Daily Archives: December 17, 2013

“When are you going to start your own company?”


 

I get asked this question frequently. I reckon this is because

 

1. It’s the hot thing to do. There is general startup fever in the tech industry, fueled by particularly eye-catching success stories like Instagram, Dropbox, Airbnb, Pinterest, Square, etc. and easier pathways to entry like idea-less application to YCombinator.

 

2. I have worked at two early-stage startups now, which may indicate (a) I like / am predispositioned to like startups and/or (b) I have learned something about startups, and actually just see point 1. It’s the hot thing to do.

 

I have many answers to the implicit “why not now?” but the all-encompassing one is that I ultimately care most about creating value for the world and at this moment starting my own company is not a leading contender as a means to achieve that goal. To rephrase and elaborate:

 

Image representing Tracy Chou as depicted in C...

Image by None via CrunchBase

 

At this moment I believe I can create more value working as an engineer for someone else’s growing and successful company than starting a company for the sake of starting a company, lacking a mission I’m passionate about, and without as self-sufficient a set of skills, resources, or insights as would give me confidence in my ability to be successful in a meaningful product- and team-building endeavor.

 

I also believe I can set myself up for creating more value down the line by learning as much as possible about building products and teams in my current environment at Pinterest and in the broader Silicon Valley ecosystem, where I am surrounded by incredible engineers, designers, product managers, community managers, partner managers, marketers, lawyers, HR managers, investors, general-purpose operators and hustlers, mentors, managers, leaders, and everybody else who makes everything happen, as we iterate on and grow products and teams. Here is a good place to be, because it’s where the capital and talent is dense, and ambition and audacity abound.

 

But that’s not to forget that there are a lot of big problems out there. Outside the bubble of the Valley and its iPads and Teslas and “scrappy” startups with fully stocked microkitchens, there are big gaping holes in the fabric of society left to patch.There is appalling inequity in access to clean water, education, healthcare; across countries, socioeconomic classes, genders, ethnicities — I have been so privileged that I sometimes feel guilty for how much I have and take for granted, but I know that I am learning and that these lessons I am learning will still be imminently useful in a future career more directly guided by achieving social impact.

 

On the technical side I’m learning now how to build products: how to prototype and build out web and mobile apps, how to design and scale systems and codebases, how to iterate with design and product and community. On the people side I’m learning now how to work with teams, particularly teams that need to grow and are growing, I’m learning about hiring, culture, communication, decision-making, management, leadership.

 

And even more than all that I’m learning to see the power of technology and where it can take us. I’m learning now how technology can make people’s lives more efficient and delightful and even fully transform them. “Life 2.0″ startups a la Uber (”everyone’s private driver”) and Postmates (one-hour on-demand delivery service!) in San Francisco can seem frivolous, services for the 1% or even 0.1%, but they illustrate how technology, artfully applied, can completely change the character of one’s day-to-day schedule — I can see eventual applications of this service model in more efficient job marketplaces. Beautiful apps like Flipboard and Paper don’t really seem necessary for anything, but they push the envelope in user interface and interaction design — I can see eventual applications in intuitive education software designed for self instruction, distributed on cheap tablet devices to the economically disadvantaged, who may not have access to good, if any, teachers or classrooms.

 

So when am I going to start my own company? I don’t know when, or even if — but if that time does come that I truly believe the most effective way to achieve impact is to start my own company (or non-profit), I’m hope I’m ready with the skills, resources, and insights to do something great.

 

medium -> https://medium.com/little-thoughts/eba7c025ccf6

 

 

Facebook backer Yuri Milner exits automatic Y Combinator investments


SAN FRANCISCO Mon Dec 16, 2013 6:12pm EST

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Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner looks on during the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize announcement in San Francisco, California February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner looks on during the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize announcement in San Francisco, California February 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

(Reuters) – Yuri Milner, the Russian investor known for his bets on Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc, is pulling out of an arrangement that let him invest automatically in a group of companies participating in a program called Y Combinator.

The companies will instead receive investments from venture-capital firm Khosla Ventures, Y Combinator said in a blog post on Monday.

keep reading -> http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/16/us-venture-milner-ycombinator-idUSBRE9BF1GA20131216

 

The Terminator and our fear of Big Data


Science-fiction has shown us the power of data, and we are all afraid of the future

 

From Blade Runner to 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Terminator, science fiction stories have predicted a future in which our reliance on technology has created a dystopian society where humans have lost or compromised their free will, or sit on the edge of total apocalypse…..Yet our society continues to move steadily towards a future in which data plays a greater and greater role and people are entrusting computers to make more and more decisions.

Is this fear of technology warranted, or do robots and humans living harmoniously just make for bad box office sales?


James Cameron’s 1984 flick the Terminator, is often too easily cast off as an over-the-top(but entertaining) sci-fi expose of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excessive power and ability to deliver hilarious one-liners in mediocre English. But its commentary on big data might make it one of the most relevant and even prophetic movies of our times. However, this movie also serves to further the weighted dichotomy between man (good) and machine (evil) and to propagate a fear of data science, and even technology in general. This may create resistance in some circles to exploring the potential positive uses of Big Data in our society, but perhaps more harmfully, it creates a paradigm in which engagement with this very real topic is relegated to a realm of science fiction and fantasy. Meaningful discussion surrounding the future of big data and society is hard to come by, and rarely addressed by anyone outside the industry.


The Terminator posits a future in which robots have become intelligent to the point where they are self-aware and declare war on their humans masters. It becomes a battle of emotion and science, and one man’s ability to triumph through his passion, and his realization that love (not data) is the most powerful force in the universe. The irony of the Terminator movies is that it was the Skynet Corporation’s commitment to improving and protecting society by investing in the creation of military defense technology, that allowed the machines to become so smart they began creating and following their own orders. In ‘the moment of awareness’ the machines became self aware and initiate a nuclear holocaust that all but eliminates their creators, and certainly liberates them from human control.

C23742-34, President Reagan having a photo tak...

C23742-34, President Reagan having a photo taken with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a similar story occurs in a much more isolated situation and on a more micro-level. On a mission to Jupiter a spaceship’s computer system, Hal, trusted to monitor and protect the astronauts aboard, disobeys human orders and makes decisions that ultimately result in the loss of human life (oversimplified, yeah, but you get the point).


