Moses Lo: Survival of the Fittest - out on Spotify now:
Moses Lo is a survivor. But the co-founder and CEO of Xendit didn’t get there by chance – he engineered his own luck. I first met Moses through Y Combinator in 2015, and he’s still as scrappy now as he was back then. He had just stepped foot into Silicon Valley, coming all the way from Australia to pursue his ambition. The six week program changed his life forever.
From an office filled with flying cockroaches, Moses and his team would go on to raise over $80 million and cement themselves as an integral part of payments infrastructure in Southeast Asia.
I admire Moses a lot, especially his attitude to life. In our conversation, we discuss intentionality and the importance of making choices with conviction. We also talk about what founders can learn from cockroaches: their ability to adapt and survive. You’ll hear about how to make tough decisions, move forward, and design your own luck.
One more thing: the Asian-American community has recently experienced a surge in discrimination and violence fuelled by hate. Elders have been viciously attacked, murdered and killed on the streets. For this month, we will be highlighting AA community and leaders on this podcast. If you want to help, you can donate here.
Full episode transcript:
Justin Kan: [00:00:00] So before we start, I want to take a moment. You've probably seen what's going on in the news. Recently, our Asian elders have been viciously, attacked, murder, and killed. This is not okay. Everybody in the Asian community and all allies need to speak out about the violence that's been happening. So for this month on The Quest, we're going to be highlighting Asian-American community leaders on this podcast. If you want to help, you can donate via the link in the show notes. We're gonna get through this together.
What's up everyone. It's Justin Kan welcome to my podcast, The Quest, where I talk about the ups and downs of the trailblazers around me, they're human stories and all the things they've gone through before and after finding success.
Today my guest is Moses Lo, he's the co-founder and CEO of Xendit, which is the payments platform for Southeast Asia.
(Preview Clip) Moses Lo: So Rob Tundra unfortunately passed away, but super important for setting my mind. I remember going to him once and saying, Hey, I've got these great ideas for business and I spoke to him for 30 minutes, 20 minutes in a 30-minute period. And he said to me, he stopped me at 20 minutes and he said, this is what I remember, he's very nice guy so I'm sure he said it nicer, but the way I remember it, is he said, Moses, if your ideas are worth a billion dollars, don't come talk to me again. And I was, that was cool for two reasons because first, okay yeah, I screwed up. I should come with any billion dollar ideas and not waste of time. Cause he's an important person. But two, he believed I could come up with billion dollar ideas and he took the meeting, assuming I had billion dollar ideas and no one had believed in me like that before
Justin Kan: I got to know Moses when he went through Y Combinator in 2015. When I met Moses, he was super scrappy and he still is. They literally had cockroaches flying around their first office. And now, guess what? They've gone on to raise over $80 million and become a super successful integral part of the payments infrastructure in Southeast Asia.
In this episode, you're going to learn what it means to do whatever it takes to survive. You'll hear about how Moses engineered his own luck by coming to Silicon Valley from Australia and how the 10 weeks of YC changed his life forever. If you're starting off as a founder or applying to Y Combinator, this is a must listen for you. Here's my conversation with Moses.
Cool, well Moses thanks for joining me. I'm super excited to have you on the podcast.
Moses Lo: [00:01:30] Thanks for having me.
Justin Kan: [00:01:31] I want to just dive in. We've known each other for a while, but I want to give everybody context. So I was doing some research and I wanted to hear you tell me about how you played the game of life in your school class at the age of 13 and how that changed your life trajectory.
Moses Lo: [00:01:49] Interesting, so I went to a weird school where my teacher made games for us every Friday we'd play different games. One of the games was a stock market game, and I remember that's the first time I learned about the stock market. We got paper money, we invested it. Another game was a feudal game where we were all assigned different roles. I was a winemaker with my best friend and by the end of that, I ended up richer than the queen. I think the game that's most interesting though, is we called it the "Game of Life", where we did a test and we were assigned different jobs. Me and my best friend were the doctors in the village and you had to go to the doctor every X period in the game. We realized pretty quickly that we were a monopoly, so we raised all the prices and became relatively wealthy, compared others in a short period of time. So then I bought my friends electronics business and in this village, there's only two of every kind of business. But because we were making money as doctors, we then dropped all the prices of electronics and then we bankrupted our other friend and then we bought his business out.
So we were two monopolies. And it was that parent teacher interview that the teacher said that maybe he might like doing business. And so I remember that being told to me and I haven't looked back and always knew, hey, I was going to start a business. Or what's now called entrepreneur.
Justin Kan: [00:03:01] How did you get there? You're from Malaysia originally, and then grew up in Australia. How did you get from there to, when we met, when you were starting your first business?
Moses Lo: [00:03:10] Yeah. So I come from a family of entrepreneurs or underdogs, and my mom's side is from Indonesia. But he was a janitor most of his life and he taught himself the stock market and made money that way. My dad's side, his father, my grandfather, his first job was collecting sticks and selling it in the market.
He became then a jewelries apprentice, and then build a business that sent nine kids overseas to universities and one generation changed the livelihoods. And so those kinds of this legacy that I was growing up with and always aware of what they had done, and then my dad's also an entrepreneur.
