#1 $1B Deal in Wall Street, FinTech Startup in China and Chokes with Scissors – Spencer Li

Disclaimer: I write these notes to enhance my understanding of what I learned from the guest and since I am the one writing it, the contents will contain my perspective more or less.  The whole conversation can be found from the podcast or YouTube video so I’ll recommend you to go check it out for what and how exactly the conversation went with the guest.  

Spencer spent many years in Canada growing up and studying and working in the US.  Graduated from Duke and worked in an investment banking in the Wall Street.  I thought his background sounds was a typical Chinese who studied abroad but I was wrong because I don’t know any Chinese friends who were choking his classmate and threatening him with scissors in elementary school.  This conversation was very surprising and entertaining.  I couldn’t stop laughing for most of the talk and I hope you enjoy it too. 

These notes won’t give the pleasure I got from talking to him but let me write down from interesting facts. 

Childhood

Spencer was born in China and moved to Canada at the age of eight.  He couldn’t speak any English but the school he went wasn’t for Chinese immigrants but local citizens.  He wasn’t trying to be a rebel kid “intentionally” but he wasn’t a “good kid” for sure.  Mainly it was because he didn’t understand the language but whenever the teacher pissed him off, he would let him/her know and pulled out from the class.  Also, because he was new to the school, some kids were kinda messing with him and he of course got into fights here and there.  Well… I guess he was rebellious after all. 

However, Spencer wasn’t like that in China.  He was a very driven kid.  He woke up at 5am everyday to make sure he was the first one outside of the classroom waiting the teacher to come.  He was the leader of the class and got upon the stage to lead a reading session or some like that.  This was probably one of the reasons that he was acting out in Canada especially they were still teaching the basic arithmetic such as 1+2.  For him, that was already taught in the kinder garden so folks, Asians are indeed good at math.

He learned English mostly from watching kids TV specifically YTV and Disney Channel.  Ryan Gosling and Christina Aguilera were the child stars at the time.  By 3rd grade, his English was sufficient enough to study with other kids but the school still wanted him to take the ESL (English as Second Language) class taught by this fucking Indian lady who could barely speak a proper English.  That pissed him off again and at the end, he won the fight and joined other kids to study French. 

One time, he was reading a book during the lunch time and because it was raining outside so most of kids were playing inside.  He could’t enjoy the book and some guy just bumped into him and he got so pissed, choked that guy and threatened him with scissors.  Holy molly… That was a gangster right there. 

Cool Kids & Hot Teachers

He was good at math in high school so he was put in a honorary class with bunch of “talented” kids.  He was taking the math class 2 years ahead of kids in the “normal class” but once it got into the probability, his grade fell from 100% to 80% and he realized that he wasn’t a little math genius. 

In Canada, the cool kids weren’t like kids in the US.  They were cool but not assholes so the “gangsterous” Spencer was indeed one of the cool kids in the school.  To blend in, it wasn’t easy.  He wasn’t as fit as other cool kids.  He didn’t play any musical instrument unlike others so he started playing saxophone and joined physical education “honorary” classes. 

Spencer didn’t want to go to the US because they were far from home and friends but his parents wanted him to go to better schools which was almost inevitable as a Chinese kid.  He got an offer from UCLA but at last minute, Duke pulled him up from the waiting list so he went. 

He took economy with easier lectures to get As but without realizing the final exam is same everyone.  His grade dropped to B because the exam took 50% of the grade.  “Oh shit” he thought, and he needed to come up a contingency plan to boost his GPA back so he started taking psychology as 2nd major which to him, was a low hanging fruits.  Why? because all he had to do is to memorize the answer like a Chinese.  

During the college year, he spent sometime taking Latin for his overall grades.  He was kinda into it but mostly it was because the teacher was hot and the class wasn’t hard for him to get an A.  As the lecture gained its difficulty, he stopped taking Latin which was mainly because they changed the teacher to “not hot enough for Spencer”. 

