"I think what's best for each person is just really understand why you're doing what you're doing and being intentional about how you see yourself in the future. Because you can never turn back time. This is the only life you have." ~ Nat Wittayatanaseth
Nat is an Investment Associate at Monk’s Hill Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in early-stage tech companies, primarily Series A, in Southeast Asia. She is based in Thailand and is responsible for deal sourcing and execution, investment analysis and portfolio management. With a strong passion for financial inclusion, Nat brings in a decade of experience in fintech, capital markets, and macroeconomics from Thailand.
Prior to joining Monk's Hill Ventures, she spearheaded fintech and blockchain investments at Beacon Venture Capital, a corporate venture arm of Thailand’s top three largest banks. Prior to that, Nat advised corporate and SME clients on financial management and hedging strategies at Kasikornbank. (KBank). She was also an Economist at the Bank of Thailand where she contributed to the set-up of Southeast Asia's US$240 billion reserve fund.
She graduated with an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
Jeremy Au: [00:01:26] Hey, Nat. Good to see you again.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:01:29] Hi, Jeremy. Good to see you.
Jeremy Au: [00:01:31] Well for everybody out there, I'm really excited to share Nat's journey. She's someone that I work with and actually had heard of before I joined Monk's Hill Ventures. And so I'm excited to go deeper and share your personal journey with all the folks out there.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:01:46] Yeah. Lovely to be here. And if there's any questions on the floor or how I can be helpful in sharing my story and answer your questions, would love to do that.
Jeremy Au: [00:01:58] So Nat for those who don't know you yet walk us through. So you grew up in Thailand and then what happened? So university, walk us through from the beginning across your professional career?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:02:08] Yeah, so I was born and raised in Thailand. Never really studied abroad. There was only one time when I studied abroad, was just when I was 16 I spent a year in South Africa, but that was about it. So I graduated undergrad and then started my career at the Central Bank of Thailand. And during that time, I got really interested in the financial inclusion space because it was one of the projects that I worked there. And after working on the policy level work, doing mostly economists and research work, I kind of figured the policy-making work was not for me. It was super high level. And the impact of your work was multi-year. So I knew that I wanted to do something around financial inclusion and also be closer to people. So I decided to move to a commercial bank in Thailand, one of the top three largest bank here called Kasikornbank and joined their capital market business.
So I got to use my economics training to forecast interest rate and effects rate in order to provide recommendations to small and big companies on how they can hitch their financial exposure. So I really loved the job, was super dynamic. Every day was so different, but after a few years it started to feel repetitive.
So I kind of gave a thought on what I wanted to do next. And I wasn't sure on which career path I wanted to go as I decided to do what most people do, which is go to an MBA school to kind of figure yourself out. And so I decided to go to Kellogg and spend two years there. And during that time I got exposed to FinTech area and started interning at few venture capital funds, including one in Thailand and a few in Silicon Valley, for example, Pantera Capital, which is one of the top three most active blockchain funds in the world and 500 Startups FinTech fund.
So that kind of highlighted to me personally that I really liked the job. And so actually I graduated and I came back to Thailand and pursue my career in venture capital. Started at Beacons Venture, which is a corporate arm of a bank. And now I have recently moved to Monk's Hill, which is a regional venture fund investing in early stage companies across Southeast Asia. And that's how I met Jeremy, our lovely host today.
Jeremy Au: [00:04:30] Yeah, us in the VC world. In fact, I think I really first heard about you coming in from Paul Veradittakit, who was another Thai person in San Francisco doing blockchain. And it was a podcast, a guest of mine that I was catching up. And then he turned out be like, oh. He was like Nat is coming and she's really smart and really good. And I was like, oh, that's great. I will love to meet Nat real soon. It's funny, right. Because I was like, such a small world. Right. Because I knew him because he was at UC Berkeley with me.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:05:07] I didn't know you guys go way back.
Jeremy Au: [00:05:09] alumni, not buddies that played beer pong together or anything.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:05:13] Right.
Jeremy Au: [00:05:14] Yeah. So I'm really excited to talk about this. So I think let's talk about you grew up in Thailand, was there a moment in time when you were in Thailand where you're like, "Oh, I would to explore and go overseas." Is that what happened? Or how did you say something like I would to explore States?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:05:33] I always wanted to study abroad. And the only way I could do that during high school was to find myself a scholarship to go for an exchange program in South Africa. And during university, I was applying to a few schools and trying to get a scholarship to go study abroad. But then the process wasn't really systematic and I didn't know what I was doing. So I ended up going to a university in Thailand. So it was always been on the back of my mind until I graduated uni. I started a career at the Central Bank and everyone who worked there for one or two years, they eventually go and study abroad in the UK and pursue their masters. And that was the time when I thought to myself what was the right plan for me?
