Nick Hoang

Startup/product fanatic. Founder @ZenFlowchart. Email me: hi@nickhoang.com

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A Summer Day

November 24, 2020

Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean— the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down— who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? — Mary Oliver Một ngày hè Ai tạo ra thế giới này? Ai tạo ra con thiên nga, và con gấu đen? Ai tạo ra con châu chấu? Tôi muốn nói đến chính con châu chấu này— chính con châu chấu vừa bật mình khỏi đám cỏ, chính con châu chấu đang gặm những hạt đường trong tay tôi, bộ hàm của nó đi lui đi tới, chứ không lên rồi xuống— nó ngước quanh với cặp mắt khổng lồ và phức tạp. Giờ thì nó nhấc càng trước lên và tỉ mỉ rửa mặt. Và giờ thì nó bật cánh bay đi. Tôi không biết chính xác lời cầu nguyện là gì. Tôi không biết cách để chăm chú, cách ngã xuống hay cách quỳ gối trên đám cỏ, cách sống an bài với phúc phận sẵn có, cách dạo qua những cánh đồng, đó là những gì tôi đã làm suốt ngày hôm nay. Hãy nói cho tôi, tôi đã phải làm gì khác nữa? Chẳng phải tất cả mọi vật rồi sẽ chết, và chết đi quá sớm? Hãy nói cho tôi, bạn định làm gì với cuộc đời cuồng nhiệt và quý giá này?

What is success?

November 21, 2020

...to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded." – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

How to be miserable, and not.

November 12, 2020

It’s clear to me now that the easiest way to be miserable is to force yourself into thinking that there is only one way to be happy (I must have that job, that house, that person…). In truth, there is always an abundance of alternatives, perfectly capable of making you happy. The logical way to live, then, is to stay open-minded, to imagine alternate futures, and to embrace other options that are good enough.

On Karma and Luck

November 4, 2020

A central teaching in Buddism is karma. “What you sow, you get” kind of thing. This philosophy posits that your fortune or misfortune today is the result of all the things you have done in this life and all your previous lives. Marc Andreessen and Gay Hendricks talks about the concept of “making your own luck” where what you perceive as pure chance is actually the result of you having done the right things, having met the right people, then a chain of actions/reactions leads to this singular event. That led me to think. Maybe what we call luck is just karma in action . Corollary: if you are experiencing a string of “bad luck”, maybe it’s time to get out there and do more good. In time, karma will naturally return your fortunes with “good luck”.

The Ultimate Collection on Relationship / Love / Marriage

October 6, 2020

Over the years, having been through a “few” heartbreaks and relationships, I have read and watched countless articles, books and YouTube videos on the topics of relationship/love/marriage. And obviously, being an organization freak, I have carefully saved all the very best stuff in a note below. These resources have helped me tremendously in my path to find/grow/maintain romantic love/relationships. Hope you find them helpful too! Preparation - Understanding yourself and your partner: Big 5 Personality Test. The idea here is that you and your partner should share at least 2-3 value traits. Take the quiz here . The 5 Love Languages: how people express love and want to be loved differ. Find out your love language here . Read the eBook here . Understand your Attachment Styles by The Holistic Psychologist: Youtube link How to find healthy love / How to find the right partner Love is not enough by Mark Manson: Article link How to choose a partner wisely - The School of Life: Youtube link What true love really is - The School of Life: Youtube link How to maintain and grow relationships The Key to Healthy Relationships by Jordan Peterson: Youtube link If I knew then: Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963: Article link Mark Manson: 1500 people give all the relationship advice you’ll ever need: Article link Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson: eBook link How to move on / How to heal from heartbreak: How to fix a broken heart by Guy Winch: Youtube link How to let go by Mark Manson: Article link How to get over someone - The School of Life: Youtube link Inspiration Hollywood romcoms have trained us to have super unrealistic expectations in love. I prefer real stories of couples. Like these: The Skin Deep Interview - MaryV and Chella The Skin Deep - Norma & Cecilio The Skin Deep Interview - Rachel & Kristoph

