"If you're a successful thought leader, you're one who has a community around the things that you're trying to talk about.You start to build an audience of people who are waiting to hear what you have to say at a certain time during the day. You have people engaging, you have people agreeing, disagreeing, providing more context, providing more nuance. And you're starting to build a community." - Frederick Daso
Frederick Daso is a LinkedIn Top Voice and has written 100 startup profiles for Forbes.com. He has profiled startups ranging across enterprise tech, eSports, Fintech, HRTech and EdTech. These startups are backed by renowned VCs such as Y-Combinator, 500 Startups, Accel and Craft Ventures. He has over 350,000 followers on LinkedIn and his LinkedIn newsletter, The Startup Conversation, has over 100,000 subscribers.
Frederick is a full-time aerospace engineer at Boeing in the Engineering Career Foundation Program. He was previously a Venture Fellow at Rough Draft Ventures, General Catalyst’s student-led team funding student entrepreneurs in tech, and Castor Ventures, a smart, simple fund for MIT alumni to add venture capital to their portfolio, while investing in MIT-alumni led companies.
Frederick Daso has completed his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Aerospace Engineering from MIT and has been admitted into Harvard Business School's 2+2 program. In his spare time, he can be found playing video games and spending time with his family. You can follow him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/frederickdaso/ and connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frederick Daso: [00:02:11] Great to be here, Jeremy. How are you doing?
Jeremy Au: [00:02:14] It's an awesome day. And so excited to share your story, because your story is such an interesting one around thought leadership and technology trends that so many people don't have an opportunity to be part of the epicenter of it.
Frederick Daso: [00:02:30] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. I mean, thank you for having me. Of course, I love to talk about these things. So, feel free to ask me anything, I'm here to answer.
Jeremy Au: [00:02:38] You've done an incredible job, just profiling so many great founders and publishing trends and thought leadership on multiple international publications. So, who's the man behind the writing? Tell us more about that. What's your journey?
Frederick Daso: [00:02:57] So little bit about me. I was born in Virginia, in the United States. Lived there for about a year. Then my family moved out to California where my dad was working in aerospace. We lived in Southern California for around four to five years. And then my dad started working for the government, still with aerospace, that's what brought us to Alabama. Where I've been more or less living ever since for the past 19 to 20 years.
Growing up there, it was fantastic, really small town, but still international, in a sense, because you have people from all over the world coming to work in aerospace. You have the brightest minds coming together in hot and humid Huntsville, Alabama. And it was a really great time to grow up. the middle child of three siblings, older brother, younger sister. We all did well. I went into STEM and went to MIT to get my bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering. And while I was there, I did five internships with the Boeing company across its major business unit. So, commercial airplanes, defense space and security, and research and technology. Global services, which is now the third major business unit, wasn't around at the time.
So, while I was there, also at MIT, I fell in love with writing. Writing is a way for me to express myself in ways where I can't in conversations. But not like this one because we're going to get into a bunch of stuff. Yeah, it was just a really great way to express myself. And going from writing about my time at MIT, as an undergrad and grad student, to writing on LinkedIn as a campus editor and talking about tech and education, I was able to use my voice and the things I cared about to get an opportunity to write for Forbes. Where I'm now a contributor there, covering early stage technology companies.
I've written over a hundred stories. I published my 100th one this month. It was a great story. And more importantly, it's been just a fantastic experience opening my eyes up to the world of tech and venture in general. And talking with founders, people my age, such as yourself, who are going off, taking a risk, making great technologies to make a positive difference in the world. It's been fantastic and I'm glad to share my story on here. And get more into the guy who writes all of these stories.
Jeremy Au: [00:05:05] Thanks for sharing the story of the author. How did you personally get started in thought leadership?
Frederick Daso: [00:05:13] It was not a direct journey. It was more a byproduct of just continuously posting content on LinkedIn. So, if you're looking for a chronological origin, I would say around 2016 as you know LinkedIn really started to take off for me. My articles are getting a lot more visibility. I started transitioning into daily posts, where I would talk about anything in tech or at least the topics that I cared about, and I would just provide hot take. I look at an article, gather an opinion, and then post it on there. And some were well received, and some weren't. Some were controversial and we can get this out later.
