Happy Holidays,节日快乐, Felices Fiestas! During the holidays, I’ve been asked why I joined 滴滴 DiDi with projects across China and Latin America. So in the spirit of reflection, here are some of my thoughts and hopefully it’ll inspire others who are interested in similar paths in 2019.
When I graduated from HBS, I had been incredibly lucky enough to have traveled to 36 countries. With every new country I visited, I felt like I inherited a piece of the culture. Though I’m proud to be a U.S. citizen, I actually felt more comfortable with the idea of being a global citizen. Because the U.S. has such great opportunities, my next job would naturally default in the States, and I didn’t think I was being intentional enough about location. So I tried a mental exercise of lifting the constraint of geography and asked myself a simple question:
“If I could work anywhere in the world, what would I do?”
…which broke down to three questions:
- Where in the world has the fastest growth?
- Where could I see myself, not just living, but learning the most from this ecosystem?
- Where can I make the most complementary impact?
Where in the world has the fastest growth?
In the past decade, it was clear that technology was democratizing economic growth globally. Developing countries were growing at an accelerated pace with many unicorns being born in regions that had large populations, rising middle class, and sources of tech talent. Below were my top three regions.
China has the largest population with 1.4B people and Mandarin as a requirement to do business, which makes it challenging for anyone who isn’t native speaker. It is an undeniable juggernaut with Alibaba and Tencent preceding and often funding the next wave of unicorns — Toutiao ($75B acquired Musical.ly $1B), DiDi ($56B), Meituan Dianping (pre-IPO $30B), Pinduoduo (pre-IPO $15B).
Southeast Asia has 656M people across 11 countries. Unlike China, it has many languages with no single dominant language, so in many ways English would be manageable especially in Singapore as the hub. Currently, there are ridesharing rivals Grab ($11B) and Go-jek ($10B), and Tokopedia ($7B), Traveloka ($4B), many of which are funded by Chinese tech Alibaba and Tencent.
Latin America has 652M people but with a whole different level of energy filled with music, laughter, and lots of dancing, with Spanish being a dominant language across the region, with the exception of Portuguese in Brazil. U.S. companies like Amazon and Uber has made their foray into Mexico, but for the first time, Chinese-born tech like DiDi (acquired 99 in Brazil for $1B) has been expanding into Latin America due to its similarities in its growth in consumer tech, especially in mobility.
Personally, I’ve been fascinated by tech companies with both online and offline components that transform and improve lives across regions. Mobility, and specifically DiDi, was ideal, because it’s a unique time on earth where we’re combining the best of both eastern and western culture for a common cause of improving how people and things move.
Where could I see myself, not just living, but learning the most from the ecosystem?
DiDi has roots in China and a global attitude and mission with operations or investments in Latin America, Australia, Japan, Southeast Asia, India, EMEA, U.S., and others.
Language is not just a form of communication, but also an exchange that deepens relationships and experiences. As ethnically Chinese, being able to speak Mandarin and Cantonese is not just helpful in business but also personally rewarding with family. As an American, being able to communicate to some extent in Spanish is also incredibly helpful with many Spanish-speakers in the U.S. and Mexico as a neighbor.
Global collaboration and empathy are two skills that I believe will be more important in increasingly mobile and diverse companies. Every culture has its own reason for being successful or unique, and those from different backgrounds have to be patient enough to fully understand the subtleties, while giving the benefit of the doubt when things feel seemingly offensive. Though different cultures may seem different or even odd at first, being open-minded and empathetic is something I’m working on and aspiring to be.
Where can I make the most complementary impact?
Similar to most relationships, finding a role is a two-way street, in which both parties have to be able to show value. And the best ones, whether between founders or partners, tend to be complementary. Since I’ve mainly worked in the U.S. (born in LA, consulting in NY, tech in SF), my hope is to bring some of the best practices I’ve learned in Silicon Valley along with my relevant international network from HBS. My experience is arguably more incrementally impactful to a developing region with relatively less tech talent than in Silicon Valley, where the person sitting to me in an Uber has the same background but wearing a different hoodie. Also, in the U.S. I took the ability to speak English for granted, while outside of the U.S. between people with different languages, English often serves as the common language. So, being able to communicate and bridge cultures with English with a level of empathy can go a long way for international companies.
I do recognize that the fact I’m able to even consider lifting the geographic constraint is a luxury and of personal circumstance, while each person has their own priorities and obligations. For those who are interested in a similar path or even one that may feels untraditional, just know that the process of making this decision did take months and may be met with friction from close family and friends not with the intention to stop you, but because they care and they want you to make sure you’re making an informed decision. Counterintuitively, if you have developed conviction, you also have a responsibility to educate them, because friction is usually driven by lack of understanding.
But at the end of day, I’m not getting any younger and my risk appetite is probably at its highest. Whether it’s for short or long term, when I looked at the decision through Jeff Bezos’s regret-minimization lens, it felt right.
Warmest wishes to you and your family,