Skynet and Hal are both ‘evil’ manifestations of Big Data — or rather warnings against the evils of reliance on machines. Both these computer systems choose self-preservationist actions that go against human orders, result in human deaths and most of all remove the agency of humans from their own lives. The people are rendered powerless when the systems they entrusted their data to, choose to take control. And this is what people fear the most — the loss of their ability to control their own destinies.

It is largely acknowledged in both popular culture as well as philosophy, that what sets us apart from animals and machines, what makes humans human, is our capacity for free will — that it is our ability to make decisions, and to make them on more than just the data we perceive or instincts we feel, but to also take into account emotion, compassion, empathy, and sympathy that make us special.

Cover of "The Terminator [Blu-ray]"

Cover of The Terminator [Blu-ray]

In this sense big data poses a threat to our very essence of humanness. But on the other hand, humanity has always struggled with its ability to control its free will – for the capacity for freewill also allows us to make mistakes or even commit evil. Big data, however, can help reduce this margin of error. Computer’s can analyze amounts of data beyond the capacity of any human, and thus also make decisions with greater scope, precision, and historical basis and also create greater predictions for future events and problems that may occur as a result of decisions made today.


It seems this fear of intelligent machines, of people losing their own agency, is inherent in our pop culture, and perhaps is also instinctual- an essential part of our humanness. People (rarely) are willing to entrust their entire lives, governments or military to robots, yet in reality we are in many ways doing just that. Skynet and Hal are no longer far fetched ideas, but realistic, possibilities. People still view this potential technological takeover as a far off thing though, as a sci-fi or futuristic/fantastic concept. And this might be James Cameron and Stanley Kubrick’s greatest detraction from the topic- that they created these ideas for us in a far off place, in a fantasy that exists only and necessarily in the future. But we lay on the edge of that future now. It is not longer science fiction, but science fact. This IS the era of big data — computers are making decisions about us everyday, about what we see, who we connect with, what information we interact with, what medicines we take, where we drive, what media we are exposed to, and they will do so more and more.


The average person does not know how much of a role big data already plays in their daily life.


This articles does not contain some grandiose vision for how big data should be used, or a solution to any particular problem. This is simply about my realization of how my views on big data have been unwittingly shaped. I see our world moving closer and closer to one in which computers are entrusted to make decisions, and our reliance on data only increases — a world in which the existence of Skynet is not far off. Yet, I feel rationally compelled to refuse to believe that there will ever be a moment of awareness, and so my two notions of a future with bag data remain disconnected.

The questions stand: how can we use big data to our advantage, and at what point does it pose a threat to our notion of our own self existence, or to the safety of our society? To what level can it reduce human error and increase the efficiency and safety of our world? And perhaps most importantly of all: who gets to make these judgments?

Perhaps we will be able to marry our fundamental need for control and free will with the type of big data that saves people’s lives, enriches experiences, and creates conveniences, or perhaps we are destined to fulfill the prophecies we created for ourselves and will eventually live in a world where we are enemies with the machines we created.

Either way we will create this outcome. So let’s at least put the fantasy aside and start a real discussion about what big data means for us today, and what it will mean in the not-so-distant future.

 

Written by

I live in China, I create awesome customer experiences for #Cinafides, and I rock n’ roll

Published December 5, 2013

 

 

 

Recipes for a Failed Business


Recipes for a Failed Business

…I wish I had known beforehand.

 

If you’re in a rush — or not an avid reader — scroll down to the Conclusion section and you’ll get the most of this article, without the fun maybe.


I could consider myself as a failed entrepreneur, so far, but in the same time it has been a rich and educating experience that I will definitely be able to use in a not-so-distant future. Yet, I wish someone had told me a few things that an MBA doesn’t usually teach you: all the theory is beautiful, but applying it to a real case is much more than just dealing with a cold case study…


From one project to the other

When I moved to Brazil, I thought it was high time I brought a change into my career path, since I was quite disillusioned by the corporate world of feudal power and servanthood, and by intellectually unsatisfying jobs where creativity and initiative where so rarely welcome.

Freshly immigrated, I brought along several project ideas that would, of course, revolution things and make of myself a successful and visionary person, or — at least — an entrepreneur.


“Better is the enemy of good”

One of my first purchases in Brazil was a multifunctional printer, a DVD burner and a video studio software. After a few weeks in Rio, I had realized that people were slowly moving away from VHS tapes and moving into the DVD world, as everywhere else. And in 2002, DVD were not used so much yet in Brazil than they were in the United States or Canada, but it would get there since Brazilian are fast adopters of technology — and it did, eventually. Another important factor for migrating to DVDs was, the heat and humidity in Rio were damaging magnetic tapes quite fast.

So the idea was simply to provide customer with a custom-made DVD of their tapes, so that they would be able to save their memories forever, and with quality. Contrary to most other providers of this service — me and my wife were definitely not the only ones to have detected and seized the opportunity — our product was really tailor-made, instead of being a simple replication of a tape onto a DVD. We would meet with the customer, see what they expected, create chapters and/or reorder events from the tape, add pictures to the flow. Our product was a BEST. Sincerely.

But it was also costing a lot to produce, considering the errors while rendering the movie and the errors writing to the blank DVDs — the technology for writing DVDs was quite new and the only DVD writers available on the Brazilian market at that time were slow (1x) and expensive (although technology was made available in Brazil, with a delay, it was at least two or three times the price it was sold in the States), as were also the blank DVDs.

So, to meet the demand and align with the competition, we had to sell almost without margin when our DVDs were taking days to produce sometimes, after a few unsuccessful attempts and lost DVDs.

As far as I remember, we must have stopped that project after some twenty or thirty DVD. The fact is, we were too good for the market, too perfectionist, and eventually making no money.

I wish I had known about the MVP concept at that time…

Main mistake: a perfect product is expensive to build and costs a lot. It cannot compete with a cheap and quick product. These are different markets. And both markets do not necessarily exist.


Cultural Differences

Never, ever, underestimate cultural differences between countries or even between people inside one country. My second project was to try and reproduce the idea from CafePress or Lulu and to bring the publishing on demand technology to Brazil.

