Not So Lazy & Entitled Millennials : Tanay Jaipuria

Tanay and I met in the summer of 2016 when I was working at Betaworks and he was working at McKinsey. We connected on Twitter, obviously. At this point, I am considering to rename the title of this interview series to include Twitter somehow.

Tanay is an immigrant from Mumbai, India. If you are an international student or know someone who is, you know the struggle! He currently works as a Product Manager at Facebook in SF.

I am not the type that judges a person’s thinking and potential based off of their resume. When it comes to Tanay, it is difficult to ignore his stellar resume.

Here are the institutions he is an alum of : Columbia, Google, Zynga, Palantir, Mckinsey and Morgan Stanley.

In this conversation, Tanay talks about everything from “follow your passion” advice, consulting as first job, outrage & productivity porn, contrarian versus independent thinking, his analysis of Softbank’s strategy and the tech IPO climate to how he thinks about the “If you don’t pay for the product, you’re the product” narrative, certain mainstream products and the relative positions of China and India on the global tech stage, and much more.

Here we go :

You have consistently succeeded in landing great opportunities in various industries requiring different mindsets and knowledge. How did you navigate your career ever since you were a freshman?

I didn’t have this particular framework in mind when I started, but I think I was roughly following the approach Cal Newport recommends (although I didn’t know it at the time) of building career capital and having a craftsman’s mindset of trying to acquiring skills that are rare and valuable.

One thing I explicitly wasn’t doing was “following my passion” because i) I didn’t know what I was passionate about and ii) I believe that people become passionate about things they get good at if those also come with autonomy and the ability to continue to get better. 8 years on, I’m still “finding my passion”, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the jobs I’ve had.

You have spent short stints at leading companies (Zynga, Google & Morgan Stanley) in various verticals. If you had to boil down your experiences at each to one skill or learning, what would it be?

Morgan Stanley: I learned how to analyse financial statements, which though I haven’t ever needed from a work perspective, I still find useful today.

Zynga: Zynga was my first experience with building products with a data-driven approach. However, the most important lesson from my time there was the understanding of “platform risk” first hand.

Google: Google taught me how to build well-engineered products at scale, and was my first look into the workings of a large company and the politics and bureaucracy that came with it.

I personally do not think consulting is a good way of starting one’s career for most people. You spent two years at a top-tier consulting firm and are obviously doing really well now. Make a case for consulting to someone like me who subscribes to Munger’s or Job’s view of consultants. I don’t think junior consultants have skin in the game (as Taleb would put it) to learn much besides communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills which I believe are very important. One thing to keep in mind is working at McKinsey is a very different story than working at other big second tier or boutique firms.

I don’t think consulting is the right first job for everyone, but I both enjoyed it and learned a lot, and would do it again if I were just graduating. For me, the three most important things I got out of it were:

  1. Being able to take large ambiguous problems and structure them and break them down into smaller problems which could be tackled individually: This came from having to tackle a range of problems (strategy, M&A, operations, diligences, entering new markets) across pretty much every industry in my time there.
  2. Communicating my thoughts clearly in a manner tailored to the audience: This came from having to explain my model in detail to my team so they could critique it but also distill the takeaways to a level for board/CEO-level clients.
  3. Storytelling: This came from having to put together all the qualitative and quantitative insights in a compelling narrative to convince the client why the recommended approach was the right one.

Overall, I feel comfortable to tackle any kind of business problem in any kind of industry and any kind of environment thanks to what I learned, which to me was definitely worth the two years I spent there.

As someone who grew up in Mumbai and has spent a decent amount of time in London, SF and NYC, how have your thoughts on the Indian and Chinese tech ecosystem evolved over the years?

Initially, I believed that both the China and the India tech ecosystem would be based on largely copying US tech, and global innovation was unlikely to come from there. However, as they have evolved, I now see the potential for global innovation from China and India.

I like the framing that innovation in emerging markets happens in 3 stages: first is you copy what works elsewhere, second is you innovate to meet the needs of your local market (i.e., local innovation), and third is you then innovate on a global scale (global innovation). I think the third stage can come in two forms — either someone copies what you did elsewhere, or a local company itself goes global.

I think China has definitely past stage 1 into stage 2, and we’re seeing stage 3 behavior starting to emerge already, with the likes of Xiaomi gaining market share globally, and also ideas that emerged in China starting to make their way to the US (albeit via other companies).

In India today, there is predominantly stage 1 and and some stage 2 behavior. However, stage 3 behavior (innovation on a global scale) is yet to really emerge.

Over the next decade, I expect to see more stage innovation on a global scale coming out of China, including potentially a Chinese company that truly goes global (more likely in hardware than in services given how different that market is in China). Additionally, I also expect some stage 3 behavior to start to emerge from India.

You are a power user of Twitter. Define what it means to you.

