Category Archives: Uncategorized

Business isn’t primarily a financial institution

“Business isn’t primarily a financial institution. It’s a creative institution. Like painting and sculpting, business can be a venue for personal expression and artistry, at its heart more like a canvas than a spreadsheet. Why? Because business is about change. Nothing stands still. Markets change, products evolve, competitors move into the neighborhood, employees come and go. There’s always the “son of Lenny” to threaten all you hold dear.

Business is one of the last remaining social institutions to help us manage and cope with change. The Church is in decline in the developed world, ceding leadership to a materialism of unprecedented proportions. City Hall is subserviant to the economic interest of its constituencies. That leaves business. Business, however, has a tendency to become tainted with the greed and aggressiveness that at its best it channels into productivity. Left to its single-minded pseudo-Darwinian devices, it may never deliver the social benefits that the other fading institutions once promised. But, rather than give up on business, I look to it as a way, indirectly, of improving things for many, not just a lucky few. I accept its limitations and look for opportunities to use it positively.”

Randy Komisar, “The Monk and the Riddle”, 2001

Advertisements
Tagged , ,

Managing your digital subscriptions (RSS Feeds)

Like any netizen with an interest in remaining culturally aware and quasi-relevant among my peers, I consume a lot of content. Not just articles on Hacker News or WSJ, but also various blogs, tumblrs, Facebook statuses, Instagram photos, and tweets. In addition, I am normally on the go, waiting in lines, or like to browse content while under my comforter in bed. What is the best solution to managing all of these subscriptions across various platforms (laptop, mobile, and tablet)?

 

Laptop / Desktop

I’ve been an avid user of Google Reader for some time because I can organize my subscriptions into various folders. Moreover, I can easily email content directly from the web interface to my friends who may find it interesting.

Another reason to use Google Reader is that your account can be linked to mobile subscription reader apps such as Pulse and Flipboard. This ultimately provides cross-platform managability for your subscriptions.

Plus, you can create “bundles” (collection of individual subscriptions) and share them with your friends. See my Angel/VC Blogs bundle here.

Screen_shot_2012-02-12_at_1

Google Reader web interface

 

Mobile / Tablet

The popular portable browsing apps include Pulse and Flipboard (both free and allows for social media integration). Before, I would add RSS feeds directly from the apps themselves, but that meant any change would require a separate, manual, and parallel change in Google Reader.

Pulse

Photo_4Photo_5Photo_6

Pulse, unfortunately, does require some parallel managing. However, it is marginally more convenient than going through their interface to find the RSS feeds.

All you have to do is add your Google Reader account, which then includes all of the feeds organized à la web interface. From here, you can select the individual feeds to populate your Pulse.

Flipboard

Photo_1Photo_2Photo_3Photo

Flipboard is nice in that it does not require any parallel managing. Similar to Pulse, just add your Google Reader account, then add the folders from Google Reader. Anytime you add or remove an individual feed from your folders on Google Reader, the change will be automatically reflected on your Flipboard.

 

Single location for subscription management

With this setup, I only have to manage my subscriptions with Google Reader. The only downside is that if I want to dynamically add or remove a subscription, I would have to go through Google Reader (of which the web app on the mobile phone is a bit clunky).

 

How do you manage your subscriptions? Do you have a better or a more preferable method? Any recommended blogs that I may be interested in? Do you only look at pictures of cats?

Comments and thoughts are appreciated!

 

Andy

 

Follow me on twitter at @andyjiang.

Tagged , ,

Description of Common Business School Classes

Pretty accurate description of Business School classes according to Jacob (via www.flailfast.com).

Andy

—–

Microeconomics: Taught by a professor supremely confident in their understanding of the world. Typically proven wrong every 10 years, but never in the classroom.

Macroeconomics: Taught by a professor supremely unsure in their understanding of the world. Typically proven wrong every 10 minutes, usually in the classroom.

Accounting: Criminally boring but universally regarded as important. Appeals to the perfectionist who demands compliance in their business dealings. Or the maverick who exploits accounting’s mile-wide holes. Both will likely be indicted in some sort of accounting fraud in the future, thanks to Sarbanes-Oxley, making the entire idea of becoming an accounting expert a lose-lose proposition.

