Saturday, December 22, 2012

    How We Won the Growthathon Apartment List Challenge

    Last Saturday, I attended the Growthathon, a growth hackathon put on by where attracted by the $1500 prize money, I took part in the Apartment List challenge.  This blog post is a personal account of the tactics and campaigns I used to win the challenge by a landslide.

    Before I get into the details, I have to give a shout out to my friend Edward who partnered with me on this challenge.  It is doubtful I would have won without Edward's input and focused execution.

    Through my work at InternMatch, I learned that the secret to growth hacking is to try as many things as quickly as possible. For the first couple of days, we ran social media and email marketing campaigns in parallel.  Below is a break down of what we did:

    On the Social Media Front

    On LinkedIn (LI), we targeted property managers by employing a tactic that I had used successfully in the past. The dirty little secret about LI is that if you send an invite to somebody with even the tiniest personalized statement, 70% of the time they will connect with you. After connecting with the person, the plan was to pull their email address from their profile and then solicit them. To execute this campaign, Edward added property management to his LI profile, joined a property management group and just started connecting with the members.

    For Facebook, we cloned the Apartment List fan page, bought a couple thousand fans off Fiverr and attempted to use the page to drive traffic to the Apartment List sign up page.  Acting as the Apartment List page, Edward would go into Facebook groups and pages of property managers and just start liking all the comments. The reasoning behind this tactic was that people would receive notifications saying that Apartment List had liked their comment and out of curiosity they would click through to the Apartment List page to learn more about this random account. Our Apartment List page was optimized to get sign ups, with the link of the registration page pinned to the top and also tabs that would allow someone to register for Apartment List without leaving Facebook.  This was a tactic that Edward had successfully used to promote his own startup, so we had high hopes for it.

    Around day three, however, we realized that the Growthathon was going to be over before we could reap in any ROI from our social media campaigns. So we scrapped everything and focused all our attention on email.

    On the Email Front:

    On Saturday, Ben from Apartment List had told me that the company had the most success when reaching out to small brokerages who typically had 5 to 20 rental listings each.  I recognized this as our low hanging fruit and scoured the web for some type of brokerage community.  When I came upon the National Association of Residential Property Managers website, I knew I had struck gold,  and with my trusty Atomic Email Hunter was able to scrape 1600 email addresses.

    Utilizing an adapted version of the infamous AirBnb email copy, Edward and I split a test batch of 1000 emails using two different methods. Edward sent his emails using a MailChimp and recorded a phenomenal 50% open rate with a batch of 250 emails using the subject “Question about Property.” Unfortunately, something had messed up with the formatting of the emails and so he was only able to garner a 2% CTR. I used a mail merge script with a couple of Gmail addresses, which did not allow me to track open rates, but with the help of I was able to calculate a 4% CTR. These were clearly not great numbers and worse, all the clicks died at the Apartment List landing page and after 1000 emails we did not have a single listing or sign up to show for it.

    Monday night, I rewrote the copy and Edward fixed his MailChimp formatting problem and we set up a batch of 500 emails to go out Tuesday morning. For the new batch, the results were even worse with a 35% open rate and 0% CTR. On just our third late night work session, we had run out of ideas and were getting burned out.


    On the verge of giving up, I started to think about how I could make the already low barrier to entry even lower. Since Apartment List was free, the only thing standing in between getting on the site and posting a listing was entering in the information. With that in mind, I drafted an email asking people for permission to import their lovely rentals onto Apartment List, effectively reducing the barrier of entry to a 3 character (Y.E.S.) reply.

    The Winning Copy: 
    Subject: Question about Rental
    I wanted to email you because you have a lovely property and with your permission I would like to post it on The site is growing rapidly and already has over 1.2 million visitors a month. 
    Please respond if you want me to post your listing for you.

    - Helen

    This email was our Hail Mary pass and we crossed our fingers at 3am on Wednesday before going to sleep. When those Yes emails started coming in ten hours later, I realized we had won the Growthathon.

    Edward and I spent the remaining days of the Growthathon entering in the listings that came rolling in. Mind numbing data entry never felt so good.

    Closing Thoughts

    I walked away from this experience realizing the power of one small detail. There was probably only a one sentence difference between the email that failed miserably and the one that won the Growthathon. Also, the massive amount of fail that we experienced leading up to the winning tactic reminded me that growth hacking is a lot like venture funding. You only need one successful idea to be a winner.

    Our Growthathon in Numbers:

    • Used 13 Gmail addresses
    • Created 2 Mail Chimp accounts (1 got banned)
    • Received a 38% Bounce rate off 1 bad scrape list
    • Sent over 4000 emails
    • Posted up 124 rental listings
    • Registered 13 Apartment List users

    Fun Fact:

    From previous experience I learned that Asian female names work the best for cold emails. The best performing email name I had was Helen Tang and I passed along that knowledge to Edward. Not satisfied with the response rates, Edward experimented with new names and discovered that Christie Chang actually does better than Helen Tang.
    Enhanced by Zemanta

    Sunday, December 16, 2012

    A Twitter Tactic I Have Been Refining...

    Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
    Image via CrunchBase
    This post should have been written a long time ago.  There is a Twitter tactic that I have been trying to refine on and off over the last two years.  The tactic aims to convert people who express intent on Twitter.  So far, the results have not been fantastic, but the tactic has shown glimmers of potential.  I believe that if I seriously sat down and worked out a process for this tactic, it might become a valuable addition in my social media marketing tool box.

    Credit for inspiration

    About two years ago, a blog post written by Mygola detailing their successful customer acquisition campaign on Twitter showed up in StartupDigest.  The underlying theory behind this Twitter campaign was that most Twitter users have very few followers and as a result are not tweeted at very often. So when the typical Twitter user gets a mention tweet, they will pay attention and read it.  Mygola's theory resonated with me because as a non-celebrity on Twitter, I rarely get tweeted at.  When I do, I always read the tweet and get very excited. 

    Targeted Twitter Campaign Attempt #1

    To execute on this Twitter campaign Mygola built a custom tool to search for relevant travel tweets.  Unfortunately, I did not have the technical expertise to do the same, so I tried different off the shelf ways to accomplish the same goals.

    My first attempt at executing my own version of Mygola's campaign occurred at, a platform that allowed it's users to create and run their own reoccurring lunch groups. At the time, the peninsula Lean Startup Circle lunch group was faltering.  Members were just not RSVPing and there were few new members joining the group, which drove me to brainstorm methods get qualified traffic to the group landing page.

    My first thought was to reach out to people in the peninsula who were tweeting about Lean Startup.  On the week that I started the campaign, Eric Ries had just visited the Bay to promote his book, so the timing could not have been better.  With the advanced Twitter search tool I was able to narrow my search for Lean Startup tweets to within 50 miles of Mountain View.  I manually pulled the relevant tweets, with a focus on questions about Lean Startup, into a spreadsheet and began typing out response tweets.  After I sent out the tweets, I kept track of the responses  in the spreadsheet.  I kept a careful record of how many clicks my tweeted out link received in order to keep track of what copy worked.

    It was a tiny sample, but the tweets generated close to an 80% CTR.  However, nobody I tweeted at signed up for the lunch group.  Editing the landing page was out of my control, so I moved on and rethought my approach.

    For the next campaign, I focused on getting existing members of Lean Startup Circle to attend lunches.  I separated out members into groups depending on how many lunches they attended and tailored the copy accordingly.  This round of tweets led to a high rate of user interaction, as many members tweeted back at me.  However, once again it failed the conversion test as nobody signed up for a lunch.

    Targeted Twitter Campaign Attempt #2

    Almost exactly a year later, I am working at InternMatch trying to sign up more employers to the platform.  I did a Twitter search for "hiring an intern" and was staggered by the amount of employers tweeting open internship positions and even with emails attached!  Not wanting to taint the InternMatch account with soliciting tweets, I created a burn account but was promptly banned after just 5 tweets.  

    Once again shifting gears, I decided to turn my attention to extracting the many email addresses that employers were tweeting.  Using Topsy, which is much more crawler friendly than the Twitter search page, I was able to gather a significant amount of emails each week.  Conversions off these Twitter emails were not particularly high,  in fact, I believe I only made one sale out of about 100 emails sent.  

    Enhanced by Zemanta

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    My first ebook: Intern Compensation

    One of the coolest and most tedious things I got to work on during my short time at InternMatch has been the intern compensation ebook.  I started the project with near zero understanding of labor regulations and by the end of the week, I felt like half an expert.

    To write the ebook, I dug through news articles, Department of Labor memos and blog posts written by lawyers and HR experts.  It felt like I was back in college writing a research paper.  Quite the break from my usual marketing and lead generation duties.

    The most eye opening revelation from all the research was how almost all unpaid internships are techincally illegal.  The Department of Labor's six criteria for a legal unpaid internship are so vague and broad, chances are if an intern sued an employer over an unpaid internship, he would most likely win.  However, the value of unpaid wages won in a lawsuit would most likely be far less than the cost of a lawyer.  That is unfortunate because employers should be held  accountable for unpaid internships that do nothing but take advantage of desperate students and new grads.

    Get educated on Intern Compensation, read the ebook.

    Saturday, September 8, 2012

    I want to work at InternMatch forever...

    A little over a year ago, I got my first internship at a startup through InternMatch's Kill the cover letter contest.  While working at Wednesdays, I learned that the InternMatch office was just a few blocks away, so I emailed Nathan and asked if he wanted to get coffee with me.  Little did I know that the Starbucks meeting which jump started my relationship with InternMatch, would first lead to a part time internship, then a full time summer internship and ultimately my first job out of college.

    Even working just 10 hours a week back at UCSD, I loved the company.  Things only got better when I moved up to San Francisco and by the end of two months I could not get myself to look for a job.  The thought of working at another company was unfathomable.  Put it simply, I want to work here forever!

    Find out why I think InternMatch is so amazing at the InternMatch blog.