But I realized that I was becoming a thought leader in the sense that, and again, this isn't something that I went after with a conscious intent, it was just a byproduct. You start to build an audience of people who are waiting to hear what you have to say at a certain time during the day. Right? And you have people engaging. You have people agreeing, disagreeing, providing more context, providing more nuance. And you're starting to build a community. if you're a successful thought leader, you're one who has a community around the things that you're trying to talk about. I think that's a byproduct of good writing, good communication. Really, at the most base level, of a distinct and differentiated mind.
Jeremy Au: [00:06:28] It's so true. What were one of your early articles that really kind of kicked things off for you?
Frederick Daso: [00:06:35] I have to say it was my Hulk Hogan story. The title of the story was really, Peter Thiel versus Gawker. Right? Whose side are you on? It's not the actual title, just paraphrasing. Essentially it centered around Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker. Quick background. Basically, Gawker ended up publishing a post on Hulk Hogan that it contained the sex tape with him having sex with another man's woman, right? And that happened to appear in print. He wasn't happy about it. He decided to file a lawsuit. Hogan ultimately ends up winning the lawsuit. But it's revealed, at the end of the trial or right after it concludes, that Peter Thiel was bankrolling it. Why? Part of the reason why, I'm not 100% conclusive on this, A decade prior to the lawsuit, the Hulk Hogan lawsuit. Before Gawker was Gawker, it was known as Valleywag. And the publication put out an article on Peter Thiel, a prominent person, fair game. Right? But they outed him as being gay in this particular article.
And so that clearly provides motive for Thiel to bankroll Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker. Right? And so people were afraid that, wow, this is creating a legal precedent for people, as wealthy as Thiel, to now be able to silence the the free press. I said, "No. That's actually not what's happening. It's just the courts are going through their normal due process for the individuals involved. And it just so happens that a wealthy individual is backing a slightly less wealthy individual."
It had the effect of Gawker going bankrupt. That doesn't mean that every case where a wealthy individual versus a free press, the free press is losing. And I think people were being hysterical about it. I got a lot of backlash. A lot of controversy. Because journalists, in some sense, didn't agree with my opinion. Or people who were a fan of press and didn't agree with my opinion. And that's fine. It didn't devolve into anything serious or life threatening. It was just the sense that like, I really struck a nerve here. Because I'm talking about things in a different way that people didn't consider.
And so admittedly I had people agreeing with me as well. But the point here is that, my view expanded the discussion instead of reinforcing the already popular narratives that fuels, you're a bad guy or he's the hero versus or Gawker's the bad guy or they're the hero. It was a really valuable lesson in, don't be afraid of controversy. Right? Don't be afraid to speak your opinion. Just make sure that your intent is to provide another point of view versus being just outright provocative. And I think people tend to confuse the two a lot, in social media.
Jeremy Au: [00:09:05] So why is thought leadership so important in technology?
Frederick Daso: [00:09:09] Thought leadership is important for technology because if you have an influence in the thoughts being shared, you will ultimately have an influence, not only just the technology that is built because of that thought, but more importantly, why it's being built. It's incredibly important to make sure that your perspective is captured in that marketplace of ideas. Incredibly important.
One of the practical examples of this is really the debate around how Amazon is using customer data. One key example is their acquisition of Ring about a year and a half ago, for the order of a billion dollars. Ring, this consumer technology, that allows you to essentially have video on your front step and see who's coming in, who's coming out. And you can have a continuous surveillance feed to make sure that you and your family are safe. So that's kind of the first order of the technology, right?
The second order is now, what happens if everyone in your immediate locale, your neighborhood, has this technology? How's it going to be used? Say there's a crime happening in progress. Now, the police or the neighborhood watch association, or whatever authority, can come through, collect the evidence from these ring doorbells, door cams. And essentially figure out like, "Okay, this is what happened. This is where the assailants went." And you can make your community safer. Alright, that's a second order.
Now we look at the third order. What happens after this acquisition? How is Amazon going to use that data? Is it going to sell it to police departments? Is it going to sell it to private entities? What specific data is being sold and how much is this worth? Do the consumers, the people who are producing this data, do they have a claim? Are they entitled to some portion of that value for what it's being sold, right?
