Born in New Zealand, raised in Shanghai and currently completing his law studies in Australia, Brent started his entrepreneurial journey at 18 making mini podcasts. He built his first company facilitating bail assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in 2018, through the LawWithoutWalls program. He then co-founded Chance Myanmar, an influencer-led MOOC platform in Myanmar, and grew it to $1M ARR in 1.5 year. In 2019, Brent started his third company Logieq to help founders hire smarter, and led the first Australian team in 10 years to break into the Hult Prize Accelerator program through Dubai, London and New York to meet with President Bill Clinton at the UN Headquarter. Brent is now working alongside Justin Kan on his podcast The Quest to tell the stories of the human journey behind trailblazers such as The Chainsmokers, Mark Cuban, Steve Huffman and Bryce Hall.
Jeremy Au: [00:39:16] I want to go double click on something that you said that was interesting. Which was the realization that this demigod, this Asian Jesus was also human and asking you for help and being open and vulnerable with you. How did it feel going through that? Were you surprised? Were you disappointed? More accepting? Did you feel all those things? What is it like to feel the crash of the illusion, the stage and the reality of a person on a video call with you?
Brent Liang: [00:39:45] I think that's a really great question. That's something I kept asking myself as well because I try to observe how things have changed and how I've felt the dynamic between me and Justin to be like. I think one of the things that I can definitely say, and you can see this a lot in The Quest, it's one of the central messages we wanted to drive forward in The Quest. People are people. Eventually when you talk about some of those fundamental issues that we all go through getting our personal wellness done right, or trying to go after one of our goals or trying to go after something that you really want to do, and for that you have to crawl through miles of shit, everyone is connected on some level. All of the trouble that results from people not being able to connect is due to miscommunication and people not willing to share that because of the perceived threats that they would lose some kind of personal image in someone else's eye.
I think what Justin does really well is ... I mean, there's a side of him that I think is a really forceful executive and that's something that he was very open about as well. There are aspects of that that made, I think all of his companies successful, that pushed me to be the best version that I am and that pushed the project and all of the stuff that I was working on to ... We were hitting those targets and numbers left and right. But there's also a very human side of him and I think that's something that I was really lucky to get to see. He made it come across super clearly from our first meeting. It was literally from the first thing that he said, I felt he was just very vulnerable and that he needs help with some of this stuff. He actually doesn't need that much help, but he made me feel that he is super welcoming. It's so funny, ever since I came onto the podcast, we were in ground zero. So we had to set up a lot of things up.
So I was texting Justin almost every single day. Every single day, like 50 plus text messages. I wasn't even thinking about it, but a week later I was like, "Yo, am I texting the co-founder of Twitch 50 plus messages every single day? Who else in the world does that? Should I be paying money for this?" It's just crazy. Sometimes he would just call me, FaceTime me out of nowhere and I was super stoked whenever that happened. But then it got to a point where I was like, yeah, he wasn't faking any of this stuff and he wasn't trying to do me a favor or anything as well. We were just two people who were trying to build something great and trying to make something happen, and in that process, get to know each other better. Get to know each other's goals better, all of our problems in a way as well. It's literally like a co-founder relationship. I mean, it's one of the best I've ever had. I think when we built up that trust, we would set up weekly sync calls.
But then when he would get busy and we wouldn't talk for a while, and I wouldn't feel anything. I wouldn't be like, "Okay, I don't know, we haven't got a contract down or something. Should I be worried about being dropped from all of this? Should I find another job as a backup?" I never worried about any of that, because the trust was so strong and I knew that fundamentally we care about each other as a person. I cannot stress about how important it is or what kind of skills you have to get to build that kind of bond with someone who's 10, 20 years younger than you. Justin is at an age where he could probably be my dad. I think just being able to forge that kind of connection with someone who's Gen Z ... A lot of times we argue a lot. There are things that I wanted to do that he doesn't agree with. There are things that he ... When I proposed something, he would poke holes in my ideas. If I was the me two, three years ago, I would get very offended or I might suffer.
