Today we are talking to Mok Oh, the CTO at Mercari. And we discuss going beyond engineering to understand the “Why”, optimizing your relationship with your Venture Capital partners and the differences between a good engineer and a great engineer.
All of this, right here, right now, on the Modern CTO Podcast!
Dr. Mok Oh, Ph.D. serves as CTO at Mercari, Inc. Dr. Oh is an Entrepreneur in Residence at North Bridge Venture Partners. Dr. Oh is head-down on a new startup at North Bridge. Dr. Oh has been involved in building technology products, startups and businesses that help connect and digitize the offline and online worlds for over a couple of decades. Dr. Oh served as the Chief Scientist at PayPal, Inc., since April 2011, where he contributed to ongoing data and product innovations by building and leading the PayPal Data Science teams, big data and data science vision and strategies, and cutting-edge capabilities for multitude of current and future use cases for PayPal’s customers, both consumers and merchants.
Dr. Oh was involved in a variety of highly successful entrepreneurial ventures including EveryScape and Where. He served as Chief Innovation Officer of PayPal Media Network since February 15, 2011. He oversaw the development of the “Atlas Project”. Dr. Oh founded EveryScape Inc. in 2002 and served as its Chief Technology Officer. He has over 15 years of experience in software development and R&D, and is responsible for product development, functioning as software architect, visionary, and leading intellectual property development. He worked for Accenture plc as an Information Systems Analyst.
He serves as Member of Board of Advisors at AdMobilize LLC. He served as a Director of Everyscape. His research and development further spans into Web 2.0 technologies, 3D modeling and rendering algorithms, interactive tools, and photography. He is an invited speaker at multiple venues, such as MIT Lecture Series, Harvard School of Architecture, O’Reilly Where 2.0 Conference and Web 2.0 Summit, DEMO Conference (DEMOgod Winner), and internationally in various universities in South Korea and in the Asia-Pacific Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference. Dr. Oh holds a Ph.D. in Computer Graphics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Masters of Science and Engineering degree in Computer Information Sciences from University of Pennsylvania, and multiple Bachelor of Arts degrees in Computer Science, Art History and Studio Art from Oberlin College.
- Amazing career – Looks like that on paper – lots of ups and down
- Started at PayPal through an acquisition in early 2010-2011 was at Where? Location based services. GPS wasn’t embedded into every day lives at the time
- Being in the arena of Venture Capital – That’s what’s fun. It’s hard to be a coach without playing. Add value every day and you have to be in it every day. Sometimes you have to be patient.
- More influence than action. Started a company called Mojo Labs in the social space. Huge Learning experience. Get to learn more about yourself. Learn the most in those time
- It’s hard to raise capital. Mining for Oxygen. Have to breathe and get to the next level. Finding the right investors as partners is a very important piece. Relationships. Doors they can open. Magical things they have stacked up. Less Money but more about the relationship.
- Tools of the trade that you might need.
- Optimizing your relationship with your VC Partner
- You have to be proactive about reaching out, communicating, asking for help
- Leadership and how you run your teams. No single formula works. Every interaction is different. Having a strong opinion helps. Andreessen Horowitz. Meetings are with Strong opinions loosely held. Have a strong stance is a good place to start. Loosely held is a good part too.
- Asking the right questions. Too many topics to know the answer
- Times you want to get stuff done. How do we get there faster. They are at wartime currently. Make sure you can lead to get ahead in wartime. Have to work hard and smart.
- People who have the grit ultimately wins out. Tons of people who are smart. What differentiates winners is the people who have the grit and can go in every day and grind it out.
- How do you take the next step as an individual contributor? Expand your horizons. Knowing and having subject matter expertise helps. Winning over trust helps. Tells engineering team to expand. Go beyond engineering. You own the code. You have to go upstream talk to Project managers to understand why. What is the key result for the company you want to achieve. Be the project manager. Ask why. Swim downstream in a sense. You own the bug. Be responsible and accountable. Cross Functional Excellence.
- Don’t put yourself in to one box. Don’t be just ios or android. Expand in to other places too. Their Front end engineers also delve in to apis so they can be more well rounded. Expanding your IC bubble. Popping your IC Bubble.
- Company started all in japan at first. US started about a year after Japan. Over 100m downloads. It was an offensive strategy. If they were successful in japan they need to be successful elsewhere. US is ran as a whole owned sub of Mercari HD
- Initially there was a harder learning curve because the code base was built up over time and the comments were in Japanese. Have engineers in Boston and japan.
- How clean is the Japanese code?
- Need to embrace PHP because it brought them this far.
- Are you a good engineer or a great engineer? In order to be great you need to be able to understand why they are doing things.
- Lots of people are attracted to the shiny new object. How do they continue to sharpen and shine the current object. Code wise it’s surprising how well it has been done and how forward looking it is.
- Have about 50 engineers at current location. Have offices in palo alto Boston Portland and Tokyo
- Hiring of course. Fortunate to join a company that had very strong product management. Excellence was on the mobile side and the backend. Constantly trying to grow iOS and Android. Sees next step function of growth coming from Data and ML. How do they automate and scale and how they move faster.
- Modules to Models.
- Different thinking for QA and Product Managers. Trying to expand so it becomes prevalent.
- App is called Mercari. It’s a selling app. A lot of e-commerce providers are optimized for buyers. Trying to flip it around. How do you make selling easier than buying?
- Launched a partnership with UPS pak and ship
- Joined last may but when he looks at the history and the rise, it’s a magical ride. First Unicorn to come out of japan.
- Loves the Mercari Culture. That was the deal maker for him. So smart, dedicated, still feels like a small startup. Weekly deployment schedule, can go faster if need to. Continuous deployment on the backend. Doesn’t ever want to leave.