Monthly Archives: October 2011

Bay Area vs. New York Metropolitan Area


Note: Pac Heights and Nob Hill is also similar to West Village (suggestion by Alvin Yeh).

The overwhelming conclusion of San Francisco (“SF” or “the City”) coming from New York City, at the risk of generalizing, is that everyone is a hippie (the original 1.0 of today’s hipster*, the hipster that actually gave a shit about society)–nature loving, recycling, vegetable-eating, pabst-drinking, american spirits-smoking, and large glasses/cardigan/skinny jeans-wearing.  there are plenty of hipsters, as well. 

i didn’t directly compare manhattan and SF because there are so many neighborhoods in manhattan that i couldn’t find in SF (please correct me if i’m wrong, as i haven’t been in the bay area long enough to form any lasting opinions). also, this was meant to be more of a jab at SF for just having a lot of hippies and hipsters.

While the general SF populace consists of these progressive lifers, there are various pockets of communities that vary around the average SF hippie: by household income (usually determined by the amount of organic ingredients on the local restaurant’s menu), by age, and by alcoholic preference (wine or beer enthusiasts).  regardless, everyone respects everyone elses right to happiness, which is a beautiful thing.




*today’s hipsters, over the past few years, have achieved a cultural identity within the eyes of america.  they are loosely tied together from their aesthetic appearance: thrift clothes, rolled-out-of-bed haircut, and a general vibe of grunginess. while other counter culture groups identified by fashion distinctions, it appears that fashion is their only distinctions, besides general apathy towards life outside their immediate surroundings and enjoying various bands and artists that are so underground they haven’t written their first songs yet.

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i set values and goals to mirror those in my immediate surroundings, therefore i am.

i recently had the immense pleasure of auditing one of stanford’s entrepreneurship lectures, with guest speaker Brad Feld, co-founder of Foundry Group and Tech Stars, who spoke about the triumphs and struggles of his career.  At the end of the lecture, the students in the NVidia auditorium rushed to the stage to ask Brad questions.  For a brief, fleeting moment, I went back in time to my junior year at NYU Stern, when hordes of students in their suits would crowd around recruiters asking questions (while these recruiters really can’t answer questions in depth regarding the day-to-day of bankers and traders) and feigning interest (i can’t imagine any one legitimately interested in these carefully calculated and constructed conversation topics; the purpose behind these finance networking events is just to perpetuate the glorified self-righteousness of bankers by having a biannual opportunity where random people idolize them for an ephemeral moment before they head back to the cubes for meaningless excel spreadsheets) just to buy the powerball lottery ticket that, through this arbitrary social hurdle, could land them an internship or job.  not sure how similar this analogy applies to stanford entrepreneurs and guest VC speakers, though i am inclined to believe this relationship exists (give or take feigning interest, as VCs strongly consider passion and focus of the entrepreneur).

yes, stanford is to startups, as NYU stern is to banking.

the lecture began with a short announcement from Stanford’s BASES (‘Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students’), asking any hardware entrepreneurs to apply to its accelerator program (which, as it noted, was already backed by prominent VC firms such as Sequoia Capital). the level of involvement from top tier funding firms, with the empowerment of starting your own company to change the world (and being able to make some competitive money as a by product) truly makes it near impossible for anyone not to get excited about doing a startup or becoming an entrepreneur.  everyone and their pet dogs are starting companies. it is the cool thing to do.

though stanford, nestled in the bosom of silicon valley, has been and will continue to be the heart of tech innovation for several decades, the rest of the country seems to have caught startup fever for other various reasons; the economy is horrible, no one can find a job, people have computers and access to the internet, which contribute to the rise of the ‘creative’ class.  sure, to work a stable job and make six figures right out of college is awesome.  but have you made something? or are you just a content consumer, like the rest of the world? getting obese on other people’s creations? watch tv, but not write a spec? listen to music, but not play an instrument? eat your friends cup noodles, but fail to pour boiling water into a cup and let stand for three minutes?

