Jeremy Au Chief of Staff, Head of Strategic Projects at Monk's Hill Ventures Singapore, startup founder, podcaster at BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast

Ep 97: From Vaccine Research to Head of Strategic Projects in Asia | Jeremy Au (Chief of Staff & Head of Strategic Projects, Monk’s Hill Ventures + Podcaster, BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast)

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Welcome to Episode 97!

STIMY Episode 97 features Jeremy Au.

Jeremy Au is the Chief of Staff and Head of Strategic Projects at Monk’s Hill Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in early-stage tech companies, primarily Series A, in Southeast Asia. And is also the host of the BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast!

Prior to Monk’s Hill Ventures, Jeremy was CEO & Co-Founder of CozyKin, a VC-backed edtech startup, which was acquired by Higher Ground Education and scaled across multiple cities in North America. 

He was a Bain & Company consultant and has been recognized with Forbes “30 Under 30” and Prestige “40 Under 40.” 

If you’re interested in startups, VCs and podcasting, then this is the STIMY episode for you!


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    So This Is My Why podcast

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    Who is Jeremy Au?

    Jeremy Au shares why helping others has always been important to him, why he wanted to be a vaccine researcher (an interest that helped him become a consultant later on!!), how the army helped him cope with his grief and his journey from Berkeley to Harvard and back to Singapore to become a VC and podcaster.

    • 3:42 Helping others
    • 5:11 Wanting to be a vaccine researcher
    • 7:00 Losing his first love
    • 11:23 How the army helped him cope with grief
    • 14:25 Life at Berkeley
    • 18:44 Founding his first startup
    • 20:43 Overcoming scepticism
    • 22:57 Finding people who believe in the same cause
    • 26:07 Completing his MBA at Harvard University
    • 32:31 Co-founding his 2nd startup in mental health
    • 39:26 Returning to Singapore & becoming a VC at Monk’s Hill Ventures
    • 44:30 Being the Head of Strategic Projects
    • 47:03 Founders that have stood out
    • 49:03 The current Southeast Asian startup scene


    Jeremy Au Chief of Staff, Head of Strategic Projects at Monk's Hill Ventures Singapore, startup founder, podcaster at BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast

    If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:

    • General Borhan: Retired 4* General, former Chief of Defence Forces & founder of the Malaysian Commandos/Green Berets
    • Lim Ee Ling: Executive Director of Market Launch, 500 Global
    • Nicole Quinn: Celebrity Whisperer & General Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. Portfolio Companies include Goop, Haus (Lady Gaga), The Honest Company, and Lunchclub
    • Tibor Mérey: Managing Director & Partner, BCG
    • 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


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    External Links

    Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:

    • Jeremy Au: Website, Twitter
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    Jeremy Au Chief of Staff, Head of Strategic Projects at Monk's Hill Ventures Singapore, startup founder, podcaster at BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast

    STIMY Ep 97: Jeremy Au - Chief of Staff & Head of Strategic projects, Monk's Hill Ventures + Podcaster, BRAVE Southeast Asia Tech Podcast

    Jeremy Au: The military was a good time for me because graduating and not doing well at the A levels. And honestly, being on autopilot mode in my grief meant that I was like playing computer games and being very unmotivated and crying and grieving was a function of avoidance and self distancing. Different behaviors helped me cope.

    I think the army was great because at a very deep level the military consumes your entire life with its routines. There's no space for rumination because you're forced to exercise a lot every day. And you're asked not to think for yourself. You spent a lot of time out in the sun and being surrounded by people all the time.

    So actually it's a pretty good uh, enforced mandatory recovery routine, if you think about it.

    Ling Yah: Hey everyone. Welcome to episode 97 of the So This is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer Ling Yah. But before we start, I would love if you could leave a review for this podcast, whether on social media or on Apple Podcast, to let others know what you think of it. Every review does help this podcast to grow, and you have my eternal gratitude.

    Now, let's get to today's guest, Jeremy Au. Jeremy Au is the Chief of staff, and head of strategic projects at Monk's Hill Ventures in Singapore, and also the host of the Brave Southeast Asia Tech Podcast, which features tech trailblazers in Southeast Asia.

    In this episode, we dive deep into why Jeremy's earliest ambition was to be a vaccine researcher. And how that helped him get into consulting later, how the tragedy of losing his first love when he was 16 years of age transformed his life and how the army saved him from his pain. We also talked about his time starting at Berkeley and becoming a co-founder and what his experience was like doing his MBA at Harvard University before finally deciding to come back to Singapore and his journey in becoming a a VC at Monk's Hill and a podcaster.

    So you ready?

    Let's go.

    I read this story, you shared once of how you had an argument with a friend whose life goal was to help his friends and family to be happy.

    And then you said, no, you want to maximize the number of people around the world to achieve the greatest possible happiness, which is on the totally different scale.

    Jeremy Au: Yeah, so definitely was I think theoretical about my impact as a person has a teenager. I think when you grow up reading less, science-fiction you think about what impact you want to leave on a world, you spend time quantifying it and also comparing yourself versus other people.

    So I think as it strive to be a, you call it ambitious, but also larger and I think for me, the debate at that point was whether you want to help one person, your family versus helping a lot more people then I think that's about a contrast in our friendship.

    I think we reunited like years under the wall, we both reflected that the other side was more correct in other way.

    I think he acknowledged and felt that as result of that initial goal, been able to be much more targeted, much more focused. And as a result, help a lot more people than he had.

    I also reflected, at the end of the day, you can't save the world and you can help millions of people and that at some level helping the people around you is really the crux of it. So I think that was a really good learning I had.

    Ling Yah: Whether it's helping the world or helping a more targeted group, I realized that a common theme throughout your life since you were young, was that you were always thinking of how can I do good?