Financial Markets: Where Microeconomics and Macroeconomics are distilled into supposedly practical “real-world knowledge.” A key example of the course’s pragmatism is the “Efficient Market Hypothesis,” an idea most elegantly proven wrong by the fact that a professor is paid $200,000 a year to teach it (a gross market inefficiency).

Human Resources: In this class you’ll learn how to dehumanize people as resources through the use of rewards and punishments. Outside of Financial Markets, the most efficient way to lose your soul.

Organizational Behavior: Ostensibly the study of advanced psychological techniques to bend large groups to your will, you wind up spending most of your time playing with legos, blocks, and fingerpaint to teach “team building” amongst adults. Colloquially called “Kindergarten Pro.” Strangely one of the most accurate representations of team building in modern business.

Operations: You learn how things are built but never how to build anything. You’ll discover concepts like “bottlenecks” and “critical paths” and spend weeks on “Six-Sigma Operations,” an idea popularized by Japanese automakers who were really, really consistent, by some arbitrary statistical value connected with the bell curve. You’ll marvel at the the technological sophistication but have absolutely no idea how to replicate any of it.

Marketing: Better described as “how to convince a consumer to buy damn near anything, usually against their self-interest.” Also known as “Advanced Lying Techniques” or “How Republicans Win Elections.” Biggest takeaway: never trust advertisements, PR agencies, or corporate executives.

Ethics: A class created by business schools to absolve themselves of any culpability when their graduates engage in evil, unethical things. Otherwise, serves the practical purpose of teaching you how to get away with doing evil, unethical things.

Strategy: The crown jewel of every business school’s core curriculum. Strategy synthesizes all other courses into a glorious edifice of oversimplifying frameworks and acronyms steeped in a solid foundation of rancid, steaming bullshit. It’s no coincidence that an MBA is sooner called a “Master of Bullshit Acronyms” than a “Master of Business Administration.” Strategy also holds many esteemed awards, including Most Frequent Abuser of the Case Writing Method, and Most Loved Class by Fortune 500 CEOs.”

 

 

Tagged , , , ,

Vipassana Meditation: Ten long days and a few negligible steps towards Enlightenment

Note: everything I learned about Vipassana was taught by S.N. Goenka in our evening hour long discourses after a long day of meditation, at my mind’s peak malleability. As a result, take everything with a grain of salt. If you are curious, you are welcome to do your own research or attend one of these 10-day courses.

 

You are in the forest. However, it is possible to leave the forest for a fabled, harmonious land of rolling grassy fields. All you have is a deprecated compass and your walking shoes. One day, you come across a man who claims he can help you fix your compass..

 

Day 0: S??la (morality)

The essence of Vipassana is to reduce misery and suffering in our lives by acknowledging the universal laws of nature and impermanence, or the law of Dhamma as it is known in Gotama the Buddha’s language of pali, that everything is constantly changing and any attachment towards something that is in a constant state of flux is futile and will lead to unhappiness.  The current habit pattern of our minds, consciously or unconsciously, is to react to various external inputs by innately generating feelings of either desire or aversion. These feelings of desire and aversion, if we don’t appease them (if you can’t get something that you want or get away from something you don’t want) will ultimately lead to misery. Since these feelings can be stopped by recognizing the law of nature, particularly the law of impermanence, teachers of Vipassana (~600 B.C.) believed that this technique is universal and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of his/her religious beliefs, heritage, community, etc.

For our 10-day course, we had the pleasure of being taught by S.N. Goenka, an Indian businessman born in Burma, who is now one of the main drivers behind this global Vipassana movement (there are Vipassana centers, similar to the one that I went to in Northern California, all over the world. Additionally, since the organization is non-profit, these centers are solely based on volunteer donations).

According to Goenka, Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. It was ‘rediscovered’ 2,500 years ago by Gotama the Buddha (Siddhartha) and was taught to many people across Asia.  However, over hundeds of years, Vipassana lost its pure form because people started attaching religious symbols and doctrines to what was intended to be a universal technique.  However, only in Burma was this technique preserved in its “purest” form. And Goenka, though at first taught the technique to his sick mother back in India, eventually spread the technique around the world as more and more people found interest. Now there are hundreds of centers on all of the habitable continents.

