In this episode, I have the honor of having Marvin Liao. Marvin is an investor, operator, executive coach, and conference keynote speaker. He holds strong opinions and perspectives on venture capital, technology, and media businesses. Today, he's a partner at GAMEGROOVE Capital.
Previously, Marvin advised several Family Offices and was a partner at 500 Startups, where he invested in and worked with hundreds of pre-seed and seed-stage startups. Many in which we co-invested together.
Before getting into Venture Capital, Marvin was a senior executive at Yahoo! Inc., where he managed large multifunctional teams across multiple countries.
But Marvin doesn't limit himself to his 21 years career in Silicon Valley.
He's also is a world traveler, a book collector, a voracious reader, and a proud dad. He describes himself as the Asian “Jason Bourne”, and aspires to be “the world's most interesting man”.
Here are some of the questions I asked him:
- You grew up in Canada. There, culturally people criticize ambition and optimism, which is key for a founder to be successful. So you had to unlearn many negative thoughts that came to you due to your upbringing. How did growing up in Canada affected you?
- After graduating from university, you lived in Europe and Taiwan before moving to San Francisco. To this day you travel a lot. Now you're in Europe, and next month you'll be in Taiwan. What did you learn from living in such different places, with different cultures?
- After living in Europe and Taiwan, you arrived in Silicon Valley, near the start of a 20+ year boom cycle. From a business and cultural perspective, you landed in the nexus of where the world was going to How was watching the Bay Area evolve in these past two decades?
- You joined Yahoo! right after the burst dot-com bubble burst when it was the most visited site in the world. You were in Yahoo! in 2002 when they refused to buy Google for $3 billion because they considered this amount overvalued. From 2003 to 2008, you lived through Yahoo!'s magic 5 years. And you left Yahoo! months before Marissa Mayer joined as CEO to revitalize the company. How was watching the rise and downfall of Yahoo! from the inside?
- At Yahoo!, you were working with people in different time zones. So, you had to start your week on Sunday evenings, with calls with co-workers from in Asia or Europe. Then, you slept for 5-6 hours and got up to do more calls until Europe's evening, your late Monday morning. You’d save the Monday afternoon for deep work, email, and coordinating with key folks in HQ in California. And sometimes you took a nap or went to the gym. Early evening was for family time and then the calls would begin. What have you learned from your routine at Yahoo!, and what have you changed in your work routine then?
- You were a partner of 500 Startups for 6 years, where you sit on the Investment Committee for the Main Global Fund 3 and Main Global Fund 4. There, you invested in & worked with over 414 pre-seed and seed-stage startups. Walk us through how was your experience and what you learned from your time there.
- Despite being interested in many industries, now you're a partner at GAMEGROOVE, where you focus on building and investing in IP, startups, and services around the gaming industry. What attracted you to the gaming industry?
- In 2020, you had to go into Monk Mode for 3 months. Could you talk more about what it is and how was your experience?
- You believe that hard times breed hard people. Many great startups came out of the carnage of 2000 and 2001, as well as the Great Financial Crisis from 2008-2009. Which kind of founder do you think the COVID pandemic will breed?
- You see huge business opportunities in Africa, and you plan to invest there after focusing on Central-Eastern Europe and Latin America this decade. Can you elaborate on the opportunities you see there?
- Silicon Valley’s landscape is now becoming more like Wall Street with the immense amounts of money coming in from hedge funds, private equity firms, and family offices as well as an explosion of new emerging fund managers. It is getting crazy competitive to get into the best deals. For this reason, Venture Capital firms are being forced to differentiate. Andreessen Horowitz is differentiating by building out of their media arm, for instance. Which are some of the ways other top-tier VC players such as Benchmark, Sequoia, Founders Fund, 8VC, Emergence Capital will be forced to differentiate? And what do you think will happen with traditional VC firms?
- You wrote a piece about why you think most venture capital content marketing is bad. Could you elaborate on that?
- Today many influencers such as Harry Stebbings are becoming investors, and investors such as Garry Tan are becoming influencers. How are you perceiving these changes in the VC space?
- Every week you share the favorite content you found on your Substack newsletter. I noticed that you frequently read blogs and newsletters such as Scott Galloway's, The Pomp Letter, Sovereign Man, Nomad Capitalist, and Noahpinion. Which are some of your favorite blogs, newsletters, podcasts, and YouTube Channels?
- On your Twitter bio, you have the word Tsundoku, a Japanese term used to describe a person who owns a lot of unread literature. Which are some of the books you bought and didn't read, but plan to do so soon?