Who do you know became a tech programmer at the age of 10? Went to college at the age of 14? And at 24 years old is getting paid to be an entrepreneur by the Venture Company they work for? Don’t know anyone with an impressive background like that? Well, now you do. Meet Andrew Chen, 24, Entrepreneur-in-Resident at Mohr Davidow Ventures. When Andrew isn’t working, he’s working on his next grand idea. When he’s not doing that, he’s either browsing the web, reading 200+ blogs, newspapers and magazines to further advance himself or meeting with the brightest people in Silicon Valley to see what they’re up to. Learn more about Andrew Chen and what’s on his entrepreneurial plate as we feature him in this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
Mohr Davidow Ventures
Entrepreneur in Residence
Menlo Park, California
University of Washington, B.S. Applied Mathematics (2002)
Mohr Davidow Ventures
Entrepreneur in Residence
Director of Product Marketing
Mohr Davidow Ventures
Chinese (born in Taiwan)
About the company
I work at Mohr Davidow Ventures (MDV), which is a Silicon Valley venture capital firm managing $1.4 billion in capital. It has successfully invested in everything from semiconductors to clean technologies to digital media over the last 20 years.
At MDV, I work as an Entrepreneur in Residence, which is a fantastic role for me, especially as I moved from Seattle to the SF Bay Area a couple months back. Basically, I work for the venture capital fund and am here to start a company over the next 6 months. I come up with the idea myself, recruit a team, and then go from there.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Over the first few months, I’ve focused on growing out my roots here in Silicon Valley. That means that I’ve been meeting a lot of new people and finding interesting companies and ideas to learn from.
A typical day might look like this: For breakfast, I might have a meeting with a venture capitalist at a Palo Alto cafe, then follow that up by watching an experienced team pitch their new business plan. Then I’ll get on e-mail and the phone to chat with new people, and follow up with a lunch meeting with some friends and potential co-founders. In the afternoon, I might comment on a couple business ideas from other folks at the firm, and then work on my own ideas for a couple hours.
I usually work on the weekends as well, and book multi-hour brainstorming sessions with different groups of people. Overall I’m really enjoying myself.
Most notable milestones
In general, my most notable milestones have been personal achievements almost more than professional. Let’s start from when I was just a little kid…
When I was in 5th grade, I learned how to program with a bunch of my friends, and wrote some pretty sophisticated applications that allowed us to transfer files before the Web came out, which was a lot of fun.
In 7th grade, I was most proud of the fact that I took the SATs with many tens of thousands of kids in the US, and was one of fewer than 100 with a math score exceeding 700 (then over the 97th percentile of high school students)
Following that, I attended college early, at the age of 14, which was a life-changing accomplishment in my life. It was difficult to understand what I was going to do with my life, and it was a struggle to find my way into technology startups – when I got my first few jobs, I felt proud that I had carved an independent path, regardless of what my family and friends wanted me to do.
Most of all, I’m just excited to have had a lot of opportunities to fail, recover, and then improve myself over the years. If I didn’t have the opportunity to take so many risks, it’d be very difficult.
What’s your niche?
I don’t actually think of myself as “niche” in any way. I think myself as more of a Jack of All Trades, with some understanding across lots of areas. More accurately, I’ve heard of my skill-set being described as a “T” which means I’m very broad across the board, then deeper in one area.
When I’ve asked people what my “unique” skill is, I’ve often gotten the answer that I absorb a lot of information quickly and often quickly see analogies between disparate areas.
I think that might happen because I’m constantly browsing the web (spending 10+ hours at the computer per day), read something like 200 blogs weekly, and read newspapers and magazines. I also talk to dozens of similarly plugged in people, who often point me at different pieces of information as well.
What’s the biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge is to not become risk-averse over time just because of having a couple minor successes.
I feel like when I see someone go to a brand name school (which I didn’t), work at brand name companies (which I also didn’t), and make a bunch of money, they often feel like they need to continue that success. So they become more conservative over time.
I want to make sure I stay very hungry (and a little foolish) and take on challenges that are hard and sometimes impossible. Because I’m young and don’t have people depending on me, the best way to learn is to stretch myself and sometimes fail. That drives really intense learning on my part, so when I try again, I’ll be in better shape.
What’s in store for the future?
I’m going to start a whole bunch of companies, and hopefully one or two will succeed. The others may not result in much, but as long as I learn a lot I will enjoy myself.
If I get tired of being on the ground floor, I’m likely to continue playing a role in the startup ecosystem as an advisor or investor. But hopefully that will come later rather than sooner.
