Welcome to Episode 96!
STIMY Episode 96 features Aaron Tang.
Aka Mr Stingy.
Aka the Country Manager of Luno – Malaysia’s 1st cryptocurrency exchange.
In this episode, we explore Aaron’s journey from a high flying oil & gas career to the world of social entrepreneurship (he took a 50% pay cut!), why he started the Mr Stingy blog and how that landed him a job in the crypto world as the current Country Manager of Luno.
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Who is Aaron Tang?
First things first.
Aaron Tang is known to have a maximiser personality. And that has informed many of the decisions he’s made, the Mr Stingy moniker he’s most known by, which in turn led to his current role with Luno Malaysia as its Country Manager.
As with all STIMY episodes, we begin at the very begin.
What does it mean to have a maximiser personality?
And how did he end up with the varied career that he’s had?
And what does he really think of the crypto space?
All that and more, in this STIMY episode. Hope you enjoy!
- 3:06 Maximiser personality
- 6:51 Being a Petronas scholar & breaking his bond
- 9:18 Paying off his remaining RM58k student debt with credit cards (p/s: not financial advice!)
- 12:46 Making a contrarian move in his career
- 17:15 Tendering at a bad time
- 19:04 Taking a 50% pay cut
- 24:21 Maximising profits v helping the greatest number of people
- 25:20 Feedback loops
- 25:50 Starting the Mr Stingy blog
- 34:46 How Aaron started writing for the Huffington Post
- 35:46 How blogging got Aaron a job in the crypto space
- 36:54 Discovering bitcoin
- 38:05 Putting skin in the game
- 41:47 HODL & toxic positivity
- 42:43 Going through a baptism of fire as Employee #1
- 43:44 Becoming the Country Manager of Luno
- 45:06 Being a regulated digital asset exchange
- 47:35 What regulators are most concerned about
- 48:55 El Salvador
- 49:42 Anti-money laundering concerns
- 53:50 Algorithmic stablecoins
- 54:35 Why Luna crashed
- 58:31 Are play-to-earn games all about insider trading?
- 1:00:14 Eating humble pie
- 1:01:44 Big idea that Aaron has changed his mind on
- 1:05:34 Underdogs
- 1:06:48 DAOs
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:
- Marja Kontinnen: Marketing Director, Decentraland – from launching Angry Birds Space with NASA & ISS to Hosting Virtual Parties on Decentraland
- Diego Borgo: Metaverse & NFT Advisor – Adidas’ Into the Metaverse & Salesforce’s NFT Cloud
- Eric Toda: Global Head of Social Marketing & Head of Meta Prosper, Meta
- Nicole Quinn: Celebrity Whisperer & General Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. Portfolio Companies include Goop, Haus (Lady Gaga), The Honest Company, and Lunchclub
- Phil Libin: Co-founder on Evernote & mmhmm on why startup success is worse than startup failure & why he thinks that the blockchain is bullish*t
If you enjoyed this episode with Aaron, you can:
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Aaron Tang: Mr Stingy blog, Twitter
- Open a Luno Account – if you’d like to open a Luno account, use this link & we’ll both get MYR 25.00 free BTC after you’ve signed up, deposited & bought MYR 100 in any crypto! (Luno exchange not included)
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STIMY Ep 96: Aaron Tang (Country Manager, Luno & Mr Stingy the Malaysian blogger)
Aaron Tang: I think the one thing that I often speak a lot about is leading a meaningful life. I'm not sure if I've come across like so many random interests, so many things that I've done.
It's not like I'm world-class in any of those things, right? It's like I've tried some stuff. I'm pivoting, changing industries, writing a blog and so on.
But ultimately all this stems from my desire or even a little bit of a fear that my life here on earth is wasted.
So I'm very big on leading a meaningful life. What meaning is to you or to me, is very different for everyone. There are some common similarities. Most people meaningful things for them would be family, friends, career health. Some people find meaning in writing a blog like myself. Some people find it in traveling.
So I would encourage everyone listening to this podcast, no matter what your interests are, try to build a life that's meaningful to you. And yeah, through all my interests and whatever and everything that I've done, I hopefully have been to able bring this message across.
I was a pretty nerdy kid growing up. I'd spend a lot of time reading books and encyclopedia My first interest was actually science. Hugely interested in science, but as I grew up, then started to get interested more into sports.
I wasn't ever really that good at sports but it has remained an interest till today.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone!
Welcome to episode 96 of the So this is my Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah. And before we start, I would love if you could leave a review about this podcast, whether on social media or on Apple Podcast, to let others know what you think. Every review really helps this podcast to grow, and you have my eternal gratitude.
Now let's get today's guess. Aaron Tang, AKA Mr. Stingy, AKA the country manager of Luno, a cryptocurrency exchange that Aaron ended up working because he runs a blog.
In this episode, we dive into all sorts of things, including Aaron's maximizer personality, how he paid off his RM 58,000 student debt with an ingenious use of credit card offers, which by the way, does not constitute financial advice.
How he went from a high paying oil and gas company to a social enterprise and why, while he loved it, he felt that he wasn't the best at what he was doing, how he ended up writing for the Huffington Post, and of course all things Luno and crypto.
Now I want to caveat by saying that my bad, this interview was done way back in early June and remember earlier STIMY guests who constantly say that the crypto space is moving really fast? Well, here's the evidence. We talked in this interview about a lot of things that were the most prominent in the crypto space at the time, like the rise of Goblintown and the crash of Luna Currency.
Huge headline news at the time, but old news now.
That said, I have left them in because I think that what Aaron shared was really interesting, and it's actually important to remember what happened not too long ago. But most of all, I hope you enjoy Aaron's journey and learn of how, when you do what you enjoy, even if that's just writing a blog, that can open doors that you'd never thought have existed.
So, are you ready?
you said once before that you've always had a maximizer personality. I've never heard anyone describe themselves that way. What does it mean?
Aaron Tang: Maximizer personality. Well, have you ever had a friend who's like, he knows all the best deals in town. Like how to stretch their dollar to the maximum. I mean, I know it sometimes borders on being cheapskate or maybe even classless or being a bit tacky?
But yeah, I've always had this fascination with optimizing. If we take the example of money, it's not just about making the most money possible because as we know, a lot of people make tons of money, but they don't actually optimize the use of it.
So I've always come from the perspective of, you know, whatever I have, I'm going to maximize the use of it. So that's kind of where the nickname Mr. Stingy came from also.
Ling Yah: What was the first thing you remember maximizing.
Aaron Tang: Well, it was the first thing I remember maximizing. I think it was definitely back in primary school.
This is going to sound awfully nerdy. had a friend, a church member, much older than me. He was an engineer and then he introduced me to the concept of mind maps. So it absolutely fascinated me because it's like, oh, here's a way to read, a way to study things. And you can remember so much better than if you just did it like a traditional reading or study.
I was always trying to maximize, like, I have this limited time on a play. I want to do stuff and I'm going to study. So how do I maximize that?
Ling Yah: Wow. And did you have a vision of what you wanted to do as you're growing up and exploring all these different avenues?
Aaron Tang: I had ambitions, but I think they were more dreams than ambitions.
Obviously you wanted to be rich you know, wanted to play sports and so on, but I would say those are more fantasy rather than reality. I think the first more practical ambition I had was to be a computer engineer.
I never really became a real computer engineer, but I did study electrical, electronic, majored in computer systems.
So I kind of became an engineer related to computer.
Ling Yah: And wasn't it while you were studying that with Andy, you built this eight big computer with small electronic ships?
Aaron Tang: Yes, I did. And to be clear I didn't design the computer. It was actually a project that was introduced by one of my lecturers.
He said that, oh, this is a really cool project. Someone overseas, in the UK actually, had built a do it yourself, home-based computer. And when I say a home-based computer, I don't mean like the Mac book pro. Like, you know, something that is very polished and very ready for consumer.
