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 thesartorialist.com.  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 showmeucsd.com

    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 http://showmeucsd.com/ 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 showmeucsd.com 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 eHow.com 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. 


    HbD2.me 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.  

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    Takeaways from Startup Weekend Tijuana (SWTJ)

    Coming to Tijuana for Startup Weekend was the first time I had ever set foot in Mexico, which now seems like a crime considering that I have lived less than an hour from the border for three years.  The people I met, talent I saw and food I ate has made me fall in love with the city, and has got me seriously considering if I want to live there for a bit sometime down the line.

    Below are some takeaways I got from SWTJ

    Wait what’s Startup Weekend (SW)?

    SWTJ organizers and Wes, my boss from Ansir Innovation Center
    Startup Weekend is a 54 hour competition, where attendees pitch a startup idea on Friday, form teams around the highest voted ideas and then build and hopefully launch that idea over the rest of the weekend.  Throughout the weekend, teams receive guidance from local entrepreneurs who volunteer their time.  On Sunday, the teams give a final pitch and are judged on what they have built.  Startup Weekend is a nonprofit organization that is funded by the Kaufman Foundation, which seeks to develop entrepreneurship around the world.  There have been SW events all over the world, from San Francisco to Shanghai and even Gaza.  Even more impressive, all the events have been organized by unpaid and overworked volunteers, so you know there is a lot of passion floating around every event.      

    “Wow this looks like China!”

    After crossing the border and seeing the shacks and rundown houses next to brand new glass office buildings and shopping malls, I was immediately reminded of China.  Tijuana (TJ) is no Shanghai, but with its cracks of modernity in an otherwise overwhelmingly developing city.  It looks like a 3rd or 4th tier city in the interior of China, maybe a Jingdezhen or Shangcai. 

    In the blue house right next to the MindHub office lives a family that raises roosters for cockfighting.
    With that in mind, I was really hoping to see Startup Weekend projects that would keep the average Mexican consumer in mind.  Talking to a few of the organizers and attendees before the initial pitches, I learned that broadband access is prohibitively expensive and furthermore very slow.  Someone told me that just 35% of Mexicans actually use the internet as compared to the US where it is around 60%.  In addition, smartphone penetration in Mexico is low and most smartphone owners did not have data plans, something which I noticed myself while interacting with the SW attendees.  I was also told that compared to most of Mexico, TJ was a bit ahead of the curve so internet usage and smartphone ownership was slightly above average. 

    Differences between American SWs and SWTJ

    Most of the mentors and organizers were in hardware or enterprise software, which is a huge difference from the US where I see mentors and organizers who are from predominantly consumer oriented web, mobile and local backgrounds.  In SWTJ, the large majority of attendees were developers and there was a huge shortage of business development talent, which is the complete opposite problem that I have witnessed in the US.  In addition, the SWTJ attendees seemed to be more one dimensional, only knowledgeable in their respective disciplines, than American SW attendees.    

    Facebook is King

    Jorge B., a social media marketer, said that social media in Mexico is dominated by Facebook and estimated that maybe 2% of Tijuanenses use Twitter.  Previously, Jorge’s marketing firm was located in San Diego and since moving to TJ he has noticed that there is big gap between US and Mexico in terms of talent and funding. 

    My one criticism

    MindHub Co-founder
    After the initial pitches and a late night snack of delicious street tacos, I expressed my disappointment about the lack of consideration for the average Mexican in nearly all of the ideas to Jorge, co-founder of MindHub which is the office which we were holding SWTJ at.  Jorge told me that he was not surprised since TJ is very different from the rest of Mexico due to its proximity to the border.  He explained the bicultural nature of the city and emphasized this by telling me that he “grew up watching Sesame Street.”  Jorge pointed to the relatively young age of the competitors combined with the biculturalism as the reason for the lack of connection to developing world problems. 

    Tijuana is not dangerous

    The only sign that there might be something going on.
    Before and after coming to TJ, I was asked and warned about it being dangerous.  However, when I talked to Omar, one of the organizers, about it I was told that there has not been a cartel shooting in over a year.  Omar explained that the violence still persists in cities like Juarez and Monterey but in TJ the only sign that there is a battle against the drug cartels are the occasional trucks of soldiers on the street.  Tourism from the US has not recovered since the explosion of violence, which is a shame, because it is safe and there are plenty of European and Mexican tourists who have realized this.

    I see a bright future

    Presenter from the winning SWTJ team
    On the last day of SWTJ, I asked a few of the organizers if they could name me one up and coming tech company in Mexico. No one could. After seeing the final pitches, I hope that will change because I was blown away by the results, especially in the design department. Perhaps, if San Diego and Tijuana pool their talents something amazing could happen sooner than later?