So I just have this entrepreneurship blood in the body. Growing up in Australia, there's not as many opportunities. I think one, the culture, two, the size of the market is not perfect for tech-style entrepreneurship. So I knew I needed to come to the US so I went out of school.
I wanted to learn how other people think. So I went to consulting and then came to the U S as soon as I could, after that and there studied at Cal but really the whole point was to go meet people in Silicon Valley, learn the mindset, learn the frameworks, and super lucky to meet some really great people that have mentored me since,
Justin Kan: [00:04:14] But how did you know you wanted to be a tech entrepreneur?
Moses Lo: [00:04:17] Tech entrepreneurship, so it was always Fin and Tech for me, the finance, as far as I remember discovering like the capital reserves system, I don't know how I came across that, but it was encyclopedias, and then Wikipedia once Wikipedia came about. So I was just nerding out and discovering this capital reserve system. And I remember that was one point in which I said, Oh, I really want to do finance and pulled me that direction. And then at university, I also studied information systems so there's this idea that I wanted to put the two together. When I looked at then Tech, I thought, hey, finance is a world where it's really hard to uproot their legacy players for lots of reasons where the system's definitely against you. But Tech has this opportunity to change the world where people who are not from the right families who don't have any business being in these legacy worlds can come in and literally change our world.
So that's what was exciting to me about tech and that opportunity to really level the playing field in the markets we come from. And you can see that leverage in lots of examples around the world. So I wanted to be part of changing our world, the world I come from in Southeast Asia, and I knew tech was the way to do that.
Justin Kan: [00:05:16] And what kind of entrepreneur was your dad?
Moses Lo: [00:05:18] My dad, I would say he was, he's a doctor, but he never wanted to be an entrepreneur. He loves the medicine part much more than the business part. He ended up being an entrepreneur because his boss committed fraud and so he got to buy his own practice out in relatively cheap prices in a kind of a, fire sale. And I remember talking to him about business and me being my stupid self often giving him advice on what he should do with the business which he never took. That was my growing up with a business father.
Justin Kan: [00:05:46] awesome. Okay. So then you came to Berkeley, you knew you wanted to start something in tech. How did you, what was the process for figuring out how you would even go about doing that?
Moses Lo: [00:05:57] Yeah, one of the professors I met was a guy called Rob Tundra. I met him and he was, he gave me a lot of advice on how to start and he said first thing you have to find is founders.
So I knew I had two years at school, so I spent the first year of finding founders and me being the business mind that I am, made an Excel sheet of everyone that I met and who I thought might be a good founder. And then I wanted to test that, with the founders that I have now, we ended up doing hackathons together.
And we did a few twenty-four hour hackathons because I figured that's the best way to actually figure out how people are. It's hard to hide in a short environment, high stress and whether we could work together. And so the first ever hackathon we won was an Andreessen Horowitz Bitcoin hackathon between Berkeley and Stanford and that was when we decided, okay, this is the right team. We know we can work together. We won a few more hackathons off to that. And then we launched the business.
Justin Kan: [00:06:49] Wait, did you get a Bitcoin award at that, in that hackathon?
Moses Lo: [00:06:52] did, it was three Bitcoins.
Justin Kan: [00:06:53] That's pretty good did you keep it?
Moses Lo: [00:06:54] We sold, we kept it for a little while we sold it. We made good money, not as good money as if we held it till now, but definitely good money for the time.
Justin Kan: [00:07:01] That's amazing. That's pretty strategic, actually, most people will learn like just partner with their friend or some random friend that they have or whatever, whatever programmers available. That's basically what I did with Emmett, but you had a system and went through and found your two co-founders and then once you had your co-founders, you were doing these hackathons, how did you come up with the idea? What did you want to build?
Moses Lo: [00:07:20] yeah, I didn't need to have the idea come from me. So I cared much more based on advice from Rob around finding the right people rather than the right idea. Anyway, the idea changes. So I remember we got into a room and we said, okay, what are all the ideas we have. Writing it down on a whiteboard, put it on two by two matrix of what could we actually accomplish and how big a surprise is here. And Bitcoin remittances came up pretty high because we thought, Hey, no one's an expert at Bitcoin. Unless you claim it and if you claim it, you're suddenly an expert. If you can talk about it for longer than five minutes. And then remittances were this world that's really important to Southeast Asia.
We thought that was an interesting place to start out of all the ideas we had. And that's why we started chasing kind of Bitcoin hackathons. And then part of the reasons I picked these founders was I'd heard about commitment, how hard founding startups were. And so the way we tested that was, I was still at school, but Bo, my co-founder literally switched his job to go into FinTech.
He's an engineer, so you can get a job anywhere, anytime, but he switched his job into FinTech so that he could build credibility around running a FinTech business and that kind of commitment to, in a week he got six offers, I think, because he was in pretty big demand. And then I remember we talked about which companies would help the most and he went to Ripple which helped us with credibility for getting into YC and fundraising.
