Mike Chan is an entrepreneur, marketer, product guy, business developer, and power napper. He is the Chief Commercial Officer at UTU Technologies, a company which mission is to become the trust infrastructure of the entire internet. Mike is also a Marketing Advisor of Meter and Advisor at FanCheer Interactive.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I split my time growing up in Queens, Brooklyn, and Central Jersey.
I think I had a pretty normal, middle-class childhood. My parents were immigrants from Malaysia who didn’t have much when they arrived in the US but worked their way up to a comfortable life.
I look back at my time living in Coney Island, Brooklyn, as a pretty formative time of my life.
I lived in an amazingly diverse and energetic neighborhood, where I could step outside of my door and see kids of every background – Black, Puerto Rican, White, Asian, and more – playing in the streets at any hour of the day.
Looking back, this made me realize how important diversity and being inclusive is. I learned a lot about different cultures and upbringings at a young age.
And I believe that my neighborhood structure helped me become as social and outgoing as I am today. I was forced to insert myself into conversations and games or get left out. And I think those experiences have served me well into adulthood.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I was better with money and invested more when I was younger.
Albert Einstein said that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. And it really is an amazing phenomenon.
I’ve always had decent-paying jobs, so the opportunity to save and compound my money over time was there. I wish I had taken advantage of it at an earlier age.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
This one might be a bit controversial.
It’s not specific to my profession or expertise, but I think the advice of “following your passion”, in and of itself, is bad advice.
Yes, ideally you should be passionate about and interested in your career.
But should you follow your passion at all costs? No.
Many people want to work in interesting fields like sports, movies, music, and others, and that’s great. But in order to be truly happy with your career, you need to find a combination of:
An industry you’re interested in,
A job function that you’re good at and enjoy,
And the right stage of company/company size that fits your goals.
And even if you achieve that, it’s not guaranteed that your career situation will be perfect forever.
About 15 years ago, I was following my passion when pursuing a job in the sports industry. At first, I thought any job in the industry would be amazing. But I learned through internships and conversations with other sports business professionals that this was definitely not the case. I would not have been happy doing ticket sales, arena operations, event planning, and many other functions every day.
I did achieve my goal when I landed a strategic marketing role for the Washington Capitals, DC’s pro hockey team, and I really liked what I did for five years. But eventually, the job ran its course and I moved on to the tech industry.
I know I sound like a bit of a downer here, but from my experience, blindly following your passion won’t guarantee that you’ll love your career.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
My father passed away from cancer in 2005, and looking back, I don’t think I dealt with it all that well.
I was in business school at the time and I just drowned myself in activities (which included lots of drinking) to take my mind off of what happened. I don’t think I properly processed what happened, and almost sacrificed some very important relationships along the way.
It took me some time to realize what happened, truly reflect on the loss, and move on.
This period in my life taught me a couple of things.
First, I learned how to manage my psyche much better, through good and bad. I improved upon how I process information and understand how my actions impact others.
Also, it became clearly evident to me that life is short, so you should really appreciate what you have and live life to the fullest.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
It’s not one thing that I do, but more of a philosophy that has helped my career. Some may see this as a drawback, but I believe that the fact that I’m a generalist has been a huge contributor to my success.
If you had to pick one function, you could say that I specialize in marketing. But marketing is a generalist function that spans so many skills such as content creation, social media, design, analytics, and much more.
Being a generalist has helped me navigate multiple industries and get jobs that I don’t think I would have been able to get if I were a specialist.
And in my current role as Chief Commercial Officer at UTU Technologies, I’m using all kinds of skills – including marketing, sales, product, technical, and more – to do my job, which I love. If I had specialized, I wouldn’t be in the role I am in now.
What is your morning routine?
My mornings are pretty intense and move quickly.
I usually wake up around 6:30-7 AM and the first thing I do is chug water. Our bodies are dehydrated after 7+ hours of no liquids, and drinking water immediately makes me feel replenished.
I’ll then walk my dog and help get my daughter ready for school.
Soon after that, I’m usually on a bunch of back-to-back calls. My company UTU is based in Kenya, so my mornings are my colleagues’ afternoons, and early calls are the norm for me.
This is the opposite of how I like to work – I usually like doing deep work in the morning and having called in the afternoon – but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Discovering cryptocurrency has had a big improvement on my life in a number of ways.
First of all, it has changed my career path significantly. I work in the industry now, and it has been the most interesting and rewarding part of my career by far.
Next, it has changed my view of how to manage our finances.
I’ve learned so much about how macroeconomic trends have a massive impact on our investments, how we should have a long time horizon, and much more about finance and investing that I didn’t care to learn about in the past. This has changed my spending habits to focus on purchasing only appreciating assets or ones that create cash flow, or ideally, both.
Discovering crypto has paid off in the short term and will continue to do so in the long term –not just financially, but also in my everyday behaviors.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
One of the techniques I’ve been using for years is the Pomodoro Technique, which I blogged about here. Basically, you work uninterrupted for 25 minutes then take a 5-minute break. Rinse and repeat.
It’s amazing how much you can get done in 25 minutes when you focus on a single task for a finite amount of time without interruptions.
The Pomodoro Technique has been a game-changer, and I’m using it right now for this interview!
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
A few come to mind.
The first is “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke. Annie writes about how framing situations in terms of probabilities, and not absolutes, can help you make better decisions. I’m a poker player, so this book grabbed me right away, but the way she applied poker thinking to real-world problems is what made this book so interesting.
The next one is “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel. This is a must-read for any startup founder and anyone who wants to have a major impact on the future. Peter writes about how we should think about breakthrough innovation, not just incremental improvement, and how to achieve it.
The last book is Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin. Ben Franklin is probably my favorite character in history, and I like to think that we’re alike in a few ways. He’s a curious mind who is interested in many subjects, and this is shown in his broad range of jobs, such as scientist, writer, diplomat, and many more. He was a humorous, social guy. And he liked beer a lot!
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Default to Action.”
I interviewed Wade Foster, the Co-Founder, and CEO of Zapier, for my podcast that I ran a while ago, and asked him what he looks for in people that he worked with. And he responded, “I look for people who default to action.”
People tend to think about things and analyze them for too long. Planning is certainly important, and you should think about your decisions (maybe read “Thinking in Bets” for better ways to assess these decisions?). 😉 But so many people wind up not taking action – analysis paralysis. This is bad.
So I tend to “default to action” when I have an idea. Taking that first step, no matter how small, can get the ball rolling in ways you don’t expect. Maybe you’ll wind up going big, or maybe you’ll fail, but you’ll never find out if don’t try. And defaulting to action is how you get things done.