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The Best Advice My Dad Ever Gave Me (for Demo Day) (distributionhacks.com)
126 points by dmor 1990 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

As someone who has started a business in the finance space trying to leverage technology, I take some offense to this. My business partners and I have worked our asses off over the last several years to get to where we are today: billions of dollars in assets powered by our investment models. Trust me: asking someone to give you money to put in your strategies is not easy. Unlike the start-up space, there is no "minimum viable product," "traction" metric, or even "asset" that has some intrinsic value (like a unique algorithm or brand). You either have a track record, or you don't. New strategies don't, so it's all "trust." Sure, I can show a "back-test" or "stress-test" -- but everyone knows those are bullshit anyway.

You think you know stress? Imagine knowing that every day, your models are making investment decisions for billions of dollars. Sure, it's a drop in the overall pool of assets in markets, but it is enough to keep you up at night, worried about someone's retirement or someone's college fund. Drop a few more percentage points than the market? Goodbye hundreds of millions of dollars. Yep, that's going to happen at 50 when you start your "easy life" as a hedge-fund manager.

I'm not saying my stress is greater. I'm just trying to make the point that every business has its own share of problems, and to say that being a tech entrepreneur takes any more balls than being any other kind of entrepreneur is naive.

Can we please stop, as a community, with the "woe is us, the tech entrepreneur?" It's embarrassing. Starting a business is starting a business, no matter the industry. In fact, I'd argue that we live in a golden age for tech entrepreneurship that has never existed in another industry. Imagine trying to start a bio-tech business or a manufacturing business (well, arguably "outsourcing" could be the manufacturing entrepreneur's "scale"...). There are no "seed" rounds. The assets you have to raise are probably 100x what a tech entrepreneur has to initially raise. On top of trying to build a product, you probably have to manage building and factory development, understand legal regulations for your industry, and manage tons of labor.

We live in a time where you can roll the dice and start a business in the tech space with a handful of smart people, some elbow-grease and maybe $50k in a seed round. This is a golden era.

I respect the hell out of what you are doing -- starting a business is NOT easy -- but please don't say it takes any more balls than starting a business in any other industry. It doesn't.

I'm sorry, I think I was unclear and can see why you would take offense. I don't think this was a knock on creating a finance business or anything else - it was specific advice for me and my career path. He was telling me that doing the finance business now would have been the obvious choice or "easy out", rather than tech startups, because it was the industry I grew up with. He was telling me that if I had the balls to consider starting a hedge fund I sure has hell should have the balls to start a tech company.

As I said below, it's likely that I am hyper-sensitive to these issues. I urge you to continue sharing your journey and your stories!

Be careful not to take away credit from yourself, though; in finance, your father may have been able to "open" a door for you, but you would still have to walk through it.

Keep on walkin'.

I see Dad's advice as going for something that can have more meaning to you and for which you need balls then for the safe/low risk model.

It's not about stress, it's about the need of the individual to make a difference. Doing something that has been done before it's not that exciting for a 20-ish year old. But someone older will take comfort in it.

The assumption implicit in that is that starting a hedge fund is "safe/low risk" - which, having started a hedge fund, is just wrong. It is as risky as starting any business. In fact, in some ways it is much, much harder because to gain any size in the hedge business you have to have either come from a very well-known shop or have a very good, audited track record. Even given all of that, count on 2-3 years of managing a small amount of money that doesn't cover your costs. And pray you don't have a large drawdown and have to watch that fast fund-of-fund money disappear.

She really lost me with the stuff about raising $200m - I'm sorry, but that's very, very, very unlikely to happen with an unproven manager with no track record - unless her family name is so strong she could just ride on that. But even given that, I don't know anybody that is giving out $200m to a 25 year old who hasn't run money before. Maybe that happened 5 years ago - I don't think that is happening now.

Lastly - I think it is an interesting idea to audit shipping records to decide on a position (macro I'm assuming), but there was also no discussion of whether she had even tested this and if it even worked.

Like an earlier poster, I frankly found this post insulting.

I am a 20-ish year old and despite "what I do" has been done before, the "way I do it" never has -- and that is plenty "exciting." There is nothing safe or low-risk about starting a hedge fund.