Justin Kan: [00:08:37] I see you guys were pretty planned about it. I love that. And then you apply to YC, right? With the Remittance idea and I remember doing your interview actually. And you were,
Moses Lo: [00:08:46] Do you?
Justin Kan: [00:08:47] I do. I remember it because I remember, making the case afterwards, I was like, these guys are pretty earnest, they're hungry. And I think that just building FinTech in Southeast Asia, I was like pretty interested in Southeast Asia at the time.
Cause you know, my cousin was there, like a bunch of my cousins are in Indonesia and I knew there was this growth market. I thought it was going to be a big e-commerce and digital commerce market. And so I remember thinking all of that and being like we should fund them. I really liked this.
It was like, I liked you guys and then I like the space, I didn't know about the specific product, but I like the space. I think at the time you were guys were building a product that was for maids, right?
Moses Lo: [00:09:20] Yeah, it's for domestic workers or Indonesian workers in other countries trying to send money home and we wanted to use Bitcoin to, to change that along with hundreds of people at the time.
Justin Kan: [00:09:30] Yeah and we had also invested in Wave the company in Africa that was doing remittances and that had grown really well so it was maybe a little bit of pattern matching.
Moses Lo: [00:09:39] We were lucky cause I think we had the fortunate or unfortunate experience of two YC interviews in the same day.
Justin Kan: [00:09:46] Was I the second one or the first?
Moses Lo: [00:09:47] You were the second one, you were the second one. So it was our last chance to get in. So the first one we must have done okay but not good enough. And then I think we're super fortunate to have you to help us get over the line.
Justin Kan: [00:09:59] The way we used to do it. I don't know if they still do it this way, but the way we used to do it is if the first group was undecided, and we try to make decisions that day. And we're deciding on, at YC we were deciding on hundreds of companies over the course of two weeks, it was exhausting.
So each, you know, there were a couple of different interview rooms and we randomized them every time and mix it up just for fun and so I don't even remember who I was with, but yeah. It's like the processes, if you interview someone and you're like they could be good, but we need a second opinion.
Usually it's yes or no. If it's maybe then it's send them to re-interview with someone else and say, at the end of the day, you got to go talk to these other people. And then those people ultimately like get the decision. That's how we did it. So you got like a reprieve and then. I guess we, I, in that case, I probably, I think I did really make the case for you guys. So that was probably it.
Moses Lo: [00:10:46] Yeah, I'm super thankful that we've thought about that day many times, because that changed the trajectory of our lives. I remember the first interview was Sam Altman. We got grilled. I don't think we did very well. And then the second interview, we decided to totally change our tactics until we changed the way we showed up.
And I remember Geoff Ralston said, you don't understand your customer. And then for the first time in my life, I like talked back to authority and said, no, you don't understand our customer. And in my mind, got into a fight with Geoff Ralston, which probably in his mind was just a conversation. For me, I was freaking out cause I'm never, the Asian in me was never willing to object against authority.
Moses Lo: [00:11:43] so there's pattern recognition around arguing.
Justin Kan: [00:11:45] Exactly, maybe arguing as what, what did it, I love that. Okay, but you had nothing at the time, right? There was no product yet.
Moses Lo: [00:11:52] We had no product. We had met Kevin Hill at Berkeley and he had said launch. So we'd launched something, but traction was like miniscule it was, I think we'd done 30 or 40,000 in payments volume at the time. Tiny. So yeah, we had the right track and it was moving in the right direction, but it was early.
Justin Kan: [00:12:09] And so tell me about the process of going through that very, that YC batch in 2015 and what it was like for you.
Moses Lo: [00:12:16] Yeah, it was a little bit of different ways to experience. Cause I was mostly in Asia. I think I made only three dinners or so but I had to be in market. The first six weeks was pure failure. It's a three-month course, so it's for six weeks failing. We didn't get the traction in the same way.
I remember going to group office hours. And in my case, I was comparing also to the other Aussies. The other Aussie one of them, they were growing from memory, it was like 20% profits month on month. And the other Aussies where the first commercial drone delivery company and they had won some like NASA deal or something during YC.
So those were just these like amazing people and then us who were fledgling. I remember then six weeks in, I came back from Asia and had office hours with you, Justin. I don't know if you remember it this way, but this is the way I remember it. 12-minute conversation. And I'd said, Hey, we're not doing very well traction isn't there the way we want. Here's the best three ideas we have. And one of them was a Venmo for Indonesia. And I think at the 12-minute mark because I remember looking at the clock you just looked and said, Yeah, screw it, like, why don't you just do Venmo for Indonesia, launch in a week, see what you can do. And so we took that really literally. And so we pivoted in a week, we launched. And then I was back in Asia at this time. Six weeks later for demo day, we'd gotten 16,000 users. So we'd found this kind of viral pickup of the Venmo style product and then that led to demo day. So we went from this, I suspect black sheep that others might have given up on into this oh, we've actually got the right kind of YC story and graph that YC expects, within six weeks. So it was pretty terrifying kind of three months for us. But I think the right experience to, to understand what it's like to fail. And then I remember asking you in that same discussion, what does product market fit feel like? Because we hadn't experienced it. And you said it feels like drinking from a fire hose when, there's so much coming in that you just can't handle the demand. And so that was what it was felt like. Once we had 16,000 users in six weeks, it was just like, great it was just enormous and we couldn't keep up. So there's, that was that's my memories of YC.
