My Experience Participating in MaGIC’s e@Stanford Programme

From the 6th to 21st August 2016, my partner TM Lee and I had the opportunity to represent CoinGecko in MaGIC’s e@Stanford program. This was the third year that MaGIC held the programme, and I was very grateful to be selected, as I learnt tremendously from this trip.

The e@Stanford programme sends Malaysian entrepreneurs to the Silicon Valley for two weeks to learn from world-renowned professors from Stanford University as well as experts in the tech industry.

This short immersive programme was designed to transfer knowledge from the Valley to us, so that we could bring it back to our startups in Malaysia. This year, 49 entrepreneurs from 27 startups participated. Throughout the trip, we had many opportunities to learn from each other about growing our businesses.

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I did not realise how lucky I was to be taking a trip to San Francisco until I told Elston, my roommate from UCL, that I was on a trip sponsored by the Malaysian government. Typing those words to him made me realise that not many governments give their citizens the chance to learn from the best in the world, and I am truly grateful to be given this chance by MaGIC.

Because only 49 of us were selected to go on this trip, I felt that I should share what I learnt to maximise the impact for others, helping them learn as well. (Ryan, you inspired me to pen this post while I discussed my experience with you.)

Lessons Learnt in Stanford Lectures

Out of the 13 days we were in the Valley, five were full-day classes at Stanford, where we were taught by world-renowned faculty members. Most of our lecturers had industry experience in starting, scaling and selling companies or bringing companies public.

There were 17 lectures during our time in Stanford, which feels like a whole semester’s worth of lectures crammed into five days. It felt pretty intense absorbing so much new knowledge in a day. For this post, I will list the main lessons I picked up from four lectures.

Mike Lyons – Venture Capital Financing

We were taught very well about how Venture Capital (VC) works. It started with a lecture by Mike Lyons, who explained a VC structure and how its partners make money.

VC-StructureImage Source: Mike Lyons

There are two types of partners in a VC – a General Partner (GP) and a Limited Partner (LP). The GP raises money from the LP and makes investment decisions in a VC fund. The LP’s sources for funds are usually pension funds, endowments, family offices, high-net-worth individuals, etc.

GPs have a fiduciary responsibility to the LPs in managing the funds, and they usually take up board seats in their investee companies. The funds are placed into several buckets to invest in companies.

The Management Company makes money from two sources, namely:
a) Management Fee – Roughly 2% of the fund. Used to cover overhead such as rent and staff cost.
b) Carried Interest – Roughly 20% of the fund’s returns. The returns are calculated after the LPs have been repaid. This is the main source of income for the GPs and explains why VCs always push their companies to aim for the moon.

In VC financials, only absolute returns matter; the Internal Rate of Return plays no role. Each fund usually has a lifespan of about 10 years, but is active only in the first three to four years. This is because usually a large portion of the fund (~50%) is reserved for follow-on investment for portfolio companies.

One of the main insights gleaned from this lecture is that in the Valley it is very typical for angels to put money into a startup without putting a valuation (price) on the company. This is typically done in a convertible note in which the angel agrees to invest $X for an unspecified stake until the company raises its next round of funding from an institutional investor.

When such a funding scenario happens, the angel’s stake is priced at about a 20-25% discount from the current valuation. By doing it this way, the company can properly manage its “cap table” (list of shareholders in the company) so that the angel does not own too large a stake in the company, making it less attractive for follow-on investments from institutional funds.

We were also taught by Mike how to count pre-money and post-money valuation, which is really very simple. For example, a VC fund invests $500k for a 25% stake in a company.

Post-Money Valuation: $2 million
Pre-Money Valuation: $2 million – $500k = $1.5 million

Pedram Mokrian – Managing Ownership

Another lecture that was really insightful to me was Pedram Mokrian’s lecture, in which he talked about de-risking startups with each round of financing. The idea is pretty simple – companies should raise enough money at each financing round to safely demonstrate traction to meet the milestones set for the next round of financing so that the startups are less risky for the next set of investors.