This is like literally buying small chips that you can buy in a hardware electronics store and then manually putting it together with wires and so on. So it didn't look anything like the polished consumer products that you see today.
But it was a fascinating way for me to learn and understand the inner workings of the computer system.
So, yeah, that was a really cool project. Good memories of that.
Ling Yah: Was there anything that came out of it? Did you get awards?
Aaron Tang: Well I got an A for the project and then we publish the project ,myself and a fellow classmate of mine. We publish the project on a website.
This was back in the Geocities days. So that was about 20 years ago now.
Ling Yah: I feel old saying that I do remember those days too.
Aaron Tang: Yeah. Geocities. So yeah, we published it and then someone from an unknown startup called Google came onto our page and then they're like, Hey, we're looking for hardware engineers in the region, are you guys interested to apply?
I had never heard of Google. I mean, I was obviously so silly back then I never even responded to it. So that's my near miss story.
Ling Yah: I think you were a Petronas scholar then, right? So you were bonded for 10 years.
Aaron Tang: Yes. Yes. I was a Petronas scholar bonded for 10 years. In my mind it wasn't even an option. Right. In my mind it was, finish university, I'm going to work for the national oil company of Malaysia. For those of you who don't know what Petronas is, it's the national oil company of Malaysia.
So yeah, I kind of ignored a couple of other interviews as well, because there's no point I'm going to work for Petronas anyway.
Ling Yah: You never thought maybe they could buy you out.
Aaron Tang: I wasn't that wise back then to be absolutely honest. I was like single track minded. Okay. I'm going to work for Petronas. That's it.
Ling Yah: But if anyone goes to your Linkedln profile, they will very quickly see you only spent two years at Petronas. So what happened?
Aaron Tang: I guess I quickly wised up in the world. Don't get me wrong, Petronas it's a great company, but I do remember having great benefits take care of employees.
I think they're in a really good place. The people of Malaysia definitely owe Petronas a big debt of gratitude. Absolutely. But when I was there, I had a team leader who was also not your typical corporate kind of guy.
I would call him a very independent kind of thinker. One day he sat me down in he's like, have you ever considered exploring your horizons apart from working here? And he's like, do you want to know on average, how you're going to be like in five years?
I said no. And he said yeah, if you just take an average guy, who's worked here for five years, most likely you're going to end up someone like that. Right. It's just the law of averages.
So I looked at some of the guys and okay, and I mean no disrespect , but I was like, okay, maybe this is not where I want to be for like the next 10 years of my life. I want to go explore. And that's kind of where I got the idea that, okay, I'm going to try something new.
Ling Yah: But you had only completed two years. So there was still 80% of that bond. Did you decide that you were going to just quit without a plan? What were the thoughts going through your head?
Aaron Tang: I was pretty scared to be honest. But I had this , I don't know if you can call it a blind faith, that things will work out. I
that even for previous Petronas scholars, 10 plus years ago now, if you quit it's not like Petronas are going to come okay, pay your debt immediately, right?
I knew that usually it takes a little while, so I was pretty confident that I'd be able to find a good paying career. I'd be able to work some kind of payment plan out. And I would be able to pay back my debt to Petronas.
And thankfully, I managed to do that.
Ling Yah: I know all these because you blogged about it extensively, but I thought it was so brilliant the way that you plan to pay back that debt, which was 58,000. Could you share a bit about how that all transpired.
Aaron Tang: It was a combination of couple of things. So I was a Petronas scholar. Petronas paid for my education for five years.
And back then the contracts were for every year of sponsorship, you need to serve two years in the company. So I had a debt of 10 years. I remember my total amount was about 80,000. So Petronas basically paid about 80,000 ringgit for my education and I have served already two years. So the amount was actually pro-rated.
full amount was 58,000, if I'm not mistaken . It might be 70 something thousand total. So anyway, I had a debt of 58,000 and it was a couple of years before they actually came and they asked for payments. So I had actually managed to start a new career doing something else.
I had managed to get a higher level of income as well. So anyway, when the debt collection agency came calling, when they sent the letter, it's like, well, if you pay up in a lump sum, then you get a discount. I think the discount was 40% if I'm not mistaken.
So I was trying to figure out, okay, how do I pay this lump sum amount? Because number one I don't want to borrow money from my parents.
You can call it ego, pride, whatever, but I just absolutely didn't want to do that. I just wanted to try and pay it off by myself. So I figured that, I could actually utilize a credit card and by the way, disclaimer, I'm not suggesting that anyone should follow me because I know a lot of people struggle with credit card debt and it's not the safest way of doing things, but again, I was young, reckless, and I said, okay, I'm going to put it on my credit card.
And then I'm going to use what they call a balance transfer plan. From that discount, I think from 58,000, I got it knocked down to about 30 something thousand . So I put that amount on my credit card and then immediately I did a balance transfer. Now, initially the balance transfer was for six months.
So instead of paying like 30,000 in my next bill, which is obviously a huge amount for me back at that time I would have to pay roughly like 5,000 plus every month for the next six months to cover that the transfer. By the way, the balance transfer thing back then it was a promotion, the zero fee.
So I didn't actually incur any fees here.
After I had paid like two or three payments, I discovered another longer term, 0% balance transfer. So I actually transferred to the credit card. In other words, I actually got like six plus 12 months to actually pay off my debt.
So it's a total of 18 months. I managed to pay it off completely.
Ling Yah: That's such a brilliant way of paying off your debt.
Aaron Tang: You know, 10, 15 years on, I looked back and it's like, Hmm, I understand why I did it. And it was really useful tool for me. But again, now I guess that I'm older I'm like, okay, if you ever want to try something like that, you've gotta be very careful, right?
Because credit card debt is, 18% if you don't pay it on time. I've always had that discipline. I track it meticulously. So I knew that I wasn't going to struggle to pay it on time. That's kind of how I did it.
Again, buyer beware, if you ever like pick on high risk strategies like that, you need to understand that this risk involved.
Ling Yah: With the power of foresight, would you have done the same thing at the time?
Aaron Tang: I think I would have actually. Yeah, I would have.
Ling Yah: I suppose because you had the discipline so it was okay. You can manage that risk.
Aaron Tang: Yep. Yep. That's correct.
Ling Yah: And so as you alluded to earlier, after Petronas you went to another company which I thought was interesting. So Petronas is an oil company. You went to Weatherford, which is an oil field service company and that's actually a contrarian move isn't it?
Aaron Tang: It's quite a contrarian move in the sense that in terms of hierarchy, the oil field service companies, contractors, they're service providers to the oil companies. So when we talk about oil companies, these are the ones most people are familiar with. These are Petronas, Shell, the Exxons the chevrons.
So these for lack of a better word, also the brands or the petrol stations or gas stations you see on the road, right? So most people are familiar with them and they're kind of top of the hierarchy because they're the clients.
So usually what people do is they will go to the oil field services company. They'll gain experience there. It is a tough life because a lot of times you're going offshore. You're doing jobs in harsh environments. It is lucrative, well-paid, but once you are ready to settle down or have a family and so on, you want to move to something more stable.
That's typically how people go towards the oil companies because they've good benefits and they're viewed as more stable.
Ling Yah: So you said that you couldn't see yourself in five, 10 years in Petronas, but you saw yourself in five, 10 years in Weatherford? How did that work out?
Aaron Tang: Back in Petronas I was in a very much non engineering, technical role.
I was involved with operations, logistics of transferring petrochemicals across borders. It was really interesting, right? When I decided to leave Petronas, I want to try something more technical.
I want to work for an international company. Now don't get me wrong. Petronas is also an international company.
But I wanted to experience the culture of a non Malaysian international company. And that's where I decided to go forward with it. And of course it also comes down to supply and demand, right?
