How to hire and build your startup team


Good afternoon Slush Asia!

The topic is wrong - I'm not going to talk about how to hire or build your startup. I'm not going to talk about startups at all. In fact, what I'm about to say may only be relevant for 1% of you.

For the next 15 minutes, i'm going to tell you a few stories about leadership.

What is leadership you ask? Simply, leadership is the art of inspiring people to accomplish a mission.

And for the last 18 years, I have thought and practiced the craft of leadership in a fast-changing world. Today I'll share with you 6 lessons that I've learned in my 18 years.



I began my journey of leadership at the young age of 18 by entering the University of Chicago. I chose Chicago because of it's prowess as an intellectual powerhouse and affectionately, "where fun comes to die".

I hated my time there - it was unlike any other college in the United States. i was tested intellectually every single day, from philosophy to art to economics. I could not hide in Chicago - I had to bring my intellectual A game every day.

But the longer time passes since I graduated from Chicago, the more I realize how much I've been shaped by taking on extremely hard challenges at an early age. It has shaped my entire outlook on life.

1st lesson - whenever you're presented with challenges - take the harder one. You can survive anything life gives you, and you will grow stronger through the experience.



I then enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 22. I was a skinny Asian, middle-class, college-educated University of Chicago graduate, serving with African Americans, Hispanics, and other people from a demographic drastically different from mine. I had grown up educated by schools - my fellow soldiers grew up educated by the streets.

I loved that experience. I fought - every single day, about what was important to me. I had to fight for myself. I had to command respect by giving myself respect. And through the steely cage of the Army, I honed my self of sense and my discipline.

This is when I learned my 2nd lesson - stand up for yourself, your ideals, and your values. Because no one else will.



After 2.5 years in the military, I decided that I needed to lead outside of the military. I joined Deloitte, and after 2.5 years, I became one of the youngest managers and led with a team of 7. I hired people - many of them that are still there today.

But one hire was especially memorable. My hire started the job well, but he soon became more political than professional. My colleagues and bosses noted it, hell even I noticed it, but I wanted to help and coach him. Ultimately that person didn't work out - but it took me a good 6 months to figure that out.

I learned my 3rd lesson - hire slow or fast, but fire fast. And sometimes a person not working out isn't your fault or theirs - it just isn't the right fit. So help people exit gracefully.



I then went to London Business School, where I wanted to structure the leadership lessons I had learned and put them to the test with some of the best business leaders in the world. I took every leadership opportunity presented to me - I joined Student Government, led multiple school projects and case competitions, fundraised for the school, and created TEDxLondonBusinessSchool.

I honed my leadership craft with some of the best emerging leaders - people that led in consulting firms like McKinsey, banks like Nomura, non-profits - even the Navy Seals. I saw that everyone has a leadership style - and every leadership style works for that person.

And that was my 4th lesson - every person, every opportunity, is a leadership-learning opportunity. The question is whether you will take it and learn from it.




After London Business School, instead of joining investment banking at Nomura, I felt I needed to finally test myself and start my own startup. So I found some friends, we jumped into a room, and starting throwing ideas and developing things.

We started well, we won some awards, and had good press. But ultimately we did not become a roaring success and did not make the impact we had set out to do. We could not build product, we didn't have customers, and could not raise. And we ultimately crumbled after 2 years. I was crushed - emotionally and financially.

The lesson I learned - the 5th - is as a leader, it really doesn't matter what awards you win or how much you raise. It also doesn't matter how bad the day is - whether you have to fire hundreds of people or you've lost a great investor. You just have to keep moving forward, inch by inch, feet by feet, mile by mile. Always keep moving.



I then transitioned to becoming an early stage investor at Techstars, one of the largest accelerator programs in the world. Throughout my time, I led 5 cohorts, investing in over 50 companies, hiring over 40 people, and working with hundreds of the smartest people in the world, including Mait Muntel from Lingvisit that's presenting today.

It was a great learning platform on investing. I tried different ways to invest - to look for traction, or social proof, or product. But ultimately, the only way and the best way to invest is to invest in people.

And this is my 6th lesson - it is all about people. Always lead with a full heart, care about people, develop them, and nurture them.

To be a leader is to invest in people. The moment you stop caring about people - is the moment you stop being a leader to people.




So Slush Asia - let me give you two challenges:

1. Remember my 6 lessons:
- Start with always taking the challenging road, not the easy one
- Stand up for yourself, your ideals, and your values.
- Hire slow or fast, but fire fast. Help people exit gracefully to their right opportunity in life
- Take every opportunity as a learning opportunity in leadership
- Keep moving - despite there being good days and bad days
- Care with a full heart about people and invest in their future

2. Take the courage to lead today. Lead a startup, a food drive, a good deed - anything. Stand up and be counted.

Make today, May 14th, 2016, matter for you and the world.



Good luck, and thank you for your time.