Justin Kan: [00:14:20] I love it. That's amazing. I'm glad I was able to provide an idea that ultimately didn't work out well, actually, it was your idea. I'm glad I was able to push you to an idea that grew virally but, one of the things I have written down here is that one time I gave you the advice to just be a cockroach and survive, no matter what.
Do you remember that?
Moses Lo: [00:14:40] That's a quote that I think most Xendit people could quote back to you anytime they hear that story over and over again.
Justin Kan: [00:14:46] I'm in your company, brainwashing your employees and I don't even know it.
Moses Lo: [00:14:50] Yes. And it's because cockroach is a very real thing for us. I remember in our first office, we would talk about the cockroach thing a lot, and we have lots of people that are scared of cockroaches and then even better are the flying cockroaches.
There's a very real time when we're working out of a house that kind of equivalent of a Silicon Valley garage. and we'd have cockroaches flying around. So it was really this like very real, it wasn't just like an abstract thought about some animal, which you didn't see very often in the U S it was like something real that we saw every day. And they're really hard to kill and we took that to heart and we have it still in our culture decks that people get on-boarded with is be a cockroach, do whatever it takes to survive and we love that analogy.
So, there's a few ways that we talk about it. One is around burn we said early on, hey, we want to be really controlled around burn. We need to survive no matter what. And, we're the first Indonesian company into YC, will anyone ever invest in us after demo day? And making sure we extended the runway. So we talked a lot around when we spend money, we need to return 10 X to invest it. So is this the right way to spend money? Do we really need to buy this expensive thing or do we buy the cheap one? So that was one way in which we thought a lot about being a corporate and making sure we had the runway. Another one was then in terms of how we, how we build a product and how we build a business, it was, we needed to build something, I think a lot of people would like to build in the ivory tower, build something big and then go to market. And this is related to the YC idea, but you build something really small that you can find a niche for that you can corner in. And if you make enough noise, you can actually fly like a cockroach and scare much bigger animals, humans.
And so we took that analogy to be like, okay, let's find the part that we're really good at that no one else can do, the corner that no one's looking at cause that's where cockroaches just hang out, in the dark, in the quiet where no one's looking. So let's find something that no one else cares about, which was disbursements.
Let's go build from our coach. Doesn't exist. The big boys in the room, the 800 pound gorillas aren't looking, but let's be the best in that and let's own that and so we took that analogy and extended it to let's own this corner and then as it grows, we'll grow with it and become an 800-pound gorilla, but we start with that phase. So those are the two ways I think that we talked about this weird analogy.
Justin Kan: [00:16:50] And you were super scrappy. You still are, but like now the companies with 300 something people, and it's a big company you raised, you just announced this week you raised $80 million total, $65 million in this round. And now it's a big company, but I remember you texting me photos of where you guys, you guys were all living in one house.
Moses Lo: [00:17:08] Yes, so we, for the longest time, for the first three years, we worked and lived down the house and I have to give props to my wife for this, but we lived in the office, which was the house. But I wanted to work 24/7. So there's nothing, like I said, the tradeoff was. Hey, I'll get to spend more time with you, but I don't have to commute. So if you live upstairs and the office is downstairs, that's a really fast commute in between. And so great support from her, but for the first two years, I lived at the office quite literally. And then we also did we call them Xendit houses, but we would actually then bring, Xendit employees to live in the same house too, so that we could, it's this YC idea of like live work, eat, play, build together. And so we extended that beyond the founder, which is how YC normally talks about, to our first 30 employees, where the first 30 employees all lived within a hundred-meter radius of the office in houses nearby. And we still have these Xendit houses today. We probably have 30 or so employees that are living in Xendit subsidized homes because they always have.
Justin Kan: [00:18:05] Wow, so what are the cultural things that came out of that in, in the company today?
Moses Lo: [00:18:10] Yeah, we were just solving for one thing to work hard and work together, but there were few really great cultural things that happened. One is a lot of us are not from Jakarta. A lot of the folks we hired, but from other cities around Indonesia. And so we effectively became the closest thing we had to friends and family. Friends, because we saw each other all the time, but family, because we didn't have any support networks so we had to rely on each other, which made for this close knit culture, where you spend 24/7 with the same group of people. Almost cult-like one might say on the other end, but this idea that you are always hanging out and it breeds, it means that we didn't have to solve for certain things others have to worry about. We don't have to worry about processing, passing information. We don't have to worry about hierarchy. We don't have to worry about politics because everyone knows everyone really well. And that actually grew to 60, 70, 80 when we're still operating out of this house idea.
And we had most of the company either living in like houses together or very close to the office. And we also had groups of friends so that we always had this really tight knit culture. And that's, I think really different from other companies, anywhere else in the world, but definitely in Indonesia where, it was hard to find people who really passionate about work, who too didn't mind working seven days a week, who, when things hit the fan are willing to be there 24/7. So yeah, there's a whole bunch of great cultural implications from running this very weird system.