There are three ways I get value from twitter:

  • First, I get the majority of my news from twitter, and so at this point it serves as a filter to help determine what I should be paying attention to.
  • Second, it allows me to have conversations with people who are knowledgeable in topics that I care about and further refine my own opinions in those areas.
  • Last, I use it as a way to curate interesting content that come across.

If you could single handedly make one change each to improve the onboarding experience for new users and product experience for power users like us, what would they be?

Twitter to me is all about connecting with others around shared interests. In my opinion, Twitter today focuses too much on getting users to follow popular people, rather than following people that are real people who will have conversations with you in areas you’re interested in.

I would make onboarding more about identifying niche interests (sports and celebrities is way too broad) and recommending the people who tweet about that interest and tend to i) follow people back and ii) have conversations with their followers.

What I would love as a power user a way to tweet something which only some of my followers with see. Broadly, I’m part of tech twitter and football twitter and so have followers that often follow me for one but not the other. I often don’t tweet as much as I would like to because I’m worried about spamming some of my followers that aren’t interested in that topic. This could be through product changes (allowing users to specify what the tweet about and allowing their followers to mark what topics they care about when they follow them) or improved AI over time.

You use Instagram a lot. What do you use it for besides following your friends? How does that usage differ from other apps like Pinterest or Facebook’s core app?

Instagram is both my core social app (posting what I’m up to, seeing what my friends are up to) and one of my core interest apps along with Twitter (for more visual interests such as food, travel and also football). I don’t use Pinterest much and I tend to use Facebook to keep up with a larger set of friends, but Instagram is where I keep up with my closer friends and also keep up with my interests.

I started following you on Twitter around the summer of 2016 because you shared very curated interesting stuff on different topics. When it comes to information curation, I like to curate the curators. Curation is as much about who you follow and what you read as it is about what and who you choose to filter out. What’s your thought process behind how you curate?

Clay Shirky had a quote along the lines of “the problem is filter failure, not information overload”.

In this age where there is so much information available, I agree that its vital to curate properly.

In general I use twitter to receive most of my news in addition to subscribing to a few newsletters.

Newsletters: If I come across a newsletter, I’ll go through a few previous issues and if they look interesting I’ll subscribe. Then, if I find myself finding it useful a few weeks in, I’ll stick to it. If not, I’ll unsubscribe.

Twitter: Overall, I like to follow people in areas of my interest whom i) partake in conversations as opposed to only tweeting ii) have interesting thoughts especially ones that are often against the status quo. In general, I follow people pretty quickly, but I am also quick to unfollow. In general, I try to never unfollow someone just because I disagree with them but I often unfollow people who might be tweeting too much noise/signal based on my interests.

You are an avid reader. What are your thoughts on the general negative connotation around reading “articles”.

I don’t think articles per se are bad, but I do think that it’s easy to get caught in this loop on the internet where you’re reading too much “outrage porn” (usually news) or “productivity porn” (quite a few but not all of the trending articles on Medium fall into this). These either make you annoyed about things out of your control, or make you feel productive while you actually aren’t being productive, which is why I’ve been trying to reduce how much of them I read. Last year, I made a concerted effort to read more books over articles, since I feel like it allows me to be more intentional about what I’m reading (i.e., picking themes to go deep on during the year).

If you were starting your career in 2018, what kind of career opportunities would you be exploring?

I think I might have gone the way of consulting again (I did say I really liked it!). Alternatively, I would be looking at mid-stage companies that are growing very quickly (Flexport, Coinbase, Slack). I think these companies make for a good first job because i) they’re at the size where there is at least bit of structure in place and people to learn from ii) new opportunities are constantly getting created because of the growth which tends to accelerate learning.

What 2–3 things would you say students (not at top tier schools or in tech hubs) looking to break into tech should focus on while they are at school?

  • During school, try to find an internship/opportunity at the “poster-child” tech company in the city/area they are, if it exists.
  • Find a niche within tech that interests you and go deep in that space. Use Twitter to follow and engage with the leaders in it. You don’t have to be in SV to learn from people there.
  • Try to move to where the “action is happening” in the niche you care about in the summer or after school. It’s better to be a small fish in a big pond, especially early on.

You wrote a blog post on Spotify’s S1. You seem to be following the upcoming IPOs of Pivotal, DocuSign and others. The finance geek in me would like to know what your thoughts are on the current state of tech IPOs in the context of Softbank Vision Fund’s buying spree, security token offerings, and launch of bigger funds by traditional VCs.

Softbank is interesting to me, in that they tend to follow two approaches, 1) Invest in as much of a category they can (ridesharing for example), essentially betting on the trend/category rather than a company and 2) More often, betting on the company likely to emerge as a winner in a category, and giving them so much money that it further increases the likelihood they end up as the winner. It’s definitely a very interesting approach that only a fund of their size can do. I think another thing I’ve seen which is interesting is earlier stage/traditional VCs viewing Softbank as an alternative to an IPO as a form of an exit.