I mean, I obviously applied for many more companies, but Weatherford was the one that gave me the chance.
Ling Yah: And what was it like there because you were there for quite a while?
Aaron Tang: Yeah, I was there for seven years. So those seven years were pretty nice. Some of my fondest memories there. I actually started from zero because when I joined Weatherford international.
I started as a graduate engineer. So I was kind of like reset the clock. I had to go through the basics of the oil field. I learned so much. It was also the company where I got promoted quite rapidly.
I averaged a promotion about every two years. So that was where I made the leap from a graduate trainee. I became a field engineer. I came back a operations coordinator.
So instead of running the jobs by myself, I was in charge of planning and coordinating, making sure that people are available. Then I became the regional product line manager. I'm in charge of not just the operations, but also the business side of things: profit and loss making money and so on and hiring and making sure the teams happy and successful.
Ling Yah: You said before that the higher your rank, the better your life, and you also have more control of your time. So why do you decide to leave in the end?
Aaron Tang: I'm going to sound like the ungrateful entitled millennial now. But yeah, I think towards the end of my career I was actually exploring, what do I want to do next? What do I want to learn next?
Again, I went back to the same thought process back in Petronas from almost a decade ago now. I was like, okay, now what's next to me. thought about if I were to get another promotion here, it would be nice. Of course, there would be more benefits, you know, perhaps more international travel, more responsibilities, but ultimately at that point of time, I'm like, okay, it will be more of the same thing, just a wider scope.
And back then, I was really, really interested to expand into what they call the learning and development space. I wanted to train, I wanted to learn about what makes people perform better, and to coach and so on.
I actually tried quite hard. I spoke to a lot of people within the company, like, is there a role within the company because I had spent seven years by then in that career.
I think I had an okay reputation, if not a good reputation. So can I make a lateral move? Can I go into the learning department and so on. It so happened that the oil industry wasn't doing well back then. During times when the oil industry doesn't do well non-essentials services, for example, training, entertainment, social, these kinds of things usually get cut down.
So long story short, the opportunity wasn't there for me, hence, I decided to look elsewhere.
Ling Yah: But then interestingly and I love that you charted all this on your blog, you said that you tendered in the last week of December and it was a bad timing. Why was that? How would you have done it differently?
Aaron Tang: When I said bad timing, I know that the company was doing some layoffs. You can call it a reduction in workforce. You know, they're nice names to put around it, but basically the oil industry wasn't doing well and people were losing their jobs.
So, I mean if I had like stick on, there was a potential chance that when they had their next round of layoffs or voluntary separation, I might have been able to get into one of those programs. And if you get into one of those programs, then you get compensated for the number of years that you serve, instead of resigning where basically you walk away with nothing. But maybe you would say with a little bit more pride.
If you leave in one of those voluntary separation schemes , then usually there's some compensation. So I think back when I was writing that blog, I was thinking like, oh, okay, if I waited, maybe I have been able to get some money out of it as well.
Ling Yah: And so after you left, what was the plan?
Aaron Tang: I actually got a job before I left. I went for a social enterprise. Again, really, really fond memories of that place. That company is called Leaderonomics.
It is a Malaysian company, but expanding internationally. They are a social enterprise. They do a lot in the field of education and training. And my job was basically in the campus division. So it's not like we run our own campus. We basically run programs for university students or young graduates.
I absolutely love working with young people, that age group. Helping them develop skills that are useful in the working world. And yeah, I spent two years there. Those were some of my favorite memories of my career.
Ling Yah: You mentioned before they took a huge pay cut.
Was that a big issue for you?
Aaron Tang: It was a bit of an adjustment in lifestyle. Thankfully I have a very supportive partner. I discussed this with my girlfriend back then. She's now my wife. So thankful that things worked out, but yeah, we discussed it and we're like, okay, I probably won't be able to afford expensive dinners so often, anymore.
Of course we still had our luxuries. I remember it's 50, 53 or 57%. So it's like basically half my salary. Significant amount.
Ling Yah: Wow. You must have really believe in a vision.
Aaron Tang: I did believe in a vision and I was so excited to go for it.
I really liked the concept of social enterprises even till today, right. It's not just about running a business that's profitable. But you want to work in a company which is profitable and also net good for society. So, yeah, I guess I was a little bit younger, you know, I wasn't married back then. I had a girlfriend, serious long-term relationship.
But, you know being young gives you a little bit more flexibility.
You can afford to take a more drastic move to your career. Take on more risk. Would I do the same today? You know, that's question mark.
Ling Yah: I think the interesting thing about social enterprise is that yes, you are doing good. You're having great impact, but then you also need to make profit as well. But somehow the profit is not as important as the impact. How do you find that balance? Was it difficult since you came from a for-profit background?
Aaron Tang: It was difficult definitely. This wasn't just about the social enterprise space, right? I think the field of learning and development, education is intensely competitive.
It's coming from a technology engineering background. It's more or less like in that field, if your tool, if your system, if your equipment is technically better, it's a little bit easier to stand out versus your competitors. Right. Whereas in the field of education training, it's a little bit more, towards the soft skills kind of angle, as opposed to the hard skills.
Your competitors can say, okay, I'm better than him because of X, Y, Z, and it's not easily quantifiable, who's better and so on. So it was an intensely competitive space. And as we know, in those kinds of spaces profits tend to get squeezed.
It might not be so easy to get it sustainable, but credit to Leaderonomics, right, they've been around for more than 10 years now, and they've done an admirable job.
Personally, I don't think I was the best at what I did. I mean, I love the job. Absolutely I loved the job. Fond memories until today, but, I don't think I was the greatest at what I was doing.
Ling Yah: Why would you say that? I mean, you were head of campus so clearly they believed in you?
Aaron Tang: I think it comes down to the slightly cliche ikigai diagram. They say that what you're good at what you love. You know what I love what I believe.
Social enterprise education training. I absolutely believe in it. I enjoyed the job, very meaningful for me. Am I really good at it? I think I was okay. For example, in the role that I'm doing today, I feel like it's a little bit more suited to my natural abilities or my personality.
So yeah, I guess I'm just being honest here that I don't think I was bad at it just to be clear, but I don't think it was maximizing my talents either.
Ling Yah: How did you figure out what kind of personality you were and what kind of career was suit that?
Aaron Tang: I think you can do like 10 career aptitude tests and you can even speak to people. I think that's a good way of doing it.
You speak to colleagues, previous colleagues, ex-colleagues, ex bosses. They should be able to tell you quite well that, okay, these are your strengths. This is what you're good at.
I noticed that when you do this, you lose track of time, you have a smile on your face. So it's something that you're really passionate about. So I think that feedback is useful.
But ultimately you have to experience it for yourself. You have to take an honest look at yourself and your performance. So while I can sort of look back now and see, okay, I wasn't that good at this.
I think I'm only in position to do that now because I actually went into it. I had skin in the game. I tried to do it.
Ling Yah: I've noticed a lot of my friends are in the social enterprise world. They started their own, it's become a hot topic. But I imagine it's a lot of glamour, but the reality is very, very different.
What do you feel are the common misconceptions people normally have?
Aaron Tang: Media attention , getting articles written about you, which is good. It's getting publicity for your company.
But that does not necessarily always easily translate into sales, right? Because social enterprises, the story is good, right. You know, I'm trying to run a sustainable business. I'm doing good for society. I'm doing good for humanity. It's a story that people want to cover. but does that translate into like hard dollars and cents?
I think that's where it sometimes gets challenged again.
Being in a couple of different industries myself, I can say without a doubt that certain industries, the margins at thighter. The revenue is smaller or the market is just smaller, right? And no matter how good, how strong our intentions are to make good of this world, right?
Sometimes the market forces will make it very challenging for us. Not that I want to discourage anyone from starting a social enterprise.
