Harvard Foodie Meets Beauty Pageant Contestant: Lingbo Li in Kick Ass Interview #4

Welcome to Kick Ass Interview Number 4!

Today I have a very awesome guest, Lingbo Li, who I mentioned in another post about the power that blogging can have in creating luck. I’m lucky enough to have her on the AoAK for an interview. Here’s a quick peek at what you’ll learn:

  • Having conquered cow genitals, the one “food” she’s still squeamish about
  • Her advice for anyone contemplating entering a beauty pageant
  • What the best part of her Harvard experience has been (hint: it’s not the classes)
  • How she gets herself to learn challenging skills like programming
  • Her strategy for breaking out of a conventional life path

1) You say on your website that you have a mission to eat everything. I know lots of people who aren’t interested in trying things that might not taste so good but you seem to be pretty fearless about it – and even enjoy it. What drives you to do this? And why did you choose to document it on your site?

It’s part of my personality. The thing I find most boring is routine and predictability – which is what some people expect from their food. I take the opposite tack. I see every meal as a new adventure, something I haven’t experienced before. More rare items – like veal testicles, or shish-kebabed bull penis – just aren’t available in daily life, so I’ll jump at an opportunity to try something for the first time. Even if it’s just Chinese delivery off Foodler, I’ll try out a new place instead of ordering from a tried-and-true restaurant. The worst that happens? It doesn’t taste very good. (Like fermented shark. Texture of rubber and scent of ammonia.)

I like writing about unusual foods because it’s more interesting to write about than trying to tease out why the 50th cupcake I’ve eaten is different from the other 49 cupcakes. It allows my personality to come through, and it’s a great way to encourage other people to take more risks with their food, even if it’s just trying a different restaurant.

That being said, the final food frontier for me is actually… insects. They kind of freak me out. I also realized, after staring down my first crayfish, that they’re just overgrown sea insects. I ate it anyway. Continue reading…

Amazing Across the Board: Cristina Cordova in Kick Ass Interview #3

You guys are in for a treat. Kick Ass Interviews have returned (see one and two) and they’re starting off with a bang. We’re joined by Cristina Cordova – a rising star in the tech world and an all around awesome gal. She shares some great stuff with us including:

  • How she ended up becoming VP of Business Development at a super hot startup
  • Her 3 key instructions for people interviewing at startups
  • The pen-and-paper productivity hack she uses that’s “better than any app”
  • The 4 lessons she’s learned on kicking ass
  • And why she thinks Facebook is “skirting its ethical responsibilities”

Enjoy guys!

- Jason

You work as the VP of Biz Dev at Alphonso Labs, which makes Pulse, an iPad app that made a big splash last year and even got Steve Jobs calling it “a wonderful RSS reader”. How did you get the opportunity to work in this role? What is your work like day to day?

I was in my last year at Stanford and working for Tapulous (makers of the Tap Tap Revenge iPhone game) in May of 2010. I was just about to finish my work there and relax until I started full-time at Google after graduation. My TA from my computer science class (Akshay Kothari, co-founder /CEO for Pulse) asked me if I could help him and his co-founder out with their app that was taking off. I agreed and I began to help Akshay and Ankit (co-founder/CTO for Pulse) out with marketing and publisher relations plus a few other things.

I left Pulse for a month and a half to give Google a try and it didn’t take long for me to realize what I was missing out on. I came back to work in “business development”, but it would be more accurate to say I do “everything else”.

My work day-to-day varies quite a bit. When I have meetings, I work with publishers big and small to get their content into Pulse. I manage our catalog of news sources and our efforts to get new and interesting content in front of our users. I also run our analytics, assessing our metrics for all the platforms we’re on and making sure our team is focused on key data necessary for our success. I also still do quite a bit of our marketing, blog posts and social media.

It’s fantastic that you’ve had the opportunity to get involved in so many great tech companies big and small. Many of The Art of Ass-Kicking readers are non-technical but interested in getting involved in business positions at tech companies and startups. What are your top recommendations for how they can land a great gig? What are common mistakes you see people making?

At a start-up with a small team, hiring the right people is extremely important and consumes a significant amount of time for the CEO and other key members of the company. Startups can be more cautious with hiring that at larger companies because each hire has an enormous impact on the entire company.

