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Yishi Zuo, MBA ’18

Yishi Zuo, MBA ’18, joins Christopher Reichert, MOT ’04, to discuss how he caught the entrepreneurship bug and the moves he made to transition from finance to entrepreneurship, including coming to MIT Sloan. While at MIT Sloan, he met his cofounders and created DeepBench, a modern software platform that enables knowledge sharing like never before, with expert advisors on demand to answer your toughest questions.

Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is a conversational podcast with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Google, and Spotify

Christopher Reichert: Welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies, a candid conversation with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. So, what does it mean to be a Sloanie? Over the course of this podcast, you'll hear from guests who are making a difference in their community, including our own very important one here at MIT Sloan.

Hi, I'm your host, Christopher Reichert and welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies. I'm with Yishi Zuo a 2018 graduate of Sloan. Welcome.  

Yishi Zuo: Thank you.  

Christopher Reichert: Good to have you here. Before we talk about what you've been up to since Sloan, I just want to tell a bit more about your background.  I'll suggest you start with where you are right now, which is a DeepBench, which you started in 2017, and we'll talk about that in a couple of minutes. Before that, you worked at Solstein Capital? 

Yishi Zuo: Correct.

Christopher Reichert: A hedge fund. And prior at Goldman Sachs.

Yishi Zuo: Right. First job out of college—IVD analyst.

Christopher Reichert: Tell me about how those experiences and how did they shape your decision to go to Sloan and also DeepBench? 

Yishi Zuo: I think it's helpful to talk about my starting chronologically from my first job, and maybe even before that, my own personal upbringing. I came to this country as a first-generation immigrant at the age of six, and I'm an only child growing up in the Bay Area. We were never like destitute or poor. But we were always kind of like working class, middle class, and when I went to college, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. But I knew I wanted to earn some money, and I worked hard in school, got good grades and at the end I was like "well, what does one do with a business major at a business undergrad?" Was it banking or consulting. And I chose banking. I chose Goldman Sachs. I'll be upfront—I wanted to make money. I wanted to go to a very reputable firm, and that's why I did what I did.

When I got to Goldman Sachs, it was a good learning experience. Everything I expected it to be, and I still wasn't sure what I ultimately wanted to do. I had kind of gotten to the point where I was making decent money right out of college, and there's a path in finance, a multitude of paths, that would have been, personally, financially lucrative for myself. At that point, I was kind of lost. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and kind of stumbled across Solstein Capital. This may seem unintuitive, but for a San Francisco, UC Berkeley grad working in San Francisco in investment banking, it's actually not very common for someone like myself to go into hedge funds in San Francisco, largely because there's not that many hedge funds. I chose to go to Solstein Capital because of the fact that I didn't know what I wanted to do. I wanted to kind of continue the kind of building on what I had already done in finance and go down that path. But I wanted to do something different. I’m one of the few people in San Francisco investment banking that I know of that went into hedge funds, and I chose a hedge fund that basically was a startup. It only had like four other employees at the time, and it was just very different. I knew that the work-life balance would be better than investment banking. I was working instead of like, 80 hours a week now, 50 hours a week, not like fantastic, but still much better.

Christopher Reichert: So, 80 hours at Goldman Sachs?  

Yishi Zuo: Yes, exactly.

Christopher Reichert: So, part time 50 hours?

Yishi Zuo: I reiterate, it wasn't because I wanted to be an investor. I just wanted to try something different, and I got there and I had a lot of free time to really think about what I wanted to do. I started getting more into my job, reading all these books about Warren Buffett, which I could talk more about that later, has had a big impact on how I think and how I operate in my life goals. At the same time, I had some free time basically explore entrepreneurial side projects. Living in SF [San Francisco] at 2013, 2014, 2015 [there were] a lot of things going on there in the entrepreneurial realm

Christopher Reichert: Yes, huge growth.

Yishi Zuo: So how I approach entrepreneurship, in retrospect, it's kind of funny… it’s doomed to fail. But I basically spent my hard-earned life savings from work in finance, investment banking, 80-hour weeks. I used it to hire some freelance developers, to try to do things on my own. 

