I’m (still) not crushing it

A decade ago, I wrote a blog post about how I was not crushing it with my startup LaunchBit.

In that post, I added this graph:

It looked good — up and to the right (though no labeled axes publicly disclosed). But, on a day-to-day basis, the graph looked like this and more importantly, *felt* like this:

Doing a startup is HARD, because it’s hard to see the long-term ups of where you’ve come from and how much you’ve accomplished. And it’s easy to see all the troughs you have to stomach today.

The headfake about my current company Hustle Fund is that even though we are a VC fund, we share many more similarities to our startups than we share with other VCs. This may sound counterintuitive, but we have revenue (with ups and downs of it – just like our startups) and lots of people (30+) who count on a paycheck. Managing money and lots of people is what makes companies hard!

I write this post, because I know that a lot of startups are struggling right now. Capital is tight. It’s hard to make money. It’s hard to console your team who may be worried about the market. I know – I get it.

An example of one trough that I’m going through right now is that I recently learned that I will have to personally chip in a lot of cash — more than I made last year — to cover a company tax situation. I know that so many startups often have founders contribute to their respective businesses to make ends meet. We all face the same issues. This won’t be easy for me. But we’ll figure it out.

In fact, the past couple of weeks or so have been the toughest point for me in our journey — even tougher than those first few months when my business partner Eric and I couldn’t raise that much money for our Fund 1. In many ways, it’s much harder to go through troughs when you’re a bigger company than when you’re two people working in a garage. (Ok, Eric still works in his garage).

A decade ago, I felt every trough so deeply. I was stressed. But there are a few things I’ve changed over time.


A few months ago, I spoke with one of our founders whose company is thriving. But, she saw her business go to zero during the pandemic and recounted how one day during the pandemic, it was just so stressful, she cried her eyes out in her empty office. I asked her, “What made you decide to continue your company and how did you ever pull through?” She told me that she realized that just being able to sit on the floor and cry about her startup was a privilege and that she wanted to continue.

That conversation summarizes how I think about my own startup problems now. It’s a privilege to be able to do this work day in and day out. No one is making me do a startup. It is a gift to be able to work with the amazing Hustle Fund team to get through problems – I am so so grateful.

So even though there are a tons of ups and downs in doing a startup, there’s no way I would give this up to do something else.

My health / habits

I’ve talked a bit on Twitter about how I’ve changed some of my habits which has made it immensely easier to handle stress.

Some key changes that come to mind include:

  • No phone before bed. I keep my phone in the kitchen
  • Use phone meetings to walk / jog to get exercise – there’s often no other time
  • Reduce meetings with voice messages via Async.com
  • Sleep early and wake up early to get a better handle on the day

These changes alone have helped me get a better grapple of not only my time but also my stress.

I also think being a second time founder helps. You know what issues can crop up and not much is surprising anymore.

But, The Ups and Downs are Always There

I think founders often think that if they can just get to the next milestone or the next round of funding, there’ll be more stability and fewer ups and downs. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

On some level, there’s more stability — there are more people to mitigate the chaos (assuming good processes in managing the team). But there’s also just more at stake and issues always arise, so the problems become bigger.

This is fundamentally what startups are all about. Constantly ploughing through and getting pummeled and rinsing and repeating. And this can be depressing for some founders. And, this is not for everyone — and that’s ok to move on.

But if you’re still excited to try to surf your startup wave, keep going! Everyone gets pummeled over and over again — you’re not alone — but just get back up on the board and continue. You’ll figure it out.

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The challenges of growth: where startups struggle and how to fix them

Although I invest in a lot of pre-revenue startups, a stage where I see most companies get stuck is the pre-series A stage. There are two primary ways that companies tend to get stuck. A startup:

  1. Has product-market fit but is too chaotic in trying to serve demand
  2. Doesn’t have product-market fit but thinks they do and overly spends money and runs out of money

What is product-market fit?

At a high level: You have found product market fit when you can repeatably acquire customers for a lower cost than what they are worth to you. This is not earth shattering. This is a simple business statement. Are your costs lower than your revenues? Are you profitable? And can you get more and more customers over time in a systematic way?

