πŸ‰

Pete's perspective

❓ The Why

June 1993 to Present

Whenever I meet a fellow entrepreneur, I'm always desperate to hear their true reason for starting their business. "Oh, there's a great opportunity," they might say, or "I like new ideas and building things". These answers fly right over my head. I might be projecting, but I'm looking for the real reason. Is there a chip on your shoulder? Do you want to make a lot of money? Are you frustrated by an injustice? Of course, it's not always easy to be forthcoming about endeavours that can mean so much to us.

It has taken years of conversation, introspection, and emotional honesty to figure out my own πŸ”— 'Why'. I'll dive into my core. For me, I want to carry the torch of my family's entrepreneurial legacy. Where my parents resorted to entrepreneurship out of necessity, I have chosen to continue along the same path.

My 'Why' is deeply ingrained in my childhood experiences (here we go! πŸ˜‚). From the moment I could communicate, I was involved in the family business - the local takeaway. What a chore! Accounting, paying business rates, taking customers' orders. Rather challenging for a 7-year-old, but my story is typical for Chinese immigrants and their children.

I was a young, Chinese boy looking to fit into a Western world.

I wanted to play football with friends. I wanted to hangout on the weekend. I definitely did not want to work in the takeaway.

Shame, embarrassment, isolation, dissociation.

Mum reflected on these times over a family dinner this year during London's lockdown. "It was an incredibly difficult period for us. We also feel guilty that we deprived you of a normal childhood. But that's how it is when you have your own business, you give it everything you've got, and we stay strong as a family no matter what". She turns to Dad. "Remember the 100 days?".

Over time, the meaning of these memories changed. Yes, memories fade and alter as time passes, but with experience and maturity you become more more perceptive. I remember the difficult times, the hours of sacrifice my family put in and the unity we shared through good times and bad. I see that the negativity I once felt originated from a lack of contextual understanding of myself, and from others. But now, those same memories have taken on the glow of nostalgia, I feel immense pride, energy and drive.

For the rest of my life, I will be inspired by the incredible courage my parents must have needed to come to a new country, at age 40, with no language skills, connections or money. Please re-read that. God damn it, Dad grew up during the Chinese communist revolution! πŸ˜‚ My first-world problems melt away like a snowflake on a warm hand.

My parents succeeded after decades of hard, physical graft. They've given their children access to a world class Master's level education and now live a comfortable life. For them, the immigrant's dream came true.

Growing up, my parents didn't teach me Math, English or Science. They didn't teach me how to boss the 11 plus or game the GCSEs. They just didn't have that knowledge. Instead, they taught me to work hard and stay humble. To value compassion and to never hurt others. To try your best and to compare only mindsets. To appreciate and learn strengths from those around you. To use those strengths to overcome your weaknesses.

They taught me all they had. Principles. 道理.

I use their lives as a benchmark. If, in a few decades, they can go from the struggles of Communist China in the East, to a comfy lifestyle in the West, what can I achieve with all the support and investment they've given me? Like a lot of immigrant children, we stand on the shoulders of our parent's courage and give ourselves pressure to ensure that their sacrifices weren't made in vain.

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Digression. I think this is a typical story for children of immigrants, especially for those of British-Chinese background. They worked so hard for familial stability, and rightfully want to shield their children from struggles and sacrifices they personally experienced, and so tell their kids to become a doctor / solicitor or banker. This topic rarely talked about, and I'm still learning about my own stories and the stories of others. This was one of the core reasons as to why I built 🐣 The Nest - the first community to create, shape, define, unite, support and represent brilliant Chinese Diaspora entrepreneurs. If any BBCs (British Born Chinese) are reading this and want to talk, βœ‰οΈ email me!

They had prepared the torch but I hadn't the courage to take it. I had my inflection moment in my first job. I had landed a well-paid position in Investment Management in Mayfair and I had a lot to learn. Three months later, I found myself in Ikea with Mum and she asks how it's going, and whether I had picked the right path. "Honestly? I want to run a successful business one day and I can already sense the ceiling ahead", I said. "Well, if that's the case, you know that we will support you no matter what, we are willing to put everything behind you." That was when I realised it was my turn to take the torch.

I prepare my thoughts, journal a couple of times to work out the best and worst case scenarios and come to terms with what I truly wanted to create. I set up a coffee with the CEO to announce my departure.

"Day in day out, I see you grow the business, inspire others and work to your full potential. One day, I want to work alongside you, not beneath you. I want to take a more entrepreneurial path and, with that in mind, I'd like to leave this company." I had spoken my piece. I readied myself for a grilling.