Game developers conference has been my favorite conference so far – it’s a perfect blend of a highly creative talent mixed with deep engineering skills. And making things “fun” is so hard it’s amazing when it happens.
Which startups have caught your eye? Why?
I love consumer-facing startups with deep technology backends. My favorite startup these days is Zillow.
I’m less excited about low-tech Web 2.0 startups that are basically media companies.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
I don’t think very much about “competitive” edge – after all, I think the goal is to drive yourself to be as successful as YOU can be, rather than keep up with other people. Otherwise, it can be too easy to simply follow and compete in very ordinary things, rather than blaze a new exciting path for yourself.
I think if people are really evaluating for themselves what they REALLY want to do with their lives, and are acting on it, then that’s all that matters.
Guiding principle in life
You just have to find what you love, and do it every day. Everything else follows from that, I think.
Yardstick of success
I generally take it a day at a time, so I’m not measuring success on a daily level. You just ask yourself at the end of the day if you feel good about what you did, and you do that every day. That’s it.
Goal yet to be achieved
I would like to make something used by millions of people that improves their lives. Once I achieve that, it’ll probably be tens of millions of people.
Best practical advice
People are emotional, not logical. I think that’s a very hard piece of information for me, since I try to make everything as logical as possible. But at the end of the day, people (and particularly customers) make decisions based on emotional reasons.
That’s very practical advice that I try to factor into everything, since that’s not my natural perspective.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture(s)
I think the most supportive thing that a friend can offer is that they’d invest in you
Bill Gossman is a great mentor of mine. He was CEO of my last company, and before that he was a partner at MDV. Bill previously sold a mobile company for $400MM a couple years back, so his experience is incredible across the board. Bill has taught me a lot about leadership, working with people, and all the soft skills that a nerd like me doesn’t naturally have.
Other than that, I absorb a ton of information from people around me – in a way, all my friends and co-workers as mentors. I think you can always learn from people different from you – the more different, the better!
What motivated you to get started?
Independence. If you work for other people, or you are responsible to other people (even your parents), it’s a miserable existence. Defining my own path and putting the resources and people to do is a lot of fun to me.
Like best about what you do?
Silicon Valley, and particularly startups, are a very optimistic and powerful source for positive emotion. When you have world class people coming in every day to tell you how and why they are going to change the world, it’s an uplifting things. I’ll be involved in startups forever, as a result of this.
Like least about what you do?
I like to build things, and sometimes business side activities are too much centered around networking, meeting people, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’d have more satisfaction just from building the product.
One thing you wish you’d done differently
I wish I had started more companies earlier, and given myself more opportunities to succeed and fail.
What do you attribute your success to?
My parents have been tremendously helpful in setting me up for success. Early on, they taught me very clear values like work ethic, morality, and high expectations. They taught me to compare myself to what I could be, regardless of where I am with other people.
So thank you mom and dad! (Pei-Fang Chen and Ho-Chuan Chen)
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wasn’t sure, but I remember telling my best friend on a school bus that I wanted to be on the cutting edge of science and technology (whatever that might be).
What was your first job?
I was a software tester when I was 15 for a family-run software company. I worked in their living room, and made $8/hr. It was mainly a weird experience, but I was happy about it since I landed the job myself, did a good job, and moved on to a better job.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Person most interested in meeting
Maybe Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, just because they changed the course of history with ideas.
Leader in business most interested in meeting
I’m mostly meeting them in Silicon Valley, so I’m happy for now. Mostly, when I lived in Seattle, I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines watching other people play “The Big Game.” Now that I’m here, I’ve been meeting some really fantastic people.
Three interesting facts about yourself
1. I started college when i was 14
2. I called a venture capitalist every week for 3 months to get a job
3. My track record on startup ideas is something like 1 success in 6 tries
Three characteristics that describe you
I asked my girlfriend this since it’s too hard to describe this with a straight face.
Three greatest passions
1. Building things out of nothing
2. Cool ideas
3. Legend of Zelda
Godel Escher Bach because it’s very deep and has applications outside of math. Another important book in my life was Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.
Helping people leave boring jobs and finding their true calling.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Read my blog to see what’s going on, and feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about anything. Cool people in San Francisco are always fun to chat with.
|May 30th, 2007, 02:43:02||permalink|
Seriously great interview. Andrew is an inspiration to everyone who knows him. We are looking forward to him running the next big thing. I hopefully can be the Chad to him aka “Steven.”