EP 326 – Never Forget Who the Enemy Is – Gene Yu – Founder and CEO at Blackpanda

by | Jun 26, 2024

"Resistance training is, you know, they can take away everything in terms of like, your comfort, your warmth, your food, you know, etc, make you disoriented, but they can't take away your will to resist, right? And they can't take away your mind, right? That's the thing that you can always control in terms of resistance. And so I emphasized that to her what they taught us over and over, which was, never forget who the enemy is." - Gene Yu In this episode of the Asia Tech Podcast, featuring ⁠Gene Yu⁠, a Founder and CEO of ⁠Blackpanda⁠, we explored innovative approaches to cybersecurity and the vital role of crisis response. Gene’s unique background as a West Point graduate and a former Green Beret significantly shaped BlackPanda's approach.

Some of the topics that Gene covered in more detail included:

  • By wrapping their cybersecurity emergency response services in an insurance-like product and a SaaS platform, BlackPanda has made high-quality cybersecurity accessible to a broader market at a significantly reduced cost.
  • Given the sensitive nature of cybersecurity, the background of the founders and the reputation of the company play a crucial role in gaining clients’ trust.
  • One of the most profound insights Gene shared was about transferring skills and methodologies across different domains. He spoke about his transition from physical security and crisis response in the military to the digital realm of cybersecurity. This shift was facilitated by his ability to apply strategic and tactical principles from his military experience to cybersecurity challenges.
  • BlackPanda’s focus on emergency response and crisis management in cybersecurity has allowed them to carve out a distinct identity in a new and growing market.
  • Most importantly, Gene shared a gripping, true story about rescuing a family friend that had been kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf, an experience that profoundly impacted his life. This mission highlighted the importance of resilience, adaptability, and human connection in crisis situations. Amazon commissioned Gene to write a book about the incident that will be released on October 1, 2024 and you can find it here.
Read the best-effort transcript

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:03
Okay, I think we’re on let’s do this thing. Awesome. Hi. This is Michael waitze, and welcome back to the Asia tech podcast. We are joined today by Gene Yu, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, a former Green Beret and the founder and CEO of Blackpanda. I feel like I’m not worthy to be on this call at all. Gene, how are you

Gene Yu 0:25
Good to see you again, Michael. You say that..it makes me embarrassed.

Michael Waitze 0:27
Yeah, it’s just really impressive stuff. Really impressive stuff. So thank you so much for coming back to the network. I want to get a kind of a quick update on black Panda, just its status. We haven’t spoken, we haven’t recorded, I think, in a couple of years. So I just want to do that. And then I want to get to the backstory, which we’ll talk about in a sec.

Gene Yu 0:44
Yeah, awesome. Thanks for that. Yeah, since, since we’ve last spoken, black pen is now distributed in every major magic country here in Asia except Korea. That’s just where we don’t have a big distributor partnership quite yet, but we’re distributed regionally by exclusive networks, which is one of the larger cybersecurity distributors in the world. Additionally, we have partnerships in Japan with Softbank, CNS, which is the largest ID distributor up there. And we’ve signed strategic partnerships with SingTel here in Singapore, as well as Mac review, HGC, which is the second largest telecom Hong Kong. So all all things considered, I think we’re moving pretty fast. You know, we continue to be a specialized cybersecurity emergency response company, but we figured out a way to productize a service by wrapping it in an insurance like product, as well as a SaaS platform. So I like to call it that we productized it in an InsurTech manner and come up with something that offers this fairly expensive, relatively expensive cybersecurity service at anywhere from 10 to 20 times less the traditional price and getting quite a bit of scale. For us, we’ve been growing 26.2% month on month the last nine months out of

Michael Waitze 2:04
the market. Wow, does that? Does that surprise you? Like, how fast it’s growing these days?

Gene Yu 2:10
Yeah, absolutely. Now, just a caveat, especially the audience as well. I expect that number to level off, sure to come off the blocks, but it’s still a nice number to throw around and say on your podcast. Right? It’s

Michael Waitze 2:24
funny, though, when you start your own company, right? You have all these grand divisions of like, how big it’s going to be and how fast it’s going to grow, and stuff like that. And at the beginning, at least for me, it’s just a slog, right? It’s just a slog, and it never moves as fast as you want it to. And the guy famously said that everyone’s an overnight success 10 years later, right? Because that’s what everybody finds out about you, when you start being a gigantic success, but when you start getting, and I hate this word, but when you start getting that traction, and you start to see this kind of consistent growth, you start to think, yeah, this is kind of what it was supposed to look like, yeah, yeah,