I might be defensive. With all of these, with that fundamental piece of trust that's in place, a lot of this stuff becomes productive. When it's productive, it feels good. Even if our ideas sort of conflict and even if we argue, even if we do all of that, like I said, it's just really healthy. I can see that his ability to do that obviously it came through lots of trial and error and he's had his fair share of success and let's say failures in his professional career. But I think that ability to connect with people is what made Justin Kan very special and one of the best mentor/co-founders/celebrities I've got to know.
Jeremy Au: [00:44:00] That's amazing. It's interesting because you really see the evolution of your relationship from stranger, to spamming, to kind of building out together, to storming the norms and where you are today. Obviously the journey is only just getting started. I think you said something really special, which was you're kind of implying it, it's like, you're young, but you're not inexperienced. You just experienced in a different way. Does it make sense? You're younger, but you're not young. I mean, you're not in diapers or anything. You're younger, but that's a strength of its own. Because there's energy to get stuff done, openness. Media is getting consumed by Gen Z, even though we're not Gen Z, but things are moving fast. We've got to be aware of the mediums moving fast. I think a lot of people self-disqualify themselves as founders or co-founders and they're like, "I can't do this or that because I'm too young."
I'm like, well, it's less about whether you're too young. It's really about how your experience has brought you to it. If you're young and you're experienced enough to tackle the problem, maybe because some people are like, "Yeah, my family used to do business in agriculture and so I know all about agriculture." I'm like, "Yeah, you know more about agriculture than someone 10 years your senior." Heck, I could be 20 years your senior and you probably know more about agriculture than I do. Because I've done zero work and I just consume vegetables. It doesn't mean I know anything about vegetables, but you grew up living, breathing on a farm, on a plantation. I like what you said, I think you kind of started sharing a little bit about the strengths you bring to the team on the conversations you have. For me, I guess the question I have is just like, how do you stay on top of all this stuff? How do you learn? Because like it or not, even though this is not necessarily a startup startup, it's still, I think ...
I definitely feel each company you're doing is again, slightly related each other in terms of the individual skills, but totally different in terms of industry, in legal, MOOC, hiring, and now podcasts. That's really four different industries from a pen and paper approach. The only constant is yourself and so you're learning fast and everything. In what ways are you learning fast and in what ways do you feel like you're learning slow or need to improve?
Brent Liang: [00:46:22] I think I tend to learn very fast when I feel like I'm out of my depth, which is scary. That's something I'm actually trying to optimize and improve on. Because I think when you do something driven by fear, it might work very well, but it's not very sustainable. But if I look at all of the stuff that's happened in the past, when I felt like I was out of my depth and something needs to get done, and there's no one else that I can put onto that task where I need to own it, then I would learn crazily fast. For example, when I got put on to Justin's project, one of the first things that I had to do was, how do we 10 times our listeners in a month? I wanted to prove myself to him that we can do it in a month or two. But the only experience that I've ever had, my experience is primarily with building companies. I think I know a tiny bit about what that would involve.
But when it comes to building podcasts or following through any sort of media projects, like I said, the only thing that I've done was back in first year of law school when I made that mini podcasts and that wasn't very impressive. I didn't really follow through. But I felt like I was out of my depth and I was like, "I signed up for a job as a producer, but I don't know what the hell this job actually even requires and I don't know if I'm qualified." That's a very tough feeling to have, because I've kind of landed one of the best jobs in the world and I wasn't sure if I lived up to it. With that, it just stuck in my chest every single day, I would just consume articles, consume podcasts, consume all of the growth hack whatever medium articles out there, every single day. I tried to pass myself off to him, which I eventually realized wasn't the right way to do it, but I passed myself off to him as like I know what I'm doing.
I was like, "Let's try this. If it doesn't work, let's try it one more time." That made me learn very fast, but something that I've gotten, I think a lot better at right now, when it comes to those learnings is, being very transparent about what kind of help you need to learn in an industry. For example, I know at the moment I'm trying to get better at understanding new media. I sound like a boomer saying this, but I would understand, let's say how Twitter works or how LinkedIn and all of that platforms work because I was using those platforms since I was 18. But when it comes to TikTok and YouTube, those are the things that are quite new. For someone like me, I don't even feel like I've got a full understanding of it. I would try to get better at that stuff, but I wouldn't try to pretend like I'm an expert and then try to puddle crazily to get to that level. Like fake it until you make it. I don't think that's a very healthy way.