Because I knew that I didn't really like economics and I knew that I wanted to continue doing a business program. So it was like, oh, if you want to continue being an employee or work in a corporate or get a professional career, I really do need to get a master's degree because that's all Asians do. Right.
And so I figured the right way for me would be an MBA rather than an MS in economics or finance. So I planned to go to an MBA, let's say from the start of my career at the Central Bank, it was a multi-year planning process where I knew that I needed funding. So I figured the best way to do that was to get a scholarship from the corporates in Thailand like banks and KBank was giving out scholarship. And I planned the steps that I needed to get there by for example, taking CFA, working on volunteer. And then eventually I joined KBank, that was more serendipity. But at the end, the plan kind of worked out over five years since I started my career to the day that I got the scholarship and actually went to Kellogg.
Jeremy Au: [00:07:30] Amazing. I think that's kind of similar to me. Right. I studied economics undergrad and I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, maybe I shouldn't be an economist.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:07:38] I don't blame you, man.
Jeremy Au: [00:07:44] Actually in high school I wanted to be a vaccine researcher. And then in university actually my plan was to be going to a vaccine strategy. So I wanted to join Gates Foundation, but the Gates Foundation wasn't accepting non-Americans unfortunately.
Bridge Bank Group, which does a lot of work with them doesn't accept non-Americans either. So I had to go at my third choice, which turned out to be Bain Consulting. Right. And then I went in and similar to you I went in and I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, did I see every Asian. I was like I don't think I'm going to make partner in this company. So I should explore an MBA. Right. Because it's an acceptable off-ramp. So I totally get where you're coming from. Could you share a little bit more about, obviously you went on, you got your offer, what was it flying out, I guess, were you excited? Were you scared? Were you nervous? Do you remember that flight out to hit out your first day on campus?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:08:44] Yeah, I still remember. It felt like dream come true, because I was working on it for five years. I think MBA at Kellogg, they did a really good job at preparing for you to go to campus because before we leave Thailand, we have this alumni get together where the alumni would meet the new incoming student and that we got to ask a lot of questions from them. And I see one of our alum here, Paul Ark as well in the audience. I met him right before I went to Kellogg when he was taking a sabbatical in Thailand. I kind of knew what I was getting into, but I still feel very excited on the flight there and I didn't... This whole new world that I haven't explored. That I was a pretty excited about it.
Jeremy Au: [00:09:32] Yeah. I remember that too. It was a dream come true. I think there's a good phrase that you used there. I think we'll just to talk a little bit more. So you entered the MBA and you knew that you were not going to go back to becoming a central bank/economist role. Right. What were you thinking in terms of geography? What were you thinking in terms of industry? Walk us through that process? Yeah.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:09:54] Yeah. So I took a scholarship from KBank to go to an MBA school because my family couldn't support me and I knew that I had to come back to the bank. So it's this typing where usually corporate would give out scholarship and you do your two year, or one year of studying and to come back you are bonded by that company for a certain period of time. So I knew I was going to come back. That was the plan.
Jeremy Au: [00:10:21] And then it changed. Right. So what happened? So go on, you had that plan and then obviously we know that that didn't happen based on what you just shared it professionally. So what happened? You were like, were you walking around on campus and then suddenly the skies opened up and then you were like, oh, I'm going to do something else, what happened?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:10:42] Yeah. Honestly, first year of MBA was really confusing. I don't know you felt this, but I was looking around exploring different career paths, tried consulting for awhile. Tried to get an internship in consulting, didn't get it. And I think that was a reflection moment for me. It gave me kind of a push to really think of what I really want to do because I went into MBA. I wanted to do something around FinTech, wanted to make something that's tangible. And I thought consulting was going to be it because there's a structured process and you get to work with executive at banks or financial institution and things like that. So it felt sort of feasible. Whereas I thought about VC as well, when I was starting the process of recruiting and people kept telling me that VC is impossible especially for non-Americans in America.
So I kind of pursued consulting for a while, but I ended up, did not get an internship. So I reflected on what I really wanted to do. And I thought that I wanted to give a shot in VC. So I reached out to Paul during the audience and he took me in for an internship. And so during the first year and second year, I came back to Thailand to work at a corporate VC arm that focuses on FinTech investing with Paul. And during that time I really loved it because the first project that I do was ICO back in 2017 when it was just getting hot, the research was about how it would impact capital markets across the world and how companies would raise fund. And the more I dig into it, the more I got interested in the blockchain and crypto space.
So after I got back to my second year at Kellogg in the US, I applied to a Kellogg program where they placed students into a small group to study in San Francisco, which is our satellite office. So I went there in January, 2018 and started looking for internship, my cold calling Paul and I just LinkedIn messaged him and, Paul Veradittakit which you talked to, a partner at Pentara. I send a LinkedIn message him, asking him for an internship. And he was kind enough to reply and took me in and that's how I got into Pantera. And I think that period in San Francisco was a life-changing moment because I got to work with these amazing partner and I was literally working seven days a week. And just to look at a lot of deals that went through Paul's desk. And it was super interesting because that was the peak time of blockchain for the last bubble.
