Personal life

Reflection 2018

Turning 34 Years Old and the best birthday gift in the world. (12 hours in 12 pictures)

This is a short story of how my birthday started with no plans, and evolved rather spontaneously. But most of all, how it ended up so beautifully.

Started the morning in San Francisco with a check in the mail. $254.52 in my name.

Khailee with a check in the mail
Picture 1/12 : Checks in the mail!

What for?

Before joining 500, I had invested $20,000 into a startup. The startup has since shut down, this is all that’s left. Humble pie. Breakfast of champions! Eating dairy free humble pie.

Thinking instead about my other winning investments , I was feeling like a big spender. Wife and I found ourselves at Target.

Khailee shopping at Target
Picture 2/12 : Going crazy in Target

What’s the maximum calories per dollar that I can get off snack bars? Hmm…

Loaded up on period pads, blankets, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, socks…

Period pads, blankets, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, socks
Picture 3/12 : Bear Grylls got nothing on me!

18 bags worth.

18 bags worth
Picture 4/12 : Went overboard at Target

But the bags were still missing something. Wife hit up Google, and we found the missing piece, Victoria Westbrook:

Lyfted down to see her.

Meet Victoria Westbrook
Picture 5/12: Meet Victoria Westbrook

She got out of jail a year ago. She was on meth for 20 years and was in jail for selling it. At 50 years of age, living in a halfway house with a criminal record in hand, looking for a job ain’t easy. Even if you had an engineering degree from Georgia Tech (which she did).

She couldn’t find job. Instead, she found this.

Picture 6/12 : The neighbors of our SF Office

It’s called Code: Tenderloin.

A project that has now helped more than 340 Tenderloin homeless and at-risk folks get basic coding skills, life-readiness training, and jobs at neighboring tech companies like Twitter, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Zendesk.

The project was founded by Del Seymour who himself was homeless on the streets of Tenderloin for 17 years before creating this at age 67.

With the program, Victoria got her groove back. Big time. She’s now Director of the program. So proud of her. So inspired to have learned about Code Tenderloin.

We had to spread the word.

Picture 7/12 : Love letters

Wife added 18 handwritten notes about Code Tenderloin, one for each bag. They were now complete.

Night fell. We needed help. Popped in a 500 Startups event. Recruited some troops. Can always rely on my crew!

Picture 8/12 : From left, Itai Damai EIR @ 500, Nihar from India (guest at 500 event), Elisa and me, Sidd from India (guest at 500 event), Bedy MP @500

We hit the streets.

Stared to give out the 18 bags. At times, our bags were rejected by folks who looked homeless… but were just fashionable.

Picture 9/12 : Not a difficult operation if you’re in SF

It didn’t take long to pattern match and get it right. There were plenty of grateful souls on the streets of San Francisco.

Picture 10/12 : Ingenious

Could 1/18 be a Victoria or a Del Seymour? I like the odds.

Picture 10/12 : Didn’t mean to get political

Back at the hotel cafe, waiter overheard it was my birthday. When I asked for the check, he got me this:

Picture 12/12 : Vegan friendly in spirit

What a pleasant surprise.

Lovely simple birthday reminded me that

  • No matter where people are at, good things happen at the intersection of good intentions and good effort.
  • Giving is as rewarding as receiving, if not more.
  • And that simplicity and spontaneity can be so much fun!

Special thanks to

  • My visiting friends from Jaipur, Nihar and Siddarth, for saying YES to seeing a different side of Market street
  • My wonderful colleagues Bedy Yang and Itai Damti for saying YES to little adventurous ideas.
  • The unnamed waiter with superhuman hearing.
  • Sheel for inspiring me with your birthday celebration of giving
  • My dear wife Elisa for whose efforts over the year goes well beyond these pictures
  • All the friends, colleagues, and strangers who have showered me with gift of our interactions that made my year!

The best birthday gift in the world – Our the ability to give.

Feeling grateful?

This is Code Tenderloin

Consider giving a birthday gift: Donate to Code Tenderloin

They run a very lean team of only 4 staff yet they’ve helped more than 340 folks. There are many Del Seymours and Victoria Westbrooks on the streets. Let’s help them – not only rise up, but bring others with them.

Let me know if you’ve made a donation, any amount helps!

UPDATE: I hear international credit cards are having trouble working with their donation gateway. If you’d like me to donate on your behalf let me know!

Reflection 2016

‘Extreme’ Personal Transformation: My 2016 Year in Review

“Mid-life crisis, Khailee?” My friends had many questions. Some thought my changes were a bit extreme. But I’ve never felt better about making them. This post may be a bit too personal, but I want to share it with you, in case you are thinking about making some changes in your life. Something in here may help you with your “mid-life renaissance”.