Gene Yu 2:55
absolutely. I mean, I think there’s an added aspect to cybersecurity, I think is worth mentioning, right? Is that, because cybersecurity, by nature, is so sensitive, and there’s this thing called zero trust philosophy, the idea of coming around with a new product that the market hasn’t seen before, and not just putting a marketing spin on. I mean, we really are something original in the market globally, right? That hasn’t been seen before, and just just by nature of that, is going to take some time, you know, for the market to trust it, for the brand awareness to sink in, to really wrap their wrap their head around it. So there’s an aspect of that, I believe as well. And, you know, black Panda, we’ve been, we’ve been in the cyberspace now for for five years. I think that we’ve done a most would would say, if they’ve, if they’ve heard of us, would point and say, Wow, this company came out of nowhere and established a really niche brand around emergency response and cyber very quickly in Asia. And we’ve leveraged that brand strength now the back of that to launch the completely new that is getting some initial traction because of the credibility that black panda had as a just traditional emergency response company,

Michael Waitze 4:04
good stuff. Do you think the fact that you were Green Beret and that you did graduate from West Point also gives you some extra credibility?

Gene Yu 4:12
Yeah, I think so. You know, I was just reading the other day too. That a huge factor for cybersecurity startups, again, with the zero trust philosophy and all the all the concerns, the backgrounds of the founders and investors, matter a lot, right? And so I think that you know, our story of black Panda, with all the American special forces guys as founders, there’s an interesting niche, you know, to our to our brand, and also just our identity as crisis responders, right? I mean, we do. You know, we have lived and breathed this our whole careers. We love it, right? You know, from a certain perspective, we don’t obviously love it that our victims are in pain and all this sort of stuff, but just from the aspect of, you know, a sense of utility of helping the world and doing something of value in your own unique capability, right, your own unique skills, knowledge and abilities, right? Yeah, I can go out to you. On the street and hand out water bottles, you know, you know, charitable events, but So can everybody else, right? So, like, what can I do that other people may not commonly be able to do? That’s, that’s where we’ve kind of landed with our careers. So yes, to answer your question. Short, I think so yes.

Michael Waitze 5:15
So I want to say one thing publicly that I said to you privately, and that is the first time we recorded, which I do think was like two years ago. You planted this thing in my brain about, like, fighting a war on a different surface, and I just can’t get it out of my head. And I told you, I use it all the time, and I always attribute it to you, because it’s such a useful way to think about not just the cybersecurity, not just war itself, but just getting things done right. Right? Because you see something work, some methodology work in one place, a thought process that works, and if you can transfer it to another surface, well now you could actually make have real impact. And you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, per se, but as long as the process is working, or the thought process is working, moving it to that other surface should be easier, not easy. And I can not stop thinking about it. And I just want to thank you for kind of planting that seed in my brain.

Gene Yu 6:07
No thanks for bringing that Michael. It’s a good tie back to your previous question about being a West Point grad computer science and then also being a Green Beret and being a combat veteran all this stuff. I kind of tongue in cheek refer to myself sometimes in cybersecurity as a macro cybersecurity guy, rather than micro in terms of the technical details, because it’s just, it’s one way for me to just kind of talk about how I’m not very deep on the cybertechnical side. But because of that angle, and coming in from the outside, I viewed things on a very macro level of trying to solve a security problem that existed in cybersecurity, rather than something very technical. Yeah, in addition was that I wasn’t I didn’t come into this. And black panda didn’t start as a venture backed company, right? We started out just as a small business of guys trying to figure out a problem in security, which is that we wanted to provide crisis response for a mass market. We thought that was an interesting space, with our skill set. And, you know, over time, we discovered it was much bigger problem the digital space, and crossed over from the physical to digital, which we can get it in a bit. But I wanted to share from the high level that because of my because of my background in both computer science and the physical security side, I never came into this trying to solve an investor problem, right? Accountable markets problem, you know what I mean? And a lot of cybersecurity startups are like that. They all want to be blissing enterprise, you know, etc, because they’re trying to solve a valuation problem, right? I agree near this, trying to solve a security problem, right? Which is fundamentally, why is it that when somebody attempts to physically harm you, you can call 999, here in Singapore, 911, in the States, and somebody will pick up and help you. Right? It’s like social contract. It’s most fundamental level of security everybody enjoys, even whether you own a company, whether you own a house or you’re homeless, you can call and somebody will come help you. But in the digital space, when somebody digitally attempts to to harm, harm you, there’s nobody for you to call. And that’s fundamentally a problem that we’re we decided to set out and solve, because it’s a huge problem, right? And easy to solve as well, right? Yeah,

Michael Waitze 8:12
yeah. I mean, I think about this all the time, right? Because I run a uniquely digital business, and I just think, if something does go wrong, right? If you didn’t exist, who would I call? There is nobody. There’s nobody to call,

