Posted on November 20, 2023

The problem with these blog posts is that I have them in my todos for such a long time. Then when I finally get to doing them, I have so much to write and these posts end up being extremely long. But once I get started writing, it’s like a all-or-nothing sort of mentality — I don’t want to sleep until it’s done. I guess it’s not necessarily a bad characteristic but I have to manufacture urgency to ensure that I get shit done. (I am inspired by Elon’s ability to create artificial surges to motivate and accelerate towards his goals).

I know that I said that I would write one post a week. Well its been …

One Month

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of these posts and a LOT has happened in the time.

New York

For the first two weeks of October, I visited the east coast. I was in New York for a few days and had a belated birthday celebration with my family. We celebrated at a Chinese banquet restaurant that served the dual purpose of housing dim sum carts during busy afternoons and weekends alongside rambunctious weddings and birthday parties on weekday evenings. The platinum white walls embroidered in gold greenery along with the passionate red panels hosting golden dragon and phoenix sculptures gave it an even more grandiose energy. We had three birthday cakes to celebrate my birthday, my cousin’s birthday, and last and most important of all my grandmother’s birthday — grouping them all in the name of efficiency and practicality. Needless to say, we crammed in a lot of fun; it was an evening packed full of laughter, platters of food, and lots of conversations.


Then I took the Amtrak up to Cambridge to work from the office there and also hang out with some of my college friends. I arrived at an apartment that Derek, Eric, Kelsey, and co. had rented out for the year located right behind the HCCG building (aside: how does a non-profit Harvard club afford an entire building). The space was nice with a big living room and kitchen. I also saw Kai sleeping on the massive coach they had. The first thing I did was go for a run with Derek along the river. I definitely missed these runs around the Charles River. Not sure if there’s an equivalent run in SF that’s as scenic, peaceful, and (mostly) flat. After the run I swung by the GC office and met some of the folks there. Overall the Cambridge GC office seems to have a deeper familial atmosphere with people casually talking with one another — it honestly felt like “The Office” in a good way. After work, I went for another quick run and then hung out with Max and Liam in their dorm room. I slept on their cozy bean bag for the duration of the week.

I spent my week in Cambridge doing a lot of things. I hung out and grabbed coffee with college friends. I ran by the river every morning (and had to sneak back into my friends’ dorm room afterwards). I played some board games with Eric, Kai, and Kelsey; I unfortunately lost in Catan but won in my first attempt at Mahjong. I also went clubbing one night at The Grand. We got a table and had a great time. (I thought I was also suppose to pay for the table but no Venmo requests so far so idk.)

On a more reflective note, I felt a little disconnected when hanging out with my college friends in Cambridge. I attributed it to the fact that there was a misalignment in mindsets and goals. My friends in school were focused on the next problem set, test, and job. They knew the target they had to hit and worked their hardest to hit the bullseye. They were eager to party, go on dates, and generally just have fun — typical college things that I also had a lot of fun doing. However I’m currently chasing a more elusive and indeterminate target. I’m molding my ideas and creativity into a tangible product/technology. Then I have to persuade people that this new product (which they may have never even imagined before) is valuable and will help their daily lives. Unlike problem sets and tests, it’s hard to know beforehand the best strategy to achieve these goals and gauge the exact impact of each of these approaches; it’s hard to know where the bullseye is and even harder to hit it. Thus I’m currently operating in a cloudy startup arena where I’ll bump into things and fall as I try to find the portal to the next set of challenges. This takes a lot of my mental focus which I conserve by minimizing things like partying. (I’m not saying that these fun things are necessarily detrimental. From time to time, it’s good to disconnect to get a better purview of what you’re currently working on and, more importantly, why you’re working on it.)

Back to New York

I ended off my East Coast trip with a visit back to NYC for a week. Hung out with family and worked for most of the time. I was also coincidentally there for NY Tech Week which was kind of fun. I went to an MSG event where I watched the Knicks get destroyed by the Wizards. Met some other cool tech people at these events. Generally I feel like NY tech people have a completely different vibe from SF tech people. People in NY had more of a hustle and networking vibe to them versus SF which has a more heads-down building mentality.

I’m now back in SF and plan to be here for a while.

Some Thoughts

I just wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had in these past few weeks about startups, Israel vs Palestine, and things I’ve learned/become more aware of.

To Startup or Not?

Building a startup is tough. I mean everyone says this and everyone repeats it. I guess I was just naïve and blissfully ignorant of this detail. I didn’t start to understand and appreciate the true difficulty until these past few months working on my own startup.

