.)
  9. Always strive to be effective and get things done. You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. It doesn’t matter.
  10. Make an effort to cultivate your friendships. Go out, stay up. Learn how to have fun.
  11. Go out of your way to meet and be around smart, interesting and ambitious people. I once heard that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Not sure how true that is, but I do believe in the importance of keeping good company.
  12. Be generous with your time and money. Most of the people that I came to admire and respect were always generous with their time and money. Incidentally these are the same people whom are pretty successful in their respective fields. Causation? Maybe. Correlation? Definitely.
  13. However, be prudent with your attention. A lot of things in life aren’t worth paying attention to.
  14. Your happiness is your own responsibility.
  15. True love waits.
  16. True love also takes effort. In fact, any genuine, enriching, long-lasting relationship takes effort. Make time.
  17. Even the deepest wounds will heal. The deepest wounds will also, incidentally, turn out to be the greatest teachers in life. (Yep.)
  18. Marry someone who inspires you to be a better version of yourself. Similiarly, marry someone who has the desire to grow with you, too. In a good marriage, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  19. Having money is nice, but don’t stress over it too much.
  20. Keep your personal burn rate low, but remember to eat and live well too.
  21. Time is more important than money.
  22. When in doubt, always choose substance over style.
  23. Buy experiences, not things.
  24. Also, buy utility and value, not fashion. Make good effort to stay healthy.(I realise #22 illustrates this implicitly in some ways, so crossing this one out. One thing i should definitely pay more attention to is my health, and thinking long term is something i should work more on.) 
  25. Be confident, but not proud. Never let pride get in the way of learning.
  26. Choose long-term gains over short-term gratification. Think long term. 
  27. Most people sleepwalk through their lives. Don’t be most people. Pay attention, be aware. An unexamined life is not worth living.
  28. Read. Read fiction to appreciate the beauty of language. Read non-fiction to learn how the world works. Read good essays. Again, be prudent with your attention.
  29. Take time off to wander and think.
  30. Grow wise. Stay curious.

Intellectual Honesty

Just read a very insightful blog post by Mark Suster (Why I Look for High Conviction, not Consensus, in Venture Capital Decisions)

My biggest takeaway from the essay is around having the courage to build conviction and intellectual honesty around an investment opportunity.

It’s relatively easy to understand if an investment opportunity is good or not from pure intellectual reasoning (as i wrote about previously). However to build real conviction around a team, it is often a very emotional decision. The challenge here then is try not to fall in love with an idea / team / market or whatever it is, but at the same time once there’s conviction you as an investor will need to be passionate and committed to see it through with high conviction.

In some sense, one almost needs to have the ability to hold conflicting ideas (and emotions) in your head at the same time, and have the discipline to recognize that if data and signs show that things are not likely going to work out, have the intellectually honesty to say no.

More and more I believe that brutal intellectual honesty is one of the core ingredients of building a great venture capital firm. It is extremely difficult, given that venture capital is such a relationship and more importantly human business. (Again, borrowing from Suster’s great post here), and it definitely goes against human nature to be saying no to smart, driven founders, most of the time.

Much to learn and do, indeed.

Resources

No matter if the company is big or small, resources are always scarce and limited. In fact with limited resources it helps start-up to focus and have clarity on goals and milestones i.e. if you only have one bullet left, which target will you aim your shot at?

Rather not give generic advise or commentary, since it’s highly dependent on the unique space & time in which the start-up operates in, also dependent on product/service & market dynamics.

That being said, for internet / digital products distribution cost is almost negligible, and entering a new market is mostly a function of lowering the friction of adoption (payments, language, platform availability etc) and increasing the demand generation (awareness, community building, PR, media etc). Both of which entail allocating resources. Again if you only have a given set of resources, which lever should you pull to ensure that you move the needle?

That is why I don’t generally subscribe to the “..because Google can enter the Indonesian market tomorrow” argument therefore it’s easier for them to do it. If you can throw money to make problems go away, they world will be an easier place to operate in, no? ;)

Team, Product, Market, Economics.

If you think about it, every investment thesis from every VC firm is a combination of team, product, market and economics (of the deal).

The supposed secret sauce, then, is how the firm prioritize and weight each element.

Don Valentine from Sequoia Capital believed that you should look at big markets.

Marc Andreesen, who coined the concept of product market fit believes that a great market will pull the product out of a team.

On the other hand Y-Combinator is famous for preferring founding teams as opposed to solo founders.

If i have to guess, i think Peter Thiel will have a bias towards a great product / technology than anything else. (See being a monopoly)

Obviously the economics of the deal must make sense (funding round, cheque size and valuation etc.)

Again, when push comes to shove, all the above will change when it’s a hot deal in a heated market capturing the zeigeist of the moment. (Airbnb for X anyone?)

