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Op/Ed

As an Asian American angel investor, I’m biased toward diversity, adversity

(EDITORIAL) In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, Max Diez offers his thoughts on how diversity can create a stronger business to invest in.

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An Asian woman and a Black woman working together at a computer, highlighting diversity.

Maximillian “Max” Diez is the CEO of Twenty Five Ventures, a consultancy that helps PropTech and FinTech startups scale their businesses. He leverages his 20-plus years in the real estate industry as an executive, thought leader, and a broker to advise and invest in seed and series stage companies innovating the real estate technology space. May was AAPI Heritage Month, and in honor of this, Max has these thoughts to offer for investors and business owners:

“I’m not Filipino, I am American.” I vividly remember declaring this to my parents when I was about eight years old. My parents emigrated to America from the Philippines in the early 1970s, and while they were very proud of their culture, the messages around me—from TV, my classmates, and the community I lived in—were clear: To be American is to assimilate.

So I attempted to do just that.

In some ways, I succeeded. My friends and family, especially those from the Philippines, called me “whitewashed,” someone who was sacrificing their culture and history to fit in.

Meanwhile, the students at my all-boy, overwhelmingly White high school in the Bay Area called me “chink” and “gook.” At the time, I laughed it off. Those terms didn’t apply to me. Those were slurs for Chinese and Vietnamese people.

What I didn’t realize is that the ignorance about non-Euro-centric cultures was so pervasive it didn’t matter they mistook my ethnicity for another. They didn’t see me as anything other than Asian; they saw me as not White.

In 1993, when I was 16, I was hired by the San Francisco Giants, a Major League Baseball team, as a batboy. My job included assisting the visiting teams, retrieving bats after a fair play, and even picking up food for players after the game. At the time, I was the only Asian American in the clubhouse and, as far as I knew, the only Asian batboy in the league. The players would remind me of that often.

When people would see me in uniform in the San Francisco Bay Area, even with its high Asian American population, they seemed surprised. They’d constantly ask me how I got the role, how I was able to beat out other kids who coveted it, etc. I was eager to have the job (despite not being a baseball superfan), and I needed the money. So I shrugged off the racial overtures—again.

That was nearly 30 years ago. And although our society is awakening to the prejudices and bigotry minorities face every day, ignorance and hate continue to proliferate. The Black Lives Matter organization works to bring awareness about injustices and violence that Black Americans face. The Stop Asian Hate movement sprang up as a result of Asians being blamed for COVID-19, being targeted for violence, and Asian American women being fetishized and gunned down.

Things are happening in the world that I struggle at times to figure out, and I am exploring my biases—as an Asian American in a predominantly European-centric society, as an angel investor in a society with massive income disparity, and as a man in a male-dominated world.

How do my experiences and biases impact me and my business? How do they affect the companies I choose to invest in? What I’ve learned as I’ve taken a deep dive into those biases is that as much as I have tried to rid myself of them, my culture, my upbringing, our society, and media and pop culture ensure that they persist.

But maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Is bias always bad?

It’s a provocative question. Are racism and bigotry bad? Unequivocally, yes. But there can be benefits to bias. Defined as “prejudices in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another,” biases can be beneficial.

For example, I’m certain that I landed a position at a major investment firm despite finishing only one year of college, simply because they assumed I was great at math and a hard worker (Asian stereotype). I’m not great at math, but I was great at that job. Nonetheless, I’m not advocating that type of unexamined bias. I’m referring to the biases, the shortcuts, I use when I’m looking at a business to invest in.

Of the 110 investment opportunities that I explored over the last 16 months, 87% of the companies were run by men, and only 25% (one in four) were headed by a minority—by that, I mean racial, ethnic, gender, or LGBT minorities.

I have worked hard and overcome adversity in my life. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have managed to carve out a successful career for myself. I’m now, as an angel investor, in a position to lift others up, and I’m not afraid to say that I leverage my biases to help me decide which companies I want to invest in.

When I meet with a founder or a founding team, I look for adversity by way of diversity. I want to know what adversity the founder or team has faced. What challenges have they overcome?

