I forgot my mouse at work

I love my mouse. Unlike other self-respecting hackers, I use mine a lot. My first computer ran Windows and I also used to game, so that’s a given. It’s a Logitech G500. I’ve used Logitech since forever and couldn’t see myself using a different brand.
My mouse looks like this
But today, I forgot it at work.

The mini-panic set in when I opened my backpack. It was already almost 10PM, quite late for me to bother coming back to work to retrieve it. I would have to do without my mouse for tonight.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve done any computing without it. I’ve often used my laptop with the trackpad whenever I was outside, or perhaps when I felt like working on the sofa. But today was different. Old habits die hard, and my mouse was supposed to be here with me, aiding me on mundane tasks like switching Chrome tabs or moving between programs. It literally feels as if I had a disability, like I was missing an arm. I had become so used to this little gadget and never noticed how much I depended on it.

When was the last time you felt like this? A device that you were so dependent upon that you could feel like a part of you is missing along with it.

I didn’t think much of it, and continued to turn the computer on. I told myself I could last 1 night without my mechanical companion. I expected it to only be a short use before bed kinda thing, you know?

I got a lot more things done than any other nights, in a short 2 hours period. I did a lot of coding, wrote emails, and write this blog post.

Could it be just a coincidence? Or was it the lack of mobility and convenience caused me to just focus (finally) on what’s important at hand?

I felt a little like a blind man rapidly improving his other senses. I focus more on what I write, I don’t fiddle around to other programs as much because it’s a PITA (for me) to do so. I got lazy, and ironically, that helped me to produce more.

Perhaps my own reliance on gadgets have been holding me back all along.

The rise of the (shitty) landing pages

This post is dedicated to entrepreneurs, founders or anyone out there who are using landing pages while they work on their new startups and projects.

With the rise of Launch Rock, a service that helps people quickly create simple landing pages, I feel landing pages are being misused.

Landing pages collect email addresses, but their purpose is not to collect as many as possible. Remember the lean startup approach? Lean startups use landing pages to test if people want their products or services. And to do that, you’ll want to clearly describe it to people. A 1-sentence description is not going to cut it.

What’s that, you’re building something already on the market, so customers would easily understand if you’d just make a reference? Well, if it’s already on the market, then why should we  care, let alone give up our email? Why not just go use a working product out there instead of waiting for you? And we’ll do just that, thank you very much.

Who the hell are you anyway? What’s your background? Why are you working on this thing? That’d tell me a lot whether I want to trust this “company”. Why are so many companies hide behind the screen anyway? The way to earn our trust is to be personal. If you’re really serious, tell us who you are and why you’re so passionate about the field you’re in. At the end of the day, we all want you to treat us like a person, not just another row in the database.

While I’m at it, please please stop getting us to share your links to gain “priority access”. Hey, I confess to you right now that I was guilty of this. I’ve done it before with landing pages while following the social-media-facebook-twitter-google-plus-and-a-million-other-social-networks-out-there SHARING fad. What I didn’t tell you is that since our list was small enough, everyone got “priority access” when we launched anyway. I couldn’t deliver on our promise, and it haunts me.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t get people to talk about your product. But ask for permission nicely, appear humble and tell them that they should share only if they like what they’ve read so far. Once again, be HUMAN.

Now that I’m done venting my frustrations about “social media”, let me turn my attention to those landing pages that tell people absolutely nothing, in an attempt to look mysterious and cool to gain attention (and email addresses).

As I’ve talked about previously, the purpose of the landing pages is to test and learn whether you’re building things people want. Let’s say people bought into the hype and give up their email addresses without knowing what you’re trying to build. So you build and launch your product, people realize they don’t like it, and it fails spectacularly, because the number of email addresses you got told you nothing about how useful the product will be to users.

Relying on baseless hype to launch your product, you risk losing months of development time building the wrong thing. You need to focus on the right thing, the end goal, whether your product will succeed, not on the current buzz of your product.

All this sounds a lot harder than just putting up a page with a 1 sentence description, a nice background and an email address field, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. First, it’s never supposed to be easy work in the first place. You gotta mind the copywriting, you gotta think and tell people about what makes you tick, and then you gotta pitch your vision of the actual product. But you know what, it’s also not that bad. You can afford to lose the superficiality. Lose the useless background image. Don’t waste time on compressing everything into 1 sentence. Be detailed instead. It’s a myth that people don’t read long copy. Of course they do, just make every sentence on that page useful to them.

