Change Is the Only Constant

It’s been woefully long since I’ve updated this blog — more out of lack of time (and okay, just not sitting down and doing it) than forgetfulness and not thinking about it.  This doesn’t mean that a lot hasn’t happened in the past few months and year, and really, quite the opposite. 

Events are a funny thing and it’s always interesting to think about those moments that give us pause and push us to reflect on what’s happened. Tonight, after excitedly moving to Seattle and buying a car for the next four months that I’ll be here, my co-founders and I subsequently crashed said car in an accident that albeit we had not fault in, left us car-less and a few bruises worse for the wear (thankfully everyone is okay). 

Everyone says that entrepreneurship is a journey of highs and lows, and how true that is.  To think that just four months ago, we would meet over a Facebook recommendation, go on to launch a Kickstarter campaign that ranks in the top 0.5% of all campaigns on Kickstarter to date, leave the path less traveled to try and build something of our own, to moving to Seattle at the blink of an eye to join a Microsoft accelerator for four months — if you had asked me where I would be come fall at the beginning of the year, this probably would not have made it to the top of the list, or even the middle.

But events can be funny like this, and by now, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. As much as we like to plan (and I’m not one that’s particularly fond of planning, preferring instead to prepare for situations of mediated serendipity like this), change is still the only constant to rely on. 

For me, especially as both myself and my team go into that ever-so-critical stage of any startup that is fundraising, it’s a reminder/lesson that whatever successes and wins we’ve had, staying humble, working our butts off, constantly being open to feedback — especially from our customers, balancing that feedback against our values/vision, and being prepared for change are constant principles that will never go away.  

I’m sure that the next four months will bring even more change than what I can imagine. And that’s something I’m looking forward to and can only work hard to make sure we can be as ‘lucky’ as possible. And in between, I’ll try to update this as much as I can — as much social networks like Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn exist to make us more connected, nothing has ever really quite replaced the written word for me in the absence of actual face time. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Q4 Goals

Looking at the calendar, it’s already almost 9/30 … almost October, and the last quarter of 2013.  There’s a funny thing with time – in the moment, it can pass by excruciatingly slowly at times, but if you don’t pause to look up, it can also fly by in the blink of an eye.  September — a new season of TV shows, the end of others (and really, that is to say #BreakingBad, which has been on an AMAZING run). 

In some ways, as I’ve commented to others as well, I feel as if 2013 has been some what of a wash — when I look back on it, I’m not sure what exactly I’ve accomplished.  And some times, that can be a fearful thing to admit — it’s one thing to bring it up in conversation with friends, another to post it on a (semi-) public blog like this one, and completely different still to admit it to yourself (which is the hardest yet).   It’s not to say that I accomplished nothing, but I think … it’s more the intent of how things are done. I’ve always been one who’s been comfortable with ambiguity and taking the course of serendipity, but at the same time, there’s a growing part of me who firmly believes in shaping one’s destiny / future as well.  After all, life ultimately is more about creating yourself than it is about finding yourself. 

In the grand scheme of things, nine months may not be much — a drop in the ocean against the many moons that you ultimately live out. But it’s not insubstantial either — in nine months, you complete the cycle of giving birth to an entirely new life,  you can teach yourself a new language — and then some, you can train to run a marathon … the list can go on.  

And so, I suppose in this last stretch of 2013, as the title suggests, I think it’s time to lay out some intention. In this case, the form will be goals, committed to text.  In the day to day, it’s far too easy to forget (for me) some of the bigger questions at hand, and so here goes — goals to help live with intention to end 2013: 


– Improve my Chinese (translate one article at least once every two weeks)
– Obtain basic proficiency of Portuguese
– Read one book in French


– Write weekly. I’d love to get this to be a daily habit but will write one thought-out blog post a week on a subject matter I care about on my public site
– Help break down and analyze the following topics:

1) China’s Third Plenum in November
2) The role of brands in defining culture — brands in owning share of culture
3)  Brazil’s changing economy and social values — communities in transition and the balance between tradition and progress
4) Profile three entrepreneurs and cover their stories in depth (a la New Yorker style)


– Fully run six miles/hour
– Watch diet more closely (in terms of type of food intake) — Eat fruit daily


– Fully immerse myself in a country for a month (done — this one is kind of a freebie as I’ll be in Sao Paulo  / Brazil for all of November) 


Read three more books (haven’t determined what they will be yet). 