Gene Yu 8:24
right, right? Or even, the fact is that right now, you know, if you, if you called us, we got to charge you by an hourly consulting, hourly rate if we’re available, right? Imagine, imagine that existed. You know, if a fire broke out, that you have to get on a Google and Canvas for private fire brigades, right? Incorporate a contract and then negotiate with them for an hourly rate while this fire is ongoing in their house, right? Sense at all, right? And maybe you may even afford it, because maybe you’re a smaller, smaller company, smaller individuals, whatever, right? And so comes back around to, you know what we were just touching upon about looking at the physical safety and security world and understanding that, you know, 510, 1000 years of human civilization were not filled with people that weren’t smart enough to figure this out to the best of our abilities, at least in its form today, right, which you know, we all enjoy physical emergency response, whether it be police, fire or medical via paying tax. A little bit of tax that we all pay goes in the government’s budget to pay for the unfortunate few. And the private sector version of that is insurance, right? Everybody pays a little bit of premium that goes in the insurance company, like us, Lloyd’s of London, cyber insurance company, and pays for the unfortunate few that something occurs. And so that’s essentially what we’ve done and productized in an insurance like product with our cyber emergency response service in order to distribute in the masses so that it can be as inexpensive in the market right now, our MSRP is 2500 US dollars for our smallest product for this right? Any company that has any type of business can afford that, and now doesn’t have to. A variable spike of costs that could be ranging in the 25 to 50,000 US dollars on average with us, which is a major event out of budget. And just have this covered throughout the year, right?

Michael Waitze 10:13
Exactly. Okay. I want to talk now about because there is a kind of a unique management team at Black panda. And I also like, the way you say that you didn’t found this business because you were trying to solve a valuation problem, right? And I love that too. In other words, you didn’t say, like, here’s a market gap that I want to fill it, because if I fill it, I can become a billionaire, right? That wasn’t the idea at all. Actually, just a bunch of guys going, someone’s got to fix this problem, right? Nobody. It’s true, though, and I actually like these kinds of businesses, because I find that those businesses get that get started for a fundamental reason to solve a fundamental problem, are always going to live longer than a business that just gets started like we work so you can get funded, right? Anyway. Problem, right? Yeah, anyway, yeah, exactly. Sorry. Let’s talk as well, though, about why it was founded in the first place. You want to come back? Sorry,

Gene Yu 11:10
yeah, sure, so. So I think when myself, Matt Peck, who’s the our chairman, co founder, and founding investor, Kevin McCaffrey, all came together. It was, it was more even from the aspect of that we wanted. We knew that we had a special set of skills in terms of physical security and crisis response. We knew that we were able to bring in a lot of great talent around the company, and particularly in the Asia region, with global experience in the space. And we wanted to find a way, just initially, to again, like I was sharing earlier, very simply, of providing value with our own unique skills, knowledge and abilities. We weren’t originally thinking about the problem of mass market crisis response, but as we started getting into it, even the physical side, we really we realized there was a product that, particularly that Lloyds of London is famous for, called kidnap and Ransom insurance by nickname, and more officially, special risk or political violence insurance, and that our type of crisis consulting response service on the physical side was actually embedded in the insurance policy and productized in that way through a financial derivative, essentially. And as we went on with time. We realized in, at least in Asia, where it’s relatively safe and stable, there’s not a lot of conflict regions, you know, particularly that need that we realized there’s a much larger problem in the digital cyberspace that was relatively untouched by the US and other other global firms, right? And so that’s where we gravitated towards, you know, we always like to say, especially as military guys. So we moved to the sound of the guns. You know, the guns were on the digital space, even though we weren’t traditionally from there, we understood how the business model worked in physical crisis response and special risk insurance. A point in fact, there’s actually a pretty well known crisis consulting firm headquarter in the UK called SRM, and I have the good fortune to be friendly with their management as well, and they made a full pivot from physical crisis response into cyber as well, right? So we’re not the only ones with that idea that dared to jump across, because we saw the parallels between the physical and cyber world from this specific niche of emergency response, right? So, so, yeah, that’s a bit of the beginning. Is, honestly, is a little bit more like a bunch of guys who thought we were, we were really cool together and build something small in our space. And then as as we got on, and it was a good business the beginning, I mean, we were profitable, you know, at certain junctions, etc, but we could see that it couldn’t scale. And eventually want to take on the next challenges of to solve a bigger and bigger problem in the space right?