I really admire entrepreneurs in that space but just understand that intentions are also going to become the balance by market forces. So if the market is pricing your service or your product out it's just not sustainable.
It's going to be very difficult.
Ling Yah: So do you have any advice for people deciding, should I charge more or should I charge less? I mean, you could charge more and say all the profits going to help somebody, but then that means you can't take on certain clients as well.
Aaron Tang: I've always been of the camp that you should charge more because well, it's how you want to expand.
You want to grow your business sustainably. You could of course go the other way. You know, I want to make things cheaper and so on. But you have to have scale to do that. For a lot of people starting out, they might not have that skill immediately.
So I don't think you can always say that, okay, I'm just going to try and keep my prices rock bottom. it It gets very hard to run a business without a good cashflow and good revenue. So it's necessary to charge more do it. And the other thing is , it's a process of feedback loops, right?
I wouldn't dare to tell anyone how they run their business because ultimately the market will decide. So whatever you do, you need to have that feedback loop, look at how the market is responding. And then I guess, act appropriately.
Ling Yah: Were there particular feedback loops that you found very effective to make sure that you're always have your ear on the ground?
Aaron Tang: Speaking to customers.
Almost An overused cliche in the corporate world, right.
but yeah, I'm, a big fan of that. I think that no matter where you are in the business you do need to go and speak to your end customer or at least to see your product being used to see people's reaction.
What are people saying about it on social media and so on. You have to get that data in as many ways as possible.
Ling Yah: I wants to go a little bit back in time while you were still working in Weatherford. You actually started a blog. How did that all begin?
Aaron Tang: I've always had this need for a creative outlet.
Back then, it was music. I've always loved the written word as well. I didn't remember until a couple of years later writing my blog, my mom said that when you were young, when you were 10 years old, you would write articles like make-believe articles about sports events.
And I had totally forgotten about that. It was like two, three years after I started writing my blog she reminded me.
Ling Yah: I kept a copy of that. And we can share it.
Aaron Tang: I think it's like a snippet somewhere in my house. But yeah that was pretty cool. So I've always had this love of the written word.
I was at the stage in my life where I was doing okay in my career and I was thinking what next? And I needed to create this outlet. I decided that, Hey, I'm going to start writing my own blog.
A couple of years before that I had actually tried to start writing online .
I had been contributing articles to a women's magazine. I had written a blog about relationships.
Ling Yah: How did that all start?
I mean, it's one thing to say I want to write but another thing to be in another magazine.
Aaron Tang: Right. When I say magazine is like an online magazine.
It's not like I'm in Tatler . I knew someone who worked for that online magazine and I'm so shy, you know. I'm just starting out writing.
Will somebody give me a break? Right. So I just like my friend and she's like, okay, I'll speak to my editor.
And before I knew it, the editors like, Hey, I'm going to give you a chance. We're going to pay you I think 50 bucks an article or was it 30 bucks back then?
To me it was really cool because I was pretty timid and shy back then. The idea that someone would actually pay me for my work and I can see my name on the website, was quite mind blowing to me. Okay, I should celebrate.
Now everyone has their Instagram, their own medium. Many people have their podcasts, like how we are doing one today, right?
But yeah, I wasn't like the most entrepreneurial or outspoken. I was pretty shy. So I thought it was really cool that I could do that.
Ling Yah: Did you tell anyone that you just quietly publish and just let it sit there?
Aaron Tang: I told some friends and of course they were supportive. But I also realized that, they were supportive in the way like, how your mom is supportive. They're supportive because they liked you.
They love you, but it's not because your material is great or anything, right? So I kind of figured out that that was the start of writing, but I wasn't putting out really good material back . So it was a process of improvement as well.
Ling Yah: So how did you go from feeling that you were not writing good work to deciding I'm going to start a blog where it's just my writing?
Aaron Tang: I wrote an article about the MH 370 tragedy about eight, nine years ago now.
That article actually took off . It got like 5,000 shares within a couple of hours or something.
Ling Yah: Just to check. You didn't do any SEO. You just wrote?
Aaron Tang: I just wrote, well, it's not on my blog.
It was on the online magazines website. I'm like, okay, I've got some traction, you know maybe I'm not like, absolutely horrible at this. Right. And the thing about writing for an online magazine is you have to work with an editor and the editor will edit.
Sometimes they have their own creative direction. Sometimes they feel that, okay. I want it a certain way. I guess I've always had that independent streak myself. I'm like, okay, I want full editorial control, right? So I thought, okay, Hey, I'm gonna write my own blog and just see what happens.
Ling Yah: And what was it like figuring things out? Were you using WordPress even back then?
Aaron Tang: Yes. I was using WordPress. Again, a little bit of the technical. So pulled up like 50 Windows, how to start your own blog, WordPress plug ins, and so on.
Ling Yah: I've been through it all.
Aaron Tang: You enjoy it?
Ling Yah: Yeah. You do enjoy it because it's your thing.
Aaron Tang: Yeah. Yeah. It's like your little, piece of real estate on the internet. Right. So, yeah.
Ling Yah: Yeah. And so you figured it out and then was there a content creation plan schedule?
Aaron Tang: I struggled with the content creation plan because I don't have that great amount of discipline.
So back then I was like, okay, I'm gonna write for an hour everyday after work.
Never happened because after work I'm so tired. Even when I do pull out the laptop, the ideas don't flow. So somewhere along the way I shifted to, I'm going to wake up early in the morning, I'm going to write and that got better.
I'm not great at discipline, right? There are many days when I wake up and get distracted with sports news from the previous night. And I ended up in a rabbit hole of reading about sports. I ended up writing for much less than I should.
Following a process is not my strong point.
Ling Yah: So how did you land on what you were going to write?
Aaron Tang: That was a bit of a trial and error process as well. When I started my blog, I wanted it to be about optimization or maximize a personality thing.
Try and make the most out of what I have on earth. I'm going to make the most of my time, my money, I want to make the most of my relationships, my career and so on. So that was the whole central theme to the blog. I started out writing a variety of articles: money-related, career related ,relationship advice, and so on.
Over time I've realized that I'm more well-known for my money related articles. I don't know why. Maybe it's more suited with my maximizer personality or analytical personality. or so on.
Ling Yah: Would you say that you were influenced by some of your heroes, like Mr. Money mustache?
Aaron Tang: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Mr. Money mustache was somewhere along the middle of my journey. My first hero was actually Mark Manson. Matt Manson wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F. Right.
Before he became bestselling author, He was a blogger himself. He used to write about relationships, about men's dating advice. Dating advice specifically for men. And I was a super huge fan of him, still a huge fan of him, by the way.
I watched him grow throughout his career from a blogger to become a best selling author, second book and so on. So he was my first hero. And then along the way, of course Mr. Money, mustache. James clear again, started from a blogger, became a number one best selling author.
And today , the people I follow are more into the personal finance investment space. I still try and read widely. I still have more than a passing interest in other things like good relationships, career and so on.
Ling Yah: How would you say that you were growing? Because I read that in five years for instance, you were getting 25 to 30,000 monthly views, which is quite a lot of views for someone who didn't have this kind of schedule that all content creators are taught to maintain.
Aaron Tang: Although I don't strictly follow a schedule, I have a schedule. I just fail at it all the time. Right. On average, I probably get an article out every three weeks.
If you look at my historical average over the past eight years, I think I probably get an article out every three weeks. It is probably too long because every blogging advice column that you read will say, you need to publish like twice a week.
yeah, in that sense, I don't think I ever published fast enough. So, in terms of readership, it reached that level and it's kind of hovered at a level. And even in recent times, it actually come down a bit.
Ling Yah: Because I write as well, I have my own websites on my side.
I find this whole thing fascinating. Were you thinking about, for instance, how to monetize and make this more sustainable?
