Looking at the Big Picture

Overheard since my first time around Silicon Valley and several other tech hubs. “We’ve just raised $1.5 million convertible notes last month but some VCs forces us to change course”. “I don’t care about how much I own, I only care about the stock price” “We’ve just raised a $10mio round last week, we’re gonna be billionaires.” said a friend who’s company is about to explode without the next round.

I feel numb to all this. Not because I don’t like it. It’s because it’s so much out of touch with other people’s reality out there. I never talk about these things publicly again as I thought it will make me sound very arrogant. My mentor told me words that I could never forget: “remember when you raise x amount of dollars, you are raising money that ordinary Americans would never earn in their lifetime. So use that money wisely.”

Another speech at another conference reminded me also of one fact: “set aside everything else, the marketing buzz, the VC dollars, the IPO roadshows, the core of Silicon Valley is a bunch of math geeks sitting down scribbling math shit and coding the algorithms on a computer”.

So yes I decided to really set myself in a Zen mode for at least 4 years in the AI lab with people who really just care deeply about math and programming. I’m surrounded by smart people where I will surely learn a bunch from them. Will I miss a great startup exit? Probably. Would I regret it? Definitely, no.

Being in a deep learning lab reminds me of Mark Ranford’s words to me years ago: “back then I got into this connectionist thing, I got to do this because of Hinton. Back then I used neural networks, to detect handwritten digits for an Australian bank. Everyone thinks we’re crazy”. Thanks, Mark, my hat’s off for you today. I know you’re building that deep learning incubator in Thailand.

And then there was Asi’s word in the trading room that I would never forget too. “If you fuck this up, you will be done forever in this industry.” Since that day I remember I’d change my whole attitude about my work ethic and about maintaining reputation. As Warren Buffet also said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

I’m moving my chess pieces one at a time, but this time I’m playing multiple chess games. I cannot afford to lose one move.

Originally published at The Secret Guild of Silicon Valley.