The foundation of Vipassana is to observe certain precepts to guide the individual on living a more moral life. But with only ten days to learn and practice the Vipassana technique, the course is structured to maximize the limited time that we had to carve carefully out of our routine lives (from full-time work or student life). To achieve an experience that will yield the strongest results, the students’ lives were to mimic as closely as possible to that of a monk. This includes no eye contact with any other student, no speaking (except teachers), no interaction with the opposite gender, no contact with the outside world (you are expected to leave your phones in the car or with the course managers before the ten days begin), speak no lies (easy as we weren’t able to talk), and no audible flatulence (no speaking out of your ass). Observing these moral precepts provide us with a strong foundation to begin our journey along the Noble Eight-Fold Path.

Excited and curious, Mike and I signed up to get a better understanding of Vipassana. What is on the other side?

Upon arrival in the evening, we check out the facilities. While in our dormitories, I was shocked to learn the monks don’t live with mini-fridges stocked with Redbull and Snapple, as well as an alarm clock with an iPod dock. Those monks have much to learn.

In order to encourage students to practice meditation, as boring as we all (correctly) perceive it to be, the course had to eliminate anything and everything else that would be even remotely more interesting in comparison. As a result, everything mildly interesting thing with which you could occupy yourself was removed from the environment. Had there been just a single page ripped out of Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” laying in the common area, by day 10 all of the students would have memorized the entire text passage backwards and forwards, as well as have been able to provide an extensive analysis of the era’s crime, social class, empire, and ambition, on the personal development of Pip.

With absolutely nothing to do, I would have to do the next logical step: to abuse the most potent chemical substance we had in our possession: the caffeine in the Celestial green tea. Anything to keep my mind occupied.

Our first evening meditation was scheduled for that night, after which the vow of Nobile Silence would be placed on us. Mike and I hug, “see you on the other side”, and take our first steps into the unknown.

 

Day 1-3: Sam??dhi (mastery of the mind)

The daily schedule for the coming 10 days are as follows (it is posted in the Dining Hall so no speaking is necessary):

4:00am    First bell is rung to wake up
4:20am    Second bell is rung
4:30am    Meditate in the Meditation Hall or in your room (aka sleeping)
6:30am    Breakfast in the Dining Hall
8:00am    Mandatory Group Sitting in the Meditation Hall
9:30am    Meditate in the Meditation Hall or in your room
11:00am  Lunch in the Dining Hall
12:00pm  Interviews with the assistant teachers (you must sign up in advance)
1:00pm    Meditate in the Meditation Hall or in your room
2:30pm    Mandatory Group Sitting in the Meditation Hall
4:00pm    Meditate in the Meditation Hall or in your room
5:00pm    Tea in the Dining Hall
6:00pm    Mandatory Group Sitting in the Meditation Hall
7:00pm    DVD Discourse viewing of living a misery-free life from S.N. Goenka
8:00pm    Mandatory Group Sitting in the Meditation Hall
9:00pm    Get ready for bed
10:00pm  Lights out

Or for the lay person:

4:00am    Wake up
4:30am    Meditate
6:30am    Breakfast
8:00am    Meditate
11:00am  Lunch
1:00pm    Meditate
5:00pm    Tea
6:00pm    Meditate
9:00pm    Sleep

Or the schedule that most closely reflects reality:

4:00am    Wake up
4:30am    Meditate in the Meditation Hall
5:15am    Go back to your room because you are tired from insomnia last night
6:29pm    Stand outside of the dining hall because you are bored of sitting in your room
6:30am    Breakfast
6:36am    Finish eating breakfast
6:37am    Kick myself for eating breakfast so quickly
6:38am    Stare out of the window sipping on cup after cup of green tea
7:15am    Crawl back to my bed and lay there counting the minutes until 8am group sitting
8:00am    Group sitting in the Meditation Hall
9:00am    Unfold my contorted body for a short intermission
9:01am    Perform all stretching techniques (as taught by Tony Horton) that I can remember to regain sensation in my legs and back
9:05am    Begin meditating again
9:30am    Assistant teachers allow students to practice in their rooms
9:45am    Leave the Meditation
Hall to walk along one of the trails in the woods, in endlessly circular fashion
10:20am  Crawl into my bed to meditate with my back against the wall
10:23am  Collapse into my bed, sleeping
11:00am  Lunch!
11:07am  Kick myself for eating lunch so quickly
11:08am  Stare out of the window sipping on cup after cup of green tea
11:30am  Go back to quarters. Maybe take a shower. Maybe meditate in bed (aka sit idly there until I fall asleep)
12:45pm  Walk around the outside trails.  Make a rock formation of some sort. Play with some pinecones
1:30pm    Head over to the Meditation Hall to meditate
2:30pm    Group sitting begins
3:30pm    Stretch, strive to crack every crackable knuckle in my body
3:40pm    Begin meditating again
4:00pm    Assistant teachers allow students to practice in their rooms
4:03pm    Kick myself for getting back to my room so quickly. Sit idly for several minutes
4:06pm    End up falling asleep in bed
4:50pm    Wake up and wait around outside the Dining Hall for 5pm tea
5:00pm    Tea break
5:03pm    Stare boringly out of the window
5:30pm    Go back to the dormitories and brush my teeth
5:33pm    Crawl into bed and lay there counting down the minutes until 6pm group sitting
6:00pm    Group sitting in the Meditation Hall
7:00pm    Intermission before Goenka’s evening discourse
7:05pm    Teachers put Goenka’s DVD into the DVD player. Discourse begins
8:05pm    Another intermission before late evening meditation sitting begins
8:10pm    Begin meditating again
9:00pm    “Take rest”.  Meditation ends and assistant teachers allow us to get ready for bed
9:04pm    Crawl into bed and try to fall asleep as soon as possible
2:31am    Fall asleep 

 

The first meditation technique that we learned and practiced for these three days is Anapana–to focus the mind on the natural breath. In line with the general principal of refraining from concentrating on pleasant or unpleasant thoughts, past or future thoughts, we block out all mind chatter by bringing our attention to our natural respiration. It is important, Goenka emphasizes, that we don’t verbalize or visualize anything to help us calm our minds and to focus on the breathing, as it could lead to people associating religious names or images with the technique and lessen its universal quality.

Beginning with observation of the breath and the sensations around the nostrils is to sharpen the mind’s sensitivity. Anapana is a tool that we must develop before we can practice Vipassana, which is observing the sensations, not only around the nostrils, but the entire body. And we have three days to practice.

The first day is pretty challenging and painful, but, like a good masochist, I ignore my discomfort. Its easy to become distracted from your natural breath; you are breathing constantly, why must I give all importance in my mind do something that just happens? At first I would spend twenty seconds observing my respiration, only to find myself thinking about something else: I wonder if I got Coachella tickets. I wonder what my roommates are doing. I must remember to send that email to my friend. Remember that one time… continuously. Then I would start again. Having never meditated before in my life, I have never realized the complete random sequence of thoughts I had in my mind.

So Goenka tells us: our minds generate four types of thoughts: past or future, pleasant or unpleasant. It is these thoughts that cause us to attach desire/aversion to the objects in our life. In order to narrow the mind to the present moment, Goenka wants us to focus solely on our natural breath, as the breath is the only true current reality. Once the mind has been trained to observe the breath, it begins to observe sensations around the body, as these also reflect the true realities of the moment. Through practice and hardwork, you will progress further along the Nobile Eight-fold Path by observing subtler and subtler bodily sensations. Until you become a Buddha and are able to experience all of your subatomic particles constantly changing at immeasurable frequencies. This is the path to Enlightenment.

Every evening, there is a one-hour discourse from Goenka, where he provides some clarification to the meditation technique, as well as imparts Buddhist principals through stories of the life of Guatama Buddha. The teachers pop Goenka’s dvds into the dvd player and hit play, then resume their quiet meditation. Then, for the next hour, Goenka dispenses nuggets of wisdom through a 50″ Toshiba flatscreen television. Though I would’ve preferred my daily digest of Buddhist fables in tweets less than 140 characters or artfully placed behind the Lomo-fi filter on Instagram, I will take what I can get.