That project was in fact something I had had in my mind for a long time, to be precise since I had discovered CafePress, back in Montréal, and printed a few T-shirts of my own design for another —deadborn — project of mine, “diNMS”, a Distributed Network Management System.

Hopefully, I started my MBA before really investing into that project, and chose to study for my monograph the Brazilian Publishing Industry, which was an eye-opener on the fact that industry had serious issues because people were not reading so much, and even less publishing. Book publishing was mostly targeting the wealthier classes and the educational sector. Most other classes had certainly higher priorities for their salaries.

I thought for a moment I could take advantage of the publishing industry and make good use of the underused huge publishers to produce books and have them exported, but then the Brazilian Real decided to become a strong currency and exporting stopped to be a good idea… Project was trashed without hesitation.

Cristo Redentor do Rio de Janeiro

Cristo Redentor do Rio de Janeiro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Main mistake: most products won’t work the same in different countries with different cultures


Getting in the Real Business

When I finished my MBA, I thought I had learnt enough of the theory about how to become a successful entrepreneur and it was time for me to really “start” something, not just to try.

With my wife, we decided that finally the best business I could start would be a business in the IT world since I was first and foremost an IT engineer. So we decided to open an IT consulting business.

We also thought that it would be a good idea to sell online goods since the Brazilian market was experiencing a boom, so we planned to open an e-commerce site dedicated to computers and related-technology equipments.

Fighting the Giants, and some Windmills too…

It took me some three months to get our e-commerce site ready. My previous experience with php-nuke had led me to consider Joomla for the site, combining the blog-like ability and the VirtueMart plug-in for e-commerce. Then we negociated with the five biggest Brazilian technology equipment providers and I started developing crawlers on the site to get product references and availability. In no time, we were showing more than product eight thousand references, prices and were ready to get our first customers. Then we discovered things were never as easy as they seemed…

Firstly, we were two people running a business that was looking the size of Amazon.com, with no stocks, while our two or three competitors had huge stocks and a few hundred employees. Naturally, we were receiving in Rio de Janeiro the equipments sent from São Paulo, where all our distributors were located, and then sending them back to the customer, sometimes located in… São Paulo. Even making reasonable margins (15%), the deal on most small equipments was killed by the shipping costs from the distributors, and our delivery time was obviously longer than the one from stores that were keeping stocks. Being nicer to the customer than a big anonymous store was certainly a huge advantage, but that was still not enough in most cases.

First mistake: if you fight with giants, you need a real differential and you need to be more competitive than them.

Secondly, we discovered what “grey market” means. I had heard about the black market, where stolen goods are sold, but never of a market where goods were imported through unconventional paths. In Brazil, the usual path is for the distributors to buy directly in the United States, and pay some importation taxes. But the other path is to have producted imported illegally via other border countries like Paraguay or Uruguay. The latter products enter the market with a much lower price, and are usually sold indiscriminately by physical stores that mainly accept cash as a payment method. Of course, the customer has no warranty for these products, and the bill they get is usually useless when they try to show up at a store that has long ago disappeared — there are lots of small stores in Rio de Janeiro that last between a few weeks and a few months and then go bankrupt or simply disappear.

Second mistake: you cannot beat illegality. Customers will always make the price the main element of decision, legal or not.

Wake-up call

That was when we suddenly reminded that we had initially planned to start a consulting company, not an e-commerce site… Even better, we had thought that with the fast growth we would have, we would need technicians and had rented an office space with two rooms, the “executive” room — for me and my wife — and the front room, where we would receive customers, solve their problems, etc…

Third mistake: don’t lose focus on your initial objective.

After searching for some business we could provide service to, we just realized that the best we could offer was services to simple customers, not to businesses, because we were not enough staffed to attend a bigger demand. We lost a possibly important contract because of that, but still that would have been mainly a computer-maintenance contract and that was not really the highly skilled service we intended to give to our customers and we would — again — have fought lower price competitors, possibly not even declared.

Fourth mistake: if you offer B2B services, be prepared to attend customers of the size you target, but don’t build a huge team or rent a huge space if you don’t have any customer in your pocket first.

Although this business was over technically after not even one year, it took almost two more years to legally shut it down.


From the IT Business to the Music Business

After a serious deception from this failed business attempt, I spent some time focusing on music, as an amateur artist: I discovered the power of creating great tracks with a simple Macbook and a music keyboard.

But after a while I wondered how easy it would be to try and sell that music, and I faced two questions all musicians have asked themselves: where and how to sell?

I tried to self produce a CD on Amazon — through CreateSpace, a subsidiary — which proved very easy and straightforward but also costless. But that wasn’t enough to bring awareness about my music, and I thought there had to be a way to sell independently when you’re totally unknown.

Then I discovered ReverbNation, a site for independent artists that help them expose their music and offers them tools to sell, like hosted websites, widgets, CD production bundles that have them published on iTunes, Amazon and many others for a —somehow — affordable price, that is, if you end selling… I discovered Taxi, a site that promotes your music — if selected — to agents or possible buyers in the Music Business, for a much less affordable annual price… and recurring fees.

When I exhausted all possibilities to really distribute my music through online services, I thought that there was a space to be filled to allow independent musicians to sell their stuff without incurring high fees or initial investments, and I started developing my next project, MusXpand — as in “Music Expand”.

Combining Several Reasons for Failure

into One Simple Project

I started coding on MusXpand based on my own needs, and soon moved into making it work for others too. This was back in September 2010, one year after starting to compose my own music, and just a few month before moving to Canada as a permanent resident.

In March 2011, two months after landing in Canada and after having attended some seminars on starting a business here, I officially launched MusXpand, although the site was not yet ready.

First mistake: why precipitate things?

If you’re not ready to contact customers with sample of what you can propose them, then why hurry creating a business that doesn’t exist?

It took me a few more months before I could get a working site, and have a few musician friends from ReverbNation betatest the site and give some feedback. Then it took more months improving things, changing others, and globally simplifying what was too complicated.

In the same time, the subscription formula I had chosen to use didn’t seem to be attracting enough, so I updated it, making it a really great deal for the buyers, and still a nice thing for the musicians, who would get 80 percent of the sales’ proceeds vs. a few percent as usually noted in the Music Industry.

