[Red Herring] Look to Sun for advice?

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From: Linda (joelinda1@home.com)
Date: Sun Sep 24 2000 - 20:53:32 PDT


Look to Sun for advice
By Vanessa Richardson
Redherring.com, September 15, 2000

Over the phone, Y.C. Sun is telling me what I can expect to happen
during the next five years of my life.

"Next month, you'll be spending a lot of money. November is fantastic
with lots of job-related opportunity. Next year you'll be famous with
recognition, promotions, and money all coming in. You'll be doing a
lot of writing in the next five years and becoming either a freelance
writer or a consultant, but you'll definitely be getting your big break
in the next two years."

As I ponder the best time to hit my bosses up for a raise, I stop to
think a minute. Should I really believe this guy?

A lot of people do. Mr. Sun, a 50-year-old computer consultant who does
fortune-telling on the side, is revered by a Silicon Valley clientele
-- from entrepreneurs to venture capitalists -- that takes his
predictions very seriously. Because this is the Valley, Mr. Sun, who
goes by just his last name, fields many questions related to startups.
Some common ones: "When will I earn my first million from options?"
"When should I set my company to go IPO?" "How should I furnish my
offices so employees work harder?"

In exchange for his advice, Mr. Sun receives a mix of cash and stock
options. He says he can't comment on the particular stocks because he
has signed confidentiality agreements.

"I've found it useful for major business decisions," says Victor Sun
(no relation), a Quebec-based venture capitalist who's been consulting
with Mr. Sun for 20 years. "If I want to place an order on a stock, I
call Sun and ask him, 'What are my chances the next week?' He tells me
what week or what month looks good. I believe it's useful to have some
guidelines. Maybe it's just a Chinese thing but it seems to hold true."


Westerners may snicker, but the vast majority of Chinese believe in
fortune-tellers' predictions and visit them regularly, according to a
report done last year by the Chinese Association for Science and

With so many engineers and programmers crossing the Pacific to work
in the U.S., many fortune-tellers are setting up shop here.

For Mr. Sun, it's just a family tradition. His father was a
fortune-teller in Hong Kong. As a child Mr. Sun would sit at the table
to listen, impressed by the power his father had over his clients' life
choices. "They respected his advice and went away happy," he says.
"That was cool to me."

Mr. Sun then went on to college in Taiwan and later earned his masters
degree in computer science in the United States. Even though he runs a
computer consulting firm in San Jose, California, he spends his free
time making phone calls and even house calls to his clients. He likes
to keep his work and "hobby" separate, so he doesn't get into details
about his day job.

Mr. Sun relies heavily on two methods in order to answer questions.
The first is I-Ching, the 2,000-year-old Chinese law of the universe,
which relies heavily on the theory of Yin/Yang and the five elements
-- metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. To find out how these apply
to an individual, he asks for the person's date, time, and place of
birth, and then uses palm and face reading to fine-tune his predictions.

The second method is the Tao theory of feng shui, which is supposed to
increase energy and optimism by changing the immediate surroundings of
the individual. Mr. Sun tells people how to rearrange furniture in
their home or office in order to get more positive energy flowing.
When it comes to business matters, Mr. Sun uses both methods to create
a composite chart for a company's prospects. "If I have a management
exec as a client, I'll get as much information as I can about the
business, but I'll also look at his home and interview his family to
see how those factors relate. Many cross-checks mean a near-perfect
prediction. If I can get 80 percent of it right, then I'm an expert."


Even though Mr. Sun has been predicting fortunes for the 20 years
since he moved to the States, his focus on business-related advice
has been fairly recent. He was hosting an astrology show on a local
Chinese TV station in 1997 when he started getting a lot of questions
from employees at Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS), then a small private chip
maker. The employees wanted to know how they would do financially
after their company went public. Mr. Sun went on to track the company
after its IPO that May and noticed a relationship between the company's
stock price and the employees he was advising. "I can read technical
[stock] charts but I prefer to look at a stock differently, through the
five elements," he says. Rambus has increased its value by 937 percent
since its IPO, although its superstitious employees probably were
frantically checking their charts last year when the stock was in the

Now that the Valley is mired in job-hopping, Mr. Sun has been asked
more often whether a client should switch jobs. "Normally I look at
their individual chart but if it's a dot-com company, I also look at
the Web page to try and figure out its five elements," he explains.
"If there is a picture, I also use it to make a decision."