On "12 Rules for Life"

October 6, 2020

Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life is a gem. As the book title suggests, he puts forth 12 rules that everyone should abide to lead a "less chaotic, painful" life. He doesn't say "follow these rules, and you'll be successful and happy." Far from that. Jordan begins with the simple truth that life is hard and full of sufferings, which is a pretty radical point in itself. And these rules will help you prepare for the worst, face life problems with a prepared mental state, and enjoy the brief (or abundant, if you're lucky) moments of happiness. The book reads like a monologue in which Jordan builds up each rule with reason, scientific evidence, and mythology. Such interdisciplinary approach is refreshing and persuasive, but can make the chapters a challenge to digest for those who are not so familiar with mythology and philosophical thoughts. Either way, if you are able to follow his reasoning and relate these rules to your own experience, I think you'll have a lot of "aha" moments and want to apply these rules to your life. I highly recommend this book. Here are the 12 rules for life: 1. Standup straight with your shoulders back 2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping 3. Make friends with people who want the best for you 4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to someone else is today 5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them 6. Set yourself in perfect order before you criticize the world 7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient) 8. Tell the truth—or at least, don’t lie. 9. Assume the person you’re listening to might know something you don’t 10. Be precise in your speech 11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding 12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Vì sao nhà đầu tư mạo hiểm cần startup tăng trưởng đột biến?

August 18, 2020

Trước khi đưa ra quyết định đầu tư, các nhà đầu tư mạo hiểm (venture capital / venture capitalist, viết tắt là VC) luôn đặt câu hỏi  “Liệu startup này có thể tăng trưởng 30–50 lần trong vòng 5–10 năm tới?” . Đối với những người chưa biết nhiều về VC, điều kiện này có vẻ thật vô lý. Tuy nhiên, một khi hiểu được kiều điện này, bạn sẽ hiểu được mấu chốt của kênh đầu tư VC và qua đó, bạn sẽ xác định được xem startup của bạn có phù hợp với việc gọi vốn từ VC hay không. Để giải thích ngắn gọn: kênh đầu tư VC thường sinh lời theo luật phân phối tắc luỹ thừa ( power law ). Có nghĩa là, trong danh mục đầu tư của một quỹ VC, phần lớn đầu tư sẽ thất bại (hoàn vốn = $0), và một số lượng đầu tư nhỏ sẽ sinh lời cho cả quỹ ( “return the fund” ). Bởi vậy, VC bắt buộc phải tìm kiếm những cơ hội đầu tư có thể sinh lời bất thường ( outsized returns ) để bù lỗ cho những đầu tư thất bại. Hãy cùng phân tích về điều kiện này với một ví dụ cụ thể. Ví dụ chúng ta quản lý một quỹ  $30 triệu đô  cho một nhóm các nhà đầu tư khác (những người này được gọi là  Limited Partners , tạm dịch Đối tác hạn chế). Phần lớn các quỹ VC có tỷ lệ chia sẻ chi phí và lợi nhuận là 2–20:  2% chi phí quản lý , và  20% tỷ lệ chia sẻ lợi nhuận  cho  General Partners  (tạm dịch “Đối tác quản lý”). Vòng đời của một quỹ VC có thể kéo dài 7–10 năm, và để trở thành một kênh đầu tư hấp dẫn, quỹ phải trả về ít nhất  3 lần vốn góp  (tương đương tỷ suất lợi nhuận IRR 15–20%). Trong ví dụ này, chúng ta cần phải biến  $30 triệu đô  thành  $90 triệu đô  qua các đầu tư trong cả vòng đời quỹ. Hãy tiếp tục làm vài phép tính nhanh: • 2% phí quản lý trong 10 năm = $6 triệu đô > quỹ còn $24 triệu. • 50% quỹ sẽ được dự trữ cho các vòng gọi vốn sau của startup ( follow-on reserve ) = $12 triệu. • Quỹ còn lại $12 triệu đô để đầu tư cho các startup mới. • Giá trị đầu tư trung bình cho mỗi startup khoảng $400 nghìn đô. Có nghĩa là chúng ta có thể đầu tư vào $12 / $0.4 = 30 startup. Dưới đây là một vài trường hợp có thể xảy ra đối với danh mục đầu tư của quỹ: Trường hợp 1 , khi dùng số liệu xác suất sinh lời trong quá khứ của cả ngành, quỹ chỉ sinh lời 1x. Chưa đạt. Trong  trường hợp 2 , với số lượng đầu tư lãi lớn và lãi đột biến gấp đôi so với trường hợp 1, quỹ vẫn chỉ mới sinh lời 2x. Vẫn chưa đạt. Chỉ trong  trường hợp 3 , khi chúng ta có 4 đầu tư lãi đột biến, và 3 đầu tư lãi lớn thì quỹ mới sinh lời tới mức 3x cần thiết. Các bạn có thể tham khảo  model Google Spreadsheet ở đây . Như các bạn có thể thấy, nếu không có các đầu tư lãi đột biến, quỹ sẽ không thể tạo ra mức return cần thiết để giữ chân các nhà đầu tư LPs. Trên thực tế, hơn 50% quỹ VC thất bại và không thể hoàn vốn, và những quỹ thành công nhất là những quỹ có thể đầu tư vào những Facebook, AirBnb, Alibaba trong giai đoạn gọi vốn sớm. Nói một cách khác, điều kiện sống còn của một quỹ VC tỷ lệ thuận với khả năng đầu tư vào các startups có khả năng sinh lời đột biến. Hy vọng bài viết này đã giúp bạn hiểu hơn về kênh đầu tư venture capital. Và trước khi lên kế hoạch gọi vốn từ VC, hãy tự hỏi rằng liệu startup của bạn có thể trở thành một công ty lớn và phù hợp với VC hay không. Nguồn tham khảo: Chris Dixon — The Babe Ruth effect in venture capital . Correlation Ventures report . TechCrunch — The meeting that showed me the truth about VCs Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my personal opinions only and does not represent the views of any fund or organization.