For those who are seeking marketing or business development positions, my first piece of advice is to do your research. Just because you’re not interviewing at a company with a market cap in the billions doesn’t mean that there isn’t information about the company or industry for you to consume before your interview. Read most, if not all of the company’s blog, twitter and facebook posts, locate all the press you can find on it and research who you’re interviewing with and their backgrounds.

Next, prepare for your interview by pretending you already have the job. Ask yourself what your plan would be from the second you started the role. Don’t think you’ll be handed a job description or given an outline of what your role consists of (I have never gotten this at any startup I’ve worked for). Assess what the company is not doing well, whether that is social media or strategic partnerships and prep solutions for how to improve it. Be creative and have at numerous ideas for what you would do if you got the job.

Last, be passionate. An interviewee can have all the experience in the world, but if he or she is not passionate about the product and the team, the company won’t take the risk.

You’ve been co-hosting the Girls Out Loud podcast on tech news with your friend Maya for over 6 months with 30 episodes under your belts. I enjoyed listing to Episode 29, where you explored some of the ramifications of the tsunami on the Bay Area. The dynamic between you and Maya is also great. What drove to do this initially? What keeps you going? How do you find the time?

Maya and I met initially through a mutual friend – she was just about to finish her first year at IBM and join a startup and I was working for Tapulous at the time. She wanted to start a podcast focused on technology and asked me if I would join her. We both knew that there was a lack of a female perspective on technology and we thought that we could deliver it.

It’s great to see how far the podcast has come. Some things haven’t changed – we’re still recording over Skype with the microphones on our Apple headphones.

Finding time for it has been a challenge at times, especially when we’re traveling or have big deadlines for work that require working at all hours (we have certainly missed a few weeks of episodes). I often take over the sole conference room at work at night and take a short break to do the podcast. Making time when you have very little is probably the hardest part.

Time seems to be the one thing that no one has enough of and it seems to be slipping through our grasp all the time. What is your approach to managing your work so that you have the time to do the things you need to / want to do? (Apps you use, processes you employ, mindsets you hold, etc)

For work, I stick to a to-do list in a small lined notebook. Every day I start a new page and list out everything I need to get done. If I don’t finish something, I move it to the next page for the next day. Crossing items off the list is much better than any feeling an app could give me. I try to keep my inbox to less than 20 when I leave work at night.

Some days it’s impossible, but as it piles up I’ll have an “email day” where I knock everything out. For managing relationships, I use a Google Docs spreadsheet listing all of my contacts, things that are pending etc. I try to work out everyday for at least 45 minutes. I work non-stop during the week, but the last 30 minutes before bed are for relaxation, usually watching TV or casual reading.

I try to stay away from my computer on Saturdays and go outside, take walks, have long meals with friends and generally enjoy life. It’s a mistake not to take time for yourself – even if you have to make time to do it.

You wrote a thesis on ethics of privacy in social networks. I think that’s great that you picked a more mainstream and accessible topic than most people do (my Ethics in Society thesis was on liver transplants). Can you summarize the overarching message of the thesis? What was the most valuable thing for you about writing it?

The basic message of the thesis is that there are ethical standards for using personal information (whether online or offline). I argue that Facebook violates many of these ethical standards by not notifying you before it collects your information, not giving you the opportunity to refuse consent to share and for using your information for purposes beyond which it was originally gathered. Facebook has been making it more difficult for you to control your information over the years and has been skirting its ethical responsibility to make it easier.

Taking part in a large research effort over a year and half was definitely my most treasured academic experience and taught me quite a bit about a product’s user experience as well. It also taught me to take my academic experience into my own hands. I didn’t want to write the typical honors thesis that never sees the light of day. I wanted it to be relevant and I wanted to it to be something I was personally and academically invested in.

It’s ironic that you said how accessible and mainstream the topic is. My thesis adviser recently told me that faculty in the department thought my topic may not have been worthy of academic inquiry in the beginning. Thankfully he didn’t tell me this until after I submitted my final copy because it ended up winning the award for the best thesis in the department. That’s probably another lesson in going after what you want when your own blood, sweat and tears are involved.

[Editors note: see a presentation of Cristina’s thesis here and the full paper: “The End of Privacy as We Know It?: The Ethics of Privacy on Online Social Networks” here.

