Meet Tak Lo, serial Entrepreneur and leading Venture Capitalist. Tak made it his mission to create early stage start-up leaders across the globe and so far he has achieved this across the UK, US and Asia. Tak entered the working world with an MBA from London Business School under his belt, in addition to a degree in Economics from both LSE and the University of Chicago. Tak now lives in Hong Kong as a Venture Partner at Mind Fund and is also the Co-founder of Red Cliffs, a Founder-to-Founder mentorship programme for entrepreneurs in Asia.
Before hitting Hong Kong, Tak flourished in both London and New York as the Director of Techstars, a leading global ecosystem and accelerator. He is now highly regarded as an established industry leader in the start-up space and continues to act as an adviser at Tech City and Valence Labs. It is no wonder Tak has spoken at high profile conferences including Digital Shoreditch, Tech City North, TedxLSE, Oxford Inspires and more. Tak has also been a guest lecturer at General Assembly on the topic of angel investing, in addition to London Business School where he spoke on new technology ventures.
Getting to Know Tak
Can you tell us about your story so far?
My journey to becoming a VC didn’t begin where most might expect. As soon as I graduated I joined the US army. I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than myself and at that point in time it meant being part of the Iraq war. I learnt a lot from the experience and carry the lessons I learnt through life with me. I learnt to take risks, to trust myself, to lead a team and to make things happen. After that it was all about the start-up world.
Although worlds apart, there are many similarities between being in the army and working with start-ups. Whichever you’re involved with, you learn how to manage yourself through the ups and the downs. You learn how to raise moral, how to celebrate, how to provide a mission for your team and how to spur people on to help them recognise their calling.
“I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than myself and at that point in time it meant being part of the Iraq war.”
You’ve lived in lots of places, which was the best?
Each has their pros and cons. London is dynamic and has a well developed start-up scene, whereas Hong Kong is relatively isolated in terms of talent and immigration. The ecosystem is also not very well developed. Don’t get me wrong, the potential is 100% here in Hong Kong. We have the raw ingredients of incredibly smart entrepreneurs and developers, it’s just a matter of helping them achieve the right mindset and connect with the right investors. New York is another ball game in itself; it’s a little bit ahead of London so there are lots of things we can learn from entrepreneurs in New York and San Francisco.
“New York is another ball game in itself; it’s a little bit ahead of London.”
What’s the most controversial decision you’ve ever made?
Taking charge of my life. In particular, turning down an investment banking offer. When I got the offer I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Going into investment banking would have been the logical option; all my friends were doing it and a few said they would do it for a couple of years before building their own business later on. I, on the other hand, decided to dive in head first. Without a doubt there was a lot of risk involved, including the friction between my career and my family. My Father walked into dinner when he first heard and said ‘what the hell are you doing’? Logically it didn’t make sense, but I trusted that I could make it happen.
“Going into investment banking would have been the logical option; all my friends were doing it and a few said they would do it for a couple of years before building their own business later on. I, on the other hand, decided to dive in head first.”
What is the most important decision you’ve ever made?
Joining the US army. I can honestly say that the experience truly contributed to where I am today.
What barriers have you had to break down?
My self confidence. On a daily basis I would ask myself ‘do I know what I’m doing’? If I couldn’t convince myself and my wife that I could succeed then there would be no point. You have to convince the people around you. I trained myself to stop worrying about what other people would think if I failed. Having graduated from business school there was this huge expectation of what you should be doing with your life and there was a lot of negativity if you weren’t living up to those expectations. Everyone carves out their own path though, so it was important for me to be strong and follow through on my passion for entrepreneurship.
“I trained myself to stop worrying about what other people would think if I failed.”
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
There are tonnes! I’ll reverse the question and tell you about the things that were definitely not a mistake! The first would be trusting my Co-founder. I was in the army with him and knew that I could trust him with my life. The second would be believing in the ecosystem; there is a lot of serendipity in the tech world, a lot of positive things that happen.
What mindset have you adopted that has had a profound effect on you?
To be positive and always give back. I try to add value to every interaction I can. There’s a reason I don’t make notes and revise things and why my presentations tend to be freestyle. I also avoid any habits that might lead me to become complacent; you need to focus on what you’re aiming for. Always ask yourself ‘what is the most important thing I have to focus on’ and then block everything else out.
I am not condoning his political views in any way but Donald Trump also has admirable habits such as the fact he doesn’t drink alcohol. Quitting alcohol is something I am also trying to do as a practice of being constantly sharp. Similarly, I make sure I wake at 4.30am every morning and go to bed at 10pm.
“Always ask yourself ‘what is the most important thing I have to focus on’ and then block everything else out.”
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I admire a lot of people. I really love the military ethic and the discipline we encountered. I’m currently reading a book called ‘Team of Teams’ by General Stanley McChrystal which I’d definitely recommend if you’re looking for inspiration, along with the work of Seth Godin. There are many people I’m inspired by and I like picking up the best qualities of everyone.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
When I left Techstars to move to Mind Fund, Mark Solon and David Cohen (Managing Partners) told me to add value to each and every interaction I’m a part of. I now try to add that ethic to any scenario I find myself in.
Rebel Wrap Up
If you could go back to any point in your life, what moment would it be and what would you tell yourself?
I would go back to 2 points. Firstly, I would go back to the moment I left the military. I would have told myself to reflect a little longer before leaving and consider what I really wanted to do and what it was that I really loved. Secondly, I would go back to the moment my Mother sadly passed away. This happened when I was only 16 years old. When I look back now I’m incredibly thankful for the time I had with her and the experience of losing her taught me lots about making the most out of each day you have on this planet. Life is too short. So, I guess in that moment, I would have told myself that the pain would ease, that I would become better and stronger. I would have told myself to take comfort in that, to keep my head up and keep moving forward.
“I would have told myself that the pain would ease, that I would become better and stronger. I would have told myself to take comfort in that, to keep my head up and keep moving forward.”
Who is the most disruptive, rebellious or revolutionary entrepreneur or creator of the last 2 years?
Elon Musk. Everybody says that, but I attended a talk by him in Hong Kong and completed and utterly admired how factual and honest he is. He’s a machine but he is building a new future. He’s focusing on human life in space with SpaceX and I’ve never seen a programme like it. He’s incredibly impactful.
What advice would you give anyone listening to this?
Be inspired, create your own journey and make your own masterpiece. Do what you were put on earth to do and make it happen. Do whatever it is you dream of. If you don’t want to do it right now, support other people who are doing it and remember to never tear other people down.
Who do you nominate to feature on the Rebelhead Entrepreneurs podcast next?
Tim Ferris. He would be incredible. But I would also nominate anyone who truly cares about mastering their craft, regardless of what that craft may be; the people we tend to brush off on a daily basis. Take shoeshiners as an example. In Hong Kong, we have rows of shoeshiners who are experts in their field and know every intricate detail you could possibly imagine to perfectly shine shoes: which cotton to use, the right wax, which way to rub – you name it, they know it. To me, that it something worth celebrating. They care about mastering the details.
“Be inspired, create your own journey and make your own masterpiece. Do what you were put on earth to do and make it happen.”