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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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growth hacker vs. digital marketer

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.

This editorial was first published here June 01, 2021.

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Op/Ed

I’m just not impressed by the glorification of over-scheduling your life

(OPINION) If you’re one of those people who keep scheduling their calendar to the brim, check yourself to see if that’s really a fulfilling way to live.

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desk office scheduling myths

COVID has changed our lives in so many ways, especially how we think about scheduling, and as the world opens back up, people are already overdoing it, perhaps thirsty to make up for lost time. Many call these holiday weeks of historically high traveling levels, “revenge travel,” and that tracks with how we’re viewing the resurgence.

But if you’re one of those people who keep their calendar filled up with meetings, activities, and appointments, check yourself to see if that’s really a fulfilling way to live. In some circles, it’s almost become a badge of honor to have a calendar without any open spaces. If you feel as if your calendar is out of control, you’re not alone. But you are the only one who can take control of your schedule.

Might I recommend that you stop over-scheduling your time?

One of my first articles at The American Genius was about the false hustle. Being busy all the time is not good for you physically or mentally. It’s exhausting. When your calendar is full, it has to be stressful never to have time for yourself or have the ability to sit down and read or do whatever you want.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Allow for some flexibility into your schedule. Put down what’s important to you, but don’t go gung-ho about organizing your time.

Most people have a routine. I don’t need to write down certain things in my calendar, because I know that I plan to be in church on Sunday. I’m not so rigid that I won’t take a Sunday off, but it doesn’t need to go in my calendar. Much of my work through the week is routine too. I know that I have seven articles due every Monday. I usually try to get them done Friday afternoon, but if I don’t, I know I’ll have to work on them Monday.

Now, you might tell me that you don’t have a regular routine. I know some people have different activities and appointments that have to be scheduled and can’t be missed. When I was helping at the homeschool convention, I would spend time scheduling things on my calendar that were coming up, like board meetings, deadlines, and meetings. But I also tried to leave room for adaptability.

Granted, you may have to manage a group of people and need their calendar to overlap yours. If that’s the case, may I suggest having a work calendar and a personal calendar?

Just as entrepreneurs are told to keep business and personal finances separate, leave your work calendar at work.

Ease up on your time management techniques. Know your priorities and learn to say no. Your loved ones will thank you for having some time to be spontaneous. It’s not a badge of honor to keep your calendar so full that you can’t enjoy life.

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Op/Ed

Confessions of a productive person: keeping a clean desk

(EDITORIAL) Being a productive, clean person is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds – start with these simple steps focused on reduction in your life.

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productive desk

We keep a clean office, there’s no secret about that, and the desks are usually clear of papers and clutter. Some call it minimalism, others call it clean, but most people just call it “wow” and ask how we keep such clean lives.

Studies show that your brain is hardwired to have cluttered thought patterns when you are surrounded by clutter, yes, even those of you that live in a pile of papers (which of course you have “a system” for). It can be intimidating to even get started when you have a messy office, but there are a few things that anyone can do to regain control and help your brain function at its optimal rate, improve productivity, and prove to clients and coworkers that you mind the details like no one else.

Friends and coworkers ask me constantly how I get so much done in the average day, and it isn’t because of my smartphone, no, it’s because I am a focused workhorse. A huge part of that is keeping a very clean environment. Let’s talk about why that’s important (and why you should ignore the “but geniuses have messy desks” bullcrap editorials).

Perhaps you put to-do items on post-it notes or pieces of paper, or you pile up files that need to be dealt with – one of the most common reasons desks are messy. This method of task management is ineffective and tells your brain to panic because what you’re doing right now may or may not be as important as those 35 stickies, so you either pause frequently to reflect on the dozens of other unprioritized tasks, or your brain constantly churns in the background having been distracted with this mess that represents tasks, or you simply learn to tune the noise out, which defeats the purpose of your reminder system.

To change this, either implement tech tools to manage your tasks (search this site for “task management” and see dozens of tools) or keep one pad of paper or journal on your desktop.

