March 18, 2020
Appearing exactly 10 mins before our scheduled interview, Daniel Liebau, founder of Lightbulb Capital enters our office with purpose.
The former COO, board member and Executive Director of HSBC Securities (Singapore) is known to run a tight ship. Reminding us that it stems from his German heritage, Dan takes us through what a typical day in his life is like. From 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening, every hour is dedicated to an activity.
Starting his day precisely at 7am, Dan hits the gym by 8am to get in an hour of spin. 1.30pm to 2.30pm is reserved specifically for him to attend to his emails, while 4 to 5pm is an allocated slot for meetings. All other hours are set aside to conduct research and study on his current area of focus. “I have lunch from 12 to 1pm, but never alone. I like to use this time to interact with and learn from others. This is also great for expanding my network.”
But who would Dan choose to dine with if he could have his pick? “Doesn't everyone say Satoshi Nakamoto here?” he quipped. In a more serious tone, he names us his top 7 choices: Christian Catalini, Professor at MIT & Economist at Libra; Albert-László Barabási, Professor at Boston University and "father of network science"; the Winklevoss twins who run Gemini; David Lee, Professor at SUSS in Singapore; Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan; Saifedean Ammous, author of the Bitcoin Standard; and lastly Leah Wald, who just published her book on Hyperwave Theory.
Taking the road less travelled
It is the strict habits that Dan has that makes him both an organised but also extremely effective individual. Apart from running Lightbulb Capital, Dan also lectures at Singapore Management University (SMU) on Digital Assets & Cryptocurrencies and is pursuing his PhD in the Finance department of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. Lest we forget, Dan also manages to find the time to mentor the LongHash Hatch incubatees.
It may surprise you as much as it did us, that Dan did not attain his first degree till he was 35. Having taken a non-conventional route, he proved to himself and others that success does not follow a specific path. “People have different preferences at different times in their life. If your kid is one of them, support them rather than giving them a hard time for not fitting into a box.”
He shares with us, that one secret to success is to “be laser focused!” Often he finds startups lacking in definition, not knowing if they are a technology service provider, a financial services firm, or a financial product creator. He advises startups out there to know that the business models for all three are fundamentally different and to simply “hustle” will not produce success.
In the early 90s, Dan joined a trading technology startup and continued to spend most of his corporate career in Investment Banking Technology. Starting a fintech focused investment firm seemed like a natural progression for Dan. With direct access to startups, Lightbulb Capital gives him the capacity to work on his passion for innovation and blockchain technology.
Describing blockchain as a “Decentralized Trust Machine”, Dan shares that he thinks the time for delivery is now. He is excited for the scale of adoption to come as large corporations and financial services institutions seriously investigate the technology.
However, he has his reservations when it comes to decentralised finance or DeFi. He believes that the idea is novel but should wait its turn. “Mass adoption has to come first, until then it is just one speculator trading against another, which beyond good experimentation only seems to lead to rogue activity as the recent past suggests.”
Education as a gift
In his own career, Dan recollects having had 3 significant mentors. Jan Bobek, the IT Head who hired him into UBS and taught him about communication and keeping complicated things simple; The late Hannelore Eberz, his manager during his time at Close Brothers who taught him how to be a manager; and Matt Cannon, his ex-manager at HSBC and later co-founder of Lightbulb Capital Digital, who taught him many practical lessons in finance that books could not.
Inspired by his own experience, Dan hopes that by being a mentor, he is able to continuously share and exchange the most meaningful gift of knowledge.
“Mentoring means to share what you're good at for the benefit of others in whom you see the potential. And that is something enriching that I want to always do.”