I’ve written about this before on Twitter:

How do you know you have product-market fit?

This is something I didn’t understand when I was a founder. Investors would often go around saying “you just know you have it,” which I didn’t find helpful back then. Now on the investor side, I think this is a true statement: if you can’t keep up with sustainable demand, then you have product-market fit. If you are overly spending — i.e. payback period is longer than say 6 months at the seed stage — to get demand, then you don’t have it. You are just spending money unsustainably.

It’s important to be honest with yourself about whether you have it. The truth is – most companies never achieve product-market fit. And, my startup certainly never had it. The market doesn’t generally need most companies. And that’s ok.

Even companies with product-market fit can fall apart

However, even if you have product-market fit, that’s only half the battle in running a company. I often see companies still get stuck. I’ve had many portfolio companies find product-market fit but get close to either running out of money OR actually run out of money, because they didn’t keep a close eye on their cash management.

Even if you are basically profitable in serving your customers, you can still go out of business. For example, if you have a large cash outlay upfront to buy materials for your product before you bring in revenue from selling said product, you could easily run out of money. If you haven’t read the book Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight yet, I highly recommend reading it to dig deeper into this particular conundrum. Shoe Dog is the story about Nike and how they almost ran out of money quite frequently. In Shoe Dog, Nike needs to pay for materials to make their shoes upfront and then sell them later. But, the more shoes they sell, the bigger their outlay of cash has to be each time they buy more materials. So although Nike has a ton of demand for their shoes, it’s incredibly difficult for Phil to solve for their liquidity issues to keep up with demand. Their success actually creates cash problems for them.

This issue doesn’t just happen with e-commerce companies. It happens with logistics companies, ad companies, and B2B companies as well. There’s often a hefty outlay of cash upfront to pay for people to help serve a deal or pay for the cost of goods.

Pre-series A companies need to optimize

For all the reasons described above, I’ve thought a lot about the optimization of growth and startups. Everyone – investors and founders – are all fixated on growth. But once you have some growth, especially during tougher financial markets when it’s less easy to raise money, it’s the founders who can optimize their companies well who will be positioned to be successful.

Truthfully, Hustle Fund recently has been working through its own growing pains of optimization. We have 30+ people now at Hustle Fund and beyond our VC funds, we have several business lines that all work together. Some business lines have product-market fit. Others are more nascent and are too early to tell.

With my last startup LaunchBit, we never hit product-market fit, and we never were this large either in team size or revenue. And with so many people, at Hustle Fund, it’s sometimes hard for us to figure out what cash outlays are happening to ensure profitability when we are paid. In addition, with so many new people at our company, sometimes there’s just a lot of chaos. So we had to make some changes to our own business:

We now have a Company Operating System that allows for scale

For most of the last five years – esp in the beginning – most of the knowledge of how we do work at Hustle Fund has been in people’s individual heads. After a while, this made onboarding new hires challenging and it slowed down work.

Photo by Jeremy Waterhouse on Pexels.com

Every company goes through this transition where at first, it’s fast to not have documentation and processes (e.g. 2 people in a garage who are still figuring things out). But at a certain point, this way of working becomes a crutch and then you have a lot of inefficiencies on your team when no one knows where things are or what is happening or who does what.

Spearheaded by Thenuka Karunaratne, he set up the system for us to help level us up to do business at scale. Thank you Thenuka! In our Company OS:

  • There’s a single source of truth
  • Everything is documented there
  • If you do something more than once, we record a video and just add the video to the documentation to make it faster / easier to document. No one has time to write documentation
  • Done is better than perfect. Revisions happen all the time

Consistent communication channels creates prioritization

Hustle Fund is also a fully remote company across the globe. Most of the people who work here had never worked at remote companies before, so we had a tough learning curve in how to communicate – especially across time zones.

We had to set up guidelines on what communication channels are for what and everyone must be aware of these from day 1.

E.g. Email — this is where work gets done. Subject lines with [ACTION] or [ACTION by 3/1/2023] get higher priority within our team.