Michael Waitze 13:46
Do you want to talk about your book, The second shot a Green Berets, last mission? Talk to me about this as much as anyone

Gene Yu 13:53
Sure thing. So I was signed by Amazon publishing a couple years ago to share a an event that made some international headlines back in 2013 which very much led to the founding of black pen as well. Right? Ultimately, it kind of gave me the insight that I found a tremendous amount of meaning around crisis response, in particular, as I was sharing about wanting to add value in my life’s work was something that I that I believe that I can uniquely provide from a skills, knowledge and ability standpoint. So, so yeah, back in 2013 I had a Taiwanese family friend, actually the younger sister of my mother’s best friend growing up in Taiwan who was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf terrorists in out of Eastern Malaysia pom pom Island. Why? Completely random, actually? Michael, yeah, wasn’t they just at the time, Abu Sayyaf targets foreigners in the vicinity for financing their terror. And operations, right? In many ways, as we use the term terrorist, I mean, to be honest, they’ve become more like bandits in terms of just conducting these type of oftentimes transnational, high profile kidnapping events and hoping that they catch on to a foreigner, a wealthy foreigner, that they can be paid potentially millions for right? And so it was actually completely random. But the unique aspect of the story was that because, because she was, she went to the same school as the first lady of Taiwan, who, incidentally, was, is my aunt, married to my uncle, who is, was, at the time, the sitting president of Taiwan. The Taiwanese media picked up the story, became a huge national syndicating story, right? So all of this played into raising a much higher risk profile for Evelyn. Evelyn Chang was the name of the the the family friend who was kidnapped and overvalued because the the abhisai. I’ve heard and saw the news story around this, and has kept on getting noted bigger and bigger. The Ransom went up higher and higher and started actually 5 million US dollars, which is not something that Chang family could have, could have paid, right? So, so, so for me, you know, I was actually in between jobs after I had left Palantir, I was looking for my next kind of stage of things and stage of life, you know, I’ve been the Green Beret for, you know, eight years at that point, you know, spend a little bit time at Credit Suisse. And then I found here, and then I was was moving on to the next thing, kind of floating along and struggling with my own transition the military, the real world. And found out about this, and flew out to Taiwan when my mom was visiting, and ended up meeting the Chang family. So

Michael Waitze 16:45
can I, can I ask you this, like you’re kind of related to the people that are involved in this incident? Yeah, when it first happens, like, did you watch it on TV when it first happened? Did you notice this? Or did your mom find out, and all that kind of stuff, and then you found out? Because, again, you know, you spent a lot of time in the first 10 or 15 minutes of this call, right? Talking about these unique skills, knowledge and ability that not just you have, but that you and your friends have, essentially, right? And that you’ve been involved, I want to get these words right in crisis response, kind of your whole life. And you did say this other thing, of like, as Green Berets, right? Or as, you know, serious military people, we just kind of gravitate to where we hear the guns going off, right? Which is more of an analogy or a metaphor for just like we kind of get drawn into these things. Is there a sense of, I don’t even know how to say, what’s the right word for this? Luck is probably the wrong word. But like, a fortunate that, like, you knew these people, and you knew what happened, and you have all these skills, so, like, they didn’t have to go find somebody to do this. They could just go, Gene, what are we going to do? Kind of,

Gene Yu 17:56
that’s Michael that hits on the nail on that, that nail gets hit pretty hard over the head with me with this, because I think all the time about how unlucky those opposite were to kidnap this particular foreigner as well that just happened to have a family friend like myself, right? That was completely available and psychologically available, to spend all of my time on this, because you

Michael Waitze 18:18
were between jobs as well, so you were looking for something to do. And let’s be fair again, I don’t know this, right, because I never served, but so I can only presume. But there is has to be like a desire, like my, one of my buddies went to the United States Air Force Academy in high school, right? And he was the guy who always wanted to have be around the action, right, right, right? And it’s almost like exciting in a way. Maybe it’s also scary a bit, but it’s like, okay, I have something new and exciting to do. I feel like it’s something, a feeling you might have had, no

Gene Yu 18:50
Yeah, absolutely, it was. It was, it was a time in my life that I was having a hard time reconciling what my identity was, you know, what my task and purpose? I mean, it’s a very classic challenge, you know, for particularly this war on terror, cat like cohort of veterans, of finding, finding a sense of place, you know, in in the world afterwards. And so I think that that that definitely contributed quite a bit in terms of seeing something that felt familiar as a calling, right, rather than a job. And I was drawn, drawn to it, right? As soon as, you know, I refer to it as just the pull of a simple calling again, right? And just something so clear, you know, of a task and purpose. It’s one of the reasons why I like crisis response is because it helps always put in context my own problems, which always seem massive, as it does for everybody, right? This puts it in context so quickly that my problems are so small, compared to, in this case, Evelyn, who’s being used kidnapped by terrorists and dragged into the jungles. Right? That made my problems at the time so much smaller and gives me clarity and a sense of focus, to be honest. And why? One of the reasons why enjoy from an arm’s length that emotional. That emotional pull for these type of, these type of situations,

Michael Waitze 20:03
yeah. So you’re right, bad luck for these others. You have guys, right? Like, they couldn’t have picked a worse person with better friends to be able to do this. Can you just run me through as much as you can about like, what you did? Because I presume, if you’re telling the story that at the end of the day, Evelyn was okay,

Gene Yu 20:20
yes. So, yeah. So I’ll, we’ll save the details for those that care to care, to spend a few minutes looking through the through the book when it comes out in October. But the end result, essentially, was that I was one of the fastest recorded recoveries of abusive kidnap victim 35 days.