Pedram’s lecture really forces startup founders to think hard about how we want to take our startup journey from the Seed round all the way to Series A, Series B, Series C and so on. Founders must define the milestones that need to be achieved during each financing round. Milestones could mean validating the technology, product features, product-market fit, customers, revenue, profitability and so on. By meeting these milestones, the startup gets de-risked at each financing round.

By defining the “delta” between milestones in each financing round, founders can estimate the amount of money that must be raised. Essentially, funding is used to “buy down the risk” of a startup.

Pedram also warned us that we should never underestimate the “delta” and not raise enough money because what it means is that we will end up having to go back to investors to raise more money without any milestones/traction, thereby forcing us to raise on unfavourable terms.

Geoffrey Moore – Crossing the Chasm and The Four Gears Model

Another lecture that was very insightful to me was Geoffrey Moore’s double lecture on Crossing the Chasm (B2B) and the Four Gears Model (B2C). Crossing the Chasm is based on a book Geoffrey first published in 1991. He has revised the book twice, in 1999 and 2014. For a book that was first published 25 years ago, the lessons are as amazingly relevant today as they were two decades ago. I am currently reading this book to learn more.

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Crossing the Chasm is based on the technology adoption lifecycle:

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In his lecture, Geoffrey pointed out that for discontinuous innovations (innovations that change the behaviour of consumers), there is a chasm between each segment instead of a smooth adoption curve. To be successful, startups must have a different marketing strategy for each target segment and use each segment as a reference to sell to the next segment of customers.

Geoffrey explained the differences between each target segment and said that each segment has different priorities, characteristics and challenges. Knowing the target segment you are pitching is very important for recognising and obtaining the right customers.

He also pointed out that there is a big chasm between innovators/early adopters with the rest: early/late majority/laggards. The diagram looks something like this:

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Crossing this chasm is a tough job and will require a strategy to navigate through it.

For the B2C segment, Geoffrey introduced us to the Four Gears Model:

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According to Geoffrey, these four gears can be divided into two types:
a) Performance Gears – Acquire and Monetise
b) Power Gears – Enlist and Engage

Performance gears bring in revenue and growth. However, focusing only on the performance gears takes its toll on the brand’s goodwill.

Power gears create goodwill to drive acquisition and monetisation. However, focusing on power gears requires deferring performance/monetisation.

For a B2C startup to do well, all four gears must move fast at the same time. Geoffrey introduced us to the “Slowest Gear Theory” in which prior to a startup’s explosive growth, there is one gear which slows down the other three gears. He gave examples of gears that are slowing down startups – Kiva is being slowed down by the Acquire Gear, LinkedIn by the Engage Gear, Twitter by the Monetize Gear and Yahoo by the Enlist Gear.

We were told to identify the slowest gear in our startups and to focus everyone on making it move faster. While making the slowest gear move faster, we should also remember to keep the other three gears moving fast.

Here is a picture of us after our last class at Stanford:

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And here is my Stanford certificate to prove that I actually participated in this program. Never thought I would ever get a certificate from Stanford.

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Lessons Learnt During Company Visits

During our trip, the organisers in MaGIC (thanks Jon, Kelly & Samira!) arranged for a few company visits through which we could learn. Some of the notable visits included Google, Facebook, Plug and Play, Pinterest and Envoy. TM and I arranged for a few other company visits on our own; some of the guys we managed to meet included Coinbase, Stellar, NerdWallet and Twitter, to name just a few.

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One thing to note about the Valley is that it is really not the buildings that matter at all; rather, it is the people working in the area who make Silicon Valley special. Sure, some of these tech startups have fancy offices and perks, but that’s really beside the point.

What TM and I found shocking from our trip was that fintech startups have a huge valuation despite catering only to the US market. For example, Nerdwallet has a valuation of roughly US $500 million and 400+ employees. Credit Karma is a unicorn with a valuation of over US $1 billion.

