A Mental Model for “Cold Launching” Start-ups (Four Launch Modes)

Disclaimer: I cannot claim originality to the framework used here but owe it to Cao Zheng, a former core member of Baidu’s business analysis group, 4399.com chief architect, and a current gaming entrepreneur from China. He is an avid thinker/ blogger on the internet business, from whom I have learned much (link to Cao Zheng’s public account on WeChat “caoz的梦呓”)

After more than half a year in incubation, a friend recently launched the beta version of his marketplace app for people to rent or buy things from people nearby, yes, the old “neighborhood sharing economy” concept again (aka. using app to borrow a power drill from your neighbor). I have served as an adviser to him prior to the launch. During our conversations, one counterfactual I constantly used to push the discussion was all the neighborhood sharing apps that have struggled to gain traction before, which is well documented by this article on FastCompany – The “Sharing Economy” is Dead, and We Killed It.

“Everything made sense except that nobody gives a sh**. They go buy [a drill]. Or they just bang a screwdriver through the wall.”

Continue reading “A Mental Model for “Cold Launching” Start-ups (Four Launch Modes)”

Finding Mindfulness in Art

New York had one of the worst winter storms over the past weekend. Trapped inside the house gave me a unique opportunity to do something I had not done in a long while – drawing. Notwithstanding my passion for start-ups and investing, nothing else gives me more satisfaction and a sense of tranquility like art creation. An hour and a half of complete focus produced this drawing of Miyamoto Musashi, the famous Japanese swordsman and author of “The Book of Five Rings,” a text on martial arts and strategy. The drawing is based on the original artwork of Inuoe Takehiko’s masterpiece “Vagabond,” which was done with ink and brush. I guess my attempt at replicating Inuoe Sensei’s expressionism with a pencil was not a complete failure. Continue reading “Finding Mindfulness in Art”

Demystifying Bitcoin/Blockchain: How it Actually Works

Note: This my second blog post on Bitcoin/Blockchain. My previous postprovided an overview of Bitcoin/Blockchain and some brief commentary on the evolution of its applications, as well as its implications on securities trading. Of course, the potential impact is beyond just payment or exchanging non-physical assets. However, in order to truly appreciate the potential and shortcomings of Blockchain, one has to go back to the origin (Bitcoin and Blockchain were born together as one) and understand how the Bitcoin system works, ACTUALLY.  Only then can one cut through the fog and begin to tell what is truth and what is myth, and start to appreciate the complexities. Inevitably, this Blog runs the risk of oversimplifying things and may appear naive to the true Bitcoin experts. But for the novice and non-techies, this is where we start diving into the rabbit hole… Continue reading “Demystifying Bitcoin/Blockchain: How it Actually Works”

Prologue to “Demystifying Bitcoin/Blockchain”

Note: This is a prologue to my next post “Demystifying Bitcoin/Blockchain: How it Actually Works.” I will also be exploring the brilliance and short-comings of Bitcoin/Blockchain, from the perspective of someone who did not understand it three months ago. Special thanks to Andreas Antonopoulos,Pascal Bouvier, Vitalik Buterin, and Simon Taylor, whom I have not met but whose intellectual generosity has accelerated and deepened my understanding of the subject.

The post could also be found on Linkedin Pulse.

Overview of Bitcoin/Blockchain – Where it All Began:

Invented in 2008, Bitcoin is not just a currency or a payment system. Andreas Antonopoulos, author of “Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrency,” provided a well articulated definition:

It is “a network-centric protocol and platform for recording [and transferring] ownership and trust on a peer-to-peer basis.”

Blockchain is quite topical recently given hyped up interests by financial institutions; it was also featured on the October 31st cover of The Economist. However, Blockchain by itself is just a boring ledger distributed or replicated among all the participants in a P2P network, it is only with the protocol/incentives (in purely mathematical forms) integrated into the Bitcoin system that Blockchain becomes a powerful trust machine. One cannot understand Blockchain and its full potential without understanding how Bitcoin system as a whole works – Blockchain is Bitcoin. Continue reading “Prologue to “Demystifying Bitcoin/Blockchain””

Value Investing – Lei Zhang’s (Hillhouse Capital) Lecture at Columbia Business School

In the high flying world of investing, Lei Zhang maintains a relatively low profile. Yet since being seeded by David Swensen of Yale Endowment with $20 million in 2005, he has achieved a ~40% compounded annual return (28x not adjusting for inflation), making him one of the best performing investment managers. To put it into perspective, Warren Buffett has achieved a compounded annual return of ~22%, albeit for the past 50 years!! Today, Lei Zhang’s Hillhouse Capital, named after a street nearby Yale where Lei received his MBA and master’s in public policy, manages ~$18 billion. Though not exclusively tech focused, Lei is best known for backing several of the most successful Chinese internet entrepreneurs and start-ups (e.g. Tencent, Baidu, and JD.com). On April 29th, Lei paid a visit to the “Temple of Value Investing” Columbia Business School to share his investing and life lessons. Below are my synthesis of his wisdom: Continue reading “Value Investing – Lei Zhang’s (Hillhouse Capital) Lecture at Columbia Business School”

37 Days in Fiji – Some Quick Reflections

Sitting on the plane to Sydney Australia still feeling surreal, I am trying to unwind the past 37 days living and working in the Fiji Islands…time rewinds back to two months ago, I was about to graduate from Columbia Business School’s full-time MBA program:

Friends: “Plans before you start working?”