    Monday, September 3, 2012

    My Second Bootstrappin' Summer

    After living all across California and the world, I can confidently say that San Francisco is the best city in the world.  I cannot imagine a better place to start my life in the "real world."  I recently wrote a post on the InternMatch blog about my first tumultuous month in the city:
    While the other interns at InternMatch chose to live in apartments with their own room, privacy and other basic creature comforts, I decided to rough it out at a hacker hostel for my first month in San Francisco. For JUST (/sarcasm) $840 a month, I got a bunk in a ten person room, work space and immersion in a community of entrepreneurs.  
    Despite a disastrous first day ... [Read the Full Post]

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Connecting Robert Scoble

    Robert Scoble
    The coolest thing happened last week when I went to a Startup Dream Team talk featuring Robert Scoble.  At the talk, Scoble discussed how our phones in the very near future will start knowing everything about us.  It will start with continuous GPS tracking, where the phone will learn a user's habits, recognize the patterns and then serve the user information accordingly.  For example, the phone knows the usual route the user takes to work, if it detects an accident, it automatically alerts the user and routes a new path.

    Father down the line the phone will be able to communicate with various other surrounding objects via different radios.  This could mean that the phone will know immediately when the user gets into his car, via Bluetooth or RFID and then proceed to serve up the relevant traffic information.  Even farther down the line, will be the elimination of the phone and the advent of wearable technologies that will be able to actively recognize and interact with the surrounding environment.

    In essence, Scoble states that the future of technology will be about putting the user in context.  Taking into account user behavior, time, place and environment, technology will be serving users immediately relevant information.

    When Scoble said context, I was reminded that I had heard and even seen this executed just a month ago at Startup Weekend San Diego (SWSD). At SWSD Qualcomm offered cash prizes for teams that best integrated Context.Beta SDK (now called Gimbal) into their products. The Context SDK developed at Qualcomm Labs was in beta at the time, but it did almost everything that Scoble said was coming up in the future. In addition, Breadcrumbs, the app that won Qualcomm's grand prize was an app that constantly tracked the user and then served him with immediately relevant information. It seems the future was a lot closer than Scoble thought.

    The cool part of this story is that immediately after the Scoble talk, I went back to my office and tweeted Scoble and Roland, the project manager for the Context.Beta SDK/Gimbal.

    I did not think much of it, especially since Scoble never retweeted or mentioned me, but the next day I see this on Scoble's blog:
    Today I was talking with Roland Ligtenberg, product developer at Qualcomm Labs. While talking with me I realized just what Qualcomm was up to.
    Even though nobody knows, it feels pretty damn cool to have connected Scoble with Roland to make that blog post happen.

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

    China Application: HUB-Ventures Investor Day

    On Wednesday, I attended Investor Day hosted by Hub Ventures. The Hub is an international organization that creates co-working spaces for companies with social missions. That night, HUB-Ventures, the 3 month in house incubation program that provides funding and mentorship to a select group of startups was graduating its second class.

    After countless local, mobile and social pitches, it was great to to hear ideas that had legitimate claims to changing the world.  While getting wowed by the presenters, it suddenly occurred to me that some of the startups could very well make it in China.

    Below are the three startups whose products I could see making it in China:


    Most of the world's coffee is grown on small farms and cooperatives where record keeping and ordering is still handled on paper.  Acopio aims to bring these small growers to the digital world with their data management software that will allow producers to track operational data as well as clearly communicate with lenders and buyers.    

    Currently, Acopio's focus is on South American producers, but I can easily see this software used by Chinese coffee growers in Yunnan.  In addition, due to the high likelihood that Chinese and South American farmers are at the same technology level, bringing Acopio's software to China would just require some translation.          

    Africa's Talking

    With the heavy focus on smartphones, it is easy to forget that the most popular phone in the world today is the Nokia 1100, a dumbphone.  Africa's Talking wants to help developers build apps for the much larger dumbphone market by creating a universal platform that would be adopted by service providers.  M-Pesa a mobile payment system originated out of Kenya has shown that there is a great demand for practical mobile apps.    

    In China, the smartphone market is growing rapidly but the large majority of Chinese still own dumbphones so there is definitely a large market for dumbphone apps.  However, if Africa's Talking were to shift its focus to China, it should do so fast because dumbphones are a rapidly sunsetting business.    

    Project Repat

    Apparently, I have been missing out a on a new trend called upcycling where discarded textiles are creatively remade into new textile products and then sold for a higher price. Project Repat has turned upcycling into a big business, by partnering with big brands to take their unsold merchandise off their hands and then upcycling it to be sold back under the same brand.

    China being by far the largest textile manufacturer in the world, has an abundant supply of defective and rejected goods that could be upcycled right out of the factory.  Taking into account the lower labor and shipping costs, upcycled products in China would be very competitive in the global marketplace.  

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

    New Grad Job Search Tips: My Guest Posts on StudentAdisor and CollegeAftermath

    Recently, I wrote two guest posts giving the class of 2012 a few tips on how to find a job.  Times are tough right now and many of my friends who are new graduates are competing not only against each other, but other more experienced workers who have been let go in the economic downturn.  Below are my two guest posts on Student Advisor and CollegeAftermath giving some tips on how to standout from the very large pack.  Hopefully they will be of some help to my fellow classmates.    

