Return to site

Q&A: Harvard Turtle, SE Asia Talent Crunch & Immigrant’s Dilemma

· Podcast Episodes,Question and Answers,Southeast Asia

Everyone's going to bring their own culture, education, background, experience, leadership, personality to the table.   I think diversity is great to help make better positions on average. I think that's been scientifically and research proven that diversity, up to a point, is actually very effective for decision making

- Jeremy Au

Jeremy answers listener Q&A from Robert Jomar Malate on Harvard Turtle, Southeast Asia Talent Crunch and Immigrant’s Dilemma.

Robert Jomar Malate is a 4th-year undergraduate at Harvard University concentrating in Mechanical Engineering. During school, he is active in the engineering community, having worked and managed projects with the robotics team and aeronautics club. His engineering skills go beyond mechanical engineering, having done software engineering at Google and research at the Wyss Institute. Ultimately, his goal is to work on cutting-edge robotics and aeronautics systems. Outside of engineering, he also enjoys learning about world history, economics, and Mandarin Chinese. Outside of classes, he can be seen conversing with people, exercising and breakdancing. 

This episode is produced by Kyle Ong.

Jeremy Au (00:00): 

Welcome to Brave. Be inspired by the best leaders of Southeast Asia tech. Build the future, learn from our past, and stay human in between. 

I'm Jeremy Au, a VC, founder and father. Join us for transcripts, analysis, and community at www.jeremyau.com 

Hey, Robert, good to have you. You reached out via Harvard and the career office, who was very much saying that you have to be this person, and that's why we're here. I've heard that you have a lot of questions about Southeast Asia so we're taking the opportunity to go through the questions and hopefully share the answers, as raw as they are, live as it is, with anybody else who may have similar questions as well. So yeah, Robert, why don't you just introduce yourself? 

Robert Jomar Malate (00:59):Awesome. But before I begin, just want to say thank you again for your time, Jeremy, and I'm excited for this. 

Jeremy Au (01:04): Yeah. 

Robert Jomar Malate (01:04):So I'm Robert. I'm currently a senior undergraduate at Harvard studying mechanical engineering. For 

me, my main interests lie in aeronautics and robotics. 

The main reason I wanted to ask about Southeast Asia is because, for me, ethnically I'm Filipino. My family comes from the Philippines, but I was primarily born and raised on an island called Saipan, which is a US territory kind of near the region but pretty much all my life I grew up in kind of an American context. 

So what I want to try to learn more about is basically the place where my parents come from, because potentially one day I see myself, I want to go back there and bring something back. 

Jeremy Au (01:43): 

Yeah, that's amazing. I think what's interesting is that your story is not an uncommon one. I mean, you first see the world as very flat, I mean before COVID, and soon to be, once COVID is over I think people are going to be traveling but there's lots of Asian Americans who are traveling back to Southeast Asia. Vice versa, there are many Southeast Asians who are traveling to the States to study and work. 

I know there's a bit amount of flow. I think in the past I remember my grandparents left China. For them, it was like a one-way ticket to go somewhere. They were leaving everything behind, their village, their family. But now it's not. You can always fly back. 

Yeah, so I think the truth is, Robert, there's a lot of people who have reached out to me over the past few years asking me about Southeast Asia and asking what's it like to go there. And also though I know lots of people who have gone back to the States or gone back to Europe or Australia as well after their experience. So happy to share and answer any questions you have. So what do you want to ask? 

Robert Jomar Malate (02:46):Awesome. I guess the first things first is just, I guess, starting off with the market. I did read more about 

the information you gave, about what the current development in the market is like. I just wanted to ask, first is what you would you say are the skills that are necessary for someone who wants to come from abroad to work in Southeast Asia, since from what I've read that there's a wide variety of industries that are starting to pop up? 

Jeremy Au (03:11): 

Well, let's tighten the question a little bit and then bifurcate the question. So tighten the question to be like what does Southeast Asia technology startups want across the region, which of course varies market to market. And the second question is versus your background, because you have a specific Harvard engineering background. Let's jump to the second one first. 

Robert Jomar Malate (03:11): Okay. 

Jeremy Au (03:33):As a Harvard engineer you're going to be a hot commodity across multiple markets because there are very few people who have been to Harvard and are in Southeast Asia now. 

If you're in Boston or New York, there are a ton of Harvard people walking around. So it's only going to be a bit surprising around the world but being a Harvard MBA or being a Harvard undergrad is no big deal in Boston or New York because there's so many of them, does it make sense? 

Robert Jomar Malate (04:00): Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Jeremy Au (04:02):And over represented, rightfully or wrongfully, in certain industries like finance or tech or whatever it is, and especially leadership roles. So I think there's a big dense network there. 

But in Southeast Asia you're a Harvard engineer. Yes, I think you're young but it's not going to be a problem. You're going to be able to find a job, no problem, especially in the Philippines and in Singapore as well they would love to have someone like you. You check off the academic qualifications, in an Ivy league university, you're technical. What kind of engineering again are you in? 

Robert Jomar Malate (04:40):I study mechanical engineering. 

Jeremy Au (04:42): 

Mechanical engineering, so mechanical engineering so you're not necessarily a computer engineer which is a different thing, so we'll talk about that, sort of bit of a mishmash there. And then you're young. I think more importantly you have roots to the region. 

And so, for many startups in a region what they don't want to see is someone who is not very well qualified, someone who doesn't have relevant skill set and someone who doesn't have roots in the region, because that makes it worrying because then you have a bunch of people who are not very well qualified who may leave at any moment. 