    And that got me curious. Was that something in your life growing up that made you think in this way? It seems like it's such an integral part of who you are.

    Jeremy Au: Doing good is not really how I define it. I actually use that phrase in a different way earlier. Right. We're just about helping people. I think there are many ways to do good in this world. Like research, making money, building stuff. I always define it more as helping people and supporting them.

    there's a very humancentric view of the wall that I prefer to default to. I love reading science fiction, where we're talking about how people would react in different situations. About what is revered by the nature, or was revealed in a situation and circumstances that they're facing.

    It's just amazing what we individual humans have done collectively by helping each other as well as individually.

    It's quite exciting to see that huge trajectory to where we are today and where we could be in the future. The core of it is no matter how big the technology is, no matter how big the trend is, no matter how fast the company feels like, at the end of days is all people.

    That's my frame of the world rather than the frame of the wall. So that's how I think about it.

    Ling Yah: Was there something that happened early in the part of your life that caused you to think in that way?

    Jeremy Au: I think there're two parts of my life, right. The first part of my life has always been growing up, I wanted to be a medical researcher.

    Ling Yah: It's like a vaccine researcher, right?

    Jeremy Au: A vaccine research as well. Before the meadow was, I read you know, time and may have the Yoda was, and, you know, Asian-American who had got on the AIDS vaccine cocktail in terms of antivirals that helped make living with aids and HIV, night and day difference.

    And that was a huge inspiration for me as a kid because so many lives were transformed from an effectively a death sentence to something that is survivable to even having a thriving

    life. in retrospect also I think it was nice to see some representation as well from an Asian person to be featured on the cover of Time.

    That was why I said I wanted to be a vaccine scientist growing up.

    Yet after some exposure to what research actually is and realizing that you're stuck in the lab, we're very strong hypothesis testing, I realized that that wasn't really the right environment for myself to be passionate about.

    The second aspect about it was I think growing up, these wonderful stories, are more like legends and myths and recreation's of the actual thing. You get to hear these stories about how they overcome various challenges, how they managed to get ourselves to go to school and things like that.

    You can see the problem solving aspect of it. And then the storytelling aspects of hearing my parents', story, adversity and everything. And I think that has meet me really be both at one level problem- centric, quantitative and logical about the problems that humans face.

    As well as being very curious about stories that humans have in terms of how they address the problem and how they overcame that challenge later.

    Ling Yah: When you were in junior college age 16, you had a really difficult period. I wonder if you could share a little bit about that and basically how you picked yourself up from that.

    Jeremy Au: Yeah. The core of it was that during junior college, I was deeply in love with this classmate of mine.

    She was just an amazing human being. She wanted to be in the medical field and be a pharmacist or even a doctor. Long story short, she contracted an unknown C quite suddenly in a course of two weeks which was a huge shock to myself, and a huge blow to our family and our friends as well.

    When I think about that I almost feel like there are three versions of Jeremy that have gone through this.

    The first version of Jeremy was as someone who was going through a lot of grief of having a loved one passed away. Was such an unexplained disease that we never knew the reason why And I think very focused on being grief yet also very reluctant to be vulnerable and very focused on being both protective men up to grief, the shock, the tears.

    The second Jeremy has really been, someone who pick himself up from that grief. As result, I did very poorly in junior college and didn't have university offers. And so having to pick, and now as an army to eventually decided, I didn't want to study again and to apply for universities and who at one level, really, I think from the outside, really look as if he was succeeding. Going to a good decent university, and then to a professional career and figure out how to be part of social impact consulting as a tribute to her. I think that second Jeremy was also very shielded.

    For I'd say 10 years, I hardly talk about that story for everybody. People ask me about why am I motivated to do this, or why does it matter?

    You know, truth was, I was compartmentalized, and I saw that as a virtue. So you kind of like freeze the top layer of the league and the league is very deep or you're skating on top, then you don't know how deep the lake is.

    And I think The third Jeremy has been slowly coming to terms with that. Through the process of using that to reflect on time, the progression of it articulation about the pain and being able to share it, and seeing it as something to happen.

    I can't control what happened and I can't change what happened, but I can reflect on what I learned from it. I can reintegrate what that means moving forward. to me in terms of my daily actions and I, myself now have a daughter and a second daughter on the way.

    One thing I realized while I was holding my daughter was my grief was a shared collective grief.

    I love my daughter so much now.

    Well, it's also the same way that her mother and her father had grief or her. And obviously during that time, my grief was very solitary and I was helping them, but it was almost compartmentalized. And I also had no idea because I love her a boyfriend and a girlfriend, right.

    But not understanding what it means to love as a parent. Having a daughter of my own has realized the different dimension of grief that was there.

    When you're middle age , mortality is inevitable. That's part of living. Right. It's interesting to see how the same experience can be reflected and refracted true three different prisms.

    The Jeremy at that time, going through that pain, the Jeremy that was striving and trying to rebuild yet shielded. That is someone is trying to integrate all of it together. And adding this to some self awareness that there may be a fourth or fifth or sixth Jeremy, right down the road.

    The crazy part of being human is that even though the same thing happened once you can have multiple experiences through it. At the end of the day, at one level I am still the same Jeremy. I would trade anything for myself to be away gone and for her to be around alive.

    Because she was this amazing human being who wanted to help so many people in her own way.

    That sense of mortality is also, I think big driver. About how I say to myself, what matters versus what doesn't matter.

    Like all this stuff doesn't matter because no one's going to remember in 1000 years. Your experience of it matters. But the stuff doesn't matter. That's something I do think about quite a bit.

    Ling Yah: I imagine when you went to the army, you were still Jeremy one. You were dealing with all that, feeling all that while being in the really intense environment, that's the army. And while you had the army, you said that you were studying for Berkeley, but it seems to be putting it in mildly because he was studying by torchlight. You are cutting up your set books and putting zip locks.

