“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry” With Waylon Ian Chin

Yitzi Weiner
Sep 8 · 10 min read

In our field, becoming a thought leader allows you to build a brand for yourself and your firm, which may position you to increase your inbound deal flow, as entrepreneurs want to seek you out for strategic value add beyond just an investment. For example, this can give you leverage when it comes to negotiating terms or valuation. More importantly, you are able to add value to your investment by making strategic connections with other leaders within and outside your industry, allowing you to explore different opportunities and learn from the best first-hand.


part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Waylon Ian Chin, CEO & Managing Partner at First Serve Partners, a Miami based venture capital firm made up of business leaders, pop-culture influencers and current/former professional athletes. The firm invests across sports, media and entertainment, and uses their unique perspective, strategic relationships and experience in engaging emerging generations — millennials and Gen-Zers — to capitalize on what’s new and what’s next. After spending some of his youth in Singapore, attending the prestigious Raffles Institution, Chin was ranked as the #1 junior tennis player in the United States and represented the country in the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Grand Slam competition. He began playing professional tournaments at the age of 15, then continued his career at the University of Illinois and University of Miami (FL), where he was the #1 singles and doubles player. At First Serve Partners, Chin led an investment in Splyce, one of the world’s top eSports organizations. He currently serves on the board of directors of GR8 Group, Splyce, SnapLeads and the Miami Venture Capital Association.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Waylon! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

co-founder and I both worked in sports, media, and entertainment throughout our lives and beginning at a very young age, as athletes and in the business world. Growing up, I was the top ranked junior tennis player in the country and then played in college and professionally before starting my first company during my senior year of college. I have always had entrepreneurial instincts since I was young, whether it was finding deals to be made, trading the stock markets, starting businesses, and later on, angel investing in startups. We wanted to find a way to bring all of the experiences and relationships we garnered in these industries together and be able to have an everlasting impact on them. We felt that through venture capital, we could leverage our collective relationships and experience, as well as help bridge the gap between athletes, entrepreneurs and investors.

Why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

One of the foremost aspects of our company culture is to be as well-read, prepared, and informed about our industry and core focuses as possible. As I learned during my career as a professional tennis player, there is no substitute for putting in hours of diligent study and work, which I believe has put myself and our firm in a position to be thought leaders.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Earlier this summer, my partner and I spoke at a tech conference in Transylvania, Romania. The day after the conference, the event planners took all of the international speakers out to a remote village in the Romanian countryside for a retreat. That night, we sat at a dinner table overlooking miles of open fields and had some of the most interesting conversations of our lives, alongside some of the most notable venture capitalists and investors in the world, founders of very successful startups, former Navy seals, one of the most notorious hackers in the world, and a host of other interesting individuals. It shows that one of the most rewarding benefits of thought leadership is access to other leaders who have incredible experiences, stories, and perspectives. Even all the way in Romania, I was able to open my mind and learn more from some of the top thinkers in the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The perfectionist in me doesn’t allow myself to find humor in mistakes, but look at them as learning experiences to grow and build from. Our goal at First Serve Partner is to become the best in the world at what we do, so I have learned that mistakes and missteps are part of the journey to getting there.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

I think they serve different purposes. A thought leader is someone I consider to be objectively attempting to further conversation and open listeners’ minds in an unbiased manner, whereas an influencer is trying to sway their followers’ minds toward a particular perspective, product, or campaign. Both are equally important and effective when communicating efficiently.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Being a thought leader allows one to create a positive impact in the lives of others whether it be motivational, inspirational, or simply comforting. As I mentioned, First Serve Partners prides itself on being well-read and prepared, however it also means investing time and energy into listening to others so that you may sharpen your own ideas to the point that they are respected and followed by others in your field.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

In our field, becoming a thought leader allows you to build a brand for yourself and your firm, which may position you to increase your inbound deal flow, as entrepreneurs want to seek you out for strategic value add beyond just an investment. For example, this can give you leverage when it comes to negotiating terms or valuation. More importantly, you are able to add value to your investment by making strategic connections with other leaders within and outside your industry, allowing you to explore different opportunities and learn from the best first-hand.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

1.My co-founder, who spent much of his career in the media world, regularly says that to become a thought leader, you have to be good and you have to be interesting. To add to that, I think you also need to be authentic and stay true to who you are. Being a thought leader requires a very human element when trying to connect and engage with others, so authenticity is essential to have a lasting impact on people.