Christopher Reichert: This was while you were at Solstein? 

Yishi Zuo: Yes, in my evenings, weekends. I spent many, many hours on a couple of startup projects that didn't really go anywhere. One was very much so a passion project, like a Wikipedia type of thing. The other one was a little more mercantile, it was a lease to own platform for domain names. The concept is you want to lease a domain name, or if you want to have a great idea, but you don't have the domain name, you can lease to own it and have a call option to buy it later. It's a win-win for the owner, and you, if things take off. Anyways, that didn't take off. It was hard.

Christopher Reichert: But I think this is really interesting. This was something that I picked up when I was researching you is that, you have a lot of ideas. First, you went very traditional investment banking.  

Yishi Zuo: Yes.

Christopher Reichert: And then you found you were a little bit chafing at maybe the pace and the path, the career path of that, right? Then you went to Solstein Capital, which gave you more free time and income, but also the ability to explore all sorts of different things. I was reading your blog and you talked about traveling to Bali, which is a beautiful place. I hope you made it to that distant waterfall. You talked about the hired driver, the driver that you hired to take you around, and was there an opportunity here to have an uber-style business there? But that's just one example. Then you have another example; I was going to pitch you an example here. We're talking about the food trucks around Kendall Square. Where have they all gone? Who knows where they are?

Yishi Zuo: I don't know. I haven't been at MIT on campus for a while. I'm kind of curious myself.

Christopher Reichert: I was thinking maybe we could break that down. One thing that I noticed about your blog is that you break it down into component parts. I was thinking about that question, that classic consulting question, of how many parts are there in a 747?

Yishi Zuo: Yes.

Christopher Reichert: And not so much to have the answer right, but to break down the problem. Tell me about your approach in that area.

Yishi Zuo: I think I'm just at the fundamental, basic level, I’m a business nerd. I just love thinking about these topics. Like my friends will tell me "Hey Yishi, sometimes in a conversation, it’s very obvious, when you're interested and when you're not." There's another blog post I wrote about, I was in Vegas and I was hanging with my friends. I just wandered into The Art of Shaving store. I kid you not, I grilled the saleswoman. It was a pretty empty, so I didn't feel too bad, she wasn't doing much anyways. I just talked to her for like 20 minutes, and just kept on asking her questions about the business model. I learned so much; it was so fascinating that I wrote a blog post about it. That's just one concrete example, that is just my personality. No matter who I'm with or where I'm at, I will always try to learn more of the business side of things. And really, it's just I'm a nerd when it comes to this stuff. I love it.

Christopher Reichert: That's the curious learning.  

Yishi Zuo: Exactly.

Christopher Reichert: You also wrote that you love games that involve incomplete information?  

Yishi Zuo: Yes.  

Christopher Reichert: Strategic deception?  

Yishi Zuo: Yes. 

Christopher Reichert: And reading people. I was reading about Liar's Dice. I watched that snippet, from I forget the name of the movie. Then there's something else you've talked about, your use of the Sharpe ratio and Sortino ratio when gaming. First, I think you need to explain the difference to everyone else. The three people that know it and how about the rest of us who don't.

Yishi Zuo: You’re talking about two different blog posts, one I wrote about Liar's Dice, a game that I just love playing. I've introduced it to dozens of friends. Everyone universally loves it. I think there's a startup idea in there somewhere to create the next 'poker stars' of Liar's Dice. But I can talk about that at length as well. And to answer your second question, the Sharpe versus Sortino ratio. This was in context to how I think about life, as well as how I approach poker, which I've been playing more of and doing OK at it, so far. Knock on wood, if there's wood around here, but fingers crossed it keeps on going. But basically, for those of you who aren't finance nerds, Sharpe ratio is how you measure typical volatility. Anything that's really volatile, has a very high Sharpe ratio. Usually volatility is bad if you want to be a normal person, along term investor, typically. The idea of a Sortino ratio is you really only care about downside volatility. You don't really care if, like your savings jump up 100%. That's highly volatile, but that's fantastic. Why would you want to limit that? So, Sortino ratio basically only looks at the downside volatility. I was writing this in context of how I play poker, which is that I try to limit the variants on the downside and really try to capture upside optionality. I think I also mentioned like Nassim Taleb, he's similar to Warren Buffett. These authors, writers, both still living, have had huge impacts on the way I approach life and business.