Second mistake: before testing a new formula, ask yourself if there is a formula at all…

With not much more success by the end of the year, and only a few musicians registered — some who were the most amazing people I had met in a long time and some that I would not even call musicians — I decided to completely revamp the site and offer various subscriptions formulas, some per-artist and some site-wide, along with the simple sale of tracks and albums. I was totally inovative in the UI design, moving away from point-and-click techniques and establishing drag-and-drop as the way to go for all actions on the site. I loved the site. Got some great feedback from some musicians.

And still no buyers.

Third mistake: define who is your real customer.

I spent most of the time developing a kind of music e-commerce site thinking my customer was the music buyer, and only asking feedback from the musicians, who were the product suppliers, not the customers.

When I realized my customers were the music buyers or consumers, it was evident I had made a

Fourth mistake: you cannot fight with free businesses.

My main competitors were not iTunes, Amzon, Spotify or whoever sells music, but whoever GIVES music away, and that is, mostly, YouTube. If people can get music for free, why would they pay for it in the first place?

So I stopped MusXpand in September 2012 and found a Software Developer job in two weeks.

Fifth mistake: build a MVP

Retrospectively, I spent two years developing a site and trying to make it perfect without one customer in sight. The best lesson I learnt in the few first week at my new job was that a startup should always build a MVP, a Minimum Viable Product. If someone is interested by your product, there will always be time to improve the product, the design and the overall UX.


Conclusion

Starting your own business is a dream for many, but improvisation is never a good advisor.

Here’s a quick checklist that may not necessarily lead you to success, but it may at least keep you away from trivial failure:

  1. Think big, but start small. Don’t over-rent or over-staff with no customers.
  2. Define who are your real customers and who are your suppliers. Keep it that way, not the other way around.
  3. Test your product on a quick minimalist prototype (“MVP”)
  4. Get feedback as soon as possible for your potential customers, not from anyone that wouldn’t buy from you.
  5. Don’t try to compete with products from different market: define your market and keep up with it, or adjust your product to the other market, but then that’s just another business.
  6. Check if your product is a cultural fit. If not, leave it, you can change product, but you won’t change cultures.
  7. Don’t compete with giants if you have no strong differential.
  8. Don’t try and fight on prices: if your product is more expensive, then it’s not for a cheap products market.
  9. Price is the main decision factor. Legality in most customers’ mind is irrelevant. You can’t fight illegal markets.
  10. Don’t lose focus.
  11. Don’t rush. It’s the recipe for mistakes and failure. If you have to rush to be successful, then chances are you will not get there in time.
  12. Test if there is really a demand for your product (don’t shortcut the market research!). It’s not because YOU need it, that everyone else needs it too…
  13. Don’t fight with free businesses. They don’t make money selling products.

I could probably add a lot more to this list, but I can tell you that if I could send myself a memo in the past, I’ll send myself the above list because it would have saved me a lot of time and money.

 

Written by

Entrepreneur, Investor, System and Network Engineer, Software Developer, Musician and Active Thinker. Among other things…

 

 

 

No one should be expected to work three days in a row


Or I choose life.

 

I woke up yesterday morning to numerous posts on Facebook and Twitter linking to a story about a young Indonesian woman who had passed away after working for three days straight.

In many ways, I was desperate to read the story for two reasons: 1. The updates from my friends sounded like they knew her well, and I wondered if I too may have encountered her in the past, and 2. Stress at work, or even overworking, has been something that have been on my mind recently.

Those of you who know me personally would have heard me described myself mostly as a “bum” since I graduated and returned to Malaysia earlier this year. While it’s a nice picture I try to paint to myself, the reality is that I’ve done quite a bit of work over the past eight months — a short stint as a consultant at an agency, taught three modules at a private university, completed several consultancy gigs and a few of my own social projects.

One of the reasons why I decided to work this way was so that I had some flexibility in my life to not only choose the kind of work I wanted to do, but also so that I wouldn’t be constantly working. I drew an image of work-life balance in my head that I could have through this approach, and tried as hard as I could to follow through.

Twestival KL - PKKI co-founder Shirley Tan exp...

Twestival KL – PKKI co-founder Shirley Tan explains to Twestival KL members about the work PKKI does (Photo credit: suanie)

I didn’t always succeed but I constantly reminded myself of what my life objectives were, albeit usually at the end of a hectic project. Sure, I might have put myself through a lot before that reminder but at least, I usually got a chance to properly recover.

This was a promise I made to myself recently — alongside a couple of other things like drinking or texting while driving. All three have one thing in common, I wanted to enjoy the present, and I wanted to be alive.

Over the past few months though, there were times when I thought I should just give in. Occasionally, it was because of clients’ expectations but if I was going to be completely honest, there were moments when I just took on too much or overdid it.

This was something I learned about myself back in 2004, when I had taken on a new job and decided, through no one’s fault but my own, to work for 30 hours straight. Sure, I had a job to do and my boss had given me a deadline but the choice was completely my own. When I told him the day after what I had done, he gave me a good telling off. I didn’t get along with him and to this day he remains the one employer that I’m not on talking terms with, but that was a lesson he taught me.

Considering how upset he was at my “crazy” antic, it was a good thing I didn’t tell him that I knocked the car in front of me on the way home after that 30-hour stint because I fell asleep at the wheel.

At other times, it’s both the fault of my employer and myself. Not long after quitting that job, I found myself working on a big project with a very small team in a massive organisation. Determined to prove my worth, I took to working 16-18 hours a day, seven days a week. I knew enough that it was ridiculous so I never expected my team mates to come in with me on the weekend; instead, I pulled favours by asking other friends to come in to help me on the weekend.

This time it was different. My boss knew what I was doing and shrugged it off as “part of the job”. So, I would work over weekends, public holidays and even through celebrations — I would rush home from Malacca on the second day of Chinese New Year because “work had to be done”.

“Part of the job” seems to be a common thread in my experience with these things. With the 30-hour encounter, I told myself that I had to meet the deadline by hook or by crook. The job later had me telling myself that this is just the way it is.

