Monday, March 12, 2012

    Demo Night in San Diego

    The best part about working at Ansir Innovation Center is that I get to hear about startup events in SD and then attend them for FREE!
    EvoNexus is a beautiful space right in downtown
    Organized by SD's biggest startup celebrity Brant Cooper
    In all honesty, I was not expecting much out of the demo night as I had heard the San Diego startup scene is small and rumors about evoNexus's difficulty in signing up quality startups to their incubator.  Instead, the demo night far surpassed my expectations.  

    DSC_0043 takelessons
    This was by far the most impressive startup to demo. Though with 90 employees and $6 million in funding it probably should not have demoed next to the other startups that night since many of them were still in the seed stage.

    TakeLessons is a site that helps people find music teachers in their area, kind of like a for music. In addition, it is also a customer relationship management platform for music teachers. Music teachers have to apply to get on and get processed through algorithms, that calculate things like how many students the teacher can handle, lifetime amount they will earn as well as the level of competition in the locale. Only musicians who run through the algorithms with a certain score get to be listed on the site.
    I strongly believe in TakeLesson's model and love the idea of simple CRM for music teachers, because as TakeLessons said in the demo, most music teachers just want to teach music.  They do not want to deal with payments, scheduling and marketing, and would gladly pay for a service that would do that for them.  

    With partnerships with Best Buy and now Amazon where buyers of music instruments will get offered a deal or giftcard for Takelessons, I expect to see TakeLessons become a mainstream service in the very near future.  

    This was a neat little app that was kind of like a location based Google calendar or Facebook event.  Users go on the app and browse what their friends are doing at that moment them.  In addition, users can make events and invite their friends to them.  Usually, I have qualms about products that require a large user base to work but with saambaa, users can invite people to the event straight off their phone book by SMS meaning that non-app users can participate in the fun as well.

    I am not exactly bullish on saambaa's prospects because there are quite a few location based event planning/discovery apps out there but I do like what I see and will definitely be keeping an eye on them as they attempt to raise.  My only complaint and its a huge one is that the app is extremely unstable, it has crashed on me so much that it is nearly unusable, in addition, it crashed when I tried to sign on using facebook meaning that I had to trudge through the manual registration process.    

    Note the "550 days ago" and "Refreshing data from website" 
    Tap Hunter was probably the least impressive out the demo night line up.  Their app allowed users to track the craft brews that their local bar has on tap.  Hearing that I already thought it was a fairly trivial app as not knowing what is on tap is not exactly a huge pain point for most people.  Nonetheless, I was intrigued due to the fact I am currently just getting into craft brews.

    Upon downloading the app, I was hit with a 5+ minute loading time when I launched it, as TapHunter attempted to download information from the server.  I say attempted because my phone locked out because TapHunter took so long to download from the server, the lock out interrupted the download and caused the app not to work.  I had to reinstall the app and make sure it did not lock out again before it finished downloading the second time.  However, the disappointment only deepened when I started using the app and realized my local bar had not updated their selection in 530+ days.  A quick look at the comments in the app showed that information that was outdated for over a year was the norm. 
    Avoid this app.

    When I heard that uMe was another one of those business card apps, I dismissed them.  However, when I saw their demo, I started seeing some possiblities.  The founder showed how he could distribute his card to the whole audience by having us just email his uMe address, which I thought was pretty neat and could see being useful in a conference setting.  Distributing uMe cards through was also a great idea because that meant that non-uMe users could receive uMe cards, once again overcoming the critical mass problem that so many apps have.   

    Hard time choosing the lesser evil
    However, once I downloaded the app and actually started using it, I was once again disappointed.  Their UI was plain and maybe even a little ugly. My biggest gripe was the limited number of business card templates all of which were hideous.  The last deal breaker, is the fact that my biggest problem with business cards is not that I never have any on me, but rather of how to organize all the ones I receive.  The uMe app does not solve that problem as I can only receive other uMe cards with the app, which essentially makes it useless because nobody uses the app. 

    Looks I am going to stick with Cardmunch as my business card app of choice.

