Tiffany Zhong

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Tiffany Zhong spoke with Khe Hy about Gen Z.

Our X Y Z generation demarcation marks our technological revolution. Past transitions like the industrial revolution, Ford’s assembly line, and the shipping container were specifically somewhere. Today the change could be everywhere. Breaking Smart explains this nicely.

Zhong grew up in San Francisco. She had a Blackberry at fifteen and spent a lot of time on Facebook. One day her dad asked why she wasn’t creating something herself, instead of consuming it from someone else. This was Zhong’s see-it-to-believe-it-moment.

“I was like, Wow, there are people behind these platforms that I’m using. There are designers and engineers and product people and CEOs and founders and I could get access to them if I tried hard enough.”

That question “led me to using Twitter.” Zhong didn’t think of emailing people when she could tweet at them. She asked questions. She replied. She learned.

During Brian Koppelman’s press tour for Billions, many interviewers are surprised that billionaires will open up to Koppelman. Well, Koppelman replies, who doesn’t want to be understood? Zhong had the same experience.

Tiffany shifted from just adding questions to adding value.

“I changed my tagline to, would you be up for grabbing a coffee and in exchange, I’ll give you my perspective on anything consumer related from a real teens point of view…That’s how I got my foot in the door, they didn’t really know any teens.”

They didn’t really know ____ is the seed for a startup surprise. Sarah Tavel with Pinterest, Katrina Lake with Stitch Fix, and Brian Chesky with Airbnb are all examples of venture capitalist ignorance.

Twitter helped, Zhong explained, because “Twitter taught me a lot about emotional intelligence and talking to people.” Just not overnight. “It took me five years to get me to where I am today.” Five years of work is a good reflection point. Stratechery, for example, just turned five. Brainpickings is older and wiser:

Screen Shot 2018-04-12 at 6.25.59 AM.png

When not on Twitter, Zhong worked at Product Hunt. “I was at Product Hunt when I was sixteen, this was in high school…Senior year of high school I was working basically full-time hours at Product Hunt.” What kind of skills does a high schooler have?

 “I didn’t have a strong network back then but I did have my perspective and I was willing to work hard and spend time on janky early apps and give feedbacks to founders.”

Tiffany’s experience reminded me of the Douglas Adams quote, why are there still sharks in the ocean, because nothing is better at being a shark than a shark. What’s your competitive advantage? You.

“I did not have any other skills other than knowing how to tweet and being Gen Z.”

After a year with a VC firm Tiffany heads to UC Berkeley. This part made me laugh:

TZ: “I wanted to build things rather than spend all my time meeting founders and investing in things.”
KH: “So you went to college because it was going to give you free time to work on projects?”
TZ: “Basically.”

But college didn’t work out. Rather than advising her peers to also drop out, Zhong said, “I don’t think everyone should drop out. There’s a lot more to that. What will you be doing instead and who will you be doing it with?”

Ben Carlson wondered, is college worth the cost?. While I advocate for the DIY MBA it’s been reading Annie Dukes Thinking in Bets that’s made me think less in buttons and more in dials.

That means going from A or B to, How can I tune this? I talked to high school students and some of them stream college courses at high school. Those kids are planning on 18 months at an Ohio State satellite campus and then two years at the main campus. The best education seems to be a cycle of finding and solving problems.

Zhong said, “The only skill you need is to be able to think creatively and use your resources well. You don’t need to know how to code…If you can write and sell you can get very far in life.” This echoes Seth Godin‘s advice to teach people how to ask interesting questions and solve problems.

All this has led to Zebra Intelligence. “Everything around Gen Z basically.” Zhong, like authors such as Andy Weir and Steven Kotler, formed a project around questions people asked her.

What is Zebra Intelligence?

“We help teach high school and college students things that they need to know but that they don’t learn; how to talk to adults, how to cold email, how to do double-opt-in intros, how to work with adults to create a product scope.”

Why is this important?

“Anyone who does stuff in product, design, engineering, or wants to start their own company should know how to talk to and interview users or potential users…Being able to talk to people in an unbiased manner is crucial.”

One theme of failed startups was not asking critical questions to unbiased users. You can’t ask your mom if a product is great because your mom will answer about you, not the product.

Understand what job your customer is hiring for. IDEO, Tariq Farid, and Susan Tynan have all proved how important this is. Zhong is proving it too.

 

Thanks for reading. I’m mikedariano.

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