Books finished to date:

– The Power of Habit
– Quiet
– The Paris Wife
– The Name of the Wind

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What I’m Reading: On China, Typography, and The Power of Connected Networks

We live in a marvelous age of content discovery and learning.  Between platforms like the Khan Academy, traditional publications like the Financial Times, New Yorker, and the Atlantic, and an ever-growing presence (both digitally and in-person) of gatherings like TED, Davos, Zeitgeist and the like, as long as you have an Internet connection — and the curiosity to look for it — it has never been easier to access information.  But as I’ve touched on before, this ease of access has created a conundrum in and of itself in finding — and thinking through — what all these different pieces mean. 

Below are some things that caught my eye so far this week — what noteworthy events, talks, or reads have you come across?  Share your own in the comments below. 

John Huntsman on China and the US
Zeitgeist Americas 2013 (“Here’s to the Curious”)

Whatever your political leanings may be, it’s hard to refute that John Huntsman is one of the most well-versed politicians on China today in Washington.   In this 22-minute talk at Zeitgeist Americas, Huntsman leads off the discussion on China and the US, and how two distinctly different approaches to leading shape the directions of the two countries.  For  China, who is decidedly driven by long-term strategies, and the US, who excels at executing short-term tactical decisions, it’s more important than ever for both to understand the perspectives that the other is coming from.

In particular, as Huntsman notes, the next few months will be especially interesting to watch as China moves into its third plenum this November, where the new leadership team that assumed power last year will lay out in more detail plans around some the most pressing issues for China today: urbanization, moving from an export driven economy that is more focused on consumption, and the overarching theme of China’s social transition against a backdrop of widening inequalities.   China’s transition today is one that warrants much more than just any one post, book, or talk, but Huntsman’s talk here presents a good overview of some of the present issues at hand.

John Huntsman was a former ambassador to China (2009 – 2011) and governor of Utah (2005 – 2009). As a private citizen, Huntsman was the CEO of Huntsman Corporation, a global chemical company started by his father, Jon Huntsman Sr. 

Typography and Culture: Why the Devil is in the Details
Erik Spiekermann in conversation with the Type Directors Club (TDC) 

How does typography influence and reveal culture? However subtle (or un-subtle), typography plays a key role in shaping the feel and identity of brands and societies.  In this 10-minute talk with world-renowned typographer and designer Erik Spiekrmann, he provides a fascinating lens into the history of the craft and how it’s evolved with the introduction of new content formats and mediums, and how typeface can reveal the sentiment of a society.

How Successful Networks Nurture Good Ideas
WIRED Magazine, October 2013


When the Internet first reached mass audiences, it was a marvelous framework to start storing all our information — to create nodes of reference that anyone could access.  As this information began to grow (exponentially so), it quickly became aobout finding ways to organize and find that information — giving birth to search engines like Altavista, Yahoo, and ultimately, Google.  Today, we find ourselves in another age of the Web, one that is as much about creating as it is about documenting.  On one hand, it’s about the rise of the shareable economy, with the growth of services like TaskRabbit, Airbnb, Lyft, Postmates, and the like.

And on the other hand, it’s helped drive and enable a culture of collaboration and collective innovation.  In this piece from the current WIRED issue, contributing editor Clive Thompson discusses the merits of thinking out loud and the network effects the Internet has in giving way to serendipity.  In particular, Thompson cites the birth of Ushahidi, an open-source project that started as a way for users to automatically pins texts/e-mails from areas under distress directly onto Google Maps), as a prime example of this.

Ushahidi, which is Swahili for “witness”, was an idea that came to Ory Okolloh, a blogger that started writing about corruption in Kenya in the early 2000s, during the heart of the Kenyan elections of 2007, when she received floods of tips of violent outbreaks throughout the country.  While she posted as many as she could on her blog, there were so many others she couldn’t always get to, and she wondered — out loud — whether it was technically possible to get these messages posted automatically to Google Maps.  A reader saw her post and connected her with a programmer he knew who was also deeply interested in connecting Kenyans to talk about the state of the country.   The two connected and within a few days, they had a functional Google Maps-based tool to automatically pin posts via text/e-mail/web form up and running.