    What was that whole experience like? What was driving you to do so much?

    Jeremy Au: The military was a good time for me because graduating and not doing well at the A levels. And honestly, being on autopilot mode in my grief meant that I was like playing computer games and being very unmotivated and crying and grieving was a function of avoidance and self distancing. Different behaviors helped me cope.

    I think the army was great because at a very deep level the military consumes your entire life with its routines. There's no space for rumination because you're forced to exercise a lot every day. And you're asked not to think for yourself. You spent a lot of time out in the sun and being surrounded by people all the time.

    So actually it's a pretty good uh, enforced mandatory recovery routine, if you think about it. I really enjoyed all those things. I was actually writing in my diary from time to time. And I've got a chance to look at it a few times since then.

    The best thing us it gave me time and space away from everything else. You know, The truth is if I had gone to university or somewhere else, I probably would have slowly reintegrated myself over that time.

    Military was a special time . Once I had that integration about, okay, she passed away, I'm still around I can't trade my life for hers. With that understanding, it became much more like let's study the SAT because there's that alternate scoring system and it's a little easier to study for. Right. Okay. Let's buy the books. Let's study during the breaks.

    If I'm going other to jungle for exercises and exam is coming up maybe I have to cut it up and put in ziplog bags. That was a tough time in some ways because not everybody was supportive about that.

    The good thing again was, I was in the military surrounded by strangers. I would say that being surrounded by a cohort of other 16 and 17 year old male teenagers it's not necessarily a place for much introspection or peer understanding.

    Eventually worked out. I was able to do well on SATs, put together my application. The reason why I also went to UC Berkeley as well, was that it was one of the few schools that didn't require a testimonial from junior college teacher, because I mean, I wasn't a great student. Right.

    The teacher was very kind to still write a decent testimonial, but it wasn't glowing because I was checked out and skipping school.

    and outright. I'm glad I got accepted. I still remember being excited to finally go to university and exploring new opportunities , hoping to bury everything that happened in Singapore when I moved to California which I did. and, you know, Jeremy V 2.0 slash budging header a view 1.0, I guess.

    Ling Yah: So when you're in Berkeley, you said that you end up joining the Berkeley group, which changed your life, which is a very strong statement to make.

    And I wonder why you would say that.

    Jeremy Au: Well, before I went to UC Berkeley, I had opportunity to meet up with an alumnus. I had been volunteering at various nonprofits because I had received the benefit of some therapy and consulting services from my time while grieving for my girlfriend.

    I'd been helping out while I was in the military.

    Ling Yah: Weren't you giving kids that all levels during the weekend?

    Jeremy Au: Yeah, I mean, the good news is that you've had pull the flunk your A levels, but you still get teacher a love for math, honestly, especially if the historically wasn't doing well.

    Right. So you still could get them parked away there because, Honestly helping them with math we'd be looking more for like companionship and someone was more like friendly you. That makes sense. You're not looking to get them to an A, right.

    Like when you're donating math tuition classes, they are very much like, yeah. don't fail right. So just having them pass is really good. Yeah, I was bad at school A Levels but turns out, if you've got a couple levels and lower the trash that's out there, you have some value to add.

    And so mosquito alumnus, and I think she found out and we're talking about it to, I wanted to, you know, help out and volunteer. At that time, I had also given up on being a medical researcher and a vaccine researcher because after seeing my girlfriend pass away in a hospital, everything else is also kind of turned off by the whole medical field , like not wanting to be in that environment.

    So I decided that I wanted to take my second best subject, which was economics and studied at UC Berkeley. So she found out that I want to do economics and I wanted to volunteer. She recommended that I check out a group called the Berkeley group, which. I later find out was a very selective social impact consulting group.

    They problem solve for nonprofits on a pro bono basis. They'll select the top 3% to 5% of the people who applied. And so I arrived on campus as a freshman, thinking that that would be something I would explore. I remember applying and getting selected for an interview after the resume screen.

    I went for the interview and I remember they asked me, Hey, Jeremy, imagine you're an organization and you're given a hundred thousand doses of vaccine, how would you distribute it across the city?

    Ling Yah: How do you answer that question? Cause I was very fascinated to hear that. I wonder how Jeremy answered that.

    Jeremy Au: Well, as someone who was already a vaccine nerd at that time, I asked lots of follow-up questions. Right? Which is actually the tricky part . When you're doing a case study, you don't have all the information, you need to be thoughtful about the questions you're asking and asked lots of questions about, what does the vaccine do?

    Is there any differential impact across different population? Are certain groups higher risk for side effects versus groups that have more efficacy for this vaccine. I asked if the vaccine needed to be stored in conditions with the core chain. I asked about the cost.

    All those things that are very, very obvious to someone who's been reading about vaccines for a long time.

    Yeah. Back in 2008, I asked all those questions and then I put together a rough plan of how to distribute the vaccine. About equity and also the economics of the vaccine and I got accepted!

    I remember the interviewer was like, wow, I have never seen anyone do an interview as good as Jeremy. When I was introduced to the rest of the club, it was like, he was so good at problem solving and case studies and stuff. And I was like, I don't know what a case study is. I still don't.

    I just know about vaccines. Right. And funnily enough, the next project I did was on Vietnamese micro finance. I had to do a lot of retraining because suddenly everyone was like, wow, he was very good at case study, supposed to be generalizable. It turns out he's really good at vaccines.

    I was really lucky and fortunate that the very hard interview question that they had just happened to be on the one topic that I was a big nerd about, right.

    And that being said, being part of that group was amazing because everybody was happy to be there. Everybody was passionate about society, about solving. It was really a great tribe of people who really wanted to make a difference.

    That was a really fun time. All of us have gone to do some really interesting and amazing stuff. Some people have become doctors, economists, entrepreneurs and others have become social impact consultants. It was a strong vein of passion and community. that, I really, admire for having come together.

    Ling Yah: And how do you end up while still in Berkeley doing all this? You also found your first startup called Conjunct consulting with Ko Jia Shun. So how did that start?

    Jeremy Au: Conjunct consulting was also a social impact consulting organization. I was at UC Berkeley and I received Internship offer from Bain, which was my third choice. But first choice was gift on vaccine strategy, which turns out they don't hire at that level no other way.

    We get high internationals. And then the second choice was Bridgespan, which was as a social consulting. But they don't hire again R and they don't really hire junior people to be honest. And a third was a choice was being

    faced. I think Bain was a sister organization Bridgespan but for profit and for corporates. That was why I wanted to go there and train. What was interesting was coming back to Singapore and Southeast Asia, there was an equivalent organization of the Berkeley Group. And that sucked because I was missing my tribe.

    So coming back, I discuss this with my old army buddy, Hock Jia Chuan, and we decided, Hey, let's do it. So we built an organization built to not only do good, but also be truly sustainable in terms of financial, human capital, in terms of vision.

    We ended up able to do it because, at my day job I was being a consultant, which was further deepening my skills at problem solving.

    I was replicating the culture at the Berkeley group at UC Berkeley. And at another level, the thing that I felt could be better or improved I could rebuild from scratch.

    And I think that I learned a lot from the experience of building an organization. That's not just doing good, but break even and profitable. As a result, being able to scale to impact more and more.

    To be honest because nobody had really done it at that point in time. Back in 2011, the term social entrepreneur was new even in the west.

    And definitely new in in Singapore, Southeast Asia

    Ling Yah: And people didn't even call themselves found this at the time as well.

    Jeremy Au: All of us we're calling ourselves executive directors or presidents.

    Ling Yah: You shared at the time the biggest challenges was facing skepticism and I wonder what kind of skepticism were you facing and what was it that kept you guys going and pushing through?

    Jeremy Au: Skepticism was something that we definitely felt a lot of time. Ranging from I don't think this is going to work to I don't think that non-profits should get help at all to I don't think that a consulting approach makes sense to I don't think SE Asia, Singapore is ready for it.

    Ling Yah: You've also said once that they also said I don't think people in Singapore care enough, which surprised me actually.

    Jeremy Au: Oh yeah. That was probably the most common actually, because one of the big assumptions that as you social enterprise, was that we believed that there were people in business or affiliated business who are willing to work in that structured approach to how nonprofits and social enterprises and a consulting approach.

    The truth is it was a big commitment for people to give back. Within Singapore, there is a strong skepticism about our societies, a willingness to stretch. And yet there's also a very strong push to make a different and to give back.

    In Singapore and to some extent asian society, a lot of the help that we're thinking about is focusing on the family, helping your family, helping your extended family and helping society.

    Helping society first is a little bit new and novel because I think it requires a certain level of societal substrates to make it happen. You know, You can call it patriotism or nationalism adding the awareness of causes and mass communication, the availability of free time.

    To be able to commit and support a cause without feeling like you're jeopardizing the economics or security of your own family are actually substrate factors that are relatively recent for many societies.

    There's a lot more optimism today. There's a much deeper sense of a transnational global and even local causes that resonate with our folks. I think that's very heartening to see all the social entrepreneurs, nonprofits leaders, regulators, politicians, activists and common people be able to conduct, pick that together and drive that forward.

    My observation is that has hopefully doubt down over time as a point of skepticism.

    Ling Yah: Given that you are facing all these skepticism, how do you even find the people who believe in the same cause as you ?

    Jeremy Au: Talk to a lot of people. I think there's 3 parts to it. One is you just have to talk to a lot of people.

    By talking to more and more people you can create serendipity referrals and you get to meet people who share the same view .

    That's a big part of it. Because you don't talk to anybody nobody will believe, right?

    The second part is being okay with the odds of it. The truth is most of us actually live in bubbles or communities where most of us agree with each other all the time.

    The tricky part is that when you're trying to build something new or something that changes the world in a significant way. It's unlikely lines up with what your friends circle or your coworker circle is. You know, I always remember a friend of mine and he was a, Hey, Jeremy,, you care about this, you care about that. Why don't you support me on this geopolitical cause that you cared about? And I told him, I well, the reason I don't care about that geopolitical causes is because I don't fundamentally care and I can't care about it on top of all the things I care about.

    I feel sad about it. Yet, is it really my role to be able to contribute to it. That's a very awkward thing to say. Cause everybody's like, okay, if they're sad, I want to tweet about it. Right.

    The truth is at some level, the focus of your time is really the crux of it.

    The third aspect is really about what if you're wrong . How do you make your idea better?

    I was lucky because I was taking the idea that had worked in America and I was in many ways actually, very experienced. So I was uniquely positioned as an operator to build it from scratch. And not only build it from scratch at one university, but across market diversity's to make it profitable and sustainable. To find leadership to take over.

    The truth was, a lot of other people had the same idea: talking to lots of people and be comfortable with the odds.

    There were many other organizations that I observed that were just as compelling as willing to hustle that up to everybody, but eventually field and proved the skeptics right.

    Third point has allowed me to understand as an operator and founder, being able to talk to lots of people, hearing how to skepticism being vulnerable to skepticism yet in your mind, also being thoughtful and using that feedback to reassess your odds, right? To prove your idea, to improve your pitch, to improve your value proposition to learn from every person you talk to.

    It's a very hard mindset to have. Yet it allows you to get better, right? And so in a perfect world, what happens is that you're talking to lots of people. You're not scared of rejection and that allows you to keep talking to more and more people. The more people you talk to the wiser, the more articulate you become and in that perfect world, then your hit rate gets high over time.

    And then, you know, you've built that tribal with time.

    And it's a very unique set of skills to have because he requires to be thick skin and shameless and a good communicator yet also vulnerable and willing to learn and are willing to execute.

    And I think that was something that I tremendously enjoyed being part off. I think that unique set of those three attributes are really, really hard to find it.

    And frankly, a prerequisite to really being a strong founder.

    Ling Yah: And what was it like to then go into your two plus two MBA at harvard, what was your personal mission statement?

    Jeremy Au: So it's a good question. What's interesting is that I also had opportunity to, you know, kind of like reflect a lot you know, I had an opportunity to build various mission statements and vision boards over time.

    I think growing up as teenager, I think the word honor was very strong as a core word. Because of growing up in a school that was concerned about chivalry and gentleman leaners and all those things.

    So I think, know what honor really resonated in me as a, as a teenager. And I think that as a working professional, I remember that, the tree values that I really cared about was really I remember writing this down before my MBA was really about encapsulating dedication, integrity, and courage and also treat values that I felt were really important.

    And one thing to use those values to really catalyze and mobilize change, Wolfman's was something that I really. Cared about when I was going. And the reason why I'd build a much statements was because, I had gotten some advice from, you know, graduates of the Harvard MBA program that, being able to come in with a set of values and a set off focus areas that you wanted to explore was I think the best way to use your time while at Harvard, because you know, I think Harvard the Harvard MBA program is a very special place, which is within the Harvard ecosystem, which is within the Ivy league, MIT and Northwestern and Boston ecosystem, which is also part of the American ecosystem.

    And so there's a very unique set of opportunities that you have. And the truth is you only have, two years of time to be part of it. And so the truth is you could do everything. Very superficially. Are you going to do some things really well? I took that time to really be throughtful about going into my Harvard program and I remember a conflict set, three objectives I want to do around in our, I said the first thing I wanted to do was first of all meet a new person every day.

    That was one.

    The second was really building my skills to be a great CEO and builder. And a third was joining something that reflected my values and if not build something that did. So those are my three goals. I had a drink in my. Harvard MBA program. I think the first one was great because it's pretty easy KPI, Cause it's not like trying to say like, I want to meet 900 or 1,800 or, it's just like even meet one person every day. I think it's a pretty achievable thing. Right. It's just, go out, meet new people at a start. And then by year two people started forming cliques and then you just have to be okay, getting to know people at different, groups or coursework or clubs.

    The society is so mixers.

    what I realized was that, you know, there's a bunch of like all friends I started to really like. And so I wanted to have that deeper conversation. So to me, it's like if I had decomposition. Yeah, I don't need to meet a new person. Right.

    I think the second about bidding on my skillset, I think it was a reflection of feeling like I had understood what it meant to be a consultant and be a problem solver.

    And also knowing what he meant to be a social entrepreneur yet. I was, I felt like there was a lot of stuff that was really building on a fly. And so really one thing to learn from the management science which I think people are confused by, but there's actually a real science to management and leadership.

    They exist this, this happens to be behavioral economics slash leadership class pop psychology. Right. And so this is weird mishmash of staff that actually there is some truth to it about what it means to work with people at scale at the frontier. And I wanted to learn that knowledge.

    Thirdly, I read. Wanted to do was you know, be part of something that reflected my values. And I had the opportunity to really be part of so many different societies.

    It was interesting because health care is a fundamental good.

    Obviously there's some very deep organizational structural challenges of running hospitals, clinics and telehealth networks and being, obviously looking at social entrepreneurship cloud profits, social enterprises, and advocacy groups as a way of helping in a lab every year technology club.

    Which was really up about what we consider tech today right now, and our start ups and big tack and building the future. And it was just interesting for me to explore different iterations of all of that.

    Ling Yah: You wrote a blog post with advice, for people who want to apply to Harvard links of how to prepare for it.

    And there was one thing that you said people should think about before going in, think about what you should not learn at Harvard. And then when, the way you answer to that is

    Jeremy Au: just because I give advice doesn't mean that I follow my advice, right? So there's a Cardinal rule of competence in case you don't realize true entering Harvard. I wasn't as explicit about what not to learn. And I think that's why I give that advice out of folks to be thinking about, you know, why are you choosing not to prioritize?

    Why are you choosing not to learn You know, one aspect for us, our buyer V lies was that we want as part of the health care club, the reason why it didn't really resonate for me at that point of time, was that most of what the health care club in the Harvard MBA set was really exploring was really unique to the American healthcare system in terms of how the insurer networks set up, how the, billing is set up, how the hospitals work, et cetera.

    Obviously, there are some generalizable features of our system yet, is well understood by everybody around the world and by Americans themselves, that the American healthcare system is uniquely underperforming around a ward versus how much they spend versus how much they get. And so one thing I realized was interested in learning about healthcare.

    And hospitals and mega systems. And yet what I don't want to learn is about the American healthcare system that we either are trying to solve it on a structural level, which means probably going and learning how to go to Congress, to lobby for change, Or the system, which was something I didn't want to learn, even though I read about it.

    I'm curious about that. I'm not an American citizen. so it does something I just didn't want to learn per se. And I also didn't want to learn as a result to build startups that will uniquely tailor it to the American healthcare system.

    Right. Remedying the shortfalls and the truth is there are many startups that honestly only work for America. Right. In terms of pricing transparency or Helping with intra codes, like those are things that just doesn't exist in other countries at, because if you're going to an emerging market, but it's valid to healthcare, then you got to learn a very different approach, right?

    Ling Yah: And you mentioned the health care club, is that where you started really exploring mental health as an issue? because you were doing all that into doing hundreds of interviews that led you to starting your second startup CozyKin.

    Jeremy Au: So, what was interesting was that I had been interested in mental wellness for a long time. So all the way from 2013, and part of it was just, again, reflections on my own grief and my own experience, range from positive to ambivalent about the value of counseling and therapy during a time.