Aaron Tang: I've always thought that it should primarily be for fun because I already have a job and I don't want this to become another job and take away the fun of doing it.
So if it makes money, it's cool. It's fun. But I've never really monetized it or actively tried to make a lot of money. I mean, there is some money coming from the website and its related activities such as speaking engagements and so on, but I've never really pushed for it.
Ling Yah: You said that you weren't as concerned about monetizing because you have another job. Were you concerned that because you are so open with your life, for instance, when you were paying up your 58,000 debt that you showed that letter from the debt collector on it. I mean, everything is there.
Were you not concerned that you're putting too much information out there?
Aaron Tang: That was again, more than 10 years ago. Back then, people probably weren't so aware of privacy data leaks. Back then people were like, okay, my data is out there, so what, right? I was probably again, young and naive.
Oh, I'm going to sound like such an unwise guest on this podcast, right.
Ling Yah: Everyone else who listens will be wiser.
Aaron Tang: Yeah. I'm like, you know, I was okay. I was open to it. But to your point, I guess nowadays I'm a little bit more careful about what I put out there. I try not to use real names. I mean, if it's about me, it's okay. Right. But I don't want to implicate like any of my friends or relatives or so on.
So yeah, I guess I've learned that it's sometimes pays to be private about certain things.
Ling Yah: So how do you end up being a contributor and appearing on things like Huffington Post, which is a huge publication?
Aaron Tang: Yeah. So back then one of the strategies for building an audience or building up a search engine optimization was to get back links from, from powerful publications.
Right. . I've always wondered like, am I good enough to write for international publications? Like not just my blog.
Am I good enough to write for say a really famous website? And I was like, okay, I'm going to make this my goal that one day I'm going to be on the Huffington post.
Because back then that was like the tier one for bloggers. Well probably a lot of listeners today are like, what's the Huffington post? But that's beside the point. Right.
I just decided to pitch. I sought out an editor that I thought would be interested in my material.
I'd send them an cold email. A cold email as like, okay, Hey, I wrote this. Do you think it would be a good fit? And I think it was my second one that I submitted, which the editor wrote back, it's like, hey yeah, this is good. We're going to run it. And yeah it just took off from there.
Ling Yah: The beauty of a blog is that it also got you your next job. How did that all happen?
Aaron Tang: This is the interesting one. Back around 2016 when I first heard about Bitcoin and crypto, I started writing about it. Started writing about my experiences and then in 2017, a company was looking to establish its physical presence in Malaysia. That company's called Luno.
They were looking for people to join a team. Before that they were like, okay, we're going to reach out to some local content creators. We want to run some webinars together. So I actually ran a webinar with Luno.
The community manager back then from Singapore for my audience.
I guess I did an okay job cause couple of weeks later he's like, okay, we have an opening. Would you be interested to apply? I'm like, okay, this is perhaps opportunity knocking again. This was back when I was in Leaderonomics doing the education campus learning role.
So I had a long thought about it. Crypto is such an exciting, amazing opportunity. Eventually I decided that I'm going to try for the job at Luno and yeah, here I am four and a half years later, I'm still employed with Luno.
Ling Yah: So exciting, amazing opportunities.
Those are big words. I want to dive into that whole exploration .
How did you first find out about this thing called Bitcoin?
Aaron Tang: I cannot remember, but it's definitely from some reading on the internet. I spent a lot of time scouring the internet websites, other blogs and so on for at least months if not more than one year.
I would occasionally read about Bitcoin and like, how do you value Bitcoin? Is Bitcoin worth 300? Is it with 500 and so on?
I spent a lot of time reading about it. The part that was extremely interesting for me was the computer science and math behind it, because ultimately it's based on computer code.
I also spent some time studying computer related material during my degree.
Ling Yah: You understood the White paper?
Aaron Tang: I understood parts of the white paper, definitely. But again, I have to do a lot of reading and understanding. But the funny thing was, it was only after I bought my first little bit of Bitcoin that I like really, really dive in.
And that's why I kind of really agree with the concept of skin in the game to learn things right. Once you have skin in the game, that's when you really start to get active in learning.
Ling Yah: So you first bought your Bitcoin I think in September, 2016, two years after you first found out about it and you were using your friend, Suraya's article. Was there a point like where you decided enough reading, let's put a little skin in the game?
Cause it's kind of scary. I realise that's kind of scary. I was going through that as well. I was reading a lot and then that first purchase is really terrifying. But after that it's a lot easier.
Aaron Tang: Yes, absolutely. The first step is always the hardest, right?
That period of time it so happened that I had a little bit of extra cash.
I think it was because the bonus was being paid out. At that point I had a little bit of extra cash. I'm like, okay, I'm gonna put a little bit into this crypto thing and try and figure out what it's all about. And that was just the start of everything.
Ling Yah: Didn't you buy when Bitcoin was $567?
Aaron Tang: Yes. $567. Nice number.
Ling Yah: And what happens after that? Were you tracking consistently?
Aaron Tang: I think I forgot about it for a while, until the price started really booming. That was in 2017 when it really started booming. So yeah, from $567 to almost $20,000 in late December, 2017. So that's in the period of roughly one year it went up about 40 times.
So yeah, that was like an eye-opener. Everyone in crypto back then was like, wow, this is amazing. This is insane.
Ling Yah: Wasn't an insane cause he had the 40x but prior to that not so long ago you had the Mount Gox collapse. So it's just an insane volatility in this space.
Aaron Tang: Insane volatility indeed. 2017 was insane because apart from just Bitcoin going up so much, there was also something called ICO, initial coin offerings. Everybody was launching new coins, new projects, and so on.
It was insane time, but ultimately proved to not be sustainable.
Ling Yah: Why was it not sustainable? Do you feel like at the same time, the craze where ICO is a bit similar to the craze around NFTs right now?
Aaron Tang: There are similarities. Definitely.
Back in 2017 ICO's was such a hot thing was :number one, everyone was looking at the success of Bitcoin. Everyone's like, Hey, I want to be the next Bitcoin Right.
Back then the rules around fundraising using crypto tokens was not very developed around the world, right? So a lot of people like, okay, I'm totally hacking this.
I'm not going to go down the investment banking route of going via IPO or raising an initial public offering. That's like a totally boomer way of doing things. I'm going to go down this crypto way of raising funds for my project. I'm going to write like a really, really shoddy, simple white paper and suddenly like $20 million of investment comes in.
So a lot of people were just playing that game and it was pretty crazy.
Ling Yah: It doesn't sound all that dissimilar to goblin town right now.
Aaron Tang: Yes, the goblin town. I think the interesting thing about NFTs is some things remain the same. Speculative behavior, people gambling, people trying to get in the next 20 to 40 X, a hundred X gains within a week. That behavior has remained the same, but certain things in the industry has definitely changed.
Like you don't see so many ICO's today because by and large governments, regulators have mostly clamped down on illegal fundraising. So a lot of these ICO projects were basically illegal securities, illegal fundraising. So you don't see that happening so much more now. NFTs that's a little bit questionable.
Are they securities and so on? So the regulators are figuring out as well.
Ling Yah: And all the NFT founders are trying their best to figure out ways to launch NFT without qualifying as securities.
Aaron Tang: Circumventing the rules. Right? Yeah.
Ling Yah: You mentioned that kind of feeling which makes me think of terms I first heard of when I enter the space. We're all going to make it. HODL, which for me just comes across as almost toxic positivity. I'm not sure if you feel that way. don't feel like everyone's going to make it. Maybe 1%.
Aaron Tang: Yeah. I think at its extreme, when you look at the space, some of it is like basically cult behavior. It's like a cult.
Some of the discord groups and I've been in some of those discord groups. The people like chanting things together, like we're all gonna make it and so on.
You cannot say anything against the founder because 20 fanboys will reply in the Twitter thread like have fun staying poor and so on.