His life was good.  Intelligently, physically, mentally and probably spiritually too except his roommate who was a pre-med student with a bad temper.  This guy often locked the door and left the room when Spencer went for shower.  He couldn’t take it anymore so he did the same thing to his roommate once.  That roommate was furious which pissed off Spencer who was the victim for many many times.  In the end, he choked his roommate and pushed him against the door. 

He just couldn’t help choking annoying people in the past but I kinda hope he does more now. lol

Omaha & Wall Street

Besides all the activities to score higher GPA, he was also a treasurer for the rowing club and Alpha Kappa Psi which is a Professional Co-ed Business Fraternity.  I have no idea what that is but according to him, it’s one of the BS clubs that you can put on your resume. 

He also arranged tours for the famous dinner with Warren Buffett in Omaha for the AKPsi club.  To maximize the profit, he booked the shittiest hotel and of course, received a lot of complains but he didn’t care and he didn’t go.  Those experience as treasurer was somewhat contributed to his career in Wall Street.  Oh yeah, the “Maximizing Profit” spirit. 

For Econ students, financial or consultancy industry seems like the goto place for their 1st job.  However, the economy hadn’t been fully recovered in 2011 especially the “evil” financial industry took a lot of hit and constraints from the government and socially, from the people.  Luckily, he got into an investment bank in New York City that helped limited partners of private funds sell their interests in the secondary market. 

In the year he joined, that NY office was dealing with a $1B deal and closed it successfully.  With the 1% of advisory fee, they earned $10M and the new comer, Spencer, didn’t do much of anything, got a $50K bonus out of it!  With his $75K yearly salary which seemed pretty standard for graduates working in Wall Street, he was earning more than $100K a year.  Damn!!  

Unlike what I saw workers in Wall Street in movies, his job was pretty laid back.  In the 2nd year, his office got no deals but hire two more analysts for the continuity.  People seemed switching the job to the buyer side in 2 years so the company needed some backup but I just didn’t get why they needed 2 analysts for Spencer who was basically watching Netflix and reading all Game of Thrones books at work… Maybe he was just too good.

No to Yale, Yes to China

The work was too boring and he planned to go to a business school.  Although MIT was his 1st choice but he wasn’t their choice.  The only offer he got was Yale but Yale wasn’t known for business related degrees and the venue was pretty bad too so he decided to join his dad’s company in China in 2014.

Their business was to extend the credits/loans for tracking industry and his dad has run it for more than 10 years.  As the internet went bizarrely crazy like the .com bubble in China, they started creating their own app and web services trying to catch up with the trend but they got no one who knew anything about the internet, startup and engineering as their business was 100% offline.  Consequentially, Spencer become the one leading the product development. 

It was a tough job for him to change anything that had 10+ years of history especially when he lacked of the experience in product development and management.  The operation was also very different from what he knew at the time so after 5 years of fighting, he moved on and joined “the most customer centric” company in the world, Amazon in China. 

Moving on

Currently he was helping startups and venture capitals by leveraging his own connections and charm and the Amazon asset but as all big corporates do, the scope of work and the flexibility are heavily tightened which is totally reasonable but also understandably less motivational for workers. 

His recent passion is baking and based on his photos, those bagels look very good!  He’s also constantly working out with a group of people and enthusiastically helping founders whether they’re Amazon’s customers or not.  He is one of few people I found very comfortable talking to because he is authentic and always expresses his thought honestly.  As far as I know, he isn’t tied to an ideology or tribalism which characteristics seem not so easy to find nowadays. 

If you have something to offer to him, feel free to reach out to him through LinkedIn.

The full conversation is avaialble on YouTube and Podcast.

About Dan Zen Learning

This is provided by Dan who’s a serial tech entrepreneur, IT sales & marketing professional with 12 year working experiences in Japan, 10 years in Taiwan, 6 years in Beijing and learning something everyday.

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