What I would instead do is figure out who in my friend circle is great with that stuff and just DM them and say, "I need help with this. I'm trying to get better at this. Can I learn from you? Can we get onto a call where you can tell me at the very least where I should be looking for learning resources and materials?" That's one of the things that I've been trying to do with OnDeck fellows, connecting and learning from each others strengths. I guess it ties back into being vulnerable with what you want as well. That just goes such a long way towards learning because we hack things. Yes, you might be able to learn very fast, but if you're set on the wrong direction, you actually learn a bunch of stuff that's not as useful that you have to later ... Almost later, they become legacy stuff. You're consuming a lot of get rich quick kind of tutorials, which might work in a moment but ultimately it doesn't really help you learn anything real.
If you're able to get an industry expert to point you in the right direction and if you're able to quickly sort through the materials, you can consume all of this stuff that's going to help you to get to the next checkpoint. That's a much more solid growth curve. If you talk to enough people, you can basically achieve the same level of growth without having to hack the whole process. I think that for me, has been a really great discovery. The conversations that I would have with Justin or anyone in the team right now would be like, "Okay, let's do this. I'm actually not an expert on how to do it, but here's how I'm going to be learning. I would appreciate it if you guys can point me in this direction or that direction." That's sort of the conversation that we try to have for everyone. Our writer might be asking in a conversation about how to monetize a Substack newsletter. Our designer might be asking that question to see how we can drive let's say impressions for native clips on TikTok.
Our production guy might be asking how we can do that for the best tech stack for recording the podcast. Everyone is vulnerable and asking for help, but then we all know what each other is working on. Then that becomes a much more symbiotic relationship, I think, among the whole team. I think that's better than just hacking things and making sure that people see me as someone who's capable, whereas everyone's super stressed beneath the surface.
Jeremy Au: [00:50:55] Yeah. That's so true. It's a tough skill to learn to be honest. I mean, I think I, myself, I'm still learning that right now. Because everybody tells you that you're an expert on A or B or C and because you've achieved X or Y. It's like so many people are like, "You understand business because you went to Harvard Business School." I'm like, "What are you talking about? There's plenty of companies that have been totally screwed over by Harvard MBAs." Yes, all the top, big tech companies now are being run by MBAs now, but it's still a different thing. I think it's tough to be vulnerable while still working to share your expertise and be a leader because that's a tough Venn diagram to be part of. Be an expert, be a leader and be vulnerable. Then to be in the middle is probably the sweet spot where everybody loves you or everybody respects you and understands how to work with you. It's a moving target, like that spot is different this week and that spot is different next week.
Brent Liang: [00:51:55] One of the things that I've found was I think more effective leaders that I've seen are folks who wouldn't really necessarily proclaim themselves as leaders. But if you asked anyone else in the team, their presence is so huge and it's so felt across the team. I remember when I was building my first startup, I cared very much about being a CEO and being on papers. If there's any press being done about our setup, I want to be on that page, in the picture because I felt like that was validation for all of my hard work, which was deserved. When we had a team, I would be very forceful in terms of exerting my leadership presence on the whole team. I would be like, "Let's set up weekly sync calls. Here's how I'm going to delegate. You're in charge of this, you're in charge of this and you report to me." All that. It was in retrospect, a lot of the things like carving up roles and responsibilities are the right things to do.
You can't function without setting up those expectations, but you can communicate all of that stuff in a much better way. I think leadership is 50% about communication. The other 50% is probably ... Not even ... No, maybe I think it's like 80% communication, to be honest. I think it's just about how you talk about stuff and how you communicate with each person on the team. Throughout the whole journey, going through startups and I think working with Justin Kan as well, it's like, I've learned to be ... Still, now, I don't consider myself to be a leader. I consider my role to be ... You know that guy that unclogs the toilets, that's how I consider myself to be. Whenever someone, if someone is put in charge of design or production and one day they can't do their work, they would have to ... There's stuff that's stuck in a toilet. What my job is, is I would just come in and just make sure that that whole channel is done, it's unstuck. I got to clean all of that stuff away so the whole thing is flowing.