Justin Kan: [00:19:33] That's amazing. One of the things that comes up for me is that's kinda like the way that we work with Justin.tv, where we were living in the same place, we worked there, it was really only extended the founders like you were saying, it was like the YC way. But it was like such an amazing time. I think now the culture has changed a little bit in the US startup culture there's a pushback against hustle culture and against this idea of its exploitative almost, that to have people like working all the time, and I wonder, how you think about that or how your employees might think about it. I think that they, people, like what people don't realize is that people, some set of people want to be in that kind of environment. So do new Xendit employees like still want to be in that environment as you've scaled the team? Or do people reminisce about the old days? Like how does it play out for your company?
Moses Lo: [00:20:15] Yeah, a mix of both. I definitely can't say what's right for everyone, but I think for us, it was the mission we were on is we get a really rare opportunity in history to change our world to define the rules to be the way we want it. For example, small companies before us, you wouldn't even be able to talk to the payment methods because the banks wouldn't work with them and we're able to get them all the payment methods they want and I know that sounds really simple. But you can't start a business if you can't get paid and the big banks wouldn't talk to you, so you couldn't actually accept payments. And that's a problem that's solved in America many years ago, but is brand new for us. So we had this very clear mission that we're going to build roads and railroads into the wilderness. We're going out west where no one else has gone before. And doing it in ways others work, and we're going to build this underlying pipes and infrastructure. And so I think we're on that mission wholeheartedly and so I don't think people minded and anytime we talk about this times, it's always with smiles and great reminiscing.
So yes it was painful at the time, but those are some of the best bonding moments that we had. So I think in hindsight, we are all really happy about that. I actually have a message in my Slack today just someone saying, as people reminiscing about the PR news that we launched around the 65 million. People are saying, the best times are still "Lung Sup", which is the name of the offices that we gave ourselves. So people still remember those days really fondly. How it affects us still today, I think a lot of that culture still remains. So for example, we have some massive customers coming online in the next two months and we've called ourselves a period of wartime where we change how we do things as less processes, more escalation of things.
People are, we're asking people to work seven days a week and people are doing so without hesitation without, any worries, self-organizing into teams. So a lot of that culture has actually stayed. And I think it was really hard, we questioned ourselves doing COVID how we make that happen.
But I think we talk about the word culture a lot, we talk about how we build that culture and so that has stayed. I sold the self-organization. Yeah, we know it's going to suck. We know that we're being written to the ground, we know it's unsustainable, we'll take a break at some point. But the self-organization into what we see now, really proud of the team and how we've stepped up.
Justin Kan: [00:22:23] And you yourself survive some pretty gnarly experiences in your startup journey, right? I remember. I remember you texting me images of your house slash office flooding at one point
Moses Lo: [00:22:34] Yes
Justin Kan: [00:22:35] Yeah, so tell me about these, like the tough experiences.
Moses Lo: [00:22:39] We have had a real fire and real flooding, which I think are pretty interesting stories. We moved into a new house, and, as we were setting it up floods in Jakarta have happened every year, and then this year, our suburb was the one to get flooded.
But just a few days into this new office and we were standing like waist deep in water and sludge, our cars were all flooded. So that's a real flooding, and then the real fire story is we internally, whenever there's a situation we call it a fire. But I remember once in our fire channels someone said there's a fire, but a literal fire. And we're like, what are you talking about? What do we need to fix in our systems? And actually our next door neighbor, like the shared trash space was like on fire literally. And we had to go literally put that fire out, same office. Both extremes of floods and fires.
Justin Kan: [00:23:27] And tell me about COVID and seeing kind of the business really take a hit during COVID has had to be stressful. Like I'm curious what your internal mindstate and process were.
Moses Lo: [00:23:38] I tried to separate my internal mindset from what I needed to do in my role tryna lead at the time 200ish people. And so it was purely about rationality of, hey, things happen we can do nothing about that, but we can't do anything about the cards we're dealt, but with the hand that we have, we can play it the best we can when, what we're really good at Xendit is rallying, so when bad things happen, we will rally and so we sat down as an org and we said, here's a strategy. Things happen that's fine, let's diversify up. What does it mean to diversify sales? We need to go understand what customers want. Product, we need to go build what customers want and all hands on deck to accomplish those things.
And so I think it was a really, I remember there was one town hall that was really important where we laid out this plan on what we'd do to look after ourselves, how we would make sure we would, we didn't have to make, we had a good board so we didn't have to make any cuts and could rally together and just focus on the right problem instead of worrying about the world outside, just worry about how we rebuild the business. So I think that was the, within the org how we thought about COVID, things happen, here's a plan let's execute. My own internal state, in hindsight, I can say this at the time I probably wouldn't, but there's definitely a little bit of element of fear of like we built this whole thing and then this external factor comes in and brings it so much down.
But I think that this is where investors were really helpful. And I think the right mindset was, hey, this growth has locked in these customers aren't going anywhere, these industries are going to come back, it just may not be in the next two years and then find the opportunity in this, which is a cockroach thing. Find the opportunity in what's here. We have the war chest to survive so that's not what we need to worry about. So then the opportunity was let's go after new verticals, let's go after things that we couldn't have in the past, because we have big customers coming to us with a request, but now we can actually go wider.
