Learning to learn is an immensely valuable skill, and everyone picks it up differently. Some of us “learn to learn” in the classroom, taking on complex mathematical equations. Others thrive best in physical challenges, picking up the mental toughness it takes to overcome adversity.
This interview with David illustrates the idea that you can learn anywhere, from anyone, so long as you are willing to work hard and have an optimistic attitude.
Hey David! Thanks for taking the time to share on Student Hustle.
Introduce yourself! Tell us about where you go to school, where you have worked, and what you are up to nowadays.
I’m David Ongchoco, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Cognitive Science & Computer Science. I was born and raised in the Philippines before coming to the US for college. Previously, I’ve worked in a stock brokerage in the Philippines, a startup accelerator in Singapore, Uber Philippines, various media publications and in a student-run VC firm called Dorm Room Fund. In the past 3 years, I’ve also spent a good amount of time working on a nonprofit I started back in the Philippines called YouthHack. Since starting YouthHack, we’ve scaled the organization to over 8 countries.
Today, I’m focused on making sure YouthHack becomes a sustainable organization, helping student founders through Dorm Room Fund and finally, working on bridging the US and the Philippines through my new startup.
You’re originally from the Philippines. How has the transition been to the US? What have you learned about the culture here that surprised you and how do you think having your unique perspective has helped drive how you look at things?
The transition to the US was surprisingly not that difficult. While it was initially a bit challenging during my freshman year trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my time, I’ve personally enjoyed the freedom that US colleges give students. Although I was initially surprised by the very open and straight-forward culture, I’ve gotten use to it and have learned how to speak up when necessary as well.
What I really like about the US is that a lot of people aren’t afraid to dream big and there is this inspiring sense of optimism especially in places like San Francisco. Coming from the Philippines has given me a unique perspective in that I have a much better appreciation for all the advancement here in the US. I’m also able to think from a more global perspective and see how potential solutions here in the US can be brought to the Philippines and vice versa.
What do you study in school? Have any classes been helpful in the real world? If not, where did you learn what has been most helpful at work?
I study Cognitive Science & Computer Science but I’ve also dabbled in classes across 20 different departments. Being exposed to various subject matter and ways of thinking has really helped me in the real world. For example, there was one semester where I took 3 fine arts classes and those 3 fine arts classes really taught me a lot about design, white space and photoshop. Another example would be the psychology classes that I took that really helped me gain a better understanding on what motivates people and what makes people tick. Finally, I think all the harder technical computer science classes taught me how to think and how to approach problems from various angles.
Most of what I’ve learned that is most helpful at work has come from working on various side projects
Having said all that, most of what I’ve learned that is most helpful at work has come from working on various side projects and building YouthHack from scratch. I’ve learned a great deal from working with various team members from all over the world. I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you then learning from them.
I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you then learning from them.
What has been the biggest misconception about going to an Ivy League School? What are the disadvantages of going to Penn?
The biggest misconception I had about going to an Ivy League School is that the classes aren’t really what makes a school great. Classes are still classes, and most smart people I know are smart not because of the quality of the classes but because of their inner drive and curiosity. I’ve realized that what makes an Ivy League School unique is the people you’re surrounded with. I’ve personally learned so much more from my peers than from any class I’ve taken at Penn.
There’s a very strong pressure to follow what everyone else is doing and to lose yourself in that process.
In terms of disadvantages of going to Penn, I would say that sometimes there’s a very strong pressure to follow what everyone else is doing and to lose yourself in that process.
How did you get involved in Venture Capital while at school? How has the experience been and would you recommend it to other people? What have you learned thus far?
Before coming to Penn, I read a lot about the startup scene and came across Dorm Room Fund. I remember reaching out to one of the first founders they funded and grabbing coffee with him when I visited Penn before my freshman year. From there, I jumped into the startup scene during my freshman year and eventually applied to Dorm Room Fund and fortunately got in during the spring semester of my sophomore year.
Being part of Dorm Room Fund has definitely been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at Penn. I personally enjoy working with founders and helping them turn their vision into a reality. I would highly recommend it to students who want to help empower student founders and who want to learn more about what it means to be a venture capital investor.
In terms of lessons, I’ve learned a lot from just seeing how our older MBA team members evaluate startups and at the same time, I’ve also learned the importance of perspective and why having a diverse team is important in making good investments. Finally, I’ve learned that the value of a VC isn’t only in the money we provide but in being the biggest cheerleaders for these student founders who are trying to disrupt huge industries.
What was it like working at Uber in Manila? How has it compared to startup life here in the US?
Working at Uber Manila as an analytics intern was a really great learning experience. I really enjoyed working on hard problems, using data to drive decisions and working with really inspiring co-workers and co-interns (You can read more about the lessons I learned here). I would highly recommend that students consider joining a rocketship like Uber when optimizing for growth and learning.
I think Uber Manila was very unique in that we had a 15 person city team in the Philippines (when I interned there) that had the support and resources of a billion dollar tech company. This gave me the best of both worlds and allowed me to move fast while still getting a lot of support so it’s tough to compare it to any experience I’ve had in the US so far.
Talk about building your personal brand. Where to start?
I think there are three important things when it comes to building your personal brand: First is picking a niche that you want to operate in and be known for. Second is being consistent because it takes a long time to build a personal brand. Third is relentlessly going after every opportunity especially early on.
Starting a blog in the certain niche you’re interested in is a great way to get started with building your personal brand.
In terms of concrete action steps, building your online presence by starting a blog in the certain niche you’re interested in is a great way to get started with building your personal brand.
You also used to do a lot of writing. Can you share how you got started, what you learned through the process and why you don’t write as frequently anymore?
I got started back in high school after I tore my ACL and suddenly couldn’t play basketball and as a result had so much free time. I started out with a personal WordPress blog that eventually evolved into me contributing for various media publications and writing about startups, technology and entrepreneurship.
Everyone has a unique story, you just have to ask the right questions to get it out of them.
I learned the importance of telling a good story and how everyone has a unique story, you just have to ask the right questions to get it out of them.
I don’t write as frequently anymore because I’ve chosen to focus on making sure that YouthHack is sustainable after I graduate and on the new startup idea I’m working on where our goal is to connect the US with the rest of the world starting with the Philippines.
Where can people find you and what opportunities are you looking for? (Twitter, linkedin, personal site, medium, etc).
If you’re interested in learning more about YouthHack, getting involved or talking about your startup idea, feel free to shoot me a message at: david [at] youthhack.net
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