So I agree. Absolutely. There's a lot of toxicity in this space. If you take it down a notch, it's a little bit like a brawl club because it's largely guys. It's largely young guys. Some of the comments there can also get quite unfriendly to women and females, if I'm being mild.
Ling Yah: So speaking of the company that you're at, you were actually employee number one in Malaysia. And you described that the first few months was the baptism of fire. Why was that?
Aaron Tang: Yeah, I think that's probably me being slightly dramatic. But the history of Luno is that in 2017, the bank that Luno was using froze the account.
So people couldn't withdraw their Malaysian ringgit funds. The crypto funds, you can send out easily, no problem. But you can't withdraw your Malaysian ringgit funds.
The bank decided to freeze the assets because long story short, they were uncertain about this model. Is crypto illegal and so on because back then there weren't any rules.
It's not like the bank Negara or securities commission has already come up with a set of rules. So my first job was basically explaining to customers what had happened. You know, dealing with customer comments and so on and reassuring them that we were going to fix things and we were going to do right with everyone.
So that's why I called it a baptism of fire.
Ling Yah: You eventually became country manager. How did your role change?
Aaron Tang: My first job was what we call the community and education league. I was in charge of making sure the community's okay. And also doing the education side of things. My boss back then was the country manager today.
He's the general manager for Asia Pacific, really cool guy, really nice guy. The country manager role is a much broader scope from just looking at supporting the community and education. but also looking at operations, strategy where we're going in the next five years, additional products we want to put into the app and so on.
Ling Yah: I notice in terms of timeline that you became country manager just before Luno, which was suspended by SC, then relaunched in October. What was that period like?
Aaron Tang: The period between 2018, when I first joined and October, 2019, when Luno officially relaunched in Malaysia was basically dealing with regulation.
Registering with the authorities, proving to them that all customer funds are safe, that we have the appropriate measures to combat terrorism, financial crime and so on. That was a really long process. I guess to most people it sounds really long, but in terms of regulations, governments implementing rules, it was actually pretty fast.
So long story short that two years almost passed in the blink of an eye. Really.
Ling Yah: What does it mean to be a regulated digital asset exchange? I mean, we've all seen the massive news about Binance being kicked out because they weren't regulated but Luno managed to do that after jumping through all these regulations.
So what does it mean?
Aaron Tang: The number one reason that governments put regulations in place is so that we don't have large groups of normal everyday people suddenly losing their life savings, right? Because that is a financial catastrophe.
Now, if you're a one percentile and you want to gamble in the casino and lose like $500, 10,000, it doesn't matter to that person. And governments usually are fine with that. You know, it's still money. Go gamble it. However you want.
What they're trying to protect is the largest segments of the population so that they don't lose their life savings and then cause riots or people starving and so on.
So when they put these regulations in place it's really about making sure that investors are protected. Making sure that their funds are safeguarded. There are proper measures in place.
We've all read horror stories of like exchanges, for example getting funds stolen by internal employees or founders allegedly dying and then losing the keys to the funds and so on.
So the authorities are trying to put regulations in place to make sure that none of this can happen and to answer scenarios like what happens if there's like a lightning strike on your server, will we lose the data.
What are your backup plans and so on. So to be regulated basically means that you have processes, policies, procedures, the right people in place to manage all of these.
People can be reasonably sure that when they use your service they're not going to get cheated.
Ling Yah: What kind of comfort would I have?
I mean, is there some kind of insurance over what I put in as opposed to maybe maintaining my own cold wallet?
Aaron Tang: When you use a regulated exchange, you are reliant on their security procedures. So for example in Luno, they have what we call a three tier storage system.
So there's the hot wallet, there's the cold wallet and that's the deep freeze. You can rest assured that the regulators have taken a look at how these storage systems have been put in place. So there's a degree of security there. You are also assured in the sense that if for example your funds get lost or et cetera, you actually have legal recourse as in you can go to the police, you can go to the courts.
The company actually has a physical operation in in the country. You can actually take the directors to court . So these are some of the measures that are in place. Can call it safeguarding measures against potential criminal activity.
Ling Yah: I wonder to the extent that you're able to share what kind of concerns that the regulators have because it's a new concept. Even common everyday men was just trying to understand what this Bitcoin is. But they have to actually approve on behalf of the population of this country.
Aaron Tang: Absolutely. One of the primary concerns by both the central bank and the securities commission is where the crypto is being used.
Number one, being used to launder dirty money. Number two, whether it is being used for terrorism financing. Number three, whether it's being used for bad stuff like, contract killings or dark net marketplaces, child abuse material and so on.
I think those examples of what the regulators want to make sure doesn't happen.
We know that the majority of crypto transactions today aren't actually used for these kinds of activities. Rather, they are mostly used for trading and investment, some would say speculation and so on.
So yeah, that would be one of the primary objectives that the regulators are concerned about. Apart from that, it has actually been a pretty pleasant process.
We are what we call the industry people. So working together with the regulators educating, discussing, because they have their technical experts as well.
Going a little bit on the back and forth, because even when they come up with guidelines, it's not like they say, these are the rules, do it. They actually have industry consultation as well. So it's been quite a nice process.
Ling Yah: It sounds like they are very receptive. This is purely your personal opinion, how far do you think we are from becoming El Salvador?
Aaron Tang: I think we are quite far from became becoming El Salvador, not just because of the government's risk appetite. My personal belief is that crypto today is still primarily a vehicle, a store of value maybe even a means to transfer value over large geographical distances for cheap costs and also as an investment tool.
For example, wanting to get capital returns and so on. But to buy a coffee with crypto, the price is still in my view at least, too volatile to use it for day to day transactions. I think we are still maybe a couple of years away from that. But yeah, one day it might happen.
Ling Yah: You mentioned earlier that anti money laundering was a concern. It proved not to be so especially after they regulate it, dove into it. But I imagine that most people would still think it's for money laundering. So what would your response be to basically comfort people and say, no, it's not for this kind of nefarious uses.
Aaron Tang: The thing about Bitcoin is that transactions are publicly traceable. From the beginning of time when crypto was created until literally 10 minutes ago, you can see where all the Bitcoin has been transferring to and fro. Bitcoin especially isn't a great tool for criminals.
Research has come up from what we call a blockchain analytics company, the leading blockchain analytics company in the world. From their research only 0.15% of transactions were linked to criminal activity last year.
If you compare that to the amount of criminal activity linked to cash and so on , cash is going to be multiple times that, I think the important thing for people to remember is technology is neutral. You can use the internet for good and for bad.
WhatsApp is neutral. You can use it for good, you can use it for bad.
Encryption is neutral. Criminals will encrypt their hijacking plans and send it to their friend. But that doesn't mean that encryption is bad because you can use encryption for good purposes. Like when you send your mom's private information to her.
So I think crypto falls into that portion where it is inherently a neutral technology and we just have to have some safeguards around preventing it to be used for bad activity.
But ultimately I think the good that you can bring will outweigh the bad.
Ling Yah: I want to talk about Luno five approved digital assets. What are those five and how are they different from each other?
Aaron Tang: On Luno, you have Bitcoin cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, and also XRP, which is commonly called ripple .
So if I can just give like a quick summary, Bitcoin, people call it digital gold because its quantities limited and people generally use it as a store of value.
Ethereum is the crypto that's used in a lot of what we call decentralized applications. These are all kinds of cool, fun things you can do on a blockchain.
For example, I play a game called Sorare that actually utilizes the blockchain to run fantasy football game. So the power of ethereum is it can actually power things like that.
And then we have Litecoins. So Litecoin is what many people call the silver to Bitcoin's digital gold because it is designed to be a faster, cheaper version of Bitcoin.
Many people use litecoin as a test net for testing technological upgrades to Bitcoin as well. we have Bitcoin cash. Bitcoin cash was created as a fork of Bitcoin, which means it is like a copy of Bitcoin, but they've made changes to the code because the founders of Bitcoin cash did not agree with the direction Bitcoin was heading in.