I get your point about "having more meaning" -- but I'd argue that is true for any business endeavor, not just tech startups. If what I was doing didn't have truly personal meaning for me, there is no way I could stomach the stress.

Maybe I'm overly sensitive because the article seemed to compare the easy hedge fund life to the tough tech start-up life, which I think is a gross over exaggeration in the divergent profile: I believe that they are tremendously similar.

I think you're reading into it too much, and you're taking it too far away from the context between Dad and Daughter. This is, and will be, their own personal experiences. For some starting a hedge fund can be seen as high-risk, when for someone that has run one for years (Dad's case) or for someone that's been around one for years (Daughter's case) it can be seen as low-risk.

If Dad was an MD he would've said don't become a surgeon, do research and try to change current procedures. At least that's my take on the blog.

As I said, I am likely over-sensitive to these issues; finance isn't exactly the most well-respected industry at the moment.

Couldn't agree with this more...

The author, rightly, makes the point that finance, like most things, is primarily about trust. But that's about the most interesting thing in the article.

Capital introductions are hard, and everyone wants to cosy up to someone looking for a 'home' for their excess millions. It's an environment where a couple of dudes/dudettes with laptops and an idea might have a potentially successful hedge-fund idea but lack the credibility and track record to make the risk worthwhile for a potential investor. The investor could lose a lot of money very quickly if your idea is wrong. The chances are, that if your idea is 'right' they'll listen to you explain it (because you really will need to explain it in depth) and then go and find someone who they do trust to implement it for them.

My point is that, it would be very hard for me to gain sufficient trust from prospective investors to raise $200m because I don't have any contacts or access to the necessary capital.

However, the daughter of a financial advisor for high-net worth individuals is playing a very different game to me. She very well might easily be able to do, what I easily can not. So, for me at least, there's nothing of interest in this article. I'm pleased for Elle to be in such a great position and wish her well.

Thanks for the kind wishes. I think what I (the OP) failed to convey in my post is that going into finance, given my background, would have been the easy way out for me. Having someone tell me "oh you could totally do X" when I thought X was this crazy out of reach thing, made me re-evaluate whether other things I had put on the crazy shelf were do-able, too. Like founding a startup.

Yes, that makes more sense. In which case it feels like the point of the post is more to do with following your own path before accepting the path that is 'mapped' out?

Perhaps you actually say this in the post somewhere, but it I don't recall seeing it. IMHO it would make an interesting article if you emphasised that point more.

In my experience there is something to be said for NOT always following the money but following the 'fun'. More than once the 'fun' turned out to be surprisingly lucrative after all ... :)

Absolutely agree, and happily that has been the case for me too! I think there is a lot more I could say about not following the path, I have been very contrarian and given the people who love me a lot of extra gray hairs. I think it was pretty nuanced in the post, I'm trying this more conversational style with dialogue.

I'm beginning to come to this realization myself - having balls is one of the most important factors of having success (no matter what success means to you, whether it's social, financial or something else).

If you don't have the balls to do the things necessary to archive the things you want, with all your energy and will behind it, you simply won't archive it.

Most people doesn't even try to do the things they fear, just a small minority does. Of the small minority just a few tries with everything they have, most of them unfortunately holds back because of their fear of failure. A fear of failure is preventing them from giving it everything they've got.

its not always fear of failure. Sometimes you have to pragmatic too. For instance, doing a startup in Bay area with a family is not practical for a lot of people, especially given the current rental/living expenses.

doing a startup in Bay area with a family is not practical for a lot of people, especially given the current rental/living expenses.

That's still fear of failure, only in that case, the fear may be well founded. If they fail, they cannot feed their family, so they are afraid of failing and probably for good reason.

It's not fear of failure. It's possible that there are people who couldn't do a startup even if guaranteed 100% chance of success in 10 years due to the stress/lack of money in the mean time.

IMO the calculation in that situation is risk of ruin.

The higher your financial obligations are, the more weight the ruin side of the equation holds.

Are you saying people should not be afraid of failure?

For me, this story was most interesting because it demonstrates the impact of social class in America, something that's rarely discussed. Try to picture the same story if the author's father was a millwright or a construction worker.