    DSC_0026 Gotribal
    I don't have much to say about GoTribal because I do not understand their space much.  GoTribal is a social network aimed at women in endurance sports (marathons, triatholons etc.).  Yes, they are that niche of a company.  Though, the founder stated the market was in the millions of women in the US alone and growing at a rapid pace.  Normally, I would be highly skeptical of another social network, but it seems like GoTribal has its affairs in order with a celebrity endorsement, corporate sponsors and an active community.
    Unfortunately is mainly filled with jobs no college student wants
    This startup is looking to remake the resume. allows you to make a richer resume with video intros, etc and it also allows you to simply make multiple versions of a resume, which is a big plus for people looking to tailor their resumes to each job. is also a jobs site meaning that users can immediately apply to jobs that companies have posted with their freshly made resumes.  However, when I checked the job listings on it was filled with positions like cashier, dishwasher and clerk which are not exactly the positions that their target segment of college students are aspiring to apply for.

    As one of many startups trying to remake the resume and with nothing to make really standout from the pack, I am bearish on its prospects. 

    I wish Antengo had more users!
    In a world with the likes of Zaarly and Taskrabbit, the local market place app space is pretty crowded.  Antengo is basically a no nonsense mobile version of Craigslist and for that it works well.  The UI is intuitive (not like Zaarly's redesign) and it looks way better than Craiglist. 

    However, the reason I am not using Antengo over Craigslist right now is because there are very few users!  At the demo, the founder spouted some impressive statistic regarding active users and transactions, but the fact is that I simply cannot find anything I want on Antengo.  Looks like I am going to stick with hideous Craigslist and I bet many others will too. 

    Upper Class Echo Chamber: Lesson in Bias Awareness

    While talking on the phone with my mom about the cost of living in San Francisco, she mentioned that her cousin's son was making 70K a year and finding it hard to put aside some money.  This blew my mind, because I was calculating a comfortable living while earning 40K a year in San Francisco.  I could not understand how my mom though that a single and childless twenty something year old was just breaking even at the end of the month.  Then I remembered how growing up I was always told that we were poor when my dad was making well over 100 grand a year (putting him in the top 5% of income earners in the US) and suddenly it all made sense.  My parents were stuck in the upper class echo chamber.

    By only associating with people who are in the same socioeconomic class, my parents have made themselves blind to the possibility of life outside of their own income bracket.  I have personally witnessed this blindness at dinners with family and family friends.  Just imagine, a group of senior engineers or managers reassuring themselves over $200+ bottles of wine that living off less than 100K a year in Silicon Valley is next to impossible.  Actually, San Jose's mayor Chuck Reed said relatively the same thing in 2009 claiming that “a family earning $250,000 a year can’t buy a home in Silicon Valley.” At the time, people slammed him for being out of touch, but little did the critics know that he was very much in touch with my parents and their friends, also known as the constituency that got him elected. 

    The upper class echo chamber inevitably filters down to the children.  I remember back in high school my friends and I were looking at college majors and the corresponding starting salaries, panicking at how we could possibly live off 50 grand a year once we got out of college.  I would have been indefinitely stuck in the echo chamber had I not joined Cindy Chavez's campaign for mayor my sophomore year and started interacting with different socioeconomic classes.  Especially, while working with union members, I quickly realized my position of privilege which put my feet on the ground and a few years later while in college, my anthropology studies would firmly secure them to there.   

    Later that day, after my mom's call I shared what my mom said at the bar, my perplexed friend and I did a quick thought exercise on how much we would have left each month after taking out essentials if we were making 70K a year.

    Hypothetical essential costs:
    • Taxes - Roughly $21,000 a year
    • Rent - $1200 month for a studio (information provided by my mom on how much the guy was paying)
    • Car lease - $250 a month for a Camry LE (quoted from Lease Trader)
    • Car Insurance - $150 a month (my friend's current young driver rate)
    • Gas - $260 a month (roughly $65 a tank, 1 tank per week)
    • Utilities + Internet + TV - $300 a month (Boston quote because the guy lives in the east coast from White Fence)
    • Wireless bill - 80 (Top of the line unlimited data plan from Sprint)

    Subtract all these monthly costs from his after tax income of $4083 per month and he is left with $1,843 for food and anything else that he wants.  $1,843 a month is more than my current TOTAL monthly expenditure per month. He must be eating steak dinners everyday and buying shots of Patron at the bar if he was just breaking even every month.  There is of course a lot of possible cutting back on this budget as well.