In the corporate world (where I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit), connected networks can help drive similar effects — when done right.  Across the board, there is a push to break down silos and to connect the dots (Yammer, an enterprise social network, uses the tagline “it’s a tool for rewriting your company’s culture” as a key premise of their business).   But just as it is with the public Internet, organizations need to create environments that allow for these “perfect storms” to occur. Employees should be allowed — and actively encouraged — to contribute, to become writers and commentators as much as they are consumers of content and media, and given multiple forums and occasions to express their ideas, think out loud, and connect, regardless of team or geography.  As with almost all topics, this one warrants a post (or a few) in and of itself, but I think the case that Thompson makes here is one that business executives should take heed of in growing their operations.

Pop Culture: Lip Sync Battle with Joseph Gordon Levitt, Stephen Merchant and Jimmy Fallon

And to end the note on a truly “epic” performance (according to this Gawker article,  “epic” is actually the most used term on the interwebs today), check out this battle of the ages lip-sync performance from Stephen Merchant, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Jimmy Fallon (10 minute video). If you’re short on time, skip ahead to the 8:15 mark to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s epic performance of Nicki Manoj’s “Super Bass”.

1 Comment

Filed under media

what i miss

miss writing. 

just sitting down and letting fingers fly across the keyboard driven by some miraculous connection between neurons from the mind and heart to ten digits that sit on my hands.  the other day i paused and found myself in august. AUGUST of 2013. more than half a year come and gone.  i thought about the physical distances traveled this year and more importantly, the internal ones. were they mere distances of running around in circles, or something more? 

like most things, physical distances are the simplest to track with sound, tangible data. if only there were “frequent flyer miles” to track the journeys that your mind made from the wee hours of the morning to the sparkling twinkle of dusk. how would you quantify it then?  do loops around the block weigh as much as leaps from one space to another? and how do you track backward movement as compared with forward? 

i miss writing in its ability to quantify the unseen. to help piece together data points that no database can ever help you churn out other than listening to the calmness of your mind in the quietest of seconds.  


Filed under Uncategorized


Recently, two friends — Jenn and Curtis — introduced me to a book called “SUM”, an aptly named collection of 40 short stories that explore one of the last frontiers, the afterlife. A neuroscientist by training, the author David Eagleman dives into the possibilities of what “could be” in the hereafter. As I read it, I wasn’t so much drawn in by the writing and the literature of it as much as I was by my own scenarios it seemed to trigger. Here is one of my takes on exploring what could be … my first “fan fiction” of sorts if you will. 

In the afterlife you meet your spiritual doppelganger — your direct moral opposite. The Jekyll to your Hyde, the angel to your devil.  You both do a double-take as you pass through the gates of Death and file in silent columns as you wait for your new identifications.

You sneak a look over at the silent figure next to you; it’s not the physical likeness that draws you, it’s an energy that pulls you in that you’ve only experienced for split seconds in your prior life as you drifted through dreams — that surge that comes from connecting neurons magnetically drawn to each other by a force that predates their existence.

As the clergy in the chambers of Death verify your identity and usher you through its gates, you both turn at the same time, simultaneously asking “tell me where you’re from” and  briskly saying “there’s no need to revisit the past”. In the silence that follows, you realize that nothing needs to be said — you’re already connected. You see the person you would have been if you had made the exact opposite decision of the one that you did — you saw how by choosing to run three miles further that day instead of stopping at your local cafe as planned, you missed meeting the would-be love of your life.  You saw how if you had turned in the phone you found lying next to the park bench, you would have ended up an accomplice to a petty bank robbery.

As the end of this murky silver scene you sense unfold inside of you, you realize that you’ve simply been staring into yourself the whole time.  You realize that your choices are what shaped you and that your soul knew all along what it was doing, and whatever regrets you once had, if even for a fleeting moment, had been futile. With that you step boldly into the dark ether, and as your last memories of the yesterworld fade away, you wonder what choices you would have made if you had been openly aware of this Truth moons ago.