In contrast, Slack is where messages go to die. BUT, Slack is important. We have a Shoutouts channel to praise people on our team publicly. We have a channel for news articles. A channel for our own weekly updates. As you can see, these are all great channels for getting to know team members and staying in the know.

We also use Async.com and Loom videos a lot to remove meetings. Instead of a meeting, we send a Loom video or an Async voice memo. It’s way quicker than writing details in an email, and the recipient can quickly read the transcription to digest it. And, you can also convey emotion, which is so so important when you are sending feedback on ideas.

Templates, templates, templates

Lastly, we write and share templates with our team on what to say to various scenarios. This allows us to have consistent messaging and with two clicks, we can respond to most inquiries fairly quickly. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel.

As you can see from our own journey of leveling up both at Hustle Fund and helping our portfolio companies level up, I’ve always wanted to create an epic guided offsite for pre-series A founders.

So, I’ve been working closely with Tam Pham, the newest addition to our team, in creating a Hustlers’ Retreat–a guided strategic offsite for leadership teams this year.

Here’s the thing: Lots of founders get bogged down in the weeds with things that seem important, but don’t actually move the needle on the business – for all the reasons above.

So here’s our vision for Hustlers’ Retreat: we’ll take ~25 leadership teams out of their daily chaos into nature. They will finally have time to slow down and think strategically about their future.

We’ll facilitate workshops to help founders with their top priorities and build their company operating system. We’ll also offer sessions on customer acquisition and fundraising.

The goal is to help pre-series A companies with:

  • Prioritization
  • Getting leverage on their time: Going from an individual contributor to a manager
  • Raising money beyond the seed: What they should do today to prepare for future raises
  • Attracting A-players to work for their tiny startups: Plus retaining those key employees when you have limited cash
  • Acquiring customers: Growth will always be a constant at every stage

The best part? We’ll take care of the whole experience. The Hustlers’ retreat will have:

  • a private property that spans hundreds of acres in beautiful Sonoma County
  • cooks on-site to provide nutritious food for you and your team
  • our team and guest speakers to facilitate all the workshops and sessions 
  • fun activities to recharge & connect like volleyball, board games, a pool party + more
  • a community of hustlers just like yourself to connect and learn from each other

Our goal is that every leadership team will walk away feeling recharged, aligned, and energized to tackle the next chapter of their business at scale.

Anyone can join, but the sweet spot is for pre-series-A cos. 

  • You have a live product
  • You’re making at least 6 figures/yr w a path to 7 next yr
  • You have a team

So if you’re a founder who is at a key inflection point in your business, we designed the Hustlers’ Retreat for you. It will take place Aug 20-24, 2023. We’re also doing something crazy and paying for your lodging (4 nights) onsite to the first 35 tickets, use code “HUSTLER”.

My teammates and I will be connecting with founders throughout the week and facilitating sessions. Hope to see you there!

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What Does the Near Future of Artificial Intelligence Look Like and What Should I Build?

If you haven’t already read Packy McCormick’s blog post this morning on Attention is All You Need, I highly recommend it.

He always writes with incredible insight, but today’s post is especially important as we think about technology in the next several years and decades to come. Of course, you guessed it – his post is about OpenAI. I want to build on that post and suggest some thoughts on where the best places to build are in light of where OpenAI is positioning itself in the market.

Some context

A few months ago, we saw the launch and rise of ChatGPT, a personal assistant that allows users to ask questions and make requests. ChatGPT is the first product ever to reach 100m users in just a couple of months, an incredible feat that surprised just about everyone. Then, last week, we saw the launch of ChatGPT plugins. With the launch of plugins, users will be able to extend ChatGPT’s capabilities to be able to take actions available across other websites within the ChatGPT interface. 