And maybe it is, but it really shouldn’t be. We’ve grown accustomed to this culture of having to constantly prove ourselves and one-up each other because that’s how it works in this man-eat-man (or was it dog-eat-dog) world we live in.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I never noticed any of this until I took the first proper break after a decade of working back in 2011 and headed to Singapore for a three-month research stint. It was then that I found I could be efficient and hardworking without killing myself. Self-discipline was an issue, but it was easy enough to overcome (impending deadlines are a good motivation).

Almost 18-months in London doing my Masters reaffirmed this. I was doing bits of writing while being totally absorbed into my classes at university. I did pretty well at the end of the course, and if “How I lived my life to the fullest” was a module as well, I’d have aced it.

The two years away from working life helped me discover that wanting to have time to myself and enjoy life didn’t need to be at the expense of good work.

Which is why I decided to work the way I have since I’ve come back. And I’ve been trying to try to encourage this sort of thinking to people I’ve met. At one job, I stopped some people from holding 5pm meetings on a Friday evening with the knowledge that post-meeting follow up would probably cause some people having to stay till 9 or 10pm, when we could have scheduled them in the morning, for example.

And at another gig, which expected my team and myself to work countless of hours, I turned down the offer to work on another project because I felt that the expectations were not realistic. Or at least not realistic if I wanted to have a life, and not wanting anyone on my team to fall sick, or worse — as we’ve heard at numerous times — die from working too hard.

I’m not sure if my way is the only way, but it’s the right way for me. Having said that, over the past couple of months, I have been contemplating the possibility of starting work full time again next year not just because of opportunities being offered to me, but also because despite everything I’ve said, I like a bit of routine in my life.

The only difference I suppose is that I am now more aware of what my body tells me and hopefully know when not to push too hard and when to take a break — like when I went on a couple of spontaneous trips this year in between hectic periods, or decided to take a staycation to just relax.

Because I now know that good work doesn’t come from working like mad. It comes from both working hard and working smart. It helps to have understanding bosses too of course but if not, maybe we can help them understand.

I will admit that it’s easy to say all this when I have the luxury of not worrying too much about work (besides being really lucky with getting work as a “bum” of a consultant, I guess I also have a bit of savings to tide me over if things get too rough).

But as the cliche goes, each of us can make a difference. We need to stand up and speak out if we find ourselves in helpless situations. And of course, we can, as members of a team, make sure that we’re not pilling on to much work on one person or at the very least, maintain expectations if we are in a position to do so.

At my previous job, the company averaged one to two heart attacks a year while I was there. I don’t know if it was just coincidence or that work played a part (like many others, it was quite a stress-heavy job), but I’m loving life too much now to want to find myself in that same situation.

And I’m trying to avoid it in the only way that I currently know — by enjoying life.

View story at Medium.com

 

 

 

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Procrastination or maximizing a sense of urgency


Is it a flaw, or a virtue?

 

Often times, the question comes to mind, “Is procrastinating a bad habit or is it a virtue?” When I want to make up an excuse for my tendency to justify the lack of promptness, I believe in the notion that it depends on your personality, and what you choose to work on instead of doing something else (the more important task).


According to Psychology Today, Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions. Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off.The bright side? It’s possible to overcome procrastination—with effort.

So, PsychologyToday.com (for those not aware of this site) is a website where professionals, or leading academics, contribute to provide insight on human behavior.

Let me go back to the last statement of what they said about procrastination;

Procrastination. The bright side? It’s possible to overcome procrastination—with effort.”

Sounds like a disease, and like the majority of articles that focus on procrastination will tell you that there is a cure for this bad behavior — and even show you how to avoid it – or in other words learn to put it aside.

But wait, isn’t putting something aside another form of procrastination? Should I go and seek help now because I myself have procrastinated??? Nah, I’ll do it later.


Quick back story, two summers ago I participated in a Startup Weekend event in San Francisco where you’d pitch ideas,form teams, whichever gets voted the best will have the opportunity to be worked on and hopefully develop a prototype of the product. I was in a team of 10 individuals – our goal was to develop a mobile app and web site about online confessions with sufficient business development aspects. At the end of the event, which was Sunday evening, we developed a working product that was presented to a panel of judges. All in all it was a success. Had fun, it was awesome!

The point of the story is, we were a group of different individuals with no clue of strengths and weaknesses or how the other person’s behavior will impact our project. But the truth is we had very limited time, yet, we came up with a minimum viable product – or better, a functioning web/mobile application. How did we accomplish this? With a sense of urgency (IMHO).


I’m involved in a public speaking workshop (I get stage fright) and in one of the meetings, it was confirmed that I had to come up with a topic for a speech, considering it was my turn to do one. We met every other week, which gave me about two weeks to prep. I was trying to find a topic for my speech since I had left that meeting. Mind you, I had a lot of topics I wanted to talk about, ideas running crazy in my head, but for some reason, I couldn’t begin one. Just could not. I tried everyday for 11 days, and the closer it got to day 14, I had nothing, no substance whatsoever because I was distracted.

Image representing Paul Graham as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

It was finally the day to do my speech and earlier that day, I read an email from the organizer asking that we submit our topic and title to her. Red Flag! Because at that moment, I needed to get started, I was pressed for time! I looked at the clock and it was 3:35 pm, and within minutes, this topic of procrastination came to mind. I did my super quick research, came up with my title/topic and sent it off to her, wrote the outline, and completed my speech which you are now reading.


Now, to some this would be considered bad behavior, but to few others, the sense of urgency may bring the best out of us. To be honest, this is not an isolated incident for me because I noticed that I produced the best when I have a sense of urgency – and throughout my college experience, I was able to produce quality written work in a matter of couple of hours. So this behavior that I’ve developed and learned overtime has helped me effectively apply it to a lot of things. In other words, I’ve learned to procrastinate…better.


I leave you with this:

Is procrastination a flaw or a virtue? I say it’s neither, it all depends on your personality type, and how it’s managed. As for myself, I believe in seeing it as having a positive trait.

Keep in mind, I’m not advising on how to be a good procrastinator, nor am I condoning what is believed to be a bad character trait. I’m merely stating that it depends on how one would perceive the difference between delaying things is bad or good— Paul Graham said it best,

“ Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work or organizing tasks – in order of importance “

In my defense, completing my speech last minute was a result of having a sense of urgency.By the way, I completed my speech 45 minutes before I had to present it.

So do I need help? Perhaps, if it meant having my own personal assistant. Kidding.