Michael Waitze 20:40
We were laughing because these guys must have been so mad at themselves. Do you mean, like, what

were we doing anyway? Sorry, go ahead, yeah.

Gene Yu 20:48
And then part of it was that I was able to link up with through West Point connections, West Point graduates who were serving in the Philippine Military, escout Rangers, which is kind of like the elite infantry of the Philippines military, as well as Nica operatives, which is like the CIA equivalent in the Philippines. And so two groups of these folk basically merged as heroes through all this and volunteered basically to go in and conduct the exchange, masquerading as engineers working in the area. I mean, it was very, very dangerous. From the go all the way into the jungle, the jungle camp, we were able to link up with Australian intelligence operatives, function, operating and collaborating with the Nica guys down south. And ended up inserting a tracker and logger device in the ransom exchange materials, which led to the scout Rangers immediately with several follow on, massive assaults that ended up destroying nearly all, all, pretty much, of the 80 person abusive group, right? So it was basically a successful exchange, as well as a follow on of one of the most successful recorded military operations against this, this organization, over the last, you know, 15 years or so, right during that time,

Michael Waitze 22:10
did you have just way better tools than they had as well? Like, I don’t know how well equipped these guys are, how much money they have, but I guess they can’t be so well funded if they’re just out there kidnapping people for food. Do you know what I mean?

Gene Yu 22:21
Yeah, exactly. And I think that that’s probably the biggest thing, is that there was a big advantage in terms of education, of course, you know, and just capabilities and tools, etc, you know, there were, there were incidences where, you know, I was using various cyber techniques and leveraging different network capabilities to pinpoint Evelyn’s location, right? Once I got in the Philippines, etc, there was a tremendous amount of human intelligence support from the new friends I had made you know, the scout Rangers, the Nika operatives that so generously, graciously lent their their time and and and put their lives at risk, as well as their careers as as detailed in the story to help me, but Yeah, certainly from a tools but also just a pure capability standpoint. But also, again, I think the biggest thing was that we were able to maintain the element of surprise, which most would argue is the most important element during warfare, is maintaining the element of surprise, just having no idea who was behind Evelyn, right? And while we’re operating, and considering that, you know, a Taiwanese, a Taiwanese lady, would have access and friends that extended all the way into the Philippine Special Operations and intelligence apparatus,

Michael Waitze 23:35
but they must have known at some level, right? Because if they saw all the hullabaloo going on on on TV, and I’m gonna get some of the relationships wrong, because I didn’t write it down when you were saying it. But if she’s the, what is it the sister of the president’s wife in Taiwan?

Gene Yu 23:53
No, so she was the So all she did was go to the same high school. Okay, okay, yeah. So very loose connection. Honestly, in Taiwan, the media can be very paparazzi, like so, like you were just saying, like, how was she targeted? It was hard for Taiwanese people which to understand, how could this possibly be so random, right? Because it’s so unusual and and so that the media made a loose kind of, you know, two or three degrees of separation back the president of Taiwan. You know, my comment around it is that while there’s no real direct connection from Evelyn to the president of Taiwan, and my injure there was when I kind of naively wandered into this, because I’m his nephew, right, right? And that’s something I wasn’t and very, you know, sheepishly, especially today, sounds so obvious, but at the time, you know, so used to not operating with any consideration with my family, family background. Wasn’t until I started doing this, I realized that I had actually put myself quite at risk. If people had understood that who I actually was, right point that interface with all these kidnapping affiliated groups. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 24:59
Well. It’s there, you know, because we only see these stories in movies, really. And we don’t know, because we’re not operatives ourselves. We don’t know if how much of it is factual, how much of it is just made up to make a great movie. But I’m also super curious from the human side, right? What is the, what is the palpable fear like? Because it almost seems to me like you’re always running the risk that, even during a planned exchange, that, like, someone can get killed. Yeah, right? Yeah. I think there’s not a 0% chance, right?