For example, in the future, within ChatGPT, I ought to be able to ask ChatGPT to: 

  • Text all my Facebook friends a fun made-up song on their respective birthdays
  • Search Kayak for the cheapest premium economy flights to London from San Francisco that serves Haagen Dazs ice cream mid-flight
  • Write a script for me that will re-organize my email inbox, prioritizing my founders first

Months ago, I think we saw all of this functionality coming down the pipe.  But up until recently, I wouldn’t have thought that OpenAI themselves would develop a consumer-facing product to tackle all of this functionality. Like many others, I thought that OpenAI would continue extending their platform to more and more startups and developers to build on top of their technology.

What does this mean for developers?

The crux of the matter is that OpenAI is currently running two strategies right now – a platform strategy and a consumer strategy. 

Examples of the platform strategy include Apple and Zapier. Without developers, Zapier would cease to exist and Apple would be largely useless without any apps on their devices. Although both have created “example apps”, neither company really attempts to build their own consumer-facing applications that compete with their partners’ products. 

Examples of the consumer strategy are companies like Facebook and Twitter. You go to those sites and you generally stay on those sites, scrolling through all their content. And, although both started out with developer platform programs, at this point, both largely have just built all the functionality on their sites.

No site can be perfectly labeled a platform strategy or a consumer strategy. E.g One could argue that Apple created Numbers, which is a consumer-facing application, but let’s be real, who uses Numbers? 🙂 

And in fact, running both a platform and a consumer strategy simultaneously is challenging. As Packy mentions in his post:

“All of that is if OpenAI decides to play nice with its partners. If OpenAI optimizes for its ChatGPT users, though, it’s going to disintermediate a ton of businesses and force them into changing how they operate.

In fact, an example of a company that struggles with trying to run both a platform strategy and consumer strategy is Amazon. 

Amazon started out as a platform for e-commerce stores to build on top of. I have friends who run online stores who initially hopped on Amazon and reaped the benefits of their logistics support, distribution reach, among many other helpful features. 

But you may have noticed that Amazon also now sells their own end products – everything from shoes to paper shredders. And their products are GREAT. One of my friends who runs an online store found that at first, it was hugely beneficial to her business to be on Amazon, but eventually, Amazon came out with an identical clone of her products, utilizing all the data from their Amazon presence to know that she was making bank, and Amazon wanted a piece of that action. 

Needless to say, my friend knew she wouldn’t win on Amazon, so she left their platform. And her store continues to grow and thrive as an independent site. In many ways, Shopify exists as the platform strategy in this space to challenge the power of Amazon and provide an alternative for e-commerce stores as Amazon adopts more and more of a consumer-facing strategy.

This brings us back to OpenAI – if there’s even an outside chance developers think OpenAI will copy them and integrate their functionality into ChatGPT, then top developers won’t want to partner with them. This creates a large opening for a potential competitor to truly go after the platform strategy. But said competitor will have to move quickly AND will need to reassure developers that they will not launch consumer-facing offerings that will compete with their own partners.

In many ways, one might be wondering how OpenAI ended up in this situation of pursuing two conflicting strategies. Pure speculation here, but I can see how one might like to start w/ the platform strategy. But, in launching ChatGPT – perhaps initially just as an example app – much like how Numbers is an example app, they may have been as surprised by their fast and impressive distribution success. And if you’re able to attract 100m users that quickly, then it only makes sense to double-down on the consumer strategy and ditch the platform strategy. Afterall, owning the end user experience and being the brand that a consumer remembers is the preferred strategy here if you can pull it off. It allows you to compete with Google and just about every destination site on the internet. It only makes sense for them to switch strategies at this point.

So who ends up serving developers?

There are certainly a lot of would-be OpenAI competitors looming around, but right now, it’s not clear to me who will move into this opening that OpenAI is creating. This will be a land grab to own the platform strategy in the AI space. Platform strategies often have one of two things that partner companies gravitate toward: 1) Distribution and 2) Technology. 

For the former, we’ve talked about why people build on Apple or sell on Amazon – clearly distribution. In this case, a would-be competitor to OpenAI would have to offer strong technology. 

