Month: July 2009 (page 1 of 3)

Week #5 at TextDigger

Wow, only one week left. But that doesn’t mean the workload has lessened!

My final project for TextDigger is to compile a comprehensive list of all the SEO/SEM firms in the world. No easy feat, since I am estimating the number to be around 4000. But this last task is especially important as one of TextDigger’s main products, a software package that leverages our state-of-the-art Natural Language Processor, is designed specifically for SEO/SEM consultants. This software package, which analyzes web pages and makes semantic suggestions for improving web page rankings in search results, is fairly difficult to manueveur and too complicated for most end-users. However, it is perfect for the SEO/SEM audience, who can utilize the program to take out much of the guesswork in their daily work.

When I first began to familiarize myself with the product a few weeks ago, I remember wondering why TextDigger didn’t directly market this product to website owners. Sure, the program wasn’t intuitive, but my guess was that most people who owned a website would be able to use the product effectively.

“Bob,” I asked, during one of our impromptu conversations, “Why don’t we just spend more time making the UI more intuitive, and sell directly to website owners? Then we can cut out the middlemen (SEO consultants).”

Bob’s answer made a lot of sense – that there are essentially no effective channels for marketing such a product to website owners – and reminded me that sometimes it is most effective to focus on what you do best. A lot of times, I find myself brainstorming about all the ways that a business can expand vertically as well as horizontally in order to garner as much market share as possible. However, in the case of TextDigger, their ROI is much greater producing 2/3 of the solution and selling to the SEO consultants, who provide the last third of the solution. Furthermore, if we expanded our target client base, we would be directly competing with SEO consulting firms instead of partnering with them to achieve, more or less, the same result.

This past Thursday, the TEC interns heard from Tim Young of SocialCast. Tim interwined his story of how he bootstrapped SocialCast with continual reflections about his personal life. His presentation, which contained some great photos of his childhood and even recent family vacations, underlined the importance of balancing one’s professional goals with a meaningful private life. Many of Tim’s values and beliefs seemed to contrast those of other entrepreneurs we had heard from in the previous weeks. For one, Tim thought multi-tasking was B.S. I’m neither here nor there on multi-tasking, but I can easily imagine that the super dynamic, super broad, we’re making the “killer app” type approach that many entrepreneurs seem to praise, can easily cause more harm than help. It is great to be able to see success on both ends of the spectrum.

We also heard from Paul Walborsky of GigaOm and Puneet Agarwal, the executive-in-residence at True Ventures. Paul’s presentation was also incredibly engaging as he talked about the economics behind modern-day business plans. He explained how to take advantage of the demand curve for your services by creating strong relationships with your users, and then leveraging that relationship to upsell products and services related to your market niche. His models were accompanied with real statistics of GigaOm’s revenue, which were indeed very compelling. The ties that he drew between economics and business were inspiring to me, an entrepreneur that is majoring in economics at UCLA, as they really validated the usefulness of much of what I am studying. Puneet’s discussion on the future of cloud computing was similarly interesting. Hearing him reason through all of the different developments in various areas of cloud computing answered a lot of questions that I had formerly found myself contemplating in my head, usually ending up more confused than when I started.

Can’t believe this thing is almost over,


Week #4 at TextDigger

I came into the office on Monday morning at around 8:20 am. By 8:24, I found myself yielding to gravity in the surprisingly challenging battle of keeping my head off the keyboard. I had spent the weekend enjoying the vibrant night life of San Francisco with my fellow TEC interns, and to say the least, they know how to party… By 8:28 I was on my second cup of coffee, only a couple of unread emails to go!