Gene Yu 25:32
Absolutely. And I think that that’s what I try to bring out in the book, is that ultimately, like, if you you could literally just sum up the story as simple as, hey, you know, Evelyn Chang got kidnapped. Gene went in. There was a kidnap and Ransom exchange. There were some follow on operations done, but it doesn’t really trace the true, you know, trials and tribulations, the lack of information, lack of clarity, the fact that I was operating as a foreign civilian in the Philippines, and technically, illegally, right? All these things, I wasn’t sure what personal risk that I was at, both from a risk to mission, as we call it, and as well as risk to force, and then just my own personal safety, and you know, whether or not I’d be charged with a crime, or all these sort of running around doing and so all that I try to bring out in the story, and try to make it as as factual as I can from my memory, and also speaking with a lot of people that were involved, but then also sharing what we were thinking during that time to kind of communicate that, you know, you know, I mean, at one point it’s, it’s, I have no evidence of this today, you know, anything like that. But at the time, the Nika operatives and the sky Rangers kept on saying that the Malaysian special operations guys were running around and looking to interdict us, and especially once we had Evelyn to take her off her hands, that was, like, one of our top concerns. But they never appeared, you know what I mean? So it’s one of those things that’s like, right? Yeah, maybe. But not Harvard said, sure if I wrote about it, because it adds an element of of considerations of everything that we were doing at the time, yeah, because

Michael Waitze 27:01
you can’t ignore it at all, like I have to plan for it as well. But this is another thing that I want to know. You know what to do, right? You have you’ve been in Crisis Response your whole life. You have a framework for how to behave. You have a framework for how to process all this information. And you’re working with other people on your team that know how to do this, but Evelyn’s in the dark, yeah, and she has no idea what to do, right? She doesn’t, she doesn’t know. Like, do I run to these guys? Do I get on the ground? What happens if something goes wrong? Which way do I go? Like, you know what to do, but you couldn’t communicate with her. Like, you know you’re not sending her like, WhatsApp texts going for, please be ready for this. It’s just not possible. How do you plan for that?

Gene Yu 27:46
So one of the biggest mistakes I made during the whole process, you know, and there was a bit of a, you know, go to the the details around the context, but there was a bit of desperation on my side at certain point. And I had jumped on the phone when they had called and and and basically just started speaking in Chinese to Evelyn for the first time for me to be at this side of the phone, because I started feeling like she was starting to just display Stockholm syndrome, and wasn’t, wasn’t 100% aligned with our side. So I got on and I was just speaking to her in Chinese and telling her that, you know, just tell him that I’m your Taiwanese physician. She had a major diabetes problem. Or trying to create her medicine. And in the background, you know, I found out later, they were holding a gun to her head and holding bolo, bolo knives her throat, threatening her, like, tell him to speak English. Tell him to speak English. I turned on saying, like, I can’t speak English. And but emphasized to her, you know, something I had learned quite deeply at sear school in her prison of war. Resistance training is, you know, they can take away everything in terms of like, your comfort, your warmth, your food, you know, etc, make you disoriented, but they can’t take away your will to resist, right? And they can’t take away your mind, right? That’s the thing that you can always control in terms of resistance. And so I emphasize that to her what they taught us over and over, which was, never forget who the enemy is. Never forget who the enemy is. And I said this to her repeatedly in Chinese. They grabbed the phone, said, Hey, you’re a Taiwanese spy. We’re cutting our head off. And then hung up the phone. Oh my god, and I was in disarray for the next three days thinking that I just killed her, basically, right? Taking too big of a risk. And she later on said that this, this was a big turning point in her own morale, where she realized it wasn’t just her family, right, who was handling things, that there was a whole bunch of people, you know, the background, that have professional experience, etc, that were trying to try to help her. And, you know, she started doing all sorts of things like stealing trash and taking, taking notes and drawing, drawing like diagrams of the the camp and stuff like that that was passed on later on to the scout, Rangers, etc. She was actually quite amazing in terms of some of the things that she did. She naturally, almost, almost accidentally did that was actually taught during resistance. Uh, resistance training, like, for example, one of them is that you want to humanize yourself as much as possible to the captors and not be viewed as human or just an object. So the opposite of routinely are known by matter of just SOP to, you know, to sexually, to to rape. You know, gang gang raping is very, very common. But Evelyn actually escaped it. You know, during the during when she was when she was kidnapped and she was sold from opposite of subgroup to subgroup, eventually landing in her her jungle camp, one of the, one of the the attackers reached through her shirt to molest her like her chest, and she just instinctively, we grabbed it and said, I’m your grandma, right? Because she was a little older. She’s like, close to 60 now, so, so I’m your grandma, and it kind of touched upon, accidentally, two things. One, it humanized her in the sense that, hey, I’m a person, right? Like, you know what I mean? Like, could be your grandma, you know? But also touched upon filial piety, which is actually a really strong core value in the Philippines, right? Even though I always like to describe as my investors and partners say, is like Gina. Understand the Philippines, you know, understand it’s a Latin based culture, right? Number one. But some of the other Asian aspects, Confucianism and Fila piety, is really strong in the Philippines. So I think that that respect for elders ended up saving her from sexual abuse her entire captivity.