Then whoever is doing that job can just manage the whole thing themselves. That's literally what I think of myself. It's a funny skill set that you have to learn. It's like problem solving. It's not like leadership per se. But I think that's what I'm trying to get a lot better at. Also a lot better at communicating what needs to be done and what we all want to get too as a team. Those kinds of skillsets, I think help me actually build much stronger teams without having to be at the forefront. If I disappear for a month, hopefully like a year, I feel like for my third startup or even for this current project, we've got such a great team that if that happens, nothing would change. I think if that's the sort of feeling that you get as a leader, it's very gratifying. When you rule as a leader, a very forceful leader, ultimately it sucks your life away and you can never detach yourself from the company. It's very scary.
Whereas if you are sort of more into transformational leadership, where you're building people to be the future leaders of whatever they're good at, eventually it's almost like you're hitting early retirement. I just feel like it's a much better way to make sure things gets done and people are actually excited about what they're doing.
Jeremy Au: [00:54:50] Well, I love all you saying. I just got to push back on you here a little bit. I mean, you are a plumber where you're solving problems. I think you're selling yourself short a little bit here based on what we just discussed and what I know about you. There's at least two more identities I see you as I want to say out there. I mean, I think the first identity I see you is that you're definitely an explorer because you're doing moonshots, you're going to new geographies, you're going to new verticals. At minimum, on top of being a plumber, you're also an explorer and you're just finding out new things, learning when things are uncertain. That's one. The second thing I see, I think is really interesting is, I think you have a very strong editor view. I don't know if you want to call it editorial. I think obviously most people think of editors as these big, nasty, evil people who remove the voice of the artists, et cetera.
But I think the best editors are well beloved by authors and publishers, because it's a thought partner. It's a partnership. It's about figuring out the essence and writing the essence of that. I can definitely hear that editorial tone where you're able to summarize in many ways your own experience, but also the experience of the people that you've met along the way. I think you boiled down your first co-founder pretty well, actually. Then you boiled down your second co-founder actually pretty well as well. Also Justin as well, I think you actually captured the essence of Justin much more. Because if you asked me to describe Justin, I'll give you a bunch of anecdotes, but I wouldn't be giving you the essence of who he is as a person. I think you did a much better job in five minutes than I would have over a one hour dinner. I think you're more than the plumber, I think you're also an editor and a explorer.
Brent Liang: [00:56:37] I appreciate it. I told myself after I failed in my first startup, I was like, "Communication is going to be one of my growth trajectories for the next five or 10 years." I want to be ... I watched one of the videos where Michael Seibel was speaking for YC, and that was actually my first time learning some of those YC stuff. He was such a great communicator. I was like, "I just want to speak like him." Honestly, when he says things, it's so succinct and it's so effective and he just doesn't waste any words on things. Later, I actually found out he was great, but all of the experienced startup founders are great in terms of communicating their business idea, their thesis, how the team is functioning, what kind of help they need. I think it's like a product of intentionally trying to work on this craft. I knew that I had to get there eventually one day or the other and that better to start early than late.
I think communication and well, being better at editing some of your stuff and being able to communicate things in a much more succinct way that get some of those ideas across, especially what about people, that's 100% of where me, myself, I try to grow in. I think getting back to your earlier point, I still think primarily the work that's being done for the podcast for everything else has been cranked out by people on my team. I think we've got really great editors. We've got really great designers on the team. What I think I might add qualify a bit to my earlier statement is, the majority of my job is plumbing, I'm unblocking them. But when there are new initiatives that needs to be taken, typically what happens is, everyone is so caught up in doing their work that you have to be the person who's let's say two steps ahead. For me, when everyone is ... If we moved on to let's say YouTube, we would spend a couple of weeks ... I mean, actually not that much time.