I love that you chose this topic and succeeded with it even though others felt it might not be worthy. Way to get after it. This blog is all about learning how to kick more ass at stuff. What’s your take on the idea of “kicking ass”? What lessons have you learned about how you can take matters into your own hands and make things happen?

Kicking ass to me is being excellent at not just one thing, but everything one does. I admire people who have interests beyond work (i.e. staying fit, spending quality time with family, hobbies, philanthropy) and are amazing all across the board.

Lesson #1: Ask and you shall receive. Most women don’t negotiate their salaries and go on to make less than their male counterparts. Everyone has some leverage and can use it to their advantage in negotiations.

Lesson #2: Never be afraid to take a chance. I would consider myself someone who likes to play things safe, but I’m willing to take a risk if given the right opportunity. This played a key role in my move back to Pulse from Google.

Lesson #3: Plan to get where you want to be. If you want to move up from being an Account Manager to VP of Sales, get on the path that leads there and stick to it. I’ve been a planner my whole life. I applied to 17 colleges, numerous scholarships so that I didn’t have to pay a dime to attend and had ridiculous spreadsheets to track completion. Planning can get you most of the way.

Lesson #4: Never let obstacles stand in the way. I applied for an internship at Google and didn’t get it. I worked at a startup for the summer instead and got a full-time job at Google a year later. If something doesn’t work out, take an alternate route.

If You’re Young, Don’t Be Arrogant and Other Thoughts from Jeff Bajayo (KAI #2)

Hey guys – welcome to Kick Ass Interview Number 2. Up today is an ambitious young guy who covers tech news, is a firm believer in NYC geeks and has already learned some good lessons to share with us. I hope you enjoy meeting Jeff!

Can you briefly introduce yourself to us? What you’re all about, where you came from, etc?

My name is Jeff Bajayo, I was originally born in Manhattan, I’m a first generation American, my family originally hailing from Israel. I love technology, this love sort of stemmed from my family’s first computer; I was around 10 years old and very curious. Running Windows 98 and a not much else it was more than a “problem child”. I put more than a few hours of my childhood fixing and experimenting with it. Over the years, I got more and more into technology.

About three years ago I discovered TechCrunch. I saw them while they were attending CES and they were doing what I only had dreamt of; Playing with the latest and greatest technology, and meeting the brilliant minds behind it. A few months after that I was determined to be just like them. I taught myself how to configure a server, use Wordpress, and I honed my writing skills. I then started my first blog called JeffOnTheGo. It was my testing ground, and I learned how hard it was to get page views, readers, market the blog and most importantly use the resources around me.

From there I went on to apply and get accepted to write for a few different tech blogs. I now write for several sites, each focusing on a different aspect of technology.

Why do you like writing about the technology and startup space? What’s more important/engaging for you – the writing or the tech?

I absolutely love meeting startups and the brilliant minds behind them. I guess I enjoy finding out what makes this emerging breed of people tick, and I also try to learn from them. I’m young, and seeing a group of ambitious young people fresh out of college creating extraordinary things inspires me. People like Dave McClure and other folks I’ve spoken to through Y-Combinator are the true entrepreneurs. They work hard, use their brains and they do not give up. For me, it’s the tech that is most important. The tech and the people behind it.

Every day in high school I see people who are not ambitious, they slide through school and life like it’s a breeze. Being a part of the tech community, even in such a minor way has really helped shaped who I’ve become as an adult, and what I’ll do in the future. It’s a great example that with hard work and common sense, people can still succeeded in the US.

You know, I think the American Dream is most strongly held by immigrants and their children – like you and me. Awesome. Outside of blogging – what’s your biggest project right now?

In this past year I’ve branched off from blogging into actually trying to make some of my own ideas come to life. I’ve recently gathered a team for my biggest project yet. It’s called ProjectInterns, still in stealth though!

Exciting! Hopefully you’ll keep us updated as that evolves… You’re a young guy who’s going after some ambitious things – and doing quite well. But this path can’t be easy. Can you tell us about some setbacks, rejections or scary moments you’ve had when tackling on this stuff?

Well I think much of what set me back from the start was experience. I am young, I’m not as experienced as older folks and I think that is something that has really hurt me in the past. But as I go through different situations, I learn from them and apply what I’ve learned so I don’t make the same mistakes the next time.