An analogous example that comes to mind here is TSMC. TSMC is arguably the best contract chip designer and manufacturer in the world. Although most people think that being in the semiconductor chip business is a horrible commoditized business, TSMC has margins upwards of near 50%! If you’re competing on technology utilizing a platform-strategy, you’d better be #1 or perhaps #2 in technology, because if you are #8, your tech largely is a commodity. 

technology computer lines board
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

TSMC manages to generate these kinds of margins, because they can produce very tiny chips, which means that phones and computers can cram in more chips into a limited amount of space for more computing power for their devices. Unlike in a consumer-facing strategy, no one cares if your chips are more user friendly or look nice or you have better customer support. The only thing that matters with this strategy is that you have superior technical specs. TSMC has continued to be the market leader over the decades, because they continue to reinvest vast amounts of profits and capital into staying the leader in this market.

This is what it will take to win the platform strategy in AI. Strong technology is a starting point but continued betterment is equally important to maintain the lead. And in AI, how do you come out with better and better models? By amassing more and more data. 

So I think what we may end up seeing here are weird alliances – I could imagine some sort of partnership between websites that have a lot of data and an OpenAI competitor here so that existing large destination sites will not lose to ChatGPT. 

In fact, we’ve seen this movie before. When Apple launched the iPhone, Google rallied around the Open Handset Alliance as a hedge to ensure that Apple would not soak up all the mobile traffic in the world. With this open working group consisting of top mobile carriers and handset makers to support Android, an open source mobile operating system, Google was able to come out with a competitor that they wouldn’t have been able to develop on their own. In a similar vein, when social networks were taking off and Facebook was dominating, Google rallied around Open Social, which was an open source social app SDK with support from many of the top social networking competitors to try to compete with Facebook at that time. 

We will definitely see something similar here – whether it’s through the alliance of various existing players to compete directly with ChatGPT’s vision or a single player attempting to go head-to-head with OpenAI on the developer-strategy much like what Shopify did with Amazon. In the ChatGPT world, you will be able to do everything on their site and in a competing world, you will be able to do much more on all the other sites. Both versions will win, because power is never left unchecked.

So what should I build? 

With the AI world in flux, how should I, as an entrepreneur, navigate this? I think that we should assume that every site in the future will utilize AI to provide a better user experience with greater personalization.

So if you’re trying to build the next AI image creator or the AI trip planner, etc, consider it too competitive already. In fact, Adobe, Canva, etc are all rolling out their generative AI tools within their own existing programs. Even for websites that have terrible tech teams, you should assume there will be an OpenAI competitor who will serve those tech-unsavvy websites to make adding AI to any website really easy. 

In software, distribution often wins, and as such, if I were building a new product, just like at most other points in software history, I would go after the spaces where I either a) had distribution edge already, b) saw an opening where there’s not an existing large player with distribution, or c) had an insight into a uniquely differentiated product in an existing space. And I might partner with an OpenAI competitor that is friendly to developers to ensure OpenAI doesn’t integrate my functionality into ChatGPT.

And if you are building infrastructure in AI, I think the opportunity is now to go after a developer-focused OpenAI competitor. But you need to be #1 and stay #1.

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Leadership during a crisis

Wow. What a week.

I’m sure most of you reading this are in and around startups and already know what I’m referring to. But if not, the most popular bank for startups and VCs called Silicon Valley Bank just went under. They are still getting a final count on what percentage of deposits are not insured, but I’ve seen 97% being floated around. That’s a lot of money potentially gone.

But we’re all tired of hearing about what we think happened or whether a buyer will come along. The much more important thing to talk about is what to do in a crisis situation.

Over-communicate. And then communicate some more.

One of the biggest mistakes I see organizations make during a crisis is their failure to communicate swiftly and with poise. Often organizations want to find all the facts and think about the right words to say. They want to focus on solving the problem.

Unfortunately, this is a big mistake. And it’s a mistake that happens all the time — such as in this crisis with SVB or during COVID or when employee allegations about abuse or harassment emerge, etc. Companies make this mistake over and over again — both big and small companies.

It is important to own your communications and use them to get ahead of a situation that is spiraling downwards. In fact, this is so critical that I’ve spent the last 2 days drafting communications for many of our portfolio companies in figuring out what to tell their investors, business partners, and/or employees yesterday.

