Yao Huang
I for Innovation
TEDxSanDiego 2015

Five years from now is not that long. Yet at the current pace of technology, the world we live in will be a very different place. We already have watches that can pay the bills; cars that drive themselves, fly even; machines that can win game shows.

A few friends of mine, these are investor friends, were sitting around, drinking and complaining about how hard it was to make a return on early-stage startup investments.

I thought to myself, “Why do we have to keep doing it the same way then? Can we change the way we build, fund and grow companies?” That’s what I did.

I found a way to de-risk startup investments, to get these things built very quickly, out of the gate, three to five years, a way for early-stage founders to be able to take ideas and make them reality and turn it into a repeatable platform.

A few years ago, the word “innovation” came to me. I did a very similar talk and people thought, “Wow! What a big word. It seems almost unreachable.”

The future lies in every single one of you and the creative minds that you have. However, it requires each of you to be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone into a world of possibilities, stepping away from where you’re taught to sit and stand and not think.

Don’t be scared. You can do it. You can absolutely do this. It is not the big ridiculous ideas of inventing a new iPhone tomorrow. It is the right in front of your face, simple idea. It starts with what you want to do. The future is a world where you think about yourself as an individual and define purpose.

More people are aware now and they’re asking more about the work that they do, the thing that sucks up half your life. You better love it.

I want to talk about this company. I’m sure you know about this one. They made their algorithm 10% better and then they categorized these movie categories very specifically, like witty comedies with a strong female lead. Then they went on to make their own movies and television shows. That’s it. It’s not groundbreaking.

Virgin was named one of the most innovative airlines. Guess what they did? They put Wi-Fi in planes, power under your seats, and they made sure you got your bags on time. Lowest lost bag percentage.

That’s it.

Come on. Tell me you could not have come up with this one. This was a joke gone viral. These sold 4 million the first year.

Innovation. This is a country known for creativity and entrepreneurship, with 30 million companies where 80% fail, because they run out of money, they can’t find customers.

Despite all the IPOs and the tech billionaires you see on magazines and television, this process is not working for the masses. The point is that we have to change the definition of success and how we get there. That’s innovation.

I am a byproduct of a stereotypical tiger mom. Like every good little Asian kid, I did what I was told. I went into health care. I got a fancy degree and a big job, made lots of money, and bought everything I was supposed to buy, the car, the house, lots of stuff.

Now what? There’s a growing movement where money is not enough. Society’s definition of success is driven by money and things. This is supposed to make you happy, but it doesn’t, so why do you keep doing it?

Why do you keep chasing the thing that just makes you uncomfortable? What would change your life? Finding purpose? It’s figuring out how to innovate not just products, but driven to what you want to do and create the world that you want to live in.

Happiness is the coming together of pleasure and meaning, now and in the future. When you’re happy, you’re more successful and the whole thing continues as a cycle.

It’s about redefining the success point. How can you measure yourself besides money? How can you do things differently?

The last automobile startup was Chrysler, back in 1925. Then came Tesla. They started with 18 people and none of them had ever built a car before. This was the latest innovation for cars in the last hundred years.

They bundled together a bunch of a lithium ion batteries and brought together Silicon Valley attitude to a Detroit process. This “I can do it! We can fix it!” versus “Yeah, well, that’s just the way it was done. I don’t know how to do anything else.” Different thinking. Think differently.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of this before. It’s a solar bottle bulb. It’s a liter of water. They pour chlorine into it, shake it up, and stick it on top of the roof. It was invented by a mechanic back in 2002 because the power kept on running out in Brazil.

It generates 60 watts of light, like a light bulb. Through a nonprofit movement, it now provides light to a million people, as of this year. Pretty amazing. Innovation.

This 16-year-old kid actually was also a TED speaker. He invented a way to detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer for three cents and five minutes. He just sat there, a high school kid, running hundreds of tests, over and over again, until he found the protein for targeting.

Prior to this, the test that we used to use, which was around for 60 years, took $800, was wrong 30% of the time, and caught most of the things too late. Because of him, now we have something that is cheaper, more sensitive and a lot more available, and hopefully saves some lives.

Many people ask how I got here. I didn’t have a plan for 20 years. I didn’t have a plan for five years. I just did the things I liked, that made me happy, and one thing led to another. A series of opportunities just arose.

Later, I thought about my industry. I said, “There has to be a better way.” So, I did it. Innovation is trying things, doing it fast and surrounding yourself by smart people.

Go with passion. Go with interest. Go solve something that means something to you. Go solve something that matters to lots of people, to the world perhaps. Beat it. It will naturally lead you to the next opportunity.

Now, you’re taking steps to a place where great things can be done. Leave a meaningful footprint behind. You wonder, “How do you do this? This is amazing. So much work.” Start with needs. Solve problems that communities and corporations find meaningful, that matter.

Find a way to make it sustainable. Build it backwards from these needs. Find people around you who will support this. Find customers and teams and then just go build it.

It’s not build it and they’ll come. It’s build something that they want and they’ll come. If you can figure out how to sustain this, meaning generate revenue, everything else will fall into place.

You’ll get support, you’ll get funding, and it becomes very natural. However, it starts with why you are doing this, because making boatloads of money is not going to cut it. It’s not going to push you through the hard times and the tough decisions.

I recommend reading this book, The Hard Things About Hard Things, if you really want to know what hard actually is, how difficult it can be.

This ability to innovate for corporations right now is super needed. At the pace of the markets and technology, this agility is terribly important. This is about how many companies are sold each year in the U.S. Notice that there are not billions of dollars of companies, yet that’s how people think.

There’s been one very popular way of funding this, through venture capital money, which leads to a vicious cycle of needing more venture capital money, which makes plenty of sense- it’s all fine- as long as you can make out with enough of the company for it all to make sense, assuming that it all works out.

It also takes into consideration that you might have a third party or someone else’s vision and desires and needs mixed in.

It’s very rare that I hear the mission of the company to be about “I want to make boatloads of money.” That’s usually not what I hear. I usually hear, “I want to change the world. I want to make the world a better place by…”

I propose a different way about going through this. Is it possible to build a company, create a product and partner with larger corporations and distribution channels, perhaps making smaller boats of money, enough for you, enough of what you need, where all the founders make out in the end? A very different perspective. A different vision.

I’m going to say something that most capitalists would never say. What is enough? Is $10 million enough for you and your kids and your family? Is $50 million? What is enough? How much do you need to be satisfied?

I leave you with this. This is where all the good thinking happens. Think about what you’re good at. Think about what you know. Go find a problem, find some friends and go fix something. Thank you.