Filed under short stories

Another year, another chapter

I love reading recaps — recaps of conferences, events, and especially of years. Year — and time in general — are one of the few instances where almost all 7 billion individuals on this planet we call home are in sync.  The moments relived all happened some time in these past 366 days, and regardless of who you are and where you live, the time elapsed is something that we all share.

For me, 2012 has been a whirlwind of a year — personally and professionally, filled with friends old and new, journeys on this side of the Pacific and across, building relationships, discovering old family ties, saying hellos and good-byes, defining future aspirations, and simply growing. At the end of the year, there isn’t much more that one can ask for, except to look forward with excitement at what the next year will bring.

Professionally, it was a year that made me think how lucky it was to be able to do something that I loved (for the most part).  That intersection of media, technology, and culture is always interesting and thought-provoking, but especially now, in the age of not just smartphones and apps, but tablets and general interactivity and connectivity.

Although I didn’t get to write about it as much (save for a bit at CES in January), I did get to actually live it more.   In March, I went on StartupBus – Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas to be a part of SxSW – Interactive as a ‘buspreneur’.  Over three days, you lived, breathed, and worked on an idea that became a business — on a bus — with a group of strangers who became fast friends in 72 hours.   At the end of it, all ten buses worth of teams gathered in Austin to meet and pitch their ideas (our baby, Expensieve, made it to the semi-finals but not the finals, unfortunately).   While hackathons are something that is pretty much unique to the software industry, this experience made me think how useful something like this would be across industries — giving you the creativity within a short period of time to re-think and re-engineer, or simply create something entirely new.

There was something special and unique about building a product, and that infectious enthusiasm of a group of willing individuals collaborating to build something different, something they believed in, or something just because they wondered ‘why not’ captured so much of that can-do spirit that I love about Silicon Valley and startups in general.

The conception and very rapid prototyping of OpenCoSF  was a great opportunity to share that same spirit in a very personal setting with a larger group here in the Bay (the whole thing ended up being put together in six weeks!) in October.   Instead of a convention, the idea was to have “open companies” (not unlike the houses you’d often find in Austin during Sx where companies like Spotify and MSN invited you to check out their latest integrations/products) where founders/senior leaders would share what “innovation” meant to them.

And of course, being able to end 2012 working in Shanghai, particularly in exploring the Chinese luxury market, added a very unique lens to it all.  Even today, after following the China market for some years, it’s always mind-boggling to see the pace at which it changes.  Beyond its economic growth, I’m always more amazed by the speed at which it changes socially.  Fortune comes and goes, but the belief — the soul and identity of a society — is something you rarely, if ever, see.  While it’s generally easier to write about the numbers and make sense of something based on its facts and figures, diving into the psyche and ambitions of a group of people who have seen so much change over a generation presents a much more nuanced picture with 50+ shades of grey.

Personally, it was a year that included xiao long baos in 4 different cities on 2 continents, lychee adventures, hikes in snow, rain, and blistering heat, weekend trips along the coast, a brief trip to Big Island, and a very key visit home to Shanghai. Being home in Shanghai, chatting with my cousins on Weixin, was a glimpse of an extended family that I never really knew growing up.  The age gap that had seemed once seemed so daunting seemed to disappear in the face of time (my oldest cousin is 46).

The most profound event of the year, however, came at the very end of he year — on Christmas Eve — with the passing of my grandmother. Even though I didn’t know her very well and she’s slipped in and out of moments of clarity for a couple years now, she always represented that unifying figure in a family of 20+, including all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My mother is the youngest of seven and I feel very thankful to have been able to know her for the time that I did. I’ll always remember those pears she magically made appear after afternoon naps, telling me how Guanyin (she was a devout Buddhist) had granted them in reward for being such a good napper (I used to be a terrible sleeper).  At 96, it really is a celebration of her life, especially for a woman who was repeatedly told that she wouldn’t live past 40.  In the last week of the year, her life really made me think about what legacy and time meant, and the value of living out one’s personal legends.