As you mentioned, the tech IPO market is seems to be heating up, with a number of the more well known consumer companies like Dropbox and Spotify going public, as well as some valuable SaaS companies. I expect more and more of them to continue to go public now given that the market seems to be more receptive. One thing I’ll be keeping my eye on in particular are the large Chinese decacorns many of which I believe will go public this year or the next (Didi, Meituan, Xiaomi, Ant Financial, Tencent Music Entertainment). It’ll be interesting to see whether they choose HK or the US to list.

On ICOs, I think we are in a bit of a bubble, with a lot of misleading whitepapers or a lot of money being raised for projects which aren’t then worked on. However, when all the froth dies down, I do think we’re left with a pretty interesting funding mechanism, which allows for liquidity from day 1 (more or less) and allows for services to outlive the company and potentially reward early adopters of a service.

What are two or three technologies or trends you are currently exploring or are excited about?

E-commerce for the rest — I’m very curious to see how e-commerce continues to pan out over the next 5 years in South America and Africa and also the rest of Asia sans China/India. India/China are also interesting obviously but a bit more defined at this point (but will be important in serving as the guide to the rest of the world more so than the US in my opinion).

Crypto — As I mentioned earlier, I do believe we’re in bit of a bubble, but this is a real trend that will outlive the bubble. I don’t think there is value in putting any and everything on the blockchain but there is a lot of potential here to create an open financial system.

What are your 2–3 most used apps and make a case for why you probably shouldn’t use them as much.

Twitter, Instagram, Messenger.

Twitter: It is very easy to find something on there to outrage you, especially in the current climate.

Instagram: It is easy to assume that peoples highlights are their daily life and try to compare yourself.

Messenger: It is better to spend time seeing friends in real life than just messaging them.

Are there any apps that you wish had gotten more adoption in last 5 years?

I think Foursquare/Swarm would be the biggest one. In a place as small as SF, knowing where all my friends are at any moment would have probably led to a lot of impromptu hangouts.

I am going to pull a Thiel now. What one thing do you disagree the most on with people in tech ?

There has been a growing backlash against advertising driven business models. I truly believe that advertising is a great business model where both the interests of the users and company is aligned.

It allows things that wouldn’t be accessible otherwise be accessible to billions of people. I think it’s easy to say things like “If you don’t pay for the product, you’re the product”, but the reality is that 2 billion people in the world can access the world’s information, map where they’re going, chat with their friends and family all over the world and list their products for sale to find buyers, all for free, thanks to advertising.

Additionally, since with advertising you only make money if your users continue to use the product, the optimal move is to maximize long-term user engagement. This means that companies relying on this model are incentivized to always do what users want because moves that hurt users, even if they’re good in the short term, will hurting long-term revenue if its leads to users leaving the service.

Are there any topics of hot debate in tech that you think are overblown or misguided?

How ad-tech works for one. The number of people that report about tech or work in tech and not know how how targeted advertising on FB and Google work has been very surprising to me. It blows my mind that people think these companies would sell data because that’s their business model because i) that’s completely wrong and not how targeted advertising works ii) even if these companies only cared about money, selling data is literally the worst way to maximise long-term revenue.

What blogs and newsletters do you follow religiously?

Honestly, I don’t follow too many blogs, usually relying on twitter to surface the good pieces. Some that I do have in my feedly however: Farnam Street, https://thewaiterspad.com/ by Mike Dariano, Abnormal Returns, bakadesuyo.com

Newsletters:

Asia Tech Review

Brain pickings

First Round Review

Social Capital

996 Newsletter

Who are 2–3 interesting, young people in tech I should connect with and possibly interview?

@kevinkwok

@freialobo

Favorite Twitter accounts

Here are 5–7 of my favourites

Product: @jmj

Venture: @rabois, @jess, @conniechan

Journalist: @kantrowitz, @jessicalessi

Founders: @ryan_caldbeck, @mdudas, @laurabehrenswu

What do you think is the “right” attitude to have as someone working in tech in their twenties.

  • Think independently (this is different from being contrarian because the prevailing opinion isn’t necessarily always wrong)
  • Focus on learning over earning (the earning can come later)
  • Be curious
  • Get out of your bubble (Traveling is a great way to do that. Working/living in another country is even better)

To end the interview, I would like to know whether you think the following are overrated, underrated or properly rated :

This is based on my perspective of living in SF and being around people that live here.

NYC tech: underrated

SF tech: properly rated

LA tech: underrated

Investment banking or consulting as first job: properly rated

Blockchain applications in enterprise: properly rated

Undergrad major of study: overrated.

Learning as a habit: underrated

College education (as currently set up): properly rated (i.e, the way it is rated in SF is roughly fair)

Snapchat: overrated

Whatsapp: underrated

Potential of social networks on blockchain: overrated

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Generally a quiet person. Except when I write.

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Sar Haribhakti

Sar Haribhakti

Generally a quiet person. Except when I write.

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