Right? So it was really active. So after a few months in San Francisco, I really knew that I wanted to be in VC and that time luckily KBank, which is the bank that sponsored me for my MBA school, they started to set up their VC fund as well. So after graduation, I kind of have this big decision to make whether or not I wanted to stay in the US and pursue my career in San Francisco, which is what I really wanted to do or go back home to kind of finish my bond basically. So I tried to negotiate with the bank because as an MBA student, you have one year of OPT visa where you can stay in the US without having to go through the lottery process. So I negotiated with the bank, wrote up a proposal, talked to my negotiation professor and tried to get myself to stay one year longer, but then the bank disagreed and I had to come back to Thailand.
So I started my career back in Thailand, right after graduation at the VC fund. And I was in depression for awhile. Didn't want to come back really, but then kind of talked myself through it and really made peace with the fact that I have to be back. And then two and a half years later, I just had been working at Beacon VC and really loved the experience. Helped them make a few investments in FinTech space and kind of found my way to Monk's Hill because I felt that I like VC job, but then I didn't want the limitation of being in the strategic VC. And I wanted to get a broader exposure of VC space. So I decided to move from KBank to Monk's Hill, which is another uphill battle because there was a lot of negotiation on how to settle my bond, basically. So it was very dramatic over this last few years.
Jeremy Au: [00:15:16] Wow. What an amazing story, because I know I love it, right. I mean you couldn't get into consulting, which is a lot of Southeast Asians in the MBA programs look at consulting as a quality premium job to go after. And then you've got the harder one, which is VC, which is harder than consulting. So hats off to you actually. And then you had this really interesting and very similar set stories, right? I mean in this audience and a lot of the listeners out there the many sea turtles. I'm looking at David for example as part of the audience, he's a Stanford MBA, also kind of going through some similar dynamics. But you're just making a decision about whether to double down in a career in the states or to build it out back home in Southeast Asia, right.
So tell us more, and obviously hats off again to you for negotiating every stage of the way. I have many friends on bonds and it's... That's another topic altogether. Maybe more of a closed doors.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:16:13] Yeah.
Jeremy Au: [00:16:14] So I love to get deeper on this one. Right. So you made a decision to come back, right? Obviously the bond was a big part of it or so far, what were you thinking? How were you feeling because every sea turtle kind of feels the same thing, all right. Which is that they're in States, they're enjoying their life and you have to make a decision to go back to Southeast Asia. Right. So do you remember any conversations? Who did you talk to to discuss this decision? What were you thinking, what were you doing? Were you walking around a lot?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:16:47] There were many tears involved. In fact, and I think the biggest question that was going through my mind was the fact that had I not come back then that was going to be a big financial consequence because I was going to break my bond. Right. And then I thought about a career that I would have in the US versus in Southeast Asia. What tipped the scale was that can't really take that much of a financial burden back then to break the bond. And I think coming back and working at a VC fund for a top bank in Thailand, wasn't so bad. And it was one of the way that I could achieve my career goal, which is providing a financial and capital for amazing entrepreneurs to build their company as well. So whether I do it in San Francisco or in Asia, that wouldn't be much different.
The only difference that I thought was material was the fact that in San Francisco, I get to work with amazing people. And that was going to be a lot of learning opportunity for me. Whereas in Asia, I really don't know what the space was back then, because VC space in Thailand was very nascent. And so it was more of a kind of making peace with the fact that one financially, that it wasn't going to make sense. And two, I can still achieve my career goal no matter where I was. And thirdly which is that I would have to just be more scrappy in terms of how I learn and grow in this career and figure it out in the future. It was more of a risk that I didn't know what I was getting into in Asia. Whereas I knew what it was in San Francisco already. So, yeah. So I think those three factors altogether kind of helped me make that decision.
Jeremy Au: [00:18:35] Wow. That's really real, thanks for sharing that. I think that is exactly all my other MBA friends who were bonded back to their consulting firms or back to the government, or back to whatever. It's a common dynamic, right? big question is without this sponsorship it was impossible to go. And so the question is how do we break it, right. So it's a very awkward conversation to have.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:19:01] Yeah. And I also think though that a lot of Asians, particularly Thai people, I think we're not used to the fact that students can take out student loans, which is very common in the US. For Thailand, or at least for me, I thought that was a little bit of a stigma to it.
I think back in the days when I was deciding whether or not to take the scholarship or to take out loans, it was this fear of the unknown of if you take loans, then will I be able to find a job? Will I get the visa? Will I be able to pay back? It was a lot of uncertainty, which made me not taking that decision. So it kind of helped me shape my thinking when I came back and I worked at Beacon for a few years when I was thinking, what was the right next move for me to make? And I decided to take a leap and leave the bank, pay back my loans and pay back my settlement and my bond, and then joined Monk's Hill because I wanted to take that risk. And I don't want to play it safe like I did before. You know what I mean?