    Click on the links to read more:

    StudentAdvisor (A Washington Post Company)
    1. Work an Internship
    2. Look in non-traditional places
    3. Build a non-traditional resume
    4. Ask for help
    5. Take your search to the recruiter

    (Rehash of the StudentAdvisor post but added in new idea on #5)
    1) Apply for an Internship
    2) Leave no stone unturned
    3) Fully Utilize the Digital Resume
    4) Network
    5) Quality over quantity
    6) Get in front of the recruiter

    Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    Takeaways from Startup Weekend San Diego #SWSD

    Last week, was San Diego's 4th Startup Weekend, here are my thoughts on the event as part of the organizing team.

    Organizing the event

    The organizing team was decently sized and that meant the workload ended up being very manageable.  Though, I kind of wished I had taken on more responsibility.  Nonetheless, organizing SWSD was an incredibly rewarding experience.  It helped that the attendees were incredibly appreciative of the organizing team.  On Sunday night after SWSD wrapped up, we joined some of the attendees at the bar and when we entered through the door they gave us a round of applause!  That one moment made all the hard work and fatigue worth it.

    Friday pitches

    As much as I tried to, I could not like the pitches on Friday night. After witnessing the originality of the pitches from Startup Weekend Santa Barbara, the San Diego pitches just seemed stale.  Most of the ideas pitched seemed to be minor variations on already well established products.

    Inside the judges room

    I found myself disagreeing with the judges on the winners.  Aside from GeoContractor, an app for contractors to keep track of where their workers and materials are, I thought the judges really missed the boat.  The first place winner Remix Replay was a website to create web games via a drag and drop interface.  According to the judges, Remix Replay was not ready to immediately go to market judging by the demo presented, in addition, it had no clear monetization strategy.  This made it all the more surprising, when the judges selected Remix Replay for first place over GeoContractor, when GeoContractor's product was at the same stage but had a clear monetization plan for the huge contractor market.

    Qualcomm ContextBeta SDK Winners

    On the other hand, I completely agreed with the selection of Breadcrumbs for the first place ContextBeta SDK prize.  This smartphone app which tracks a users movement throughout the day and then breaks that data down into easily understood and relevant chunks, fits well with the growing trend of quantified self.  Its monetization strategy also fits well with the trend of localization of ads.  The data that Breadcrumbs would have access to such as when and where a user is, as well as how long he is going to stay there and where he is going to go next would be extremely valuable to an advertiser.


    SWSD did not start off strong, but it certainly made a good showing in the end.  There were a couple of products such as GeoContractor, Breadcrumbs and Backdropp that I would love to try.  However, after Santa Barbara, I must say that San Diego has some serious catching up to do.  

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    Startup Weekend San Diego #SWSD: Competing Teams and Winners

    Startup Weekend San Diego (SWSD) was just last week and I was part of the organizing team.  

    Below are the winners as well as a list of the teams that formed:

    SWSD Winners

    1st place: RemixReplay
    2nd place: GeoConstructor
    3rd place: StokeBox

    Crowd Favorite: CollegeGoGo
    Runners-up: GeoConstructor, RemixReplay

    Qualcomm Labs - ContextBeta SDK winners: 

    1st place: Breadcrumbs
    2nd place: GeoConstructor
    3rd place: SafeAlert

    Competing teams:

    Startup company building a system to save us all from parking tickets.

    Stoke Box
    An online community of parents that matches members based on what they have and what they need.

    People Are Waiting
    Communicate effectively with latecomers to meetings and quickly decide if you should start without them, reschedule, or wait.

    A service that provides alerts of a crime that are taking place in the vicinity in real time, so that you can stay away from the location of crime.

    Digg based event posting community.

    Automatically locates employees and subcontractors for Construction General Contractors and Developers. Automatically checks them in and out of job sites and hardware stores. Allows workers to establish lists of supplies to pick up, and automatically pops up this list when the worker enters the geolocation. 

    Tour Me
    Location-aware mobile app platform for cultural institutions.

    A geotag solution to location scouting for the creative community.
    Backdropp allows the user to pin a cool location on the map, attach a photo of the point of interest and write a short description. Our geotag system alerts other users when they are in the vicinity of that backdrop so they can check it out and utilize that backdrop for photo shoots or location scouting.

    Breadcrumbs TBD
    Working with geo fence technology.

    College Go Go 
    A college registry site and app for students. 

    TravelShot is an interactive travel photo journal and social network.  While traveling, TravelShot allows you to snap a photo and upload it to a personalized size that tracks your travels on a visual map filled with the photos you've taken along the way.  TravelShot is integrated with Facebook and Twitter to send out updates to your friends and family every time you post an update.  When you get home, you instantly have an interactive photo gallery of your travels.
    Making the creation of online memorials easy for the bereaved.

    Remix Replay
    To create a web app that allows users to make personalized computer games. No programming skills required.

    A Jetshare Community

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

    Financial Horizons Marketing Campaign: Ideas and improvements for next year

    A list things that would make next year's marketing campaign much better.

    Increase Extra Credit Pitches

    Extra credit has shown to be the best driver of attendance.  An email should be sent to every economics professor teaching that quarter asking them to offer extra credit for attending the conference.  This assumption is not supported by data, but I believe classes that offered extra credit had over 50% of their students attend the conference.