By day two, since there is no speaking or eye contact or noisy flatulence or Redbulls waiting in my non-existent mini-fridge, I find myself quieting my mind’s chatter much sooner.  And when my mind did wander, it did in a more rationally; less jumping from complete random thread to complete random thread, more flowing in a logical manner.  In the woods, Anapana was helping me calibrate my wildly moving compass. I was on my way out of the woods, I could feel it.

In the Meditation Hall, everyone has his/her own seat cushions setup for comfort.  Some people piled cushions upon cushions upon cushions. Obviously, the higher you are, the better you meditate–why else do monks meditate up in the Himalayas, among the mountains? I see others piling these softer yoga blocks to provide some back support. Might as well import in a LA-Z-BOY recliner and meditate on that. There are others, the hardcore ones, who just sit on the ground or on one small angled kneeling stool. Admirable. Then I notice that the man beside me had a Yves Saint Laurent meditation seat cushion. I look at my own motley pile of secondhand cushions. On the Noble Eight-fold expressway to Enlightenment, he was driving a Maybach, while I was pedaling a tricycle. It will be a long ten days.

 

Day 4-9: Paññ?? (wisdom)

The fourth day is the first day we are taught the Vipassana meditation technique. While before we were sharpening our mind’s sensitivity to bodily sensations by focusing on the area around our nose, now we expand our observation to the entirety of our body. In order to progress, to observe subtler and subtler sensations, two things are important. Awareness and equanimity. Yes, I left my life for ten days to receive vocabulary lessons from a foreigner. Equanimity, or the act of being equanimous, is to keep your mind from desire or aversion—to have a completely balanced mind. When you come across a sensation on the body that is an unpleasant sensation, you must stop yourself from generating the feeling of aversion towards it. Similarly, when you are experiencing a pleasant sensation, you must refrain from generating the feeling of desire. After all, everything is constantly changing: those bodily sensations will eventually go away, even if on an astronomical scale of time. Eventually. Through awareness and equanimity, our mind will become sharper and more sensitive, thereby allowing us to observe subtler sensations.

In addition to the new meditation technique, there was another surprise (or form of torture).  Starting on day 4, every group sitting will be Addithana, otherwise known as “Sittings of Strong Determination”. In these three-per-day, one hour power sittings, students are asked not to open their eyes or move at all, as it helps the mind observe, with utmost equanimity, the sensations of the body.

Observing
the sensations on my body was unusual at first. Anapana, compared to Vipassana, was child’s play. Goenka asks us to scan our body, top to bottom, bottom to top. Go through each part of the body separately and observe the sensations on that area. Body sensations can include anything–heat, cold, perspiration, itching, pressure, pain–anything. Whether the sensations are pleasant or unpleasant, we must remain equanimous. If we observe dull, unpleasant sensation, Goenka advises us to “smile and move onto next body part; understand that these feelings are impermanent, will continuously change, as it is the universal law of nature, law of Dhamma”.

So we begin. No matter what you are feeling on your body, you must remain equanimous, balanced. You are not to react–only to observe from an outsider’s perspective. “My foot fell asleep”. Just observe. Remain aware. Be equanimous. “My leg is getting a cramp”. Just observe. Remain aware. Be equanimous. “There is a sharp pain in my back”. Just observe. Remain aware. Be equanimous. “But my erection has not gone away after four hours”. Just observe. Remain aware. Be equanimous.

Without equanimity, the feeling of aversion towards the pain in your leg could be amplified in your mind, derailing its balance.  According to Goenka, “you are adding mental pain to physical pain, and that is unnecessary”.

Like a skateboarder, constantly pushing and stretching his/her abilities to balance with more advanced grinds, jumps, and tricks, so to is a Vipassana meditator continuously sharpening his/her equanimity through observing increasingly sensitive bodily sensations. At first Goenka asks you to observe easy sensations on your body such as the fabric of your clothes or the breeze of the air. Then, if your mind remains equanimous enough, you may continue to observe a free flow of vibrations throughout certain parts of your body. The final stage, according to Goenka, is where you are fully aware of the rapid dissolution and formation of your body on the tiniest subatomic scale.

