Hear from two startup founders on how they’re tackling career, investing and running a business – plus what you can learn from it all. (7:25 min read)
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Here are some of the highlights from a fireside chat between the two co-founders – Kevin Hua (AtlasTrend) and Ben Wong – (Academy Xi) moderated by Olivia Codorean (UNSW).
Career – Ben Wong, Academy Xi’s Founder
Given the fast pace of technological changes, where do you see the biggest job opportunities and any careers you think will become redundant? Do you have any tips on how to ensure your skills remain relevant?
If you look at the way technology is constantly evolving and changing, in order to remain relevant you need to think about following the tech trends closely and constantly keep your skills up-to-date.
So if you decide to become a developer, how do you go about it? What are the predominant programming languages being used, how is technology transforming the field? These are key questions you could ask to get a sense of where things are at, and where they’re heading.
If that’s not your thing and you’re more interested in developing your personable side, think about how you could focus on problem solving – there are plenty of those to go around.
Solving the problems of the world will require these soft skills like critical thinking that allow you to look at issues in different ways.
With that in mind, skills like human-centred design, service design and user experience design will only continue to evolve.
Learning the theory is one thing but how does this translate into getting a job in the field you want? How does Academy Xi help bridge the gap?
We identify what skills are in high demand that people need right now plus what’s emerging, and work backwards from there.
We ask: what are the skills people need to be a practitioner in this space? Then teach them the skills needed by bringing real-life clients in (non-profits, startups, corporates) and learning backwards in a project-based way.
How do you see the nature of education changing going forward, particularly in relation to upskilling during a person’s career?
It’s all about on-the-job training and keeping it highly practical.
There are a lot of online programs which are great, but it really comes down to how you use them to complement your knowledge and gain the necessary practical experience – doing it, basically.
What I think we’ll see in the future is the online element delivering the skills and knowledge, with the practical component delivered in a real setting (on the job) via coaching and internal training.
Investing – Kevin Hua, AtlasTrend’s Co-founder
You invest in a lot of companies at the driving technological or societal changes, how do you see people’s career being impacted?
I don’t think technology as a zero-sum game in terms of eliminating jobs entirely. There’s a lot of data out there to suggest over the next 20+ years, X amount of jobs will be removed.
But to my mind, new jobs will be created as well. Obviously the repetitive, mundane jobs will likely be removed, but hopefully, as a society we take the opportunity to learn new skills or upskill.
When I look at my industry (investment management), the old school guys at investment banks writing thick research reports have been really slow to adapt. Most people haven’t realised until very recently – particularly with some of the regulatory changes – that these skills will become redundant.
The people that would ordinarily consume that research are hiring their own people or they use AI to read the reports and analyse companies. It’s a perfect example of a skill that people had for decades, which is very quickly becoming redundant due to advancements in technology.
So you’ve got to be up-to-speed on industry changes since they’re happening at a much faster rate. Plus be prepared to do multiple things in your career; I’m learning that personally right now.
I’ve been a lifetime finance person, and frankly didn’t want to do anything else in my career, but have had to go beyond this as part of my startup journey.
You’ve got to have multiple skills to give yourself the chance to have multiple careers.
How does your team go about selecting which trends and stocks to invest in?
To put it simply, it’s a two-step process:
First, we identify large, investable structural trends we spoke about earlier. We get a lot of questions about what this means, I’m going to use cannabis stocks as a way to explain:
Is it a trend worthy of investment now that marijuana is getting legalised around the world? While there’s definitely a growing theme emerging, frankly there’s just not enough companies out there to invest in to make it worthwhile. Particularly if you’re trying to construct a portfolio of diversified companies in that area.
You need to have the knowledge and understanding to distinguish between a trend and an investable trend.
The second part of the process is screening companies – conducting the necessary analytical work to ensure we’re selecting only the top companies. Unlike a tech-themed ETF, which will invest in every tech company in a particular universe, what we try to do as active managers is pick the best ones out of the bunch.
Those with the best structural themes and growth profiles, valuation, credit profile – all of this and more underpins our analysis that leads to picking the top 12-15 companies in a portfolio for our investors.
Any other practical investing insights and hacks to set yourself up for success?
Investing is a lifelong journey. You’d hope to have some kind of interest in it because it can form a large part of your life.
I’d tell anyone – whether young or old – to take their money seriously.
We make big decisions about what car we buy or clothes we wear, but really the biggest financial decisions we make are around our wealth – how we save, invest and plan for the future.
What I mean by ‘taking it seriously’ is really doing your research – read up online, take a course or upskill if you don’t have a financial background, seek financial advice if you need it.
There’s a lot of controversy around financial advisers at the moment, but for all the bad eggs reported out there, I believe there’s an equal amount of good advisers.
You’re both founders of disruptive and innovative start-ups. What advice could you give to anyone in the room that is looking at switching careers, joining or setting up a start-up?
Ben: the main thing is passion, which you probably hear a lot and sounds like is over-used, but it really does come down to that.
So whether you’re deciding on a particular career or entrepreneurial endeavour, you really need to think about:
Yes, the entrepreneurial life sounds all fancy and great, being your own boss and all that, but being an entrepreneur means you become everyone’s boss.
It does depend on how you structure your business, but you are essentially supporting many people who depend on you, and so you’ve got to make sure that you’re serving them.
So when you’re thinking of changing careers – great. What are you passionate about? What do you want to do? Can you see yourself enjoying this? Because if you don’t, you’re not going to progress or grow – unless you’re a super competitive person then maybe?
But otherwise, put your heart and soul into and love it. I’m a big believer of work-life integration rather than work-life balance.
Whether it’s career or startup: start with yes and always ask (nicely of course) – otherwise you won’t get what you’re after, whether it’s a promotion or a new client.
Get out of your comfort zone, make mistakes; that’s how you grow.
Kevin: it’s harder than I thought, but every entrepreneur would probably tell you that. The biggest thing for me is learning that you end up doing a lot of different things day-to-day that you don’t expect.
In your typical job, you’ve got your job description, you go in and do your work and you might do a little bit extra and the boss is very happy with you.
As a founder or startup entrepreneur, your job isn’t really defined – each day is different, so you’ve got to be adaptable.
You’ll end doing a lot of things that sit outside your immediate skillset, and hopefully, you’ve got good partners and employees to help you along the way as well.
Would I encourage people to do it? Absolutely. But you’ve got to be passionate about it, and be at a point in your life where your comfortable doing it because it’s not for everyone.
It takes financial risk, and it’s a bit of a career risk as well. But if you’re passionate about it and believe in it, it can be very rewarding.
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