Part of this difficulty is the loneliness. By loneliness, I don’t mean the typical having no friends/no one to hang out with type of loneliness. Rather when you’re building a startup, you’re working on something that others will not truly care about or even appreciate as much as you do; this is a necessary evil given that you’re working on something new/something that others have not considered and/or undervalued. This means that most people will be less passionate and will often misunderstand the work that you’re so passionately pursuing. This isn’t all bad. It just means that you’ll have to rely on your grit and conviction to push past the doubts. And if you don’t have the grit and conviction, you develop it — otherwise you and your startup will die. I’ve dealt with people who didn’t believe in me before. I’m appreciative of them for training me for these challenges. I’ve also learned that being more cognizant of this epidemic feeling of loneliness helps with addressing it. One source of comfort is the adage: “if it was easy, everyone would do it.”

The other part of this difficulty is being stuck in a rat-race mindset. I grew up in hyper-competitive environments — immigrant communities where people would do whatever it took to make it and competitive schools where everyone was trying to get ahead of one another. I was never personally involved with these rat-races because they always felt zero-sum and like a waste of time. I could spend an extra 30 minutes concocting a plan to make someone worse off or I could just spend the 30 minutes becoming better than them. I would always optimize by choosing the latter. This meant that I often focused on my own interests and passions while my friends would get tied to the popular clubs that everyone wanted to join like debate in high school or pre-professional clubs in college. But even with this detachment, I’m still a very competitive person. From time to time I subconsciously compare my own trajectory with those of my classmates — what am I doing vs what they’re doing. I think about this barometer of success and further think about how it will change over the next few years. This comparison manifests itself as a sense of fear: what if I fall way too far behind, what if I don’t measure up, what if I lose, etc. But then I weaponize this fear into motivation. This fear of failure instills a sense of urgency that I guides me in taking the highest delta option at each career junction. This fear of failure is also driven by the fact that I went to Harvard. People say that Harvard opens a lot of doors for you — which is definitely true. But for me it also puts a massive chip on my shoulder. I don’t want to start every introduction with “I went to Harvard” for the rest of my life. That is to say that I want to achieve something in life that will supersede my experience at Harvard. In my Wikipedia page, I want my Harvard education to be the introduction to a long and impressive list of achievements rather than the peak. When I’m thirty, I want people to say “Of course he went to Harvard” versus “You went to Harvard.” There is a big difference between the two.

Finally, startup success is not linear in the same way that climbing the ladder at Meta is. This is a pro and a con. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your startup will succeed if you add an “additional feature.” It’s just as easy to fall into the trap of giving up on your startup because one thing didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. That is to say that figuring out startup success and failure checkpoints is more of an art than a defined science. If you’re working for Big Tech/any typical career path, you can easily gauge and compare your success with those of your peers: check your titles relative to the number of years you’ve spent at a firm. It’s harder to gauge true success at a startup. One metric may be user count or revenue. Another metric might be employee headcount. These are useful considerations but far from deterministic. Furthermore, how do you equate the relative achievement scores of a Big Tech title and startup metrics. The stochasticity of building a startup makes it seem like Big Tech is the better and easier choice. And to be completely honest it is easier. If I worked for Big Tech, I could have better work-life balance while getting paid highly. But when I’m thirty and look back at what I’ve done so far, I’ll be far happier and excited if I spent it struggling, working, hustling, and setting my own path building and trying something new instead of toiling away at Big Tech. I will feel more fulfilled and content with what I’ve accomplished.

Israel <> Palestine

I try to stay out of political debates and topics because I feel like they eventually devolve into emotionally-driven quasi ad hominem debates. (This obviously depends on context, the group of people your talking to, as well as how thought out your approach is.) But I’ve seen a lot of my friends fervently/absolutely supporting one side or another and doing so on an emotional rather than logical basis. By no means do I have the correct answer or even believe there is a right side to support. There is a long history on both sides that I could study for years and still fall short of understanding the tensions between the two countries. However in these scenarios I tend to selfishly lean on my moral values. I don’t condone the murder of innocent civilians. I do, however, believe that actions have consequences. In a convoluted and messed up way these consequences are what make the actions meaningful. It’s no secret that Palestinians have suffered discrimination and harassment in the region and have been forcefully pushed out of their homes. Israelites have had to deal with their ensuing anger and violent attacks. I don’t condone the immoral and illogical treatment and eviction of Palestinians. (Although if you dig deeper, you’d probably find not-so-illogical reasons for this treatment.) In the same way, I don’t condone the October 7th attacks on Israel. One clear fact is that Palestine is a far weaker state than Israel. It stands no chance whatsoever against Israel (that’s not even considering the interests of stronger powers in the region). It needs to garner the support of those outside the country. To launch an attack with the intention of demolishing Israel is — frankly — extremely stupid. The needless violence of October 7th served no other purpose besides the senseless massacre of innocent citizens. It certainly doesn’t (nor should) encourage people to support the Palestinian cause. I see no justification — moral nor logic — for this attack.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Palestine has reminded Israel of the eminent and massive dangers at its doorstep. Israel will do everything possible to stomp out this danger. This is to proactively prevent future massacres. Israel has been given every reason to justify their goals. In closing I want to note that not all Palestinians support Hamas nor do all Israelis support the unfair treatment of Palestinians. However, the brutal October 7th attacks were senseless and has given Israel every reason to protect themselves and its citizens.