Christopher Reichert: You talked about the wolf versus the dog fable. Are you a dog with a collar or a wolf who has reliable meals and a comfortable surrounding? Or a wolf who can have huge upside, but also a huge downside as well. HHHHow do you apply that to what you're doing now at DeepBench? Or for that matter, deciding to go back to business school because you did undergraduate business?

Yishi Zuo: If we go back to the story, I was at the hedge fund. I was working on these startups, I'd hired freelancers, and it just didn't work out. We can talk all about that, but basically, I knew I caught the entrepreneurial bug. I knew I wanted to transition from finance into entrepreneurship. I was young, in my mid-twenties then and I was like, "okay, well, now is a chance to kind of test myself out and see what else is out there beyond finance." So, I got into MIT Sloan, came here in the fall of 2016 and pretty quickly after coming to MIT Sloan, I met cofounders that were also excited about entrepreneurship. We were talking about just business ideas. We settled on a DeepBench, this idea, partly because what myself and other cofounders had experienced in our previous jobs, which was that we had used these things called “expert networks.” For those people listening who may not be familiar with what expert networks are, expert networks are basically like middlemen. They help you find experts on demand for you to talk to and learn from. It's usually an hour-long phone call, and usually the cost per call is about $1000 or more for one hour, and the expert usually gets paid $200 or $300. It's kind of like a marketplace for knowledge, but not the most efficient marketplace since the middleman is charging, let’s say, 80% margins, 400% mark ups.

I had recognized this when I was working at the hedge fund. We used these things, it was useful but expensive. It was also very human-driven, less of a marketplace and more of a high-touch recruiting concierge service. It was a little bit of a no brainer to see "oh, there's an opportunity here to maybe use technology to bring down the cost, expand the market, and be like the Uber of this industry." And myself and another cofounder we saw this, and at MIT Sloan, we started building DeepBench while we were full-time students. Throughout Sloan, we just grew the business. We just built it while we were students. We hired employees while we were full-time students along the way. By the time we graduated, we had generated over $100,000 of revenue, while full-time students. We raised a little bit more money, and we did some accelerators and we just kept going. We developed new business lines. Then here we are. It all started from an insight that a couple of us had when we were at our previous jobs before business school, and we applied that to a startup idea that we built upon during business school and a year and a half after graduating, we're still alive, we're growing.  

Christopher Reichert: That's great! There’s always Google, you search for something specific, a specific question, right? You could do some research there, and then there's Experts Exchange if you're doing coding or something like that. But it's hit or miss, I think is kind of the underlying message you were saying earlier. Is yours more relationship-based in the sense that I engage for a longer term?  

Yishi Zuo: It's a little more tech enabled. We’re a little cheaper than our competitors and much more flexible and we also have just a different approach. We're like a platform-first approach. The other ones are more like a high-touch concierge approach.

Christopher Reichert: Makes sense. So that's like the Uber model, which is basically they make money

Yishi Zuo: Yea, bring down costs. There’s a bigger market out there.

Christopher Reichert: It's basically the platform. It's not so much what's on the platform, although that matters on some level. But it's really the platform itself, which is generating the business side for you.  

Yishi Zuo: We think about it as a marketplace for knowledge. We do want to be the Google of expert knowledge. Let E\enterprises come to us and find stuff that's not really written down on Google. A lot of knowledge is trapped in people's heads, and there's value in that. That's the insight that sparked all this.

Christopher Reichert: How do you get the experts on board? There's the client who would buy the expertise.  

Yishi Zuo: Yes.  

Yishi Zuo: Then there's the experts who would then give you valuable [help]. How do you vet them for that matter?