Michael Waitze 31:19
Can you talk a little bit about the what’s the right word here again, like, what kind of pushes somebody into Stockholm Syndrome? Maybe what it is for people that may not be 100% aware of it, right? Because it’s a very unique term. And like, what the risks are around it, if you don’t mind,

Gene Yu 31:37
yeah, sure. So I think that Stockholm Syndrome is where you know, particularly due to the stress and life endangerment, that the cap the capital tivs start to sympathize and even take the side of the captors, right? And so the famous case is, you know, in Stockholm, there was a bank, a bank robbery, and basically the capture started helping the bank robbers against the police, right? They’ve killed that extreme right? So in terms of, you know, where the danger is, is that we needed Evelyn, 100% on our side. She doesn’t feel these days, just to be fair to Evelyn, that she was demonstrating any signs like that, and when she tells the story, she absolutely was resisting and fighting and negotiating for her life. She’s a really, really tough lady. Yeah, I didn’t know her as In fact, I had never met her prior to this event, right? So, you know, I didn’t really know her that well. And so kind of assumed, based off of, you know, some of the dialog, that yeah, and naturally, that you know that it happens, right? It’s very common, right? So the danger is that you need everyone, particularly the captive, to be aligned against the captors, right? It’s like I was saying earlier, is never forget who the enemy is, right? You know that that clarity has to always be always has to be there.

Michael Waitze 32:53
I’ve learned so much already today. Can you talk to me about the feeling of success? No, I’m very serious about this. About this, right? Because it’s kind it’s kind of binary in these operations, right? Success means that, like, I mean, at some level, means that everybody that you want to be safe is safe. That everybody gets to kind of go back to some sense, because you’ll never the same person after this happens. Right? On any side of it, you just can’t be because the PTSD, or whatever you need to call it in this situation, is just always going to be there, yeah. But when, yeah, when you succeed, when the team succeeds, when you when you extract, and you kind of win. Do you know what I mean? Because there are multiple levels here. And this gets back to this idea you were talking about before, like you were between jobs, and you were kind of looking for, like, what am I doing with my life? Kind of thing you have these 35 days, because I think I got that number right of just intensity, planning, training, acting, negotiating, all this stuff. It’s all at a super high energy level. You’re done. You get Evelyn, obviously, because it’s a good ending to the story. But then how do you feel again? Do you know what I mean?

Gene Yu 34:04
Yeah, totally. So I was just watching something on TV yesterday that reminded me the code words even right? It’s like when you got the when you got the mission accomplished, or captured the terrorist, or rescued the hostage, it was you call over the call the code word jackpot, and it’s such a good feeling when you could say jackpot through the through the radio. I mean, it’s just, everybody hears it. Everybody kind of like, does a little fist bump, you know. I mean, it’s just, it’s such a great feeling. And again, comes around in that, that aspect I was mentioning about the unique sense of utility, you know, of value at right at that point in time, you know, for Evelyn, you know, there’s so many missions that I did in Iraq, you know, as a special forces team leader, Green Beret, you know, etc, but we helped so many people. But there was no relationship on afterwards, right? And yes, there was a thank you, of course, at the time, maybe, if you’re lucky, and then. And then now he was somebody that our family not only knew but loved, right, as family, friends and, you know, nothing more meaningful. You know, could, could have come around in many ways. You know, up to that point, point in my life, it’s kind of interesting to reflect and say that nearly and that’s how I tried to write the book as well. It’s just identifying the events that had action reaction throughout my life that led to this event, right? Whether everything motivation, skills, you know, like it’s you can’t just start the story in the middle of it and just say, like this album, right? It’s so unusual. And really, that’s what I try to portray in my writing. Is how serendipitous all this is, Right? Steve Jobs talked so famously in his 2005 commences speech at Stanford about connecting the dots backwards, right? Yeah, and that, that really what, what this story for me was, was connecting those dots backwards. And after the event, that’s where, you know, it took me a couple years come around to it with Matt, but I had it inside me. I was just like, I think this is what I was born to

Michael Waitze 36:00
do, right? This is going to be the next thing that I want to ask you about, if you don’t mind, right? Because I find this fascinating. You didn’t just wake up one day and decide you’re going to go to West Point. I don’t think so. Like I know my buddy who went to usafa, right? He didn’t just wake up one day and go, I’m not going to go to Harvard, I’m going to go into the Air Force. He’s been thinking about this and, and they’re like, little steps along the way, when you’re nine years old, when you’re 13, when you’re 17, and your life just starts pointing in this direction. You’re like, maybe this is what I’m just meant to do kind of thing. Yeah, yeah, right.