    WHAT’s the point of this whole story?
    This little anecdote highlights the danger of being unaware of your own bias.  It shows how easily it is to become disconnected from the reality on the ground just by surrounding yourself with similar people.  To me it is a reminder to keep stepping out of my usual environments and meeting people who are different as well as once in a while to take a step back and take a real critical look at myself.

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Hire an Anthropologist: 3 Reasons Why

    Confused looks abound, whenever I tell people I am an anthropology major. After the looks and explanation that I do not study bones, the inevitable "what are you going to do with that?" comes up.  I imagine recruiters who look at my resume go through the same process.

    Bronislaw Malinowksi
    Father of Social Anthropology
    And I do not blame them!  It is hard to understand how anthropology is practical given the lack of hard skills in the major.   Unlike a computer science major, I cannot say I learned Java in class and I directly use that knowledge in my developer job.  The drawing of direct connections from the social sciences to practical endeavors is not as clear cut as doing so with hard sciences or engineering.   In order to appreciate anthropology’s practical use, there must be a recognition of the uniqueness of anthropology’s conceptual framework, which changes how every student views the world.

    Below, are three examples of how an anthropological framework helped me do my job:  

    1) Holistic view
    To be an anthropologist is to understand that people are the sum of their parts.  Analyzing people means taking into account multiple elements such as socio-economic status, culture and psychology. 

    This holistic mindset leads me to analyze data and problems from multiple angles.  I am highly skeptical of one size fits all solutions preferring instead to tailor solutions according to differences.  With globalization and mantras such as "think global, act local" on the rise, a holistic mind set will only grow in importance. 

    In my marketing campaign for the Undergraduate Investment Society's 7th Annual Financial Horizons Conference, I looked at the UCSD student body holistically.  This led me to see that economic students and Rady business school students due to factors such as age, work experience and socioeconomic status would have different motivations for attending a finance conference.  As a result, I tailored the ad copy towards the different students in an effort to appeal to their varied motivations for going to the conference.

    2) Check biases
    Logic is thrown around a lot as the catchall explanation for why people do or will do certain things.  What people view as "logical" and "rational" are often the result of ingrained biases, but few realize that.

    Anthropologists are in a constant and ongoing battle to check their biases.  This is not to say that those who study anthropology have no biases, rather they are aware of them and take it into account in their analysis.  By being aware of their own bias, anthropologists allow themselves to be open minded while interpreting data.        

    While studying abroad in China, I found that checking my biases helped me discover the culture.  I had a lot of baggage coming into China, from what my family had told or rather warned me about and portrayals of China in the American media.  Being aware of those preconceived notions, allowed me keep an open mind while experiencing the country and led me to better understand not only Chinese culture, but also American and Chinese diaspora culture as well. 

    3) Insistence on social proof
    Anthropologist hired by US Army in Afghanistan
    Social proof has been a buzz word in the startup world ever since Lean Startup became the de facto philosophy for the industry.  The notion of going into the "field" and testing a hypothesis with customers/users/people has been a core tenant of Anthropology since its inception.

    The study and practice of ethnographic fieldwork, has given me the sense of mind to take all my assumptions to the field. In addition, it has taught me how to find the relevant field site and effective methods to extract accurate information from it. 

    When the Lean Startup Circle lunch club roll out to cities across the country produced lackluster results, I took a bootstrapping business trip to figure out what happened.  Drawing on my previous fieldwork experience, I surveyed the Los Angeles and San Diego startup scenes, which included meeting up with organizers and entrepreneurs on order to learn what they thought would get their community come out to lunch together. 

    In closing
    Studying anthropology has completely changed the way I think in a way that makes me different from most others.  The anthropological mindset gives me a fresh and arguably better way of using existing tools.  When I read IDEO's profile of the anthropologist in 10 Faces of Innovation:

    "The Anthropologist is rarely stationary. Rather, this is the person who ventures into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences in order to come up with new innovations. The Anthropologist is extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way, humanizing the scientific method to apply it to daily life. Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to "see" things that have gone unnoticed; a tendency to keep running lists of innovative concepts worth emulating and problems that need solving; and a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places."

    I just thought to myself “YES! They get it!”

    One day everybody will too.