Tag: qiyun_cai

Week VI and Video

Work

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxlXkxZaIS0&hl=en&fs=1&]

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.

Weekend

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 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.

Lessons Learned from Week IV Speakers

We had three speakers in week IV, all of whom are successful, well-known experts in their industry: Phil Black from True, Brad Garlinghouse, former Yahoo SVP, and Om Malik from GigaOM. It was amazing to listen to their stories, and have small-group conversations with them. Having often attended formal presentations before, I really enjoyed the casual, down-to-earth discussions with the speakers at True. There are several take-aways I want to share with everyone:

1. Think through things

This is one of the lessons that Om gave us while he was telling his life stories. He said that an insightful writer is able to look beyond what is on the surface, and think about the potential impact of a certain event/phenomenon. It reminds of me of my work at Syncplicity. I have been working on business devel0pment for Syncplicity, doing research on competitors, and thinking about future strategies for Syncplicity. For business development, I spend a lot of time searching online for information and meeting with people for opinions. As I was gathering huge amount of information, it becomes increasingly difficult to tease out important pieces, and think beyond the facts. An easy route is just to follow what other people are thinking and doing, and simply piece together their results. Leonard, the CEO at Syncplicity, who is also my supervisor and manager, once told me to ask myself:”So what? What is the next step” before finalizing and implementing any ideas. Thinking about “So what?” really helps me view the whole picture, instead of just pure facts.

2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

It’s one of the lessons that Brad gave us. I think it speaks well of any life or career goals. Actually in most cases, it’s a marathon with unknown destination. I’m currently the VP of Finance for my online food delivery company, and I started helping out with the business 1.5 years ago, when the only thing we had was a business plan. We had zero customer, and zero restaurant at that time. We tried to talk to restaurants and student organizations based on our original business model, but no one wanted to work with us, sadly :(. We ended up changing our business plans, and starting again from the very beginning. As I look back now, it’s a long and painful process, as we didn’t know whether we were heading in the right direction or not.

3. Take the people, not the company

As I will be senior this coming fall, I have been thinking about job opportunities and what I want to do after graduation. It’s interesting that when college grads hunt for jobs, most of them chase after the big company names, and only few know the people there until they actually take the job. I guess this is one of the flaws of the job market that a lot of college students are facing.

I took a trip to Napa and Sonoma this past weekend. One of the wineries I visited was a family-owned boutique winery, where I got to see the grapes from which wine is made, and an underground wine cellar filled with huge barrels. The owner told us that pretty much everything is processed by hand, including grape picking and wine making. I was amazed by how much time and effort has to be put into producing a bottle of wine.

Website Strategies and 4th of July

I learned a ton about online marketing and website development this week. During college, my only website design/building experience was building a simple website using HTML as an assignment for my computer progamming class in freshman year. I remember back then it was quite fun to play with different features and designs. Before starting my internship, I was mainly looking at websites from an end-user’s view. The website project I am working on right now gives me a completely new perspective on successful websites, especially good business websites. Following are several things I learned about online marketing this week:

1. Messaging

Even for people who are very familiar with a product and a company, messaging is a time-consuming and difficult process. It is not unusual to see developer, managers and PR agencies meeting for hours discussing messaging and positioning. How to send the right messages to the right audience is critical for online marketing. As I was thinking through the messaging for the Syncplicity website, I realized that it is tied to pretty much every aspect of business development, including product development, marketing, and public relations. The content, which speaks for the product to the target customers, ties all the pieces of the business development of a product together. I was reading the book Four Steps to the Epiphany, which talks about product development strategies, one of which is speaking to the right audience at the right time. For me, it is a great exposure to see how messaging is done in real time for a real business.

2. Search Engine Optimization

My first impression of SEO after reading about it on online forums is that there are hundreds of factors that determine rankings/visibility on search engines. SEO experts have come up with various ways to imporve SEO for SMB website, such as keywords, paid ads, blogs, forums, etc. I played with Google Keywords for the first time, and it was a fun experiment to see which keywords people search for the most among the ones that have similar/same meanings. At the beginning it was dazzling to see so many different tools and tricks for SEO. I think it will be interesting to see which one(s) are the most effective SEO tools for a business website.

