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From Learning to Earning: 7 Questions With Tech Tycoon Emil Michael

DPCM Capital CEO Emil Michael has long been a leader in the fintech world. The former Klout COO and No. 2 at Uber launched his career at Goldman Sachs before diving into Silicon Valley. Michael says he’s learned plenty along the way, including from the late leadership coach Bill Campbell, whose mentees include Steve Jobs and Google co-founder Larry Page. Today, the Egyptian-born businessman and Harvard University and Stanford Law School graduate is paying it forward, doling out business advice on national news interviews and podcasts. Here’s what Emil Michael had to say about the best lesson he’s learned, how philanthropy matters, and why doing business around the world is more vital than ever. 

Q: What are your predictions for technological trends in 2022?

Emil Michael: We are currently experiencing massive volatility in private and public markets for tech companies. Not only are there corrections in the multiples, there is a  mass migration of dollars and people into crypto and blockchain-related tech companies.

Q: What has been the greatest business lesson you’ve learned to date?

Emil Michael: Lean into hard problems, be a problem-seeker.

Q: What keeps you inspired and motivated?

Emil Michael: The optimism of the tech industry always makes me feel like we are just around the corner from the next innovation that could solve a large set of problems. Having a young child, even though I am 49 years old, is totally inspirational.

 Q: Do you have any philanthropic endeavors you’d like to mention?

Emil Michael: I have always been invested in organizations that try to get wrongly convicted people like the Innocence Project exonerated. The American justice system is predicated on the notion that all people are innocent until proven guilty. The worst thing that can happen in such a system is when someone is actually innocent but declared guilty. So when new DNA evidence appears, or the actual perpetrator admits to a crime that someone else took the blame for, we as a society have a responsibility to respond and to respond quickly.

Q: You’ve been deemed one of the “Most Creative People in Marketing” and one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business.” What would you say are some of the most creative things you’ve done in business? 

Emil Michael: My creative bests have always been around partnerships which link companies together in uncommon ways that drive value for everyone involved. You have to throw away the templates for these and start from a fresh sheet of paper. 

 Q: When you were expanding Uber in China, what did you learn doing business there?

Emil Michael: That was a much more optimistic time in U.S. and China relations back in 2015, so we believed winning in China was possible. It also taught me that wanting reliable and affordable transportation was a human need that crossed borders. Finally, I learned that competition from China was going to get more fierce. There was a time when Chinese tech companies copied the business models of U.S. companies, but we were moving into an era where those companies were now inventing things themselves that were going to be competitive on a global scale.

 Q: How have your global business experiences influenced how you do business in the U.S.?

Emil Michael: It has made me encourage young companies to think globally earlier. It has never been easier to be a global business, given the penetration of mobile phones worldwide.

Q: What advice do you most often find yourself sharing with young entrepreneurs?

Emil Michael: I believe in learning by doing a lot more than I did when I was younger, as opposed to learning by credentials. And so what I’d tell young entrepreneurs today is you have to be OK with failure. And if you haven’t failed when you’re starting, when you’re 22 or however old you are, then maybe you’re not trying hard enough. You have to have failed once or twice. And it could be in your own company, this product failed but you learned to get up and move forward. But if you’re not pushing the envelope, someone else is and will have a better chance of out competing you. So you have to be more comfortable with risk. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There are very few entrepreneurs who’ve been successful who have just been lucky all the way through. I don’t know any: not Brian Chesky at Airbnb; Jeff Bezos almost went bankrupt at Amazon. You could go story by story: Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple. Everyone has had their tough moments and…if you can be resilient through them, I think you have a better shot at success.

Q: Who would you say is one to watch right now in finance?

Emil Michael: In finance? I think generally speaking, the companies that are disrupting the banking system, Revolut is one of them. And those are the kinds of companies that are just doing incredible things and bringing banking services to the unbanked, reducing fees, just doing payday stuff that’s not egregious. So people get money faster, same-day pay. And those are the companies that I think are just going to eat up the financial system.