Tag Archives: startup

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

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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?




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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.


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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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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 (www.lemikegao.com).







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:



From "prince" to "pauper"


note: you can use the arrow key to click through the image gallery (there are two images).

disclaimer: the last time i used mint to allocate my budget was two years ago in 2008. the budgeting that i set at that time in my life is wildly unreflective of my spending habits in the past year.  additionally, the horrifying “budget exception” includes several transportation bills (airfare, cabs) that was reimbursed so graciously by my previous employer.  the images are just to comically emphasize the drastic change in spending habits from within a few weeks.


of the few extreme aspects of my recent “life changes”–from working at a bank (quite possibly the most corporate, hierarchical environment, to which someone can be subjected) to working at a startup (quite possibly the most formless, unstructured entity), from living in new york city (one of the few cities in the world where you can eat, drink, find drugs, find sex–essentially, satiate any hedonistic appetite–at any given time of the day, borderline unhealthy focus on career development) to living in california (eternal absence of humidity, perpetual laidback attitude and approach to life supported by limitless blue skies and palm trees)–one of the more prominent is spending habits.  by pursuing a startup, i forgo the bimonthly paycheck that financed my irresponsible drinking habits and set current spending limitations until our venture reaches cash flow positive (cash flow from operations less maintenance capital expenditures).


spending has significantly declined since my move to california (except for my recent expense on a new macbook air). unfortunately these cut backs occurred at the worst time possible, when i just recently discovered this site www.thisiswhyimbroke.com. where else can you buy an AK-47 lamp? actually, probably the AK-47 lamp store or via this link: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=ak-47+lamp


anyway, here is to my transition from a comfortable life of feeling like a boss and saying “yeah, i can afford it; you go ahead and supersize that” to living like a college student, once again (during which, i became an armchair coinnessur of korean instant ramen, as well as raised my cholesteral levels and tolerance to spicy MSG-filled broth).  goodbye $14 stirred dirty gin martinis, laphroiag 10-year with two ice cubes, speakeasies, bottle service (exclusively in lower east side, i should add; meat packing district was out of my first-year financial analyst price range and douche-tolerance zone for me to rage comfortably), tapas bars, bloody marys with brunch, and taking cabs.  hello low rent, free google food (thank you fourth roommate, Michael Wei), kalimotxo (equal parts two buck chuck wine and off-brand cola), and costco wholesale food.




current morale level:

excited. counting down the days until michael gao’s birthday (9/30) and then until we move to Santa Clara (10/7).

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See you on the other side


This is it!

Arrived at san diego to mikes warm embrace, caught up over the next several minutes on how our last days at our jobs were, and realized that our journey is just beginning. This has probably been my most difficult and life altering decision, aside from that one time i decided to graduate from high school.

Ill be updating my blog semi regularly with the developments with our product, as well as random other pictures and videos of amusement.


Things to do this upcoming week:
– incorporate
– finish YC application
– read ‘the four steps to epiphany’
– meet kim’s parents (scheduled for end of this week in LA)
– get equipment ready for new space (macbook air, dell keyboard, monitors, etc)
– help mike move

Current morale level:
Excited, anxious to move to SF