One blog I wrote for in the past taught me many lessons after the fact. I was too ambitious and I wanted to take on the world instantly. I jumped at every opportunity to request to attend this conference or interview some person etc… I was a bit arrogant, I did not listen to much of what my editors had to say much of the time and I wasn’t being very professional.

But later on I understood my errors, and why at the time I felt they were maybe being a little too hard on me. I wasn’t experienced; I was just a kid trying to run with the lions.

As someone who’s young you have to realize that you aren’t invincible and that you don’t know it all, and when someone gives you an opportunity to learn something new or gain experience, you just have to embrace it.

Ambition is a good thing, but you can’t run unless you learn to crawl.

How do you feel the NYC tech scene differs from that of the Valley? Are we Bay Area people really living in a bubble that’s just foolishly obsessed with check ins, game mechanics and photo sharing?

The NYC tech scene is not so different then the Valley, just less open space and larger buildings. People here are just as obsessed with check ins and technology. While not being such an active member in the tech scene in the city, NYC like the Valley has a tremendous amount of talent, but not near as many startups as San Francisco. Geeks are geeks, where ever they may be, were all tech crazy.

What advice do you have to young people who are trying to do expansive work but feel stuck – without resources, connections, credibility etc? How can they overcome that and be more successful?

First off I guess I’d say don’t count your chickens before they hatch. I’ve had project ideas with the hope that they would become reality, but not to dash people’s dreams, tech is a harsh environment, just like any business, you have to fail a few times before you can succeed.

As far as resources and connections, signup for Twitter. I can’t begin to explain just how valuable a resource it is. Many of my friends, both online and off have stemmed from Twitter. It’s a place where relationships are formed and invaluable connections are made. Network, meet people, you never know when that person may be interested in something you’re doing and want to be a part of it; or vise versa. Tech is about being a social butterfly, and some may like you, other’s may not. That’s just how it goes!

Credibility comes with working hard and at a constant pace. Don’t start something (like a blog for example) and then a week later quit. Have a social presence and use your brain. If you do good work then people will notice eventually, if not, well then you have to work a little harder.

Some great people that I follow are Robert Scoble, Dave McClure, Loic Le Meur and Hiten Shah. All great resources for tech and entrepreneurial content.

If you’re looking for cool startups to check out, both Betali.st and Startupli.st are phenomenal resources. I also post all of the new and cool startups that I come across on my designated startup Twitter List (Updated a few times a week).

Finally just some general suggestions:

  • Be a news addict, I check it every day, multiple times a day, both tech and general  (Go Pulse!). One of your most valuable assets is to be informed.
  • Be easy to contact. When someone asks me for my contact information, I can easily hand them a business card or forward them to my website. I reply to emails within a few hours, not a few days and If someone leaves a message, I usually call back very promptly.
  • Always, ALWAYS be professional. No matter what the circumstance is, be polite and professional.
  • Don’t be afraid to meet new people, it’s awesome.
  • Something my mother has told me practically every day. Your name is the most valuable thing you have, never ruin your good name.
  • Don’t give up, I’m not successful yet, you may not be either, but if you give up you’ll never know will you?
  • Also don’t forget to check out my blog and follow me on Twitter!

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Learn How to Pick Up 30+ New Daily Habits With Bevan Barton (KAI #1)

You thought my 30 rejection therapy challenge was crazy – wait till you hear Bevan Barton’s story. About a month ago I met Bevan at the SF Blogger Club Meetup – it was a community development and sales prospecting opportunity for us but for Bevan, it was a chance to hit one of his daily habits – going to a social event. Turns out he’s basically trying to adopt 30 new habits at any given time – a journey he’s chronicling at on his site: http://lifeismywife.com

I had to learn more and share his story with readers of this site so we’ve put together this interview. Incidentally, I think this is going to kick off a series of interviews I call “Kick Ass Interviews” or KAI’s, where essentially I’ll be interviewing people who I think kick ass. Pretty straightforward right? Let’s get started…

JS: Hey Bevan, thanks for agreeing to the interview. Can you tell our readers who you are and what your site is about?

BB: I’m a pretty regular guy who tackles big challenges. I’ve been an ultramarathon cyclist, a world traveler, and a web entrepreneur.  I grew up in the Bay Area in California and graduated from Middlebury College as a Computer Science major last spring.