And it's important that you, if you're wanting to be a thought leader in the space, come up with a different perspective. So, when these technologies are inevitably built by some entrepreneur, your vision may or may not, or hopefully may influence them to build technologies that are better for the general populace as a whole.
Jeremy Au: [00:11:09] That's so true. I am a big reader of science fiction. And I often share that science fiction is a huge thought leader for so many founders. Because the technologies they envision, and show becomes reality. Because we're just following those conversations. We saw those transparent, thin displays in Minority Report. We saw the Tricorder for healing and diagnosing diseases at Star Trek. And people have those conversations all the time. They say, "That could be real one day." And it's interesting to see how those conversations are clear for the product sense in science fiction, but so much more so in the business side, as well in the public domain.
Frederick Daso: [00:11:51] Right. And to jump in with another example. I think of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and he essentially predicts or comes up with a very early manifestation of the internet. Where all these people are distributed online in remote areas, but they're all communicating with one another. That's essentially the modern internet today. I forget what he terms it. But it's essentially what we have as a modern internet today. No one could predict beyond the immediate advantages of communication that a lot of people are now making their living, off of the internet. Selling products, goods, services. And it's fantastic.
Jeremy Au: [00:12:26] On the personal side, what hurdles did you personally face? And how did you overcome them?
Frederick Daso: [00:12:32] I would say some have to do with my gender, my race, my ethnicity. So being a black male, people have certain preconceptions or stereotypes of you, even before you enter the room. It makes doing your work, whether you're working individually and trying to become a partner with someone or you're working in a group setting, it makes it hard to get your point across. Because people have already limited their perception of you. And by extension, what valid or legitimate points that you can have in a certain discussion.
It's really forced me to be more independent. To really focus more on developing my line of thinking and owning that line of thinking. I don't shy away from having opinions on anything, or very little subjects. And the way that it's act as a hindrance, it's actually giving me the drive to really try and be better. And not out of the sense of being rejected by these people, but more about, I wouldn't want to do that to anyone else.
And it's, so the consequence is really me being more open-minded, me trying to seek out opinions from people that I don't agree with whether a personally, professionally. For instance, blocking people on Twitter, I don't do that. I've never blocked a person on Twitter at least yet, unless you're being like completely rude or something, I'm not going to block you. You're not going to get the block. Because I realized that those people, they happen to be right. It would be foolish for me to discount their perspective just because they don't agree with them on things that in the larger sense, don't really matter.
Jeremy Au: [00:13:55] How do you feel that adversity has fueled your drive as a thought leader and in your professional achievements.
Frederick Daso: [00:14:02] As a thought leader in my professional achievements, adversity has really been a healthy source of wanting to do more, wanting to accomplish more. Right? I mean, part of it is people say you can't and then you go out and prove them wrong, but it's not necessarily about proving people wrong. It's about proving yourself, right? It's about you having an idea, you having a vision, you having a dream, and then turning that into reality. That's more satisfying than what any other person says about what I can or cannot do, because that's just the consequences of the dearth of their imagination. If I didn't face these challenges, I don't think I would have been as successful as I am professionally.
And there's this really good quote by ancient Roman poet. I think his name is Horace, where he essentially says, your talents essentially would go undiscovered, unless for adversity naturally bringing them out. That's a paraphrase, that's not the exact quote. I live by that quote. I am a testament to that quote, and I'm thankful for the challenges I've had to face, because they've made me not just a better professional, but a better human being.
Jeremy Au: [00:15:04] So good to hear your personal journey here. Who are your role models in real life?
Frederick Daso: [00:15:09] Yeah. My real role models have to start with the family. My mom, dad, brother, and sister, they've really encouraged me every step of the way. They never told me that there's something that I can accomplish or something I can't do. That's my unfair advantage. A huge part of the reason why I've been so successful is because I always have that constant source of unconditional support and love. Without that I wouldn't have gone nearly as far as I have at this age today.