    Flyers With Slogans

    No Slogan!
    The reason we did not have the slogans on it this year was because we had to rush printing.  The flyer designer and director of marketing should be working closely together on the flyer.  The flyer design, which also becomes the face of the conference should be fully integrated into the marketing campaign.  

    Study Party/Promotional Event 

    Students in the same classes tend to only gather together right before an exam.  In order to take advantage of that, UIS should work with economics TA's to organize a study party the day before a midterm.  UIS should treat these study parties as promotional events and use its marketing budget to provide free food, caffeine and T-shirts.  The combined force of TA's and free stuff should draw a significant group of economic students to these study parties. A conference pitch directed at this captive audience should play to the fact that many students do not know how what they are studying will help them in the future.  Essentially, the conference pitch should say something like "Don't know how this stuff will help you in your life? Come to the conference and find out."

    Display Case 

    There are many display cases that student organizations can reserve all over the Price Center, but there is only one that matters.  The display case that is in the hallway that connects Price Center East with Price Center West is possibly the most highly trafficked path in the whole school.  Putting an eye catching display, or even plastering the case of with flyers would greatly increase awareness of the conference.

    Saturday, June 23, 2012

    Financial Horizons Marketing Campaign: Results and Conclusions

    Here are the results of the marketing campaign from analyzing the registration data.

    Background on Attendees



    As expected, the large majority of attendees were from UC San Diego.  Economics and business majors made up 71% of attendees, which raises the question should UIS continue to target economics students or expand out into other majors?  I believe that with over 6000 students that enroll in economics courses every quarter at UCSD, there is still a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked.  The next marketing campaign should focus almost entirely on economic students, as fewer than 10% students taking economics classes are registering for the conference.  

    What worked?


    Flyering and chalk boarding which were the two most most labor intensive methods produced the worst results, reaching a combined 8% of attendees.  On the other hand, the least labor intensive marketing methods econ blog, in class pitches and social media were three to six times more effective.

    Word of mouth through friends was the surprise leader in how attendees heard about the conference.  This makes me think the next campaign should focus on soundbites and something that encourages attendees to bring friends, such as "bring a friend get X free" type promotion.

    Though this graph is informative, I believe that it underestimates the value of flyering and chalkboarding.  I have a nagging suspicion that there would have been fewer people who heard about it from friends had the campus not been covered in flyers.  There is a chance that flyering and chalkboarding serve as reinforcement to the more popular methods, for example a student hears about the conference from a friend and then is reminded to register upon seeing a flyer.  That kind of value that chalkboarding and flyering brings would not be reflected in this graph.

    Facebook Ads


    hedge funds

    Overall, Facebook ads were dismal.  With over 6000 people seeing the ads, only 6 of them clicked.  Out of the 7 ads that I ran, the one titled "Hedge Funds @ UCSD" did the best, and by best I mean it got all the clicks.  The success of  the "Hedge Funds" ad suggests that more mainstream finance terms are the key to targeting students.

    Currently, there is a debate raging about the effectiveness of Facebook ads. My dismal results has pushed me towards the "not effective" side of the debate.   There is a very real possibility that my generation, which grew up with banner ads, have learned to completely tune them out.  WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg is definitely onto something when he said that the display advertising model is broken and in-stream advertising is the future.

    Sunday, June 17, 2012

    Letter to the Editors of City on a Hill Press

    I wrote this letter to the editor for a recent PR campaign at InternMatch.  It did not get picked up by the newspaper, but I spent so much time and effort on this piece that I figure I might as well show it on the blog.  I think it's a good piece of writing in general, but as a letter to the editor, it does not respond to the articles listed enough.  Something to remember for the next PR campaign.  

    Dear editors and graduating readers of City on a Hill Press,

    While doing research for my internship at InternMatch, I came upon two articles published a year ago: She’s Moving Home After Living Alone (May 26 2011) by Rosie Spinks and Dreams of Luxury, Not Necessity (March 3 2011) by Asa Hess-Matusimoto.  These articles shocked me because even a year later, I found them to be still relevant.

    Over the past couple of months, there has been a lot of good news in regards to the employment prospects of the class of 2012.  US unemployment is said to have dropped for the second straight month, and the National Association of Colleges and Employers predicts a 10.2% increase in the hiring of college graduates compared to 2011.  

    Recently, InternMatch surveyed over 10,000 seniors which resulted in some alarming statistics:
    1. 82.0% of upcoming graduates have not secured a job for after graduation
    2. 81.9% of those who secured jobs completed at least 1 internship
    3. 54.9% of seniors have looked/been looking for a job for 3 months or more
    4. 43.9% of upcoming graduates are planning to move back in with their parents
    Troublingly, students who did more internships did not significantly increase their odds of landing a full time job.  

    This leads me to wonder who is feeling the impact of the positive statistics?  Certainly, not my fellow graduating seniors at UC San Diego, who been frantically searching for months.  The class of 2012 needs to realize that even though we may perhaps be a little better off than the class of 2011, the employment situation is still terrible and that our parents' era of guaranteed employment with a diploma is truly over.     