My blog is about my experiments in personal growth. Right now I’m picking up a new daily habit every day for sixty days, and rehearsing each habit for at least thirty consecutive days. I have over fifty daily habits now, and many of the older ones have become unconscious parts of my daily routine.

My goal is to make continual improvement an unconscious part of my life.  Specifically, I want to acquire the habit of acquiring new habits (I call this the meta-habit). After my sixty-day trial, my natural inclination should be to continue adding habits when I see opportunities for personal growth.

JS: That’s amazing. I love personal development and habit creation, but you are just taking it to a whole new level. Props. What made you decide to take on this 30 day challenge thing?

BB: I wanted adventure! I had recently moved home from college and saw this as a fun and productive challenge.

JS: Fair enough. What are some of hardest parts about doing this?

BB: The hardest part was committing to the challenge. I started my blog to keep me honest; writing that first blog post was really tough, because I knew I’d have to follow through.

Some individual habits have been pretty difficult to stick with. Some of the harder ones were waking up at 7am, meditating every morning, writing 1000 words per day, becoming a vegan pescatarian, and getting a phone number every day from someone I could date.

JS: Yeah those habits sound like they would be hard for anyone to take on, much less simultaneously. Would you recommend that people try this? Why or why not?

BB: It depends on your goal. My goal is to cultivate a mindset of constant improvement, and I think my challenge is a worthwhile exercise toward that end. If I wanted to change my lifestyle in a short amount of time, my one-habit-per-day challenge might be overkill. Instead, I’d focus on acquiring a fixed set of habits.

My focus is on developing my drive to improve, rather than on acquiring the habits themselves. My lifestyle has gotten better as a result of my new daily routines, but those benefits are incidental to my primary goal of developing a mindset of constant improvement. I don’t care much about the individual habits or how they affect my life; they’re more like exercises than ends in themselves.

This challenge would have been much easier had I stuck to easy habits that didn’t take up a lot of time.  Some of my easier habits include tracking my sleep, wearing sunscreen, and taking a fish oil supplement. Replicating my experiment with easier habits like those would be more attainable for people with tight schedules.

JS: That’s interesting that you say it’s not about the the habit itself or even the habit making your life better. Why is developing a mindset of continuous improvement important to you?

BB: It’s tons of fun to always be leaning just beyond my edge. Constantly stepping out of my comfort zone is a great adventure. For me, constant improvement is the process of leading a fulfilling life.

However, it’s easy to lose sight of how rewarding personal growth is; it can be tempting to stagnate when you’re comfortable. This challenge will develop my drive to improve and desensitize me to the requisite growing pains.

Focusing on growth is important because there’s everything to gain: good habits, relationships, money, etc…  All of those things can also be lost, however, and probably will be at some point. With a growth-oriented mindset, such setbacks aren’t as important, because you’re attracting those things into your life regularly. Also, with a mindset of constant improvement, it doesn’t really matter how you’re doing at any moment. Tomorrow, your life will be a little bit better.

I actually think everyone has a natural inclination to improve themselves; I’m just working mine like a muscle.

JS: Last question. Can you share some tips with our readers on developing new habits?

BB: I’m going to do a big write-up on that subject after my challenge officially ends (in one week!), but one thing I’ve learned is that I’m more likely to follow habits that have well-defined triggers. A trigger is an event, environment, or time of day that is associated with a given habit.

For example, getting out of bed in the morning triggers my meditation habit: I strongly associate waking up with meditating, so I no longer have to remind myself to meditate every morning. Another habit with a good trigger is repeating a person’s name twice after meeting them (which helps me remember their name). The trigger in that case is the introduction. Soon, all introductions will trigger my name-repeating habit unconsciously. My habit of doing vocal exercises in the car also has a good trigger- getting in the car.

Habits without triggers are harder to follow, especially if you’re starting a lot of habits at once. I sometimes forget about my habit of using Twitter every day, because there’s no event, time of day, or environment that I strongly associate with that habit yet.

Lots of habits don’t have natural triggers, but it’s easy to make artificial ones. I like to do that by scheduling my habits relative to each other, so that the completion of one habit triggers another. There are other ways to create artificial triggers too- for example, walking through a doorway could trigger the habit of correcting your posture. Stuff like that may seem silly, but it works!

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Well that’s all the space we have here. I hope you found the interview valuable! You should DEFINITELY check out Bevan’s website at http://lifeismywife.com

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