8 Reasons Why You Should Invest In Vietnam

August 18, 2020

1. Stable political environment Vietnam elected an all new class of General Secretary, President and Prime Minister in April 2016, which leaves people wondering in which direction the new leaders will take. So far, we’ve seen a surprisingly determined push towards a more pro-business, pro-investment government. While corruption remains an issue, Vietnam has a fairly stable political environment, ideal for sustainable economic growth. This stability is especially valued, in light of the political tumult in other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand or the Philippines. 2. Impressive GDP growth When most of the developed economies are still in recovery mode, Vietnam stands out as an out-performer with 6.4% GDP growth in 2016. This growth has been attributed to strong performance in manufacturing, exports, and agriculture. Forecasts point to similarly stellar performance in 2017–2020 period. 3. Middle-class to double by 2020 Vietnam’s middle-class, specifically people whose monthly income is above 15 million dong (~$670), is expanding 14% every year and is expected to continue growing at this rate until 2030. Some 33 million Vietnamese will have ever-increasing demand for new, higher quality products and services. This is a great market opportunity to be captured by the right companies with the right execution. I expect to see tremendous growth across most consumer sectors, such as F&B, education, healthcare, entertainment, etc. 4. Once-in-a-decade opportunity to invest in state-owned IPOs Over the last several years, Vietnam’s government has been pushing state-owned enterprises (SOEs), a legacy of the past, to IPO and eventually divest most of the government’s ownership in these companies. Since 2014, 557 companies were green-lighted for IPO, but only 426 have done so. This is a rare opportunity for value investors to get early access to market leading companies. 5. Public valuations are still relatively cheap While stock prices are not as cheap as they used to be 2 years ago, valuations are still very attractive compared to other markets. 6. Ample opportunities for value-add in private space Modern management best-practices are still foreign concepts for most businesses in Vietnam. This presents an opportunity for value-add investors to bring capital and operational expertise into companies, helping them realize their full potential. This gap, combined with a largely untapped market, are the right conditions for private equity to thrive. 7. Foreign investors are welcome Vietnam’s government has made it very easy for foreign investors to invest in both public and private markets. Foreign ownership limits have been lifted for most industries (exceptions are banking, financial services, etc.). Benefits and rights of foreign investors are clearly presented in the Ministry of Planning and Investments’ website . The message is clear: foreign capital is welcome here and will be protected. 8. Opportunities for outsized returns Ultimately, investing is a competitive sport. It has become much harder to generate alpha in developed markets where competition is fierce. It’s naturally wiser to be a contrarian and go explore territories that are less popular, wherein lies opportunities for outsized growth & returns.