the entrepreneurial bug is particularly contagious at stanford, for good reason, but sometimes it can cloud someones judgment.  if the environment was anything like NYU Stern and banking, the unchecked enthusiasm for handing over a few years of your life and soul for a hefty paycheck can even get the students who values rewarding and fulfilling professions to rationalize a few years of mind numbing corporate finance (‘it would be great to be able to calculate the rate of decline of the NPV of the respect my friends and family will have once i devote my entire time to my career’).  some students (usually you can spot them as the ones whose ties do not reach the middle of their belts or the ones who ask obscure questions obviously hastily pulled just minutes prior from the bank’s PR website before the networking event) have absolutely no idea what to expect after graduating and entering full-time as an analyst.  however, the immense groupthink that getting a career on wall street was the only way to ‘become a real person’ completely overruled any alternative possibilities. at what point did we stop thinking for ourselves?


the problem is probably way less severe at stanford (or maybe i am just more cynical about the financial services industry).  and if everyone is thinking that the only way to ‘become somebody’ i to think and work for themselves as an entrepreneur, then so be it.  at least silicon valley is still vibrant with innovation, while wall street is getting shat on by main street (for semi-justifiable reasons, though think that the 99% are just unsatisfied with their lives and are bored enough with day time television to venture outside to be less bored with like minded people. and they happen to be standing in front of each city’s financial centers).

a strong motivating factor for me to quit my job and become an entrepreneur was because i didn’t want the next X years of my life pre-determined, to be working and living in someone else’s universe.  i want to be held fully accountable of my actions, to have full responsibility of my career and my life.

or, perhaps silicon valley, the mecca of startups, supported by its strong network and community of entrepreneurs and VCs, all believing the goal is to build and create, has me unknowingly convinced that this is the right path.



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Lessons from the best

The startup universe, similar to any other industry group, encourages strong community support through various speaking and networking events throughout the year.  The aim of these events is not only to meet like-minded individuals and to cultivate the growing startup community, but also sow the entrepreneurial oats and guide the incoming group of (potential) founders.

Aside from YC Startup School, 





AOL drove into the ground

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engineers, financiers, and efficiencies

both engineering and finance are unique in that entry level positions do not require further schooling (relative to medicine or law which requires several additional years of specialized education), these sectors are generally dominated by men, and both professions require long hours working at a computer.  moreover, the people that these fields produce are perceived of possessing strong mental capacity (for example, 95% of people have common sense and can learn quickly, but we accept that there will always be a few loose ones that have made it through by potentially questionable means).

both engineers and financiers have strong analytical skills.  both also have the intent of maximizing efficiency as a means to achieve the end goal (adding value to society or making money).  however, each approach varies.

as engineering culture permeates throughout google’s campus, ‘googleplex’, there are several instances that demonstrate the engineering mentality of / commitment to efficiency: google minimizes any potential ‘distractions’ (‘work’ at google is always considered fun and challenging) by providing free-to-use bikes to travel between buildings, free-to-use electric cars for running errands in mountain view (if you commute to work via the free google shuttle), umbrellas in the lobbies in case it rains and you forgot yours at home, on-site car wash, laundry rooms, and hair cuts.  google, understanding that its employees are striving to be the best engineers, also places one-page ‘training lessons’ in the bathrooms (above the urinals in the men’s restroom or in the stalls–‘learning in the loo’, ‘training on the toilet’) that is updated occasionally (when i had the immense pleasure of using a google urinal, i had the opportunity to learn about ‘loose coupling’; please refer to google, as my diminutive finance brain will struggle to explain it.  in contrast, not once had i the joy of being reminded how horrible my life was by reading a credit approval memo while peeing at my previous place of employment).

it is obvious the efficiencies of googleplex outpace that of the outside world.  Douglas Edwards, google’s 59th employee and author of ‘I’m feeling lucky‘, writes “After Google, I find myself impatient with the way the world works. Why is it so hard to schedule a recording on my DVR? Why aren’t all the signal lights synched to keep traffic flowing at optimum speed? Why, if I punch in my account number when I call customer service, do I have to give it to them again when I get a live person? These are all solvable problems. Smart people, motivated to make things better, can do almost anything. I feel lucky to have seen firsthand just how true that is.”