Gene Yu 36:34
So I think for me, like, and this is a bit more of a stuff that I try to talk about in the book and, and crystallize. I grew up in a very patriotic New England town Concord, Massachusetts, where the Revolutionary War started. And even though it’s a very liberal area, New England is actually incredibly patriotic, a lot of that, particularly in Concord. So there was that aspect. And literally, you know, some some days would say the Pledge of Allegiance on the way to school, before saying, because mine, I would cross by my neighbor’s flagpole, right? So a lot of people are like, it’s so corny. Did you really do that? And like, Look man, you know, to every single day, no, some days very patriotic as a kid. But really, you know, it’s just that aspect of self identity and being pigeonholed in a lot of ways of being like a very typical Asian American kid, you know, both by upbringing, but also by American society, and feeling very frustrated by my status in life. Because I think that inherently inside, particularly of how you have lived my life, is that, you know, I wanted I was a fighter, right? And being typecasted like that in American society, felt very frustrated by my station in life. And one day, you know, I had actually to try to cut the story shorter, I shoplift. I was starting to shoplift like as a rebellious kid in high school, and I shoplifted a book by an Asian American author named Gus Lee who wrote a semi fictional story about going to West Point in the 1960s and when I first read it, I thought it was a book like Hogwarts for Warriors, rather than the wizards. I didn’t think it was a real school. I’d never heard of it. A little bit of the wave though. Michael like it was for me, almost like, oh my god, one day I just woke up. But when I saw it, I was like, this is where I need to go to find myself, right? And wanted a radical departure from both what my even, not not just society, but my, my own family, and then myself were telling me who I was supposed to be when I didn’t feel congruent at all with with what I knew I was at that time. I did not know clearly. But now I do right,

Michael Waitze 38:35
yeah, and I don’t want to make, I don’t want to make a complete equivalency to this, but I’m just gonna say it out loud, like I’m a UFC fan and I don’t fight, but I love watching fighting, because I think it’s the purest of sports. It’s just two guys with the exact same equipment and just trying to see who’s technically, smarter, faster, stronger, better, whatever it is, right? And, you know, I watched the last Dustin Poirier fight against Islam makjavik. And I don’t even know if you care about any of this stuff, but the point is that he’s a fighter. He was born to be a fighter. This is for Poirier, because I just know him better. He was just born to be a fighter. And even said after this fight he lost. He’s like, I don’t know what else I can do, and you don’t have to agree with this. You don’t have to agree with this representation, but it’s like that. That’s the way he felt. You know what? I mean? Yeah,

Gene Yu 39:25
I understand entirely first. So I’m a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I was a boxing champion at West Point, awesome. I was an professional MMA referee. Okay, awesome. Fine. So, yeah, very well acquainted. I don’t follow the UC super closely these days, but definitely, of course, no Dustin Poirier is and all that. So, yeah, so I agree. I mean, there’s, there’s something innate in in some people that they’re simply warriors, right? The UFC fighters are warriors, right? You know, they express themselves and their warrior spirit and personality through competitive cage fighting, right? Uh, soldiers, of course, express it in a wider profession, you know, Profession of Arms and all that. So I think that there’s an aspect of that, there’s a calling inside that I knew, like it was almost accidental, you know, it was very accidental when I looked back and in terms of my, you know, what inspired me and my motivations to go to West Point. And it took me years to find that at West Point too, because I was such a bad cadet, I was such a bad plebe. I got hazed a lot. I was, you know, most of my classmates probably remember me as a total, just absolute moron, school incapable. I was actually, gradually, I actually had the lowest military rank at the end of plebe year in my entire class. So inept. So look, it took me a lot of time to figure out my bearings and readjust myself, you know, into into everything. But it really was 911 that woke me up as well, to look at my time in the US Army as something less about self interest, right? And rather than at that time, you know, I was, I was motivated, motivated me enough, and believed, you know, where, where the American government was sending us, was for all the right reasons. You know, dealing with 911 now is very, very motivated to fight at the time, and that’s, that’s why I ended going so far in the US Army in that direction, right? So, so, yeah, so, but to your, to your point in the question, I do think that there’s, there’s an inner calling for for many folk, whether it’s that they want to be a hero or they want to be a warrior. You know, all these prove themselves. There’s a lot of those aspects come around in the military. And I think those same characters can be fought, can be found in in combat sports as well.

Michael Waitze 41:39
I agree. Okay, look, this has been a fascinating conversation for me. I could keep you forever. I don’t want to give up all the details, because I do want to encourage people to buy the book. Read the book. Did I get the title right? The second shot at Green Berets, last mission published by Amazon, you said, and available when October, October

Gene Yu 41:57
1, yeah, publish in the States. And all the all the marketing be around there, and then, of course, on a selfish basis, as it’s, in many ways, the origin story of black panda engaging with different folk out here in Asia to just to make sure that the company gets some of the attention as well.

Michael Waitze 42:13
What an incredible story. I really appreciate you reaching out and sharing this with me, and also for just being so open and honest about answering the questions, not just about what you did, but about how it felt, because in some at some level, those are the things that most people will never understand, because they’ll never experience it in the way that you did. So absolutely. Thank you very much.

Gene Yu 42:31
Awesome. Thanks for having me, Michael, it’s always a pleasure.

 

 

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