My main task this week was to familiarize myself with SES, a touring Search Engine Strategy trade show that stops every 2-3 months in cities such as New York, London, Chicago, Las Vegas, and San Jose. The next SES is this August in San Jose, only a couple of blocks from the TextDigger office. Since SES is such an important opportunity for TextDigger to establish its presence as a player in the semantic web industry, I felt a little added pressure while browsing the official publications of SES London, and SES New York. As I perused the publications, the pace at which I jotted down the names of mentioned SEO/SEM firms slowed, as my attention began to shift from the ads to the articles. These articles were packed with all sorts of strategies, insights, and predictions from the most notable people of the semantic web. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was how the articles discussed the convergence of developing and applying technology. It is interesting to see how ecosystems of startups form around technological developments. While the articles only discussed topics related to the semantic web, I’m sure that many of the themes and business models mentioned are also applicable to numerous other industries.

This week, True Ventures provided an unlimited supply of sushi (my favorite food…period) for our Thursday afternoon gathering in their Palo Alto office. The first speaker was Danny Shader of Kwedit, who talked about his experiences as an executive at many landmark Silicon Valley companies, as well as his experiences getting small companies off the ground. His incredible story of determination despite numerous setbacks could easily be a movie. What I liked most about Danny was his focus on people, a re-ocurring theme throughout the TEC program thus far. He emphasized four characteristics in people that he thought were essential for success: integrity, intelligence, willingness to work hard, and character. Intelligence and willingness to work hard, of course. Integrity, yeah that makes sense; but character? Your life might be better if you have a funny boss, but is having character really that essential to being successful? Clearly, I had not given the idea much thought. But Danny explained that first, having a developed character really elucidates your interests and stimulates your passions. Being thoughtful in both choosing and executing your work, so that it fits you and your goals, is really a prerequisite for success on any level. Second, Silicon Valley is a small place, and having a character that people both know and respect, can do wonders in developing a career.

The second speaker was John Burke, Partner of True Ventures. John’s presentation focused on having the guts to go about doing your own thing. John started his own business at the age of 24, bootstrapping it into a multi-million dollar enterprise before he sold it in 1997. Hearing John’s story etched a phrase in the back of my head, “just do it”.

Overall this was probably the best week yet. I became even more engaged with my work at TextDigger, and am starting to really feel the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. I am more sure than ever that someday I will start my own business.

Until next week,


Week VII

As the TEC program is unfortunately getting closer to its end, we had another great group of speakers come in to talk to us at the True headquarters at Pier 38. This week’s speakers included SocialCast founder Tim Young, GigaOM CEO Paul Walborsky, and True Partner Puneet Agarwal. Although quite different in style, all three had some great presentations for us and gave us some of their best insights into startup culture, recent trends in the valley, and how to be a successful entrepreneur.

Starting off, Tim impressed everybody with his unique presentation which included a number of very interesting photographs. Tim only briefly talked about his ventures in the entertainment industry and gave us a short description of how Socialcast has grown to be used by some of the largest US institutions such as NASA. Instead, most of his time was focused more on personal lessons that he wanted to share with us. Here are the two that I found the most remarkable:

  • FOCUS – Tim passionately emphasized the importance of focusing on one thing at a time instead of trying to accomplish too many things at once. This was great to hear especially since I myself have always found it very hard to do even only two things at the same time: talking on the phone and chatting on AIM, checking facebook while also paying attention in class etc..
  • RUNNING & READING – In line with this idea of focusing on one thing at a time, Tim told us about his passion for reading which he also views as a source of competitive advantage. Although I am quite positive I will never be able to read what he reads in just one year (12.5ft worth of books stacked up!), I still agree that reading gives you actual depth. Blogs might be good to get a quick snapshot but real knowledge of a topic comes from further research…

Next, Paul talked to us about his company’s business model and why he believes that GigaOm can still charge its users for their content although distribution costs are approaching 0. By using the example of the New York Times, Paul showed us that the key to value lies in the actual relationship value and no longer just in control over distribution. His presentation included a number of interesting graphs such as the one showing the marginal relationship value of users for the various GigaOm products. Paul also addressed the issue of GigaOm’s dependence on founder Om Malik and used this to emphasize the importance of having a diversified and constant revenue stream. Paul is clearly the right person for his job as he is somebody that can execute an idea and make money from it. Among the best advice he gave us was to figure out what kind of service you want people to come to you for and to directly go for what you are passionate about early on your career. I am sure many of us were struck by this as unusual as it has become fairly common to push off such a decision until after graduate school.