I can’t say for sure in our specific time and space, what the winning combination will be. I’m definitely seeing the interplay between all four factors from the founding teams and founders i’ve met in the past 4+ months.

One things for sure – fundamentally the VC business is a business based on human relationships (then again, isn’t that what all business activities should be?). You can do all the due diligence, cash flow analysis, market sizing etc but ultimately the decision to invest or not is a leap of faith and a bet on the person. To paraphrase Jenny Lee from GGV:

Go with the head first, and then decide with the heart.

Unknown unknowns

Hello world,

4 months+ into VC, I’m pretty much still in learning mode. With no previous background in VC the learning curve is as steep as it gets.

In other words, I’m trying to reduce the number of unknown unknowns, and increase the number of known unknowns. By knowing what I don’t know, I will be able to optimise for:

a. Continue to capitalise on my strengths and use that as leverage and;

b. Decide if I need to spend time on areas of weakness or experience gaps that can be fixed and;

c. Rely and defer to colleagues and extended network for areas of weakness or experience gaps that are inefficient for me to fix.

It’s been a very interesting ride so far, and I definitely look forward to seeing how the adventure unfolds. 

30 Things

I am cognizant that publishing a list like this on my 30th birthday seems hollow. Truth is, I am writing this for myself. This is a collection of best 30 advice I have received in the years leading up to now. You might find some of these applicable to your own life. Some less so.

When I started to curate this list a few weeks ago when I was in Mongolia, it felt deceptively simple. It was not. I took care to reduce redundancy, so that I don’t repeat myself. It was also challenging to really distill all the lessons learned and the advice I took to heart into 30 things. This is my best effort.

Naturally, comments welcomed.

  1. Always prioritise your family and important relationships over everything else.
  2. Never underestimate your ability to augment your immediate reality. If you want something, go get it. If you want something to happen, make it happen.
  3. Never take yourself too seriously.
  4. Be kind.
  5. Be patient.
  6. Take chances on your career, and never be too comfortable.
  7. Leave room for uncertainty and surprises. This takes some conscious effort, for uncertainty and surprises lie beyond your comfort zone. Hence, get out of your comfort zone often.
  8. Protect your reputation at all costs. Your reputation will be the greatest currency you have in your career.
  9. Always strive to be effective and get things done. You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. It doesn’t matter.
  10. Make an effort to cultivate your friendships. Go out, stay up. Learn how to have fun.
  11. Go out of your way to meet and be around smart, interesting and ambitious people. I once heard that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Not sure how true that is, but I do believe in the importance of keeping good company.
  12. Be generous with your time and money. Most of the people that I came to admire and respect were always generous with their time and money. Incidentally these are the same people whom are pretty successful in their respective fields. Causation? Maybe. Correlation? Definitely.
  13. However, be prudent with your attention. A lot of things in life aren’t worth paying attention to.
  14. Your happiness is your own responsibility.
  15. True love waits.
  16. True love also takes effort. In fact, any genuine, enriching, long-lasting relationship takes effort. Make time.
  17. Even the deepest wounds will heal. The deepest wounds will also, incidentally, turn out to be the greatest teachers in life.
  18. Marry someone who inspires you to be a better version of yourself. Similiarly, marry someone who has the desire to grow with you, too. In a good marriage, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  19. Having money is nice, but don’t stress over it too much.
  20. Keep your personal burn rate low, but remember to eat and live well too.
  21. Time is more important than money.
  22. When in doubt, always choose substance over style.
  23. Buy experiences, not things.
  24. Also, buy utility and value, not fashion.
  25. Be confident, but not proud. Never let pride get in the way of learning.
  26. Choose long-term gains over short-term gratification.
  27. Pay attention. Most people sleepwalk through their lives. Don’t be most people. Be aware. An unexamined life is not worth living.
  28. Read. Read fiction to appreciate the beauty of language. Read non-fiction to learn how the world works. Read good essays. Again, be prudent with your attention.
  29. Take time off to wander and think.
  30. Don’t grow old, grow wise. Don’t stay young, stay curious.

How to Read Productively

I recently listened to Bob Pozen’s interview on the HBR podcast series, and one of the concepts he mentioned which resonated with me was the concept of result focused reading.

Two issues:

  1. Over the years, i’ve amassed a huge number of RSS feeds of blogs that i follow regularly, on various topics that i’m interested in (tech, marketing, news, productivity, popular science..). Everything seems so interesting, and yet i don’t have time to read everything.
  2. Every day, a huge amount of new content is produced, and there’s always a constant need for me to follow up and be kept abreast of what’s the latest.