Yishi Zuo: I can talk about this all day. Basically, the process by which we find experts, we send out cold emails and enough people respond to our emails that it makes the system work. Basically, in the emails we say, "Hey, check out this link to a request it's posted on our website. Our client wants to learn about topic A, B and C. We think you might be a good fit." And we have algorithms that try to find the right emails, the right people. It's a little more targeted, and enough people respond to those emails. There's a nice self-selection process, to your point about vetting. There's a good self-selection process such that the people that do respond, are relatively well-qualified. Then when they respond, they basically fill out a couple of really quick responses to a couple of screening questions. That's what they are. We will pull in their profiles from LinkedIn and what not. Then the end client will again see the people that have self-selected see their responses and see their profiles from LinkedIn. The client is the one who makes the selection. There's another kind of gating criterion there. Ultimately, when the "expert" quote unquote, industry professional, hops on the call and the client hops on the call, they chat for, call it after five or 10 minutes. There's a final gate that we let our clients hang up after 10 minutes without cost. That rarely happens, maybe one out of 50, one out of 100 calls, that happens. It works pretty well. Clients are pretty satisfied.

Christopher Reichert: There's even like a speed dating component to it?

Yishi Zuo: Exactly. It's interesting. Just backtrack a little bit, the space that we're in (knowledge), it's an industry. It's a product that leads to inherently pretty high client satisfaction. I'll explain why that is. I'm an expert in this industry that I'm in, you are looking to learn about this industry. If you're talking to me, even if I don't answer your question perfectly or I don't know some specific thing you're looking to answer, chances are in a half-hour long conversation, you’re to learn a lot about this, and you're going to be very happy, because even if I didn't answer your question perfectly, it’s going to uncover a lot of new questions. It's almost like a drug we're selling. It's like knowledge. It leads to more demand for knowledge. Which is great for business, right? I think it's a good industry.

Christopher Reichert: Do you have any subject matter areas that you have focused on? In other words, would biotech come to you, or would other industries come saying "o=Okay, DeepBench is the place to go"?

Yishi Zuo: A great question. We've worked with clients and experts from all sorts of different industries. We've had pig farmers from rural America to industrial manufacturers in Latin America, Asian restaurant tours. So really any industry, any geography, people listening to this podcast right now should go to DeepBench and join as an expert or as a client, even better. But I will say that just given the nature of where the industries are, like the highest demand where people really need to talk with experts more frequently, are in industries that are 1) very complex and, 2) constantly evolving. Typically, those tend to be technology-oriented and health care is very complex as well. Technology, healthcare, fintech, insurance, oddly enough, a bunch. Anything really, mining recently. Everything.

Christopher Reichert: There’s a network effect, I guess, that comes in at some point, right? In other words, if I go there and I don't find an expert in, say, banking or fintech or whatever it is that I might go elsewhere. How do you build up? The chicken and the egg. In other words, chicken or the egg? Is it that you get these experts on-call waiting for the questions or the questions come in and then you build that sort of vein of the business?

Yishi Zuo: We’re a marketplace for knowledge. On that side of the business, you have the supply and the demand. The supply of experts and demand of people that need to talk to the experts. With any marketplace business, there's one side that's much harder than the other. Take a wild guess which side it is for this.

Christopher Reichert: Oh, well, I would think that the experts would be the harder side.

Yishi Zuo: No. It's actually not so hard to find experts largely because, I'll talk about it from both perspectives. From the experts' perspective, you get a cold email from our company. We're looking to talk to you about the business of fronting podcasts. I know this is not a for-profit group, but let's say someone wanted to learn about your industry and you see this email and may not know who we are, but it's like, "Oh, I can get paid a couple 100 bucks to do something that's pretty easy. Just talk for an hour. It's kind of fun. I get to feel powerful sharing my knowledge.” It's something you don't do every day, so it's like a break from your day, and it's kind of mysterious, kind of exciting. For those reasons, people respond. Of course, not everyone responds, but enough people respond. That makes that business model work. And given the proliferation of social media profiles on Linkedin, you type in any key word, any industry, out will pop up 100 results. 

Christopher Reichert: So, you can see the man side?

Yishi Zuo: We don't need to have people in our network to find people on-demand for our customers. That's how we started, right? We started with zero experts in our network. Now we have over 10,000 so the business gets better over time. But you don't even really need experts to begin with, at least with our approach, you don't need it.