Day 6, Goenka (correctly) advices, is notoriously difficult: “one feels like running away”. Whenever my body scans were interrupted by a dull sensation, mind chattering begins and I lose focus and concentration. I was not equanimous. Other, more fortunate times, I successfully experienced subtler sensations of slight tingling on my arms and legs. I consciously tell myself to not generate feelings of attachment to this sensation and to remain equanimous: this, too, will change. For unbelievably brief moments, the “subtle vibrations” flow through my body as if I was contiously dipping myself in a bath of the most luxurious oils and salts. Must be the caffeine.

By days 8 and 9, meditation is getting almost unbearable. In the sitting community, when you are unable to quiet your mind and focus on the meditation technique, it is called a “storm”. I am having a tempest. My mind starts wandering:

I wonder what the Enlightenment city would be like. Probably a Starbucks on every corner. Probably a guided walking tour that ends in a souvenir shop.  Would there be sales tax?

Was the quinoa and kale for lunch today a subtle reference to the popular 90’s Nickelodeon television series featuring the black comedic duo, Kenan and Kel?

The man to my left belches violently. With an odor that vulgar, a stench that foul, not even Guatama Buddha himself could remain equanimous.

 

Day 10: The journey is just beginning

The tenth day finally arrives and not a moment too soon. After our morning meditation session, the vow of Noble Silence will be lifted. I can’t wait to finally, and loudly, relieve the gaseous pressure building in my lower intestines without sneaking a cheek.

We also learn a new meditation technique, a “balm for the deep operative surgery of Vipassana” to heal ourselves, called Metta Bhavana. This technique is to permeate the free flow of love and compassion out of bodies to those around us and all over the world, to share our love, peace, and happiness with all beings. I wasn’t quite sure I was doing it right, as all I thought about were happy thoughts. Even though it required some mental exertion, it was a nice break to Vipassana.

The moments immediately after the silence was lifted were joyous. The dining hall and dormitories begin to fill with laughter and conversation; people recounting the past ten days for themselves, people bonding over shared miseries of the course, the insomniac nights, the tortorous sittings. Contact information is exchanged.

Unfortunately, we can’t leave the camp until the morning of Day 11. The rest of the meditation sittings were going to be unproductive and miserable. But recognize that this, too, will change.

There were some closing remarks from Goenka, about the merits of donations, especially volunteering, as any gift to allow others to learn the law of Dhamma is the most priceless gift. As mentioned earlier, my opportunity to come to learn and practice Vipassana is due to the donations and graciousness of those who proceeded me on the Noble Eight-fold Path. I feel incredibly grateful. And I can’t wait to tweet/Facebook/Instagram/blog about the whole thing. I look forward to climbing into that car and driving off to see my lovely roommates!

Of course, Vipassana is only one way of finding inner peace, connecting with something larger than yourself, and living a happy and joyous life. All religions strive to provide that opportunity for its believers. Regardless of the rites and rituals one practices, dogmas and doctrines one believes, holy names or images one uses, as long as the qualities and characteristics—infinite love and compassion—of these saints are emulated, then happiness for you and those around you can flourish.

Ten long, challenging days later and I am only tripping over myself on the first few steps of the Noble Eight-fold Path. Despite still in the forest, I have been handed a manual on how to fix my compass. Goenka highly encourages the students to continue practicing Vipassana twice everyday: one hour sittings in the morning and in the evening. Good luck sticking to that resolution; with our tight schedules of working jobs, staying fit at the gym, finding time to meet with friends and family, staying in touch with your 800 other friends on Facebook via passively “Liking” their statuses, and ekeing out a few hours to sleep at night, it can be difficult squeezing in two hours of meditation per day. Though we live in the Western society, one deeply rooted in the ailing free market, expensive health care and social security, mentality of infinite borrowing, and workaholic requirement to achieve financial success, we can always pursue its misery-freeing alternative: find a steady 9-5 job, make enough money to send your children to college, and have enough left over to afford a therapist, or, at the least, some xanax pills.

 

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam — may all beings be happy.

 

Andy

 

Thanks go to Alvin, Steve, Shelley, and Pauline for reviewing a draft of this entry.