"If that's what your gut is saying, then follow it." All my tension releases. "Here's how I see it. We are all balloons floating up. We each have a piece of string tied to us, and I see your balloon. I won't pull down on yours; I want to see it rise higher. I'll see you up there."

I found the lack of resistance disorienting. Seconds later, he guides me back on track. "If you're going to jump into tech, then you need speak to these two people. They're highly experienced and networked. Mention my name and have a conversation with them, they'll happily get you started."

This would mark the start of my adventures into the world of start-ups. Over the next 5 years, I'd go on to take a Masters at UCL; I'd start a company; I'd cut off my relationships for a year (and soon after burn out); I'd work in 10 different companies, in different industries, in different roles.

At the time, it was scary. Looking back, I can see that each moment taught me a valuable lesson that I bring to my work everyday. I've worked in companies of size: 1, 10, 100, 1000. I've been an Economist, an Investment Analyst, a Founder, the Head of Growth, a Venture Lead, a Product Manager, and most recently, by self learning how to code in 6 months, became a Web Engineer at Monzo. In that period, I'd also get the chance to start a business with my first boss 🎈

So what's my "why?" It's a difficult concoction of family pride, a relentless drive to improve, and an eternal desire to leave a legacy.

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Personal Takeaways - It was very difficult to share this personal story, but incredibly freeing. This is my "Why". - If you're looking to start a business, figure out what your core motivations are and plan accordingly; it's the only way to work sustainably. The longer you stray from your core the more you'll be burdened. - Be very careful, if you're motivated by family pride or expectation - make sure you're completely clear of the legacy you're taking on. But grow to investigate, accept and appreciate the frame of our family stories. They'll be proud stories you'll tell your grandchildren. - Sometimes there are moments to give someone space and the resources to grow. Step aside, give, and push their balloon higher. - In choosing your work, pursue learning and growth. - One day, I should share my experiences and angle on the dynamics of Chinese parents. - I realise the negative impressions of the situation originate from a lack of understanding of the context by external people who don't want to understand the context, only critique it. And don't spend time trying to impress people that don't understand or matter. - If you want to learn to code, take it seriously, build a project a month of increasingly difficulty and have a learning buddy. I invested ~3 hours a night for 6 months.

πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ An Old Friend in a New City

May 2019

I'm experiencing my first solo trip. I arrive in Tokyo central station and I'm already in awe. It's midnight and there are men in flashy, business suits roaming around town. Is it Tokyo fashion week? I arrive in Asakusa and greet Raj; what a pleasure it is to meet an old friend in a new city. The next week, I spend the first half of each day exploring different parts of the city. I journey East, West, North and South. Each night is a dreamy, neon blur and the first weekend arrives in no time - onwards to EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival)!

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Day 2 at the festival and we're drawn to the thumping echo of the stadium. It's the start of the main act. It's a long walk towards the stadium, made even longer by the snake-like maze of metal barriers. Whoever set up the barriers for crowd control, unknowingly designed an experience of exponentially increasing excitement. On the first turning, we hear the crowd but see nothing. Two more turns and the bass grows louder, the screams get clearer, and we speed up into a jog. As we go deeper into the rave cave, the daylight behind fades and the darkness inside draws us in like a black hole. Finally, we turn a corner around a tall wall and see the lights of the whole stadium. Fifty thousand hands bounce up and down to an immense carnival of lights, dancers and theatre. It was overwhelming. πŸ“Ί The music reverberated through our bones, we breathed in the vibrations and felt the endorphins electrify our bloodstreams.

We take a few breaks in the back. I mention a few ideas bouncing around my head. I try to describe my destiny as I saw it. I introduce a passion project to Raj - Eastern Fear. "It's a front for a movement. There is no fear, just a misunderstanding between those of the West, and those of the East." They daren't approach each other like the North and South magnetic poles, but through personal experience and communication, I know that the perfect blend of the best of the East and West is the way forward. This was an embodiment of my own past and my future ambitions.

πŸ’­

As my parents would tell me, my Chinese name is 东 (East) as I'm born in the West but will always look towards the East.

Raj responds like a tsunami. He sees the vision clearer, his body in full belief. The rave continues and I try to follow, but it speaks so strongly to Raj that he pulls on the cord more. He states his commitment to the cause, and suggests he works on it full-time. I hadn't processed the concept enough. Despite living at the intersection of both worlds, my thoughts hadn't materialised yet, so it remained a grey zone. Perhaps I was afraid of opening Pandora's box, scared to reveal an overwhelming, life-changing mission. I needed to catch my breath.