Me: “Going to Fiji to help start a new micro-finance business.”

Friends: “Wow awesome…where is Fiji?”

Those were the common reactions: Where is Fiji? What are you doing there? How did you land this opportunity? Most people probably only know of Fiji from the bottled water in the cover photo, so here are some quick house-cleaning items. Continue reading “37 Days in Fiji – Some Quick Reflections”

How to be a better “Mind Reader”

A year ago, my former manager (now partner) at Accenture, Bogdan Konsur, gave me this book written by Chicago professor Nicholas Epley. After graduating from CBS, I finally had time to read it and found it very interesting and insightful. The book is based on studies of neuroscience and psychology, and is filled with experiments of how the human mind works and how its inherent limitations could cause misunderstandings of others. Here are my key takeaways:IMG_2135-0

How to be a better “mind reader”? Put less effort on trying to read others’ body language or “putting yourself in their shoes,” this amounts to little more than imagination and guess work, and could exaggerate misunderstandings. Instead, try harder to GET another person’s perspective instead of trying to TAKE it.

Imagining/guessing is easy because it is quick and often works reasonably well based on one’s own mind, stereotypes about others’ mind, and others’ observed actions, but each of these are simplifying heuristics that give imperfect insights. Asking is a slower and harder process therefore a path taken less often, but it is the way you understand people more accurately, and the way you solve their problems more effectively.
Continue reading “How to be a better “Mind Reader””

Berkshire Hathaway 50th Anniversary Shareholder Meeting – Key Quotes and Insights from Warren & Charlie

On May 1st, I flew to Omaha Nebraska with 100 other fellow CBS students to attend the 50th annual shareholder meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, with the hope to meet the school’s most famous alumni Warren Buffet, and his partner Charlie Munger. 

I have been a student of their essays and annual letters and am familiar with their investment and personal philosophies. Nonetheless, only seeing them live did I truly understand how remarkable they are. One is 84-year old and other is 91, yet they still possess the youth, energy, and mental clarity to conduct 6 hours of shareholder Q&A. The dynamic between Warren and Charlie are truly like an old couple, with Warren being the mellow and politically correct grandma, and Charlie the witty but sharp-tonged grandpa. They projected their wisdom, humor, and positive energy to a fully-packed CenturyLink Center. 

Continue reading “Berkshire Hathaway 50th Anniversary Shareholder Meeting – Key Quotes and Insights from Warren & Charlie”

Value Investing – Paul Hilal’s (Pershing Square) Lecture at Columbia Business School

Today (April 14th, 2015) Paul Hilal from Pershing Square came to speak during the “Value Investing with Legends Class.” In his introduction of Paul, Professor Big G (Bruce Greenwald) said this, “The public face of Paul Hilal’s fund is Bill Ackman, the talent to a large extent is standing in front of you.”

Paul certainly lived up to the “generous” introduction. He gave a very meaty lecture, full of insights, important life lessons, juicy and entertaining details of Pershing’s activist campaign against Canadian Pacific Railway in 2012. Paul came across as personable, candid, and grounded. But underneath all these qualities, it was clear that he would not hesitate to turn ruthless (I think all successful business people have this quality more or less) when it comes to sticking to his principles/beliefs and driving value from his investment ideas. Many of the lessons he conveyed are not just about investing, but more importantly about life, about being a principled person, and about life in business. There are lessons to be drawn whether you are an investor, a consultant, a general manager, or a banker. It is learnings like this that makes me feel lucky to be at Columbia Business School. Continue reading “Value Investing – Paul Hilal’s (Pershing Square) Lecture at Columbia Business School”

Value Investing – Mohnish Pabrai’s Lecture at Columbia Business School

Two weeks ago, Mohnish Pabrai came to give a lecture at Columbia Business School’s “Value Investing with Legends” class. His investment philosophy and methodology spoke to me personally so I wanted to share the learning on this blog. Below are some information about him and my key takeaways from the lecture. In addition, I found a taped video of Mohnish’s lecture from a couple of years ago and below is the link. He is quite an entertaining speaker and extremely willing to share his thoughts and ideas with students.

https://cbs360.gsb.columbia.edu:8443/ess/echo/presentation/670921b2-4bad-4843-8dc5-4026360f1369 Continue reading “Value Investing – Mohnish Pabrai’s Lecture at Columbia Business School”