If you’re wavering, here’s a reminder: It’s worth it. Startups are a marathon, not a sprint. It’s much better spending a little more time and do it right than do it quickly and potentially waste months or years down the road. Be human, be the face of the company, be humble and really pitch your product.

Don’t be in it for the wrong reason.

Knowledge is power

Today, I pulled this out from a fortune cookie.

Not to say I expect anything from a fortune cookie, let alone truths. However I wanted to write something about this small phrase, one that has haunted me throughout my childhood.

As a child in a typical Asian family, I was drilled that knowledge is, indeed, power. At the time, it is probably the truth. When you’re a kid competing in a typical academic setting, knowledge means higher grades, which is the typical yardstick to measure power in class. The smartest kid is usually perceived to have the most power, especially in an Asian school. So I bought into it for a while.

As I get older though, it becomes much clearer that this is a deadly trap. In the real world, nobody gives a shit about knowledge. Knowledge is certainly not power. If that was the case, our country would be governed by the smartest scientist and engineers, instead of clueless politicians.

The reason I call this a trap is because so many Asian families buy into this. Knowledge is useless by itself, and if it’s the only thing you have, soon you will hit a brick wall. In professional settings, this brick wall is sometimes referred to as the “glass ceiling”. Although Asians are widely perceived as the ones who excel in academic settings with their knowledge, why then do we wonder that they don’t have enough power. What is this glass ceiling?

There’s actually no glass ceiling. If you only realize that knowledge is NOT power.

So the cat is out of the bag. But what is power? Perhaps we should have a look at the people who we perceive as having “power”. The U.S. president? The Fortune 500 CEOs?

Let me try to define power. Here goes: Power lets you do things other people can’t do. It’s the ability to do things other people can’t.

Power. Might. Force. Strength. We’re getting further away from knowledge here.

How can one person hold power over another? Is it brute strength? Surely, if I meet someone and the other person is stronger than me, that person is more powerful than me in a fight. But we’re in a civilized society here and fight don’t break out every other day, yet some people clearly do hold much more power than others.

Then, is it money? Money is interesting. It is certainly a means to acquire power. But the richest person in the world is not the most powerful.

Let’s stop. I have my own answer, but this would be better left as an exercise for you as the reader. What is power to you? Knowing the answer can be incredibly useful. If you want power, you will know what it is to go after.

Day #2 of morning roadwork

In an effort to turn my life around, I’m starting to run again. I’ll be running for an hour each morning, 6 days a week. 2 days will be reserved for interval training, and the rest will just be normal running.

I’m thinking the schedule would be like this:

Monday: Running
Tuesday: Interval training
Wednesday: Running
Thursday: Running
Friday: Interval training
Saturday: Running
Sunday: Rest

Anyway, I just finished day 2, and I’m SORE. Serves me right for skipping exercise for such a long time. I don’t think I’ve done any since I was done with college. My mind is on work 24/7, but recently I’ve felt some major stress. I realized I cannot keep going like this, it’s not sustainable, so I have to work in a way that can keep me going for years down the road.

So I’ve decided to say good bye to all-nighters. I will wake up in the morning like every normal person and sleep at night. I will cut myself off work at night, close my Terminal and Editor so I won’t try to think about it.

I will pay more attention to more horrible diet. Up until now I’ve consistently eaten 1-2 meals a day, and it’s really affecting me. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it up for much longer if I keep doing it this way.

Besides I’ve realized one important thing. No matter how much I rush into work, our situation does not improve much. Building a startup takes so much time, it’s a marathon so I need to be prepared to be able to keep going for the long run.

Wow, regarding the mess surrounding Skype and Silver Lake

Regarding the crap that’s going on:

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/06/24/upgrading-skype-and-silver-lake-to-evil/

http://framethink.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/how-employees-get-screwed-in-private-equity-deals/

What’s the point of a “cliff” and “vested” shares when those shares just get bought back at the original price eventually?

Talk about biting the hands that feed you. And I used to dearly love Skype, one of my favorite piece of software. Whoever at Silver Lake did this are scum and I’d like to know their names, so in case I run into them I can raise my middle finger, says “Fuck you” and save myself a lot of troubles from working with them.