    A new mind set is needed to succeed in this new age of increased competition.  The class of 2012 needs to not just look for full time jobs after graduation but be open to working internships as well.  Even the White House has realized that the times have changed when it launched the Summer Jobs+ initiative to place new graduates in internships rather than jobs.  Filling out job applications is no longer going to cut it, networking and other non-traditional channels is how the class of 2012 is going to find its first job.
    Basically, it’s now more important than ever to get your hustle on.

    Jonathan Lau
    UC San Diego
    Class of 2012

    Thursday, June 7, 2012

    Startup Weekend Santa Barbara - Winners and Takeaways

    Startup Weekend Santa Barbara Winners

    Grand Prize: 
    Chirp - Shazam for bird songs.  Use the app the identify what bird is singing that song you are hearing.

    Best Market Validation: 
    Text Connect - Event/venue specific text roulette.  Text the provided number and get paired into a text conversation with others near you.

    Best Business Model: 
    Simple Submit - A site that walks you through the documentation necessary to get a mortgage.

    Best of Santa Barbara: 
    Best and Bogus - Take videos of the best and worst things in your community.  Get the community to give praise where it is due and fix what is broken.

    Best Mobile: 
    Artful - Shazam for art.  Use the app to identify a piece of art and get information on it as well as a link to buy the print.

    Audience Choice: 
    Goal Stoke - Compete with others to lose weight and earn money.


    The pitches on Friday absolutely blew me away.  I counted maybe five or so ideas that were clones out of the 54 ideas that were pitched, leading me to believe that Santa Barbara has an abundant supply of originality.  Just when I thought I had heard every single startup idea, things like Artful, Chirp and Text Connect come up.

    Out of the 21 teams that formed, 18 made it to the final pitches.  I am happy to say that my three favorite teams on Friday all won something.  In the judges room, it was a toss up between Artful and Chirp.  Chirp managed to edge out the win because the judges decided it was the most market ready.  Once released to the app store, Chirp would immediately have paying customers, versus Artful which was reliant on gallery owners and museums adopting the system and then uploading their art pieces to the system in order for the app to be useful.

    I agreed with the judges' reasoning, but it was a toss up for me as well.  Chirp and Artful both did an excellent job in market validation and put together beautiful look apps.  In terms of amount of work completed, the Artful team impressed me a bit more because they were able to put together a working mobile app.  In the end, I can understand why Chirp won the grand prize and I am just happy that both teams managed to win something.  I am really looking forward to these apps going live and hoping for the chance to beta test them.

    Best and Bogus's win is deserved due to the team's solid market validation, but the product makes me nervous.  Every time the team mentions that their goal is to create a "video army" to fix what is bogus behavior through essentially what is public shaming, I think about China's cultural revolution and how children turned in their parents to the government for "misbehaving." The thought of having to look over my shoulder because a neighbor might be out to catch me doing something "bogus"on video is frightening and sounds like the setting of a dystopian novel.  This was my only gripe about the winners.

    SWSB has really gotten me to rethink my list of hot tech locations.  The winners of SWSB are by far the most promising set of ideas that I have seen come out of ANY Startup Weekend to date.  I believe there is a good chance one of the SWSB winners will become the biggest Startup Weekend success story ever.

    Sunday, June 3, 2012

    Startup Weekend Santa Barbara: Teams

    Minutes away from final presentations and I am too excited to eat.

    My favorite teams (aka the ones I voted for):


    A Shazam for art, where you take a picture of a piece of art, the app identifies it and then pulls up information it.  This would be amazing for when I go to galleries or museums where often times the only information on a piece of 3x5" sign that lists the title, artist, year and medium.  I always wanted to know the background information or artists thoughts on a piece and maybe in the near future with Artful I can.  

    Chirp It

    A Shazam for birds, basically always know what bird you are listening to.  For me this would be a great novelty app, but for the more serious birdwatchers, I imagine this would be a must have app.  In addition, I snuck a peek at their final pitch deck and apparently the birdwatcher market is huge!  I have no doubt that Chirp It would be a hit in the app store.

    Text Connect

    A chat roulette SMS system where users can text a number that is specific to an event or venue in order to text with others there.  Restaurants and event organizers will be able to text offers to people using the system.  I think this is a great way to meet people at an event, as a text is less intimidating than walking up to a strangers and trying to start a conversation.  Would love to see this live at the next networking event I attend.  

    SWSB Teams List (From most to least number of votes)

    *Teams change their name, dissolve and merge through the weekend, so this is not a final list of those who will be presenting on Sunday.

    iSpot - Airbnb for driveways
    Artful - Shazam for art
    Mortgage Docs - Mortgage tutorial documentation app
    Text Connect - SMS chat roulet: targeted advertising
    Dropzone Management - SAAS for sky diving schools or anything else who has problems coordinating multiple participants

    The Best and Bogus - App to make video army of community members documenting best and worse of the community
    Chirp it - Shazaam for bird calls
    Goal Stoke - Compete against others with losing weights and win money
    Mootcan - Online education information that will help you pass various courses
    Standard Label Plugin - Simple way for people to understand what websites do with their personal data. Personal information nutrition label for web info.