One strategy that helped me deal with digesting different information more effectively is by grouping the blogs / information sources into themes i’m currently reading for. For example, i read about

  • Entreprenuership / Business
  • Tech / Start-up’s
  • General affairs / news
  • Productivity / Tech how-to’s
  • Marketing / Business Analytics
  • Fun, geeky stuff like gaming, popular science etc (at least these are my idea of fun).

The key principle is this: Prioritisation and result focused. By asking myself what am i reading for, it helps me prioritise my attention on reading topics that are aligned to my reading goals. I recognise that with the abundance of content on the Internet, it’s always tempting to be afraid of missing out, but at the end of the day it’s all about prioritisation. As the old adage goes: if everything is important and urgent, then nothing is. You have to pick and choose.

To make sure that i’m at least keeping abreast of what’s going on in these different themes, i assign each theme to a different day of the week, and categorise them accordingly. The category names are simple: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, all the way to the Weekend bucket. This helps me focus on reading and learning about different topics systematically, and keeps me on track on my learning goals. To complete the loop, i make sure that i revisit and tweak the buckets every now & then to make sure that the content “mix” still makes sense.

The service that i highly recommend is feedly, which i’ve been using for years. The web interface is slick and easy to use, the mobile app (there’s a iOS and Android version) is clean, simple and effective. What’s more, there’s a great Evernote & Pocket integration which allows me to save certain articles and blog posts for reading later.

Here’s how my categories look like in feedly:

7804b45fe7c17355392f7473094820cf
Over the year i’ve subscribed to literally hundreds of sources, and yet i don’t read them all. Since many of the topics tend to overlap in some of the blogs / new outlets, i try not to subscribe to both source that will potentially serve the same function. For example, i rely on the New York Times for general affairs and news and that pretty much serves my reading need for that category, and i don’t subscribe to say, WSJ for the same purpose (though i do, but i read WSJ for the financial news). Again, know what you’re reading for.

What’s your reading strategy like? I’ll love to hear from you.

P.S: Credit goes to Julie from Family Blog Tips, who inspired me to adopt this reading strategy.

Tech tricks: Automate Note Creation Using Note Templates in Evernote

screenshot

Do you use Evernote to create meeting notes? How about project notes? Or checklists for events/travels etc? I sure do – and soon enough, i began to find ways to automate the process.

Turns out that the solution is fairly simple. The idea is to create templates of notes you create regularly, which you can copy & paste again and again. Here’re some templates which i’ve created to help you get started.

  • Meeting notes (link)
  • Project notes (link)
  • Event planning checklist (link)
  • Travel checklist (link)

To use these templates, download the (.enex) files and import them into your Evernote app.

Do share if you have any other ideas for note templates in the comments below. Happy to hear your feedback too.

How i Organize My Evernote Notebooks (with GTD)

Evernote, for the past couple of years, has been the “mother-of-all-apps” that i’ve been running my life with. It’s not hard to see why: Evernote provides a native app (free) on almost all the devices you own (or will likely own in the future), synchronise its content across all these different platforms, and it’s dead simple to get started.

My usage of Evernote has evolved beyond it just being a note taking service. Because of its many API ‘hooks’, it can easily receive information & data of all sorts from all sorts of sources. Emails, pictures, other web services like Facebook, Twitter (via services like IFTTT), even hardware devices like the Fujitsu ScanSnap. Evernote has more or less, became my extended brain.

One of my latest experiments with Evernote is to use Evernote as a task manager to integrate into my GTD workflow. I’ve been trying a few setups, spending quite a few dollars (ahem) buying different apps and services, and i’m glad to say that i’m pretty close to what i describe as productivity nirvana.

GTD, or short for Getting Things Done, is the “work-life management” methodology designed by David Allen. Basically it is a set of steps designed to help, as the name implies, people get things done. I won’t go into detail describing the concepts of GTD and explaining the terminologies, instead you should checkout David’s book. I just wanted to share how my setup looks like, and perhaps you can share with me yours and we can compare notes (pun intended, heh).

Here’s a glance at my setup on Evernote:

On my shortcuts list:

Evernote-3

And my Notebooks:

Evernote-2

Some explanation:

As you can see, i’ve got the GTD system somewhat set up. The @Inbox notebooks holds all inbound notes for sorting later. Some of these notes will be processed and translated into next action items, which will then go into the +Next Action Notebook. More complicated items will be planned as a project, and filed into the +Project notebook. For items that i am deferring / or waiting for someone else to respond before i can take action, they go into the +Waiting For notebook with a Reminder set.

Different context tags are set as Saved Searches (@Anywhere, @Home, @Office etc..). I find it easier to search and categorise my next actions that way, instead of dividing each note into its own notebook respectively. I collect all next action items into the +Next Action notebook and tag accordingly. That way i get to keep my notebook count down.

Obviously there’s much more to dig into, but i’ll leave that for future posts. Let me know what you think!