Last but not least, Puneet spoke to us in a very open conversation about cloud computing. Although many of us had certainly received an overdose of the buzzword at Structure 09, it was great to be able to ask some simple questions. Puneet clearly emphasized being able to scale up and down virtually on demand as the cloud’s biggest advantage and it was great to hear his opinion on the divergence of the new standards. Cloud computing will certainly play an even greater role in our lives as the technology evolves and it feels good to learn about it in its still relatively early stages.

How a soccer match parallels a winning startup.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to watch Club America duel it out with Intermilan at Stanford Stadium, and during the course of the extremely hot, intense match I learned that there are many parallels between playing and winning a soccer match to starting and managing a startup.
In soccer the primary goal is to get the soccer ball in the goal. But just like in the case of startups the ultimately goal never dictates any reason or path to get there. You cannot simply walk up to the goal and toss in the soccer ball.
There is an equal force facing the opposite direction. For startups this would be the several challenges in customer acquisition, technology implementation, marketing etc, whereas in soccer its simply to get past the opponent and gain a clear shot at a goal.
The trick is in being nimble, evolutionary, and persistent. As many of the startup founders we have spoken with, their initial plan evolved and reitereated many times before they arrived at a successful outcome. In the specific case of infectious, the original idea was to deliver car art. Over time the concept was iterated upon and tested in the market, and ultimately shaped the company into what it is today. In soccer if one player possesses the ball for too long, the chances it will get stolen are high. The players are constantly passing to and fro, sometimes moving slightly forward, sometimes moving backwords, all in an attempt to find an opportunity to break through. Only by being nimble in their passing, evolutionary in their progress, and persistant in their possession do the players stand a chance of moving forward and scoring a goal.
As True Ventures emphasizes time and time again, if the core team is solid in experience, and execution, the concept is of lesser importance, as the team will find the right solution as long as they maintain being nimble, evolutionary, and persistent.



The Infectious Office

The great thing about working for an art related startup is that the office is awesome. From incredible sketches hanging on the wall, to infectious wall art, infectious car art on the everyone’s vehicles, to laptop and Iphone skins on everything on everyone’s desks, makes the office from a visual perspective an awesome place to be. Organizationally the environment is 100% open. There is only one rule, if someone has headphones on, send them an IM before running up to their desk and talking to them.

The open environment has a lot of influence on the culture created at Infectious. With no walls between desks, anyone at any level or any role within the company can speak their mind to anyone in a heartbeat. Emails are left for formal information, but vocally and visually the office is beaming with information, debates, thought processes, and new ideas.

The general layout of the office is pretty interesting too. From the garage door like entryway, into a two story loft like structure, again with no dividers. The bottom floor holds the designers and packaging equipment. As soon as you walk in you can see all the printed product ready to go out, and a giant table for cutting and packing all the material before it gets shipped out. AS you walk upstairs you have the remaining employees from community management to biz dev all facing a central large white board, used primarily to pick winners for each design challenge.

All in all, the Infectious office is visually vibrant, and utterly awesome. Can’t wait to start hanging skatedecks on the ceiling…

Here’s a quick stroll through the infectious office.


Final Thoughts

We are now in the last of our eight weeks in the TEC program. Yesterday in our weekly marketing meeting I reminded the team that it was my last week with them at SendMe. The time has surely flown by. I vividly remember the first few days at SendMe, trying to learn how to use all of the reporting tools for our different partners, let alone our own. I tried to learn all of the acronyms that were being thrown around the office so I could begin to understand what people where talking about. Within the first three days I had a comfortable grasp of everything that I needed to know to follow, track, and optimize our campaign. As far as the campaign goes, we made several iterations of banners, constantly changing what was in circulation based on the best performers. There have been some partners that were not as cooperative in optimizing from their ends so we had to pause our campaigns with them.