    WebFly - Know what your users are saying online about your brand/product/company
    S Rating - Social rating application for venues
    Creator Up - Online film school using only phone cameras
    Trumigo - Service/app/platform find real friends near you - ECommerce market place for small retailers: showcase work, employ ranking of popularity, matches taste with designer

    FoodQ - Pandora for restaurant recommendations
    ReFuel - Simple process to get tax refund for non public gas use
    Arrive Faster - GPS locator for public transit
    Insta Flip - New mobile ad platform
    Have to Have - Create a wishlist for luxury items and get notified when the items on your list go on sale

    Tahiti System - Business automation system

    Friday, June 1, 2012

    Startup Weekend Santa Barbara: Hopes

    It is 30 minutes till the first Startup Weekend in Santa Barbara (SWSB). I have been told that the weekend is close to 100 people showing up, meaning that this is going to be a pretty busy event.

    Why am I here?

    Julian the head organizer of Startup Weekend San Diego is the facilitator for SWSB and he invited the SD organizers to come.  I figure I needed a break from SD and this would be a good excuse to visit a friend in SB who was leaving for Taiwan.  Of course, I am also here to hear product pitches from Santa Barbara's best and brightest.

    What I hope to see:

    There's been a lot of talk about monetizing mobile lately in the wake of the Facebook IPO.  The fact is that the current mobile ads are ugly, intrusive and worst of all have much lower ROI than traditional banner ads.  It would be amazing to see someone pitch an idea that solved this huge problem.  Perhaps a new type of ad network for mobile apps or an app that somehow monetizes in a way that does not use banner ads?

    What I will most likely see:

    Event discovery apps seem to be all the rage these days, there were a couple that even showed up in SWTJ.  This is a huge market and so far nobody has gotten it right.  I reckon that there are going to be more than one pitch about a new way to discover events near you that is going to be local, mobile, social + some other startup cliche.

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    3 Questions To Ask When Deciding Between Multiple Internship Offers @InternMatch

    Once again, I am writing for the InternMatch blog! Only this time as an official member of the team, which hilariously also means I get paid less per post but it's worth it to work with such an amazing group of people

    This summer, I was fortunate enough to receive two internship offers, one of which was from InternMatch. Learn about the decision making process led me to realizing that working at InternMatch was the better fit for me. See the rationale and answers to my three questions:

    1) What's my end game?
    2) Will I learn something new?
    3) Does the workplace culture fit me?

    Read The Whole Post @InternMatch

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    Paying it Forward

    There is a strong tradition of paying it forward in the startup community and it is one of the main reasons why I love the space so much.  A couple of weeks ago, I was able to partake in this tradition with great success. 

    My friend Sean just recently started a fashion blog similar to  Every day, he rides his bike around campus and looks for students who are wearing interesting fashions.  He then asks to take a picture of them and then breaks down who they are and what they are wearing on

    When I first heard about his idea, I really liked it and secretly wanted to help him out.  However, outside of some basic blog and camera advice, I did not have much to offer.  A week later, while doing some research on the Guardian (UCSD newspaper) for an InternMatch project, I was reading through the feature section, which is where they write about notable students and faculty.  My immediate thought was “Why isn’t Sean in here?”  So I tracked down the email to the features editor and with a devil may care attitude, drafter up this email:

    Hi Mina, 
    I just wanted to point you in the direction of my friend Sean Couey who is starting a fashion blog focusing on UCSD students.  Every day, Sean wanders around campus and looks for students who sport some interesting fashions, he then politely asks to take their picture and put it up on his blog where he also breaks down the specific pieces they are wearing. 
    It's a great story about a UCSD student who is doing something unique with his passion and I hope you look into it. 
    Jonathan Lau

    Next thing I know, the features editor responded asking when Sean would be available for an interview.  A week later, I am looking at a full page article on in the Guardian (God knows why there isn't a picture of Sean there though!).  Since the article ran Sean has seen a nice bump in traffic, though seeing his site in a newspaper was probably way more satisfying than any number of unique visitors. 

    As for me, I was just really glad that I was able to help.  It shocks me to think of the chain of events that my one casual email started.  Honestly, when I hit that send button I was not expecting a response, much less one in an hour.  It has really gotten me wondering about other small ways I could help out my friends.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    A Walkthrough of Startup Weekend Tijuana Teams

    On the second day of SWTJ, I had the chance to talk to all of the teams about their products.  Keep in mind that the products described below do not necessarily reflect the final product that was presented on Sunday. 


    Bacheo/Wachabump is a smartphone and web app that allows users to report potholes to the government.  Pictures of the potholes along with GPS or other locating information can be uploaded by users and this data would be accessible to all. There were ideas of making a pothole density map from the data, which could be used to show where the worst roads were.  The end goal of the app is to pressure the government into fixing the roads.

    This product reminded me strongly of DIYDemocracy, a company that operates out of AnsirInnovation Center.  I like all ideas that improve government accountability and am excited about Wachabump, my only concern is that the idea in its current form is not too accessible to the average Mexican.  The number of Mexicans who can afford smartphones is low and the number of who have data plans is even lower.  Basic internet access cannot be said to be a given.  I imagine that the communities who would benefit the most from this app would also be the most impoverished, so I suggested that they think about a SMS reporting system as well.


