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Photograph: Daniel Brennan

Let me tell you a story: Earlier this summer, my friend introduced me to a talented young Taiwanese-American chef named Eric Huang. He had cooked at Cafe Boulud with Daniel Boulud, Gramercy Tavern with Michael Anthony, and Eleven Madison Park with Daniel Humm. I found out later that he went to Juilliard for cello and graduated from Northwestern University. He was also an exceptional writer from what I could read on his Instagram posts. This guy was the real deal and all sorts of talented.

Eric wanted advice and feedback on his business plan for Anzhu, a high-end Chinese restaurant he dreamed of opening in New York. We talked about the current state of the industry and how people right now and for the foreseeable future needed something different, something more comforting. I talked him into doing something fast casual and simpler that could be delivered to the masses. He could make a lot more cash and build his brand to raise capital more easily for Anzhu when things get back to normal. He was already making frozen dumplings on the side to deliver to friends. He had his family restaurant Peking House in Queens that he could use as a ghost kitchen. I suggested fried chicken after having the fried chicken from Birdsong in San Francisco. …


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Over the past decade, I’ve been building a community of Asian-American founders in Silicon Valley. It started out with a small dinner I arranged with a few of my fellow founders when I was working on my first company. At the time, I felt like I was lacking community with other founders, especially those who had a shared cultural upbringing and challenges. I’ve shared a bit about my experience in my essay Bamboo Ceiling? Build Your Own House. There are many groups for other founder communities but I wasn’t aware of any specifically for East or Southeast Asian-American founders. Our dinner that night reminded us of how important it is to have that unique fellowship of breaking from the conservative career paths our immigrant parents wanted for us to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams. …


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Back in July of 2019, a meme was born from a Twitter thread from Accel India general partner Shekhar Kirani. It was widely mocked and ridiculed by those who thought that the concept of a 10x engineer was rooted in unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of engineers. Kirani was attempting to call out what would make an ideal engineer, one who is focused, efficient, productive, full-stack, quick to learn and extremely knowledgeable about their code. But he also stereotyped them as unable to work with people (hate meetings, poor team players, bad mentors). …


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We are living in truly uncertain times. The world has been turned upside down by a pandemic from COVID-19. College seniors are missing their graduations and entering a challenging job market where companies are downsizing to survive the economic standstill unlike the world has ever seen before. The real unemployment rate of the U.S. is likely over 20%, a level not seen since the Great Depression. One could look at the news with hopelessness or they can embrace the opportunity. During the Great Recession (2008–2010), people took lemons and turned them into Uber, WhatsApp, Slack, Pinterest, Square and Venmo. …


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I have always enjoyed writing. I found it cathartic to release all of these thoughts and ideas trapped inside my head. I first published on Blogger, then on Xanga, then on my own hosted Wordpress site. When I first started writing on Medium, it was simply because it was a more elegant publishing experience. All of the other platforms seemed to get bloated with features and clutter. Medium was clean and simple. It was about the writing and not the bells and whistles. One background color, one font color, one font type. I was drawn by the quality of writing from others publishing on Medium. …


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I love restaurants. I love reading about them, I love watching Netflix documentaries about them, and most of all I love eating at them. Do I have any business starting a company in the restaurant industry? Not really. I am merely a fanboy. The most time I’ve spent behind the scenes of a restaurant operation was when I was a delivery boy in high school for Lotus Garden in New Jersey. That does not make me a domain expert by any stretch of the imagination. When I started my current company Pared, I was like most entrepreneurs out there, looking for a problem to solve. I would go into restaurants in my neighborhood and talk to operators about my ideas. Inevitably they would all shoo me away as another techie who was only going to add to their already cluttered counter of tablets for delivery, POS, loyalty programs, etc. These were all vitamins. They are nice to have and may very well help them improve their business, but they don’t cure the real pain crippling restaurants today: staffing challenges. …


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I am an extrovert. I love meeting new people. As a result, I have been very fortunate to build an extensive network. The older I get, the more I realize how much this network has helped me get to where I am today. People underestimate the value of networking in their success. Most would say absolute success (vs. relative success) is the result of a combination of talent, hard work and luck. If you don’t have any talent, you are unlikely to offer anything of value to others. If you don’t work hard, you can’t hone your talent and build something of value. And even if you have all the talent in the world and you work non-stop, you need luck to get you exposure and opportunity. I would add that building the right network can increase your odds of success. …


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Image Credit: Showtime for one of the best shows on television.

I received such a great response for my last essay about marketplaces, Not All Marketplaces are Created Equal: Tales from a Marketplace Founder, that I was inspired to write some more! I talked about all the things that make a marketplace attractive for disruption, now I’d like to dig deeper into how to find the right one to go after.

I’m making the assumption that you want to build a huge company that would require raising venture capital to grow and scale, which may not necessarily be for everyone. There are plenty of valid reasons to go after a niche space that can sustain a great business. If you go down the path of trying to fundraise and you can’t hit the necessary hurdles to justify investment, you will have sacrificed a lot of blood, sweat and tears for nothing. …


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My company Pared was recently included in an essay from Andrew Chen and Li Jin entitled What’s next for marketplace startups? Recently I’ve been seeing some great pieces about network effects coming from the insightful minds over at a16z such as 16 Ways to Measure Network Effects and The Dynamics of Network Effects. I always enjoy reading the analysis of smart people who are trying to synthesize and create themes about businesses like my own. James Currier at NFX Guild does a fantastic job of this and I’ve always been a fan of his take The Next 10 Years Will Be About “Market Networks” because it hits so close to home. The challenge is synthesizing so many disparate business models into a single tidy blog post. Unfortunately, the downside of generalizing is that you miss out on the nuances and key differentiators to success of any one business or model. …


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After starting two companies, I’ve learned that sales is by far the most important skill a founder should have. And yet, it’s something that no one ever pointed out to me. I was an undergraduate at the Wharton School at UPenn. I got my MBA from Stanford Business School. In six years of business schooling and after hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition fees, I did not take a single course in sales. No one tells you that you will be constantly selling as a founder. Selling your business idea to investors. Selling your company and culture to potential hires. Selling your product or service to potential customers. Selling your dream and vision to your employees. As a founder, you must have 100% conviction in what you are building because your success literally depends on it. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should anyone else? Building a business that you aren’t excited or passionate about or only because you think it might make money will eventually be exposed. You won’t be able to raise money, hire, acquire customers or inspire your employees if you’re faking it. …

About

Dave Lu

Co-founder @ Pared. Lead @ Hyphen Capital. Proud Taiwanese-American dad. Passionate about marketplaces and communities.

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