A company is nothing without its people. And when you go screw people like this, you pretty much guaranteed that no one will ever want to work with you again. Employees typically do not have the resources to hire the best lawyers out there to look through all the documents you throw at them. If I wanted to read through every word of a 11-page document full of legalese, I’d go study law. But if the company hires someone who’s an engineer, whose whole devotion is towards building better software, doing this to them is just purely malicious and seriously harms their livelihood.

Whatever happened to trust?

Tanking the YC interview, lessons learned

 

We just had our YC interview for Munchery, and yesterday I found out that they decided not to fund us. It’s a well-known fact that PG funds the team instead of the idea, so I guess we did not appear to be impressive enough. I know the interview went too fast for me, I could hardly think of an answer before another question came up. I did prepare, but I’m just not the type who deal with that kind of situation well.

A few things did went wrong with our interview though.

Pitching the wrong thing

Looking back it was almost comical. Jessica seemed to frown all the way through our interview, hearing us pitch the food quality made by the chef (Munchery is like a marketplace where you can buy food from professional chefs). We tried to sell the food too hard and everyone was on guard. We should have just said: “Look, we’ve tried those chefs food and it’s just something you need to try to see the difference”. And leave it at that.

Disclosing half-baked tactics which gives bad impression

We talked about our plan to “get to other cities” and they immediately countered with “but you haven’t nailed one city yet!” Then we had to waste time explaining what the hell we meant, and did a bad job at that.

“Well, we noticed that a lot of people showing interests were from other cities, so we wanted to expand our funnel by getting them in too”.

“But you don’t expand your funnel unless you got your conversion rate nailed.”

More time wasted. You get only 10 minutes so this sucked. Don’t be caught in this trap. What we really only wanted to do was to let chefs sign up freely and turning on their profile when it’s ready and there’s enough demands. Our mistake was getting into nonsensical details under the heat of the moment.

Didn’t try to pitch the overall vision

Again this was part of focusing on the wrong thing under the heat of the moment. When we were asked “How is it different from something like Waiters on Wheel?” we focused too much on answering it literally. “Well, we have chefs instead of restaurants. And we provide a subscription service”.

We forgot that people listening to this only heard: “blah blah feature difference blah blah”. What we needed to was focusing on the big picture, how was our difference important and how they benefit people?

A better answer could be something like:

“Those sites are just a delivery service on top of existing restaurants. You use them once to get food last minute, and then you move on. Instead we’re building a way for busy people to get a personal chef, without the fuss and commitment. Imagine having a chef who deliver meals to you every Monday and Wednesdays for say $80/week, each week a menu is sent out so you can pick what you like, or if you’re really busy, just do nothing and the chef will pick for you. If something comes up and you don’t need meals on Monday, you can go to our web interface and skip it.”

The vision was to help busy people eat healthy food cooked by professional chefs on an ongoing basis, which helps fix the broken food system because consumers, if they don’t cook, now have a healthy choice to choose from.

——

I suspect there were many more things we got wrong, but hopefully someone will find those lessons useful. You get only 10 minutes, so it’s important that you focus and talk about the right thing.

I also hope this would help improve the quality of the interview so the YC team won’t miss out on the good startups.

Although I’m disappointed, we already decided to keep going regardless of outcome. Minna-san, good luck with your startups.

Munchery is my first company

This is going to be some ramblings from me. I write because it helps me think. You probably won’t find this useful. Anyway…

———–

Before your first company, you owned no company. You had no real control. You could not do anything you want. The world was not your oyster.

But like your first love, your first company is a very special experience for exactly the reason that defines it: it’s your first, the only one you’ll have with no presumptions about how things work in the first place, no acceptance of the status quo. You know nothing, you take everything for granted and thus everything and anything is a possibility, instead of just a solved problem only waiting for you to choose between options.

I hope this naivety would lasts forever. To me it’s far more of an advantage than an disadvantage. The power to look at everything with a fresh eye, the power to question why things are currently done the way they are, the power to see new possibilities through naive eyes and experimentation.

Doing something new needs this kind of naivety. What we’re doing at Munchery is opening up a new way for chefs to start their own business that could scale better than their existing “personal-chef” business. We talk to people about our idea. We saw many raised eyebrows, and at the same time we saw even more intriguing looks. It’s the kind of question no-one ever considers, since they’re so used to the existing problem (“getting food”) and they already know how to “solve it”.

Your choice, A, do your own cooking, or B, get delivery/takeout from a restaurant? Few people think about getting food from a chef, since they’re so used to those 2 choices. I think it’s about time we make it an attractive choice for everyone to also consider.