    This team pivoted a bunch of times, but the pitch that I got made me think of an for university teachers.  The problem today is that university professors do not know what to teach in regards to industry software, so before planning a course, the professor would log on to the Indueducation website and see what kind of software was being used in a particular industry.  In addition to industry information, Indueducation would also provide tutorials and guides for the software.

    I was not much of a fan when I heard this idea as two very big problems came to mind.  First, I questioned whether or not professors had that much control over their own courses. Second, how were they going to get these detailed and dense guides?  One problem, the team has no control over and the other seems like it would cost a lot of money to solve. is a site where venues can register and approach users on their birthdays with promotions.  There would also be a recommendation engine for users looking to plan a party that would steer them towards appropriate promotions.  Users can also upload existing promotions as well, such as if they knew of a restaurant that offered a free meal on your birthday. 

    There was some concern that for birthday parties the team was targeting the wrong person, since usually the person having the birthday does not plan their own party.  The team explained that it was not just for restaurants but other businesses as well such as. 

    The targeting might need some a little tweaking, but overall I thought this was an awesome idea and HbD2 gets extra points for doing something that I have not seen yet.  Their model  could definitely be applied to other celebrations as well.

    I suggested they Photoshop a screenshot of the site as a minimum viable product and publicize it on Facebook in order to get validation on the idea as well as feedback on what features to include or take out.


    Cruzas is a real time traffic app for the US border crossing.  Currently, the info services on border traffic such as calling the border guards are inaccurate to the point of being useless. Cruzas aims to solve this problem by crowd sourcing and aggregating all current info sources.  There was also talk of a Waze like app that actively tracked the position and speed of the user’s car and shared it with other users as well as allowed drivers to ping each other.  In the final product, users would be able to see a heat map of the fastest lanes. 

    Cruzas seemed like a product with an extremely small market, namely people who cross the US-Mexican border regularly.  For frequent border crossers, there is already the Sentri pass that gives them dedicated lanes sort of like Fast Trak.  Where could Cruzas fit in all of this?  That was my thought until I heard the overwhelmingly positive reactions from the frequent border crossers at the event.  Apparently there are two border crossings in California, and choosing the right one could save you two to three hours one way, even with the Sentri pass.  With over a million people who cross the border every year, Cruzas could very well become a decent passive income product if they used a subscription based revenue model.  


    Eventum is a user generated public events calendar.  Any user can create a public event and it will integrate with social media sites. Users will be able to buy tickets to the events straight from the Eventum site. The site’s focus will be on local businesses and each event page will have their own QR code.

    The event discovery space is rife with competition, but nobody seems to be able to do it right.  I showed the team the Roamz app, which is the best (but still terrible) event discovery app I have used to date.  Eventum is a bit too similar to Eventbrite for my liking, despite the team leader’s insistence that it is different because it focuses on local businesses and event discovery.    


    In Mexico there a lot of problems with government transparency and Congresoplon which roughly translates to "Congress Snitch" aims to change that.  Currently, public information such as attendance and voting records are available to the public but not very accessible.  Congresoplon is a website that would put all of that public info about representatives in an easy to understand format.  Congresoplon would give representatives a grade on how well their voting record reflects the will of their constituents.  They will be targeting the federal government first.  The ultimate goal is to get representatives to be more accountable and connected to their constituents.

    I am always enthusiastic about things that make government more accountable, so immediately I was drawn to Congresoplon.  There are a couple of sites like Congresoplon in the US and and if Mexico doesn't have any equivalents already, it really should.  One of the mentors suggested they look for a grant from the Carter Institute, which promotes government transparency and that seemed like a brilliant idea to get funded and still remain neutral.  Out of all the teams at SWTJ, Congresoplon was the only team that I could see having an effect on the average Mexican citizen.   


    The tagline for Instapart was "find used parts for your car in under 90 seconds" and the team billed it as a twitter for junkyards.  Users visit the Instapart site and quickly type in what car part they need and for what car model, then Instapart blasts that query out to junkyards in the area and returns results in 90 seconds.  Results are sorted by distance, rating of the junkyard, and price.     

    I was really impressed with the team when they told me that they called and even visited some junkyards in order to validate their product.  Alline, a mentor from San Diego, suggested they use try selling a part on Twitter as their minimum viable product and me being the one who is always trying to make the product as inclusive as possible, suggested they allow for SMS queries too.


    Pimiento is a smartphone that lets you look up recipes by entering in what you have in your fridge.  I was really surprised that Pimiento received the most votes from the audience since the idea of searchingfor recipes by ingredients has been around for at least five years.  However, when I saw the mockups I became more enthusiastic about it. 

    The biggest problem with Pimiento is that it is targeting the smartphone demographic, which is also the demographic that doesn't cook!  Even when I asked the team if they cooked, all of them said not really.  This team had some trouble thinking up a revenue model, and I suggested they follow the freemium model, where users will have access to a basic free app and then be prompted to buy premium features such as additional recipes.