And then we got greedy and we said, if we can get our heads around the idea of like pain and anguish, there's actually massive opportunities during recession times. I remember Airbnb spoke about this in YC I remember Weebly spoke about this, a story behind the news when they were talking about like these recessions being really important times to expand market share. And so that's what we said. We've seen Amazon 99' Google 2000, 2008 more recently, these recession times are times where you'd be aggressive on market share. So we expanded to the Philippines, for example during COVID. So we just went more aggressive.
Justin Kan: [00:25:56] Amazing, one of the things that you wrote about in the past is feeling the need to compete with your dad as an entrepreneur and be more successful than him. I'm curious if you feel like you've made it and been able to release that or is that something that like, it's like competition can be a powerful motivator in the beginning, but I found it oftentimes can be, it can turn into the monkey on your back. I wonder how you, I wanted to ask you how you feel about it.
Moses Lo: [00:26:20] for some reason, I feel like I always need to be an underdog and I always need that competitive pressure as a friendly one. I have no issues, I have no issues mentally with my parents, but I remember my dad saying hey, talk to me when you succeeded in the same way. So there's this sense of hey, you're not an equal footing. And he's good at what he does. His number grows every year, too. So there's a big number to it. And I don't think I'm there yet. I think what's hard is the grandfather's story because. Like I had all the tools in the world, I had an education, I didn't have to worry about food on the table.
I didn't have to worry. The opportunity landscape was just so different. My first job wasn't collecting sticks and selling sticks in a market. I went to university. My first job was at BCG, so very different. So then, understanding where he got to given his opportunity and then what I would need to get to given my opportunity.
I think that's powerful to say, hey, I want to respect that legacy and provide the fruits of that investment. I know he gave up a ton of things first grandfather and father to make sure I would have a university education. I wanna pay that forward and then one, and then also make sure that there's this next generation of entrepreneurs even if it's not my direct kids
Justin Kan: [00:27:28] what does that, what does paying that forward look like? Because, you can't, if he got from this order of magnitude, this order of magnitude, is your expectation for yourself that you're going to be like, boom, like this is a $10 billion company or something like that.
Moses Lo: [00:27:41] Yeah. I think the expectation for myself is I know that there's a lot of luck involved. I think you also said that I think at one point you said startups is six years of hard work and one year of luck and an overnight success is like many years of years in the making. So I have that in my head often.
So for me, it’s been what I judged myself on is given, if I look in the past, given the information I had, would I make the same decisions? Did I try my best? And then there's some luck component to success, which I don't have control over. Except I forget who told me this? Probably you have someone at YC, like the harder you work, the more times at luck you get.
Did I work hard enough? That's the test on myself and then the success will come from that. But how I'm thinking about paying it forward is I really liked the idea of the PayPal mafia, which is you have all these people from the PayPal world, which then built a massive generation of founders and investors and the next billion-dollar company.
So I'd love to do the same for our markets where I would like to make sure that at Xendit, not just give skills, you get skills everywhere. But I think so much of our minds is having the right framework and life on having the right mindset. Easy example, our first 12 employees I love what they said to me about a year ago when I was talking to them and they said our minds have changed from them to us. Meaning we used to look and say, those guys make billion dollar companies. Those guys can make successful startups. Now it's, if I want to, I know how to make a successful startup and so I want to build that in our market because we don't have that in Southeast Asia, that next generation, or you can go build the next unicorns and an easy proxy is this two Xendit alums who have now been in founding teams at YC companies. So it's beginning and so I'm excited about that, that we can spit out alums who are starting their own businesses, and succeed, in our world.
Justin Kan: [00:29:26] Yeah. I remember in the early days of Justin TV, and Twitch maybe 10 years ago, I was writing with Paul Graham and I was telling him, he was like, wow you're really helpful in terms of promoting former Justin.tv team members who want to become YC founders and like bubbling them up.
And, we recommended like Airbnb to YC as a reason to just give a talk. He was mentioning it. And I was like, yeah, I really want Justin.tv to be a great place to be from, where people get a lot out of it. And when I reflect on my career, a lot of, really the, most of the things I'm most proud of are the people who I've helped mentor in some way who have gone on to be successful. More than my own successes in a weird way and I encourage you to keep doing it. It's very fulfilling.
Moses Lo: [00:30:07] Yeah, it's extremely fulfilling to watch these people change mindsets and then go start their own thing and do well because of frameworks that we've demonstrated so I can totally see that. And I'm in benefit of that mentoring to Justin
Justin Kan: [00:30:21] Oh thanks man. Oh, I read your blog posts that you wrote about mentors and finding people who are, two, five, ten years ahead of you. How do you think about finding those people and like, how do you even know where you want to be in two, five or ten years?