Jeremy Au: [00:20:04] Wow. You just said do things that were really interesting. Right? I mean, the first thing you said was Asians, which is very true by the way, don't really understand the trade-off between loans versus the bond. Right. Especially because not... I agree with you. I think we're not a more sophisticated, am like oh, student loans are pretty cheap in terms of the way they structure versus a bond. Right. I mean, obviously they have their pros and cons. There's definitely a lot of stigma around the loan side that is not justified if you look at the economic reality. The fact that we're talking about an MBA, right. Which normally pushes us into better paying jobs than we had before. Right. I think it would be a different if you're doing a trade school for a different vocation. Right. Then I think the calculus is a bit different.
And then the second thing that you said that was really interesting was your personal evolution from deciding to take on more risk. Right. And that's a very intentional choice that takes time. I just thought that was a really interesting piece because I'm curious, right? How did you feel like you felt more comfortable taking more risks? Was it because you crunched the numbers on yourself? Was it because you got to see some great people like Paul and other folks make similar trade-offs? How did you, I guess, make that decision intentionally to take on more risk?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:21:23] It was a tough decision because I kept going back and forth between security and taking a leap of faith. I think it comes down to the fact that time is very limited. I think in life you can always make more money, but you can't get that time. Right. You can't have more time. And I don't know why, but operate in a sense that, there is sense of urgency all the time. So I wanted to be in a place where I can grow the fastest and be in a place where there's resources for me to learn from and to kind of shadow and learn from people who I work with. I know that I learn best from shadowing people. And back in San Francisco day, I was learning so much because I got to shadow Paul Veradittakit and Sheel Mohnot at 500 Startup.
And I knew that that was the best approach that I learned. So coming back here and making that decision, it was one, the time element that you will never get back time. And I want to be in a place where I can grow the fastest and be at the right place to kind of push forward my career.
And two it's just knowing yourself and how you best operate as a person. For me, it was about observing and shadowing people. And so I wanted to be in a place where I can do that. And lastly, just having a lot of conviction in yourself, because now I feel that if I don't make it in this career, it's me who I can blame. And I can't blame other people anymore because I'm taking a leap of faith in myself. So I'm just placing bet on myself, which is super hard. I think the last part was the toughest thing to make a decision on because I'm not that confident in my ability, but I kind of want to see how far I can go. And without being able to blame it on other people or the circumstances.
Jeremy Au: [00:23:23] I love what you just said. Right. You're owning the consequences which is super terrifying, but it's also, I don't know, it lets you have that growth. Right. Because there's no one else there. Right. And it's something that you're right until you shed it. Yeah. You're right because in some ways you started out with the bank and then your life has been with the bank all the way until 2020, right?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:23:49] Yeah, exactly. It was from the first day, if it's like most safest life you can have.
Jeremy Au: [00:23:56] I didn't realize that.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:23:57] And compared to you when you started your own company and all these things, it's super brave, I feel.
Jeremy Au: [00:24:05] Thank you. I mean, it's still terrifying from year to year, I can tell that. That's interesting. Right. Because I remember when I was graduating from UC Berkeley and I remember I told my professor and I said, okay I've decided and I know what my life for the next few years is going to be. I'm going to go to Bain for next few years. And I'd like to do a secondment at Gates Foundation, maybe along the way. And then I'm going to do an MBA. But I don't know what else is out there for me. I remember the professor was just staring at me like, okay, clearly you've planned out the next four to five years of your life.
And he's like, yeah, you don't need to plan more than that even. Don't feel bad that you haven't planned out your whole life. Four to five years is pretty good for senior. Most people haven't even figured out a job or whatever it is. And then she was also like, yeah, Jeremy maybe you should have more serendipity in your life. And I was like, what are you talking about. I was just like what is this thing called serendipity? But something that stuck with me a little bit I'll remember it from time to time. Right. I ended up not doing the thing I thought I was going to do. I ended up not staying at Bain as long as I thought I would.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:25:27] Yeah. So why was that the case? What helped you make that decision to take the path that was not what you envisioned yourself?
Jeremy Au: [00:25:37] Yeah. By the way Nat has an amazing podcast as well.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:25:43] I'm sorry, I'm hijacking your moderator position.
Jeremy Au: [00:25:48] It's theventurejourney.com. So she's also a great guest and interviewer as well. So but I will answer that question. I think the first thing was... Sometimes I talk about in terms of the floor versus the ceiling. Right. The hygiene factors versus the actual. A big part of it was, I think that when I went to Bain, it both created both a ceiling and a floor. The reason why I went to Bain was because I applied to Gates Foundation, got rejected. I applied to Bridgespan Group and I got rejected. So Bain my third choice which always surprises a lot of folks as well. The reason why I applied was because I had been part of a social impact consulting club and there was this person she was a senior... She was coaching me and managing me a little bit.
