Sunday, July 31, 2011

    My First 10 days at Wednesdays

    Working at Wednesdays has exceeded my wildest expectations. After working here for a week I realize I would work here for free just because I am learning so much and having a blast as well.

    On my first day, just walking to the office was a joy, as there is this startup vibe in the SOMA area that just makes me smile. On the street, every other person is carrying latte and their style of dress ranges from geek casual to strictly professional. Walking to work, I hear people talking about startups and later at lunch I hear people talking about startups at the next table over. I have this feeling in SOMA that we all kind of do the same thing and with it comes a sense of belonging.

    Beautiful SOMA

    The action started as soon as I arrived at 215 2nd street (drop by!). I hit the ground running at Wednesdays and have not really stopped. My first day of work did not feel like a first day at all. I was getting asked for inputs on all sorts of things from the design of the site to the how to manage upcoming lunches. It felt like I was starting day 30 of my internship rather than one. I have never done an internship where I was so quickly thrown into the deep end.

    My work at Wednesdays includes a little of everything, from managing customer relations, to graphic design, scheduling lunches and of course some administrative work. I feel like an essential part of the team. There is a strong feeling that my work directly affects the company and that if I dropped the ball at any time, there would be real consequences to the company. In short, I feel important at Wednesdays.

    The feeling of importance is directly related to the size of Wednesdays. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the entirety of the office was just four desks pushed together. Wednesdays sublets its tables from another startup and I believe that there are two other startups in the space that are doing the same thing. I thought I had worked at small organizations, but my stint at Wednesdays definitely raises the bar. The whole company currently only consists of me and the two founders, so every day I go to work and sit at one of the four desks, directly across from them.

    The Wednesdays office, ALL of it

    Us and our huge laptops, up close and personal

    Hugh and Scoble
    Robert Scoble, a living Silicon Valley legend, came and interviewed Hugh...

    ...and Andy on Friday.

    If the group dynamics of three people could be called a corporate culture, then I would describe Wednesdays’ as incredibly open, relaxed and quintessentially geeky. Wednesdays is open because the founders answer all my questions about fundraising, themselves and customers without hesitation. Relaxed, because we all come to work wearing clothes that do not qualify as business-anything and shaving seems to be optional. Also, jokes abound in the office with most of them coming from Hugh and many times they are used to scare me into thinking I messed up. One day I will learn. As for geeky, for starters we lug our huge laptops, which are slightly more portable than desktops, to work daily. Then there are the founders themselves. Hugh once instructed me to “align margin left and align margin right” the white board and Andy shared how he had registered his daughter’s name as website the day she was born.

    The only downside to this internship is that it requires me to wake up at 6:30AM and commute four hours a day. However, this is balanced out by the free coffee at the office, which I take more than full advantage of.

    All is going well at my first tech internship, so well in fact that I am not minding the admin work at all and thinking about how to stay involved once my two months are up.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Thoughts on TechYizu

    A month ago, I went to startup demo day hosted by a Fudan University incubator. The event was rather disappointing as none of the startups that presented blew me away. In addition, the large majority of presenters including the winner of demo day were foreigners, I had wanted to see more local Chinese entrepreneurs. It also did not help that the local startups had the worst presentations by far.
    There were three startups that stood out to me for different reasons.

    Rudy Bike

    Rudy Bike has designed a chip that makes electric bikes more efficient, reliable and easily monitored. The chip is compatible with any brand of electric bike and easily installed, (plug and play). An Android phone was required to take full advantage of the chip, as it was paired with an app that would give the user the battery level as well as other features such as a turbo mode that would allow for the bike to go faster at the cost of more energy. They already have a working prototype.


    The reason that Rudy Bike stood out to me was not because it was a brilliant product, but rather due to its huge disconnect from its target market. Namely, that it is mainly the lower class in China that ride electric bikes. Rudy Bike quoted the price of its chip to be around 1000RMB, which as one judge on the panel pointed out is about how much a new electric bike cost. If doubling the cost of the bike was not enough, there was also the problem of requiring a smartphone in order to fully utilize the chip, probably adding on another 1000RMB if not more to the final price tag. It is hard to imagine that the typical Chinese electric bike rider would be willing or even capable of paying for a chip that would triple the price an electric bike.