We would spend a couple of days to get our cover art stuff right and then we'd have the thumbnail set up. Before we ever launch, I'm already looking for the next thing. I'm thinking, "Okay, once this is done, what's going to be next." I would be looking into, let's say TikTok or some kind of growth hacks let's say integrated with some kind of newsletter or do we need partnerships? When everyone is trying to make that one thing to go well, I would start testing out this other channel. Then once ... It's quite scary when you put yourself in that position. Because when I go into this new channel, this new experiment, I have no support. I have to figure out what needs to happen. I have to figure out who we should talk to. What kind of emails should be sent? All of that. I think there's some sort of kind of skill set that I need to master in order to, first of all, spot where those opportunities are.
Then second, follow through on some of the earlier things that you can do, like build a basic framework of how things might work. Then once things start to work, once you have more people who you can dedicate, then it's like, "Okay, how do I onboard someone so they're able to do all of this stuff 10 times better than I can and basically not running into any troubles every day?" I feel like one of my jobs is, yes, I'm a plumber, but I'm almost popping between different pipelines. If that makes sense. It's figuring out what the new pipeline is, popping over and then try to explore for a bit. Get it working, put someone on it, and then go somewhere else. But if I stay in one place for too long, I feel like ... I would love to. Some of the stuff I actually like doing. Like community building, I love it. But if I stay in one place too long, that's doing a disservice to the whole team because my role is to not be stuck in one place for too long.
If I do that, we lose out on opportunities and experiments that we can run. But I think that's one of my learnings, I guess, as someone who's building teams. Using that plumber analogy is, yourself can get stuck in that place as well but you just got to keep moving around.
Jeremy Au: [01:00:14] Yeah. I mean, I think the plumber is the base. I'm just saying, you've got the explorer and that huge editor point of view. Double click on something here. You mentioned this earlier. How old are you?
Brent Liang: [01:00:23] 23.
Jeremy Au: [01:00:23] Okay. When was your first startup? The one that failed. When you first founded it, how old were you?
Brent Liang: [01:00:30] I think 18.
Jeremy Au: [01:00:31] 18. It's been effectively been what, five years?
Brent Liang: [01:00:37] Five years, yep.
Jeremy Au: [01:00:38] Five years. If you've managed to get from there from 18 to 23, can you imagine where you're going to be between 23 to 28? I know it's hard to think, but from the point of the listeners, I'm just pointing out these are ... I think you're speaking with the sophistication maturity of someone in their late 20s, even their early 30s, about how they see their role, about what things are there. I think there's a lot of exciting trajectory that you're going to have. I don't know if you see yourself, but as someone who is over the hill, headed towards the pastures as a 33 year old person, I see it. By comparison, I can tell you, by the age of 23, I had crashed off high school pretty much because my girlfriend passed away and so I was grieving. I was in the military for two years.
I joined undergrad when I was 21 and I graduated from university when I was 23. I was just entering, I guess my second job, I guess. You can tell that military is the first job. I don't think that you could have asked me to articulate a leadership philosophy. I mean, this is not a race or a competition to see who's wiser more mature at what age, but I just want to point out that.
Brent Liang: [01:01:52] I'm sure there's tons of stuff that I need to learn. I have no idea how leaders were able to ... If you think about some of those other companies, when you're running 150, 160 people across the board, or if you have to balance up iterations from ... Let's say we had this interview with Emmett Shear the other week that we launched. Being able to manage a company like Twitch and manage, not just your employees, but expectation from the communities and stuff and your investors, that's a job that I think would be super hard. The same thing with politicians managing your electorate, managing people who are voting for you, who had expectations for you. I think those are much ... There are much greater leadership lessons out there. For me, I'm basically working with a group of friends that I like and we just make some clips here and there. There's not too much of a leadership philosophy that's involved.
I think five, 10 years later down, I wouldn't be at a level where I'm a complete, ever. It's just more about, how do I get to those places where I'm able to see and possibly learn from doing some of those more leadership oriented stuff. If you think about companies like Coca-Cola and then having offices around the world and being able to coordinate those kinds of activities from an HQ, that's some amazing skills involved. I don't even think that's something that you can learn from an MBA. It has to come from failures and repeated practice.