Book Summary: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”

August 18, 2020

This is one of my favorite books that I frequently revisit. As I grow older and as my career develops, life continues to present a flux of possible choices and opportunities. This is mostly a good and fortunate thing (not many people have the luxury to choose). But clearly, too many choices can be paralyzing. To solve that problem, Greg Mckeown proposes a somewhat radical approach: eliminate most and pursue few. Although I don’t follow his advice religiously (sometimes I still take on more than I should), for the most part, “essentialism” has helped me take control of my life, focus on the things that truly matter, and excel. I highly recommend you read the book in full ( Amazon link ), but if you don’t have time, here’s a summary: The way of the essentialist is “less but better”. Step 1: Explore: discern the trivial many from the vital few. Find highest point of contribution: right thing, right reason, right time. Step 2: Eliminate Step 3: Execute Exercise the power of choice: “I choose to”. Almost everything is non-essential, distinguish the vital few from the trivial many. Ask “What is the trade-off I want to make. What can I go big on”. EXPLORE Create space to escape (literally) and explore life. Create time to read non-fiction, classics that withstood the test of time. Pay attention to the big picture, the story. Find the essence of the information. Keep a journal, but don’t focus on the small details, focus on the headlines. Get out into the field. Clarify the questions you want to ask yourself. “Play” sparks exploration & creativity. Protect the asset (aka. your body): sleep well. SELECT & ELIMINATE Set extreme criteria: it’s either a “Hell Yeah, or a NO” 90% rule: give the option a score between 0 and 100. If it’s lower than 90, reject it. Set up and use narrow criteria: “Is this exactly what I’m looking for?” PROCESS: 1. define the opportunity 2. describe what are the minimum criteria for this option to be considered 3. what are the ideal criteria for this option to be approved? Clarify your mission statement, be very clear. Say NO gracefully: the soft “no” (“no but”), “let me check my calendar and get back to you”, “yes, what should I de-prioritize?”, use humor, a positive no (offer something else), “i can’t do it, but x might be interested”. Un-commit: Be comfortable with cutting losses If you have limits, you become limitless. Boundaries can be liberating. EXECUTE Build buffer for unexpected events Practice extreme and early preparation. Remove obstacles to progress. Start small and get big results. Celebrate small wins. The most effective form of human motivation is progress. Design a routine, making execution almost effortless (think of Michael Phelps example). Overhaul your triggers. Do the most important thing first. To operate at your highest level of contribution requires you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now. Mind is focused on the present. Tunes in to what is important right now. Enjoy the moment. Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life full of meaning and purpose.

Impending Disruption In The Labor Market

August 18, 2020

Freelancers are like the white walkers — they’re multiplying FAST. In the US alone, there are roughly 53 million freelancers, accounting for 34% of the country’s total workforce. It’s expected that in 5 years, this number will reach a staggering 50%. Remarkably, the same trend is also observed  across Europe . Why is this shift happening? I think there are a few drivers underlying this shift: 1. Technology makes remote working much easier: ubiquitous access to fast internet, cloud/mobile softwares, live communication tools — these all have helped unchain workers from their desks. People can now work from almost anywhere. 2. The on-demand economy: Startups like Uber, Lyft, Homejoy, Postmates, etc. have created an entire new class of workers. They pick jobs they like, work when they want, and get paid by the hour. I asked my Uber driver the other day how he feels about his job. “It’s not the best,” he said, “but it’s a lot better than working at warehouses or restaurants. I drive 8 hours a day, but can go offline and take breaks whenever I want.” 3. Millennials’ mindset is evolving: Millennials are feeling increasingly dispassionate towards the 9–5 jobs that once were widely sought after. These days, young folks want work-life balance and flexibility over their work schedule & location. Freelancing gives them that option. 4. Corporations see the benefits of outsourcing: For corporations, freelancers can be a quick-fix to skills shortage. By outsourcing internal projects to freelancers, companies can find people with most suitable skill-set which can improve output and efficiency. As with anything, freelancing also has its drawbacks such as there’s little job security and less clarity in a career path for freelancers. But I’d argue that in essence, this shift is greatly meaningful and liberating. In the freelancing economy, people can choose or be matched to jobs that they enjoy and that fit their skills. They would have more freedom and ownership over their work, possibly be able to earn money from multiple revenue sources, which could actually be more secure than the regular 9–5 jobs. For corporations, freelancers allow for more flexibility to get work done. We all have seen how large corporations can become depressingly sluggish — an environment that defies innovation. Freelancers can be the cure, providing an alternative avenue to pursue new ideas and carry out pilot projects without needing to make expensive long-term commitments. Imagine a scenario where companies can build “mash-up” teams made up of in-house employees and freelancers with complimentary skills, whereby efficiency and value output are maximized. We’re not quite there yet, but technology can pave the way. Looking through the lens of venture capital, I see “the freelancer economy” usher an entirely new value chain, in which new products and services will need to be specifically built and designed. Here are some pieces of the value chain that I can think of: Professional freelancer marketplaces Freelancer management system for enterprises Segment-focused outsourcing platforms (back-office, sales, accounting, legal, etc.) Communication & collaboration tools between teams and freelancers Finance/invoice management tools for freelancers Co-working space, office sharing by the hour/day (AirBnB for office?) Education, skills training/sharing platforms Workforce/team optimization … A small number of startups are entering this space and I think the timing couldn’t be more spot-on. But we need more, because when this new wave of disruption hits, its consequences will be massive.

On Curation

August 18, 2020

In the world of consumer internet, curation is no longer just a trend. It has become intrinsic to digital products and their core strategy. Curation  is  the product. This shift is no surprise considering the growth of the World Wide Web in the last decade. In 2004, there were about 51M websites, and currently more than 915M. This number is expected to reach 1 billion some time later this year. The same trajectory can be observed for other digital assets such as SKUs in online stores, online services, images, videos, ideas, etc. The web is now this vast ocean in which users are barely able to stay afloat. Curation comes to the rescue. The “curators” are generally expert(s) in a particular field: design, fashion, photography, food, software, etc. They simply collect things according to their personal preference or a preset standard. There are 3 reasons why curation works: 1. The web is overwhelming. Curation is manageable. 2. Curation carries care and intention, and users can sense that. Jony Ive once said  “Users can sense carelessness”  — this is very much the case here. 3. For the company, curation means clear positioning, which is increasingly crucial in today’s competitive landscape. The growth of the web is not waning any time soon. With that, curation will be more important than ever to provide users with a less-overwhelming, refined, and quality user experience. Consumer internet companies should think about how curation could amplify their value offering.

The Most Crucial Slide in Your Pitch Deck

August 18, 2020

As a VC analyst at  Partech Ventures , I’ve processed through hundreds of pitch decks. Some are fascinating, some boring, some are really well-designed, and some look like they’ve been preserved from the 1990s. I generally prefer speaking to entrepreneurs, but because of time constraint, unfortunately pitch decks are still the most common way for founders to introduce their startups. After some time, I’ve started to recognize a pattern: the decks that generally make it to the “next round” (introductory call) all have one element that other decks lack or fail to convey clearly: the vision. By “vision”, I don’t mean farfetched purpose statements such as “We want to be the next Uber for X” or “We want to unbundle Y and replace Z completely” — you leave these at the beginning to paint the big picture. What I mean by “vision” is rather how you envision the company will grow. This is generally best illustrated by a timeline; for example: “This year, we want to sign [X] number of clients, achieve [this] and [this].” “By Q2 next year, we’ll add [these] specific features to our product in order to tap into a [certain] customer segment.” “Next year, our target revenue is $[X] millions. To meet that target, we’ll need to recruit 2 more sales agents to scale up customer acquisition.” “As soon as we hit [X] revenue in country [A], we’re going to expand our operations to countries [B] and [C] because [Y] and [Z].” “Eventually, we would like to extend beyond our core services into [X] space.” The world is in constant flux. Things change, people change, companies change. I understand that most startups will not stick to their original plan. Some might even pivot into something entirely different. The key here is that you do have a plan with clearly defined goals, that you’re not just trying out an idea. This assures investors that you are an expert in your market, you know your product inside out, and most importantly, you know what success means for your company. Venture capital is betting on the future. So you must help investors see the future you’ve envisioned — in as much details as possible. Because if you don’t have a clue about where you’re heading, no one wants to join the ride.

An Inconvenient Truth About Innovation

August 18, 2020

3 years ago, during my junior year in college, my iPhone broke, so I began looking for a new phone online. I was on a student budget, but having a smart phone was very important to me, so I decided to invest on a good one. At the time, The Google Nexus was one of the hottest new smart phones. It had this thin shiny look to it, and on the website, it bragged to have one of the most powerful processors on the market which closed the deal for me. I ordered the phone from Google’s website and it arrived a couple days later. I remember the first time turning on the phone, I was mesmerized by the screen’s brilliance. I loved using it too: the phone was smooth and fast, the pictures on it looked beautiful. Even for a tech junkie who likes tinkering with heavy new apps, it ran just fine. Fast forward to November 2014, the thought I had most often was how much I hated my phone. The screen looked horrid — I could actually count the number of pixels on it (I have crossed the dark side after seeing Apple’s new retina screen). The battery could barely last for half a day, and if I was on 3G, the phone always dies after a couple of hours. I guess the new apps required more processing power which rendered the phone unbearably slow. I got frustrated every time the screen freezes or when it takes 3 seconds to open up the camera app (yup, 3 seconds was too long for me). Instead of aiding my life, the phone became a nuisance. Oh no, what happened here? Only 2 years ago, I was amazed at the device and now it has become my worst enemy. This is what Karl Marx said of technological innovation in his foundation work “The Capital”: In a capitalist economy, technological improvement and its consequent increased production augment the amount of material wealth (use value) in society, whilst simultaneously diminishing the economic value of the same wealth, thereby diminishing the rate of profit — a paradox characteristic of economic crisis in a capitalist economy; “poverty in the midst of plenty” consequent to over-production and under-consumption. That’s the sad truth: innovation also brings obsolescence. You once bragged about your awesome laptop that has 6 hours battery life. Now the new Macbook Air can run for the entire day. It’s so thin you can  chop vegetables  with it. Soon, your coolest flatscreen TV will become utterly uncool when virtual reality is available to mass consumers. Quite a gloomy outlook for the consumers, isn’t it? But I work for a  company who invests in tech companies , so it would be very ironic if I can’t move past this. Reconciling this dilemma is simple for me. The more important truth is: innovation pushes the boundaries across all industries. Technology startups, especially, live on this spirit. Every day I talk to entrepreneurs who are experts in their respective industries, they all have ideas about how to do things better, how to optimize our scarce resource. They invent completely new ways to solve problems for enterprises and everyday consumers. Some succeed, some not. The unsuccessful ones arrive at critical insights that inform their next endeavor; they fail fast and reiterate. The successful ones can overturn entire industries (Uber, AirBnB, etc.). In either case, we always move forward. And for that reason, I’ll just have to live with the fact that the phone I buy today will become obsolete in a few years’ time, because that inconvenience is nothing compared to the big-picture progress.