Not at all a criticism of the author - we absolutely should work with the advantages we're given!

Same here, very interesting read. My only minor criticism is that it seems a little insensitive or dishonest when every well-to-do family calls themselves "upper middle class." So you can manage billions in assets and still be middle class? I call people on it when this comes up and find that they either see it as a social faux-paux to call oneself upper class, or the subjective threshold to be considered upper class is ridiculously high at 0.1% or whatever. Sorry, when your father manages billions there's no middle. Just a minor quibble because, for being upper class, Danielle is refreshingly honest and open about her background. I greatly appreciate that.

This might sound uncouth but that's the dad I wish I'd had.

I was thinking the same. My dad died when I was 2 years old and reading this makes me realize that I never had the sort of guidance through life Danielle seem to have had.

So, I'm sitting here sipping my first coffee of the day and have a huge feeling of being directionless. Maybe the blog post was "drivel" to some here, but not to me.

I felt very very similar to you.

My own dad died when I was 8, so while he was around for some of my life, I was still much too young to get the guidance that I wish I'd got. On the other hand, I'm not doing too bad now, but sometimes I wonder if maybe I would be doing better if I had someone like that helping me. Then again, I don't really know what kind of dad he would have been as I got older - and he certainly wasn't anything fancy like a financial adviser, so I don't know what kind of advice or guidance I would have had - but I like to think it would have been beneficial. Sigh.

If we could only choose this :)... Anyway, sounds like a matter of family culture. Her dad was already running the family business, maybe motivated by his dad before him. This is some of the best advice a parent can give, IMHO.

[edit: 'His' changed to 'her'. Sorry for that]

her* I think.

Yes, it was written by Danielle Morrill.

I love my dad, but, agreed.

I wouldn't go as far as saying that but reading this post did make me wonder what advice of that kind my dad ever gave me, if any.

I really liked this article. More generally, I think deliberately choosing to do the "hard" things first (whatever that means to you as an individual) has served me well in life. I wish I did it more often.

At a former company, in a large group setting, I was asked to identify what I thought was the biggest roadblock to the company's success. I hesitated to comment because I knew my answer would be controversial. But, taking the bull by the horns, I answered, "Fear." I felt (still do) that when people are nervous about their careers or how they will be perceived, then they tend to censor themselves, sometimes without even realizing it. If the company took a deliberate approach to making the company a safe place (safe to disagree, safe to take risks, etc) then it would be a major benefit and help improve both morale and performance.

The CEO immediately disagreed. She didn't like the idea that any of her employees (200+) might be feeling some form of fear. Trying to address an issue like that is hard because it implies that high-ranking employees and "leadership" types were acting in a way that caused fear. It didn't even have to be deliberate or conscious. She would've had to do a lot of soul-searching, a lot of questioning the actions of her direct reports, many of whom were friends, and a lot of listening to frustrated employees.

I think it's pretty common to avoid hard things. So I try to tackle the hard things first. I think I learn more and it gets me out of my comfort zone. And the benefits are normally much greater too.

    creating a hedge fund, or any kind of fund, was something i should be thinking about in my 40s or 50s when I wanted a more traditional role in finance with a lower risk/reward profile.
Many of the more prolific hedge funds were started by people much earlier in life. David Einhorn, for example, started his fund at 28.

I hate to be that guy bitching without offering any constructive criticism, but this was painful to read. At least I had the courtesy to stick it through to the end to be sure before I posted this. We deserve better than this drivel at the top of HN.

Okay. I'm just telling my stories, I'm not entitled to the #1 spot and I'm not canvasing votes (ok, I asked my husband to vote). If a couple of people read this and got fired up to have some balls and take some risk, that's good enough for me.

For what it's worth, I loved your post too. It reminded me of chats with my advisor. I'd walk in thinking "who the hell am I to push the boundaries of human knowledge?" and walk out excited to get back to work.

We're not meant to post comments like this on HN, but I also enjoyed the post, so please continue to write and post stuff like this.

One of the strengths of HN's ranking system appears to be that story downvotes are pretty limited, so that stories that appeal to just 10% of readers can be aired too - don't take it to heart.