Christopher Reichert: Right, and I suppose the experts are not relying on this as their source of income. Although maybe some are.

 Yishi Zuo: Some are, not really. I know some are.

Christopher Reichert: My point is that, it's not as if they don't get a question or three over six months that they get impatient or move on. It's like it's just dormant.  

Yishi Zuo: It's just there.

Christopher Reichert: Interesting. And how did you decide on Sloan? This is your master’s as opposed to your undergrad degree?

Yishi Zuo: That’s right, in undergrad I did business.  Then I wanted to further build that education. I was deciding between schools, and I liked Sloan for its entrepreneurial brand. 

Christopher Reichert: You were living in San Francisco at the time?

Yishi Zuo: Exactly. I wanted to get out a little bit and see what was out there. I've stayed since.

Christopher Reichert: Right.

Yishi Zuo: That's what brought me to Sloan.

Christopher Reichert: Do you have any favorite Sloan memory or professors? Besides meeting your business partners?

Yishi Zuo: Favorite Sloan memories…

Christopher Reichert: Or a class that really shaped and changed you, perhaps?

Yishi Zuo: I’ll talk about this at a high-level. I chose a lot of soft skills classes. I'd done investment banking, hedge fund, competitive analysis, finance; I didn't take any of those classes. I really wanted to work on the soft skills—the leadership, the communications skills. I'd say one of my favorite classes was Entrepreneurial Sales at Sloan. It was very hands-on. Very practical, less academic.  

Christopher Reichert: Do you remember who taught that?  

Yishi Zuo: Oh, very much so. It's three lecturers. I think they're still teaching it. One is Lou Shipley, one is Kirk Arnold, she's a woman. And one is Jim Schuchart. He's the younger guy of the three. But Lou, during the class, he had sold his business for like 500 some odd million. Kirk had already sold her business. These were people practitioners.  

Christopher Reichert: Firsthand experience.  

Yishi Zuo: They're selling every single day. They're running sales organizations, multi $100 million sales organizations. It was very practical, and I loved that. So that was my favorite class. We did simulations and it was great.  

Christopher Reichert: So, you decided to stay in Boston after graduating?

Yishi Zuo: Yes.

Christopher Reichert: I think that, many times we've heard so many stories of, you know, Facebook started over at the other end of Cambridge, and lots of businesses might start at MIT or other places in the Boston area. And then they moved to San Francisco (would be a typical tech area) or New York if it's fintech. What was the thinking to stay in the Boston area?

Yishi Zuo: We had hired a couple of employees while we were students who were in Boston. Then when we graduated it just was a natural transition to stay in Boston. I mean, we could have done some difficult things and moved to New York or San Francisco. But it just made logical sense to stay in Boston. We’re still pretty small team. We have about roughly 10 employees. So who knows? But for now, we're in Boston.

Christopher Reichert: How about a do-over? Do you think there's any classes that you wish you hadn't done or wish you could have done? Let’s do the could have done.  

Yishi Zuo: Could have done… don't know if there's any particular classes. I think I'm pretty satisfied with the amount of units I took and the things I did. If I had to say there's something I could have done differently, it's more personal. I was so busy with the startup, and I'm a pretty social guy, a lot of friends in different groups. I always just tagged along with other people's "my friends having a party" or like "my friend is organizing a trip to Norway" or something. Okay, yeah, I'll join. I used to do this back when I wasn't an entrepreneur and had more time to organize a little ski trip vacation trip. I would organize one or two of every year with my friends, and I didn't do much of that. I didn't have the chance, but you can't have everything in life, right?

Christopher Reichert: I want to come back to Texas Hold'em. You had a diagram about how you play the game, which is, you don't really care. I guess it comes back to the to the Sharpe and Sortino ratio, which is managing the downside. Not so much the upside. The upside is icing on the cake, and it'll take care of itself. But the example that you gave was that, this is how I play the game over, say, a couple of hours, and then there's a negative one and a negative 3 and a positive 5. And then there's that 600.  

