Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    Capitalizing on Young Professionals in China

    It is no secret that Chinese culture centers around the family and this fact is taken full advantage of by advertisers who plaster images of happy families onto all sorts of advertisements for all kinds of products. Products are often marketed as something that brings families together or makes the whole family happy. However, there is a large group of Chinese, that are trying to get farther away from their families, not closer and most people are not seeing it. Did I also mention that they have spending power?

    I am writing about the growing number of Chinese young professionals, who have tasted independence in university but are then forced to move back with their parents due to high housing prices. In addition, this group has a lot of disposable income due to the fact that they do not have to pay for housing and only support themselves. I first learned about this group of young independence seekers while talking to an MBA graduate at a nonprofit meeting. He told me that the best part of London, where he did his MBA, was not the culture, people or food but rather the independence he got from his parents. That is when I realized how important independence was for this new generation of Chinese. Slowly, I began to recall conversations that I had with Fudan students where they talked about how great it was to be living on their own in college and being able to make decisions independent of their parents.

    Upon further contemplation, I realized that this want for independence should not be of any surprise to anyone. This current generation of young professionals in China consume American culture in large amounts. American music, movies and television series which strongly stress independence, especially from that of parents, are all incredibly popular with the university crowd in China. In addition, many of these young professionals have experienced life away from their parents in university and also traveled abroad to more independent oriented cultures. Therefore, it should be no surprise that China’s current crop of young professionals value independence from parents more than previous generations.

    Though there is no product that a company can make that will give these young professionals the independence they want, short of housing, capitalizing on this want for independence is possible. Products and services that serve as escapes from parents, such as short vacation packages for them or their parents, should appeal to these young professionals trapped at home. Also any products or services that serve to make the parents more independent from the young professionals will be well received as well.

    Corporations would do well to create or market products and services that satisfy this desire for independence among China’s new young professionals.

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    Old School Mentality of Social Media

    On a sunny Sunday, my friend and I were invited out to a casual lunch by the owner of a famous bakery in Shanghai. The owner was exceptionally friendly, openly sharing his knowledge about networking and marketing.

    For all of his great advice, what struck me the most was how the owner viewed social media. His my profile, my castle mentality meant that he wanted complete control over his social media presence, meaning that he would not tolerate any form of criticism. It was a mentality that struck me as decidedly old school and reminded me of the challenges that I faced trying to get the directors at UCTV to adopt social media. In addition, his “Why let people score on your own goal” attitude was keeping him from creating such simple things as a blog or Facebook page because it would be a huge time commitment to police.

    In my opinion, social media is about opening dialogue and allowing for criticisms to be answered. Facebook pages, twitter and blogs can be used as new channels for customer service. The owner’s attitude towards social media ran counter to what I have heard about his attitude in the restaurant. My friend told me once that when she complained to him about her cake, he immediately took it back, found who was responsible for making it and then immediate corrected the mistake. This act of customer service gave her a great impression of the owner and bakery. There is no reason this kind of great customer service cannot be applied to say a Facebook page, where it would be available for all to see.

    In my experience, there is often a reason for brand bashing and since the owner runs a restaurant which serves amazing cakes and has great customer service to boot, I think his concerns over negative comments are completely unfounded. Not to mention that unjustified criticisms will be dealt with by the bakery’s loyal fans, something which I have seen played out on countless Yelp pages. Fans fighting brand bashing is a phenomenon, which countless companies have discovered upon launching their social media operations.

    As of right now, the bakery only has a presence on Chinese social media sites because they allow for more restrictions on user comments. About half of the bakery’s customers are foreigners meaning that whatever awesome outreach that the owner is doing on social media is only reaching half of its potential. In short, extending the bakery’s social media presence onto Western networks will improve customer service and increase customer-brand interaction as well as bring a host of other benefits that I cannot list out because it would make this blog post too long. Most importantly, all of these benefits can be realized without a significant increase in effort because it would just be a matter of translating and posting on an additional platform.

    I am going to email the owner this blog post, and hope that he reconsiders his social media strategy. If he changes his mind, I will be the first to like the bakery's Facebook page.

    Sunday, May 29, 2011

    500 Interns Conclusion: I GOT HIRED

    Crazy to think that in just two weeks I went from feeling completely hopeless about my summer internship situation to getting hired by Wednesdays. I must thank InternMatch.com for running such a neat little competition and also Nathan for making the necessary introductions to the startups I was interested in.

    Most of all, I would like to thank Wednesdays’ founders Andy and Hugh for conducting such a model interview. It was the most tension free interview I have ever had, though I must admit that getting asked for my GPA outright early on in the interview caught me off guard. The two founders asked me questions that allowed me to demonstrate my knowledge of marketing, while skipping the dreaded “tell me about yourself” question. In addition, they were very clear about what I would be doing as an intern, putting to rest my fears of just being slave labor. Most impressive of all, was how transparent Hugh was about Wednesdays. He answered all of my questions head on during and after the interview, never once resorting to a gate keeping attitude I was expecting.

