What I Learned From the World's Greatest Venture Capitalist
Bill Tai blends his passion for windsurfing with his desire to contribute to a better future.
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I recently got to spend some time with a man who many people argue is the greatest venture capitalist to ever set foot on planet Earth, Bill Tai. Many know him as a close friend of Richard Branson, a charitable man, an expert in blockchain, the guy who funded companies like Canva and Zooom, and probably the keenest kite surfer you will meet.
That's what people may see on the surface, but I decided to dig a lot deeper than that and what I learned goes far beyond what I expected. Here are 10 lessons I learned from Bill Tai:
1. Stand for a cause bigger than yourself.
For Bill Tai, kite surfing is the one thing that he can't live without other than his family and friends. It's not just a hobby but also a cause that has become so much more. He's turned a sport into a love for the ocean and throughout my time with him I saw Bill do lots of little things like picking up rubbish that he saw near the beach, educating people on the ocean, and most of all putting together an event with Richard Branson called "The Ocean Gala" to raise funds for ocean conservation.
Rather than be an entrepreneur obsessed with himself and his success in investing, Bill Tai has made all of his achievements about the causes that he loves. Could you do the same in your business endeavors?
2. Conversations become ideas and ideas turn into something.
What I noticed about Bill Tai was that he is obsessed with having and creating conversations. He explained to all of us who were at the OzApp Awards with him that he fundamentally believes that conversations become ideas and ideas turn into something. He believes that the seed of all good causes and businesses are simple conversations about a problem or passion.
If you look at everything Bill Tai has invested in or become part of, you can trace it back to a conversation he had somewhere. For Bill, it's not about trying to change the world and solve every problem himself, it's about harnessing his extraordinary networking ability to put people together who can do this on their own. This whole concept blew my mind. Could your vision somehow harness some of the same magic?
3. The sharing of ideas gives us all equal power.
On the first day I was with Bill in Perth, he shared how ideas that came from nobodies (think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) changed the world. Bill believes that the sharing of ideas is fundamental for our human race to move forward. It's not about the characters necessarily but the currency of ideas. It's for this reason that many entrepreneurs in the tech world now frown upon signing NDA's. We need to share ideas, not legally block each other from collaborating or protecting something that any of us probably could have thought of if we had tried.
4. Work and play are no longer separate.
What I absolutely admire about Bill Tai is that he coordinates his entire life around what he loves (kite surfing). Every overseas trip he does, every event he runs, any potential investing opportunities, are all brought together by his many adventurous kitesurfing trips. What Bill has done is shown how our culture has risen up and moved beyond having work and play be two separate things. In the old days, we used to hide our play. Now, we can bring our work and play together.
5. You can't make a wave, you can only ride it.
Bill said to a group of us while we were on holiday that "You can't make a wave, you can only ride it." What he meant by this is that if something is meant to happen, it will. You can't force success, and you also can't force your business to thrive. All we can do is position ourselves for success and ride the wave when a burst of momentum favors our position.
6. Anything is possible if you try.
Bill Tai inspires me by spreading the message that that "Anything is possible if you try." He fundamentally believes that everyone is just as smart as everyone else. What he's looking for is to see if you will keep falling down and getting back up again. Looking at some of his investments, this seems to be a key trait that Bill looks for in an entrepreneur.
In Bill's own career, he started a festival called the OZ App Awards on the simple premise that it could be the next Home Brew Club that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were members of before they rose to fame. He said that "You just don't know, but you have to try." I personally believe it's all part of having a big vision. Could you manifest this powerful idea in your next business venture?
7. The bumps, cuts and bruises are all part of the journey.
During our kitesurfing trip in Geraldton, Australia, Bill cut his toe open on a coral reef. I've never seen a man so happy to be injured and pissing out blood everywhere. The reason why Bill loved his injury so much is that he believes that the bumps, cuts and bruises are all part of the journey. In other words, he celebrates the failures just as much as the successes. He takes the lessons from the pain, puts a big fat smile on his face, and goes on with his day. Could you handle the low points in this way?
8. Our future lies in technology's hands.
While with Bill, if he wasn't on Facebook, Zooom or some other app, he was playing with his multiple 360 cameras or some other piece of tech. He taught me that it's not the tech itself but the relationship it has with our future on this planet. Some of the tech that Bill showed us had major issues but he didn't get angry with it. He just treated everything as an experiment and instead collated the feedback to give back to the tech companies that made these gadgets. Are you helping to progress humankind or are you having a whinge?
9. Remove the ego and emotion.
Firsthand, I got to see Bill Tai turn down several investments on our trip. What surprised me was that there was no emotion or ego attached and the door was always left open. It would be easy for Bill with all of his success to be rude, cocky or arrogant. The fact he doesn't act like that, that makes him the greatest VC this planet has ever seen. Can you turn down opportunities in the same way?
10. It's not about who is the smartest guy in the room.
Somehow, in a conversation with Bill, we got talking about semi-conductors. Up until this moment, I had had many conversations with Bill but I never really got to hear him talk super technical and was not sure if that was his thing or not. In this particular conversation, Bill blew my mind and went as technical as I've heard someone go before on how semiconductors work, and how one of his companies has significantly sped up the processing power of computer chips.
Generally, in a lot of networking situations, it's all about trying to prove who is smarter or more influential. What Bill taught me is that you don't need to try and prove how good you are all the time. Try bringing your brilliant technical knowledge into a conversation when it's warranted rather than wearing it as a badge of honor to gain attention.