Two minds syncing.
Two minds syncing.

Raj insists we record it. A great suggestion. 15 minutes later, deep in the crowd and the music, something switches on for me. "I really do trust you Raj, and I'll fund you personally from London if that's what it takes." An honourable offer needs honourable support.

A few nights pass and our trip to the coast of Kochi allows us to recuperate. Along the way we continue refining our idea. "It'll be a secret, anonymous brand. We'll select people who represent its values. People who stand out. People who are willing to break the cycle, to represent, to inspire, to break the mould." Peggy Gou's recent DJ set made her our aspirational pick. "The first product should be a sweatshirt made from bamboo, that comes in a piece of bamboo. Eastern materials for Eastern builders. An item that cannot be bought, but only gifted." Our excitement alternates and builds; an instagram account is created and the ideas are scribbled down.

Unfortunately, the flow of the holiday takes over. A few nights of inspiration and fun fades into a scrapbook. A project to be revived at another time? Or a lost opportunity? Raj and I had a rich history growing up as friends. From spending hours on Xbox together as teenagers; cycling from London to Amsterdam over the course of 2 weeks during university; living together in Brick Lane at our first jobs. Now, five years into our careers, our personal and business visions aligned. May 2019 marks the first time the idea of working and taking an alternative path together was taken seriously.

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Personal Takeaways - Project East represented my raw unfiltered desire to blend the best of the East and West. It didn't happen and instead, it lives on everyday through building our Company's ⛩️ Values & Principles. Be opinionated on motivations and unopinionated on its implementation. - Value transparency, trust and aspiration by responding in kind. - Give your ideas life! Talk to friends about them and put time into starting them. - Realise that ideas are absorbed by people at different speeds. - Seek vision fit in your business partners. - Get an alternative worldview. Go to Japan! Don't dye your hair blonde though, it's not worth the hassle.

πŸ§ͺ A Test Project

November 2019

I tell Raj the news: I'm leaving Monzo. His brain flickers on and it's clear to him what's next - it's time to start a business.

You've perhaps heard it before and I believed it too: don't mix business with friends- it'll get tough, it'll get personal, it'll change people. My rational mind was thinking in averages. "On average, mixing business and friends doesn't work," I thought. I made this clear and continued to voice my concerns. For some reason this doesn't phase Raj.

He swiftly finds a chance for us to trial working together - a local health clinic needed to optimise its appraisal process. We visit the clinic, gather data and interview the team on what's working, what's not, and get moving. 4 days later, we release a product that generates appraisal reports in just a few minutes - something that previously took hours. Hi-five! πŸ™ A successful experiment in our compatibility as teammates. That was the weekend before I set off for San Francisco. Raj says goodbye to me and expects my divergent mind and exploratory soul to come back, not as a potential cofounder, but as just a friend.

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Personal Takeaways - Do test projects with people to figure out work-fit. If a small project works well, scale it up and try something bigger. - Powerful communication is caring, transparent, nuanced and well-timed. Spending so much time together have helped Raj and I become incredibly in sync. - Raj and I have had many conflicts, and we expect many more. Our ability to resolve them and become stronger gives us confidence in tackling the unknowns of the future.

πŸŒ‰ A San Franciscan Adventure

November 2019

As a tech fanboy, San Francisco and Silicon Valley (SV) represented the mecca of start-ups. It was a pilgrimage I had fantasied about for years! I was keen to make the most of it. I wanted to do a tour of the coffee shops where the Venture Capitalists hung out. I wanted to visit the big tech company offices. I wanted to meet the people and get an idea of the American personality.

If SV was the mecca, Y Combinator (YC) represented the Harvard of start-up accelerators. A bucket-list item of mine is to experience their 3-month bootcamp. Building a network there was my first step. As someone who frequently compared the American Chinese experience with that of the British Chinese, I decided to hit two birds with one stone and search specifically for Asian American entrepreneurs who were YC alumni. That way I could get personal accounts of their experiences and take conversations back to the home 🐣 Nest. I found a directory of all YC alumni, shortlisted them, opened LinkedIn, connected, messaged them and asked for a coffee. From a few hundred messages I managed to arrange about 10 meetings.

During my first week in San Francisco I'm bouncing around the city, having introductory coffees with various founders. But I also had one ulterior motive, I wanted to to ask the burning question: "Would you go into business with your best friend?"