I have learned a lot more about internet advertising than I would have ever imagined. Having the ability to track every part of consumer behavior helps us to make educated decisions that we are confident will positively affect the campaign. We are still maintaining a strong relationship with one partner in particular, that has constantly worked with us to optimize. When I first began working on the campaign it was one month old, so I have been fortunate to witness a majority of its progress. Even though at times from one week to another we may digress a little, our progress has been staggering. Over the course of the two months that I have spent working on this campaign we have managed to drop the customer acquisition cost by 88 percent. We continue to hit new daily lows (a good thing) and yesterday marked the most effective day of this campaign. Along with constant ingenuity, and frequent improvements we have been able to make this happen.

I am extremely glad to have been given the opportunity to have free reigns over this campaign. I am fortunate for the freedom and responsibility that I have been given, as it enabled to me learn more about marketing than I ever could have learned in a classroom. To have been able to work on a project for eight weeks and to have such a great feeling of accomplishment is more than I could have asked for. With three days left here, I am slowly winding down my responsibilities and handing them over, but my time here will surely remain memorable.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Week VI and Video


In week VI, I mainly worked on content writing for the company website. As the web today becomes an important tool for lead and sales generation, companies start paying more and more attention to their website content. Not only does the content have to speak well for the products and the company, but it also should help with the website ranking on search engines. The challenge with content writing is to find the right way to appeal to the right audience, which is a process that requires a significant amount of market research. Since there are many unknowns for startups, working with Syncplicity really teaches me to think deeply about certain issues.

I finally got a chance to make a short video of the Syncplicity office. Sorry that the following video doesn’t have narration. Our office is located on Howard, between 1st and 2nd street. It’s very bright and spacious. We are lucky enough to have 3 conference rooms, a big social area, and a sweet kitchen.


True on Thursday

We had 3 speakers last Thursday, all of whom have amazing background and interesting life stories. Tim Young, the founder of Socialcast, came prepared with slides, and ran us through his childhood, college, career, etc. Paul Walborsky, the CEO of GigaOM, talked about business models for modern businesses. Puneet Agarwal from True Ventures presented on the different sectors in the computer technology space. Following are some takeaways from Thursday’s presentations:

1. Read, read, and read

Tim Young brought up an interesting point that if you run into a problem, chances are that someone else has already written about it. Tim said that he spends 2-3 hours everyday reading. From the reading list he showed us, we saw that he reads a variety of books: business strategy, technical, fiction, etc. Most surprising is the fact that the book he reads in a year can pile up to several feet. Broad and extensive reading is somthing that my parents always told me to do when I was young. Sadly, reading has become a luxury since I started college. Tied up with classes, meetings, activities, and parties, I rarely find time to sit down and read at college. This summer is a blessing, as I have a lot more free time to sit and read.

2. It is a lot cheaper to start a company now

Puneet showed us a chart comparing the software used by True startups to traditional corporations. Startups today have access to low-cost, even free software to support their businesses. It used to take 10+ million dollars to fulfill all tech functions that businesses need, including webmail, conferencing, etc., but today it is possible to fulfill the same functions for less than 1 million. The decreasing technology cost for businesses will make it easier and easier for entrepreneurs to start up companies.


I went to Berkeley for the first time on Saturday. My friend showed me around the Berkeley campus, which is really pretty and hilly, and quite different than Northwestern, which is extremely flat. It is hard to imagine that students have to walk uphill and downhill between classes. Walking down Telegraph and Shattuck, we saw many interesting shops and restaurants in Berkeley.

Week #3 at TextDigger

When I think about all of the projects and tasks that I have been involved with during my first three weeks at TextDigger, I still have a pretty clear recollection of what I was doing each day – and so far, so good! But it’s difficult to believe that this program is already halfway over. I’ve been working hard, but there is still so much I want to accomplish. I may have unrealistic expectations as to the impact that I can make in just six weeks, but who knows, right? I’ll hold onto them for the moment.

I now feel fully integrated into the workplace at TextDigger. I have a much better idea as to where we stand amongst the other semantic web start-ups, as well as a much deeper understanding of the theories and initiatives that we are implementing to achieve our goals. This macro view enables me to be a lot more passionate in my daily work, as it draws a very tangible tie between the work I am doing and the impact I am making. Being able to see this tie is a great source of inspiration.