 

 

 

 

Deliberate Programming


3 ways to get better, faster

 

Whether you just installed rails for the first time or wrote a 32-bit kernel in Rust for fun, you can increase your rate of improvement by deliberately practicing programming. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, our understanding of how people learn has grown tremendously in recent years, but there is still one big problem: it’s hard to apply the general principles of deliberate practice to any specific domain other than music or sports.

Since it’s my job at General Assembly to help people learn to code, I’ve thought a lot about why some students learn faster than others. In this essay, you’ll learn 3 simple things you can do to learn faster.

1. Repeat yourself

There’s a reason why golf courses have driving ranges. Repetition strengthens the neural pathways in your brain that get triggered when you perform an action. The more you do something, the more subtleties you start to notice, and the better you become at doing that thing.

There are lots of ways you can build repetition into your programming habit, but here are my two favorites:

  1. If you’re new to a framework or library, it helps to go through the motions of creating a new “hello world” project several times.
  2. If you’re in the middle of working on an app, try rewriting a feature immediately after you get done building it. To be clear: rewriting (starting again from scratch) is not the same as refactoring (modifying existing code).

2. Get out of your comfort zone

You should constantly be adding new tools to your toolbelt. Try a new library, or language, or feature of a language as often as possible. Experts become experts by mastering a ton of tiny things. Never fool yourself into thinking that you are focusing on your strenghts when you’re really just stagnating and going through the motions.

DemoCampLansing 2010 - Nathan Bashaw

DemoCampLansing 2010 – Nathan Bashaw (Photo credit: betsyweber)

A good way to tell if you’re learning enough new things is to measure how fast you usually build things. If you pride yourself on being able to build an app in 2 hours, using muscle memory alone, you’ve made the classic mistake of under-investing in production capacity by focusing solely on short-term output.

A good rule of thumb I’ve picked up from Chad Etzel (jazzychad) is to make sure you learn at least one new thing in each of your projects.

3. Seek negative feedback

Hearing “you’re doing a great job!” may feel good, but it’s far less useful than specific, timely feedback on areas where you can improve. Pair programming with an expert is by far the best way to get this type of feedback, but code reviews also work. The point is that you should get other people to look at your code as much as possible, and you should ask them to tell you what’s wrong with it.


Repeat yourself, get out of your comfort zone, and seek negative feedback. If that doesn’t sound like very much fun, it’s because it’s not. If you’re serious about getting better at anything, pain is your north star.

You know you’re doing it right when it hurts.


Do you have anything to add? Let’s chat about it on twitter.

 

 

WyzAnt Lands $21.5M From Accel To Take Its Tutoring Marketplace Global And Mobile


Posted 31 minutes ago by (@ripemp)

 

 

Building an online marketplace for local services is a tricky proposition, especially at scale. It takes time to recruit a stable of service providers, to offer deep coverage within local markets and maintain the quality of service (and the trust of customers) as the marketplace expands into new cities. For local service providers, though, moving online can be a boon for business, reducing costs and providing access to a new pool of customers.

Choosing the Best Outsourcing Service Provider

Choosing the Best Outsourcing Service Provider (Photo credit: FreelancersElite Graphics)

read more -> http://techcrunch.com/2013/12/16/wyzant-lands-21-5m-from-accel-to-take-its-tutoring-marketplace-global-and-mobile/

 

 

Fixing our social sharing tools


 

Have you ever decided not to share something even though you thought it was awesome? Maybe you found a great article breaking down a complicated conflict in a foreign country, or a Particularly Funny Internet Cat Video, or a thoughtful piece about the economy. You wanted to say “I enjoyed this,” but you didn’t, because you were worried you might offend some friends, or lose a few followers.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Every day I see Twitter users lamenting or belittling the followers that left them because of too many political tweets. Or bickering among old friends on Facebook over a blog post about gun control. The problem is that our social tools are fundamentally broken, and it’s shaping the way we represent ourselves online.

Many of the social tools we use today are designed as binary waterfalls: Either you’re in or you’re out. If I want your tweets about web development, I also get your tweets about politics. If I want your status updates from our hometown about our high school friends, I’m also opting in to your opinions about the latest episode of Real Housewives of Wherever. The problem with our social tools is that if you want to share something publicly, you must share with everyone.

Google attempted to solve the binary waterfall problem with the Google Plus “Circles” feature, but they ended up with a targeted sharing platform instead of a great social publishing platform (and maybe that’s what they wanted, as limited as that may be). On Facebook, they make the flood of information more palatable with a system called EdgeRank, which tries to guess which content you’ll “like” more. Twitter doesn’t try to filter anything. Instead, they leave it up to you to curate your feed by following or un-following.

Social tools also fail to recognize that individuals change. Our interests change over time, but our tools don’t automatically adjust without manual input from us (This was recently highlighted by Matt Haughey). The people you friended on Facebook 5 years ago are still there in your timeline, even if you rarely talk to them. This issue is possibly one of the reasons why social networks can be so volatile: You add the people you are friends with at the time, but after a few months, the people around you have changed enough that visiting the site is no longer interesting to you. Twitter leaves it up to you to curate your stream by making it easy to follow people who are interesting right now or un-follow people who tweet too much about things you don’t care about. As mentioned earlier, Facebook is trying to solve this problem with their EdgeRank algorithm. Rather than have you un-friend people, they try to show you things they think are relevant to you right now based on various signals like what you’ve recently “liked.”

The last problem I’d like to highlight is more related to social sharing sites like Reddit or Hacker News or the original version of Digg. These are sites where submissions fight for space among the homepage by gaining votes from the site’s visitors. In theory, it’s a fun idea: Social filtering brings most popular content for that day to the top of a list. Unfortunately, as these kinds of sites grow in popularity, you end up with two problems. First, the content on the homepage grows increasingly more homogenous in order to appeal to the broadest possible number of users. In order for a post to reach the homepage, it has to get more votes than all the other content, so niche subjects start to disappear from the top of the list. Second, these sites often have commenting systems where everyone can comment in the same space. With a small audience this is fine. You might recognize some of the names of the users leaving comments and even establish a rapport with them, but as the number of users grows, your monkey brain can’t keep up with the thousands of users. At that point, the users might as well be anonymous and some interesting group dynamics start to kick in (Clay Shirky wrote a fantastic article on the subject). This behavior can be partially summarized as: Normal Person + Anonymity + An audience = Total Fuckwad.

