A Call with My Sister

Oct 25

In: Family life, Personal

I just finished a long Saturday night phone call with my sister. We don’t speak that often (I’m not great about keeping in touch), but when we do, it’s usually about something important.

I get a lot out of these conversations. I’ve written about the tremendous challenges she has endured (more here), and I really like her POV on various matters. I think tremendous wisdom can come from very real suffering.

I also enjoy the talks because we can speak in short-hand with each other. We know what the other means, and so, we cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. We’re also very real with each other. She calls bull crap on me, and I do with her, and we can agree to disagree. And, there’s no fall out from it. We can just say what we think without editing our lines.

We just talk.

There’s a real freedom in the dialogue, a true authenticity. I don’t have to worry about what she thinks of me or whether she approves of what I’m saying. When I ask her for advice or perspective, she is giving to me her honest and genuine POV. There’s no “management” or “manipulation.” She just tells me what she thinks.

I’m very grateful for my sister….

Using Nature to Clarify Your Mind

Oct 24

In: Brain hacking, Fly fishing, Personal, Philosophy

Well, it’s Friday afternoon.

If you like the outdoors, here (and above) is a video. Some fish, a moose, a fox. It’s amazing.

There’s something re-generating about nature. I remember reading a book by Lou Gerstner, who was a famous executive and, at one point, re-created IBM. He said that, before making any major decision, he would make time to walk along a beach. There was something about the sand, the shore, and the sea. They clarified his mind.

For me, being outside is liberating. I enjoy the day-to-day contents of my job: the meetings, calls, emails and social media interaction. But, I am at rest and, at the same time keenly active, when I am outside.

For me, fly fishing creates moments of clarity. Even if strikes are few, I still see herons, eagles, falcons and small birds. It’s all upside. What’s interesting is that my mind often wanders to issues related to my family, my job, my past, my future, my joys and my concerns. But, I can observe them with detachment. I can “work through” those issues.

I hope you get a chance soon to clarify your mind. Go for a hike, run, hunt or fishing trip.

Have a great weekend….

Stocks Are Collapsing, and I Am Pumped

Oct 16

In: Economics, Personal

The stock market is correcting, and I’m actually upbeat about it. Market volatility creates buying opportunities.

Stocks are dropping and bond prices are rallying, as nervous investors rush to U.S. Treasuries. All this will lead me to sell high and buy low in our retirement accounts. I’ll watch the markets, and once they hit a trading range, I will sell bonds and buy stocks. Finance folks call that “rebalancing.”

Rebalancing after the 2008 stock market collapse led to a doubling in value in a few years in our kids’ college savings accounts. Once the market free fall stopped, we decided to allocate some savings into 529 plans for our children. We didn’t know it at the time, but we invested the money just a week after the equity markets bottomed out and then proceeded to rally back. Total luck.

I’ve written previously here about how I follow an investment strategy outlined in a book written by the Yale endowment manager, David Swensen. He argues that non-institutional investors should stick to low-fee index funds and follow an asset allocation strategy. He recommends rebalancing periodically. In fact, the Yale endowment rebalances every day.

Studies show that asset allocation accounts for 85% to 100% of your public-market returns. So, it isn’t about whether you should buy HP stock over IBM. It instead is about how much you put into stocks vs. bonds. And, rebalancing episodically to maintain that allocation forces you to buy low and sell high.

I follow an allocation of 70% stocks and 30% bonds with both U.S. and non-U.S. components in each, designed to match the global indices’ mix. Here are the specific funds (I use Vanguard) and allocations:

Equities, 70% total
U.S. Total Stock Market Index: 50%
Emerging Markets: 4%
Developed Markets Index (this is non-U.S. and excl. emerging markets): 16%

Bonds, 30% total
U.S. Total Bond Market Index, 24%
International Bond Index, 6%

I find Swensen’s strategy to be awesome: it is simple, low-cost and effective. With so much going on, I don’t have a lot of time. His strategy lets me focus on other things in my life.

Over time, I’ve learned that my decision-making capacity is limited. And, I’d rather focus my energies on those areas in my life that matter most: my family and my role as an enabler of entrepreneurship.