Yishi Zuo: It's illustrative.  

Christopher Reichert: Do you go into that? I think this kind of comes to the whole notion of risk. Do you risk tolerance and ability to absorb loss?  

Yishi Zuo: Yes.

Christopher Reichert: At what point do you kind of say "I've had enough loss and I'm not getting the upside"? And, when do you give up?

Yishi Zuo: I It’s  hard to really measure that. I think for everyone their risk tolerance is different. I'd certainly like versus when I was a high school or college junior senior, ready to take on my first job, the first in my family to work at that kind of job in America my risk tolerance was certainly different. After I had proven myself in my own personal mind, to be able to survive in corporate America, work at a very high paying prestigious job and have this path available to me, and now knowing that I can eventually if I ever needed money, maybe hopefully I can go back to that world. Hopefully, I don't need to.

Christopher Reichert: So that's kind of like your safety net so to speak.

Yishi Zuo: Exactly.

Yishi Zuo: Yes, having had that, having to prove myself coming from a relatively modest background, being able to make it financially and have the ability to prove it to myself, that provided me the safety net risk tolerance, if you will, to take bigger risks. And again, back to my story, I started out taking risks very stupidly, hiring freelancers trying to do that. But it was a less risky path towards entrepreneurship because I still had a great, well-paying job at a hedge fund and I still had business school. I wasn't really taking on that much risk, up until the point where I graduated, graduated Sloan and went into DeepBench full time. So, having those resources behind me and the experience behind me really helps de-risk it in my mind.

Christopher Reichert: I was thinking about the notion of sunk cost, right? There’s the regret or the lack of desire to recognize that sunk cost and put it behind you. As part of I guess growing right? But as ending the risk. So, you had this start up you said, which you look back and say, "why did I have developers, freelancers" and at what point did you say "enough of this"? Was that part of going to business school or was that saying, "okay, I'm going to end this and I'm going to go to business school again"? Actually, because you did go to undergrad business school. But get your masters to, I don't know, maybe close the loop on some incomplete information?

Yishi Zuo: I knew that I made mistakes along the way but I never regretted it that much. It was like I think you have to be an optimist to be an entrepreneur. I've always been an optimist. I think that again it stems from my background. I was an immigrant, came to this country at the age of six, we didn't have that much and every time when the going gets tough when I was working at 3:00 a.m. at Goldman Sachs, anytime there's some life setback which is inevitably going to happen, will happen. I always think about okay, like how lucky it is, how fortunate I am to be here and how lucky am I too have made it this far. And there's a lot of heads, so that's how I kind of, that's how I avoid having regrets. I don't know that's applicable to listeners out there, but that's how I deal with regrets.  

Christopher Reichert: Well it's interesting you made the transition from a secure career path, investment banking or hedge fund, to very insecure and entrepreneurial. But you did it in a very calculated way. You did the kind of net present value I think. There was a term you use which I think was 'margins of safety'. 

Yishi Zuo: There is one of the articles I wrote. It was probably a year ago, it wasn't the first blog article, but I wrote about my thinking around entrepreneurship. I think I use the term MPV positive. This is my philosophy, it comes from my background in finance. If you think about the best returns, which market you can find the best returns are, it's typically in the most inefficient market. If you go from most efficient, which is hedge funds versus little less efficient, which was private equity larger private equity. Then there's mid cap private equity and venture capital—certainly bigger risk, but potentially much bigger rewards. If you keep going, go to the very, very basic it's in markets where there's actually no company that exists yet. You’re basically starting a new business from scratch, and that's where you can get the highest returns of all. That’s my approach to entrepreneurship. It's very calculated, almost like an investor mindset, which is very different from a startup. A founder who has this technology and stumbles across this opportunity or someone who has a burning passion to solve world hunger or something that's not me. I do care about a lot of things. I think about things outside of money and finance, but fundamentally I like the analysis, the challenge of thinking about these business models and thinking about these opportunities, and it's fun for me, that's what I like.