    I walked away from that interview with a strong desire to work with Andy and Hugh. Needless to say I am very excited to be joining the team.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Startups I believe in

    This is the third and last post for the 500 Interns Competition and one of the 3 posts for 30 companies(#3for30) explaining why I would be the ideal start up intern. All 3for30 posts can be found on my 500 Interns Competition page.

    Previously, I wrote about the importance for me to be able to share in an organization’s vision. For my last post, I am listing out the startups participating in the 500 Interns Competition that do work that I can relate to and believe in.


    I routinely forget to use and lose my loyalty cards to my favorite stores so I completely understand the problem that Punchd is trying to solve. I whole heartedly believe that if I had all my loyalty cards on my phone I would be getting more free coffees and that’s a worthy cause to work towards!

    Motion Math

    My childhood was filled with learning games like Reading Rabbit and a host of other games from The Learning Company that I no longer remember. What I do remember is that I never thought of those games as learning, but I certainly learned a lot as Reading Rabbit almost single handedly taught me how to read. I would love to be part of an effort that made games as fun and educational as they were for me for the next generation.


    Mint.com drew me to the power of infographics in displaying information, but it was the Oatmeal that showed me it could be entertaining as well. However, what really drew me to Visual.ly was your Youtube video particularly the ending where the smartphones displaying relevant infographics by recognizing objects through the cameras. Now that is a future that I want to have a hand in creating.


    Having tabled at tradeshows and political events, I understand the type of things that customer service employees go through. Which is why I believe great customer service should be recognized and I like the fact that Tello is making that possible. A project that lets good employees get praised while also empowering consumers and business owners is a project that I want to be part of.

    Formative Labs

    I am no staunch environmentalist but I do believe we have only one earth and we must take care of it, not to mention cleaner air and water would be nice to have. The idea of using the social web to get people to conserve energy is nothing I have ever heard of and very intriguing. I would very much like to be part of Formative Labs and see how this idea plays out because if it succeeds, the world would definitely be a better place.


    Meals as we learn in anthropology are an important social affair in almost every culture and sadly it seems to be an increasingly less social affair in today’s modern world. This is why I am so thrilled about Wednesdays, it once again draws people back to the table and gets them to connect over food something which everybody can enjoy and relate to. And if the Wednesday concept gets people to solve problems and be more productive then all the better. I think this idea is brilliantly simple and I want to help it unfold.


    My memories of accompanying my parents house shopping in the Bay Area are full of boredom, hot cars and yelling. Needless to say, it was not a very enjoyable experience, which is why I am enthusiastic about anything that makes real estate faster, simpler and less painful for the shopper, and if not for the shopper then for their children. In addition, I love San Francisco and hope to one day live in that amazing city, so if there is anything that will make that easier for me, I want to be part of it.


    “A life time of learning” and other related phrases are cliché but something I subscribe to, which is why I think connecting teachers with students is a great idea, especially if those teachers teach niche subjects. Say, when do you think a firearms or jiu jitsu instructor from San Jose is going to sign up on TeachStreet because I would love to help make that happen for my sake.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Nonprofits: The relevant startup experience

    This is the second post for the 500 Interns Competition and one of the 3 posts for 30 companies(#3for30) explaining why I would be the ideal start up intern. All 3for30 posts can be found on my 500 Interns Competition page.

    A quick look at my work experience will show that I have spent the majority of my employment in nonprofits. Questions of how significant my work experience is to a startup are bound to come up. From what I have read, startups place a great emphasis on whether or not the applicant fits into their culture. Great talent means little if it cannot mesh with the environment, which is why my nonprofit experience makes me the ideal startup intern.

    In this post, I will discuss how my work experience in nonprofits has enculturated me to the many aspects of startup culture.

    To be clear, by nonprofit, I am referring your local small time nonprofit organization. The small organizations that are putting the boots on the ground and doing the grunt work. I am not referring to the large international and national organizations that have their ongoing existence guaranteed.

    Importance of vision

    Working in a small nonprofit and in a startup is similar as both cultures are built around a strong vision. Recruiting volunteers and gathering funding is possible only with a clearly articulated vision. In essence, a strong vision that is easily shared is how nonprofits gain traction in a community.

    On a similar note, staying onboard and motivated poses a unique challenge in a nonprofit. There is no way to sugarcoat it, the pay at nonprofits is terrible which means that the reason most people go to work is out the window. Much like startups, people who work at nonprofits do so because they believe in the organization. I had given up my job at UCTV which paid me twice my stipend for half the working hours because I believed in what CAUSE was doing and I loved the team that I was working with. My nonprofit experience has shown me that work is not about the money and when times get tough, to dig deep and remember the vision.

    While working a few gigs in Shanghai at organizations whose visions I was not very excited about for the sake of my resume, I realized that it is not just about selling the dream to others but also believing it yourself. Working at a nonprofit or startup is not just a job, it is a dream and one that is larger than yourself. My desire to share in such a larger dream is another reason why I would be the ideal startup intern.

    Size matters

    During my CASIC internship, I worked with a team of ten interns, one executive director, half of a programs coordinator (part-time) and the chairman; that was whole nonprofit and I would not have had it any other way. Small organizations have a unique culture full of people who wear multiple hats, which I love. I would start the day writing a press release, transition into learning InDesign to design a handbook and then ending the day at a networking event as a representative of the nonprofit.

