Altered States

Bo Shao — His Path from Food Rations to Managing Billions, the Blessings and Burdens of Chasing Perfection, Building the eBay of China in 1999, Pillars of Parenting, and Pursuing the Unpopular (#584)

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“For the longest time, I treated feelings like an evolutionary waste product—like an appendix. Rationality and analytics are what I’m built for, and emotions just got in the way.”

— Bo Shao

Bo Shao is a co-founder and the chairman of Evolve, a philanthropic investment firm composed of a foundation, Evolve Foundation, and an impact investment firm, Evolve Ventures. With an initial capital of $100 million from the Shao family, Evolve aims to support organizations that relieve inner suffering and facilitate inner transformation. He is also the co-founder of Parent Lab, an app that helps parents meet common parenting challenges (a new version launches on April 10th).

Prior to Evolve, Bo was a founding partner of Matrix China, a leading technology venture capital firm in China, which manages more than $7 billion and has funded more than 500 companies, 50+ of which have become unicorns. He is also a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded five companies that have either gone public or become leaders in their respective industries.

Bo was born in China and was a winner of more than a dozen national mathematics competitions during high school. When he was 17, he left China for Harvard College on a full scholarship—one of the first such scholarships Harvard granted to a person from mainland China. After receiving his A.B. summa cum laude in physics and electrical engineering, he worked for Boston Consulting Group and Goldman Sachs and received his MBA from Harvard Business School.

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#584: Bo Shao — His Path from Food Rations to Managing Billions, the Blessings and Burdens of Chasing Perfection, Building the eBay of China in 1999, Pillars of Parenting, and Pursuing the Unpopular

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with someone committed to inner work? Listen to my conversation with Jim Dethmer, in which we discuss coping with stressful and disturbing thoughts, avoiding drama-based conflict in close relationships, becoming emotionally literate, accepting radical responsibility, co-commitment over codependence, and much more.

#434: Jim Dethmer — How to Shift from Victim Consciousness, Reduce Drama, Practice Candor, Be Fully Alive, and More



  • Bo shares what it was like to grow up poor in Shanghai, how his uncanny math acumen was sharpened with poker cards and rewarded with ketchup and hugs, and the lifelong lessons he absorbed from his parents. [07:07]
  • How did Bo wind up getting a full scholarship to Harvard? [16:30]
  • What did Bo do to learn and refine his English language skills, and why does he consider the pattern of behavior that compels him to excel a “burden?” [18:26]
  • How much of a culture shock did Bo experience when he moved to the United States in 1991? What were the most noticeable differences between China and the US? [26:47]
  • Why is Bo committed to bringing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to China? What unique traumas have recent generations of Chinese experienced en masse that might be greatly alleviated by such treatments? [34:15]
  • Bo walks us through what it took to build his first startup during the age of dial-up modems after returning to China from a lucrative job in the US, and how his parents reacted. [43:29]
  • As someone so hardwired toward rationality, how did Bo weigh the pros and cons of beginning his own entrepreneurial venture in China instead of pursuing stable, high-paying employment for someone else in the US? Did he have a contingency plan in case things didn’t work out? [50:46]
  • Western names don’t always translate easily into Chinese. Take mine, for example. [55:19]
  • The ups and downs of startup life and the finite resources that even a math wizard can easily lose track of. [1:00:14]
  • How did Bo roll with cash flow problems and a major source of funding potentially drying up during a time of dire market fluctuations? [1:03:31]
  • It turns out Harvard is a great place to increase one’s vocabulary. [1:06:55]
  • How Bo’s superpower-charging study regimen resembles meditation. [1:09:11]
  • Whatever happened to Bo’s first startup? [1:11:34]
  • How did meeting the woman who would become Bo’s wife enhance his emotional development? [1:13:20]
  • How old was Bo when he “retired” after selling EachNet, what motivated him to rejoin the entrepreneurial world, and what have been some of his most noteworthy accomplishments since? [1:16:09]
  • How did personal introspection become a priority for Bo after years of resistance to the idea, and how has his life improved — as a friend, husband, and father — as a result? [1:17:50]
  • What tools, perspectives, realizations, and resources have helped Bo make progress on his journey of self-discovery? [1:26:38]
  • What does Bo believe is missing right now from the discussion around psychedelics and related therapies? [1:35:55]
  • Projects with which Evolve is involved, Bo’s thoughts on the importance of inner work (particularly for people who are, as he was, overly focused on the rational), and other parting thoughts. [1:40:21]


“Certain ways of parenting work for certain kids and certain situations, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. So it’s really important to collect all the tools out there and develop a framework, a knowledge graph, so that the right tools and modalities and tricks can be recommended to the right children, the right parents, the right situation.”
— Bo Shao

“Children are so different from us. We assume that they should have executive control of their body or of their mind or their actions. But the reality is, for example, for a boy, their prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until they’re in their 20s. So when they are 12, expecting them to behave in a disciplined way is simply not right, so understanding what’s going on inside of them is hugely, hugely important.”
— Bo Shao

“When a country goes through this kind of an internal convulsion where people are betraying each other left and right every single day, it’s hard to imagine the impact on the psyche of a generation of people.”
— Bo Shao

“For the longest time, I treated feelings like an evolutionary waste product—like an appendix. Rationality and analytics are what I’m built for, and emotions just got in the way.”
— Bo Shao

“Being a parent is probably the most important job in one’s life. We go to school for teaching math, we get driving lessons to get a driver’s license so we can drive, but to be a parent, there’s practically no preparation.”
— Bo Shao


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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