A Twitter Executive's Philosophy on Entrepreneurship
May 10, 2016
“Real founders are driven by purpose,” remarks entrepreneur and angel investor Wayne Chang. “All the other [motives], including the money itself, are byproducts of this purpose. " A former UMass Amherst student (2002-2005) who portioned his coursework between computing and Isenberg, Wayne—now age 32—has excelled in multiple roles as a founder-entrepreneur.
Most recently (2011), he cofounded Crashlytics, a provider of software that detects and reports crashes for iOS and Android mobile apps during and after their development. Less than two years after its debut, the venture was reportedly acquired by Twitter for over $100 million (revalued at $259.5 million after Twitter’s IPO) and Wayne joined Twitter where he is currently the Director of Product Strategy.
Painkiller vs Vitamin
Wayne’s philosophy of investing in himself and others looks for ventures with compelling seller’s markets. “I’m not interested in “vitamins”—products and ideas which at some point, way down the road, will yield positive returns. They, he says, “require extensive marketing collateral, lots of convincing, resulting in huge sales cycles.” “Instead, I look for ‘painkillers’—products that customers themselves actively seek out because they feel a pain. And because they feel this pain, they actively seek out the painkiller — they want the relief. Right now.”
Wayne notes that many of his investment decisions are driven by instinct. But he invariably subjects those ideas to multiple tests. One of his preliminary inquiries for Crashlytics, for example, was to phone one of his friends that ran a major app. He revealed that his company paid over $100K a year salary to someone to read app store reviews to try to figure out the issue. “What if you had a tool that would tell you the exact line of code that caused the crash?” asked Chang. “We’d sign up yesterday,” was the response.
Over the past decade and a half, Wayne has repeatedly demonstrated an uncanny knack for zeroing in on smart practices in the evolution of cyber markets. “With Napster it was file sharing; with i2Hub and ConnectU it was social networking; with Dropbox it was the cloud; and with Crashlytics and Twitter it was mobile,” he explains. “I was lucky to be at the cusp of those things,” he muses. “You only recognize those ‘eras’ in hindsight.” Still, his insider’s grasp of the cyber waterfront, his keen sense of customer needs and wants, and his creative approach to due diligence account for results that transcend mere chance.
A Dorm-launched Business
In 2003 and 2004, i2hub, which Wayne hatched in his UMass dorm room, became his chief obsession. Given its breakneck pace of development and its principal competitor—Facebook—Wayne’s business activities soon eclipsed academics. Considering his experience and precociousness with computers—he wrote his first program on the Apple IIe at age 7, created his cyber-driven business at age 11, and was a member of Napster’s team at age 16—“computer classes at UMass didn’t make much sense for me,” he recalls.
Born in Taiwan, Wayne came to the U.S. at age six, when his parents sent him to live with his grandmother in Bradford, 35 miles northwest of Boston. Living in connected townhouses with uncles, aunts, and cousins, Wayne—who devoured computers in grammar school—was always the outsider. “I wasn’t into sports. They didn’t understand and always made it clear to me that I wasn’t one of their kids,” he recalls. Being an outsider, he remarks, wasn’t gratifying, but it did help fuel the independent insights and self-reliance that contributed to his success as a founder-entrepreneur.
While UMass classes in computing offered little that was new, Wayne did find value in an entrepreneurship seminar with Isenberg’s Jim Theroux and in classes in accounting and finance. His relationship with Theroux—a former entrepreneur—resonated deeply, with the Isenberg professor becoming a willing mentor. But in the end, Wayne ran out of time in the face of accelerating business demands. “I left before getting a degree knowing that UMass would be there for a very long time should I decide to return,” he recalls.
Reconnecting and Inspiring
“Wayne may be our [UMass Amherst’s] answer to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg,” observes Birton Cowden, Associate Director of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, the Isenberg-based initiative that fosters entrepreneurship across the UMass Amherst campus. His reconnection with UMass came through the campus’s Entrepreneurship Club, whose members invited him back to Amherst in the spring of 2015. On that visit, his personal narratives and insights energized the students. This spring, Wayne returned to campus to continue conversations with students and to receive an honorary doctorate at graduation. It was a most public recognition of a self-made graduate and his passion for entrepreneurship.