They wanted to create a competing coin to Bitcoin. We have to go into the details here, but that's Bitcoin cash.
And then lastly, it is XRP. Ripple, which was designed for use in international settlements. So to transfer, for example, remittances between banks and countries. That's a nutshell of the five coins on Luno.
Ling Yah: It's unusual for an exchange to have only five.
I heard that your number one customer requests is increase the number of offerings that you have. It sounds like you are planning to do that this year.
Aaron Tang: Yes. Yes, absolutely. It is quite for crypto exchanges to list a small number of coins because like it or not consumers want more options.
We want more choice. And then of course we hear about our cousin who invested in Shiba Inu and gained like 1000% or something. Right.
Ling Yah: You can invest in Tesla, you know?
Aaron Tang: Yeah. I think that the regulators agree with Luno's stances that we don't want like every coin in the world, because a lot of coins are probably too risky for most people.
That's the reality of the situation. There was a coin called Luna recently which crashed. to horrible, horrible numbers. Basically lost all its value because the design of the coin itself was flawed and people just dumped it.
Ling Yah: It's an Algorithmic Stablecoin. What does that mean? Cause they have four different types, right? And the nature of it being algorithmic is what caused it to crash.
Aaron Tang: So UST is actually the algorithmic stable coin. Luna is the counter balancing thing to the USD.
When we talk about algorithmic stable coins, it means that they maintain their one to one peg or the equivalent to the US dollar. So an algorithmic stable coin is supposed to be equivalent to one USD at all times.
And the way they balance this is to use computer algorithms to trade and make sure that the value is the same.
Obviously that mechanism failed and that's why the UST value crashed. That's why the Luna token crashed.
Ling Yah: Can you give like a higher level of why it crashed?
Aaron Tang: A simple explanation is basically people lost trust in the coin or the peg.
When people lose trust, that means that, okay, I'm going to sell. I'm going to sell quickly and get out because I don't believe that this coin or this UST is going to be one to one with the U S dollar anymore. And we have enormous amounts of people dumping or selling quickly. In an ideal world, the algorithm would balance out by other people buying. Or the algorithm itself sort of balancing and the price would come back up.
It's supposed to be one USD, one USD. If it drops to 0.8, it would come back up to one USD. But in this case, it went into what we call a death spiral. It could never recover because too many people were exiting the project. And that's why it went to zero.
If I could give a real world analogy, it's like, if everyone who holds say a Tesla stock today decides to all sell it at the same time, the value is going to drop tremendously.
If we talk about specifically about the Malaysian ringgit, you might be able to dump it internationally. For example, you dump all your Malaysian ringgit for say, US dollars and so on. However, as per my understanding, most of the Malaysian ringgit in circulation is in Malaysia itself.
So you'll still be able to use that RM1 to buy. So I don't think the effect would be as pronounced as what happened with the UST and the Luna pack thingy. And also remember when you have a central bank that's monitoring the Malaysian ringgit , they can always make some measures to stabilize the value and so on.
They can actually pull some levers because ultimately they control the Malaysian ringgit.
But in the case of UST and Luna, it was basically an open map. People could attack the peg or people could just sell and dump. Ultimately that's what happened.
Ling Yah: And that's both the pros and cons of the crypto space.
You don't have your central bank, so you have to look after yourself. You could lose it all.
Aaron Tang: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And I think UST Luna, the rates was, multiple times of other crypto coins, like say Bitcoin. It had that mechanism based on algorithms, which are supposed to work until they don't work.
Ling Yah: What are some of the most exciting projects you've seen so far in this space?
Aaron Tang: I'll start by saying that these are not investment recommendations to buy projects.
Ling Yah: I like that
Aaron Tang: or so on. But
Ling Yah: there're so many warnings.
Aaron Tang: I apologize if it sounds irritating. But Yeah. And also trained at my day job, not give investment advice because ultimately people have to make their own decisions. But anything that I see today that incentivizes a good behavior using crypto tokens, I'll give you some examples.
More than one year ago there's a project called Helium. Helium is a project where if you run a router, called a mesh network to help provide internet access to people around you, you get rewarded crypto token.
So that naturally leads to some really interesting situations because not only am I doing a social good, you know, I'm helping provide internet access to my neighbors, but I'm also getting rewarded. A little bit like a social enterprise, right? I'm doing good and I'm getting rewarded for it.
In the NFT space, we have a game called Stepn.
So that game rewards people for walking or running.
Now, disclaimer, I know a lot of people say that that ends tokenomics are actually Ponzi Nomics, because people view it like a Ponzi.
I would say that the tokenomics of Stepn, questionable as it stands right now. But the principle behind it is what's really interesting because you actually reward people using monetary incentives for doing something good.
I think that's a very, very powerful idea. So yeah, I'm really interested to see what future projects we, we will be able to see in the future that rewards good behavior using monetary incentives and have it sustainable. I think the sustainability part is what's missing in a lot of projects right now.
Ling Yah: I feel as though with a lot of these sorts of events, there's lots of like play to earn games.
People who are saying I'm gaining a lot of benefits of it. They're gaining it because they got the alpha and that what the first, like, really, really, really early. If I enter Stepn now, I don't think I will really benefit so much. It's so expensive.
So it's almost like you are encouraging insider trading and that's not very inclusive. I wonder what your thoughts on this?
Aaron Tang: Yeah. I think that's a problem as well. Not just in terms of the NFTs, but also in a lot of projects, right. You allocate huge percentage of the tokens and heavily discounted prices to certain VCs and companies, because you want them to maybe pump your token or, give it a really good name and so on.
So I think that's really quite questionable. I actually don't have the answer, right? Like what is the ethical line to draw between making it really democratic, giving people equal opportunity. But I am a bit of an optimist. I believe that over time we will see more and more ethical launch projects coming up, or I hope so definitely.
But if we rewind back to the first crypto currency which is Bitcoin, that's an example of a crypto project that was truly democratic because right at the start of Bitcoin crypto, anyone could mine Bitcoin crypto, right. Today you can still mine Bitcoin, but because it's so competitive, it's unlikely that you'll get the reward.
So yeah, I think people can actually look at how Bitcoin was so unfair. Maybe it's impossible to replicate that today, but definitely take some learnings on the principles behind Bitcoins launch at least.
Not just to enrich one small segment of early adopters but to try and bring it to as many people around the world.
Ling Yah: I want to wrap up with some general questions. I read in your blog that you have had to eat humble pie many, many times. I wonder if there were examples that you're willing to share.
Aaron Tang: I'll give you an example from the social enterprise days.
Back when I was a product line manager in the Weatherford, which is the oil services company, I was a frequent flyer. I would travel like two to three weeks out of every month.
Travel all around the world so naturally earning a good income. So Naturally you get used to a certain standard of living You get used to people calling your boss and so on.
It doesn't help that I was just in my late twenties back then. Right. So it's not exactly the best grounds for developing humility.
Then I moved to social enterprise where, a different world . You expect it to serve and your clients don't know who you are, right.
Your clients may not know that you're this so-called rising corporate star or whatever . Your client is just like, okay, I'm going to try and press you for as much as possible.
And yeah, I had really, really, really tough clients who were like demanding for the sky and the moon under really, really short timeframes.
Another example back in my social enterprise days. We would run training camps for the underprivileged kids.
You know when it comes to underprivileged kids, you're running on small limited budgets.
The accommodations may not be so nice. The food that you eat may be very simple. So it was a reminder to me try to be humble because you're not always going to be like from a very privileged position.
Ling Yah: I wonder if there's any big idea that you recently changed your mind on?