Picking up trash to make it clean.

Another common item on desks is what? Envelopes. One of the tricks I’ve found is that no matter the envelope, it gets torn open and processed while I’m on hold or on a conference call I don’t have to speak on. Before you leave for the day, every bill should be torn open and either dealt with, filed, or if you must keep it on your desk, have a beautiful inbox or even a clipboard to keep them all in the same spot.

There are much more sophisticated methods, but let’s face it, you have to start small to ensure good habits. The same goes for files – be smart about processing paper in your downtime.

My core confession that you may have picked up on so far is that I love to trash stuff.

I didn’t use to be this way, I used to hoard paper, but it is how I began my journey toward being more productive – trashing. Remember that every time you throw just one envelope away, you’re making progress that is tangible, and you should learn to enjoy that progress and associate positive feelings with keeping things clean.

What else holds you back from keeping a clean work area and focusing on your tasks for the day? Often, books pile up or files start stacking themselves up magically. I’ve found that having aesthetically appealing storage systems (boxes, filing cabinets, files, pen holders, etc.) makes you feel rewarded for using them. It’s a subtle trick, but if you invest in your desk accouterments, you feel compelled to use them, which inadvertently keeps you organized.

Look, these are simple things to do – ditch sticky notes, deal with mail and files before you leave for the day, and surround yourself with beautiful tools that keep you organized. This is where it begins – instead of being addicted to hoarding crap on your desk, work on rewiring your brain to enjoy reduction.

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Op/Ed

No more boring long meetings, here’s how to communicate efficiently

(EDITORIAL) Communication in business is much different than in day to day life, you have to change your talking style to give information without losing engagement.

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talking in a meeting

Mark Zuckerberg once said, “The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook (now known as Meta), is just helping people connect and communicate more efficiently.” One of my biggest pet peeves on social media is the post that goes on and on and on. I’d like to think that I communicate fairly well, but I do tend to verge into over-communication every so often. I’m not an expert, but I have learned – and continue to learn – a few things about talking and writing to other people.

Know Your Audience

At a board meeting of a local non-profit, I was explaining a repair project that we had to vote on. When I got finished talking about the quotes and the insurance claim and said that we will probably come out even, the acting president looked at me and said, “why didn’t you just tell us this to start out with?” I realized I had wasted about 10 minutes because I didn’t know the audience. Definitely a case of overcommunication. All he wanted was the bottom line, but I thought the board needed to know every detail. Chalk that one up to a lesson learned. When your listener’s eyes start to glaze over, you’re probably talking too much.

Be Intentional – AKA Don’t Go Down Rabbit Trails

When I’m with my friends, I love just letting the conversation take us down whatever path. In business, I want brevity. I’m kind of a TL;DR person. Even though I want to make sure that people have enough information, I just want the bottom line. When you’re communicating with a co-worker or boss, don’t let your message get hijacked by taking a fork in the road. You’ll lose your audience.

Avoid the Obvious

I hate it when people regurgitate information or tell me what I already know. Call it mansplaining or just being thorough, but it’s annoying on the listener’s side. Give information that serves your audience, not your ego.

Don’t Assume

I could write a dissertation on assumptions. We all know the saying, “when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me…” When you’re communicating, find a balance between stating the obvious and assuming your listener knows what you’re talking about. The simple question, “do you need more information” can be a place where you can find out what your listener needs. But I’ve also learned to avoid assuming someone’s emotions or attitude about what you’re saying. Read their face, but know that confusion and daydreaming can look similar.

Good Communication Improves Productivity

When you’re an effective communicator, it directly impacts your effectiveness in the workplace. You get more done because you’re not going back and forth answering and re-answering questions and providing information. There are times when you do need to provide lengthy emails or have detailed meetings. Knowing the difference keeps you from being boring and long-winded. Take a few seconds (or even minutes) before sending that message or talking to a colleague about a project. You’ll be a better communicator.

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