Jeremy Au: [01:03:19] Yeah. I mean, as a friend, I would say, I think you put Coca-Cola on a pedestal. I mean, Coca-Cola was ... I think the biggest thing ... My favorite class when I was at Harvard MBA was I took a class in entrepreneurial history. I love history and I watch Extra Credits and all this history stuff, I read Wikipedia at night. I think I took this class entrepreneurial history. I think the part that was really interesting to me was just how every company was founded. Coca-Cola is a big conglomerate now and so as a fallback, it was founded by a founder and there were earlier employees that made it who it is today. Mitsubishi, the logo, he was a disgraced samurai whose house was on the rocks. He had to figure out a new route in a new Japan, modernizing Japan and he made it into Mitsubishi. Chanel was a person, a personality and someone who partied and she converted her name into a brand and a company ...
I don't know. I feel the movie, I think we fast forward to the ending too quick little bit. I think it kind of goes back to the first thing you ever said, which is the problems of the companies that have tough times are a reflection of the founder and the founding team. I'm pretty sure, I mean, as when this continues growing bigger and bigger, I think it's going to succeed and then people will be like, "How do you manage it?" You're just going to be like, "I just built it around the way I like to work." It's not just a shadow, but the upside is also going to be.
Brent Liang: [01:04:50] Yeah. Well, that's the dream.
Jeremy Au: [01:04:51] I think in the next five years you're going to build this out to something that's amazing and it's going to be built around the way that you like to build it. That's all. Everyone's going to be like, "Well, it's really difficult to lead this way." You're like, "No, this is the way I like to lead."
Brent Liang: [01:05:06] Let's hope that happens. I'm trying to work hard every day to be as deserving of that dream, I think.
Jeremy Au: [01:05:11] Yeah. I think, well, coming on time here, just coming to the last question here is just, there's a ton of struggling founders out there. I just recently met one and she was kind of having some tough times. But I feel like every day I meet another struggling founder reach us out. I mean, obviously it's one part technical kind of just, how do I solve X? Then one part is psychology, which is like, how do I do with this? It's like, this is not how to do this, and how do I do this? When you were in your first startup struggling, you're thinking about closing down, you're it's on the cards, and if you could travel back in a time machine, back to that person, I'm just kind of curious I guess what would you say? Where would you take the person? What would you show?
Brent Liang: [01:06:00] Yeah. Well, jeez, that's a good question. In terms of things that I could do differently, I wish I closed it up earlier. I think I was way too attached to that founder's mentality of I have to see something through. I thought if I quit halfway, it means I wasn't dedicated enough as a founder and I wouldn't be able to achieve anything longterm in my life. That was wrong and I shouldn't do that. When the product wasn't working and we knew our conversations with customers was getting increasingly difficult, that's a really good sign that things won't be working out. I think I should have trusted my gut's feeling earlier to pull the cards out quicker and then move on to another thing quicker as well. But I think in terms of personal advice that I would give to myself back then, it would be, you don't have to reply to every email within five to 10 minutes after getting that, because people can see that you've seen it. Well, hopefully ... Now they can with Superhuman and stuff, but back then, I don't think they can.
I was worried. I was worried because I feel like, and this is something that people talk about a lot, but everything that fails on behalf of a startup is almost a personal failure. It's almost like you'd failed a test or something. If there's a conversation with this guy and I sent a bunch of emails and this guy didn't reply, I felt like I failed at something. I felt like there's something that I'm not good at and it's a reflection of me. It's like an indictment of my character almost. I think that was the motivator behind a lot of the things that I've done, which put me in a place where I was catching my breath. I would have anxiety and panic attacks. I think that was the driving force behind all of it. It was this inability to separate myself away from the startup and having a consumer life in that fashion. I would say ... I don't know how you can do that.