Tagged , ,

instagram, your e-peen, and you

instagram, hailed by the startup community as one of those great UX iphone app success stories and having grown to 13 million users within 13 months, has transformed into something greater than just a simple photo-sharing app (as was, arguably, originally intended by its creators).  i, a staunch believer that any chick with a DSLR will claim herself as a photographer, too, became enamored by the simplicity of sharing photos, especially with filters that can make a picture of your dog’s tight coils on the lawn look like a photo hanging in some soho art gallery.  and now i have gotten to a point where i do not look at any picture unless it is through one of instagram’s 17 magical filters.

like any platform that has reached critical mass in user size, there is a scale of user “influence” or “visibility” ranging from casual (user has average followers of 20 to 100, linearly correlated with the number of bikini pics she has shared on Facebook), as well as the “super user” (user has average followers exceeding a thousand).  a “super user” doesn’t necessarily mean the user is brilliant at choosing the best filter over a particular photo that will invoke the strongest emotions in the viewer or the user (with a great fundamental understanding of human behavior) shares great soft core pornography (i view my soft core porn #nofilter, but to each his own), but could mean that the user simply has great visibility in the real world (i.e. celebrity status, famous athlete).  but what is so great about having more instagram followers? why should i care?

 

Your “e-peen” and why it matters

well, obviously the greater your digital social presence means the bigger your “e-peen“. wasn’t this the entire purpose of the internet? to write a xanga entry solely for the most e-props, to create a youtube video to get more views than rebecca black’s critically acclaimed “friday” (republican candidate rick perry actually just surpassed “friday” with his “strong”, not by the number of views, but by the number of dislikes–perhaps one rare example of any publicity not being good publicity), or to make a Facebook account to get the most pokes?

the real power and influence that is derived from having a greater reach with your digital social presence is you may have a slightly marginal (perhaps seemingly immaterial) higher probability of persuading a follower to make a purchase somewhere. and the entity that ultimately sold to your follower would, ideally, attribute that sale to you (marginally).  given that premise, anybody can grow their influence and eventually get paid to create buzz or generate publicity (i.e. john mayer’s tweet about words with friends helped popularize the game).  like other aspects of legacy industries, the internet is slowly tearing down the barriers once reserved for celebrities and athletic endorsements–anyone with a large enough “e-peen” will get noticed.

 

Taking care of your “e-peen” and reaching “super user” status

so how do we increase the size of our “e-peen”? for instagram (and similarly, twitter), the steps appear to be the following:

1) hash tag your picture. the most popular hash tag is #iphoneography. also choose times of day where your target audience is awake and will most likely come across your photo.

2) like other people’s pictures so that your existence can be acknowledged by others and those who view their pictures.

3) lather, rinse, repeat.

however, with the above formula, it soon becomes a full time job to reach “super user” status (which it undoubtedly is, as major corporations have hired tech savvy marketers for the sole purpose of taking care of its “e-peen”).  the effort involved from growing from casual to “super user” also is self selecting: those not willing to invest the time and effort will not reap the benefits of having a large “e-peen” (note that it is hotly debatable whether or not these benefits are even worth the user’s time and effort to increase his/her social influence, especially given higher opportunity cost of working a 9-5 or anything else).  additionally, the higher the percentage of “super users” to casual users may slightly reduce the marginal benefit in the pursuit of a larger “e-peen” as the limited attention of users are to be split among more sponsored content.

the phenomenon of using these content sharing platforms to influence others have ushered in a wave of startups with the intent of helping users measure the length, girth, and yaw their “e-peen” (i.e. klout, crowdbooster) by providing colorful charts, infographs, and dials. and, according to klout, it appears that my “e-peen” has a healthy reach, one that i am satisfied with (it has definitely reached your eyes if you are reading this right now).

