A year of learning, unlearning, and relearning as an entrepreneur
When I started my entrepreneurial journey three years ago switching my focus from purely managing money to building FinTech software in investments, little did I know how much I would love this experience (uncertainty and upside included.)
I enjoy doing research and investing. We are students of the market; each day Mr. Market tells you how your investments are doing — no hiding.
Learning as an entrepreneur is at another level.
What I learned this past year is the benefits of skill-mixing.
Underlying skill mixing is the intention and ability to learn.
The three elements of skill acquisitions can further be classified as upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling.
Let me give you some context.
As my Chief Science Officer, Data Scientist, and UC Berkeley Lecturer explained in her EdTech talk (55:00): what is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley; why does innovation come so easily to SV and not elsewhere; what makes the Silicon Valley ecosystem hard to be replicated with the same success rate?
It is one word — skill-mixing or cross-pollination. The offspring of cross-pollination exhibits hybrid rigour as in biology.
Hybrid rigour is the increase in such characteristics as size, growth rate, fertility, and yield of a hybrid organism over those of its parents.
As a worker, upskilling (learning complementary skills) and reskilling (learning net-new skills) are personally useful.
But when different domains and multiple skills come together, they can create tremendous innovation — these are cross-skilling and skill-mixing in a company.
At the core of the multi-disciplinary approach are data and analytics.
A great example was the former Oakland A’s baseball GM Billy Beane who applied data analytics in acquiring team members with a low budget and winning many division titles and playoffs. Baseball teams now regularly use data analytics for team management and games.
My core skills as an investment manager are as follows:
- Read and synthesize lots of information on economic data, stock, bond, and currency markets, and political development and macro policy of countries globally.
- Research and analyze companies and countries and economic data (and the interaction amongst them) to come up with investment ideas and their target values.
- Chart data in Excel and analyze trends and relations.
- Put together the ideas into a portfolio according to certain investment guidelines and risk parameters.
- Risk budget.
- Execute and trade investment ideas.
- Continue monitoring the markets and portfolio positions. Adjust if necessary.
An investment manager is heavily into synthesizing information, tracking and analyzing data through charting, assessing risk in the markets, managing the different parts of the portfolio, etc.
We need to have investment convictions and risk assessments but hardly need to listen to our customers’ demands (in the case of discretionary management)!
A startup co-founder in FinTech requires a more diversified set of skills.
Here are how I practice skill-mixing:
1. Data Analytics
This year, I took a class at my Alma Mater to learn an Introduction to Data Mining in R.
I concluded as follows:
I deeply appreciate the opportunity to learn an introductory course in data mining. It helps to demystify machine learning and makes me understand how large and/or unstructured data can be aggregated and analyzed, leading to inferences or predictions that can (or cannot) enhance our process.
AI application is both present and future for (almost) everything we do. Understanding whether or not AI/Machine Learning is relevant to your industry, software, or product and its pros and cons is paramount.
2. Data Visualization
My journey with storytelling with data started with a lecture by data and visualization guru Cole Knaflic several years ago.
I learned from her how to unclutter my graphs, choose the appropriate visual, and tell the story from my charts. After all, a picture wins over a thousand words, but a cluttered chart with too much information clouds the main point.
Each chart should convey one main point.
Now, I utilize applications such as Tableau Public, Canva, and Lucidchart to present data in a more modern and pleasing fashion. I also subscribe to Visual Capitalist and Our World in Data to learn about our world in multiple dimensions and diversify away from my own narrow view.
They are all free at the basic level, allowing anyone to become a data-visualist in an instant.
If you asked me 2 years ago what UI-UX was, I would say this is a computer coding language! How wrong was I!!
They refer to two different things and professions.
UX (User Experience):
UX embraces both tech and non-tech, digital and physical products, encompassing all interactions between the customers and the company, whether the company is a product or service. The goal is to provide an intuitive experience for the user.
UI (User Interface):
UI simply refers to how the product’s interface feels and looks.
It applies to digital products only — think about the icons, buttons, typography, spacing, and colour schemes when you visit a website.
A great product experience begins with UX followed by UI according to Rahul Varshney.
The key goal when designing our FinTech application is to work with our engineers to condense a complex investment process into tables and a few clicks that flow like a river and reach its destination (the desired and optimized investment portfolio) effectively.
Constant user engagement is necessary to improve our users’ experience and solve their real needs (quite different from fund management.)
4. Writing Effectively
This seems obvious but is fundamental.
No investment analyst or startup founder can sell her proposition if she cannot write or speak succinctly and well.
Having read articles daily on Medium and written articles almost weekly this year, I learn these:
- The basics of writing effectively. Explore new sentence structure using Ludwig.
- How to quickly capture the reader’s attention in the headline. A tool such as HeadlineStudio helps.
- Delete ineffective or duplicated words.
- The importance of writing regularly.
- Share my work on multiple platforms including Medium, LinkedIn, and Twitter in addition to the websites of my company and other industry associations.
Here is my collection of good writing stories on Medium.
5. Learn the Legal Language
I can’t emphasize enough the advantages of being savvier with legal knowledge when you start a business.
I attended a Fund + Forum founders workshop at UC Berkeley Law taught by their Law Faculty.
Topics to know for a founder:
- A corporation or an LLC? VC prefers you are a corporation if you want their funding.
- Does the entrepreneur need to pay herself? Check the State Law (if you are in the U.S.); for example, California requires a company to pay a minimum wage to all employees.
- Where should the intellectual property (IP) of your technology company sit? Not with the founder/inventor if you want VC funding. It is better if you assign the IP to the company. Also, importantly, specify in the employment agreement whom the IP belongs to.
- Types of fund-raising: Convertible note and loan (debt) versus traditional equity. After 2013, SAFE became popular as a streamlined alternative to a Convertible Note. Unlike convertible debt, SAFE does not have an interest rate or maturity date. After our Angel round of financing, we need to determine if a corporate partnership or VC financing makes the most sense for us in terms of funding amount, owners’ equity dilution, leverage of our partner’s network, etc.