Probably what I found useful for me is meditation and forcefully pulling myself away from work multiple times during the day. I would reply to a bunch of emails, but just before my head started spinning, I would just go take a shower, or take a walk. I'll try to getting a bit of physical exercise, sweat time every day. Those things they would help ground you back into reality and it helps you to see your day is going well irrespective of whatever you need to deal with on the business side. I would first of all say that. Second, I think it's really important that you have a bunch of friends who you're able to chat to or to talk about ... That could be your parents if you're lucky. Having that support network where you had a terrible week, and then you can go to someone's house, crash, eat some food, chill out, come back and take on another week. That's very useful. I didn't have that back in second year.
I actually did the reverse. Because of the startup, I'd walk myself off from all of my friends because I thought, whenever I meet them they'll be asking you how is the startup going. And I don't want to answer that question. I don't even want to meet them. I would think I just got to hustle more and so I was very isolated. I think when you're isolated, you become a lot more fragile and brittle. If something shakes your foundation, you're just broken. I think it's important to have a few of those friends at the very least, preferably founders who's able to support you through that process. That's very important. I think third, I was way too caught up in executing things. If I need to get something done, I'd just get it done without thinking about why. What I could have done is learning a lot more. I could have watched a lot of YC videos a lot earlier, got to know what growth actually is. I could have gotten around to no-code platforms.
But I never really had the time to learn things because I felt this urgency to just get things done. If I need to send out 10 emails tomorrow, I'm like, "Okay. I need to wake up at 8:00. I've got to budget at this time." I wasn't even thinking about what's the best way to mass send emails. Maybe there's a tool that helps me do that. I think founders sometimes get caught up in this really terrible execution loop where they're always optimizing time to get things done. It's like ... My second co-founder actually taught me a lot about that. She would be like, "Why are we doing this?" It's only when we have a compelling reason, then we can be like, "Okay, let's figure out how we can get this done as soon as we can." But otherwise, you don't have to do a lot of stuff that you do. I think when startups are working really well, and that's something that you typically found out later on with some of the most successful founders, they just do one or two things and that's it.
They don't concern themselves with getting everywhere. Marketing, no, no marketing. Everything is talking to customers. Before you even get to the product, you don't even have to build anything, you don't even have the code. Just talk to customers, spend your time on the phone, that's it. Once you hit product-market fit, it's like code and growth hack. Try to find channels in which you can have the sustainable engine of growth. It's dropping everything else. Don't talk to VCs. Don't do marketing. Don't worry about competition. Don't go out for founder catch ups. Let's just do that. I think once you get to that place where you're able to crystallize all of your things into one bucket, things become a lot easier and it gets rid of a lot of the mental baggage that founders typically have. That's what I think worked really well for me. When things are going well, I'm doing a much less, but I feel a lot happier and I felt like I was seeing the direction for it.
Jeremy Au: [01:11:10] Yeah. Obviously you're talking a lot about the what of what you'd tell your 18 year old self. Like what to do, what to respond if ... I'm just kind of curious, how would you have talked to your younger self? What would have been the tone? I mean, you know yourself as a recipient, you know yourself now how you get feedback. Would you be more direct? Would you be more kind? Would you be more Socratic? Would you do it over some beer? Would you just bring some-
Brent Liang: [01:11:41] I don't drink beer. I'll probably do it over some tea, I think.
Jeremy Au: [01:11:43] Do it over some tea. How would you have delivered that feedback in a way you think would have been received well?
Brent Liang: [01:11:50] I would be very gentle. I think that's the mistake people typically make with talking to some of the Gen Z folks. All of the Gen Z founders I've met are extremely amazing. They're fascinating, and I cannot wait until five, 10 years later, what kind of stuff they can actually build? What people tend to not realize is, for the current generation of Gen Z, they grew up with a lot of chips on their shoulders. Even with social media, if I'm a girl, I have to compete with someone like Charlie where I don't even know where she's from. But her pictures, her TikTok videos are constantly showing up on my screen. There's a lot of competition, there's a lot of fragility, that's built into the fabrics of our Gen Z society. Because of that, I think one of the actual result you can see mental health going up, problems going up a lot. The dynamics tend to be a big issue when it comes to for the family with a Gen Z kid.