I used to think that VC was about investing. I’ve since come to realize that it is that, but something else: being a fiduciary. Entrepreneurs and investors trust us to do the right thing. They’re asking us to show fidelis.

My 37-Trout Outing

Oct 13

In: Fly fishing, Personal

They say life is about showing up. Well, when my alarm went off this morning at 4.30 am, I certainly didn’t feel like getting out of bed. It was dark and cold outside, and the bed felt just too comfortable and warm.

It’s a public holiday today for Columbus Day in our part of the country. My plan was to fly fish.

After much mental debate, I did get up, pack my gear, and drive to a local river. My expectations were pretty low. The last time I fished this particular river, I worked hard all day and landed just one fish. Another angler with whom I chatted didn’t catch anything all day.

So, as I started to wade into the mist-covered river this morning, I mentally resolved to be happy if I didn’t catch anything. Just enjoy the time to be outside. Be grateful for the hall pass my wife gave me. It was a very beautiful autumn morning, as the sun started to rise, the tree leaves ablaze in orange, pink and brown colors.

I was feeling pretty good.

Then, I caught a nice rainbow trout on my third cast. “There,” I said to myself. “You’ve caught a fish. Now, everything else is upside.”

Well, today, I ended up catching 37 rainbow and brown trout. It’s an all-time record for me. I did catch 15 fish in a day many years ago and that was a blast. Today, I hooked probably closer to 45 or so (I lost count), but I did land into my net and safely release 37.

What a day. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. An epic day which I will remember the rest of my life. And, here’s the weird thing: I didn’t see anyone else catch anything.

I’m glad I showed up at the river.

A Long Way from Brooklyn

Oct 12

In: Family life, Personal

(Google Street View)

(Google Street View)

I was at the grocery store this Sunday morning when it opened. I’ve done this on many Sundays over the years. The store is quiet, and many of the workers are still stocking the shelves. I’ve become friendly with a few of them, since there’s time to chat amidst the quiet activity.

One of them is an immigrant from Malaysia. He grew up in a small village. The Malay and Indonesian languages are 90% the same, and so, we often chat. He shared with me today, with great pride, that his son just started at Noble & Greenough, an awesome school, and received a full scholarship.

He says that he tells his children to work hard, that he doesn’t want them to end up stocking shelves at a grocery store. He says that he brought them back to his Malaysian village a few years ago, to show them his roots.

I’ve done something like that.

Some years ago, during spring break, our family spent time in NYC. On the way home, we went to Brooklyn, where my parents, my sister and I lived, after first arriving in the Bronx, after we emigrated. It was then, and still is now, a rough part of town.

We drove by our old apartment building (see photo up top). We drove slowly along the streets, adjacent to the sidewalks on which my sister and I used to walk to and from school. We then went to Mass at a run-down Catholic church where I received my First Communion. Next to the church is Holy Cross School, the low-key parochial grade school my sister and I attended. It’s basically a really old building surrounded by asphalt:

(Google Street View)

(Google Street View)

“Wow, Dad,” one of my children said. “I can’t believe you grew up in this neighborhood.” Our nice suburb is a long way from Brooklyn. My kids’ schools are a long way from Holy Cross School.

Honestly, the seven years we spent in Brooklyn were pretty tough. My mother was very unhappy, caring for children on her own while not speaking the language and while my father worked long hours. My sister remembers a fair amount of racism from other kids, which I thankfully don’t recall. We had little money. There was a profound sense that we didn’t “fit in.”

Moreover, it was while at Brooklyn that my mother started to experience some very serious health issues, almost dying quite a few times. Those years comprise a crucible period for our family. I still feel deep sadness when I recall those years, even as I type this.

But, it made us stronger and gave us opportunity. Staying in Indonesia would have been worse, given the persistent and often violent discrimination against people of ethnic Chinese descent (more here).

Thankfully, we moved out of Brooklyn to California. Later, for me, Yale College. I’m so grateful to my alma mater, for it changed my life. I’m so grateful to some high school teachers, who encouraged me to think broadly about college. They let me dream of opportunities I never knew were within reach. My college-app process was pretty basic. I applied to colleges sight-unseen. Thankfully, it all worked out.

It has been a long way from Brooklyn.