though google is one example, silicon valley, an entire community of engineers, operates on this premise of efficiency.  the whole movement behind tech startups is that these are nimble forces focusing solely on solving one inefficiency–i.e. to create a website as easily as possible (onepager), to provide a back-end for application development (parse for mobile, heroku for web/cloud management), to search without personalized results and data tracking (duckduckgo).  the engineer mentality, seeing the world analytically with the intent of minimizing resources and maximizing efficiencies, drive silicon valley and the startup hub.

finance breeds similar efficiency hounds, but from a different perspective. the existence of the capital markets and financial intimediaries is to provide corporations, government entities, institutions, and households with the cheapest financing and the highest returns (influenced by economic environment, supply and demand, monetary and fiscal policies, etc).  the capital markets, with participants ranging from short-term day traders, long-term value investors, arbitrageurs, and liquidity (or ‘flow’) traders (sales and trading desks in investment banks, whose main goal is to provide liquidity for the rest of the market participants), theoretically functions as the platform that efficiently allocates scarce resources, driven by supply and demand.  all market participants, intending to get the best price (either rate of return or financing costs), look for pricing inefficiencies in the market.

for those that actively invest and/or trade in the market, these market inefficiencies can be a source of income (i.e. hedge funds, proprietary trading shops, private equity firms).  value investors (the most renowned is warren buffet) look for publicly traded companies that are underpriced by the market for various reasons.  private equity firms play another role in applying efficiencies in their business: they buy ownership in other companies (either from the public equity markets or from other owners) and reorganize the business through layoffs/debt restructurings/partnerships with other portfolio companies/etc. to maximize shareholder return and return on assets.  PE firms (most recognized in pop culture via gordon gekko in the 1987 movie ‘wall street’) are known for their ability to squeeze as much value as possible out of existing assets, laying off people and even selling the company in pieces, while making a quick buck.

business, in general, requires an efficient mentality–on a basic level, knowing how to minimize costs and maximize output (on an even more basic level, knowing to buy low and to sell high). this could explain why engineers start their own companies; because their existing workplace is inefficient, they love solving challenging problems, and/or they enjoy applying their hacking mentalities to running a business.

the one main difference between the approach towards maximizing efficiency from engineers and financiers is that engineers focus on the details, whereas financiers examine the big picture (though i believe this could be attributed to the differences in the nature of the field: engineers build solutions piece-by-piece, financiers take a macro view on industries and the economy).  just the culture and campus of google compared to the stiff hierarchy of an investment bank demonstrates the differences in the attention towards micro efficiencies.  just the nature of how an investment bank operates–highly regulated and with billions of dollars on the line–defines the tight-anus corporate culture and strict organizational structure that increases bureaucracy and slows any real decision making (at a bank, to the immense disdain or the tremendous pleasure of others, you are now forced to not only nibble at the teat of your immediate boss, but also of your boss’s boss, as well as his boss’s boss).  this analogy could be extended to our congress and to the way our leaders today make decisions (though i am highly suspect that things do not have to be this way; our current leaders are just increasing the barriers to compete against their organizations as a form of rent-seeking).

of course there are exceptions, as there are specialized financial engineers who focus on the probabilities and pricing of specific derivatives (focusing on a micro aspect of one financial instrument in the market place).

perhaps engineers and financiers are not too different.  after all, the majority of silicon valley is libertarian, as is the majority of manhattan.


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santa clara, california, 95051



A quick before and after.  The pictures are just of the main living room, but there are also two additional bedrooms / bathrooms, half of a kitchen, and the balcony that are not pictured.


Photos courtesey of mike (







Moving to the bay area

We made it. After several rockstars, listening to static on the radio, smelling cow shit along route 5, and hours of grueling U-haul truck driving, we made it to the bay area.

A comprehensive blog post about our new apartment will soon follow.





We’ll be attending Y-Combinator 2011 Startup School


this marks the first (out of many many others, hopefully) startup event that our team will be attending together. also notable is the list of speakers, the brain and experience of the Y-Combinator team, and the potentially large positive impact on our entrepeneurial experiences going forward.

thanks Jennifer Yip and Sahil Jain for their influence in our applications!