Moses Lo: [00:30:36] Yeah. As I've hinted in past stories, I always have a plan it didn't ever work out, but I always try to have a plan. So have a view of what I think the future looks like. And right now it's really simple. I just keep building business. So it's been, now trying to find people who have built businesses at the scale, I would like to be in, in that two, five, ten-year period. And yeah, throughout my life, I didn't know who gave me this framework, but someone did in the end of high school. And so I've always kept this idea of the two years ahead, people can really, they might end up being peers. But the two years can give you really actionable advice on what to do today given the same situation five years, they remember what it was like and can give you a little bit high level and it's a good bridge. The 10 years then people who've seen the pattern recognition across lots of experiences. And so yeah in everything I do, I've tried to maintain these different folks that I have. Now the simple way to get them, one saying that I like regarding mentors, they're never called mentors. It's just, you keep asking questions and they keep answering. And after a while, they are always willing to take time with you in which case they become functionally mentors.
And so that's what I've done is I've just, I keep annoying people and asking questions and the people keep replaying spend more time with, and that's just hustled my way to find mentors because I'm not from anywhere and I'm not from anything. So it's just people who I'm lucky enough to keep hearing answers from.
Justin Kan: [00:31:56] Amazing. All right. So we usually bring in some of our, fellows, Radi you want to introduce yourself?
Radi: [00:32:02] Yeah, you guys, it was great to meet you, Moses. My name is Radi, I'm a fellow for the quest podcast so my first question for you is you talked a little bit about how, when COVID hit, there is a lot of uncertainty, but you guys saw it, you reframed the situation as an opportunity to expand and just help your business prosper even more, how do you go about training your brain to not cower in times of uncertainty?
Moses Lo: [00:32:27] Fascinating question Radi, how do I go about training the brain? this may sound weird, but I remember being about high school and saying to myself, emotions are really useless because they cloud rational judgement and aren't helpful. So I don't know if that's right or wrong thinking. I know the world is more moving towards embrace your emotions, but at least for me, what worked is saying, hey, in everything I do, whatever emotions I allot myself time to feel them and then I put them away. So when I'm sad, when I'm unhappy with something disappointing, I get a day an hour, whatever it is, I can be as sad as I want do what I need to do, but then I'm like, okay, that's done. We're moving on now. What's the rational problem ahead.
What's the best answer I have. I can't control the future, I can't control the cards I'm dealt, but I can control how I play the hand. So let me then figure out how I play the hand. Now if I, if we take this more as a therapy session and I think back there's a little bit of like Asian culture in the way emotions aren't very valued.
There's a little bit of growing up in entrepreneurship families where, bad things happen all the time and building some resilience. So I think there's something in the legacy of that I'm probably not attributing to. But at least that's the way I remember is about high school. I just said emotions aren't that helpful so let me try to be rational.
Justin Kan: [00:33:43] The interesting thing about that is that you actually, like a lot of people who want to ignore, like I've always wanted to run away from my difficult emotions. And so I wouldn’t really process them. I would just try to hide from them which usually manifested as drinking, or I would watch TV or some sort of form of escapist entertainment. And it sounds like your technique that you developed was really to feel your emotions to process them and then be done with it, which is actually pretty healthy.
Radi: [00:34:10] Awesome. Great advice over there. So you’ve been to post-secondary a couple of times first in Australia and then a University California Berkeley. Can you talk about first, do you have any regrets from attending post-secondary more than once, or just in general.
And can you talk about one or two things that you gained from the experience to a certain degree?
Moses Lo: [00:34:28] yeah. Do I regret? No. So I think there's a different framework where you're coming from. If I was born into Silicon Valley to tech parents and had the opportunities of me sitting in Silicon Valley, that would be very different than if I was born to an immigrant family of a doctor in a town of 300,000 in Australia.
So I think there's a very different kind of framework to think about the world. So for my kids, when he's growing up in a tech world and has, does he need to go to university? Probably not, but the way I thought about it was hey to for optionality and for some base of starting, I needed to go to university.
Now I was lucky it was all covered for me, so I didn't have to worry through two scholarships and such. So what I learned from that experience with social skills. I'm naturally an introvert. I don't like being in public that much. I'm not very good at it I think. So I think that the social skills of having to go interact with people every day in a big environment, because I'd come from a small town was very different than before.
And out of that came some of the best friends that have been helped push me. We've all done different things, private equity, hedge funds, consulting, banking, whatever, but that volume of thought, which I think we all appreciate and I couldn't have had otherwise has been really helpful it also was the first time I heard about startups.
So Atlassian is actually the same degree, same scholarship, a couple of years ahead of me. So I heard about Atlassian before it's the Atlassian that we knew today. It was when it was three guys in a room doing something called SaaS, where instead of making you buy boxes of windows software for a hundred bucks, you'd pay a subscription fee every month, which is brand new at the time. So that was partly the inspiration. So I have first University to thank for that. The second for me was I needed to get to Silicon Valley and when I looked at jobs with working in consulting before I couldn't get jobs that, no one wants consultants in Silicon Valley for good reason, we're pointless.
