Combining Things To Create Serendipity

Steve Job famously once said: “Creativity is just about combining things.”

Each of us has something we can combine.

To succeed, we don’t have to be great at one single thing. Instead, we can find a path that suits our unique combination of skills, which can be our secret weapon.

This is a glimpse at two entrepreneurs on the path to achieving that magical combination. We hope that it will be helpful for your career journey.

About the authors — Fred Daso and Yishi Zuo:

Frederick Daso (Left) and Yishi Zuo (right).

Back in 2017, Fred took an MIT entrepreneurial class with Devin, one of Yishi’s co-founders at DeepBench. Fred was starting to write about startups, and DeepBench was his 4th feature article in Forbes. Through that article, Yishi & Fred became friends.

Zuo interviewing Daso:

Zuo: What are your key assets, and how are you combining them to achieve your goals?

Daso: My key assets today are my engineering background, my writing talent, and my entrepreneurial network. I’d like to use the assets I have to turn my network into a vibrant community.

I guess you could say that I’m at the intersection of media and community building.

I’m not sure where this is heading, but I want to keep exploring content creation and see where it takes me.

Zuo: What specific things are you doing today?

Daso: On the media side, I write consistently on Substack and LinkedIn, followed by Medium and Forbes. Community resources are a mixture of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Slack.

Right now, I’ve been using these media and community resources separately, or not in an integrated fashion. It’s been a decent arrangement so far, but through 2020, I had been working on making my Substack the central node where I funnel all of my packaged content to my subscribers and go from there.

Zuo: Where do you see this going?

Daso: In 2021, I’m laying the foundation for a “content stack” centered around startups. I want to produce a set of content for every founder I work with in the future.

That set of content would be pieces unique to each platform I can publish on: Substack, LinkedIn, Medium, and/or Forbes. This content stack is a way for me to reach a wider audience, and more importantly, provide a new way to examine the founders who go on to build billion-dollar businesses.

The eventual long-term goal would be to provide a more in-depth “ground-floor” look at what it’s like to build a startup from idea to IPO.

Daso interviewing Zuo:

Daso: What are your key assets and how are you combining them to achieve your goals?

Zuo: I have experience both as a startup CEO as well as a hedge fund investor.

To generalize:

  • Leading a company is necessarily a social task. You have to work with others and creatively solve problems. You go narrow and deep.
  • On the hedge fund investment side, it’s much more of an analytical, solo endeavor. It’s about pattern recognition across a wide breadth of the business. You go broad and wide.

Right now, I’m carving a unique path for myself — whereby I operate in a hybrid founder/investor role. I’m embracing the elements of both parts that appeal to my natural strengths and interests.

Daso: What specific things are you doing today?

Zuo: I created Optionality Partners, a startup studio, and I’m working on several projects.

Each arrangement and process is unique. In general, we start with the problem first, and we spend a lot of time exploring & validating the problem before we jump to any potential solution.

That involves some combination of talking to potential customers, running experiments, and then building a prototype — which generally comes last.

On the investment side, I have access to a modest amount of capital. But mostly, I invest my time to help entrepreneurs as a thought partner.

Mentorship & coaching is the centerpiece of how I operate. I help you set milestones and hold you accountable. But depending on the situation, I’ll roll up my sleeves and do the grunt work as well.

There is a famous saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish, and he will eat for life.” My philosophy is to do both. I’ll teach you how to fish as I pass the salmon to you.

Lastly, I’m also building my personal brand. In addition to Optionality Partners, I write a personal blog at YishiZuo.com — focused on investing, entrepreneurship, and personal growth. Not only does writing help me think, but it also leads me to meet interesting people.

Daso: Where do you see this going?

Zuo: Generally, I gravitate toward what feels right — it has to energize me. And so far, I’m having fun.

My short-term goal is to get a couple of projects to “ramen profitability.”

My long-term goal is to grow Optionality Partners into a holding company of profitable businesses. I would love to use that cash to keep building businesses, invest in more business and hopefully compound returns for the rest of my life.

Concluding thoughts from Daso & Zuo:

The more entrepreneurial you are, the more you have to do something unique that suits you. Finding that is not easy. It entails a lifelong process of discovery.

It can be scary, but we are all on that journey together.

If you are an entrepreneur at the idea stage or even pre-idea stage — consider Optionality Partners as an additional thought partner. Check out Fred’s Founder to Founder substack for case studies from successful VC-backed startups and get early access to his exclusive community of entrepreneurs.

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