And the university undergrad club and she went to Bain and I was whoa, she went to Bain. And then years later she went to Harvard, that's why I was, oh, she's cool. She's an achievable role model. Does that make sense? It wasn't like one of those massive Harvard MBAs or whatever it was. It was like, person is this three years ahead of me. Right. And I went to Bain and it changed my life because there was so many folks coming back from an MBA. Does it make sense? Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, INSEAD. So there was a floor in a sense, but it was also an implicit understanding of the company, and there was an internal portal to talk about the MBA process in terms of application and stuff like that.
So it was internal knowledge sharing. Right. And so it created a floor where the moment that happened and I did my internship at Bain, it made me not have a bond. It doesn't make sense. Right. So I think there's a big difference between you and me in that. Right. It's like I didn't have a bond. Right. I was lucky enough to take out a function of loans and family money was able to get me through undergrad. And I went to just, yeah, I mean, and so I was able to not have that. Thank you for listening to BRAVE. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share this episode with friends and colleagues. Sign up at www.jeremyau.com to discuss this episode with other community members in our forum. Stay well and stay brave.
By mention of the bond I hope that makes sense. Which was, I think not only a visible gain in a shock them, it does an education, but also visible potential loss to break it. But also it's the first option, if that makes sense.
Right. It's the alternative that all things are being compared against. Right. Whereas for me, it was like the moment that did that Bain internship without the bond my base case was always going to be stay at Bain. Does it make sense? Everything else felt upside, right? Setting up a social enterprise and bootstrapping, it felt an exploration exercise. Right. Doing a Harvard MBA that felt upside. Right. So my floor was a nice floor that didn't have any potential loss. the reason why I share that is obviously I can share some of this airy-fairy thing about be fearless and drink. I don't know, I was going to say ionized water. I don't know, something like that. Become more fearless.
I think being fearless is also being privileged/intentional or functionable enough to create an environment where you don't have that fear. Right. Which is what something that you did. Right. I mean, you made a decision to take the bond and then you made a decision to be intentional about exploring whether you should break the bond by exploring different internships and getting different other folks to mentor you and coach you.
And then you got enough information if you justify that it was worth getting out of it and exploring a new role. Right. I honestly think if you asked me, you probably had a more courageous arc because you're both intentional and savvy enough to figure out whether to do it or not. Because I know other friends who are still in their bonds forever, effectively, whether it's a bond to the government or it's a bond to Bain or McKinsey or BCG, and it's their default path and they were never intentional savvy enough to get the certainty, to break it and do something else. So Nat, I think you did something really amazing here.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:30:13] Yeah. But also I think it's a function of what's important in your life too. I think some people value family, some people value work, and some people might value money, for example. And I think each of us operate in different way based on what we value most in life. And for me, it's just no family right now. So work is something that's really important for me. And it's always been the case. So that's why I think I made that decision. Whereas other people might have a different mental model and different value. So I wouldn't say this is the path for everyone, but at least it was still the right one for me.
Jeremy Au: [00:30:50] Oh, you said something really true. Right. Which is that every resonate of that, which is people have different priorities. Right. And I know many folks who took the bond and they prioritize family and stability and sorts of, or they like the firm, right. And so to keep going and that's totally great. I'm super supportive of them and I love them. And I think you said, there's a lot of people like you Nat who eventually did something else. Right. I think the tricky part is always the folks in the middle, right? The people who hang out with us and say, they want to get out to explore something else, but then they're not taking the actions for a wider set of reasons needed for them to get out of it. Right. Honestly the worst of both worlds, right. You have the dream to do some something else, but you don't have the intentionality to do it, to get out of it. And on the converse side, you have the security of a bond in place, but you're not enjoying the benefits of of the bond in place because your brain is somewhere else. Right.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:31:41] There's many reasons why someone would not take the leap. And I think what's best for each person is just really understand why you're doing what you're doing and being intentional about how you see yourself in the future. Because you can never turn back time. This is the only life you have. So you need to choose the path that you won't regret in the future. I think that's what I optimize for. And I think a lot of people are doing that as well. And it takes a bit of courage to get out of your comfort zone, but I think it's totally worth it if you're willing to take a bet on yourself.
Jeremy Au: [00:32:15] Yeah. Amazing. And talking about taking a bet on yourself. One thing I noticed is that you've had a lot of people make a bet on you. Right. So Paul Ark, someone who you reached out and got help from, there's a whole bunch of different mentors that you got help from as well. So I'm just kind of curious about your role models or the people who have helped you along the way get there?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:32:38] I've been super lucky to have people who have given me the opportunity to be where I am today. My first career at the Central Bank , I don't know how I got it. I didn't really prepare for anything and they were kind enough to take me in and throughout my career specifically, the people who got me into VC– Paul Ark, Paul Veradittakit at Pantera, Sheel Mohnot at 500. They're all very, very successful in their own respective career. And I think what they taught me is to pay it forward to other people who are aspiring young people and want to have a career in tech as well. So recently I've been doing a mentorship program for women where I mentor women who are in their first job or just out of college in terms of how to think about career and be the sounding board, which has been a really rewarding experience.