Ultimately, when you invest in a company, you’re investing in people, and I don’t believe that investing in someone who’s faced little to no hardship is wise. Startup life is notoriously challenging, exhausting, and emotionally taxing. If you’ve never faced significant adversity, you won’t last long as a business owner. Entrepreneurship requires talent, yes, but also perseverance and dogged determination, and those qualities are forged by the type of adversity that women, LGBT people, and people of color face all the time.

That’s why I gravitate toward minority-founded companies when I invest.

I have nothing against White men. They comprise a large portion of our population and have accomplished amazing things. Hardly anyone could argue in good faith, though, that being White and a man in a society dominated and defined by White men is as difficult as being a minority can be.

My proclivity for diversity isn’t just personal preference. It makes good business sense. According to analyst firm McKinsey & Company, diversity drives success: “Companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits.”

One of the wonderful things about being an angel investor is getting to decide where I will invest my company’s money. While I have backed many businesses owned by non-minorities, I’m biased toward those who have overcome great adversity—people who’ve suffered injustice and oppression and who weren’t afforded the same opportunities as others.

I choose to invest in the fighters who want to change the world, for they are made of grit, and grit gets things done.

The American Genius' real estate section is honest, up to the minute real estate industry news crafted for industry practitioners - we cut through the pay-to-play news fluff to bring you what's happening behind closed doors, what's meaningful to your practice, and what to expect in the future. Consider us your competitive advantage.

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1 Comment

  1. meaghan

    June 2, 2021 at 7:09 am

    Thank you for sharing your story and perspective. Fantastic read!!

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Op/Ed

5 secrets to a more productive morning in the office

(EDITORIAL) Productivity is king in the office, but sometimes distractions and other issues slow you down. So what can you do to limit these factors?

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distractions stop productivity

Regardless of whether you’re a self-proclaimed morning person or not, more efficient mornings can be catalytic in your daily productivity and output. The only question is, do you know how to make the most of your mornings in the office?

5 Tips for Greater Morning Productivity

In economic terms, productivity is a measure of output as it relates to input. Academics often discuss productivity in terms of a one-acre farm’s ability to produce a specific crop yield, or an auto manufacturing plant’s ability to produce a certain number of vehicles over a period of time. But then there’s productivity in our personal lives.

Your own daily productivity can be defined in a variety of ways. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting the desired results with less time and effort on the input side. And as a business professional, one of the best ways to do this is by optimizing your morning in the office.

Here are a few timely suggestions:

  1. Eliminate All Non-Essential Actions

    Spend the next week keeping a log of every single action you take from the moment your eyes open in the morning until you sit down at your desk. It might look something like this:

    • Turn off alarm
    • Scroll through social media on phone
    • Get out of bed
    • Eat breakfast
    • Take shower
    • Brush teeth
    • Walk dog
    • Watch news
    • Browse favorite websites
    • Starbucks drive-thru
    • Arrive at office
    • Small talk with coworkers
    • Sit down at desk

    If you do this over the course of a week, you’ll notice that your behaviors don’t change all that much. There might be some slight deviations, but it’s basically the same pattern.

    Now consider how you can eliminate as many points of friction as possible from your routine. [Note from the Editor: This may be an unpopular opinion, but] For example, can you skip social media time? Can you make coffee at home, rather than drive five minutes out of your way to wait in the Starbucks drive-thru line? Just doing these two things alone could result in an additional 30 minutes of productive time in the office.

  2. Reduce Distractions

    Distractions kill productivity. They’re like rooftop snipers. As soon as they see any sign of productivity, they put it in their crosshairs and pull the trigger.Ask yourself this: What are my biggest distractions and how can I eliminate them?Popular distractions include social media, SMS, video games, news websites, and email. And while none of these are evil, they zap focus. At the very least, you should shift them to later in the day.
  3. Set Measurable Goals and Action items

    It’s hard to have a productive morning if you don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be productive. Make sure you set measurable goals, create actionable to-do lists, and establish definitive measurements of what it looks like to be efficient. However, don’t get so caught up in the end result that you miss out on true productivity.“There’s a big difference between movement and achievement; while to-do lists guarantee that you feel accomplished in completing tasks, they don’t ensure that you move closer to your ultimate goals,” TonyRobbins.com mentions. “There are many ways to increase your productivity; the key is choosing the ones that are right for you and your ultimate goals.”In other words, set goals that are actually reflective of productivity. In doing so, you’ll adjust your behavior to come in proper alignment with the results you’re seeking.
  4. Try Vagus Nerve Stimulation