    I was being quite thoughtful about exploring, building up mental health care add up actually and long story short, was there a whole bunch of years of testing and not to nerd out too much, but you know, I think you know, some aspects about mental wellness is really challenging to do on a commercial basis.

    to be fair, I think a lot of great founders since then have figured out different ways to approach it I'll make it more accessible. So it's this amazing. The interesting part that I realised was you know, one insight I've shared on my own podcasts was that. What's interesting is that for most problems, the worst problem is the more they want your product.

    And what that means is that if you are slightly hungry, then you're willing to pay five bucks for food. And if you're very hungry, then you're willing to pay a lot of money to get some food. Right. what's interesting is that if you are moderately depressed you don't think it's a problem.

    And so you don't really need to pay a lot for health care, but if you're very depressed, then you can't even get out of bed and access any health care at all. And so it is an interesting dynamic where for depression the intensity of the problem is not correlate. at one advocacy, willingness to pay, but even the, the reading nurse, our openness to get help.

    Which is I think the uniquely challenging feature about this one disease. And so what happens is that you have a bunch of people who are very depressed and it effectively hiding from your right. if you're like trying to find people to gift, free therapy or Edison therapy.

    I mean, it's interesting where that category is as kind of like hidden from you, right. Because of so much of the stigma but it makes it uniquely difficult to figure it out.

    We ended up changing tech and saying, okay, you know, instead of trying to, nip the problem about when they have very severe depression and caring for it how do we prevent the emergence of mark on moderate depression?

    And one thing that we realized was that there was sort of clusters of depression. There were you know, university students who were far away from home and isolated from family and going through obviously their own identity awareness issues. I think a second cluster was in, first responders who are dealing with PTSD, like soldiers or firefighters or policemen I think it's a category was grief, you know, people who are suffering and the death of a loved one a personal loss was a big chunk of it as well.

    And the last group that we saw was really about postpartum depression, like mothers who had gone through a tough time. And one of the things that we realized was that when we zoom in on that category of mothers to be and recent mothers, the interesting challenges Was really about the lack of childcare.

    We interview, you know, 107 moms pediatrician, hands doctors, husbands, And I think we've really came to the understanding that at least in America has a very unique challenge about the unavailability. Our childcare was compromising the ability for mothers to go back to work that compromising their ability to have a steady pay check for the family compromising their ability to resume the identity that they have of being a working professional because they couldn't find childcare that they could trust to care for the most precious thing in their life.

    And so that was an interesting experience for us to pivot in that sense from a mental health care startup approach to saying, okay, how do we prevent postpone depression? Okay. Let's just solve the childcare situation of ed deep love. And so I think it was a fascinating experience to, found it up, get funding for it and eventually sell the company to a daycare chain.

    Was this bonkers, you know, chapter of my life as well.

    Ling Yah: what's the solution now that you identified the issue, which was childcare or lack of it,

    Jeremy Au: childcare, you know, more childcare, right? I mean, if you don't have childcare answered solution is more childcare. I mean, it was just amazing because, you know, I remember, you know, when we were talking to the doctors and, we were like, oh, you know, all these moms are depressed sad because they can't go back to work and already kind of have a paycheck.

    And then, you know, doctors are like, oh, maybe you should give them Keroppi counseling sessions. From their perspective to help them come to grips that there's no childcare right. And get up and even think about it. It's actually very logical because it's fair. If you are a doctor or nurse, and you're hearing this, that is a problem. Indeed. You understand a problem to hear it a problem, but from their perspective, because their doctors, the only way you can solve the problem is giving them therapy or counseling to set the fact that they can go back to work.

    And accept the fact that, childcare is really bad in your area and, guess what, you should become a stay-at-home mom, right. even though you didn't want to, or, you're gonna have to sacrifice a bunch of your living conditions in order to make it happen now.

    So that was a really a tough set of conversations to have. And I think the way it came down to us, you had to figure out how to provide more childcare.

    We build out a sharing economy approach where, you know we've managed, popularized the concept of like, You know, we call it then nanny shares. childcare pods, but our concept of sharing childcare in a distributed manner with any versa, you and your neighbor partner up to share childcare or going to a local home daycare to access a local pod instead of like very large au p airs that are not systematically fully serving the needs of the population.

    And what was interesting was that there was a deep realization that at some level, you know, we were doing a commercial approach to solve the problem. And yet it was actually a. Public health or societal slash governmental decision, right? Because America is one of the few countries in a wallet that doesn't have maternity leave.

    And so this is, bonkers gap, I think at early stages for American childcare slash families where there's hardly any support for young.

    Which is a shame.

    I think it was always that deep sense to be like, know, why are we solving this right now?

    Shouldn't government be solving this, at minimum because it's the right thing to do you know? So that was this interesting reflection of our time. And I think was also a big reason why I eventually moved back to Singapore you know, after having sort of company and, just working on the problem for so long at some levels, that's like, well what's the future for me, right?

    Why am I really passionate about. And it was really more about Southeast Asia. And the opportunity of millions of people, you know, sorts of far off, I was in high level as it's like affinity. Right. Which is that I fundamentally resonated my, of Southeast Asia. And the future rather than working on some of these structural gaps that in America that felt like should have been resolved by government or community.

    So I think that's why I was quite excited to come back to Singapore.

    Ling Yah: What was it like coming back to Singapore and how did you end up at Monk's Hill?

    Jeremy Au: Yeah. Coming back to Singapore was interesting because, Singapore is a story about the world and Southeast Asia and Singapore itself.

    What's interesting is that being able to come back as a professional, having worked in the U S is that you have a fresh set of eyes on your own place.

    I think part of it was coming back to Southeast Asia was exploring different opportunities, different roles, different companies and also exploring whether to find a business again.

