2014-11-08 10.01.27

Three Days with MaGIC and Malaysia’s Emerging Startup Community

Inspired by Silicon Valley, many cities and nations around the world are trying to build startup and technology hubs – to spur innovation and economic development. In Asia, Shenzhen, Singapore, Indonesia, and Bangalore have become known as startup hubs. But another nation that’s fighting to earn a seat at the table is Malaysia.

On the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city and home to 1.6M people, is district of Cyberjaya, which has for years been a place for technology companies to plant roots in Malaysia. It’s also the home base of a newly created government agency, MaGIC (Malaysia Global Innovation Centre), which seeks to transform Malaysia into Asia’s startup capital.

My friend Cheryl Yeoh, founder of Reclip.it (acquired by Walmart Labs in 2013) was selected to be the founding CEO and helped kick off the new org this April. Over the summer, she told me about her plans to bring founders, makers and startup folks to KL and share their stories and lessons on building companies with the Malaysian community.

Of course I was in. So this November, I got to spend three very interesting days with Malaysia’s emerging startup community. Here’s what I learned. 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…

Reflections from an SF Tech Entrepreneur After One Month in Washington DC

Reflections from an SF Tech Entrepreneur After One Month in Washington DC 2013-07-18 08-14-08

I can’t believe it, but I’ve already spent a month here in Washington DC for my new job. It’s been a very different experience compared being in SF and I thought I’d note some of my observations as an SF entrepreneur transplanted into DC.

Note that I’ve never worked for the government or even for an organization larger than perhaps 20 full-time employees, so I’m coming in with a very particular perspective.

People

Attire – People dress more formally here: men wear suits or at least long-sleeve shirts with nice pants and shoes. Women wear a range of dresses, skirts and shoes of various heel heights. While it’s been rather uncomfortable – especially walking in the sun or trying to think hard with fabric inched around your neck, I do like how nice everyone looks. And it makes wearing T-shirts and flip flops a real treat.

Happy Hour – I was always working late as an entrepreneur and going out after work for drinks was never really a thing at Ridejoy. But in DC, Happy Hour is a cultural phenomenon. There are tons of bars with great HH menus, often half off drinks and food. This is terrible for my diet (many a dinner has been hot wings and beer) but it’s a great way to meet people or hang out with new friends and explore the city.

Resume Questions – The people are very friendly here. I’ve found that people seem more likely to start conversations with strangers than in SF. The caveat being that you’ll quickly get to what I call “resume questions”: Where do you work? What do you do? Where did you go to school? And they want specific answers! In SF it is totally acceptable to say that you work “in tech” or that you are “a developer at a startup” or even that you are “on a quest to balance your chakras”. That would not fly out here.

Process

Through conversations with my coworkers at the Smithsonian as well as with the other Presidential Innovation Fellows and just folks I’ve met in DC, it’s clear there is a very different culture about “how things get done” in this town.

Acronyms – Silicon Valley’s acronyms are no doubt odd to the uninitiated (MVP, CTR, LTV) but DC seems to take acronyms to the next level. Each of the 19 museums at the Smithsonian and many of the different departments all have their own acronym (NMNH = National Museum of Natural History, AAA = Archives of American Art). Most federal agencies and offices of the Executive branch has an acronym (OSTP = Office of Science and Technology Policy, GSA = General Services Administration). Government conversations are filled with this alphabet soup and you often have to stop the discussion and ask for definitions.

Buzz words – again, every industry has these. Here are a few good DC ones I’ve learned:

  • “Stand up” – a verb meaning to kick off or launch (“I stood up a committee on that issue”).
  • “Air cover” – a noun meaning soft authority or higher level pressure to convince people you’re working with that they should go along with your ideas. (“My boss gave me a lot of air cover when I tried to implement this new system”)
  • “Wins” – a noun meaning an action that can be celebrated or considered successful. Used in business too, but even more here. “Getting a working demo of the new database was a crucial win for this initiative.”

Meetings as actual things – It turns out, what goes on in a lot of large organizations are meetings about things. Landing a meeting with an important person carries some cache “I had a meeting with the Deputy Secretary of …”. Your influence is often determined by what meetings you are invited to, what committees you sit on and what working groups you participate in. There are still many folks here who, like me, consider meetings simply precursors to actual accomplishments but it is surprising how much (meetings = value created) here.

Place

Weather - after many years of always carrying around a light jacket in SF, the DC heat is intense. It’s routinely in the 80’s and even 90’s every day and humid too. When you build a city on a swamp, that’s what happens. Also random rain showers means you need to keep an umbrella on hand.