This week we started utilizing the data structures I spent the first two weeks creating. My first project this week was to create an email marketing campaign that targeted a group of people we had met at a recent trade show. In a somewhat seamless process (thanks to my work setting up Sugar), I was able to create the campaign using mail merge features in Outlook, Word, and SugarCRM. We have already received some replies that look like promising opportunities, and hopefully more will come in as the week progresses.

(Important Lesson: When preparing marketing materials in Word for an email campaign, make sure any images you have in the document are not in the header! If so, they will not show up in the sent email. Good thing we sent out a test email before the real thing.)

Thursday was another amazing get-together at True Ventures. We heard from True’s own Phil Black, as well as Brad Garlinghouse of the PE firm Silverlake, and Om Malik of GigaOm. Let me share my two favorite takeaways. Brad, who embodied a refreshing approach to his career, was extremely intelligent as well as very knowledgeable about several different industries; but what impressed me most was how well he knew himself. He walked us through several different situations he encountered throughout his career that required him to make difficult decisions, all the while illustrating the processes he used to arrive at his decisions. He has such a firm grasp on his heart, mind, and gut, and was able to clearly demonstrate how he employed each of them in making decisions.

Brad’s talk was followed by Om, who focused his thoughts on the future of media. I won’t divulge the specifics of Om’s presentation here as they may not be suitable for public viewing, but the amount of expertise that Om has acquired over the years is simply mind-blowing. While I am not at the point of my career where I am looking to develop an expertise (no Phd programs for me, thanks), Om’s joy and complete comfort in discussing the future of media got me thinking about what I may eventually want to be an expert in.

The best part of these talks is that, more or less, they evolve into discussions between the speaker and the interns, which gives us an opportunity to really delve into the minds of these highly accomplished people. Surprisingly enough, the speakers are always interested in learning about us as well!

First half done,


Palo Alto, Danny Shader, John Burke, and Stanford

True Palo Alto
This week GigaOM’s Director of Product Management, Jaime Chen, returned to the office after trekking to Europe and Africa. It’s good to have her back, since she makes everything more organized and makes sure we meet our deadlines/goals.

On Tuesday, Jaime set up a meeting and a conference call with one of our consultants to talk about an exciting new project. Later in the day, I implemented an iPhone-likeiPhone password field password field onto one of the landing pages of GigaOM Pro using jQuery. It’s pretty nifty; try the live demo of it here. Also, this week my changes on Earth2Tech finally went live. I redid the header and category/search bar, among other things.

Also, Greg came up with a really great idea for integrating Twitter into GigaOM, so we formulated a plan on the white board and put it into action. We tried to split up the project in half, so I worked on the code for the backend, while Greg did the front end stuff.

Also, this week we decided to try a new sandwich place in the area called Specialty’s. What’s neat about Specialty’s is the fact that you make/customize your sandwich entirely online. You also enter a time that you want to pick it up and then pay for it online. That way, when you go to Specialty’s you just grab the bag(s) with your name on it and head out the door. It’s a highly efficient way of conducting business, especially since the wait for sandwiches in the Ferry Building (next door to GigaOM) can be 20 minutes or more, causing some people to go somewhere else for lunch.

I also met with Liz Gannes, Editor of NewTeeVee, to discuss some tweaks/changes that are going to be happening to her site.

This week was a bit odd, due to the fact that our usual Thursday afternoon session at Pier 38 in San Francisco was pushed back and moved to Friday afternoon at the Palo Alto office. It was a nice change of pace though. On Friday morning I took the CalTrain down to Palo Alto, which took about 50 minutes. It wasn’t a bad ride and I got a decent amount of reading done. I was the last one to arrive at the office. Luckily, though, there was still some sushi left for me to eat.