A debater like me asks this question to 10 different people to hear 10 different answers. We'll take those opinions and then expect to do a degree of cognition, taking time to aggregate, process, and evaluate the information. Surprisingly, there was nothing to analyse, the answer was an unanimous and encouraging, "Yes!"

"Building a business is hard enough, and to build it with someone you don't trust is even harder. If you're going to tackle tough problems, you might as well do it with someone you like!"

Bryant Chou, Cofounder, Webflow (YC S13).

"If you can differentiate between and communicate on, the lines between personal and business issues - which is difficult - then you'll be fine".

Lester Lee, Cofounder, Slapdash (YC W19).

I was surprised but happily so. Two weeks had passed and the path was now clear. The fun was over, the exploration complete. San Francisco is an amazing city, there are some ridiculously talented entrepreneurs there, the community is generous and the energy is contagious, but London's balance suited me better.

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Personal Takeaways - Learn to differentiate from personal and business issues, and be tolerant that this will blend into work. - Building a business is hard, building it with someone you don't trust is harder! - Be willing to have your strong opinions challenged, so, seek out of bubble experiences and perspectives. - People are much more willing to grab a coffee than you think! The same goes for me β˜•οΈ

πŸƒβ€β™‚οΈ An Opportunity to Start

December 2019

On my way back to London, a more concrete plan started to form. Raj and I were looking for a new project to work on. An opportunity to make an impact.

During this period, my friend from Nest, Tony Xu, found out about my upcoming entrepreneurial phase and offered starting advice. At the same time, he was looking for someone to lead growth at his startup, πŸ”— Perfocal.

I was a candidate but, in all honesty, having me part-time wasn't going to meet either of our requirements: he needed someone at least full time. So, Raj & I pitched the idea of the two of us working together towards a 6 month growth project.

Tony was interested and we got chatting. The first evening we met as a trio the time flew by. 20 growth channels discussed of past, present and future; 6 hours later and with a last train home to catch, we call it a night. The energy in that room was just right. All felt an optimism and appetite for a positive future. We all agreed to work together and, with our words as bond, we parted ways. Raj and I were willing to give our first client our all and the project's refrain, "your success, is our success," was said for the first time that night.

πŸ‘ The Family Approval

December 2019

For most, this would be more than enough wind to fill the sails. But, Raj and I are deeply value-driven people. We had one last thing to do. To talk to the people that mattered most - the family.

We took turns having dinner with each other's parents to gather wisdom, approval and their blessings. This might sound strange for some, but to us it represented a partnership that would involve our families' lives for the next decade.

I'll let Raj tell πŸ”— his -- surprisingly different -- side of this story here {LINK} , and I'll tell mine:

Of course, you'd expect Mums to loving tell their sons that they're great and to leave it at that. But this was different. Mum and Dad exuded beyond enthusiastic support.

In their son, they saw their own entrepreneurial spirit light up.

With a proud smile, they light the torch and pass it to me.

The "Why" had come full circle.

On the 1st January 2020, we found twenty--twenty.

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Thanks for reading!

We invite you to continue following our journey! πŸš€ Each month we'll be releasing stories as we experienced them, a year out of sync. So in February 2021, we tell the story of February 2020. This way, we can share our highs and lows of entrepreneurship, with all its grit and gloss; without fearing sensitivities.

The next bit is for those looking to work at, or with twenty--twenty.

So those were the moments of significance that led up to the founding moment. But, a year has passed, and what's happened since?

This year, we've Catalysed 4 Ventures.

πŸ“Έ We worked with Perfocal to take over the UK Photography Market, navigating COVID successfully. Despite much turbulence, we implemented 30+ growth projects, improved the consumer offering by building out merchandising, started the B2B offering, grew double digit % and most importantly, made friends for life. We've extended our relationship by committing to scale their business sales team and process further.

πŸ’™ We saved an NHS health clinic hundreds of hours spent on team appraisals, and now we're working on a major project together to improve the patient experience significantly.

πŸ€– We launched an MVP for digitising the Dublin AI community

⛩️ We've supported a family business in Tokyo to achieve greater company alignment

Most significantly, we hired a spectacular Catalyst, πŸ”— Holly Simmons, who is currently leading Perfocal's business team efforts.

We're looking to grow substantially this year with more great projects and more great people. So, if you're a highly ambitious individual of strong character, let's have a chat!

2020 may have ended for many, but for us, twenty--twenty has only just begun.

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