Episode 17: Jack Sim – Founder of the World Toilet Organisation – Insights With Experts – by Discere
Michael Skok currently acts as a Founding Partner at Underscore VC. A serial entrepreneur turned investor, he also engages in mentoring, coaching and learning through numerous channels, specifically as an ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ at Harvard Business School and through his Startup Secrets work. Throughout Michael’s life, he has engaged in numerous experiences and worked with a variety of startups. Michael’s main field of focus lies on breakthrough technologies and disruptive business models such as Saas, Cloud, Open Source and Blockchain. Throughout this interview, we will explore these amazing experiences and see what the youth can take away from them.
What inspired you to pursue entrepreneurship? Was it planned or did you ‘fall’ into the industry?
Michael refers to himself as an ‘accidental entrepreneur’, in the sense that he was raised in a household by a father who was himself an entrepreneur. This meant that Michael was being immersed into the life of an entrepreneur from a very young age and took a liking to it. His father was very passionate about his work, and was constantly working. What this meant is that Michael did not experience any kind of epiphany, or faced a moment where he knew he wanted to become an entrepreneur or VC. He was accustomed to creating his own opportunity, and entrepreneurship was something he naturally fell into.
Through your years of working with people from various backgrounds/ funding their startups, what have you found is the most vital quality a team/ team member should possess?
In Michael’s point of view, the most vital quality a team member should possess is the ability to be self aware. If we are aware of what our strengths and weaknesses are, it’s the beginning of the ability for us to fit in a team as well as delegate work and recruit the people around us for support. Another quality that pairs quite nicely with this self awareness is humility. If we are humble enough to acknowledge where we need help and engage others and give them the support they deserve to support us, the result will be a healthy and efficient environment.
Can you think back to the most important moment in your journey? What were you able to take away from this?
Michael referred to his failures as being the most important experiences in his life. Fortunately for him, his first and most important moment of failure was seen at a relatively young age. This was seen as Michael and his brother started a business in the computer aided manufacturing scene. While the first few years saw tremendous success, Michael admits that he had been incredibly naive — though he was a great technologist, he knew next to nothing about business. What Michael learnt from this experience is that humility actually becomes reality when we go through our first failure, however we move forward and improve ourselves when we take a step back and ask ourselves what we learnt from it.
If you could leave the youth with one piece of advice, what would it be?
As Michael approaches the age of 60, he still finds that he has a lot of learning to do, this evokes the question of how that learning will actually be done? Michael would argue the answer to this question lies in ‘bouncing off the world’ and trying as many different things as we can to try and figure out who we are and what experiences we like. This lies not in just ‘finding ourselves’ through specific acts, but however in immersing ourselves in a variety of experiences and cultures which are foreign to our own. This is something which is best done at an early age, perhaps the age most of us viewing this content currently are, as it gets harder to try new things as you get older and more set in your ways.
From the Guest Student
The interview with Michael Skok was extremely insightful for a student like me who wants to go into the field of digital communications and technology. He also delved into failure and the importance of “bouncing around the globe” whilst we are young. This movement will enable us to learn so much more about the world around us and ourselves so that we are able to be much more successful and self aware. Michael touched on the topic of the impact of social networking which was a topic I was interested in after watching the Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma”. He mentioned that in the near future, he predicts that there will be a social media platform for almost any niche and any group of people. I found that alarming and incredible at the same time.
– Daria Nekrasova, currently studying media and communications at Cardiff University as well as the newest member of the Discere team.