We figured the reason for such high valuations is that the US has a large population that is, for the most part, financially literate. Building a similar startup in South East Asia will present an entirely different set of challenges because we need to scale beyond one country almost right from the beginning. Otherwise, the market will be too small to serve.

While we were at Google, Kevin Khaw took us on a tour of the office. He explained the mantra in Google: “there is no problem too big to be solved.” It is really motivating to hear such beliefs, and it really makes me want to think bigger.

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I will not write much more about our company trips here. Perhaps my other cohort members can write a post about what they learnt during their trip to these offices.

In conclusion, all I can say is that I had a great time on this trip. Thank you, MaGIC, for offering such a program. The connections and relationships I formed with fellow Malaysian entrepreneurs during this trip are very valuable and will be something I cherish for a long time. To end this post, here is a picture of us on a cycling trip on the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito.

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16 Email Tips & Tools I Use to be an Email Pro

One of the things that I am very happy to have mastered over the last few years is being really good at email. I thought that it would be a good idea, through this blog post, to share the email tips and tools I use to be productive.

Before I begin, I would recommend using Chrome and Gmail to be productive, as Gmail has many third-party Chrome productivity extensions.

1. One Gmail Inbox to rule them all

I manage multiple email accounts for various purposes, such as my personal Gmail account, a Gmail account for testing/spam purposes and multiple email accounts for each domain I operate, such as the email associated with this domain, CoinGecko, AltcoinWeekly and Fintech Street. At my last count, I have at least 11 different active email addresses to manage.

To check all 11 inboxes even once a week would take too much time and it is likely that I would miss some urgent emails. My solution is to set up forwarders from ALL the different email inboxes to my primary Gmail account. This way I need to check only ONE inbox every day to receive all my emails.

To set up email forwarding in Gmail, click on the gear icon at the top right followed by the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab, then the “Add a forwarding address” button.

You can do this for all email clients. Here is a guide for Outlook/Live/Hotmail and Yahoo. I usually set the rule to automatically forward incoming emails and then mark the email as “read” in the original inbox.

Similarly, I use the same Gmail inbox to reply to all my emails using a different “From” email address. Take a look at my Gmail From drop-down list to see the four email options I have set up.

To set up sending From options, click on the Gear icon and then click on the “Accounts and Import” tab followed by the “Add another email address you own” link. You may read this Google guide for further instruction. I would recommend that you check the “Treat as an alias” option. Alias can be a confusing option, with further explanation here.

Once done, I select the option to “Reply from the same address the message was sent to” so that whenever I click the Reply option, I use the email address that received the message instead of my default Send email. Note that you can also set a default Send mail option to be a different email address than that of your primary Gmail inbox; at one point I was using my CoinGecko email as the default Reply email.

2. Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is an email philosophy developed by Merlin Mann where you strive to keep your inbox at zero. I can never comprehend how someone can have more than 12,867 unread emails; it just drives me crazy to see a cluttered inbox.

Inbox Zero relies heavily on your archiving your email after you have acted on it. I never understood the Archive button or the difference between it and the Delete button until I understood the Inbox Zero concept.

In short, Archive simply takes the email from the Inbox and moves it to the All Mail folder. Archive does not delete your email, and by using Gmail’s powerful search tool, you can search for archived email quickly. I swear by the effectiveness of Inbox Zero and live by this email philosophy.

One of the tips on achieving Inbox Zero, according to Merlin Mann, is to “Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.”

To start on this routine, I recommend that you aggressively Unsubscribe to ALL social media and promotional notifications such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Groupon, Expedia, etc. I also aggressively Unsubscribed to all the newsletters that I hardly read. Do a spring cleaning and archive all emails; a clean inbox makes it easier to begin this habit.

3. Unroll.me

The key to helping me maintain Inbox Zero is a service called Unroll.me. Unroll.me allows you to quickly clean up your inbox by providing a one-click solution to unsubscribe and to also combine multiple email newsletters into one single email that arrives daily at your specified time.