There have been a few times where there was an oversubscribed round for a deal and First Serve Partners was chosen over other firms, some much more seasoned than us. I believe that is largely due to the genuine connection and rapport we established with the founders where there was zero B.S. throughout our interaction. This can largely be attributed to the brand and reputation we have built over time as a firm.

2. It also comes down to being knowledgeable about your thoughts and opinions, as well as how to express them. One may further refine their values by reading, studying, researching and speaking to people in and outside their industry.

My co-founder and I have been invited to speak and participate in discussions around the world and I believe the main reason for us being seen as thought leaders in the space is because we spend hours every day studying and being the most knowledgeable team in our industry. We have also found a unique way to express our perspective and thesis that we constantly build and seek to improve upon.

3. Get as much tangible, hands-on experience in your space as possible. Aligning industries where there are skills or new perspectives that may add significant value to you and your career is essential to growing within your industry. Nothing beats actually doing something, learning, and evolving from it.

My co-founder and I have made it known that although we are relatively young for our industry, (both in our 20s), we actually have been working for nearly 20 years. Beyond that, we have gained hands-on experience, living and breathing our line of work since we were kids. I was a competitive tennis player since I was seven years old and Joey started in the media industry when he was nine years old. Some may think that seems like a fun thing for kids to do, but it was real work, way beyond a 9am to 5pm job would entail.

Granted, not everyone starts at that much of an early age, but since then, I have always sought out opportunities to get my hands on a deal, a trade, a business, without any fear of what may happen. I remember taking an interest in both of my parents’ careers in corporate finance, starting by day-trading stocks and shadowing some relatives that were in real estate development. This led to me starting businesses, operating businesses, then finally, investing in them.

4. Finding innovative ways of growing your brand can also help differentiate and set you apart from others. Every human being is unique and there is no reason you cannot create your own brand and persona that some fraction of the world’s population will find intriguing and relatable.

I have found from my own experiences that part of this is that being as available as you possibly can for your audience is crucial. People are drawn in quickly when they need help or advice, so humanizing your brand and being there for them as a resource to advise, guide or motivate can be very effective in growing your audience.

5. I would advise readers not to be so quick to turn down what seems like a small opportunity, especially in the beginning. Some of my own eventual successes came from situations or opportunities that I expected absolutely nothing from and almost thought that it was a waste of time at that point. There is always something to learn in every experience. If you are truly good and your audience finds you authentically interesting, your profile will increase exponentially.

One of our best investments we have ever done came from the most unlikely situation I could think of. I am forever grateful we got on that very early morning subway ride to a place I wasn’t very excited about going to and spoke to people that I thought I would gain nothing from, and I ended up being completely wrong.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

It is relatively easy to spot thought leaders who are not being true to themselves. Jay Shetty does a good job of staying authentic and not overselling his brand, remaining relatable, and engaging his following in a personal and impactful manner. He creatively establishes his narrative and backstory, while refining his content in a thoughtful, unique, and sophisticated manner that is relatable to most people. I find that his content never contradicts his brand in any way, which often occurs when some thought leaders are just doing it for the business and money. This leads to conflicting perspectives as they try to sell to different audiences.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I think that it is unnecessary to even put a title or term on it. The individuals with the brightest and most insightful ideas will always shine and break through the noise, regardless if they are deemed a “thought leader” or not.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

The saying always holds true, “Do what you love and love what you do.” I truly love what I do each and every day, from the highs to the lows, and thus never feel like I am on the cusp of burning out.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think that finding a way to provide an affordable and high quality education, with a curriculum that is practical and usable in real life, to as many people as possible will create an informed society and allow for more upward mobility and opportunity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” -Jennifer Lee, American screenwriter, film director, playwright, and chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The quote reminds me of why I began my journey as an athlete, and is still relevant as I continue pursuing my passion, this time as an entrepreneur and investor.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Real: Warren Buffet

Fictional: Bobby Axelrod

How can our readers follow you on social media?

First Serve Partner’s Website: www.firstservepartners.com

First Serve Partner’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/firstservepartners/?hl=en

First Serve Partner’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/first-serve-partners/about/

Waylon’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/waylon-ian-chin-a5415980

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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