Regarding a decision to merge one company with another, Mr. Sun tries
to find out the exact dates when key people quit or were demoted in
each company in order to determine whether it will be a good fit.

Individual and company birthday charts are also used to determine the
best time to seek a round of VC funding; feng shui is used to determine
juices flowing. In one case, Mr. Sun helped a Santa Clara, California,
"PC-related company" when it moved to new offices in the East Bay,
outside of San Francisco. He helped the company's execs determine how
the office should be laid out, paying special attention to the CEO's

Mr. Sun is considered one of the most credible fortune-tellers in
Silicon Valley because of his work experience as a computer consultant.
"He's more relevant because he's working in high tech," says Elaine
Chen, chief financial officer of a Fremont, California-based startup
that she declines to name because she's planning a startup of her own.
She's been a client of Mr. Sun's for seven months. "I've seen other
people and they have no clue about business. Their responses are out
in left field." When she considered leaving her current job to start
a company with a partner, she consulted Mr. Sun who concluded that the
pair would make beautiful business together. "His advice has generally
been good," she concludes. "He can't guarantee everything though
-- we're still waiting for the funding he has been predicting."


Mr. Sun says he's the first to admit that his predictions are not
always correct, but is confident in the fact that they're more bound
to come true than not. The reason: he aims to be specific. "The module
for determining money is very easy to spot on the chart, and from this
I can determine the funding one will get and when," he says. Mr. Sun
also "Westernizes" the I-Ching theory by putting in variances for
geographic locations, presidential candidates, world economic trends,
and, of course, Alan Greenspan.

Speaking of the stock market, Mr. Sun gives annual predictions about
the stocks he thinks will do well. Among his current favorities are
Cienna, which he has recommended since 1998, and Atmel, which he
bought Wednesday because it's "number was up."

If all of this sounds a little far-fetched to you, you're not alone.
"If [Mr. Sun] could actually do this, he'd be a millionaire," says
Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society in Pasadena,
California, and author of Why People Believe Weird Things (W.H.
Freeman, 1998).

Fortune-tellers, psychics, and the like are "preying on human greed
and desire to get something for nothing or very cheap," Mr. Shermer

Is there any actual danger in giving credence to fortune-tellers?
"There is a danger in losing time and money and effort that could be
spent in other ways," Mr. Shermer says. He adds that his "general
advice about fortune-tellers is: 'Stay away. They're flimflam artists.
They're in it to make money -- from you, not from predictions.'"

If you're using a fortune-teller, don't look to score any points with
VCs. Jim Breyer, managing partner of top-drawer Accel Partners and a
VC for 13 years, snickers when asked what he would think of an
entrepreneur who consulted a fortune-teller. "It would be a deeply
concerning sign," he says. "Luck can and does play a critical role
in everything we do, but fortune-tellers as business advisors would
possibly be the last straw."

Mr. Breyer adds, "Unless they can convince me that they increase the
luck quotient of a deal, I'd be deeply skeptical."

Mr. Sun shrugs his shoulders at the many naysayers who dismiss
Chinese fortune-telling as hooey. "I'm not in this to convince people
to try and use this," he says. "No, it's not foolproof, I admit. But
if people don't believe it, I can't help them."

Says Ms. Chen, "People use different motivations to make themselves
feel better. This just happens to be the one I use. It's like a
positive influence. He ultimately tells me to believe in myself
because whatever happens is for the best."

Mr. Sun, the Canadian venture capitalist, has relied on Mr. Sun for
more than financial advice. He believes the fortune-teller can predict
his health. "Nine years ago, I was having intestinal problems and
taking a drug, but it was making me feel even sicker," he relates.
"I called him to ask if I should go off the drug. He said to wait
until June or July to give it up. In November I would feel ill again
but the next year I would feel better. Well, in July I had the liver
transplant and in November there was an organ rejection so somehow he
seemed to predict it."

As for this reporter's chart reading, the fortune-teller seemed so
positive about my future that my skeptical nature demanded some bad
news. He paused for a minute, then said, "Well, I see high cholesterol
and some skin problems." Hmmm. Not a bad tradeoff for his positive

To find information about Mr. Sun, see ChineseAstrology.com.

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