Some service notifications can be quite difficult to unsubscribe from when they place you in multiple lists. Using Unroll.me, you can save time by quickly clicking on the Unsubscribe button from Unroll.me’s website. What Unroll.me actually does is set a filter to automatically move an email from a particular sender to the Trash folder whenever a future email from the sender arrives in your inbox.

It also provides a really cool option to “Add to Rollup”. What this means is that Unroll.me labels all emails from these senders with “Unroll.me” and archives them. Every day at a selected time, its bots will collect these emails and send a summary of them as one single email to your inbox.

I really enjoy the Rollup feature, as it enables me to keep in touch with my numerous email newsletter subscriptions without clogging up my inbox.

Note: If you Rollup emails from travel companies like Expedia or airlines, you may inadvertently Rollup booking confirmation information. If this happens, just go to the “Unroll.me” label to find your email if you rolled it up, or the Trash can if you had it Unsubscribed.

4. FollowUpThen

Also key in helping me maintain Inbox Zero is a service called FollowUpThen. Sometimes whenever I receive an email, I want to respond three days later. All I need to do is forward the email to 3days@followupthen.com and then archive the email. I do not need to think about the email until three days later, when the email appears in my inbox again.

Because my inbox is almost always empty now, I use FollowUpThen to set reminders. For example, I use FollowUpThen to remind myself each year around mid-October to renew my car road tax. All I need to do is compose an email to every15Oct@followupthen.com with the Subject “Renew car road tax” and I can be sure that every 15 October I will get an email reminder.

Sometimes I want to remind myself to follow up on a particular email after one week. All I need to do is bcc 1week@followupthen.com whenever I reply. One week later, the email will arrive in my inbox for further action. There are many email time formats on FollowUpThen which you can use.

5. Send and Archive immediately

Look at my email compose footer below. Notice how it is very different from the standard Gmail footer?

I will explain how I get all those added functionalities, but first I want you to focus on the blue Send button. Notice how there is an added Archive icon next to the Send word. This feature will automatically archive the email when I click the Send button. This saves me one additional step of clicking on the Archive button after sending the email.

To enable this feature, go to Settings and under the General tab, you will see the following to enable it:

6. Yesware for email tracking

Ever used Microsoft Outlook and received one of these messages? This is absolute BS to me.

Email pros never use these. Instead, they use a service like Yesware. Yesware is an email tool designed for sales professionals to check whether their leads have read their emails.

I use this occasionally whenever I need to send an important email and determine whether the receiver has read it or not.

Here is a rough example of what my Yesware looks like. The really scary part of Yesware is that you can see how many times your recipient opened your email, when he opened it, where he opened it, which device(s) he used and whether he clicked on any link you included in the email!

Update: Yesware no longer has a free tier and requires all users to pay US$10/month.

7. Gmelius for super pro options

Some of you may voice some privacy concerns with the tracking capability of a tool like Yesware. As a recipient, I would like to know if the email I’m receiving is being tracked. There is a service from Gmelius that allows me to do so. Take a look at this email that arrived in my inbox:

If the sender uses an email tracker, I will know based on the message under my email header. If I want to prevent people from tracking my opens, I can upgrade Gmelius to a paid version to prevent trackers from doing their job.

The really cool part about Gmelius is that it comes with many other free features. Some other features which I enjoy using include the following: Disable ads, Hide Gmail footer, Hide Google+ activity, Hide Google Chat and so on.

8. Canned Response

Another feature that I use very often is the canned response. I use Yesware’s Templates to quickly reply to emails.

An alternative to Yesware’s Templates is Gmail’s Canned Response. You can activate it by navigating to Settings, followed by Labs.

I generally use this to reply to common support issues on CoinGecko. However, I also have a few canned responses of email templates I use occasionally, such as my email signature, introduction, follow-up, etc.

9. Undo Send

This Undo Send link is one of my most used features on Gmail! It is not a permanent Undo Send, but it simply adds a 10-second delay before sending out an email. This prevents you from accidentally sending an email, and I have used this numerous times. This is how it looks after you hit the Send button – you can click on the Undo link to get back to Draft mode.