Moving beyond my family, going to the professional side of things to engineers, I've worked with, especially the senior ones. They've taught me how to conduct myself professionally, how to communicate my points across and really just taught me how to get along with people in the workplace, because there's going to be some people that you'll never see eye to eye with, but at the end of the day, as long as you can set aside your differences and say, we've got to get this job done. And if you're able to do that, you're all good to go.
then the third group of people, man, it'd have to be my closest friends from MIT. Shout out to Tamba shout out to Andrew, shout out to Zach shout out to Feras . You four guys, I mean, and so many others, but really these four guys throughout undergrad and really through grad school, they helped me get through some tough times, the late night conversations over dinner and drinks, and then followed up by late night sessions of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, helped a fellow get through writing the thesis during research late at night 2:00, 3:00 AM.
Those conversations... we all refer to those times as the golden times because we knew that this was just a unique period in our lives where we're all going to be together. We're all just living and just having a good time. And I miss those days. I mean, sure I make more money now, actually being employed in the workforce. But when I was making roughly a third of what I make in grad school, I was having just as great at the time, if not greater, in some sense, because we were all together. So, never discount the value of friendship because it will be there when other things, other seemingly material things in life, won't be there.
Jeremy Au: [00:17:03] That's amazing. What support or resources are available for others considering a journey similar to yours?
Frederick Daso: [00:17:10] Yeah. Oh man. So just by nature of the journey that I'm taking, there's not a lot of formal institutional resources, so you can reach me at email@example.com. I'm happy to help, happy to answer questions. I try to always reach out to, or I try to always answer questions from like college students, people in high school because I'm trying to provide the guidance that I wish I had very early on where I've been more successful. I don't know, but that's not the point, right? It's just, if you have a dream and you don't see it manifested in a traditional career path, don't be afraid to go and take it. Just by the nature of you try to do some differently means that the institutions that you would hopefully rely on aren't there and the ones that currently exist, they may not neatly fit into what you're trying to do.
So, you have to be intelligent about how you use them, how you take risks and such like that. So, there's that from the institutional point, if you're fortunate enough to attend a four-year university within the United States, you've got to try and get involved in your tech, your venture, your entrepreneurial clubs, right? And get involved early. The more that you surround yourself with people who are doing their own thing, the more likely you're going to be able to do your own thing because you just see them being able to do it. Right? Which kind of gets into a mental point that I want to just make. There's a saying, "It's not what you know it's who you know." But I would add this. It's what you don't know that will hurt you, or really has the most material impact on your life.
So you should always be trying to figure out what you don't know, and then going out to learn it, whether it's from an institution, whether it's from a person, try and figure that out because, and this is less of a resource and more of like a mode of thinking, because you're going to find the things that you don't know are going to have the greatest effect on your life. Because there's going to be things that you could have been good at, because you didn't know, you never pursued them. For instance, I didn't know that I really liked VC and working at Rough Draft Ventures. And I didn't know that until my last year in grad school, if I had not taken the opportunity to send a cold email and reach out to the person running it and be like, hey, are you guys bringing on people for the next school year? I know that's a really long and winded answer. But if there's only one thing you take is trying to quickly figure out what you don't know and then go learn it.
Jeremy Au: [00:19:22] What are some misconceptions that you've encountered regarding thought leadership?
Frederick Daso: [00:19:27] I think the biggest one is the dominant focus on brand versus content. And I'm going to reframe it later as brand versus identity, but we're going to say content for now. A lot of thought leaders from what I noticed are so focused on how they're being perceived by their audience rather than what their audience is taking away from their content. It's more or less that they all just sound the same because they're all trying to be captivated. And they're all trying to be alluring, have charisma and stuff like that. That's the complete opposite of how I approach it. I approach it from a content perspective or really now to reframe it as a matter of identity. I focus on, whatever I create, it should reflect my identity. It should reflect who I am. If it's personal and it's professional, it should reflect what I think.
Because that's what people engage with. They engage with what you're thinking rather than the artifice that is your brand. And if you do it right, the branding takes care of itself. And I'll give you a concrete example. I get emails frequently from entrepreneurs, seasoned entrepreneurs and raised from top clients saying, hey, we've been contacted by The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, New York Times, but we want to work with you on Forbes with your column, because of the content that you produce.
So, it wasn't because of my brand, my brand brought them in, but it was the identity, the identity reflected in my content that kept them to stay. And they're willing to work with me on my own timeline because I have people reaching out to me every day. I work a full-time job. I can't write your story right away like a normal journalist would be able to because they get paid to. But that's another session. So, you know the sense that, because I focused on my identity, I focused on my thought and how I portrayed that thought in the stories I cover, you have people, really high-quality people wanting to work with you. And so, to bring it back to your question, don't focus on how you're being perceived, focused on how people are perceiving, what you're producing.
Jeremy Au: [00:21:21] For people who are looking to build out their identity, what would you recommend them to write or create content around?
Frederick Daso: [00:21:30] So I'll give you my perspective, but this might not work for everyone, right? It worked for me and that's all I can speak to. The general way I would go about this is, one, figure out what are you passionate about writing about and two, figure out from the audience perspective, what do they care? And you should write about the things that meet at that intersection. What you care about versus what they want to read. For me, when I was starting out on LinkedIn, I was just kind of spit balling. I was just trying to see what would stick. I wrote on a plenty of different topics. I started talking about my internships at bowling. I thought people would like to hear that, they didn't really care for it.
I started talking about tech, I started talking about what's going on Facebook, what's going on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, I started get some response. Started talking about what it's like being a student at MIT, what it's like being able to pursue a four-year degree, people were interested in that. So, I realized, those are the things I like talking about. And those were the people, things are interested in. Let me just go all in on that. And it worked out really well. So, you have to find the intersection between what you like to talk about and what people like to listen to. And if that intersection exists double down on it. And then start to talk about the things at that intersection that are not talked about. I think that's the one way that you stand out and you become a thought leader, not because it's like, that's the end goal, that's a byproduct, right? A lot of people confuse, thought leadership as the being the end goal versus a byproduct of someone who thinks.
Jeremy Au: [00:22:56] I love that. That's a great summary of that. And I'm definitely going to crib that for our future conversations. So, I'm just kind of curious, who are the thought leaders that inspire you?
Frederick Daso: [00:23:09] Thought leaders that inspire me. Ooh, man. That's a good question. So, I'm going to make an assumption and we'll keep this to like a professional lens here. I mean, he's more than a thought leader, but I would say Barack Obama, the way that he approaches topics and the way that he breaks down things into parables or lessons, and the way that he's able to communicate is incredibly attractive to me. And I think that's him as an orator is the thing, I value about him the most, so I would say that. I think in terms of tech, Ooh, that's a tough one because everyone has tech nowadays. I would say Harry Stebbings, all right? Yesterday, a TechCrunch article came out on him, raising his own like formal fund, micro VC fund, 20VC.
This guy started out in England, right? Interviewing VCs, beginning that with the big guest, Guy Kawasaki on Apple evangelists. And from there, he's able to build up a network in the US. I mean, look, dude's not even on the same continent. And now he's able to raise a formal fund and invest alongside some of the best funds ever to do it. Sequoia, Founders Fund, Accel, et cetera. Right? It's incredible, to be honest with you. He has such a unique and diverse perspective on VC that not a lot of people get at least from Twitter, right? So, he brings something new to the conversation. And I think that's really the end consequence of someone like him, right? Not him in particular, but if you're trying to do something new, you're going to be able to lock a lot of really cool opportunities that wouldn't have existed in the first place, had you gone down a traditional path. So, there's that.
So, yeah. I mean, he's definitely one of the people I pay attention to. And for sticking with tech Mike Moritz, Sequoia capital. His work at Time and leading to Sequoia was... I kind of see a parallel in my own writing for Forbes and becoming a VC at one point. I think the journalism, the VC route is really underrated. It's more common now, but I think the people who do it have a really unique perspective on tech that a lot of people from more traditional pathways in the VC, so we're talking management consulting, investment banking, product management, right? I talk a top tech firm or you're a founder yourself. They have a distinct perspective that I like to pay attention to.
Jeremy Au: [00:25:27] What is it about a journalist perspective that has that overlap and enrichment of the VC approach?
Frederick Daso: [00:25:36] I think journalism does, or the journalist perspective to use your words does a great job of capturing context that from a tech perspective, doesn't seem relevant, but really, really grounds the technology, grounds the founders and the ecosystem that they're trying to change. And I think that's important because you can start to capture a sense of like, why is this technology going to take off versus or why this founder's going to succeed versus other founders who are in the same space, but may not be doing the same exactly thing, why they succeed versus the other. So, I think in that perspective, journalism, journalists bring something different to the game than someone who came from an investment banker, someone who came from a top tier management consultancy firm.
Jeremy Au: [00:26:23] How do you process the information every day or every week? Is it Twitter? Do you wake up and check your email? Is it an RSS feed? What does that look like?
Frederick Daso: [00:26:33] A lot of it starts with email, but that's just really catching up on emails, I should have responded to maybe a couple days ago or weeks ago. To get more into your question, man, I just read, LinkedIn is a huge thing for me because I've been using it for so long. And so my feed kind of knows what I like to see. And so I'm reading the latest tech content there from the major publications, independent journalists like Ben Thompson and those two things, email LinkedIn feed and then of course, Twitter, I've been using Twitter a lot more. Not that I should, because I think, I guess this'll be my controversial take. I don't think the opinions I see on Twitter are high quality enough for me to pay attention to. And I'm sure I'm in the minority of that with a lot of people who are able to build their thought leadership through Twitter, it doesn't work for me. I'm generally not a fan of the platform, but I do realize that there's some certain things to pay attention to. And so that's why I use it.
Jeremy Au: [00:27:25] If we could flash follow a 100 years and someone was to Google Fred Daso, what would you like them to be on the front page of a Google or whatever places Google by them.
Frederick Daso: [00:27:42] This is going to be counterintuitive, but I would hope I'm known more for my personal works. I'm not talking like a traditional philanthropy, I'm thinking more on an individual level, not as a part of an institution or a formal like NGO organization, but more for my personal character rather than the things I've accomplished. Because, and I've accomplished a lot and I'm very proud of it, but I don't think accomplishment or rather achievement is really the end all be all of things, right?
I mean, I'd love to be known as a great engineer, a great writer, a great VC all at one point. And those things are important because the things that I like to do, whether they're professional, personally, I like to do well, but I think it says a lot about a person if they're known for their character, most of all. And there's very few people who are known for their character before their achievements. So, I think that's the mark of a true human being. And it kind of gets to an underlying topic of achievement versus exploration. But I'll leave that little seed there. If you want to ask questions or pursue it later on.
Jeremy Au: [00:28:46] I have to ask now, tell me more, what does it mean?
Frederick Daso: [00:28:50] Yeah. Achievement versus exploration. This is, yeah. We'll just say a concept I've been kind of thinking for a good amount of time now. So, I'm American. So, I'm talking from an American centric point of view. Achievement is the end all be all of our society, right? How fast can you rise within a certain hierarchy, right? Whether it's in school, college, your organization, your corporation, the rotary club, the places that you volunteer at to try and get some more of that prestige, that status, it's the end all be all, right? And does that make for a healthy society? Versus exploration where the people who weren't necessarily concerned with being the best in a certain order of things end up actually doing really, really, really well, right? Low hanging fruit, easy example would be entrepreneurs, right? They weren't concerned about getting the highest grade or getting into the best school. They were more concerned about following their curiosity and seeing where it led them.
And this is not for me to deem on anyone who follow the normal path. I mean, I did it, I'm doing it right now, but I've noticed that I'm getting a lot more now just exploring. And I've been able to do that with my writing. Writing has enabled me to explore. I want to make that very, very clear. By doing that I've been able to achieve so much more than I would have if I've just focused on being a good student of being a good engineer, right? Writing has enabled me to be even a better engineer, a better student, because I can think a lot better writing has improved my ability to think. And that wouldn't have happened if I didn't explore the habit of writing, the career or not career, but the profession of writing. So, to kind of resolve this, I mean, I've accomplished a lot. I would rather focus more on exploring more at this point in my life and seeing what aspects of my character has still yet to be refined or even discovered.
Jeremy Au: [00:30:45] Amazing Fred, what a pleasure to hear your story and your insights and your themes.
Frederick Daso: [00:30:52] Thank you, Jeremy. No, it really means a lot that you'd invite me on here just to blab about what's going in my life, the things I've done and really where I'm headed. Right? So, thank you for giving me this opportunity. And of course, thanks for asking fantastic questions. It's a good way to start off the Saturday morning. Let me tell you that.
Jeremy Au: [00:31:11] Awesome. we'll see you around.