Dan Patterson talked with Alex Feinberg about his transitions from MiLB player to Google employee to COO of Petram Security.
Watch the video, or read part of their conversation below:
Patterson: You are the COO of Petram Security. You are also a former professional baseball player. Let’s start on the field. You transitioned from a career doing one intense activity, baseball, to a career that is also equally intense, finance, and then you became a technologist. You are also a former Googler, and I think particularly in this time of digital transformation, many people and many companies are going through similar intense transitions. Those careers are as far apart as you could get, at least, they seem to be that way. How did you get from A to B to C? What happened?”
Feinberg: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I think it’s important to think about my mindset and my approach to life. I became a professional athlete, in part, because I like baseball, but I was just a really competitive 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kid looking to differentiate myself from my peers. It just so happened that baseball was a vehicle that I could potentially use in high school to differentiate myself from others. I ended up putting a lot of work into that activity and ultimately getting a scholarship to play in school and then ultimately getting drafted by the Colorado Rockies.
Now, I didn’t necessarily think through this at the time, but a lot of my mental energy was obviously being put into being the best athlete I could possibly be. Because if you’re familiar with how Division 1 athletes structure their days, we’re spending many, many, many hours on the field, and it’s high intensity work, high anxiety inducing work, if you’re not mentally tough, and you need to focus very hard.
For me, because I wasn’t one of the most talented players, I was always looking for a competitive edge, always trying to figure out, how can I understand this game better than other people? How can I hack my body to be stronger than the next guy? How can I hack my body to be faster or more flexible than the next guy? Or what commonalities do I see in the most successful players that I can adopt and integrate into my own game?
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One thing that became apparent, just scanning the horizons for different skill set improvement opportunities, was that the mindset approach to being a good athlete is so, so, so important. A lot of people don’t realize that when they just look at strong, physically fit athletes on TV. They don’t realize that these people are actually cognitively different and emotionally different than the average person, in terms of the way they’re wired.
For me, because I wasn’t one of the most talented players on my college team, I had to really understand the psychology of my evaluators, if I wanted to advance, and if I wanted to get drafted. It was really frustrating for me, because I am math-oriented. I am science-oriented. I am logic-oriented, and I could see my statistics, my freshman, sophomore, junior year were reasonably good, but the scouts didn’t notice. They didn’t see me on the same light as a David Price, which they shouldn’t, because we’re not the same, but we were on the same team. They didn’t see me in the same light as a Ryan Flaherty or Pedro Álvarez, granted those people are more talented than me, even though from a statistical standpoint, at least for multi-week stretches, we could be performing comparably.
I had to understand the heuristics that they use to evaluate people. If you’ve seen ‘Moneyball,’ you realize that a lot of these professional baseball scouts judge athletes as if they’re fitness models. They’ll look at a tall guy. They’ll look at a guy and see how graceful he moves. They’ll use all of these somewhat abstract heuristic models to project somebody’s value.
It’s really interesting, because you would notice that scouts would … They would try to bucket people, and they would try … Because I’m part Asian, they would bucket me and compare me to Japanese players, even though I’m not Japanese. My African-American pitching teammates, particularly the left-handed ones, would always get compared to Dontrelle Willis, because that was the heuristic that they constructed to understand their world. You start understanding that, oh, there’s all of these different mental shortcuts that people take, and that they’re not cognizant of.
Ryan Flaherty, who’s having a great year for the Braves right now, was our shortstop, and he and I would joke that oh, when you wear white shoes people think you’re faster. When you wear wristbands scouts will evaluate you as being a better, more talented player, and we noticed this was true. One day, he came out to practice without wristbands, and our coach was dogging him for being slow. It’s like, ‘Well, no, he wasn’t slow. He just wasn’t wearing the wristband that he normally wears every other day.’
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Once you understand that people use these heuristic models to assess people, and they take these shortcuts, it’s actually easier to present yourself in a fashion that makes yourself employable to a hedge fund or makes yourself employable to a Google, because you just need to understand what shortcuts they’re taking and figure out ways to communicate your story in a way that makes sense based on their heuristic shortcuts or based on essentially their mistakes. You need to understand how they think and present your story in a way that makes sense.
For me, it became apparent after my second year as a professional athlete in the Rockies organization that I probably wasn’t going to continue to move up within professional baseball, or at least if I was, it was going to take many, many years. Very fortunately, I had a degree in economics from Vanderbilt University, and I had four years basically as a psychology minor watching our college coach run a 40% organization at a very adept level. I thought, ‘Why don’t I just try to transition into a working position?’
I ended up connecting with a hedge fund manager who knew us through our college baseball team. He and I just started talking about human psychology. Basically the same things that I laid out over the last five minutes and understanding how people think, why people buy things.
If you actually really think about why people buy things, or why I buy things, or why you buy things, the reasons are very different from what people think. Chances are you’re not buying that car for transportation reasons, or you didn’t select that particular car for transportation reasons, or you’re not selecting those particular clothes for the reasons you think you are. When you can understand that you can at least position yourself to an asset manager as somebody who could potentially see shortcuts and understand undervalued opportunities.
Given that my career with the Rockies was likely coming to a close, I ended up turning down the 2010 spring training invite and moving to Hong Kong, where I knew one person, the hedge fund manager, who was running a little over $100 million and ended up working for him as an analyst.