This post shares one of my fondest memories interacting with investors.
In November 2016, while working at SOLOSHOT, the CEO, VP of Engineering, and I flew to Hong Kong to demo to some potential Asian investors.
SOLOSHOT is a robotic camera that automatically tracks, records, and live streams your footage. The camera points at a tracker that is placed on a subject (like someone playing a sport), and it will continually pan, tilt, and zoom to keep the subject in frame.
The VP of Engineering was the brains behind the camera’s tracking capabilities. I was the product & project manager of the camera’s user interface, web, mobile, and desktop apps. I also happened to be the only Mandarin speaker in the company (which the investors did not know), and thus helped translate/interpret for my team.
Getting to Hong Kong from Shenzhen, China
Map shows the route from our hotel to the demo site, and where we had dinner afterwards.
Our hotel was in Shenzhen, China because we first had some business to take care of there. On the morning of demo day, we tested a couple cameras on the hotel pool deck to make sure things would run smoothly.
Parklane Hotel, Chang’an.
The pool deck.
The investors ordered a van to pick us up at the hotel. We were to cross the border to Hong Kong, find an appropriate site to demo the cameras and apps, and set everything up before their arrival.
At the border, a bunch of children stood in line in front of us. I learned these were children of wealthy Chinese families who preferred to enroll their kids in Hong Kong schools (which they regard as superior). The kids along with their supervisors cross the border twice a day.
At the border, you have the option of getting processed in the vehicle, or hopping off and going through a regular line (which is faster). We hopped off in this instance. Here’s a photo I took when we entered China from Hong Kong by vehicle a few days earlier.
After going through immigration, we drove to West Kowloon Nursery Park. The business manager from the investors’ side thought the Hong Kong Skyline in the backdrop would serve a nice touch. Although it looked nice, we needed a much wider space to show the camera’s long-range tracking capabilities.
So we drove to Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. The place was solid. We set up our equipment on the concrete soccer fields.
This is where the demo took place.
Game time. The two investors came. Both their wives came as well.
Long story short, the demo was a success.
The VP of Engineering makes an impression
As we began cleaning up the equipment, the investors’ wives began a side conversation in Mandarin. They didn’t know I could understand them.
(Referring to VP of Engineering)
Wife 1: Wow, he’s really good looking. And he’s so masculine.
Wife 2: Yeah he is. He must be at least 180 cm. tall too.
Wife 1: And look at how technical he is, being able to engineer a camera like that.
I thought, “Stop checking him out! We’re trying to raise money from your husbands. What if they overhear you checking out my coworker, who by the way, is only 5’9″?”
The situation seemingly worsened.
(Gets her husband involved)
Wife 1: Hey husband, look at VP of Engineering. Isn’t he so handsome? Look at his beard too. It’s so full. Asians can’t grow beards like that.
It was about to be game over. The investor was going to get jealous and upset, start an argument, and we weren’t going to secure an investment.
Investor 1: Yeah he actually is!
He looped the other investor in. Picture this: two wives and their husbands all facing my white coworker five feet away, nodding their heads in agreement and talking about how handsome he was; how he must be at least six feet tall; how masculine he looked.
I could hardly maintain a straight face, highly amused at what I was hearing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
VP of Engineering continues to impress at dinner
For dinner, the investors brought us to Spring Moon, a Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant in the five-star hotel The Peninsula just across the street from the Avenue of Stars. So many stars in one sentence.
Dinner was family style. The VP of Engineering tried every food. The wives continued to woo at his every action.
“Wow, he knows how to use chopsticks!”
“Wow, he’s not afraid to eat spicy! White people usually can’t handle spice!”
“Wow, he’s willing to try bird’s nest!”
I continued to quietly enjoy their dialogue.
Golden mashed taro with bird’s nest and fresh milk. Bird’s nest are among the most expensive products consumed by humans. I honestly thought it tasted mediocre, but I’ve never been one to have a sophisticated palate.
My bilingual ability gets exposed
On the other side of the table, the investors were speaking to each other in Mandarin. My boss text messaged me, asking what they were talking about. For minutes, I returned several messages.
This director sitting by me is going to be heading the the Chinese manufacturing operations. It seems like he will be an ally. They’re appointing him to champion us, I think he can be trusted.
Now they’re talking about this… and now that… (the details don’t matter)
A few minutes later, my boss took out his laptop to demo our desktop app to the lead investor. Shortly after the MacBook was opened, the lead investor abruptly turned toward me and said, “So Andy, you speak Chinese!”
Huh? Why are you talking to me? And how’d you know?!
Turns out iMessage was enabled on my boss’s laptop. As soon as the laptop connected to WiFi, my messages popped up on the screen. The lead investor put the pieces together that I was relaying his conversations to my boss. Doh!
He was very nonchalant and easygoing, and we spoke a bit. He and my parents are from the same home town in Taiwan. He and my dad attended the same high school, although at different times.
In the light atmosphere, I learned more about their backgrounds. The lead investor was a general manager at a large multinational company. The other had made his fortune selling customizable smartphones in China. For example, you could order a Samsung processor housed in a Google case with an iPhone camera. At its peak, he made $1,000,000 USD in profit per day for a few years before the market became saturated.
Calling it a (wonderful) day
I enjoyed the dinner setting very much. I always appreciate seeing the human side of investors, and they were quite good at building rapport.
This was one of the most expensive meals I ever had. The food was $1,800 USD for 10 people. The investors brought their own bottles of wine. One of the wives showed me pictures on her phone of their wine collection. One photo showed a single wine bottle which costed them 200,000 HKD, or $25,480 USD. She said they buy a few bottles a year. Learning this, you bet your ass that my non-drinking ass had a few sips of their wine that evening, no questions asked.
When the evening ended, the van took the CEO, VP of Engineering, and I back to Shenzhen. I finally told them about wives’ ongoing conversation throughout the day. We got a good laugh out of that. The CEO then explained the iMessage conundrum, how he pretended to ignore the notifications, but still resulted in the investor calling me out across the dinner table. We laughed some more.
These are the kinds of memories I cherish the most in business. Proud to say that the VP of Engineering was nicknamed handsome thereafter.