I have one mentee in Hong Kong who was looking for a VC job in Singapore, and I've been talking to her for the past year and that helped me pay it forward and be open to serendipity that happens along the way as well. A few weeks ago, a high school student high school mind you was 17 years old called me and said... LinkedIn messaged me first asking me for a call. And I was like, okay, sure, let's hop on a call.
And she asked me, oh, what should I do in order to get into tech? What is your career like, what are the steps that I need to take? And she was freaking 17. I was like when I was 17, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. And just being open to serendipity meeting like that is something that I treasure a lot because that's how this little magic happen. And you kind of be able to kind of impact someone's life in a very small way. But I think anyone can do it just being open-minded and open to kind of share your experience to people who might need it and you don't even know.
Jeremy Au: [00:34:44] It's interesting as well, because I remember I was at UC Berkeley and I was being asked to be a guide for audience like elementary middle school kids. And they were asking me about how to get to UC Berkeley. And I was just like, whoa, whoa, whoa, you all are born after the year 2000. Right? I was like why are you asking me these questions? I think one interesting thing is with the internet and everything, to myself I too have got some messages from middle school students asking about VC, right? I'm like, whoa, whoa, whoa. They don't call them millennials anymore, that shows how old we are now. I think it's something else, Gen Z. Here's the question I have, right. You look at all these people you're helping what do you think it's important? Right. Because you've being coached and mentored by so many great folks, right. I guess by two Pauls in your life.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:35:44] Yeah. I don't know what my life has to do with a lot of Pauls.
Jeremy Au: [00:35:49] I know maybe in a future I got a name like something or someone after Paul and then now you're also paying it forward. I think what forms of coaching do you think are more, what wasn't helpful, maybe more resonant. Are there a set or forms of coaching that, I don't want to say better or maybe better versus are there some forms of coaching or styles that you feel are less helpful or less productive?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:36:14] That's a good point. I think at least for me personally, I learn in a few ways. One is observe. So I think it's very powerful when I get to sit in meetings with the partners, and have a chance to debrief with them, post-meeting on what they think the company is and share my point of view and learn from their point of view. I think that is a way to learn and accumulate the way you think and analyze a company as a VC. Right. So I think shadowing is really important, especially for VC, which is an apprenticeship model where you really need to follow the partners everywhere and kind of shadow them. So that was the first one. And two is being thrown in the deep end.
I think Paul Ark, Paul V, Sheel, they all did that to me, gave me really tough assignment and gave me the full autonomy to operate and do it and let me just do it, right. Because being thrown in the deep end, not knowing what I was doing. I had to really get myself up to par in terms of my knowledge, my analysis and things like that. For example, when I was joining Paul V at Pantera, I knew what blockchain was like but I wasn't really in the industry for a long time, right. Because people who are really into blockchain in San Francisco, they usually would have heard or been in the space since 2011, 2012. I just got into the blockchain space in 2017, but I worked at Pantera in 2018. So I was very new and he was just expecting me to work on different deals.
For example, this deal where the company was trying to mimic an arbitration process in law into the smart contract. And I really had to figure out if that was legally possible, it was feasible or not. I had to pull a lot of strings, asked my lawyer friend, talked to my professor at Northwestern and really think through bringing in this knowledge about legality to blockchain and how smart contract works to really ramp up my understanding in the space and be scrappy and have to figure things out. That was really hard. And he keeps throwing me projects and deals like that until I was able to kind of, okay, now I know what the space is like. I have the fundamental knowledge to do analysis. So it was being thrown in the deep end, that helps a lot because it helps you learn so much in so little time.
So I think two things following the answer is one you learn from shadowing, especially in a VC world where you have to shadow the partner. And I think that accumulates over time. And two you learn from being thrown in the deep end and just be comfortable with not knowing how to get to the answer, but kind of be creative enough to figure out how to get to the answer. And that helps you kind of build foundational knowledge in different vertical, different sectors and kind of repeat that learning model every time you see a new deal, that's been very helpful, especially at Monk's Hill where it is a sector agnostic fund. And I need to kind of relearn new industry in every deal. And we're looking at seven, eight deals a week, which is crazy amount of deals. So the process of learning, I really need to kind of be proficient with the process of learning essentially. So I think both shadowing and relearning and being thrown in the deep end has helped a lot.