It’s not so much about what the comms actually say but how they make people feel. The feeling you want to convey is 1) You got this under control – leadership is on it and ppl can count on you, 2) if you don’t have all the answers, you will get info and will keep people informed as you go along, 3) your door is always open to chat.

If this isn’t done swiftly, even if you are actively working on a solution to a crisis, people will lose faith in you, because they are unaware of the steps you are taking. As such, it is much more important to communicate something — anything — quickly and update your comms as you go along than to try to write the perfect thing 4 days later. The best time to do this is in the first 24 hours of a situation emerging.

So, in this situation, if you haven’t already sent out communications to your employees and investors, I’d highly recommend doing that today. It can be short and sweet:

For investors:

  • You may have heard about SVB (link)
  • We were/weren’t affected and to what extent
  • If affected, we are still trying to learn X and will keep you informed
  • Thank you for your support always

For employees:

  • You may have heard about SVB (link)
  • We were/weren’t affected and to what extent
  • 1 line about payroll – i.e. rest assured, we are actively looking at loan options to make this work (if with SVB) / or we were not affected
  • Business is as usual
  • If you have questions / concerns, my door is always open

As the CEO or head of your org, your job is leadership. This means that communication and morale is your #1 responsibility. I often see CEOs think they are too busy to address the communications during a crisis mode. They are too busy trying to solve the problem. But communications is everything.

In addition, during a crisis, you’ll often see people go above and beyond. It could be from within your company but it may also be through external partners. In a crisis, there are people helping all the time. This is the time to thank them and make them feel extra appreciated.

Over the years, we’ve done this a few ways: we’ve sent food (treats from a grocery store, meals from Doordash, and gift cards to restaurants). We’ve sent alcohol and ridiculous stuffed animals and stupid stuff to make people laugh. It’s just a way to show appreciation and thank people.

Ultimately, your communications with everyone is about saying “I see / hear you. I’m on this situation. I appreciate you.” That is leadership.

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The Return of Camp Hustle

Today is a big day for my team. We’re announcing the return of Camp Hustle.

But first, I want to talk a bit about what is top of mind for me going into the new year. One thing I think deeply about a lot is how can we get a lot more great startups funded.

Part of this answer is through our Hustle Fund pre-seed fund. Part of this answer is through our 1000+ member global angel club called Angel Squad.

But the vast majority of this answer lies in helping more investors — whether they are new VCs or angels — in their journey. We need to help more people jump into the startup-investing game AND become successful.

This effort starts with community — connecting more great budding investors together to level up everyone’s investing through capital, knowledge, and networks.

We started resuming live events last year with Camp Hustle 2022 and we’re back this year to help connect more investors.

My colleague Haley Bryant interviewed Sequoia VC Jess Lee at last year’s Camp Hustle

What is Camp Hustle?

Camp Hustle is an in-person event exclusively for investors. (Now, if you’re a founder, I’ll get to why you may care about this in a minute…hang tight and read on…)

It’s a full day of networking (a lot), talks (a few) and live pitches (with real-time pitch analysis). It’s taking place on May 17, 2023 in the Bay Area.

What’s the point?

We write a lot of free content and throw free online events on startup investing. But I’m also a big believer that attending events where you can meet people to help you level up is life-changing.

The purpose of Camp Hustle is to help you meet other investors.

Why would you want to meet other investors? Well, for starters…

  1. to learn about great companies / improve dealflow
  2. to help your existing portfolio companies by building key connections
  3. to help your own VC fund’s fundraising efforts
  4. to grow your angel investing syndicate
  5. to meet kind, creative, successful investors who love the same things you do

What happens at Camp Hustle?

In addition to structured and unstructured networking opportunities, Camp Hustle will also feature:

  • talks from founders with multi-millions in revenue
  • a Shark Tank-style pitch event
  • small group discussions on hot-button topics
  • ample time to chat with 200 other investors
  • great food (and s’mores)
Shiyan and I kicking off last year’s Camp Hustle

If you’re a founder, do you want to pitch your business at Camp Hustle?