    Sometimes you just need to block out distractions and focus on the ask at hand. There are plenty of ways to shut out interruptions, but makes sure you’re also simultaneously cuing your mind to be productive. Vagus nerve stimulation is one option for doing both.Vagus nerve stimulation, which gently targets the body’s vagus nerve to promote balance and relaxation, while simultaneously enhancing focus and output.
  5. Optimize Your Workspace

    Makes sure your office workspace is conducive to productivity. This means eliminating clutter, optimizing the ergonomics of your desk, reducing distractions, and using “away” settings on apps and devices to suppress notifications during work time.

Make Productivity a Priority

Never take productivity for granted. The world is full of distractions and your willpower is finite. If you “wing it,” you’ll end up spending more time, energy, and effort, all while getting fewer positive results.

Make productivity a priority – especially during the mornings when your mind is fresh and the troubles of the day have yet to be released in full force. Doing so will change the way you operate, function, and feel. It’ll also enhance tangible results, like income, job status, and the accolades that come along with moving up in your career.

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Op/Ed

Want to move past your burnout? Stop using multiple lists

(EDITORIAL) How my evolving understanding of “burnout” helped me learn an important distinction between being busy and being productive.

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too busy to burnout

When I used to hear the word “burnout” I would picture the freaks from the gone-much-too-soon series, Freaks and Geeks, as they would bum around outside, smoking in between classes. Now when I hear the word “burnout,” I think of myself a few years ago as my brain was being fried by life.

I wasn’t smoking between classes, rather running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to figure out how to manage all of my tasks at hand. I’d make a to-do list, see everything I had to do, and drown in overwhelm.

I’d spend my days fretting over how busy I was, and nights catching up with friends via phone, talking about how busy I was and how there just wasn’t enough time in the day.

Notice that nowhere in here was I actually doing anything productive. I fell into a vicious hole of being so consumed with how much I had to do, I wasn’t taking the time to do anything but stress.

At first, it made me feel interesting and somewhat important that I had so much going on. I quickly realized that no one cares and it’s not that interesting (I also quickly remembered how much I love to just relax and not have something planned every day of the week).

This is where I learned the of the most important lessons to date – being busy does not equal being productive.

It got to a point where I was running on fumes and eventually had this epiphany that how I was operating was doing nothing to help me. This was in part brought on by seeing someone close to me behave the same way, and I was able to actually look at how defeating it was.

From there, I made it a point to change my tune. Instead of wasting time writing and re-writing to do lists, I challenged myself to make one master to do list and accomplish at least one item upon completion of writing the list. This helped shake off the cobwebs and I was able to feel a bit of weight off of my shoulders.

The ideas surrounding the hustle mentality had me so consumed and all I was doing was hustling my way to nowhere. After feeling the burnout, seeing someone else operate that same way, and seeing that hustle mentality mocked, I was finally able to break free and get stuff done.

And, guess what? I have even more to do now, but feel more calm and collected than ever. I just have to repeat the mantra: Being busy does not equal being productive. Being productive – especially in silence – is so much better and much more rewarding.

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Op/Ed

Burn out might be a signal calling for your attention

(EDITORIAL) Many people face a burn out in their career, but what are the signs? Are you able to pivot into a new career? And if so, is that a good idea?

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woman experiencing burn out

It’s not something they tell you when growing up that you may experience burn out and to be honest, it almost feels like our society raises us to march in a straight line and be careful not to ask too many questions (i.e. Go in to business or engineering to get a job but there are PLENTY of people with Liberal Arts degrees working too). As a former marketer on big name brands like McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, NAVTEQ, for example, my path was pretty fascinating and not anything I can pretend like I manifested into existence while sitting in my dorm room, sorority house or apartment senior year of college.