Changes made in 2016

1 – Lifestyle

  • January: I shed half my body fat, got on the cover of Men’s Health. And kept it that way.
  • March: Started on a ‘shopping detox’ only buying necessities. Then kept it that way.
  • May: Packed up one suitcase, gave away 80% of my wardrobe, rented out my apartment (am currently trying to sell it) and officially have no home. Living out of a minimalist wardrobe in different countries.
  • June: Evolved from a fish-only diet, to vegetarian, then to vegan. And kept it that way. This means no meat, egg, milk, honey, cream, any animal products… while maintaining a strong body.
  • July: Got rid of my ‘signature look’ (had longer hair for 18 years, and glasses for 25 years), that really was just an ego-feeder for me.
  • All year: Zero consumption of adult material and onanism all year. Kept it that way.

I went to war with habits built over 31 years. Food, shopping, validation-seeking, and distractions from things which really mattered:

2 – Relationships

  • I feel closer to my parents than I have ever felt in my entire adult life.
  • I spent the most time with my best friend compared to previous years in my adult life.
  • Currently developing a deeply ‘conscious’ and loving romantic relationship with an amazing woman that I admire.
  • My relationship with myself is way healthier. Growing self-love, self-acceptance and self-awareness.

Underneath all these changes were a fundamental transformation of my mindset.

3 – Mindset

I lived my early adulthood feeling like I had no limits, that anything was possible. I believed that I was capable of getting everything I dreamt of. Sounds like a pretty positive mindset, right? It was. It helped me build and sell 2 companies before 30 and build my startup investment practice.

However, something was missing.

By mid 2015, I was physically at an all-time low. Mentally, I was plagued with internal conflict and dissatisfaction. I kept comparing myself to Mark Zuckerberg and felt shitty about my own achievements. I didn’t feel I had ‘enough’. I was at my most distant from friends and family. A long-term relationship came to an end. I doubled down on work, partying, and ‘living it up’. I started writing out even bigger goals for myself. Taking on more new projects, more things, more experiences…

Something was still missing.

I still felt like I did not have enough.

What is ‘enough’? How much clothes is enough? What level of nett worth is enough? How much external attention and validation is enough? How many new experiences in life is enough?

The more I got in life, the more I wanted. This cycle fed into itself. It was endless. This cycle feeds modern consumerism, and pushes people to exploit other people, other species, and our own earth.

2016 was my big F.U. to this cycle.

I drew the line of what ‘enough’ meant to me. If I could give myself enough love and validation, I would be less inclined to seek for it externally. I wouldn’t need the products, experiences and desires peddled to me. I would invest less time in ego-stroking activities. I would grow more contentment, and I wouldn’t need more…

All this freed up time, resources and ambition that could instead be used to serve themes and people that I cared about. This impacted my work in ways I didn’t expect.

4 – Work

For once, I started to say no to new projects. I had large amounts of capital placed in front of me to take on exciting new endeavors, but I said no. I stayed focused on making good on my core commitments.

By the end of 2016, I achieved more in my investment career that I had in previous years. Our portfolio grew to 120 companies, many now Southeast Asia’s most prominent ones. Aside from Grab, 47 of them raised more than USD $300 million, and they continue to grow. I built a solid team that I fully trust, and we’re now in our second fund.

I wake up every day working with exceptional individuals (both on my team, and the entrepreneurs I meet and invest in). They inspire me to further serve more entrepreneurs as they build game-changing companies in every part of the world.

My work with 500 Startups grew. And so did my sense of purpose.

5 – Purpose

Last week, I chose some words which would describe the overarching theme of why I do what I do: I help people realize their creative ability, with a focus on entrepreneurs. On my social media profiles I use the call-to-arms, “Weapons of mass creation for all!” Maybe I’ll make a t-shirt out of this.

2017, Bring it on

So there you have it, 2016! I’m back to work – ongoing work in progress. To continue well into 2017 and beyond. To serve the people and issues I care about. For this, I will have plenty more habits to dismantle and mind shifts to make. I’m so lucky I’m supported by so many sweet people (list below) in the process.

As for you, what is the most ‘extreme’ change you want to see in your life? What makes you want to transform? Comment below, I’d love to know. All this comes together to be your unique story. My story is just one story of many. It can happen for anyone, it can happen faster than you think, and it can very well happen for you in 2017.

Elisa and Khailee

Appendix : Some people who played a notable role in my 2016. In no particular order.