Christopher Reichert: Seems to be a natural progression from the investment banking side, which is where you're seeing a lot of deals. Right? You're seeing them, but you're safe because you're hired by the investment banker. You’re not taking the risk, so to speak. At least not in the same way the entrepreneur is. Then with Solstein Capital you were closer I think to that, moving towards the entrepreneurial side. But it sounds to me like those two positions, those two jobs, plus your undergraduate business and then Sloan, has given you the perspective to take a calculated entrepreneurial risk.

Yishi Zuo: I think those jobs certainly have and my current job or career, certainly has shaped my personality, and I always think about it like who are other former hedge fund, well known hedge fund investors who have become entrepreneurs, and the one that comes to mind is always Jeff Bezos. So that's a good precedent to have, so fingers crossed— I’m nowhere near what Bezos is doing. But maybe one day, we'll see.\

Christopher Reichert: Right? Well, he definitely was working the law side for a long time.  

Yishi Zuo: He was at the hedge fund.

Christopher Reichert: No, but just when he ran Amazon when just profit wasn't his concern. It was more about using the cash flow to keep taking more risks.

Yishi Zuo: Right. It's the mini experiments, right? I wrote about this in my most recent article, think of everything we do at DeepBench, and Jeff Bezos I think thinks of things this way too, as like little mini experiments to try to see what results and then capitalize on those things. Like AWS came about as something they did on the side. And that was a fantastically successful experiment. Then something less successful. Like they lost several 100 million dollars.

Christopher Reichert: Oh the phone. 

Yishi Zuo: It doesn't matter. You got to take a few of these calculated risks. That's how you, that's my approach to business at least.

Christopher Reichert: There's a well-known article about how he hired someone or assigned someone to build the fire phone, the Amazon phone. It failed and the lesson he got from that and how he accepted that loss, that failure, and helped the person who probably took the failure hardest because they were in charge of the program and made them a better manager and leader, saying "we took the risk, didn't work out, but so what? You learned a lot along the way. So the next time we do it, you'll probably be better."  

Thanks very much for coming in. Just one last thing, any parting advice for prospective Sloanies?

Yishi Zuo: Prospective, Sloanies? 

Christopher Reichert: Fresh out. You're what? A year and a half out?

Yishi Zuo: Actually, someone asked me for a quote for a business insider article it actually got published, I think this week. But the advice I actually gave was, I don't remember very closely, but it's basically just be your authentic self. The thing that makes MIT unique from all the other business schools out there is that our parent brand is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and no other top business school, has that. Right? So, what makes MIT unique is that it’s a science and engineering school at its core and you think about MIT is known for being brilliantly nerdy. And I don't mean that in a pejorative way, but actually what does it mean to be a modern nerd in the 21st century. But it just means following your authentic idiosyncratic interests. MIT is a great place to do that. I think for prospective students, hopefully choose MIT and get a chance to really pursue your own interests like I have. I feel fortunate to have done that.

Christopher Reichert: That's great. So Yishi Zuo's at DeepBench company, and also his personal blog is I think a really great read. It's And actually, tell us about the province of your last name.

Yishi Zuo: This is always my fun fact. I was born in a province called Hunan, where my Dad's from, the province called Hunan. And there's a famous general that came from that province called Generals Zuo Zongtang. He's better known as the general Tso behind General Tso's chicken that's named after him. I don't think he ever ate it or cooked it, but he's actually a real general for those of you who next time you're eating that dish, you can talk about this. He grew up in the same home town that my father and his father and his father grew up in. Maybe a couple hours north of Changsha, the capital of Hunan, and I'm distantly related to him. According to my grandparents.

Christopher Reichert: That's excellent, that's a great story. Well, thanks very much for coming into Sloanies Talking with Sloanies. Thank you very much for being with us.  

Yishi Zuo: Thank you Chris. Thank you.  

Christopher Reichert: Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is produced by the Office of External Relations at MIT Sloan School of Management. You can subscribe to this podcast by visiting our website:, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Support for this podcast comes in part from the Sloan Annual Fund, which provides a central, flexible funding to ensure that our community can pursue excellence. Make your gift today by visiting: To support this show, or if you have an idea for a topic or a guest you think we should feature, drop us a note at

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