Dean Owen

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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We’re Hiring – Looking for Chess Masters to join startup in Hong Kong.

So I was scanning through a pile of resumes a few weeks ago looking for lucky seven, our seventh employee. As a lean startup, we do not have an HR dept. as yet, and new hires are vetted by the whole team.

Since we are starting to get noticed on the Hong Kong startup scene, the quality of resumes was pretty outstanding.

I try to give each resume the attention they deserve, reading from start to finish and circling with a pen those credentials that looked appealing. With quite a few resumes from The University of Hong Kong, work experience at Ogilvy & Mather and other agencies - This was a great pool to choose from.

Scrolling down, one particular resume I came across had words that stood out like a cactus in a desert.  Under ACTIVITIES was listed:

“Chess Master”

Very soon we got this girl on the phone and arranged a time for her to come in to the office to meet with my co-founder and our Head of Marketing. With me in Shanghai, I would Skype in during the interview.

Being slightly skeptical, I was keen to verify her claim. As it turned out, she was an extremely bright young candidate, albeit a little sheepish. She had indeed placed well in a recent tournament, and had a world ranking in the top 150,000. Although without an official FIDE title, we let it slide and assumed she used the word Master in a generic way.

So my question is this – Would you consider chess as an extremely important credential?

In my two decade long career in finance, I came across a number of chess (and poker players). It is not uncommon that a number of chess Masters have been picked up by Wall St. over the years, and have gone on to lead extremely successful careers as entrepreneurs. To name but a few:

James Altucher – Hedge Fund Manager, Entrepreneur, bestselling author and blogger. Yes, in all likelihood you have read his blogs, but did you know that he was a nationally ranked chess Master.

Peter Thiel – Co-Founder of Paypal and author of a book “Zero to One” which I have read and re-read over and over and lies by my computer right now. He started his career trading derivatives at Credit Suisse, but was also a U.S. chess Master and one of the top ranked under-21 players in the country.

Patrick Wolff – Twice U.S. chess champion hired by Thiel at Clarium Capital and later went on to co-found Grandmaster Capital with a current AUM of around $200 million.

The idea that a chess Master would make a good hire for a startup may sound delusional. Chess players are often introvert, soft spoken intellectuals who may not fit into the demands startups in the 21st Century. Getting the product right is just one part of the equation. In a hugely noisy world, entrepreneurs have to scream to get noticed.

What I like about chess players and where I think they add value is in their analytical mindset. Chess requires the ability to visualize and evaluate different and ever changing scenarios. A good chess player will constantly look at the game from the perspective of their opponent. Too often as entrepreneurs, we brashly think that if we build it, they will come. With 90% of startups destined to fail, this is clearly not the case. From my perspective, the traits in a chess player mirror precisely the rocky road of entrepreneurship:

Planning, Assessment, Validation, Pattern recognition, Pivot, Iteration, Product Market Fit  -  does this not sum up a game of chess?

Incidentally, it was unanimously agreed we hire the girl. Unfortunately she responded just now that she had been offered a middle-office position at a U.S. Investment bank. Go figure.

Dean Owen is a Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment

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Dean Owen

5 years ago #1

I can imagine Brian McKenzie, Russia has the highest number of Grand Masters by far, with Germany and Ukraine 2nd and 3rd. Not had much dealings with Russians, but 9 years in China drinking Baijiu over business has built up a certain amount of immunity.

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