  • My 500 Durians II partner Vishal Harnal for so, so much personal and professional support
  • Jenny Maggard for giving me such a practical and powerful paradigm for fitness for life
  • Fellow 500 Startups managing partners Dave McClure Christine Tsai Bedy Yang and CFO Paul Yoo , for being such capable team mates, entertaining my many eccentricities
  • Erbil Karaman and Steve Hsia. Every conversation with you propels me forward so much
  • Jeff Cheong for being everything a guy needs in a best friend
  • Deepa Nambiar Mei Chel Tan April Khor and Jasmine Liew from the “18 Again” Whatsapp group
  • Kai Kux and Becky Kux who put up with the worst of me as a former housemate
  • Ng Khai Yong for always giving me the straight talk only family can give
  • Mum Deborah Ng and dad for being a big reason for me to be a better person
  • Hiro Mashita for the very caring and supportive career feedback
  • David Corbin for being a exemplary human being in the startup media space
  • Jamaludin Bujang for being the original Durians believer
  • My executive assistant Debbie Chow who probably knows this story better than I do
  • Dewa Gede Bawa for being such a source of light
  • My dear Elisa Khong for always inspiring the best in me
  • And the many friends and strangers along the way, thank you.

Reflection 2012

Looking back and looking forward

  • In 1984, I was born on May 2nd.
  • In 1985-ish I was between 1 to 3 years old, and didn’t remember much.
  • In 1988, I spent most of my days reading lots of Enid Blyton.
  • In 1989, I learned how to ride a bike, proper. This was in some giant loop in Taman Zabba (Taman Tun). Thanks dad.
  • In 1990, I won my first competition in Subang Parade. It was for digital art, where we supposed to draw a caterpillar and a butterfly. I was later interviewed by a Chinese magazine. Inspired, I spent the rest of the year drawing things on MS Paint.
  • In 1991, I did my first year in Chinese primary school, Yuk Chai, in Taman Megah. I spent the whole year pretty much daydreaming, doing homework, and getting caned for not doing my homework correctly.
  • In 1992, I performed NKOTB’s “The Right Stuff” in front of the class. Alone. Singing, dancing and all. I vaguely remember laughter. But I was happy I did it.
  • In 1993, I started drawing comics about my classmates with superpowers similar to Dragon Ball Z characters. My older brother was casted as the villian. He was my biggest fan.
  • In 1994, I started reading Edgar Allen Poe’s complete works. Especially “The Raven”. It was after watching a reference in a Simpson’s Halloween special.
  • In 1995, after many deaths, my insect habitat produced a caterpilliar which turned into a Monarch butterfly. It flew off into my neighbour’s garden.
  • In 1996, I started listening to too much Nirvana. I could sing every song. Every. Song.
  • In 1997, I didn’t talk to girls, at all, despite all my friends telling me it was a good thing. A girl kissed me behind a boathouse in a summer camp, and that changed my mind.
  • In 1998, I had my first girlfriend. And became really good at shoplifting. (No known correlation)
  • In 1999, I rode to school and back, listening to The Bends by Radiohead. For an entire year. Occasionally, I’d do OK Computer for a couple of weeks.
  • In 2000, I performed my first ever gig, Counting Crow’s Mr.Jones with someone who would later turn out to be one of my best friends, Jeff.
  • In 2001, I organized a record breaking fundraiser event which made RM16,000+, with a nett profit of RM14,000. It was fun.
  • In 2002, I joined the “American Degree Program” because I wanted to do World Religion, Theatre, and Psychology electives. I performed Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” at a college competition and won Best Actor.
  • In 2003, I wanted to create something a virtual world that rewarded users based on diversity of chat conversations. I thought it would encourage more strangers to talk about different things, and the world would understand each other better. I did not quit school to pursue this, but I wrote my first ever business plan.
  • In 2004, I spent the year studying in Sydney. I wrote 77 songs on my acoustic guitar. Some of which I eventually performed. Bright Eyes, Broken Social Scene, Deathcab for Cutie dominated my playlist.
  • In 2005, I spent most of the year in San Francisco, studying courses about changing the world.
  • In 2006, I was running multiple projects, side businesses, and joined MindValley.
  • In 2007, I was going out / partying 2 to 3 nights a week.
  • In 2008, on my birthday, I left MindValley to basically do nothing. I eventually joined Joel to try out some ideas.
  • In 2009, I raised money from a VC, and we got pretty darn serious about making a successful business.
  • In 2010, we had two great businesses, and GroupsMore, which were growing fast. We moved into a giant house with a swimming pool and ping pong table.
  • In 2011, we grew into and sold GroupsMore to Groupon. I travelled around the world learning about business, myself, and the world.
  • In 2012, I celebrate my birthday by going to work, spending time with my colleagues, sharing at a ‘town hall’, creating a flyer, eating chicken breast on my balcony, browsing the web, playing old songs on my guitar. Doing all of my favorite things, with all of my favorite people, knowing i’ve been living free since the day I was born, and things can only get better.
  • In 20** I work on great ventures with great people, in cool creative spaces, creating the future… and play my part in perpetuating humanity’s next renaissance.
  • In **** I die knowing that all this is part of something strange and beautiful.

Thanks friends for the Happy birthday wishes.