I chose a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising from a Big 10 University, I moved to the big city after graduation (Chicago) and worked my way through agencies and corporate environments. My parents were teachers – amazing and award-winning – and I felt they didn’t get paid enough for how hard they worked which is why I ignored my 8-year old self who REALLY wanted to be a teacher.

I found a thrill in it all – the constant stream of “problems” from our clients or internal departments and I felt lucky to be on teams who were always up for the challenge of finding “solutions”. I am not super sure what I was chasing other than it seemed to be totally normal to climb the corporate ladder and want more responsibilities and higher pay. I did decide to pursue an MBA in 2008 as a personal goal to achieve a graduate degree (I also had an Education grant from doing an AmeriCorps program that I wanted to use) and yes, I utilized that degree to request higher pay. By the way, at every job, I really loved my coworkers. Some of the most fascinating, amazing and talented people I have ever met (they tell you it’s about the people you work with and I’m not sure really believe it until you’ve experienced it.)

Check out this list of intelligent reasonings behind a burn out from Frank Chimero. Do any of them strike true for you?

His #2 and #4 really resonated with me:

2. Achievement culture: believing that identity and safety are only available through high achievement
4. Visibility leading to hyperactive comparison: passivity and visibility locking together to invite comparison and create a debilitating scarcity mindset. Comparisons leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or fear of failure. Constant self-reproach and self-aggression.

I was completely caught up in the above – constantly trying to improve, be better, move into the next company or position. I also tripled my salary in ten years and finally was like “is this enough?” I’m not sure my mentality could keep up with going from not much money after taxes to plenty.

I’ve started to question a lot of the things I thought I knew to be true. The research articles that say the magic salary number of $75,000 annually is what will make you happy. There is no more happiness beyond that point and hell, you must be crazy if you’re happy making less than that. That’s what marketing and advertising tell you. Don Draper establishes himself as an Advertising genius when he states in Mad Men, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.”

Look, please don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for my 12+ years working from Assistant Account Executive to Senior Manager, Digital. I am grateful for my 10-month AmeriCorps Service Leader position with City Year Chicago right out of college. I am grateful that when I reached burn out in 2012, when I realized that I didn’t give a schhhh if anyone bought more of my client’s product (sorry), I was part of a lay-off of 5% of the staff and forced to take a step back and figure out what I wanted to do. What I did learn is you cannot imagine the amount of research, passion and intelligence that goes into marketing when you are 19 years old or if you’ve never worked in it. There are so many incredible things that come from marketers and I do believe they help make the world go around.

I will say thanks to my burn out, I made a career transition and now I’m a big believer in that. I became a Creative & Marketing recruiter and I loved it. I also became an Adjunct Instructor and I loved that. Those two combined is what lead me to my ultimate career switch where I work in Career Services in Higher Education (which I could not have the job I have without a Master’s degree).

That burn out from what I refer to as “Marketing & Advertising world” lead to a beautiful new career where I feel fulfilled and excited and engaged. But for transparency sake, I took a pretty significant pay cut to switch in to Higher Ed, and this has angered me a bit about the values in our country as it relates to education. I know they say money doesn’t buy happiness, but I will say that I think it’s ok when it allows you to buy experiences and do things that make you happy and share that with your friends, family and community.

As a Career Coach and talking to hundreds of people about what they want to do professionally…honestly, we have a lot more in common than you would think. We want to do work that we feel passionate about, interested in, constantly learn and contributing to a bigger picture – while be compensated fairly for what we do and able to afford lifestyles that matter to us.

In these new times, where many have lost their jobs or been forced to work remotely and/or work while also taking care of family members, I’m just going to say it. Are we finally going to realize the value of skilled and/or tenured employees, our teachers, healthcare workers, grocery store clerks/stockers/managers and restaurant/hospitality folks, local artist and makers (to name a few)? Because they may be wondering about the $75K/year thing. And as for small business owners and entrepreneurs, they give us their passion and craft and many that I have met don’t go touting around their financials.

Whatever the case may be for you, I hope your journey is bringing you to what really makes you happy and that you don’t feel that happiness has been unjustly sold to you. If you’re experiencing a burn out, I’d like to think it could it be a signal calling out for your attention.

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