As a wise friend shared his experiences with his grandfather’s death a few years ago, he vowed to do better.  And I think that’s the best thing we can really do to honor the memories of those who’ve gone before us … is to do and live better. To live more consciously in acts both big and small.

Happy 2013 – to being better.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Congratulations, Mr. President — Parte Deux

As I sat glued to my computer screen earlier this week watching the election results from each state stream in, I realized that this was something I had done once before … four years ago, as again, in China, I waited anxiously in a tucked-in Internet cafe in the heart of Beijing to see what larger direction the United States of America would be headed. But this time, instead of just reading the news passively and sharing amongst a smaller group of friends, there was a real opportunity to ENGAGE, to participate or at the very least observe dialogues from not just all over the country, but all over the world, via Facebook and Twitter-streams that were often embedded right alongside interactive media units designed and put together by media organizations like Huffington Post, The Guardian, and CNN, regardless of your physical location.

It is incredible to see what can change in four years, and the type of reporting and data visualization that was available during this year’s election was a reminder of how quickly we innovate in today’s age of computing, and thankfully, how user-centered design and experience has become a key part of the conversation.  Four years ago, there was no ‘like’ on Facebook, there were no apps/open Facebook authentication that allowed you to easily share articles and stories with your Facebook networks.  And somehow 2008 seems to have pre-dated the explosion of Internet memes. Twitter was not the same global medium it now is, with over 41 million unique visitors monthly (and 32 million tweets alone on Election Day), compared to just 4.5 million unique visitors a month at its peak in 2008. If anything, these past four years can be surmised into the shift towards the ‘connected economy’, enabled by social media.

For all of the innovation there has been, however, in some ways the world has become less connected. Facebook and Twitter which had once been openly available across China were now accessible only behind VPN — 1 billion people who by and large, are not part of this digital global square.  As governments continue to grapple with how to address the rise of social media, the number of countries that now censor the internet continues to grow.   (I did a study on this in 2010 … I wonder how it’s changed since).  And this week, China’s infamously slow internet was only made slower driven undoubtedly by the series of meetings being held in Beijing at the 18th Communist Party Congressional Meetings.

President Obama — this week we rejoice with you in celebrating the American Dream and moving forward together as a nation in preserving the vision that makes this country so, so very unique. And for the next four years, let us continue to innovate, listen, and collaborate in creating a fair and neutral digital environment, being sensitive of the cultural and historical concerns each nation may bear in this dialogue.  “The best is yet to come.”

Leave a comment

Filed under politics, random thoughts, technology, us politics

On Cultural Leadership and the Liberal Arts


At the Shanghai Music Conservatory — a piano signed by all the great musical maestros that have passed through its halls.

One of the more happenstance events on my trip so far has been randomly participating in the 6th Annual Shanghai International Piano Competition (unfortunately, not as a pianist :)) in helping interview Robert Blocker, the Dean of Music at the Yale School of Music.  In his interview (where I was the interpreter), Dean Blocker articulated a thoughtfulness of the role of music and culture that inspired hope and delivered a clear vision of his own personal ethos — that it isn’t enough to be a gifted performer, but in that capacity, one must also strive to be a cultural leader in using the universal voice of the arts and music to connect cultures,and initiate and participate in programs that strive to give similar opportunities to those who may not otherwise have them, particularly youth (I was never planning to write about this but perhaps having been in hardened Shanghai for a few days, this brief encounter has left me thinking about our discussion for the past few hours). 

No stranger to China, Dean Blocker has been coming to China since the 1980s in various capacities as a cultural ambassador and connector between Asia and the various initiatives he’s led at both Yale and UCLA (where he was the presiding dean of the Department of World Arts and Cultures and the Center for Digital Art).  And in that time, he has seen how music has often been able to serve the capacity of being the connecting thread between communities. 

One of my favorite stories he shared was from a performance that Dean Blocker gave in 1998 with the Shanghai Symphony — before the final performance, there were a series of public recitals that were held, and at one of those recitals, a group of elder Shanghai natives gathered.  During one of the breaks in the recital, one of the ladies began to sing, a song that Dean Blocker recalled having learned from his grandmother as a young boy in Charleston, South Carolina.  To him, this epitomized the universal spirit of music, whose timeless messages transcend both time and cultures, and have the ability to create instantaneous bonds between people. 