To activate this feature, go to your Gmail settings and navigate to the General tab.

10. Rapportive

Rapportive is a really helpful tool to quickly take a look at someone’s LinkedIn profile. I receive a lot of emails because of the work I do with CoinGecko, and this tool has helped me out multiple times. Once someone sent us an email from his personal Gmail account, but because it is connected to his LinkedIn, I found out via Rapportive that he actually works for the Fed in the US!

To install Rapportive, just go to their website and install the Chrome extension.

11. Filter…filter…filter…

Before I found out about Unroll.me, I used to excessively filter emails and send them to the Trash folder. This is usually a faster option than opening each email and clicking the Unsubscribe link. This is how I send emails I do not want to see anymore into the Trash forever.

12. Send emails later

Sometimes when I receive an email, I reply very quickly by following the Inbox Zero tips. However, I do not want my recipient to think that I am too eager to reply, and I want to schedule an email to go out two hours later. Other times, I want to schedule an email to go out at a particular time so that it appears at the top of my recipient’s inbox on a Monday morning in his time zone.

The free tool that I use for this purpose is Right Inbox. There is a paid alternative called Boomerang which you may also use.

13. Gmail CRM

Recently I found Streak, a really cool CRM that sits within Gmail itself. I found it useful in helping me track all my leads in closing sales at CoinGecko. I used to make do with a CRM tool on a separate app, but found it very inconvenient.

Now I can get a quick snapshot of how I am doing right from my Gmail inbox!

14. Use Zoho Mail for custom domain

If you own a domain and want to use Gmail but do not want to pay $5/month, you can consider using Zoho mail. Zoho Mail provides ad-free email hosting. Outlook used to be free, but Microsoft took away the privilege about one year ago. Once you have set things up, make a forwarder to your Gmail client (Tip #1) and you have all the functionality you need on Gmail!

15. Gmail full-stop

Do you know that it doesn’t matter where you place the dot “.” in your Gmail address? For example, if my Gmail address is example.email@gmail.com, I can use exam.pleemail@gmail.com or examplee.mail@gmail.com or move the “.” anywhere else before @ and the email will still arrive. You may find this trick useless, but it’s actually very useful for developers testing features involving user accounts.

This trick has helped me save several painful hours during software testing. Now that you know this trick, you can sign up for multiple accounts from the same startup to benefit from some freebies just by moving the “.” in your Gmail address.

16. Gmail “+” feature

Another cool feature of Gmail is that you can add +listname to your email address and the email will still arrive in your inbox. For example, if I want to sign up for a newsletter from a Bitcoin news site, CoinDesk, I can use example.email+coindesk@gmail.com. This way, I can easily set filters in Gmail in the future and if I start receiving spam emails at this email address, I will know that they came from CoinDesk.

Before I end this post, I would like to stress the importance of writing short emails. The best emails are short and sweet. If you are looking to improve your email writing skills, you should take a look at Ramit’s course.

Did I miss any email tips here? I’m always on the lookout for more tips at managing my emails, so do share your techniques below in the Comments section.

My Chapter on Altcoins was Published in a Book!

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It’s been slightly over a year since TM and I started working on CoinGecko. Many good things have come about since we got together in early 2014 to explore opportunities in the Bitcoin industry.

There have been many lessons learnt and many doors opened as a result of this venture. I will save that for another blog post but today I would like to make a quick update to say that our work in collecting cryptocurrency data have brought us to write a research journal with Professor David Lee and Guo Li of Singapore Management University and this journal has been published by Elsevier in a digital currency handbook.

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At over 600 pages, this handbook is a big encyclopedia exploring the still nascent digital currency ecosystem.

Here’s my proud moment when I opened the DHL parcel a few days back.

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If you are interested in buying this book, it’s retailing at USD150 with free worldwide shipping.

Thank you very much to all those who have supported me in this journey especially Prof. David Lee, Guo Li and TM Lee.

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