Transportation – compared to BART and MUNI (even when not on strike) I have been nothing but impressed by DC’s Metro system. It covers the entire city, goes fast, is clean and has AC so it is not brutally hot. Thumbs up.

Buildings – you can’t help but be steeped in history in Washington. Especially with all the free Smithsonian museums, as well as the monuments and memorials, the nation’s capital packs a punch. I’ve walked past the White House a bunch of times, and was even welcomed inside the South Court Auditorium, and it’s still hard to believe I’m really that close.

I’m just getting my feet wet with this city but so far I’m very much enjoying it. Have you been to Washington? What were your thoughts?

 

Dust, Community and Dubstep: My First Burning Man

All photos are copyright Randy Pang and featured with permission

Have you heard of Burning Man? It’s a week-long festival that’s been happening in the desert of Nevada for over 20 years and unlike pretty much anything else on the planet. I went for the first time a few weeks ago and it was an amazing experience. As my friend Randy said it was:

Like being on the moon illuminated with neon, bass, and the warmth of the human spirit.

If you’re more of a visual type, check this video I made of my Burning Man experience:

Burning Man 2011 from Jason Shen on Vimeo.

I have some more to share but before reading on, here are some definitions:

  • Burners - What people who go to Burning Man call themselves
  • the playa - the name of the plot of Nevada desert land where Burning Man is held
  • Black Rock City (BRC) – the name of the horseshoe shaped city that is created as part of Burning Man
  • Theme Camp - a group of Burners who camp together in order to share the cost of shelter/food and to create a home on the playa
  • Virgin – someone who’s never been to Burning Man / is going for the first time

The Journey

My friend Kalvin had gone to Burning Man in 2010 and told me all about it, which is what piqued my interest. But with all the work happening in my startup, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have time to make it out. Additionally, Burning Man sold out of tickets for the first time in it’s 25 year history, which left people scrambling to find a way in and scalpers had a field day.

At the last minute, it looked like there was an opportunity to go. I found a ticket via a friend of an acquaintance, who was looking for help with a ride. I was able to find a ride using a site I had helped put together: Burning Man Rides, and also found a theme camp to stay with at the last minute. Burning Man has an ethos of “Radical Self-Reliance” (one of its 10 major principles) so you have to bring everything you need with you: water, tents, food, supplies.

The drive took about 12 hours total: my rideshare partner Billtron and I drove the Uhaul from 9pm to 6am, where we arrived at the Burning Man gate. It was another 3 hours waiting in line before we could finally enter Black Rock City. (This is where you see me ringing the bell as I become de-virginized.

We stayed for three full days (Monday through Wednesday) and left on Thursday morning on a plane (also found via Burning Man Rides). It’s extremely hot during the day (80’s – 90’s) and relatively cold at night (50’s). Dust gets in just about everything so you have to keep all your stuff in ziplock bags and just accept that your tent will never been fully clean again. Our camp welcomed us and it was great to help cook and eat dinner together.

There was a lot of dancing to techno/house/dubstep music, stumbling through the dark (there are no street lights so you have to rely on your head lamp for visibility at night) and amazing conversations with people from all over the world and from all walks of life. The art structures and mutant vehicles (you see quite a few in my vide) are incredibly creative.

Overall I have to say Burning Man is an amazing experience and I highly recommend it.

Takeaways / Thoughts

People are yearning for self expression

One big expression at Burning Man is “Welcome home.” Indeed, many Burners consider this event the time when they can truly be themselves and that the rest of the year is simply passing time in the “default world” until the next Burn. I think this is because they feel immensely stifled by the contraints of Western civilization on how they should dress, talk and behave.

Kindness and welcoming nature of the event

It was incredible to see how open and welcoming people are. People are extremely helpful, offer their resources generously and are effusive with greetings and praise. If you’ve ever lived in a well-run co-op, it’s sort of like that, but at least 3x stronger. It’s sort of a shock to go from hugging pretty much everyone you meet, to the (relatively) cold sterile attitudes of people in the default world.

Self-selecting communities can hold their culture through growth

Burning Man is now 50,000 attendees – and it started as a few hundred people burning a wooden man on a beach. The ten principles it espouses (including Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Leaving No Trace) still seem quite strong today. It’s amazing what how strong a self-selecting group of people can do to maintain a clear culture while growing dramatically. [1]

Obsession with fire is a primal thing

People like burning stuff. ‘Nuff said.

For more information on Burning Man – some good places to start:

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Granted I got a limited view of the event because I was there from Mon-Wed while a lot of the “weekend warriors” don’t come in until Friday. Apparently there are a lot more cameras and a lot more spectators (people who are not there to participate but there to be tourists).