But I thought at the time it wasn't pointless and, but I couldn't find roles that were interesting or that like interesting roles that wanted me, which is fair enough. I understand in hindsight why and Berkeley was then I needed to get to the Valley and I realized that if I was a student, I could open nearly any dog because there's tons of alums and people just generally helpful to students. And because of the way I look like an undergrad and because I can talk a little bit of tech people assume I'm an engineer, so I could get into lots of conversations as a Cal student. And so that's why I chose to come to the student. It was just this two years of freedom without having a proper job to go do and execute on every day freedom to just go meet people and learn. And so in the second Berkeley there was mentors that I found those super helpful. So Rob Tundra unfortunately passed away, but super important for setting my mind. I remember going to him once and saying, Hey, I've got these great ideas for business and I spoke to him for 30 minutes, 20 minutes in a 30-minute period. And he said to me, he stopped me at 20 minutes and he said, this is what I remember, he's very nice guy so I'm sure he said it nicer, but the way I remember it, is he said, Moses, if your ideas are worth a billion dollars, don't come talk to me again. And I was, that was cool for two reasons because first, okay yeah, I screwed up. I should come with any billion dollar ideas and not waste of time. Cause he's an important person. But two, he believed I could come up with billion dollar ideas and he took the meeting, assuming I had billion dollar ideas and no one had believed in me like that before despite it coming from your reprimanding point of view and so there were certain frames and mindsets that changed at Berkeley because I went from Australia, 20 million small town, small country, to billion dollars as the minimum bar. So huge frameworks change. So for me, that's why the two are really useful. Not for what I studied, but for the life lessons I learned.
Radi: [00:38:01] Awesome, and speaking of Atlassian, I have one final question for you Moses. So there are a bunch of people in our Discord server that live in Australia right now. Do you have any advice for these budding entrepreneurs from Australia that are quote unquote stuck on the other side of the world?
Moses Lo: [00:38:18] My advice for Australians. One, I actually think Australians are really good. There's an outsize number of Australians, I think who bat above our weight category. And when I walked into Excel Partners the first time I remember them saying we love Australians Atlassian, Zero, which is Kiwi, but we'll claim it 99 Designs like they had these pattern recognitions around Australians. And when I look back and I worked at the Australian embassy on writing an article on this but I think the Australian culture is actually really good for entrepreneurship because we are lazy. So we hate doing things that we don't need to do, which I think is great entrepreneurship, for example, in Gallipoli which is World War One, trench warfare versus the Turks. We are run by the queen at the time. Queen says, go run up the stupid hill and get shot up. Lots of Australians die. Australians are put in charge of the retreat. No one dies in the retreat. And we do things like we all have a gun that fires itself after every period of time.
So the Turks think we're still there. Utter laziness. We don't have to lift a finger to fire a weapon. This thing automatically fires with like water hanging off a string on a tin can. But then the Turks think we're there and run away. So like that laziness and that Australian idea of like ingenuity out of like necessity, I think is really key. And then we also hate authority there's like massive cultural trait of hating authority. So I think it's actually really great startup stock. Now our problem in Australia is the market's not big enough if we want to build something in grown and there's a tall poppy syndrome and there's cultural things, I think, which are a little bit anti-startup. So my advice is get to Silicon Valley because whenever I meet Australians, here we're batting way above our weight category we're being more influential than we should be given the population, just like we win the Olympic medal in terms of Olympic metals per capita. We, I think are doing pretty well in terms of like startup success per capita. So get to Silicon Valley because it's really a place that we can shine. I think that's the simplest advice.
Justin Kan: [00:40:06] Nice. I love that.
Radi: [00:40:06] That sounds awesome. Cool listen, thank you so much for your advice Moses I think I learnt a lot there and thank you Justin for this opportunity as well.
Justin Kan: [00:40:14] Yeah, absolutely. All right, Moses, that was it. Thanks for coming on podcast. That was fun.
Moses Lo: [00:40:20] Thanks for having me, Justin.
Justin Kan: [00:40:22] And that's my conversation with Moses. Some key takeaways from this episode. Number one, intention matters. Moses always had a plan. He knew he needed to come to Silicon Valley. He knew he wanted to take his time and meet technical co-founders by going out to hackathons. Startups are at nine years of hard work and one year of luck, if you're intentional about all the choices you make along the way, you're going to get there a lot quicker than others will.
Number two, you can't control the hand you've been dealt, but you can control how to play it. COVID could've destroyed Moses' business, but instead of sitting around and letting it happen, he and his team figured out a way to move forward. He dealt with his emotions in a healthy way, called on his team for support and made tough calls to make sure the business survived.
And that leads me to my last point, number three, be a cockroach and do whatever it takes to survive. Almost everything we do in life is a marathon. Finishing the race is much more important than getting ahead quickly. In a startup world, this means you should do whatever it takes to get to product market fit and keep your customers. Pivots can be hard for everyone, but it helped Moses turn Xendit into a multi-hundred-million-dollar company.
If you liked this episode, smash that five-star rating on iTunes and comment what you've learned. Shout out to Radi, Quest Fellow on my discord server, who helped with this podcast, you could apply to be a fellow and check out all things Quest at listen.justin.quest.
All right, next week we have Gary Tan, a really great friend of mine and fellow investor who's also inspired me to start my YouTube channel. I love you all, and I'll see you next week.