So how do we fix these issues?

First, our social tools need to recognize that people are complicated. We have many friends of varying closeness and many interests of varying intensity, and trying to communicate all of that through a single output isn’t natural. Paul Adams has compiled a bunch of fantastic research on how people interact with groups and has even written a book about it. Google Plus interpreted this research and came up with the idea of “Cirlces,” a tool that lets you categorize all your friends into groups in order to share things with them. Circles turned out to be an interesting way to share things with people you already know, but it takes a lot of work to maintain, and it doesn’t easily let you share with strangers whose interests are similar to yours.

What Google should have realized is that the important part about sharing content online is not who you share it with, but who you share it as. We all have various personalities. Mine might be my work personality, my photographer personality, my hometown-highschool personality, my video gamer personality. These interests are bigger than my small group of friends who also share these interests, but it’s really, really hard to express my various interests online without managing a bunch of distinct social networks. Our social tools need to allow us to share whatever we want, whenever we want, and not worry about pissing off our friends and followers.

Second, social feeds need to be more dynamic. The people I interact with are changing all the time, so why should my social networks be comprised of a rigid list of people? Alexis Madrigal recently said “These tools are only as good as the network you create on them,” but requiring me to constantly curate the people in my networks doesn’t seem like a fun way to spend my free time. Our social tools should be smart enough to know who and what we like and be able to adapt automatically over time. Facebook is making great progress in this area, and I’m really excited about what Google will do when they start to integrate Google Now-like features with Google Plus.

Last, we need to stop building tools that lump everyone together in one big group. Sites like Reddit and Hacker News and the original version of Digg are guilty of this design flaw. The result is that the Reddit homepage ends up being full of meme images and other one-off joke content or other widely accessible things. Of course you can customize the page by choosing categories, but that requires work—Reddit already knows what I like, why not make it automatic? Reddit’s attempt to solve this problem are Sub-Reddits, which are just sub-categories, and categories fail to address the root of the cause and instead treats the symptom. As a Sub-Reddit grows, the same large-group dynamic occurs and the content again shifts towards the more homogenous submissions. There’s a recurring discussion on Hacker News about how to “fix” the perceived lack of quality and politeness in the ensuing discussions, but I’m convinced that the answer isn’t buried in some fancy algorithm. I think the solution we need is more fundamental than that. We need to design our social tools with human behavior in mind.

It’s just not natural for humans to interact in huge groups. Our brains have evolved to handle only a few hundred social connections, so when we are thrown into an environment where we are interacting with hundreds or even thousands, we might as well be hanging out with a giant anonymous mob. That makes us not care about the people we interact with, and we might even change our behavior without realizing it.

Image representing Geoff Stearns as depicted i...

Image by None via CrunchBase

The good news is, not all the social tools are broken. Two sites stand out among the crowd to me at the moment are Pinterest and Medium. Pinterest solves the “binary waterfall” problem described above: If someone is sharing pins that I don’t find interesting, I can easily un-follow the board they are posting to without un-following them entirely. Pinterest has succeeded where other social sites have failed because they let us share all of our interests, not just what our followers might like. The result is that we share more content.

Medium is another site that is doing interesting things with content categorization. When you post content, you are forced to post it to a “collection” (the same way that Pinterest forces you to pin to a “board”). This results in loosely structured categories that contain ranked lists of content. I think it’s too early to tell if this model will be successful, I think it has a lot of promise and I’ll be watching the product closely as it evolves.

Both of these sites have made fundamental product decisions that allow them to scale their user numbers very effectively. Rather than scaling vertically, like Reddit or Hacker News, Pinterest scales horizontally like Twitter does. The total user base can grow and grow while your own network of friends and followers can exist on their own without much adverse effects (the exception is their global categories, but those aren’t the main focus of the site).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. You can tweet to me, @tensafefrogs, or start a discussion on Branch, or perhaps even Hacker News.

medium-> https://medium.com/i-m-h-o/c4c4074591ba

 

 

 

Journalists’ big switch


More companies are hiring scribes to ramp up ‘content plays’

From left, Michael Copeland, Ben Worthen, Dan Lyons, Harrison Weber & Brian Caulfield

A funny thing is happening to a lot of journalists I know: They’re bailing on Big-J journalism.

But while many are leaving the profession of journalism, they’re taking their craft with them. Faced with the Incredible Shrinking Business Models of the old media economy, journalists have begun taking their storytelling skills to the business world, particularly tech.

Companies are snapping up journalists left and right. Today every company is a media company — and who better to tell these companies’ stories than journalists trained in the art of storytelling?

Look at the roll call of A-list journalists who’ve traded newsrooms for businesses, venture capital firms and marketing startups:

• Michael Copeland, senior editor at Wired magazine and a former senior writer at Fortune and Business 2.0, joined Andreessen Horowitz in June to lead a new content strategy.

• Ben Worthen, a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was hired in March as Head of Content at Sequoia Capital in a content marketing play.

• Dan Lyons, who won a cult following as Fake Steve Jobs, was a senior editor at Forbes and a columnist at Newsweek before becoming editor-in-chief of ReadWrite — which he left in March for a content marketing job at HubSpot.

• Harrison Weber left The Next Web, where we was East Coast, Design & Features Editor, for WeWork, where he has launched FullStart, a new publication for entrepreneurs that combines storytelling and startup resources.

• Brian Caulfield, a journalist for Forbes, Red Herring and Business 2.0, joined Nvidia about a year ago as chief blogger.

• Tomas Kellner, a staff writer at Forbes for eight years, is now Managing Editor of GE’s daily blog, GE Reports, which takes a journalistic approach to covering innovation and technology breakthroughs.

• Rafe Needleman, the well-known tech journalist who was editor at large at CNET for eight years, joined Evernote in August 2012 to lead the team that runs its hackathons, workshops and outreach while writing an intermittent column.

• Erick Schonfeld, former editor in chief of TechCrunch, editor at Business 2.0 and writer at Fortune, joined DEMO as its executive producer in September 2012. He now gets to decide which startups make it on stage instead of just writing about them.