One of the most requested online events that we’ve often done are pitch-feedback events. This year, at Camp Hustle 2023, you can apply to pitch your startup live (by April 15). And if you’re selected, you’ll get to pitch in front of 200 investors and will receive live feedback on your pitch as well.

Let’s get more great startups funded!

I look forward to seeing you at the event. Grab your ticket here and use the code EYLIST to knock down the price. FYI, that discount code expires on Jan 31.

Regardless, I’d love your help in amplifying this so that we can connect more investors to get more great startups funded.

Hope to see you in person at Camp Hustle!

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My first trip to Vietnam

Happy new year!

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now and my hope is to write more this year.

Last fall, I took a trip to Vietnam, my first time traveling there. I was really impressed with the people and the country! The energy in Ho Chi Minh was incredible. Construction and buildings are popping up left and right. You can feel the rise of the city and the country as a whole. Being there felt a lot like how I remember feeling when I visited China in 2005. The excitement of fast growth. It’s so hard to believe that this was the same country that the US left in shambles less than 50 years ago. In fact, while the US is suffering from inflation and declining growth, Vietnam’s inflation today is only ~3% and their GDP is expected to grow 6-8% per year in the near term. Remarkable.

We took our Hustle Fund team there because, we have invested in a LOT of startups in Vietnam, almost all of whom we invested in via video conference — even pre-pandemic! In meeting many of our founders for the first time, I was really impressed with the level of passion and hustle. And what so many of them have achieved with their companies in such a short period of time is mindblowing.

Celebrating Eric’s birthday w/ our portfolio founders at CTY Kitchen, which had great food and is owned by one of our founders (check it out in Ho Chi Minh!)

Vietnam reminded me of why we invest in so many companies in emerging markets. My trip reinforced my belief that growth is so much faster in green field markets. Although â…” of our startups are still going after the United States market, the myriad of opportunities in emerging markets to build huge companies is so much larger.

A lot of our portfolio companies in Vietnam are on a tear. And, one such company whom we visited was Dat Bike, an electric motor bike company. The founder Son Nguyen, has an amazing story and background. He grew up in a beach town called Da Nang and was able to get scholarships to study computer science in the United States. After graduation, he worked as a software engineer in the US, but he always felt like there was something he could be doing for his home country. He realize that in Vietnam (which has ~100 million people) most people ride motorbikes, but few people ride electric motorbikes. Existing specs for electric motorbikes are too poor (not enough power and not enough distance at the right price). So he decided to start an electric bike company to make Vietnam greener.

Our team visiting Dat Bike and gearing up to ride

But Son didn’t actually know anything about electrical engineering or building a motorbike! So he learned everything he could on YouTube in order to build his first prototype!

Then he also convinced two of his American friends to move from Silicon Valley to Vietnam with him to build this company even though neither had roots in or any connection to Vietnam. He debuted his bike on a Shark Tank-equivalent show in Vietnam from which he was able to find supplier-contacts and future hires for the company. Today, they employ hundreds of people, and they are just getting started. You can see their bikes on the road when you visit Vietnam.

Janel, Jamie, and Chloe gearing up to ride in the streets of Ho Chi Minh

The bike is so smooth and quiet. In part, it’s because they threw all design assumptions out the window and started from first principles in building a new bike for the Vietnamese market from the ground up.

Maybe not the smartest decision to ride an electric motorbike in the rain with flip flops

Founding stories like Son’s — and most of our founders — is why I feel so privileged and lucky to be able to invest in inspiring startups.

Beyond meeting with our portfolio founders and potential investors / co-investors in Vietnam, in true Hustle Fund form – we also got everyone outside hiking during a torrential rain storm to see a totally different perspective of Vietnam.

Part of the Hustle Fund team from a lookout on a mountain completely drenched

I always love traveling with the Hustle Fund team. But, Vietnam was particularly fantastic — the entrepreneurial spirit, the startup community in Ho Chi Minh, the countryside, and the FOOD! I’m excited to see how things have changed in another five years.

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