Aaron Tang: I'm going to go a little bit on the investing versus trading thing. For the majority of my personal finance journey, I've always viewed myself as an investor. I want to tell him about investor. I'm going to invest for like long time periods, right? I'm not going to care if the price goes up, goes down because I'm investing for the long-term.
I've always taken that approach, but in recent times with more and more interesting projects in the crypto space and NFTs and so on, I've learned to take a little bit more restraint.
I don't have to view myself as I'm just a hundred percent invested. I can be 99.5% an invester and 0.5% and Explorer to go and try new projects , as long as I'm disciplined and as long as I know how to manage the risk appropriately. It's not that I completely change my mind, but rather open my mind up to a different world.
I'm having a lot of fun. Yeah. I'm having a lot of fun exploring new crypto projects.
Again, disclaimer, I am huge into risk management, so never go in and gamble with like a hundred percent of your savings or something like that.
Ling Yah: What kind of fun crypto projects are you open to sharing?
Aaron Tang: I actually wrote a pretty long article about this one.
For a while I was pretty interested in the play to earn space. Again, I know token omics, right? A lot of these projects, for example, Axie Infinity, token price crashed and so on. But the fundamental idea behind play-to-earn is actually really, really cool as a long time gamer myself.
I'm really excited to see where it leads. So, yeah, I've been playing a couple of games, for example so rad the fantasy football NFT blockchain project that I've spoken about. There's this project called Guild of guardians which is like a mobile AR PG game. I've gotten involved in a couple of NFT mints myself.
I've been burned as well because a lot of these are ...
Ling Yah: Rug pulls.
Aaron Tang: Yeah.
Rug pulls, unsustainable. So I learned my lesson there. Probably the more or less than again, it's, you know, manage your risk appropriately. But yeah, it's been really eye-opening. See how people react to the new technology art communities.
Ling Yah: Since you brought up NFTs, what'd you think of that space and goblins town, which I'm still trying to understand, figure out.
Aaron Tang: Well, Goblintown I've not looked into it deeply. From what I understand, it's in the limelight right now, right? Because people highlighting these like
Ling Yah: Seven E and if you look at the list of what they are is basically they've done everything that you should not do in order to invest.
Aaron Tang: Right. If I just look at it from an external perspective, goblin town is a message, right? It's an F-you message to the investment world, right? It's more drastic version of something like say dogecoin which are jokes.
Dogecoin was meant as a joke. And then maybe something like ether rocks. Ether rocks was at one point, like crazy, crazy amounts of money, but I understand the valuations have come down as well.
it's memes, it's young people, mostly guys with a lot of disposable income. They've probably made millions from their trading and they view it as a joke.
I wouldn't invest my money there because .....
Ling Yah: What's the point?
Aaron Tang: Well, yeah, there's too many projects as well, right. I've kind of lost track.
If we move away just from goblin town, from NFTs, if we move into sort of NFTs in general, I think like most technological bubbles and hype, maybe 90, 95%, will eventually trade towards zero or valueless.
But that 5% that comes up from that, we might have some really, really groundbreaking innovations. the whole hype cycle thing which has come from Bitcoin ICO. If we go back, it's even gone for like railroads electricity companies .
Human nature never really changes. The media may change, but human behavior is quite predictable.
Ling Yah: I love the fact that you talked about the joke because, and I wasn't so early in that space, that is the nature of how this crypto space is almost like an F-you against society establishment.
It's the underdog that you want to raise up. Do you feel like that is the kind of community that was in the presence in this space prior to everyone coming in?
Aaron Tang: That's a very interesting question. I feel like Bitcoin crypto was created no doubt like a rebellion in 2009 against the bail out of the government of irresponsible institutions that were deemed too large to fail.
So I think Bitcoin was a response to that definitely become as designed. But the thing about Bitcoin is that it actually has a really ingenious technical design in terms of incentives, of distribution and so on.
From a technological standpoint It's a really amazing marvel, both in technology and psychology . Whereas I think with some of the NFT things that we see today a lot of these are copy paste. I'm just going to like slap a brand on it and so on.
Maybe I'm talking a bit like a boomer now, but I wouldn't compare these sort of copy pasta NFTs with the technological marvel that Bitcoin is.
Ling Yah: What are your thoughts on DAOs then? Do you think they could succeed?
Aaron Tang: I think DAOs interesting, but increasingly we have more and more evidence that pure democracy where everyone and anyone can just put up a vote and 10,000 people would vote on it, that may not be the wisest thing to govern an organization.
If you look throughout human history, we've always had some structure, some hierarchy. I mean, these things have changed, right. We've moved towards democracy, Republic and so on.
So yeah, I don't think the image painted by some DAOs that this is going to be like full flat hierarchy, everyone's equal.
I don't think that's going to ever be the case, but some good is probably going to come out of how DAOs are. I just don't know what that may be.
Ling Yah: I completely agree. I mean, I often look at the Daos and I think, well, I think dictatorship can be pretty good too, depending on the nature of the Dao.
Aaron Tang: As long as your leader dictator is wise and fair.
Ling Yah: If it's Warren Buffett take all my money.
You've already shared a lot. If people come to your blog, they will know your thoughts from way back. I wonder what can listeners of this podcast do to support you.
Aaron Tang: You can follow me on Twitter. I'm at Mr. Stingy 2 0 1 4 on Twitter. You can follow me on Facebook. That's the same pack Mr.Stingy2014 . You can also come to my website. That's Mr. Dash stingy.com.
If you find something that you like, feel free to share it with your friends and family and interact with me. I don't have like a patron page. I don't have tips on my Twitter. Again, there's no monetization here. Just spreading good ideas.
Ling Yah: And do you feel like having pivoted and gown into so many different industries and now being at the forefront of this crypto space, do you feel that you have found your why?
Aaron Tang: I feel like I found my why at the moment. Again, things change. Who knows, in maybe five years, maybe there's a different why for me.
But at this moment, something that I mentioned that crypto needs good guys, crypto needs responsible people. I'm not saying that I'm like a hundred percent upstanding citizen in the world, but I do believe that I have something to offer this space.
Like trying to build something where people can invest safely and easily and educating them about digital assets and personal finance and so on.
I feel that that's a very strong why and I'm very happy where I am at the moment. But things change. So yeah, I'm always looking to learn and evolve as well.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Aaron Tang: I hope that people will remind me for being someone who's kind. So someone who tried his best to bring a positive change, tried to take care of his friends and family.
Yeah. That's the legacy that I would want.
Ling Yah: What do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?
Aaron Tang: Honesty. It's honesty. It's pretty high up on the list. When I say honesty, I mean being able to take an honest look at yourself and know what's working, what's happening. What you're good at, what you're not good at, where you need help. Self-awareness and honesty.
Basically that whole feedback loop. I think if you master that feedback loop, it doesn't matter where you start. Right. You're going to continue improving and you're going to be successful eventually.
Ling Yah: Are they like structure of that feedback loop that people could implement in their lives?
Aaron Tang: I'm going to propose a really simple framework, right? Basically try a change. Like change something small, see how people react to it. See how you feel about it, how your trusted people feel about it. See how you think about it. I give it a little bit of time.
If you like where you're going, make that change permanent. Think about what's the changes that you want to be making.
It's like the James clear principle of getting better 1% every day, right?
Ling Yah: Atomic habits. Yes.
Where can people go to connect with you?
Aaron Tang: My Twitter is pretty good cause I'm most active there nowadays. Come follow me and chat about things. Comment on my stuff and so on.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 96. The show notes and Transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/96 and stay tuned for next Sunday, because we will be meeting a guest who grew up wanting to be a medical vaccine researcher.
A handy obsession because it helped him get into Bain and Company later. Who wanted to enter the Army after his first love passed away in junior college, completed his Harvard MBA, cofounded a number of startups, and is now a VC and fellow podcaster based in Singapore.
So do stick around and see next Sunday.