Notice a pattern?

MORE JOURNALISTS OPTING FOR ‘BRAND JOURNALISM’

Robert Scoble at the 2013 Startup Conference. Photo by JD Lasica.

It’s not completely new, of course. In earlier eras, many a journalist jumped over the Chinese wall to join a PR firm or ad agency. During the dotcom heyday, many took a leap into online entrepreneurialism before the Big Flameout of 2000-2001.

Of course, you don’t have to leave traditional just-the-facts-ma’am journalism behind if you join a tech company. Katie Couric and David Pogue recently made a splash by leaving CBS News and the New York Times to continue what they’ve been doing — only they’ll now be doing it for Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! (Prediction: Pogue is a keeper. Couric’s fish-out-of-water story will last a year or two.)

And a handful of journalists — Om Malik at GigaOm, Matt Marshall at Venturebeat, Sarah Lacy at Pando Daily, Jessica Lessin at The Information, Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg with AllThingsD and their new unnamed venture — managed to make the leap to business CEO/publisher without leaving journalism.

But the new new thing is for journalists to bring their mad skills, if not their rigorous craft, to what’s known as content marketing, sometimes called “brand journalism.”

Why is it happening? In a word: Google.

Ever since Google rolled out its “freshn”ess update,” companies have caught on to the idea that if they’re going to rank high in Google’s search results, they have to play the content game — by creating new content, delivered weekly, daily, even hourly, that generates lots of social sharing. That’s what Google demands today, so businesses need to feed the beast with interviews, Q&As, buzz-worthy infotainment and blog posts ranging from the erudite to the irreverent.

It all begins with generating interesting content — in other words, the kind of thing Robert Scoble has been doing forever. Scoble has been churning out blog posts and video interviews from his days at Microsoft to his current position as startup liaison officer for Rackspace and chief content creator at its Building 43.

And if anyone argues with you about whether someone is “really” a journalist — what? no news organization credentials? — all you need to do is heave a little sigh and say, “Who’s a journalist? Someone who does journalism. Look at Robert Scoble on any given day.” Though not necessarily at every single hour.

Scoble, who has a journalism degree, self-identifies as a journalist rather than a marketer. “It’s like being 97% a journalist,” he said by email. “The real difference between working for a journalistic organization and working for a company is I tend to only work on things that would help the company I work for. I doubt I’d go to Afghanistan and study their culture and how it’s rebounding since the war there, for instance.

“I’ve always seen myself as a hybrid: mostly journalist mixed with in with being a strategist, brand expert, general marketer and public face of a company.”

LYONS: DRAWING ON JOURNALISM SKILLS, BUT WITHOUT THE INDEPENDENCE

The line between journalist and marketer has gotten blurry in recent years. Journalists touting their posts on Twitter are committing random acts of marketing. Marketers conveying the story behind a new launch, product or service often create posts in a news-you-can-use format largely indistinguishable from Big-J Journalism.

Just don’t ask them to do an investigative report on their corporate bosses.

Dan Lyons said he draws on his journalism skills for his content marketing role at Hubspot. “I do virtually the same thing that I did as a journalist,” he said. “It involves storytelling, content creation, and trying to find and write great stories that get traffic. My ‘beat’ is media and marketing and tech, but it’s all through a lens of marketing. From my perspective the biggest change is how the company I work for goes about monetizing that traffic. In traditional media the money came from selling ads and putting them next to content. At HubSpot the traffic is about generating leads and converting leads to customers.”

Lyons, who spent 25 years covering tech, adds: “I still think of myself as a journalist, but I don’t know if I would call myself that officially. I think being a journalist — a real journalist — is a special thing, and requires real independence, which I don’t have.

“My job is to get people to be aware of HubSpot in hopes that some small percentage of them will actually buy HubSpot software. That’s not journalism. Yes, it involves storytelling, content creation, skills that you develop as a journalist. I interview interesting people, I write Q&As and book reviews. Some of the stuff I write I think I could be publishing in Newsweek or any other mainstream media outlet. But no, my job really is not journalism.”

KELLNER: STORYTELLING IS THE KEY

Tomas Kellner with a MakerBot at GE

Tomas Kellner points out that some companies have been in the storytelling business for a long time. In 1947, GE hired Kurt Vonnegut to look around the company and find good stories. (Back then, they called it PR, not content marketing.)

Like Lyons, Kellner said he’s using his journalistic chops in running the GE Reports blog. “Every story needs to have some type of challenge, a protagonist, and something has to be at stake. You have to find it otherwise people will not read it. Many companies still tell their news through a press release, and you will certainly not find a flesh and blood protagonist there. But the press release is dead, or at least dying. The Internet made smart companies realize that they can tell their own stories online by hiring the best storytellers there are.

“The barrier between traditional media and the companies they used to cover has collapsed. Anyone can tell their own story in a compelling way and reach tens of thousands of readers now,” he said.

Having a “content play” these days starts on one end of the spectrum with initiatives like Sequoia’s Grove (“Founders helping founders”), its new portal for how-to content, videos and events; Adobe’s CMO.com, a news and information site to attract C-suite customers, and Bob Evans, chief communications officer at Oracle (and, bingo!, former Editorial director of CMP and content director of TechWeb), writing a column for Forbes BrandVoice.

The further to the right you go across that spectrum, the less blurry the line becomes between marketing and journalism.

David Berlind, former executive editor of CNET and chief content officer for UBM Tech, entertained a few offers from businesses looking to create a content play before landing in July as editor in chief of ProgrammableWeb, owned by software company MuleSoft. “My paycheck comes from a vendor,” he said, “but what I like is that I get to run it as a fully independent, objective news engine that’s creating content. What we do every day is journalism.”

Still, he’s quick to add, “There are just not that many journalism jobs anymore. So who am I to judge when a journalist takes a job with a vendor? Their craft of writing and storytelling is in high demand in the business world, and a steady paycheck is a nice thing.”

Kellner agrees. “You’re definitely going to see a lot more companies hiring journalists.”

J.D. Lasica, who was an editor at the Sacramento Bee for 11 years, is co-founder of Cruiseable, a new startup for discovery, booking and community curation of cruise vacations. Sign up for the beta.

View story at Medium.com