    Self-proclaimed “Airbnb of food,” Mamazuofan is connecting hungry people with home cooked meals near them. Users log on to the site and see what is cooking around them, then they order online go to the chef’s home and pick up their meal. Their site is currently live, though the majority of users are foreigners.

    Mamazuofan’s concept was certainly the most unique at Techyizu, though I doubt the sustainability of it. After one transaction has been completed, the customer could very easily just grab the phone number of the chef and in the future cut Mamazuofan out of the process. In addition, the reason Airbnb works is because the renter of the room does not have to make much of an effort to rent out a room, the same cannot be said about a home cooked meal. I cannot see someone using Mamazuofan part time to supplement their income due to the thin margins and massive amount of prep time it takes to cook.


    The winner of demo day, Ultratradr is looking to disrupt the way banks and hedge funds recruit talent. Ultratradr is a game where players practice stock trading. The idea is that the best people in the game will get recruited by banks and hedge funds.

    My concern with Ultratradr, is that banks and hedge funds already have a strong process of recruiting top tier talent from universities. In the US recruiters routinely visit schools and aspiring finance students rub elbows with executives at networking events. I am not sure that the industry is looking for disruption as the process seems to be working quite well. However, the founder did mention that they are targeting small to medium sized firms, so that could put a different spin on things.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Marketing Binder Entry #3: Product Bundling in China

    One of my first experiences of culture shock occurred when I stepped foot into the local Walmart and saw the odd way that products were bundled together for the sake of promotion. What I saw truly baffled me as there were, chocolates bundles with batteries, batteries with a Swiss army knife and my personal favorite and most common, cups of yogurt haphazardly taped to all sorts of dairy products.

    Haphazardly taped yogurt

    It would make more sense to bundle products that complement each other, and if it causes consumers to use more of the product then all the better. An example of better bundling would be to bundle a flashlight or battery draining toy with the batteries. I would like to believe that it is all common sense.

    The good news is that the amount of weird bundling has gone down since I came to China. Though after a little searching I still managed to find some Dove body wash bundled with Lipton tea.

    After drinking tea, I too have a strong desire to take a shower

    Thankfully during my time in China, sensible bundling has become the norm

    More Pictures of Bundles

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Wait… that’s racist!

    At a recent startup event I was handed a card that I initially did not pay much attention to except noting that it was some game designing company. A week later while sifting through my wallet I happened upon the card again and this time took a closer. That’s when I noticed that the name of the company was CoolieLab, and immediately thought “Wow that’s racist!”

    At least their logo is politically correct

    For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the word coolie is a racial slur directed at Asian laborers particularly Chinese (Wiki entry). The word has fallen out of use, but the racist history and connotation behind the slur is still widely known.

    With a company name like that the founder can forget about doing business in the United States. In addition, the fact that a Singaporean government funded a company with such a name makes me think they are just throwing money at every startup that comes knocking.

    Often times, we think of cultural insensitivity going West to East, but this is a perfect example of how cultural ignorance works both ways of the East-West divide. Though, I am extremely surprised this is the name of a Singaporean startup with a Singaporean Founder given that the coolie slur was used by the British in Singapore. Maybe everybody in the world is in need of some better history education?

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    UPDATE Chat with Dr. John Fung

    Uncle John (aka Dr. John Fung from Hong Kong Council of Social Services) came swung by Shanghai over the week and he managed to find time in his busy schedule to have dinner with me. At dinner, he told me about the progress that his organization had made with the social ISP project as well as the political battle that occurred over it.

    When I was in Hong Kong, a month ago I was told that the social ISP project was embroiled in some political scandal. The Government Chief Information Officer who was handling the awarding of the contracts for the social ISP project abruptly resigned and then published a letter stating that “On several occasions before, during and after the evaluation of proposals, it was made clear to me that there was a political requirement to select a particular implementer.” (Read more about the scandal here)

    Besides the political scandal, however, the social ISP project was doing great. Uncle John told me about the great prices on service and computers the social ISP was receiving. It all seemed like things were going according to plan and people were getting helped.