 

Content sharing and advertising value

the balance in the user base between casual users and “super users” is also important to the net value that the platform provides.  a network where every user follows every other user (where everyone is a “super user”) creates too much noise and will not provide value to anyone.  a network comprised solely of casual users is ripe for “harvesting” by an entity who finds this content generation valuable (in most cases, advertisers and marketers) and “super users” will naturally arise to take advantage of this wealth of data.

would any content sharing platform inherently devolve into a race and competition to get the biggest “e-peen”? what if you could measure all of your aim, QQ, msn, gchat messages?  would banner ads start showing up in my sms/text messages?  would i hear a commercial when checking my voicemail (honestly, though, who still uses voicemail)?  would all conversation, which is the heart of content sharing, boil down to thinly veiled product pitches, shameless advertisements, and promotions?

conversely, how much would mankind demand to get paid to allow this future to exist?

 

 

andy

Tagged ,

5 signs you are a silicon valley startup engineer

it has only been a few weeks since i have moved into the fast paced world of startups and engineering from that of the financial and capital markets.  however, there are just some hard truths that i had to wrap my mind around in order to become fully assimilated in this new universe.  here are five inarguable signs that occur when you are in the process of becoming into a silicon valley startup engineer.

1. less time spent on LinkedIn, more time spent on Github: LinkedIn is the professional social network of choice, because it is conveniently sandboxed from the rest of your virtual existence.  as such, the pictures from last night’s cat-burglar-themed orgy do not get automatically updated to  your profile (that and the fact that LinkedIn’s interface is way confusing with its ‘degrees of separation’ among other stuff that are the only differences from popular social networking tool Facebook).  However, LinkedIn profiles are prone to the same problem that normal resumes have: unbridled embellishment.  Your two week stint at your dad’s brother’s dental practice where you LOL’d at geekologie.com all day is incidentally a paid internship program where you helped manage multiple client accounts and successfully improved operational efficiencies (measured by several multiple-syllable data metrics) through method automation and strong analytical skills.  Engineers, however, are builders by profession and self-proclaimed statements infused with marketing buzzwords such as “created synergies through boosting aggregation operation logistics” have no positive effect.  Github is the place where developers keep their portfolios of cool things they have made; it is examples of their past work that demonstrate their abilities.  Engineers normally have githubs on their personal splash pages and business cards that are exchanged in person.  Some people even exchange github links prior to making eye contact (i have seen it done).  An engineer without a github is a young urban professional without a self-entitled attitude.

2. standards for women lowers drastically:  silicon valley is a black hole of attractive women. it could be the dense population of computers that largely inhabit a typical man’s time that could be the major deterrant for women to flock to silicon valley (computers do as their told and only requires a push of a button to turn on, especially if using a mac).  you’ll realize you have reached silicon valley when you start to notice when there is a female within the nearest 10 mile radius.  you’ll examine it quizzically, questioning its existence (‘is that really a chick?’), then followed by admiration (‘wow, i really respect her tenacity to be doing what shes doing’), then followed again by a mix of curiousity/fascination (‘what is her story? she probably took a wrong turn somewhere.’), then finally followed by skepticism (‘she is most definitely fake; i’ve seen real girls on the internet and that is definitely not it’).  moreover, your standards teeter on the edge of plummeting down a endless abyss.  you’ll start overlooking underbites and lazy eyes.  a symmetrical face is a godsend.  although there are few women here, it is definitely less distracting–had there been more physical women in silicon valley, the growth and innovation would grind to a screeching halt.

3. develop a strong affinity for white boards:  if silicon valleyers had it their way, all of the asphalt on the road would be replaced with shiny white boards.  because who doesn’t like a surface on which items can be most conveniently read/written/re-written?  startup offices are most often judged on the following two criteria: the abundancy of snacks and drinks, and the size and girth of white board space.

4. wardrobe shifts to cargo shorts/pants and running shoes:  not quite sure if this is the cause or the result of lack of women in the valley, but wardrobes tend to shift towards the standard engineer gear: hoodie, cargos, and running shoes. its the practical approach to attire: it is comfortable and those around you (people, computers, machines) don’t care what you wear.

5. 

Tagged , ,

Bay Area vs. New York Metropolitan Area

Bay_area_map_final

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.

 

andy

 

*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.

Tagged , ,

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?

15-cows-eating-grass

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.

andy

 

Tagged , ,

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, 

Webvan

 

Myspace

MySimon

Furniture.com

Pets.com

AOL drove into the ground

Tagged ,

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.

andy

Tagged , ,