3. Sales Leads

I run a small online food delivery company on NU campus that operates on a basic website. I was quite surprised once when a customer complained that the picture of a Chipotle veggie burrito looks like it has chicken in it, which greatly discouraged him from purchasing it. At the time, I thought it was very trivial. Now as I am learning about business websites and how a great website is one that informs and educates users of a certain product, and then populates qualified leads that are well-informed of the product, I began to realize that the misinformation on the food delivery website could be a long-term problem to our future development, esp. in a competitive market. A good website should help identify qualified sales leads, and the right information is an important first step.

Of course, a more interesting problem is to define qualified leads for a company/product. I’m excited to explore different approaches to defining qualified leads.

The 4th of July weekend was really fun! Fireworks at Ghiradelli Square on Saturday night was def the highlight of my weekend.

On Friday, I went to Angel Island, which was a 20-min ferry ride from SF downtown. The weather was amazing, and I got a great view of SF downtown, Golden Gate Bridge, and Oakland Bridge.

Week 2 at Syncplicity and Structure Conference

The highlight of my second week was definitely the Structure Conference by GigaOm. Coming from a non-technical background, I barely had any systematic knowledge about cloud computing before I started my internship. I work with Syncplicity, which also falls under the cloud computing area. It was great that some of the issues discussed in the conference actually came up during company meetings, so the conference gave me lots of background knowledge on issues facing Syncplicity. Part of the conference was fairly technical, and therefore hard to follow, but in general it was informative and great.

During my second week with Syncplicity, I continued working on the competitive analysis. I explored a few more business collaboration tools, and tried to tease out the functional and pricing differences between Syncplicity and its competitors. I made 6 major revisions before finally completing the document at the end of the week. It was amazing to see how much improvement I have made from the first to the sixth version. I realized that constant thinking and improvement is an important factor that can distinguish a good business/product from a bad one. Writing a business document feels different from writing a college paper because I know that other people will be reviewing or relying on my work, which means I need to be more careful and responsible when writing the document. I also had another meeting with a PR firm to discuss product messaging.

I started reading the book Raising the Bar, written by the founder of Clif Bar. I’m a big fan of Clif Bar because I like the texture and the natural ingredients used in Clif bars. It was interesting to see the early-stage stories behind a a currently multi-billion dollar business. The founder of Clif Bar recounted in the book that it took him multiple years to come up with the first several flavors, and that his first office was located in a warehouse. Entrepreneurship is sometime framed as a shiny and fancy term, but it’s hard to imagine from an outsider’s view how much effort and hard work go into starting up a business.

First week in SF and Syncplicity

The first week was busy and fun. I work with Syncplicity, a company that offers synchronization and collaboration software for consumers and businesses. My first project is to research competitors and compile a competitive analysis. Easy as it sounds, it turns out to be a challenging and time-consuming project. Never had experience with Sync software before, I had no clue what different features mean and what the pros and cons of different products are. I started by going to competitor’s website, looking for description of features to tease out categories to put in my matrix. It’s really interesting to see how companies design products and do marketing to differentiate and position themselves. I spent a whole day trying 10+ sync software on a virtual machine. By meeting with people in the company and trying different software products, I’ve gained so much knowledge about different synchronization and collaboration tools within a week. Spending most of my studying time in classrooms and with textbooks, I really appreciate having the chance to learn by actually experiencing and trying things.

I like going to different meetings with people inside and outside the company, and observing how they interact with each other. Having never had experience with PR firms before, I had my first meeting with a PR firm this week. We discussed the marketing and messaging aspect of the business, which was really interesting.

Have never been to SF before, I’m amazed by how hilly and pretty it is. Living at the corner of Haight and Ashbury offers me a unique perspective of SF. I live with an artist family. The house is decorated with huge paintings and posters, and everyone in the family does a million interesting things. The dad in the family is a visual designer, a painter, a non-profit entrepreneur, and a owner of a bio-fuel startup, which is a quite interesting combination of jobs and hobbies.