    In addition to wearing multiple hats, I worked closely with the chair of the nonprofit, who also is one of the largest if not the largest donor. Accountability was always a major issue and most of the time, the buck stopped with me since I was the team leader. In addition, I was interacting with many of CAUSE’s donors and board members, people who had sway over the future of the nonprofit. In short, I am very comfortable working closely with the people who decide the fate of the organization.

    I find comfort in the culture of flexibility and close accountability that only exists in small organizations like startups. My embrace of these cultural aspects of a startup is what will make me the ideal startup intern.

    Craving Creativity and Improvisation

    Lean startups and small nonprofits work with a similar budget mindset by which I mean a budget full of creative improvisations. Life at a small nonprofit is about thinking quickly on your feet and leveraging the resources and connections you have to achieve your goal. Improvisation took on a whole new level for me during my time at Shanghai Young Bakers, a nonprofit that trains Chinese orphans in French baking. Whether it was something as simple as trying to score a free color printer or figuring out how to run an event where the EU Agricultural Commission will be attending, creativity and improvisation was the key to success when money was tight.

    Creativity and improvisation are things that I now crave in my work environments. I am never quite happy unless I am finding a way to think outside the box and the more mischievous the better! This craving of mine forged in my work with nonprofits pairs well with the startup culture, which is why I believe I would make the ideal startup intern.


    As an anthropology major, I understand the importance of culture, which is why I was inspired to write this blog post about qualities that fit with my understanding of startup culture. Qualities that I have gained through my work experience in small nonprofits.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Naughtiness: A life and professional skill

    This is the first post for the 500 Interns Competition and one of the 3 posts for 30 companies (#3for30) explaining why I would be the ideal start up intern.

    Months ago I read Paul Graham’s essay What we look for in Founders and was inspired to write an introspective blog post responding to it. I copied and pasted the excerpt below in a word document saved it and then promptly forgot about it.

    4. Naughtiness
    Though the most successful founders are usually good people, they tend to have a piratical gleam in their eye. They're not Goody Two-Shoes type good. Morally, they care about getting the big questions right, but not about observing proprieties. That's why I'd use the word naughty rather than evil. They delight in
    breaking rules, but not rules that matter. This quality may be redundant though; it may be implied by imagination.

    Sam Altman of
    Loopt is one of the most successful alumni, so we asked him what question we could put on the Y Combinator application that would help us discover more people like him. He said to ask about a time when they'd hacked something to their advantage—hacked in the sense of beating the system, not breaking into computers. It has become one of the questions we pay most attention to when judging applications.

    However, when I saw the 500 Interns Competition I could not think of a better topic to write about that would begin to demonstrate why I would be an ideal startup intern. I dusted the old file off and here is the result!


    The “naughtiness” started while I was young, when my parents were the one and only “system.” I must have been one hell of a kid to raise because I was always trying to find ways around my parent’s rules since most of them never made any sense to me.

    One of my parent’s rules was that they would never buy me a game console, so while my friends were happily gaming away on their N64s, Playstations and Gameboys, I had to make due with just my computer. However, I saw the light when a family friend built a computer for us and had preinstalled Pokemon Blue for Gameboy color on it. Fueled with a dream, I learned as much about computers as I could and in no time, I was playing away on my Gameboy Advance emulator. From then on, my interest in emulation and computers grew and I was playing all sorts of console and arcade games on my computer.

    Fast forward a decade and I can still be found committing mischief, whether it is social engineering my way to the front of the bank line or rerouting the switch for my building to get more bandwidth. Growing up, however, has led me to put my hacking mentality to more constructive uses.

    Rules and common practice inevitably create limitations and I have discovered that I find joy in discovering creating methods to overcome these limitations. One example, is the work I am doing for Shanghai Nonprofit Incubator’s One Egg One Dream project. As a nonprofit, funds and expertise are always in short supply so when I was confronted with the problem of translating marketing collateral from Chinese to English, I had to get creative. In the beginning I thought of asking the students in my UC program to help with the translations, but few of them could read Chinese. In addition, due to a lack of incentive or accountability, reliability and timeliness was going to be an issue.

    That is when I devised the idea to crowd source the translation, recalling that is how Twitter and Facebook did it. If I broke up the literature into bite size chunks and posted them on an online community with Chinese and English speakers, maybe the community would translate them because it was for a good cause. That is when I remembered, my roommate had handed me card from someone at italki.com, a language learning community. The italki community turned out to be exactly what I was looking for, an active community with many bilingual Chinese and English speakers. After thinking it through a little more, I realized that this plan was scalable. If Shanghai NPI could build a reputation on italki.com, it could reliably use the italki community to translate for their future projects.

    The emulation and italki stories are just one of many where I come up with a creative solution by drawing upon my past experience and inability to accept business as usual. I do not want to say I was born ready to join a startup because that would be ridiculous. However, I would like to believe that throughout my life, I have demonstrated a creative and disruptive mindset that pairs well with the startup culture and an ideal startup intern.