10459964025_6fd4fbef00_o

Training Makes it Possible

Have you ever looked at someone who was really good at what they did and felt a little daunted?

Maybe it’s how they seem to easily make connections with new people, or design an amazing-looking web page over a weekend, or how they casually mention the 6 miles they ran before breakfast today.

It’s natural to feel intimidated by someone who’s really good at what they do and get a little insecure about yourself. It happens to me on occasion. But whenever I find myself falling into that trap,  I remember something I learned from 16 years of gymnastics: Continue reading…

Looking Down at Machu Picchu

Owning Your Decisions

I recently spent 12 days in Peru traveling solo.

It seems like multi-month international trips has become something of a rite of passage for our generation, but I’ve never found a good time to fit it into my schedule. 12 days was the longest I’ve traveled outside of family trips to China with my parents, and my first time traveling alone.

I wasn’t that familiar with the country, had only a basic grasp of Spanish, and a fairly light list of things to do and see. Rather than traveling because I had always wanted to go to Peru, I went because I thought it’d be a good opportunity for personal growth. Continue reading…

3918527188_bf39dc6488_o

A Year in the Life of a Founder After Shutting Down His Startup

I don’t know if this has always been happening but I noticed this year that a lot of people were sharing a summary of 2013 on Facebook around New Years. They’re usually a little “braggy” but honestly, I don’t mind that at all. I’m happy to celebrate all the wonderful things my friends have done or experienced this year and don’t feel particularly envious or annoyed. We are all on different paths.

I very much enjoyed reading a recap of 2013 through my friends’ eyes  and decided it would be a good exercise to reflect back on the last 365 days myself.

As you might know, Ridejoy announced that it was no longer being supported – a decision that my cofounders and I made this spring, after months testing new ideas and soul-searching. It was a hard decision and marked the psychic end of my first startup.

But life goes on and I went on to have a wonderful year in 2013, which I shared on Facebook. Continue reading…

A New Adventure: Working at the Smithsonian as a Presidential Innovation Fellow

Diego, Sarah, Jason - Presidential Innovation Fellows

With Diego Mayer-Cantu and Sarah Allen, my Presidential Innovation Fellows teammates at the Smithsonian

A little over two years ago, I wrote about taking the leap to start a company. Starting and building Ridejoy has one of the most thrilling, challenging, humbling and educational experiences of my life. That chapter of my life is coming to a close and I am embarking on a new adventure. [1]

Today, I am happy to share that I’ve been selected to serve as Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF). Along with two other amazing PIFs, Diego Mayer-Cantu and Sarah Allen, I will be working on initiatives to strengthen the Smithsonian Institution’s digital enterprise. I packed up my life in San Francisco in early June and shipped out to Washington DC, where I’ll be for the next six months.

What Will I Be Doing at the Smithsonian?

We’ve all heard of the Smithsonian, but like a lot of people, I didn’t fully appreciate the scale at which it operates. The Smithsonian Institution runs  —  get ready for this —  19 museums, 20 libraries, 11 research centers, 2 magazines and a freaking zoo. There are over 137 million artifacts, specimens and national treasures in their stewardship and yet only a fraction of a fraction of those pieces are physically accessible to the public at any given time.

The organization’s mission is “the increase and diffusion of knowledge” and while you might not traditionally think of a museum as an educational institution, that’s very much what the Smithsonian is. So along those lines, Sarah, Diego and I will be working with the Office of the Secretary and staff across the various museums and facilities toward three priorities:

  • accelerating the Institution’s digitization efforts
  • building a crowdsourcing platform to enlist the public in strengthening the digital collections and
  • improving the tools for the public to search and discover digital content.

It’s an amazing opportunity, but also a huge undertaking. We have learned a ton in the past week and I anticipate we’ll continue drinking from the firehose for some time to come.

What is the Deal with the Fellowship?

At first glance, the federal government is basically the antithesis of a startup. It operates at gigantic scale, moves at the speed of molasses most of the time, and is saddled with lots of rules and regulations. Which is why the Presidential Innovation Fellowship is so fascinating.

The big idea behind the program is basically this: what if we got the best entrepreneurs and innovators in America to partner with forward thinking government leaders? Could we make some awesome things happen? Based on the work from the Round 1 fellows selected in 2012, the answer appears to be “Definitely”.

This year, 43 fellows were selected to work across 20-something agencies within the government. From USAID, the State Department, FDA, Veteran’s Affairs and more, my peers will be working on really hard, interesting and important challenges that aim to help the government deliver better services and reduce expenses. I like the way one person put it: “helping taxpayers get better ROI on their government”.

I’m incredibly excited to work with White House CTO Todd Park, and Deputy CTO Jenn Pahlka (who is directly overseeing the program and previously ran Code for America) and just floored by the talent, experience and desire to contribute of the other fellows. They have done amazing things and as a guy who rates really high on the self-confidence scale,  I am humbled to be part of this group.

Get Involved

We are just starting to figure things out and brainstorming ways to help the Smithsonian do (even more) Seriously Amazing™ things in the digital space. I welcome your help and support.

If you have ideas, resources or other opportunities you think would benefit the fellowship and or specifically the work we are pursuing at the Smithsonian, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at ShenJa@si.edu

FOOTNOTES

[1] This post today is about what’s next. I have a lot more to say about my experiences at Ridejoy but it deserves more thought and space than I have here. I promise I’ll be sharing more about that soon.

There’s Nothing to Complain About

My first and only post on Storylane was responding to the prompt: One thing my father always said was…

Since the company was acquired earlier this year, I’ve decided to port this post over and share it with you guys. Hope you enjoy it!

There's Nothing to Complain About

Photo: My father reunited with some of his old friends

My father was born in China as the middle of three brothers. His father rose through the ranks in the local college to become the Dean of Foreign Languages – the only one without a PhD. When he was 16, the Cultural Revolution occurred and young people everywhere were sent to be “re-educated” in rural China.

My father spent his later youth and early adulthood living and working on essentially a rice farm with his brothers. They woke up at dawn, worked in the fields, ate giant bowls of white rice and slept in shacks. Sometimes they would man a concrete boat that carried a massive load of manure on a two-day trip down the river to sell in the market. My father and his brothers would eat and sleep on literally a floating pile of cow dung.
Continue reading…