    No, I was approached by the opportunity to join the VC world and sit at a side of the table. And I think what was unique about Monk's hill ventures was the fact that everybody in the company, as a former founder and operator and it meant that I had already heard good things about the team, about the culture, that the fact that they understood what it meant to work with founders because they were former founders.

    And on the other hand also being curious about what I had to set a table look like and understanding how to capital was distributed. How far does this act of capital. And I think being part of that transition was interesting because being a founder, the truth is I really didn't like a lot of VC.

    and I had to go sit down and do some thinking with my executive coach and was the realization that I didn't want to be a VC. And if I was to be a VC, it would have to be on my Tums in terms of norms, values, and approach. But yeah. If you asked me, are there people that you respect in the VC world I've told you? Yes, I would say I respect Brad Feld because he's someone who is open and vulnerable and has been transparent about his own mental health issues and grief, but also been able to talk through and provide so much help.

    I admire Jason Calacanis again for being a podcast host and far being transparent about information sharing for being authentic. And for being Frank about AB and C and F for being a great source of knowledge and information.

    So there's so many different aspects that there were individual VCs that I respected, but I didn't like VCs. And so why I realized if I'm going to enter this role, I'm going to step in with intentionality and say, I'm not going to be just like every other VC, which I write down as your VC, as one of those nodes, it's like, I'm not going to be EOVC.

    Every other VC. I want to be doing it in a very human humane, authentic way.

    I think it's a very high standard because I think the norms are VC, the incentive structure and that the normal behaviors of your peers actually incentivizes you to be EO VC.

    Right. You know, the Akron debt dynamic. And it's actually, honestly, it feels like swimming against the current. try to carve out time for people who need the help. it's hard to be, on time for meetings because, you're back to back to every other meeting.

    It's hard to be thoughtful in your answers when you're time compressed so I think I have a lot more respect for my role model slash heroes because, you know, I just have no idea how to do it.

    And I'd say up probably is they probably don't feel like they're doing an idea. Yeah.

    Ling Yah: They have a huge team behind them. We just say that people like Jason, Calacanis his podcast, a good reflection of what it's like being a startup founder and, you know, working with visa.

    Jeremy Au: Well, he's a good reflection of how VC thinks, because he is both an angel who is working as a VC.

    So he understands that we have work. He is plugged into the network in America. And so he represents a very strong community and affinity set of knowledge. That is pretty non-common from my perspective

    yet, he also doesn't represent Southeast Asia and there's no need to be obviously I think the American view of startups and approaches, and I think one interesting challenge. Has been the fact that to some extent, you know Southeast Asia, is that ecosystem like many other technology ecosystems around the world has really taken their cue from America,

    which is right. Because, America is where venture capital was built as an idea. So much technology has been built there. I think there's a very growing understanding that similar to China and similar to India surface Asia technical system is maturing and growing into its own.

    Right? there's this interesting trend where I think someone like Jason Calacanis is a great reflection of how American ecosystem thinks. And also actually is a good reflection of the American leaning trend of technology, thinking around a wall because people in China or India will listen to the Jason Calacanis as a result, be inspired by the way he thinks and talks.

    for me that was so a big inspiration of why I eventually launched my own podcast was because, I was getting to chat with a bunch of friends and acquaintances that were really about Southeast Asia.

    And I remember looking up Southeast Asia tech podcasts several years ago and realizing that, they were talking about in a very superficial way. And so I thought that was a great opportunity to, build up a while will eventually become the brief podcast and getting to talk in a human and humane way about what technology is.

    Ling Yah: So just before we jump into brave, we haven't set up what exactly you do amongst you. So you are ahead of strategic projects. What does that mean? What does your day look like?

    Jeremy Au: I'm also a chief of staff as well. I think what that means is that I think that our three big aspects about it I think the first aspect of course, is it's like I've had a VCs deal flow which is nice.

    We are seeing of helping founders selecting founders in terms of prioritization, as well as choosing which founders to back of capital to grow to the next stage and doing that on a individual basis, but also on a repeated basis on a day in day out basis. It means that for example, today I met with.

    six founders today actually. you've ranged from helping them think through their business in a very positive way because they're growing very well and thinking about how to hire and how to support that all the way to animate the businesses really struggling. And they're trying to decide what they personally should do, whether I should close the business or sell the business, I buy out the business.

    So it is a very wide range. If you think about it about what that daily flow is. And I think that really takes on, I think why I call it like the coach and a problem solver aspect of it, which is, at some level you're always solving problems, right. And growth problems and technology is it's a far, but being able to do that in a way that's very human Can be difficult at scale.

    I think the second aspect is why I call the structural approach, why she means that beyond me doing as a human, how am I re-engineering and upgrading our company's ability to sauce screened, prioritize and learn from the way that we are making investments. And that deal engine is something that I'm working on because it not only helps me by supporting me.

    It also helps the rest of the entire company that enjoyed teammates are also out there day in, day out representing the company. A third of course, is. I would say ad hoc projects, but they're really key to the company that are cross functional but important to the organization tried to be spearheaded.

    And in that capacity, I probably act most as a PR consultant slash coordinator role to help shepherd these projects from point a to point B. And all of those three roles, honestly, I'm just one person on a team. That's there. So, tripod, they go on is find great companies, trap a level two is help the company as a whole find great companies.

    And at that is very much like help the company be a better company. Right? So ways that I think about it?

    Ling Yah: You invest in early stage, primarily series a and you spend a lot of time with on this. So what are you looking for?

    What kind of founder has stood up for you?

    Jeremy Au: From my perspective is that founders are really the hero of the company and the truth is, having a founder that is able to build and keep building is the prerequisite because if you come up to me and you have an idea you got my attention, but you probably will not have my support, right.