Meta Strategies

Every since I was young, I’ve watched my parents and other family members start and run businesses. I often observed but did not actively emphasize/consider the concrete and subtle strategies and bets that they were using to grow their businesses. I assumed that you used completely different playbooks and strategies to build a successful tech business and thus these “old” learnings were useless and irrelevant. However as I spend more and more time building my own startup, I’m realizing that these “old” ways of building a business have stood the test of time and thus provide significant knowledge. The “old” playbook was not divergent but is actually complementary to the new strategies one can deploy when building tech companies. In my naivete, I believe that there are meta-strategies to building any business that one can learn and master for repeatable business success.

To demonstrate a simple example of this, imagine you’re opening a boba restaurant and you have to figure where to open your shop. You can open it on a busy crosswalk by a college campus with a heavy East Asian student population. You can also open it in a community of retirees who ask you if the “round gummy black balls” are edible. In the same manner, you can start a company that rides on the current hype — right now that would be AI. You can, alternatively, also build a social media app for seniors to keep in touch with their grandkids. That is to say that you have to be aware of which type of company you’re building. Choosing one over the other doesn’t guarantee success but rather guarantees a different set of challenges that needs to be tackled. The other dimension of this is that creating a successful company is all about finding alpha in the same way a quant firm is seeking alpha. You want to find informational and other gaps (i.e. specific untouched niches) that you can exploit for your profit. In the boba example, this gap would be finding a incorrectly priced location. In the tech example, this gap would be finding a niche of users that are underserved by current products and haven’t been exploited yet.

Obviously these are just some initial thoughts that I’ll likely reform and update as I continue to build my startup. But I’m paying closer attention to these meta-strategies and hoping to accelerate the discovery process. Right now I feel like discovery will occur through trial and error and also talking to successful business operators. I believe the highest delta comes from learning from the experiences of people who have built businesses and I am actively optimizing from this angle. If you know anyone and could put me in touch, that would be deeply appreciated!

Rapid Fire Life Lessons

In addition to discovering these meta-strategies, I have gained new perspectives and lessons about many aspects of life. Some of these might just be shower thoughts. Here is a rapid fire list of things I’ve thought about:

  • Reading Atlas Shrugged has given me a lot more appreciation for the people who work tirelessly to create something from their mind. It’s not easy especially when you consider that creating a successful startup necessarily entails going against the grain in some manner (as this provides the highest alpha) and thus being misunderstood. Having the conviction and grit to never give in to the naysayers is a theme in this book. It’s easy for Atlas to shrug and give up on the world on his back — especially when he’s not appreciated and actively attacked. But to bring upon meaningful and impactful change, you need to carry the weight of humanity and have the necessary conviction and grit to counter the repeated blows by naysayers — for however long that might take.
  • I don’t think people work hard enough. Myself included.
  • I have to hold myself more accountable to the tasks that I need to finish. I also have to become more cognizant of both my actions and inactions. Emphasis on inactions because I feel like I tend to be less conscious of these inactions — things that I decide not to do either subconsciously or consciously without really considering the reason.
  • I will strive to work on the hardest thing at every given moment.
  • I’m disgusted by the overindulgence that some people engage in. But this overindulgence is also why America is the land of opportunity.
  • My biggest fear is quitting. I believe that once you quit, it sows seeds of doubt that become difficult to inhibit. I will not quit.
  • I need to do the things that no one else can. These things will be hard and challenge my conviction and drive every day. Don’t quit.
  • I need to become a better version of myself each day.
  • My biggest fear is a slow death that creeps in but assuredly destroys your life. I am on the watch for signs of this decay and resolving them as soon as possible.
  • I will only code something after people have paid for it. I will not code something unless someone has paid for it and then expect someone to pay for it.

Currently Reading 📚: Atlas Shrugged