So I think in terms of your persona you'll still be able to find a job but let's then invert the script a little bit, which is like so why is it? Obviously people are looking for Ivy League, wearing a Harvard shirt. I think there's very few of these top education university institutions. Whether there's a signal for caliber, a signal for learning capability, that's also the questions that are there. 

But I think the secondary piece of that component, as well, is the fact that there is a talent crunch in the region for high-educated folks, just like Singapore obviously is very highly educated but it's only, what, three million folks. I mean, if you include travel and everything means like five million. That's such a small dent, if you look at Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia. I think there isn't that many people who have gone to university still as a proportion of the population. So that's a big piece. 

On the second dimension obviously you talk about mechanical engineering, so obviously all the startups are honestly looking for computer engineers, so that's another big shortage across the region because there isn't a lot of great, I think, first leaders obviously the local companies. 

For example, I had a chat with a friend, Oliver Segovia, and he was talking about the Philippines, and we wrote this great analysis which what the Philippines, you have your local companies you could work for. You can work for a Singaporean company, or like a regional company that has headquarters, not headquarters, an engineering team in outpost in the Philippines. Or you could work for a US company and you can work as a remote person. 

And of those things exist, so there's a lot of competition for that talent, if that makes sense, on one side, and there isn't a lot of generation of that talent either, because almost a prerequisite for you to be a computer engineer if for you to have done university as well, so there's a component problem there. So low supply and high demand for computer engineers. 

And when it comes to mechanical engineering, obviously then there's a different set of industries. You're probably not joining the crypto space, which has a certain set of requirements. You're probably not joining the SaaS, software as a service, space, because if you want to play that strength. 

And then, on the third front, yeah, you have roots, so it becomes easier for companies to be like, "Okay, you're not someone who's likely going to bail because you got confused by the environment or you got homesick," or whatever it was, which is a big problem for a lot of talent as well. So I think in China they call them turtles. I think Southeast Asia also kind of use the word turtles. 

Robert Jomar Malate (08:12): Oh, really? 

Jeremy Au (08:13):Like people swimming back to the shore, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (08:16): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (08:20): 

So that's a big target demographic, I think, for recruiters. They're looking for Vietnamese. Vietnamese startups are looking for Vietnamese Americans or people, Vietnam, who have studied in the States and coming back, to come back, things like that. Yeah? 

Robert Jomar Malate (08:36):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Actually on that note, Jeremy, so this is something actually another question I wanted to ask you is about the work culture. I did allude to the fact that I primarily grew up in the United States background but I do have roots in Southeast Asia. So I guess the one thing I wanted to ask you on this note is how would you say I can learn the culture, in a sense, because I do have roots there but I didn't grow up in the place. 

I guess this is something as an immigrant, I would kind of call it an immigrant's dilemma; like you have your mother country but then you've also grown at a different background. How would you say, as someone who comes from a different background but still has roots, learn more about those roots? 

Jeremy Au (09:15): 

Yeah. I mean, that's a very common problem in the world today. It's going to be more and more common. I mean, you're describing basically third culture kids, people who grew up in one culture, and then they spent a formative amount of time in another culture. And then, they're working in a third culture, so they call it third culture kids. It's a fun set of studies. Normally like children of, it used to be missionaries and business people. And obviously I think more and more people like that these days. 

And then, obviously I think the same problem exists for people who are there and back again. They call it reentry shock, culture shock, but reentry culture. It's kind of like Frodo going out from the shire and he goes out to all the walls. 

Robert Jomar Malate (10:05): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (10:07):He has the shire and he's like, "What in the world is going on? I can't hang out and smoke tobacco." 

Robert Jomar Malate (10:14): Exactly. 

Jeremy Au (10:14):"And eat multiple meals a day anymore now that I've seen the world." I mean, their story ends a 

different way. He goes to the land of the elves a different way. 

Robert Jomar Malate (10:24): Whole journey. 

Jeremy Au (10:26): 

I think at the end of the day you just got to do it. You don't know. You have a lot of things going for you. You grew up in the Philippines. No sorry, you grew up in a Filipino culture at home. And Saipan is somewhere in between, geographically and culturally, the States and Asia. Now you're studying in Harvard. Yeah, I think you just had to spend time in Southeast Asia and just do it. I guess that's my other logo under the Harvard logo is the Nike logo, it says just do it. Like you just have to go there and just immerse yourself. 

I think that the less interesting question is how do I learn and prevent culture shock of entering into a culture, because that's not a helpful, useful question because you're going to do it anyway. There's no amount of books that you're going to read that is going to help you understand the culture, does it make sense? Like maybe there's some stuff on the margin. You can listen to podcasts like this one, which is what you're doing. You can talk to people if you via video call to get a sense of the lay of the land, go do some reading. So there's a lot of stuff that you can do, I guess, beforehand. But they're more intellectual in a sense. But they're not visceral or psychological or even spiritual, in that level of identity. 

So I would say just do it. Just move, just hang out, and hang out both on the social and professional front. I think that is really, really key. I think that's one of the issues with, I think, a lot of countries in the world, is that I think that frustration out of ex-patriots, ex-pats. 

It's funny because I think in America, I always joke, well, what I realize in America that there are no ex-pats in America. We just consider them people. You never say, "Oh, there's a Dutch ex-pat here." No, no, he's just a Dutch guy in New York, think about it. 

Robert Jomar Malate (12:27): That's an interesting point. 

Jeremy Au (12:29): 

Right? There are ex-pats. There are Japanese ex-patriots in America but you don't call them ex-patriots. But if you flip the script and you say you're in Philippines or in Singapore, are there ex-patriots from America? It's like yes. 

So why is there ex-patriots in one domain and none in the other. I think a big part of it is the aloofness or the perceived power distance, in a sense. I think the States, yeah, you're an immigrant but we don't really care. Well, a lot of people don't really care. But I mean there's no... 

Robert Jomar Malate (13:03):So it's like there's some kind of this social and, I guess, maybe potentially economic separation between 

those ex-pats and the people who live there? 

Jeremy Au (13:14): 

Exactly, right. Because normally when middle-class in, say, Southeast Asia, which of us is in an order of magnitude less than the States, unless you're in Singapore, because I think the middle class of Singapore is the same as the middle class in America, in terms of GDP per capita. Yeah, ex-pats are normally coming in straight away to the upper class, because they're been paid US denominated, highly educated. And I think that they're coming into a good job, on average. 

Obviously not all ex-patriots have that package. There's lot of people who are American not on ex-pat package. So it's not just a description of the company or the package, as a sort of description of the lifestyle, if that makes sense. 

And the question is who do you spend time with? I think no one's ever really is trying to say like, "Go native." I don't think no one's trying to say you need to lose track of who you are. Like, Robert, if you go to Singapore, people are going to be like, "Yeah, yeah, you're an American, but you're a Filipino- American," and it's okay, right? 

And I think you just have to look for those angles where you connect with the local population in a way that's normal and organic. So obviously, for example, you as a case study, you could connect on a Filipino basis. There's a huge Filipino tech diaspora across obviously Asia, community in Singapore and so forth, or if you're in the Philippines obviously. 

You will obviously connect with American ex-pat community, and no one is saying you should not be part of it. I think American ex-pat community is a.. No, sorry. Any ex-pat community is a huge bridge and a beach head to get going into the culture, because they're going to help you figure out stuff like where to get a SIM card, where to live, which parts are shady of town. 

But I think where the differentiation kicks in real hard is how do you get past beyond race and nationality to deeper community ties. So, for example, I've seen lots of people embed in terms of religious and spiritual, for example. 

For example, when I was in China, that was the international churches. I was there. There were also local Chinese people there, and that's how we connected and build those conversations. So adding spirituality or religious communities in terms of your practice of faith, whatever it is, is a good bridge as well to embed. 

And then, I think the next level in is causes. I think a lot of people connect because, I think, one guy he studied and he was a guest on the show, [Verdun 00:15:59], and he grew up in the Middle East. But he's also has a Southeast Asia background, personality. So it's kind of you, right? Southeast Asia, from the Middle East, now is in Singapore. 

I think he's reconnecting with the local community because he's working on migrant work issues. So he's volunteering with migrant workers. His job is now attacking remittances across borders, which is a good fit as well. That's like a transcendal kind of issue, which I really applaud him for because that's something the truth is not every person in the world cares about, to say the least, and not every person in Singapore cares about, to say the least anyway. But within that group I think they all care about the issue. And so, I think it's a good way for him to meet there. 

I think then the next level obviously is your work place. Just make the effort. I think Americans have it easier to some extent, because American culture is really the lowest common denominator culture across the world, for better or worse, due to Hollywood and everything. You can walk into any room; I watch Wonder Woman 1984 with my wife and my in-laws. And so, Americans can get the walk into the room and say, "Hey, what do you guys think about Wonder Woman," and we can all talk about it. 

So there's a lot of shared cultural context in the colleague or community space, where it's much easier, whereas it's a little bit harder, I think, if you're coming in from somewhere else that's a little bit further, that doesn't have as much exposure in the world or in Southeast Asia, for example. Like you grew up in Latin America, then some of those cultural share touchpoints are not as readily available or apparent. 

And then, I mean, then of course is like strangers and serendipity, it's just like how open are you to have conversations with your cab drivers. Honestly, I think for a lot of people in technology, we're not of the same social economic class. So I think that's why you have to kind of... But no one's asking you to jump in and just have that one-on-one conversation with them with no bridge or anything. 

I was just saying the truth is that things that transcend class, transcend blood, transcend nationality, those are all easy shortcuts as demographics accord for affinity. Because if you're Filipino and I love Filipino food, so we could go to a Filipino restaurant and eat food together. That's an affinity point. 

So I think that's really how I would encourage people to think about it, is like, yes, do your homework beforehand, talk to people, listen to podcasts, join communities beforehand, and so and so forth. 

And then, I think when you get in obviously you make contact with your local ex-pat community and use them as a bridge, and so on so forth. And then, I think rapidly move towards integrating with the local population on the points you care about; hobbies, as well as good one, causes, spirituality, friendships, serendipity. There's lots of different ways to code for it. And I think being explicit about it. 

And again, I think most people end up in a good spot where no one is saying, I think, when you're an ex-pat that you don't stay in touch with home or people of the same nationality affinity, but I think it's a good balance, does that make sense? I think if you're like- 

Robert Jomar Malate (19:41):Yeah, there's the people you have a common ancestry with, but there's also the people who are in the same boat as you.

Jeremy Au (19:48): Yeah, exactly. 

Robert Jomar Malate (19:48):And they're the ones who can basically tie you to different places. 

Jeremy Au (19:52): 

Exactly. So I think it would be, maybe like a gut sense, but I think if you concern is about what the right balance is to some extent, I think if you land in Southeast Asia and you're spending 80% of your time with other Americans, or, I'm just giving an example, other Filipinos or 80% of your time with only, let's say, your faith practice, or 80% of your time, you offer one very hard-coded thing, it gets a bit... 

But I think when you're the other way around, when you're just doing 20%, 20%, 20%, 20%, 20%, then I think that's a rough way to get comfortable. 

Robert Jomar Malate (20:45): 

And actually on that note, I didn't mention this earlier but, for instance, for part of the primary reason, for instance I'm actually learning Chinese. I feel through my language learning experience that I realized it was another way for me to connect to the community. I know Southeast Asia is an extremely diverse place. It's a vast simplification to say that, "Oh, Southeast Asia, everything's the same." No, it's not. 

But what I wanted to know more is how would you say that one could try to connect across different cultures, especially if they're more than open to it, aside from language, for instance? 

Jeremy Au (21:19): 

Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, I think just the interesting thing about Southeast Asia is that everybody is from day one, from birth, you're living in a multiethnic and multi religious society, on average. Obviously that varies across the region. And there's a ton of cross trade influence; Vietnam is thinking about China, but it's also thinking about the US all the time. And to some extent, they're always thinking about their neighbors, and they're also thinking about the Philippines. Everybody in the region is watching some form of K-pop. 

Jeremy Au (21:56): 

More kid drama and all using Japanese electronics and Chinese electronics. So it's an interesting space. I think it's interesting where the States we can be like, "Buy American," and in China it can be like, "Buy Chinese," in Russia it can be, "Buy Russian." But for the rest of the world, it's like you just find something- 

Robert Jomar Malate (21:56): You got to make something. 

Jeremy Au (22:21):Yeah, you [crosstalk 00:22:22] Exactly, you're buying all these different things. 

And so, I think just look at the stuff I'm wearing. I'm wearing a Harvard logo, that's from the States. I'm wearing a Nike, which is a US company. But this show was probably manufactured in Vietnam. I'm wearing an Apple headphones right now. These are probably manufactured in China, and probably shipped to in a Southeast Asian shipping links. I'm using a road mic here, which is an Australian company, manufactured in Australia. 

Anyway, so there's lots of different things where we're kind of like in a mishmash things. And I think people are a little bit more coded that this is the reality of multilateral or multipolar or multi free- for-all marketplace. It's like a global bazaar, I think that's what it is. 

Robert Jomar Malate (23:28): That's a good way to put it. 

Jeremy Au (23:29):Bazaar. Southeast Asia is very much a bazaar, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (23:32): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (23:32):It's like you go to a restaurant, food court, anywhere in Southeast Asia and there's Indian food, there's 

Indonesian food, there's Filipino food. It's like a bazaar. 

Robert Jomar Malate (23:42):Like I can get a taste of a little bit of everything. 

Jeremy Au (23:46):Yeah, exactly. And of course no one's saying there isn't predominance of one thing in one place, but it's always a bazaar. 

I'd just say it's not too hard, just don't be an asshole, lesson one. And then, number two, just be experimental. And then three is like take notes. First one is like don't be an asshole. No one culture is better than another culture. It happened for a reason. 

I think there's a valid conversation about whether if you're trying to make a business decision, how do we figure out as a group to what the best decision is. Obviously, everyone's going to bring their own culture, education, background, experience, leadership, personality to the table. And so, I think diversity is great to help make better positions on average. I think that's been scientifically and research proven that diversity, up to a point, is actually very effective for decision making. 

And so, don't be an asshole. Solicit opinions, go around the table. And then, two is, yeah, just experiment. Just try different things. There's so many times people have asked me, like, "Try this, try that," and I just give it a shot. Maybe I don't like it, but a lot of times I'm actually neutral on it or I do like it, even better, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (25:10): You know. 

Jeremy Au (25:10): 

So just experiment, just hang out. And so, a lot of people, some experiment and say, "Do you want to go to a festival together," or, "Do you want to visit a temple together," or, "Do you want to go on a hike in this random part of town," just try it. 

Lastly, just take notes. I think a lot of people who are similar thing to a new culture, to some extent, I think it's really helpful to take notes. Obviously not like a... 

Robert Jomar Malate (25:38): Like a journalist. 

Jeremy Au (25:39): 

A journal. Well, for some people. If it was like 140 characters, but thing is like, "I learned today that this day is really important for people of this faith practice," or, "I learned that... " I mean, it's the equivalent of it's a huge no-no to wear shoes into the house, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (25:57): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (25:58): The equivalent of that. 

Robert Jomar Malate (26:00):Take notes of the, I wouldn't call them quirks, but just these small things that you just notice in your 

day-to-day life. Jeremy Au (26:07): 

Yeah, exactly. I think when people see that you're making an effort, when they see that you're not an asshole, when they see that you're willing to experiment and game to try, and when they see that you do remember the small things, then they think about it and they appreciate it a little bit. 

No one's expecting you to walk into, I don't know, for example, Singapore and have a Singaporean accent. No one's saying that. That's trying too hard maybe. But if you walk in and you're like, "Hey, I'm willing to learn more about all these different cultures and hang out with them and go for poker with a few of them, and remember that they're vegetarian or remember that they need halal food and not pick a restaurant. 

One of the things I still work very hard, it's just like yeah, I just need to make sure that I check for food preferences before the meal, just because if you think about it if someone's vegetarian for diet purposes and if someone else is Buddhist and he wants to eat his own lifestyle, and if someone else is Muslim and needs there to be halal, then you don't want to say, "Hey, guys, let's go for drinks tonight," right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (27:22): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (27:22): That is terrible, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (27:24):That working group is not going to have fun. 

Jeremy Au (27:27):Yeah, exactly. And then, you're like, "Oh, shit," and I think that's what people all forget. 

So, yes, it's a bit more effort because now you're like, "Okay, how do we code for activities that could work for the group?" But I think that's something that we all have individual choices on. 

And again, no one's saying the every activity has to be open to all, but across portfolio of activities and hobbies that you're doing, you should be mindful and try your best to be as open as possible. 

Robert Jomar Malate (27:57): 

Like always take into account the people who will be joining in. But nice to hear about that wide range of diversity because I'm not going to lie, this is the first time I've heard about it. I'm frankly amazed by it and honestly really excited to see it. 

But on the note of just seeing it, Jeremy, so I guess regarding COVID because COVID is just the thing nowadays, so obviously travel is not easier now, especially in these countries where they are getting hit pretty hard. I was wondering what is just your thoughts, if you're willing to share thoughts on the potential to be able to come to Southeast Asia to truly experience, just to travel there, see what it's like? What's your thoughts on that in the upcoming future? 

Jeremy Au (28:42):Sorry, are you trying to say what the odds are of someone coming to Southeast Asia? Sorry, I wasn't too clear what the question was here. 

Robert Jomar Malate (28:51): 

I guess the best way I could word it is I fully agree that going there and just doing it is the best way to do it, but the thing is nowadays with COVID and the travel restrictions, I think that is not feasible, not possible. I guess for lack of better words, a better way of saying it, is just how would you suggest I can try to learn more about the culture during this "downtime" or learn more about the region? 

Jeremy Au (29:21): 

I see, yeah. How do you prep up, so I'm happy to share some... If you go to jeremyau.com you can sign up to join a club. The club we will actually discuss a lot of these Southeast Asia insights, and we issue drop a lot resources for newcomers to the region. So if you're joining the region, these are like your resource guide in a sense. There's a nice checklist of these are things to read that kind of encapsulate the scene and you should be mindful of. Obviously your job is not to read all of it because it's a lot. But it's to at least get a sense of and help unpack the stuff that's most useful to you. 

I think a big part of it... And obviously there's a discussion thread at club.jeremyau.com where we discuss all this stuff as well. We also have a clubhouse with almost 10,000 members discussing Southeast Asia technology. So yeah, just join clubhouse and join in our free-for-all conversations, and listen and hear the voices. Because it's not really necessarily the content that's important, but it's also how the content is expressed. I think that's something that's key right. 

We all know that US and China are very big places in Southeast Asia. What's more important is how do individual people talk about US and China in the context of Southeast Asia. Are they friendly? Are they wary? Are they suspicious? Are they paranoid? And the truth is all those emotions can be true at the same time, and how that's framed is really important. The framing is really important. 

To give you an example it would be like I know a lot of people in Southeast Asia and they would never talk about political issues the way an American person would do about America or about China, for example, because it's way too risky honestly, right, to talk about it. 

Robert Jomar Malate (29:21): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (31:13):Just because the person's American doesn't mean he's a Democrat, an ex-pat. Just because he's an ex- 

pat doesn't mean that he's not a Republican. You know? 

Robert Jomar Malate (31:19): Yeah, like don't make assumptions. 

Jeremy Au (31:23): 

Yeah, exactly, and as people who don't vote in the US elections we don't have the standing to say A or B or C. We can talk about how their policies or their personality or their dynamics have impacted the Southeast Asia country, I think that's fair game, and the aspirations of the Southeast Asia countries to deal with that issue. Yeah, I mean, it's a different dynamic, it's a different language altogether. And I think that's true of every US president because the region is like seeing a US president every four years, right? 

Exactly. 

Jeremy Au (32:02):It's the weather. There's good times, there's bad times, there's up times, there's sideways times. So 

yeah, I think that's the reality.But same thing, China has been in Southeast Asia for thousands of years, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (32:02): Exactly. 

Jeremy Au (32:15):Since the Silk Route. travel past the Philippines to Indonesia and Singapore and 

Malaysia. Southeast Asia has been dealing with this now for centuries. 

Robert Jomar Malate (32:35):Awesome. And then, I guess other than that, that's all the main questions I had, Jeremy, at this moment. 

Jeremy Au (32:42):I mean, Robert, so tell me about yourself. What kind of company you'd want to join in Southeast Asia? 

Robert Jomar Malate (32:49): 

To share a bit more about my background, so it does say mechanical engineering but I've had a lot of experience with software actually. And the reason I mentioned that I was really interested in just working at different technologies, and I guess since I'm about to graduate and I'm just looking at more so the technology space. I just realize how much I did not know, that there's just so much ongoing at the same time. There's school stuff going in robotics but there's also software as a service then B2B, so many different things ongoing at the same time. 

I guess what I'm really interested in honestly is just really working on technology that could potentially have an impact on people, and ideally something in the field of robotics, since this is a personal passion of mine. 

Jeremy Au (33:32): 

Right. Yeah, I mean, robotics, electric vehicles. Yeah, I can think of one name off the top of my head, IM Mobilities or hopefully a company from Monk's Hill. They're building electric motorcycles, trying to [crosstalk 00:33:45] because their point of view is... A lot of these are electric cars in the States but motorcycles are the primary form of transportation in Southeast Asia. 

Robert Jomar Malate (33:52):Yeah, that's one thing I remember when I visited the Philippines last time, a lot of motorcycles. 

Jeremy Au (33:58): Exactly, so electric motorcycles make a ton of sense because you get to travel quicker, the range, all of it kind of fits. 

Robert Jomar Malate (34:08):Actually, now that we're on that topic, it makes me realize that's another cultural thing that, if I just 

grew up here in the US and just analyzed what's going on in Southeast Asia I would never notice that. 

Jeremy Au (34:20): Yeah. 

Robert Jomar Malate (34:21):But then, looking at it, it's like, yeah, cars is definitely still used but it's not the primary form. 

Jeremy Au (34:26): 

Yeah. And I think the interesting part, I think, when you're in States is that you're dealing with a lot of media algorithms to some extent that kill for the fact that you're American, that's one. But two also a lot of the content is shot by American companies for the American consumer. So if you watch Vice about the Philippines, that's not the Philippines. 

Robert Jomar Malate (34:26): Exactly. 

Jeremy Au (34:52): 

That's the US Vice-type consumer, which is all of sudden social-political orientation, on average. Learning something about Asia or the Philippines, but in a way that's related to topics that are relevant to American culture, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (35:11): Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Jeremy Au (35:12): 

So I think Vice article on the Philippines war on drugs, and then there's not an explicit contrast but there's implicit comparison to the American policies. And that's not the Philippines. So I think that's a very important thing. I think a lot of people consuming are not... The eyes of the domestic audience is totally different. 

I mean, if you learned about China from American TV and movies, you're going to think crazy, rich Asians, there's the positive version. And you're going to think about action heroes. And you're going to think about for the cast, there's a long tradition of minority race characters. They play the sidekick, or different roles of a sense over time. So I think, there's an interesting class I took on film studies which talked about that race component of it. 

But there's so much of it that prism that is coming true. It's hard to tell. But I think if you think about it, I mean, if you watch Chinese movies about China in today's world you will read, watch Wolf Warrior 2. It's kind of like watching Rambo 2 or Rambo 3 for China, does it make sense? 

Yeah, I know what you mean. 

Jeremy Au (36:26): 

And you can like, "Wow, this is how the audience wants to see themselves on the screen," aspirationally or whatever it is. I think there's so much of that, you just have to kind of go for really local, homegrown entertainment or voices. Which is exciting about podcasting, it's exciting about clubhouse and these things. In the past, if I was in the States I wouldn't be able to, NPR wouldn't really talk about in Southeast Asia country, unless there's another dictatorship. 

Robert Jomar Malate (37:01): Exactly. 

Jeremy Au (37:01):Or another chance of American military intervention, or whatever [crosstalk 00:37:05] 

Robert Jomar Malate (37:04): Exactly. 

Jeremy Au (37:05): 

Or China's coming in and therefore we need to come in. It's so American-centric. And then, I get YouTube channels that obviously get around there. But I think this new set of media, that discovery, be there, is really interesting. So I think that's the dynamic there, where I really recommend people to say like, "Hey, watch local television," which is hard to get, by the way. India has its own Bollywood, Singapore has its own local TV productions. And it's fun to watch. 

I always tell people it's like if you watch Phua Chu Kang, it's kind of like the... 

Robert Jomar Malate (37:54): What's this one? 

Jeremy Au (37:55):Phua Chu Kang is kind of like the Friends of Singapore. I won't say Friends. It's like the Fresh Prince of 

Bel-Air. I'm trying to think of some... It's kind of like something like that. It's very like... 

Robert Jomar Malate (38:07): Like a sitcom kind of thing? 

Jeremy Au (38:08): 

Sitcom comedy, but I think watching that is... It was built for domestic audience. They never thought it would go on any further, and I don't think it has. But if you watch that I think you get a much better sense of Singaporean culture than you have for most people. So I think being very explicit about your search for media that is truly homegrown. 

Robert Jomar Malate (38:27): 

Actually I wanted to ask you about you, Jeremy. When you did your MBA here at Harvard Business School, I was wondering how did you, I guess, one, was there any kind of, I guess, first thing is what would you say you took back to Singapore what you learned about the Harvard Business School? 

Jeremy Au (38:50): 

Yeah, that's a different question. So for those who haven't heard it, I do have another podcast episode on what I learned at Harvard MBA. But this is actually a good question because it's what did I bring back in contrast to the local culture. 

And I think the truth is that it's hard to disentwine from the fact that I spent my undergrad years at UC Berkeley. My father did some schooling in the US as well. And after the MBA and Harvard, I also spent a few years working in startups, if that makes sense in the US, in Boston and New York and then, later on expanding it across the rest of America. 

So it's an interesting question because there's a lot of different experiences where things I brought from America are different from different places. I think if I was to zoom in one aperture in, instead of saying what did I bring back from the American tech scene to Singapore, or what did I bring back from UC Berkeley or Harvard to the US, but what did I bring back from the Harvard MBA to Singapore? 

I think the big eye opener was the intersection of America, Harvard, the MBA experience. When you look at a Venn diagram I think the center of it is you have a very high concentration of really, I think from the outside in, really accomplished or rising stars. I think people have this misconception which is Harvard MBAs are very accomplished, and they're not. The truth is Harvard MBA alumnae over the long trajectory history are very impressive, but Harvard MBAs who are, when they first on campus, we call them rising stars curated by the school, that they are going to be future leaders in their countries and business. 

And so, it's interesting because they all have this, it's interesting to be on a campus where everybody around the world, 60% American, 40% international, everybody has a seed for greatness, whether they choose to take it or not and whether they want to or not, in whatever domain they choose, whether it's primarily in business or something that intersects with business, but in politics, in activism, in entertainment, whatever it is. 

And so, being in that high potential energy is like increasing a battery capacity, I don't know what you call it, and charging it up with some good juice, you know? 

Robert Jomar Malate (41:23): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (41:23): 

You're like, "Wow, I really kind of like... " And then because of Facebook and the Internet and all these things, you kind of put all these connections and you carry it with you wherever you go. I'm still best friends with one Harvard classmate, Brandon Reeves, partner at Lux Capital. He's a VC now. He was my groomsman... 