    It'd be hard to get the support of any VC, because all you have is an idea that's verbal, but you have not done the work of making something of nothing.

    So yeah, being able to build something out of nothing is key and being able to snowball that into more growth. It's really, I think at the crux of what every VC is really looking for at one level.

    I think the second part is just at some level would be the belief that you're solving a huge problem.

    Right. And, being a VC kind of like that, scratch my itch. Going back to the first question you asked me about making a huge impact. Right. I think in VC, you know, you're looking for people who are trying to impact lots of lives at a large scale. There's no such thing as a small VC backed startup the small now, but their vision is odd.

    And so I think it does tie nicely where at VC, the equivalent of it'd be like sculpting elite athletes right into it. I wanted to change the world at scale and that you're willing to back deeply, both, not just with capital, but also a time attention, problem solving, coaching, mentorship.

    I think the challenging part is that everybody wants to play soccer, but not everybody is going to play soccer and English, premier league.

    And within the English premier league, the truth is that have many clubs that are bad average good and great. The great clubs are looking for the best soccer players. And so there's this interesting matching our assortment game. And I think it causes a lot of that dichotomy which feels challenging.

    And I think me having now been on both sides, the table finds it a little bit easier to both articulate, but also be sympathetic, I think on both sides of the.

    Ling Yah: And you mentioned the brave podcast earlier. I wonder because you have spoken to so many people by now. What is your general view on where the Southeast Asian type scene is at right now?

    Jeremy Au: Southeast Asian tech ecosystem is, composed two stories. I think the first area is about Southeast Asia as a market. And in the second part is Southeast Asia as a pool of entrepreneurs and capital and ecosystem. I think the former is straightforward in a sense that Southeast Asia has on average across the region, a lower GDP per capita than China but more than India.

    And so there's an interesting dynamic where servicing the requirement, the needs from a technology perspective means that more people in Indonesia or Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, or the Philippines get to get some access more to things they couldn't get before. Right.

    Either through more availability of e-commerce goods. They could buy all the way to make it easy to travel from place to place to even just information availability on, we used to be a better parent. Those are things that technology has allowed to happen because the smart internet, it is monitored.

    You leave a capital for time. And so there's that pent up consumer demand slash adoption of technology that Southeast Asia has to not just improve the quality of life, but also leapfrog, right. In many ways. The old ways of thinking and customs.

    I think the other side of is really about the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

    So I think the increasing, risk appetite of founders, the fact that talent is more and more competent of fluent about what startups look like or what a norms are the transparency about. Who's a good VC versus other approaches to capital. You know, I think the maturity of the Southeast Asia ecosystem is really deepening.

    And why that means is that, 20 years ago, you know, I think the same growth story about Southeast Asia is a market was still true 20 years ago, but 20 years ago, most of that requirement for new ways of thinking new approaches is really being serviced by multinational corporations and expatriates who are resolving it because they had that risk appetite because they had that extension capability.

    But I think what's really happened over the past 20 years when we take the system, is that all those requirements, are actually increasingly and often better served I think by domestic and regional and local entrepreneurs working hand-in-hand if local ecosystem partners like venture capital or local angels or local service providers to service that local need, right.

    Ling Yah: Do you feel like you found your why?

    Jeremy Au: Broadly yes. I think one thing I realized is that having written multiple mission statements over the years the why is really a moving target. And it's not a static thing that you have. It's not something you set up as a kid. You know, the why for me now, you know, I think there's amazing is at one level I love science fiction. I love reading science fiction. I could talk to you about science fiction for a day, target you off. And I think technology is amazing because you're making the opportunity to make all the science fiction become reality.

    And so you gotta think about that timescale, but also get to see about how you're going to be helping people all the time. I think that being a VC and being a founder has allowed me to work with people because people who are willing to build something amazing and build something thoughtful and to rally people .

    It's not just inspiring to the people around them, but it's inspiring to me, for me to hang out with them. I feel better for hanging out with them. And then thirdly, I think is that, my, why is also being back it's obvious Asia, right? Because when I was in America building a startup from pre-seed or seed a series of day and selling it, I mean, I was helping America, but it's always a bit disconnected because I felt like I wasn't really helping.

    And to be able to do this in Southeast Asia, where I feel like it's home makes it much better.

    Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

    Jeremy Au: I had opportunity to visit Pompei over the past year. And one thing I realized was that, town 2000 years ago. I don't know any of the names. Right. And so I think legacy is a very temporal thing. The truth is in 2000 years, the truth is nobody's going to know what my legacy is.

    And so I think for me, the way I tried to define legacy is more like I hope that I live life in a way that was true to myself as much as possible. So that I was growing me the best at that time. And that the people around me felt that too, right.

    And at day two, feel like they got a chance to see me as who I was and who I am. And I always tell people, I was like, you know, when I have a funeral, no, one's going to recite my achievements. I think people just going to share about how you made them feel right.

    Ling Yah: The Maya Angelou quote.

    Jeremy Au: Exactly. Right. And I think for me, I hope that at that funeral, I think everybody had a good time that we are in a wearing tie dye shirts and, you know, multi-colored balloons and, playing some dance music and, cracking some jokes, maybe some dark humor along the way, obviously since it's a funeral, but I really hope that, when I pass, my legacy is that, people were thankful that I existed for this very temporal period of time.

    And I honestly that's the best I can hope for, from my perspective.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 97. The show notes and transcript can be found at and stay tuned for next Sunday because we'll be meeting a guest who is deep in a web three fashion space.

    She's worked in fashion publications for a while as the American Fashion Director of InStyle, and also Conde Nast and as the Style Editor at Paper City and is now running her won startup focusing on phygitals - digital goods that are paired with physical fine jewelry. If you're interested in learning more about the traditional versus the web3 fashion wpr;d, then this is certainly the episode to tune into.

    So do stick around and see you next Sunday.

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