Jeremy Au: [00:39:43] Yeah. That's really true. Definitely agree with you about the apprenticeship model as being really important and also quite crazy because it's not... I mean how many industries in the world are there where it's really defined as apprenticeship model. There's very few right.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:39:58] Yeah. And I think that's where value accrues. Right. If you look at Naval Ravikant, the prominent Angel investor and serial entrepreneur in the U.S. where he talks a lot about career capital, and there's few careers that you can accumulate wealth on. It's usually a career where you have leverage and leverage usually comes from either coach where you can scale something for a lot of people, or it comes from leverage as a capital, where you take people's capital and invest and generate returns based on that, or leverage from hiring other people.
And I think for you as a person, you have to figure out what leverage it is, because if you do things that other people can do, then you're not really standing out. And VC is one of the careers where you can't really excel by doing what other people are doing. Really need to be different and I think the learning comes from experience of shadowing others, experience from building your own point of view and all these things. There's no framework for you to learn. It's not a book, or like consulting where you have to do X, Y, and Z to be good in this career. It's a bit more unstructured.
Jeremy Au: [00:41:19] Yeah, that's very true. It's interesting you mentioned Naval, so what do you read? Do you read Naval, Twitter, what do you learn? What do you read? What do you consume?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:41:31] I love Naval a lot. And if you're not familiar with him, I would really recommend this digital book called The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. It's like the writer just accumulates all of Naval's Twitter tweets about life, wealth and health and accumulate it into a book, I think that was very useful.
The other two books that I really like one is So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. I think when you really want to be good at something, you have to put in the hours. There's no shortcut and there's no such thing as passion, because I think passion comes from hard work and really hone in your skill to be good at what you do. And last book is another book that I like the last one is How Will You Measure Your Life? By a Harvard professor what's his name? I Can't remember from the top of my head, but the book is called How Will You Measure Your Life?
At the end of the day comes from being intentional in what you do and having a well rounded and balanced life between work, health, and wealth. I think these are the three things that I strive for. And I'm trying to learn how to balance it all, which is not that easy.
Jeremy Au: [00:42:44] Wow. I love those three books. I have not read those first two books, so I need to definitely read Almanack, because I follow some of the tweets. I've heard about Cal Newport, because I think he also wrote a book on Deep Work.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:42:58] Yeah, that's right.
Jeremy Au: [00:43:01] So I don't want to fire the same writer, so I need to read these two books as well, but one thing it's funny because you say How Will You Measure You Life? That's one of my books that I really, really love.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:43:09] I love it too.
Jeremy Au: [00:43:10] I love it so much yeah, exactly, great. Two colleagues discovering they love the same book. Great. Clearly we don't hang out enough at work.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:43:17] Maybe we should do a book club.
Jeremy Au: [00:43:23] Yeah, we should do a book club, yeah. Because you don't remember the author, it's by professor Clayton Christensen, who is most famous for creating the word disruption, which every VC loves and every founder loves. And a funny story was I didn't learn about the word disruption, I didn't know Clayton Christensen for disruption. I knew him because I read How Will You Measure Your life? And I read that book first and I was like, I must have read that book at least four times now over the years.
And I keep rediscovering the book, if that makes sense. When I was reading it as a senior, it was a very different book from how I read it as a young professional, versus where I am today. And I knew about him because he wrote the book and it was only years later when I was doing my Harvard MBA that I was like, oh, he's also famous globally for disruption and all this other stuff.
What's interesting was if you asked him and you say what book did you like? Because I got to meet him and shake his hand and everything. You ask him which book did he really find meaningful? It's weird because he was like How Will You Measure Your Life? was the more meaningful book, than Disruption, which is crazy because the whole tech industry, the whole VC industry is predicated on disruption.
So all of us will be we know him for the word disruption and obviously The Innovator's Dilemma, but he knows himself for How Will You Measure Your Life? Which is crazy. And he passed away recently which is a big shame and everything. He was so loved by all his students. It's an interesting thing where he found that book more compelling, than what he's more famous for, which a good way, it's something to think about a lot. Right.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:45:11] Over my past career, I think I was really work driven in my 20s, but then I think this phase of my career, I know that there are other aspects of life as well. And I try to figure out how best to balance work with other things. Things that make you happy, things that make you healthy and accumulate wealth along the way. These things no one teaches you off the boat, it's not taught in school or in uni.
So I learn a lot from reading books written by these successful people, who actually were very intentional and thoughtful about how they want to lead their life. And they're a very, very valuable place to learn, especially when it's not that prevalent. It's something that you can't really learn elsewhere, or there's no one teaching you about it.
Jeremy Au: [00:46:03] Well, we're coming up on time here. But obviously if you have some time we'll let people be able to raise their hands and ask any questions. So if anybody wants to raise their hands, feel free to raise your hands and ask questions from the group audience, people who wants them. Nat, there's this quick question I have here is where were you 10 years ago?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:46:21] Oh my God.
Jeremy Au: [00:46:25] Just talk about teaching and guiding. What would you teach and guide yourself with the Nat of 10 years ago?