Robert Jomar Malate (41:50): Oh, wow. 

At my wedding in Singapore, and then we had a double date recently via Zoom with his now wife and my wife. I was his groomsman as well in California. So global, think about it. We swap turns, having one in California, one in Singapore, you think about it. 

Robert Jomar Malate (42:08): Across the ocean. 

Jeremy Au (42:10): 

Across the oceans, and we hang out and we swap notes. Yeah, so you see where I'm coming from. It's a little bit like I think I've really walked the way of a really solid network of great friends and acquaintances. I think there's a bunch of people who, I'll be frank, we were friendly but we weren't necessarily friends on campus. But years down the road, we've found opportunity to be helpful to each other. Obviously, it's not universally the case, you know? 

Robert Jomar Malate (42:40): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (42:40): 

Not everyone takes to one another, but out of a portfolio of 900 classmates per year, yeah, there's a good chunk of people that I'm friendly with or have helped or will help. It's nice to see all of us now starting to achieve various things, climb the totem pole at Nike, climb the totem pole at Apple, joining startups, founding startups, fail at startups, have kids, suffer personal losses. There's lots of interesting things, and I think to see that not only in the States but to see that across the world, friends in Korea or friends in Japan, friends all around the world. It's a really unique thing to have from the Harvard MBA experience. 

Robert Jomar Malate (43:28): 

No, it sounds like a very beautiful one. Thank you for sharing about that, because yeah, from what you were saying it sounds like really that's one of... And I remember reading something about reading what you wanted to get out of your MBA was something along that lines, where you wanted to connect with people but not just purely network, but in a sense you really want to get to know them. And it sounds like you really did make the best out of it. It sounds like up to this day you still have those friends that they're not just your network. They're actually your connections. 

Jeremy Au (43:58): 

Yeah, exactly. And I think that's something that you have now, Robert, right? I think there's a ton of people in... I would say over the past month I've probably connected with five folks who are studying in the US. They were Southeast Asian and they are studying in the US and thinking about coming back or staying, or vice versa, they've grown up outside Southeast Asia or in the States but they're looking at the region and thinking about opportunities. 

I say, yeah, I think that's an interesting duality of perspective, because the future you're looking at building the new connections, and in parallel you're also nurturing your current connections and your current schoolmates and things like that. So yeah, but it's an interesting time for everybody. 

If you don't mind me asking, how do you maintain that? Because when you said you want to maintain the connections you have, but also you're forming new connections pretty much as you go along your career journey. 

Jeremy Au (44:53):Yeah, that's not an easy answer because the answer is I think there's a biological reality and there's a 

technology reality and then there's a work reality, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (44:53): Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Jeremy Au (45:03): 

I think biological reality is like Dunbar's number, like they say there's 10 people in your life pretty much make up 80% of your life, I think. And then, the maximum number of people that you actually probably know of, like 99% of your life is probably 100 people. 100 people probably form up, where you comfortably remember their names and stuff like that. I think 1000 is roughly where your brain starts breaking a little bit, which is like you know that name but you're like... 

Robert Jomar Malate (45:36): The specifics are very blurry. 

Jeremy Au (45:38):Yeah, very, very blurry. Yeah, so I think that's the biological reality. And I think the technology reality, we 

have way more than that. We can stack, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (45:50): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (45:54):I have over 10,000 connections on LinkedIn that I've met over the course of my business career, or life 

or undergrad, whatever it is, as well as people who want to reach out to me and get to know me, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (46:05): Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Jeremy Au (46:06): 

As well as maybe I was listening to a panel and I like the speaker and I said, "Okay, I like you enough to send a connection request and say I enjoyed hearing what you said." And then, if you're on clubhouse I have 2,000 followers, the vast majority of whom I don't know. So it's interesting. 

And I think that's me and technology-wise, but you look at, there's nothing compared to TikTok, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (46:31): 

Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (46:31):The millions, you know? 

Robert Jomar Malate (46:35):Millions with their 15-second video, millions of followers. 

Jeremy Au (46:39): 

Exactly, and millions of fans, or Tim Ferriss, hundreds and thousands, probably. So I think technology helps scale those relationships because you can distribute and broadcast. TikTok lets you broadcast 15 seconds in a way that's not irrelevant but is relevant to the demographic, things like that. 

And I think the third thing from a business perspective is I think there's always a utilitarian component to it as well, obviously. I think in the sense that obviously it's well known in the business world, like if you're reconnecting with me after a long time you probably need something from me, you know? 

Robert Jomar Malate (47:17): Yeah, there's that sense. 

Jeremy Au (47:20):There's that sense and that's okay because the implicit trade is here like, "Hey, I'm going to send this 

request because I may need your help in the future as well." There's a trade there. 

But it's not a bad thing. I mean, I think we have to do so much in our life. I mean, define work very broadly; it could be a cause you care about, a mission you care about, helping a friend do something, trying to put together a poker night, all those different things. Just some need, ask and give, kind of like trade or relationship building. 

I think if you build the relationship just based on the biological and the technology reality, you're just acquaintances, but you're not partners, those make sense. And so, I wouldn't look at the business angle as a bad thing. Where I say business, maybe it's work or trade or help, maybe more like a help angle. It's like if you help each other, that's what bumps you up from acquaintance to a friend, you know? 