Current morale level:



Is finance the right path for you?

As for the argument that consulting provides an extraordinary skill set with which one can eventually change the world, I just don’t buy it,” he said. “Everyone knows what the skill set is for most entry-level consultants: PowerPoint and Excel.”


the attached article discusses the “unusually high” percentage (~25%) of yale graduates end up pursuing finance and consulting coming out of college. the author of the article argues that these sectors are not “producing” or “creating” value and that these consulting and finance firms are so damn good at making recruiting as personalized and convenient as possible, as to derail future “Shakespeares” from their actual dream for a 2-3 year stint in the corporate cube.

not sure how 25% compares to historic Yale rates, but for NYU Stern the rate is closer to 90%  (granted, the following caveats 1. this specialized technical vocational school is a mold created specifically to transform individuals into bankers, and 2. the incoming student body is self-selecting–deep down, they know that  they want to change the world one committed loan or IPO at a time).

what is particularly shocking is that prior to actually working full time at a bank, so many people kill themselves trying to get in.  unless they have a history of receiving hours of unreasonable abuse and enjoy it, they most likely have no idea what to expect at work and are only in it for the external motivators of money and prestige (the several-round interview process intends to focus on separating those people willing to “kill themselves” or, in HR-speak, are “hungry”–whether or not the applicant knows how deep the abyss is before he/she actually takes the leap. how accurate and precise the interview process is another story completely).

though i have long noticed the detrimental effects of the lure of finance among some of my NYU friends and acquintances (signs usually include 1. attending all networking events, even the ones held by tier five investment shops such as “Nigerian Prince Investments, PLC”; 2. holding conversations void of any substance except for last year’s salary and bonus data; and 3. excessive masturbation to piles of cash, aka engaging in “money shots” as the colloquial term was known), i was still attracted by the money and the thought of working with the smartest and most ambitious people.  but of course i didn’t have a strong history of unreasonable abuse. i was a poser, a lamb in wolf’s clothing.

from a macro standpoint, finance is the direct application of economics.  it is the grease that allows capital flexibility among corporations and businesses. it is a constant innovator in developing new financial instruments that can lower costs for businesses to capitalize themselves (swaps, derivatives). it is the market place that best allocates resources among household savings and corporations wishing to borrow money. in the increasingly internationally capitalistic society, finance is essential.

however, due to the immense money flowing into the sector since the 1980’s debt “boom” (which should consequently be followed by a painful deleveraging process that will proceed to rob the current economy of any growth), banks have expanded its presence in the economy, thereby requiring higher demand for labor. thus began wall street standardized recruiting processes and the advent of specialized vocational schools aimed to feed talent to these growing banks.  as expendable as a pawn in the trenches of war, a financial analyst does all the work that requires more than one second of effort from any employee of higher seniority.

as a result, the distance between the analyst’s contribution and the end product–the value-add to society–increases drastically. without the gratification of seeing an eventual impact, the only motivating factor for the long hours at work is the paycheck and the bonus.  the money is a great incentive, but its positive effect on your morale is not permanent. you really have to be passionate about the profession or have a very clear focus on your long-term goal in order to stick it out.  the only reason the pay is as good as it is, is just to attract talent/recent graduates to work there.  no reasonable, sane person would subject themselves to the corporate jail cell without the six figure salary.  the salary is just the bank paying you to not pursue something else that you find more interesting or more “productive” than crunching out excel spreadsheets and powerpoints.

the only upside from working at a bank is the learning–about industries, capital markets, how businesses operate, navigating the world of office politics, and the demerits of cubicle life. though you could read about each on wikipedia, going through it first hand is an invaluable experience. also, accumulating enough cash to make a pile on the ground for a session of “money shots” is pretty cool.  for some, however, it is major a concern to live a life comfortable and coddled by the paycheck and to wake up one day, an old man, filled with regret.


TL:DR; do you like money? are you ok with living at the office under a barrage of unjustifiable bullshit to get said money?



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