When it comes to giving feedback, I think you got to take in too some of the stuff into account. The typical boomer way of saying, "Okay, this is just what it is. Take it or leave it." It's direct feedback and it's just how we do things around here and don't take it personal. That stuff doesn't work. It's good intention, but it's executed poorly. Direct feedback is still very important. I give direct feedback to every single person who's in a team. When things don't work out, I talk to them. But there has to be some art in how you're delivering that, especially with someone who's young, like 18 let's say right now. But what I would do, is I would frame it in a way where I would explain the motivations of where this is coming from. I would talk about how I felt. For example, let's say, if you're a designer on a team and you're 18, or if you're a founder where your company's is failing or whatever and I'm an investor.
I would say like, "When you did this, I noticed myself feeling this way." Instead of saying, "I'm this, because you've done that." I think being able to pull yourself away from those observations, just give a very clear description of what's happening to you through you. Telling that to someone who's young and literally giving them a ton of options to improve, to change, or even give them places to go to get help or whatever, all of that, I would ... If I'm having someone who's failing at a designer job, I'll be like, "I can refer you to go to OnDeck to take a designer fellowship. Let me know if you want to ... I can try to find you sponsors, whatever." That's something that would get those people hyped. They would want to grow because that's the first thing that got them in to startups and whatever in the first place. I think it's, remove yourself away from the equation, communicating stuff in a much more gentle way, and also just relentlessly outline personal growth, next steps.
Whatever you can do to help that person succeed, that I think reciprocates when it comes across in a very authentic way when you communicate to a Gen Z audience.
Jeremy Au: [01:14:48] Wow. That's amazing and, wow, I never thought about it that way. I think you're right, social media it makes everyone fragile because there's so much competition. Then plus you're 18. I think that's something I do have to reflect on as well. Yeah.
Brent Liang: [01:15:03] That's actually one of the common criticisms about Gen Z people, Gen Z folks, is they're very easy to be triggered. I mean, I wouldn't want to say it's kind of true, but they are easily triggered. But you have to understand why. Why are we so fragile? Maybe for me, I'm easy to be triggered as well. Why is that the case? Because we've been consuming ... It's information overload from day one. We grew up with cell phones and we're constantly competing with people. I got my LinkedIn set up when I was 14 and I've been keep updating that ever since. Imagine being able to compete on likes and whatever you need to get on those kinds of platforms as you are 14? That's just a lot of pressure that build for you.
I used to have anxiety issues as well and I think I can relate to a lot of the things that's people are currently processing through. Tough feedback given in that really top-down fashion, expecting someone to not take it personal, it's just not the way to go forward with this Gen Z audience, 100%.
Jeremy Au: [01:16:03] That was really helpful. Well, I think that's pretty much on time. I just want to say for those who want to carry on the conversation, you can go to jeremyau.com. There's a club to discuss this episode. But I want to recap, I think to me, I think the three most important parts I think from this conversation. I think for me, that really resonated for me number one was not about the failures or the success even, but I think it was your rate of personal learning. What you took away from each time and being very intentional about it, was really what stood out for me. That's one. The second thing that stood out for me was you doing moonshots and meeting demigods. I think it's a fun story, but it's also a nice way to think about it. Because I think at best people are trying to get an A or improve 5% every week.
I think I like what you said about moonshots as a very different approach. I think the third thing I like what you said was, I think you often talk not just what you do, but also how you would do it. Not about fixing problems, but your approach as a plumber and of course my contention, as well as explorer and editor. But you talked about your feedback about how you would help yourself as a first time founder, as a young one, versus how you'd approach it. I think that's something that so many people think about is, they're not thinking about how they give feedback, they're thinking about what feedback to give. But how is way more important than the what. I always tell people, it's like, "No one cares what words came out of your mouth during the feedback. It's either positive or negative. But how you deliver it is 99% of what they're going to remember." Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It was a pleasure to have you here.
Brent Liang: [01:17:48] I appreciate it, Jeremy. I really appreciate it.