Robert Jomar Malate (48:27): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (48:27):Like if I met you and we hung out drinking, you're an acquaintance, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (48:27): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (48:32): 

But if you help look at my resume and gave three minutes of feedback, you're a friend because you helped me. And if I helped you with three minutes then I'm your friend. So I think that's okay, so I wouldn't look at it as a negative thing as well. So I think when you're thinking about balancing all your connections, I think the biological reality, 10 people is 80% of your life. Probably 99% of your life is 100 people at any one time, and then your brain breaks apart at 1000. 

And then technology helps you algorithmically remind those 1000, 10,000 people, 100,000 people, one million people, 10 million people, 100 million people, these days, and to broadcast it in slices of your life. That's okay. And then, the last thing is you have to think about the depth of that relationship, which is are you an acquaintance or are you a friend? 

Robert Jomar Malate (49:26):But that's a good way to define the friendship. I've never thought of it that way before, but thank you 

for sharing that. 

Jeremy Au (49:34):Yeah. Awesome. Well, we're coming up at time here, so Robert, feel free to ask me one last question 

before we wrap things up. 

Robert Jomar Malate (49:40): 

First, thank you for sharing your life story, one, because that was really interesting. And you mentioned something about one time while you were doing your MBA you wrote about your goals. And I was wondering if you have any goals during this? If you're willing to share, what are some of your new goals? Especially, well, it's Chinese New Year that just passed by and it is

Jeremy Au (50:02):Well, yeah, there's the Western New Year or New Year resolution, and then there's the Chinese New 

Year, which does not have a New Year resolution. 

Robert Jomar Malate (50:02): Oh, it's not a thing? 

Jeremy Au (50:16):But there's a lot of money being traded around, so it's actually a kind of good contrast actually. 

Robert Jomar Malate (50:19): Yeah, the

Jeremy Au (50:20):The Chinese are giving money to each other, and we treat each other. The presupposition is that we 

want you to make money. Good luck. And my goal is to make more money. 

Robert Jomar Malate (50:33): Good fortune for the year. 

Good fortune for you, be lucky. Whereas the American New Year is like, "Okay, let's make a productive individual centric goal to improve myself." Self-improvement, right? 

Robert Jomar Malate (50:45): Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Jeremy Au (50:46):But, of course, there is a lot of lunar New Years across the region. It's Vietnamese lunar New Year and 

also different things. One is I've lost 10 kilograms so far. 

Robert Jomar Malate (50:56): Wow. 

Jeremy Au (50:57):That's about what? 23, what is it, 23 pounds? 

Robert Jomar Malate (51:00): Oh, I use metric so... 

Jeremy Au (51:02): 

Yeah, 10 kilograms. I now have 10 kilograms to go. It's funny because I had gained those 20 kilograms after I finished graduating from college and the military service, I gained 20 kilograms across two startups from stress. And so, I had to relearn my own biology, come to grip about my metabolism but also come to grip about the fact that you use calorie content and dieting as the other lever, and it is not an effeminate activity. It is actually a tool to be used. And so, I previously thought that the only way to lose weight was through exercise, which is a very commonly propagated, I don't know, understanding across guys. It's like, "Dieting? Oh, that's something a woman does." 

Robert Jomar Malate (51:46): You have the weights- 

Jeremy Au (51:47):Eating salad, that's a woman thing. The way, if you want to eat beer, it's fine to eat beer and eat fried 

pork skins, you know? 

Robert Jomar Malate (51:58):Yeah, just lift weights, drink your protein shake, you're good. 

Jeremy Au (52:01):Yeah, and exercise harder. So I think that's been one interesting learning that I had. I'm halfway through 

the goal and I have another 10 to go. I think that's one goal.Obviously another goal personally I have a newborn daughter, two months old. 

Robert Jomar Malate (52:10):

Oh, congratulations. 

Jeremy Au (52:19): 

Thank you, appreciate it. So I just want to make sure that I enjoy my time with her. I think not necessarily be spending a ton of time, obviously I still have work and other commitments, but I think my goal is that when I'm with her to be present and not thinking about something else, and enjoy the moment for what it is, which is a little bit zen or mindfulness or whatever you want to all it, but I think that it's important. 

Robert Jomar Malate (52:43):And, yeah, kids grow up because I do have a baby sister and just watching her now, I can't believe so 

much of that time has passed. 

Jeremy Au (52:50): Yeah, exactly. 

Robert Jomar Malate (52:52): So treasure those moments. 

Jeremy Au (52:53): 

Exactly. And I think the third thing, of course, is I would love to continue building on this podcast and community, and make sure that there's a very strong set of conversations, if they make sense, that are about Southeast Asia. And not just about Southeast Asia for Southeast Asia, which of course is useful in its own right, but also getting granular about how our founders can help each other, what resources are available for founders or those who want to found a business. Yeah, I think that helping operators understand their own career path and how they need to change and what they need to learn. And even for VCs in Southeast Asia to learn how to be better VCs or better partners with founders, those are all topics that I'm very personally interested in. 

I would love to really get cracking and build out a very strong, not just one-to-many podcasts, but obviously a many-to-many community around those topics, on clubhouse as well as on jeremyau.com. There's a discussion board there. I'm working very hard to build out a club there that's fun. 

Robert Jomar Malate (54:04): 

No, but thank you for sharing all those resources. Yeah, because it's a great bunch of resources. Honestly, for someone like me from my background it's something I feel that everyone who wants to learn more about Southeast Asia should definitely check out. 

Jeremy Au (54:18): 

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Robert. It has been a pleasure. For those who want to learn more and see the transcript go to jeremyau.com and you'll be able to see the transcripts on the club discussion threads, as well as any other analysis. All right, thanks, Robert. 

Robert Jomar Malate (54:25):

All right, thank you, Jeremy. 

 

All Posts
×

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OK