Hey, ya know what? I loved the post. It's exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you!

Well, at least you're straightforward that this is your storytelling time. I come to HN for the increasingly rare high signal:noise ratio content and discussion. Given that I don't think HN is the proper medium for this kind of expression.

I read more of your blog and see that you think these are 'troll posts'. They're not.

I don't think you are trolling, I just can't control what makes it to the front page or not. Clearly this resonated with some people. I am not sure why my story as a startup founder isn't the right kind of stuff for HN, I've been a part of this community for a long time and posted a broad range of stuff from code to news to marketing advice and on and on... I'm not trying to fit the mold, I'm just sharing my experiences and its way to late for me to get apologetic about it

I really respect your attitude towards the haters. I love learning things from you Danielle, keep it up.

keep it going. The underlying message of the post was spot on for founders, young people, future risk takers alike. may not hit every demo' but it worked for me. thanks.

To me it wasn't painful at all. Compared to a lot of other crap that makes it onto the front page of HN I personally liked this story.

Also, not everyone who shares their stories and advice must and can be a great writer. The idea behind the story is what counts. Of course, if a story is also entertaining to read that's a bonus.

"Painful to read" is a valid comment - because it's expressing what you felt. "Drivel", you could have saved because it turns the tone of your comment into something much more mean-spirited.

If you feel that way the right thing to do is to say nothing.

But then who would know of weasel's disapproval?

J/k, I am sorry for revealing myself as an ass. I'll bite my tongue next time, or at least attempt to offer something of value.

I wish I could put this at the top of all comment systems.

DAMN dmor for placing it right at the top of HN! If only there was some way for things the larger community thought were useful/good to be on the top, instead of dmor just being able to put whatever she feels like up there. Maybe then we'd all get what we 'deserve' rather than dmor just forcing this drivel down our collective throats whenever she feels like it. :/

>"I hate to be that guy bitching without offering any constructive criticism,..." No you don't. You love being that guy. If you hated being that guy, you could have, you know, written something constructive.

FWIW if this article is "drivel" then HN must have really high standards.

Well, don't be then. I didn't find it painful to read. Why did you?

I can't speak for WiseWeasel, but for me the spelling errors made some sentences hard to parse on first read. A bit of proofreading would have caught the worst of it, like these:

"My wonderful friend David Weekly probably remembers me angsting in his kitchen over whether or pursue this idea vs. what ultimately became Referly."

"I pondered him comments though"

Sorry about the typos, I have fixed most of them and I am still reviewing. I was very close to chickening out and not publishing this at all, so I went for it before it was perfect. I wanted to get past the point of no return. Not a great excuse but it is the truth. I'm sorry you had to struggle through the unpolished version

I'm sorry I was an asshole.

Please don't hesitate to submit on account of jerks like me in the future. Not to rationalize my behavior, but I do think the typos were a large part of what gave me a bad impression, inclining me to question whether it was up to the site's standards. Proof-reading carefully before submitting to HN might have made a big difference to my reaction.

That said, I am embarrassed by how much of a dick I was, and that certain other people voted me up (you know who you are). I could never have said something that mean to your face, which makes me a coward as well. Let that be a lesson to the kids out there; don't post mean, stupid comments at 1AM (or any other time)!

You must not be aware of the new rules here. At least 1 post from the Svbtle network must make it to the top of HN per week. That said, I enjoyed the post. It highlights something I missed out on growing up and serves as a reminder for me to pass these lessons on.

Some people are extremely competent but are risk averse, so they don't take the risk that's necessary for success. Others are risk tolerant but are not very capable, so they are unlikely to succeed despite taking the risk. The trick is to be in both groups simultaneously. So if you know in your heart of hearts that you are competent, then it is worth taking the risk.

successful trader:analyst with clever idea::successful founder:wantrepreneur

Cool read and all but I work at a hedge fund that is currently raising capital... It's nice that our parents always overestimate us

Yeah, seriously! You could say its the upside of entitlement, since not believing something isn't for you frees you to go after all sorts of crazy things.

There's a lot to write on that subject. Good luck with your raise!

Where does that really cool Kudos widget come from on distributionhacks.com?

Its a part of all blogs on svbtle.com

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