After lunch, we got down to business. We were fortunate enough to sit down and listen to Danny Shader, who has one of the most impressive resumes that I’ve ever seen. His career spans a couple of decades and includes working as Vice President and General Manager at and Vice President at Motorola, among other things. Danny gave us all great career advice. He basically said that in Silicon Valley, there is too much money, too many ideas, and not enough people acting on them. He then went on to say that to make it out in the real world, you need integrity, hard work, brains, and character. Integrity is especially important – if you have no integrity, it’s going to come back and burn you in the end. Word gets around quickly, and everyone out here in Silicon Valley talks to everyone. Danny also said that with today’s technology, many of the jobs and tasks that used to take hundreds of people to complete now only require a fraction of that.

After Danny’s talk, we heard from True’s very own John Burke. He is normally based out of Northern Virginia, so getting to meet him out in Palo Alto was a real treat. He told us about his background and previous companies. Right after college, John worked for a start-up, and he mentioned that his parents had difficulty understanding why he wanted to do it. I found that point pretty interesting. After that, he worked for a large construction company where he learned that big companies weren’t a good fit for him. At age 24 he decided to start his own company, and ended up selling it for millions in 1997. He then went to HBS at the age of 31 where he networked with lots of like minded individuals. One of the pieces of advice that he gave us was that it’s not necessarily what you learn while at business school, but rather who you meet and connect with. I’m definitely keeping that in mind. John also told us that if we want to do something, we need to “just get out there and do it!”

Afterward, Stephanie, Alex, Cameron, and I went and explored Stanford’s gorgeous campus. The weather was absolutely beautiful too. It was a great Friday afternoon.








Week V highlights and Alcatraz

Sorry for my late post! Have been trying to write about my week V experiences for the last few days, but didn’t really get to do it till today. Like any other weeks, last week was eventful and fun. Several highlights of the week:

1. Palo Alto

We went to the True Palo Alto office for the first time on Thursday. The minute I got off the train, I was amazed by how pretty and warm Palo Alto is. As I walked down Lytton Avenue, and I noticed that probably more than 50% of the offices on that street were venture capital firms. I have lived in Chicago for 3 years, where the business culture is very different from the SF bay area. Having lived in SF for 5 weeks, I already felt like I’m breathing the air of the venture and startup world. I can often hear ppl talking about VCs and startups in cafes and restaurants here. My roommate is the owner of a biofuel startup, and he has practiced presentations to me a couple of times, which was pretty interesting.

2. Scale and Experience

Danny Shader was one of our speakers on Thursday. He has started up several companies, and has experienced the dotcom bubble, when everything in the internet space was going crazy. The dotcom bubble was probably the first time when many young people made huge amount of fortune in a short period of time. The trend has inevitably remained in the Silicon Valley even until today.

One of Danny’s comments regarding this trend was that scale will again matter, and so does experience. We know that being young is a valuable asset, and it allows us to learn and do certain things that we can’t do when we are old. However, I agree that experience is extremely important for running a mature and successful organization. My work at Syncplicity really makes me feel that running a business, even a single aspect of it, is a marathon, which requires a lot of time and effort. I am working on business development for Syncplicity, doing market research and marketing for their product. It’s sometimes frustrating to see how much learning and experimenting we still have to do before we can be fully sure of positioning and customers. But it takes time to learn and get a know a market/product.

3. IB vs. startup

There was a discussion on career choices during the speakers series on Thursday. Some of us were asking about working at investment banks vs. startups. Having spent the last summer at an investment bank, I would say that working with a startup is a lot more enjoyable than working in banking. I remember spending hours aligning graphs and tables, having Sat 11pm night conference calls, listening to my VP yelling on the phone, all of which are part of a typical analyst’s life. However, IB really honed my technical skills, and expanded my network. This summer, I got to choose what skills I want to improve, what kind of projects I want to work on, and my internship has been extremely rewarding and fun.

4. Alcatraz

I went on a trip to Alcatraz on Sunday. It was a sunny and nice day, and I got a nice view of the city from the island. The video tour took me to different parts of the prison, and it was interesting to listen to different stories that happened at Alcatraz.

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