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:46:31] I think I had this tendency similar to you where I need to plan. I want to plan my life out 10 years from now if possible. But if I look back to my confused self 10 years ago, starting off my career, I would say that everything will be okay and just be patient and let life works its magic. You don't really need to be in control of every single thing in life, where I have everything figured out because I think life is a lot of magical moments where you can't really know where it will take you. So just be open to possibility and have trust in yourself that it'll work out.
Jeremy Au: [00:47:15] Awesome. Thanks so much Nat. So I think we have quick time for if anybody wants to raise their hands, we can answer a few questions and then go from there. Anybody want to raise your hands? There you go Paul we want to chat to you all, so I wonder have you helped a lot of the way?`
Paul: [00:47:25] I am going to make one comment because I just looked at your profile and there's nothing there. And I'm really surprised that you should at least be putting your podcasts on there, because I know you spend so much time on it. It's some really good quality stuff that frankly, you're just depriving your Clubhouse audience by not promoting it. So please get that up there, because it is some really interesting conversations you have with some interesting folks.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:47:53] I'll do.
Paul: [00:47:54] That's all I'm going to say, but Nat I'm going to say that the last point that you made about just not getting too wound up about controlling everything, going with the flow of things. I think that's really important and I know early on in our Kellogg relationship before you went off to school. I know that you're fretting about every aspect of your journey. And I know one of the things that I always kept trying to insinuate is it's just going to be okay.
And I think the way you said it reminded me of an analogy I used once with another person, because for quite a long time after I left investment banking, I was into sailing. I learned how to sail, which was something that was on my bucket list from my undergraduate days. At Berkeley I'll add, so Jeremy, Go Bears. But the thing about sailing is that a big part of it is out of your control, because as much as you're operating your boat, you're at the mercy of the tides and the wind.
So it's a combination between having some measure of control over what you're doing, but also shaping that around forces that you can't control. And when you find yourself in that moment where you get that wind and you're riding it, it's an adrenaline rush. And it's a combination of knowing that there are things that are out of your control and things that are within your control. And you just have to find that moment where the two converge and so that's life. And if you can come to peace with that, I think to Nat's point it's magical.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:49:42] Well, thank you, Paul, you said it best and for our audience who might not know Paul has a fantastic and adventurous career. And I think I learned a lot about serendipity and being in the flow from you from a person who has a career in investment banking, go after tech and then a VC, you've definitely had a very fruitful career and a way to look at life, so thanks for that.
Paul: [00:50:10] Getting to play a role in your career has been a real privilege. I know you were quite thankful to me, but I'm actually quite thankful to you. I love watching what you do. You're doing some pretty cool shit, pardon my language. And the thing is the epiphanies that you're coming up with, you're arriving at these epiphanies as you are transitioning into your 30s.
And it's like those are things that I didn't hit upon until much later in life. And so the fact that you're arriving to these realizations so early on because again, I think the whole fact that you're now starting to pay that forward to 17 year olds. I don't think that when I was 30, I would be able to provide that same level of guidance to someone in high school, because I hadn't arrived at that stage in my life yet where I had that insight.
So the fact that you've arrived at that point much earlier in your life and able to pay that forward much sooner in your career, means that by the time you get to my age now, I can only imagine how much impact you're going to have on a much wider group of people. So I'm quite excited.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:51:35] Thank you, Paul. That means a lot.
Paul: [00:51:38] This isn't about me. So I'm just going to go quiet, I'm going to go back to stage and let someone else come on up. This is all about Nat.
Jeremy Au: [00:51:45] Yeah, it's all about Nat. And again the plug of her podcast is theventurejourney.com.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:51:51] Thanks Jeremy.
Jeremy Au: [00:51:53] It's a great Thai, it's obviously Asians speakers and founders there.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:51:58] I really need to get on this Clubhouse game, because I haven't put anything on my profile because I have really never used it before. And this is my formal first time, so thanks for taking me on this journey.
Jeremy Au: [00:52:09] Okay, Nat, I think that's about it. I think everyone's pretty chill. I think a lot of people here have been hearing me out for the whole hour and a bit, to hear to your story.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:52:18] Yeah, you guys are troopers. Thanks for staying with us.
Jeremy Au: [00:52:22] Well, everybody else this podcast will come out in about, we have about three to four months I guess, so it'll be coming out in about four months. So if you really love this episode, tell your friends to they keep an eye out for it in four months. All right. Thank you so much, Nat.
Nat Wittayatanaseth: [00:52:36] Thank you so much for having me Jeremy. This has been a pleasure. And thanks everyone for listening and really appreciate you guys.
Jeremy Au: [00:52:44] Thank you for listening to BRAVE. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share this episode with friends and colleagues. Sign up at www.jeremyau.com to discuss this episode with other community members in our forum. Stay well and stay brave.