And it is in this same spirit that Dean Blocker now teaches a class at the Yale School of Management, focusing on the analysis of music as a lens to view management.  “In music, you really learn to work in three ways,” said Blocker. “One, you learn how to work individually, second, in teams, and third, to read between the lines and the black and white notes on a music score to find your own interpretation.” 

Particularly in a country like China, whose current economic revival has been based largely on the backbone of a heavy emphasis on the sciences and math, I hope that this also sheds light on the importance of the liberal arts and in delivering performances that focus as much on individual artistic expression as it is about technical mastery.  And for Dean Blocker, the high-school football player and once pre-med student turned concert pianist, he epitomizes that spirit of self-discovery and definition in finding a path that is uniquely your own. “I was not very good student, but I think in the end, you always find your way. When I was once performing at a festival in the US, a reporter asked my first piano teacher what she ended up learning from me, to which she answered: patience. ” 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Seems like I chose one crazy week leave the States — Giants winning the 2012 World Series in a stunning sweep, Superstorm Sandy touching down on Manhattan and ravaging the island city into a surreal and unfathomable darkness. Especially as the months and years go on, ‘timing’ seems to be an ever-present factor in determining the course of actions.

This time, I find myself in Shanghai at the heart of fall, filled with a crispness and beat in the air that signals at the bone-chilling winter that’s just around the corner.  “This year’s cold is coming particularly early. You’ll have to wear socks soon,” says my deskmate as we look out at part of Shanghai’s sprawling skyline (I’m not a particular fan of socks). 

It’s hard to believe how much this city has transformed and changed. The once sleepy fishing town and port continues to lay down high-rises, and the sound of construction has become the rhythm of the city’s growth. As I walked down the streets of Shanghai this morning to work, it felt even much less like the city I remembered from childhood than any other time — on this particular walk, gone were the streets filled with bicycles, replaced instead by the motors of taxi cabs. 

My home for the next month is in the Former French Concession, a quiet oasis popular amongst expats in an otherwise bustling city.  Ironically, it is here that I have felt most in Shanghai (granted I’ve only been here for a few days), in a flat rented from a Taiwanese-Australian teacher and practitioner of 茶道 cha dao (the way of tea). The old building creaks under the weight of feet above, and the wooden floors remind me of the apartment my family had lived in once upon a time in a Shanghai that feels eons away.  Like older Shanghai dwellings, the kitchen is outside the room and shared amongst four families (two who live downstairs, and two upstairs). The bathroom is also outside, and while it’s since been renovated with modern conveniences like a shower head, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bathroom of that size in any of Shanghai’s newer establishments these days (I’ll try to include some pictures soon!).

As I start on my search to understand how Chinese consumers make decisions around luxury purchases, and how they then share those purchases amongst their friends, families, and social networks, I’m most looking forward to discovering a new Shanghai, and that ever-delicate dichotomy behind a city’s economic and infrastructure growth and the mindsets of its residents. 


Filed under Uncategorized

what i think about when i think about writing

writing does not come easily to me.

really writing is a struggle that involves numerous fresh documents, as if each ctrl (command)+n will magically result in a fresh new slate of ideas, a fresh new perspective in grappling with a story that has been stewing and cooking for hours within your mind.

but yet, it’s in writing that i often find myself working out those kinks — not always in the finer nuances of language, but in the framing and positioning of a story, of blurred lines. depending on what i set out to write, it forces me to be decidedly deliberate about the set of words chosen. of how they are introduced, one before the other.

but most importantly, it is through writing that you discover the tangents and the tangled webs we weave. and like a maze, one story leads you to the next, and impresses on you how delicately intricate and interconnected everything is, from the way gaming shapes the way kids grow up to the environmental impact of conferences like rio+20. you’ll start out looking at increased economic activity in one city and discover that it’s really a story about changing weather patterns. or old stories that have re-emerged.

so what is writing really? it is as much about discovery as it is communicating. it’s but another step in helping build that experience and capture that moment, that idea, that emotion, and help crystalize it in time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized