Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Finding My Dragons and Claiming My Throne

After several years of having my Facebook wall plastered with friends' posts about the latest Game of Thrones episode and having no idea what they were talking about, I finally got around to watching all 3 seasons of this popular HBO show.

All in all, I think it's a very cool world with a lot of really interesting characters, and the show has gotten me thinking a lot about my own life and what I have to do to get what I want these next few years.

For those who haven't yet watched Game of Thrones (henceforth "GoT"), the plot centers around a highly unstable kingdom called Westeros that is in the midst of civil war, as several different leaders throughout the kingdom have declared themselves king after the current King's claim to the throne was called into question, and are raising armies to take by force what they believe should be theirs.

Meanwhile, far away in a distant land, there is a young exiled women named Daenerys Targaryen who also has a claim to the throne, given that her father was king at one point but was overthrown by the most recent king and she is his only living heir. The only problem is she has no army, no allies, no leadership experience, and is a woman living in a man's world playing a man's game. Not only that, while the civil war rages on in Westeros, she is stuck halfway around the world with no clear way to get back home.

The gradual way in which Daenerys, with a little luck and lot of saavy, is able to gain an army, gain allies, and become a formidable contender for the throne is one of the central storylines of GoT. In fact, her character has been a major inspiration for myself as well, as I attempt to pull off something similar here in Silicon Valley.

I won't lie, I also want to become King one day. It's definitely one of the items on my bucket list. But that's not what this blog post is about.

What I want right now is simple - I want to make something of myself, I want to use my God-given talents to put a meaningful dent in the universe, and I feel that the best way to do so, for me and at this point in history, is through startups, in the startup capital of the world, Silicon Valley.

I know what I want, but the only question is HOW to get it. Right now, not unlike Daenerys at the beginning of GoT, I'm in a situation where I have very little going for me...
  • For starters, I am totally new to California and the San Francisco Bay Area, and I can probably count on a hand and a half the number of people I already knew reasonably well upon arriving here. I may be back in the US, but my real home is in NJ/NY, so in a way I've traded one foreign land (Korea) for another (San Francisco).
  • I want to work in technology, but I am not an engineer and I don't really know how to code, and whatever relevant experience I might have had in Korea is not valued that much here. My resume simply does not stand out compared to the other people here, so I won't be able to get a top startup job by just cold-applying to companies. I've already tried and it didn't lead to anything. Rather than blindly applying to hundreds of startups, I'm going to have to identify a few that I really identify with, show up at their doorstep, and then do whatever it takes to show them that I'm an awesome guy who can do great things for them.
  • I want to build my network here and get to know a lot of smart, talented, and accomplished people, but right now I have nothing in my resume or my history that would necessarily make *them* want to get to know *me*.
Given all this, how could I possibly hope to stand out and make something of myself? Believe it or not, watching Daenerys Targaryen do her thing in GoT actually gave me a lot of inspiration.

The show starts off with Daenerys being married off to a powerful and greatly feared warlord named Khal Drogo in the hopes that his army of 40,000+ warriors can help her take back the throne at Westeros. Early on, this plan seems to be working out pretty well, enough so that even the current King at Westeros acknowledges them as a threat despite them still being thousands of miles away.

However, things don't work out as planned, as Khal Drogo is killed in a freak accident and almost all of his warriors and followers abandon Daenerys, as she was merely seen as the queen of the warlord Khal Drogo and not a leader in her own right.

I also had hopes of a similar "alliance" with my previous employer Croquis Inc., a Korean startup with global ambitions, great engineering and design talent, and makers of "Biscuit", the Bronze Medalist at Evernote's 2013 Devcup. I ended up joining them through a chance introduction from my wife, and at first, it seemed like a match made in heaven. They wanted an international person who is passionate about technology who could still fit in and communicate comfortably with Korean coworkers, and it seemed like the perfect way for me to gain experience and make inroads into Silicon Valley.

I thought working with Croquis could be a launching pad for my new startup career, but for reasons I won't go into here, it didn't quite work out the way we'd both hoped, and so now here I am in San Francisco, starting over from scratch.

In GoT, the turning point for Daenerys comes when she realizes that despite having no army, no friends, and almost no followers, she discovers that she does have a very special ability that no one else possesses - The power to breed, control, and manipulate dragons, mythical creatures believed to have been extinct for many years.

Once word gets out that Daenerys is the owner and mother of 3 newborn baby dragons, her legend starts to grow and things start going her way as she gains allies and starts building an army. Although her dragons are still young and too small for battle, it's their storied reputation for destroying entire armies and their potential to turn the tide of the war that gets the other wannabe kings shaking in their boots.

That got me asking, what is my dragon? What is my one killer "power" that can help me get the ball rolling? I have several definite strengths, but it's hard to tell which (if any) of them are my "dragon". I know I'm very analytical, I know I'm good with people, I know I'm a good writer and public speaker, I know I have a good sense of humor, and I know I'm pretty creative. But it's hard to say which (or what combination) of these strengths will be the key to making a name for myself here in Silicon Valley. If technical skills are the "army" of Silicon Valley, I have none right now and I need to find a way to use the strengths listed above to acquire such skills bit by bit, whether it's my own or others'.

Once I've found that one thing, my "dragon", I have to believe that everything will naturally fall into place.

The 3rd and latest season of GoT ended with Daenerys winning a critical mass of loyal soldiers and followers and officially becoming a force to reckon with. Whether she'll triumph is anyone's guess, but the fact that she's even able to get into a position to do so is supposed to be extremely impressive.

But I am not at that point yet.

There's so much I have to do these next few months - I need to find a startup to work at (or start my own), I need to meet lots of new people and make new friends, I need to continue honing my existing skills and acquiring new ones, I need to work on my various personal projects, I need to keep blogging, etc. The list is uncomfortably long, but taken together these are all things which will help me get to where I want to be.

Despite Silicon Valley being a land of opportunity and open doors, a lot of those doors happen to be closed to me at the moment. But that's alright, I knew that would be the case going in. What I have to do now is find a way to get my foot in a door (any door) somehow, even if it means getting paid peanuts or doing grunt work. Because I know in my heart that once I am "in" and become a part of a great team, it's only a matter of time before I start making my mark.

As the great Muhammad Ali once said, "I'ma show you, how great I am."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tell me what you REALLY think...

My startup is applying to Y Combinator, the Harvard of "startup accelerators" (basically an elite boot camp for startups).

I'm opening our application to the public, to see people's reactions to our idea and team, and I wanna play a "game" - Check out our draft application below, and send me a message with the FIRST thing that came to your mind while you were reading!

Our application (draft) for Y Combinator's summer 2013 class

Sounds like the worst game ever, right? That's because it is! :P

And to my more startup-savvy friends, if you have any feedback on how we can improve our application, I'm all ears :)

Questions? Comments? You can reach me via email or Facebook -

Email : pshin45@gmail.com

Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/petershin45

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Is this Heaven? No, it's Silicon Valley" - My Trip to the Field of Geeks

"If you build it, he will come."

Have you seen the movie "Field of Dreams"?

In this classic 1989 film, the main character Ray (played by Kevin Costner) is an Iowa farmer who, while walking through his corn fields one day, hears a mysterious voice telling him "If you build it, he will come." After hearing the voice he is suddenly compelled to build a baseball diamond out of his corn fields, risking everything he has. Nothing happens at first for several months, and he soon faces financial ruin. However, he soon discovers that what he's built isn't just some ordinary field, but rather a "Field of Dreams" where old dead baseball players - his childhood heroes - emerge from the cornfields to play ball every night.

I just got back this past Friday from a 1-week trip to the San Francisco Bay Area (or simply "the Bay Area" as locals call it) where I was able to experience life in Silicon Valley, aka the Mecca of technology and entrepreneurship. I was able to go there on business because the startup I work at (named "Croquis") had recently won 1st place at an app development contest in Korea hosted by the tech company Evernote. Here's the app that won us the contest.

(In case you've never heard of them, Evernote is a productivity tool that allows you to create Microsoft Word-like digital notes which are saved online to "the cloud" and which you can then access and edit anytime from any of your devices i.e. your desktop PC, laptop, smartphone, iPad, etc. It's like Google Docs except not as shitty, and if you're like me and you've always been someone who takes a lot of notes in school and at work, then Evernote is basically the greatest thing ever.)

Anyway, I had an awesome time in the Bay Area and I got to experience firsthand why Silicon Valley is such a special place whose "magic" can't be replicated elsewhere, and in this blog post I hope to effectively communicate some of those underlying reasons.

For example, there's a reason Korea is one of the worst places in the world to start a tech startup despite Seoul having arguably the best technological infrastructure in the world, universal broadband internet penetration, universal smartphone adoption, and being home to tech giants like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics.

There's something else at play here... something that's not totally logical and which money can't buy. If a flourishing startup ecosystem was something that any country and any city could just buy, then anyone could do it. Lord knows the Korean government has certainly tried, though sadly to no avail.

I believe that what other wannabe startup ecosystems are sorely lacking and what differentiates Silicon Valley more than anything else are its 1) People and 2) Culture. Allow me to explain...

PEOPLE - Silicon Valley is Geek Heaven

Walking around the Bay Area and talking with people from all walks of life, not just startups, I started to notice something. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are an absolute haven for geeks. Like as if a huge group of geeks decided to band together one day and create for themselves a new geek nation. And I don't mean that in a bad way, but in an "it's about damn time" way.

First off, let's define the word "geek," a word whose connotation has changed significantly since I was a little kid. The word "geek" used to mean that you were a loser and social outcast who sat in front of a computer all day, but the word has become a badge of honor for many, denoting a person who is technologically savvy and/or obsessively passionate about an atypical topic of interest. In Japan, there's a roughly-equivalent word "otaku" which is often associated with people who are obsessed with anime and manga, but in fact "otaku" can relate to a fan of any particular (usually niche) theme, topic, or hobby. For example, you can be an otaku who's crazy about Japanese history, rice balls, robot figurines, etc.

To put it simply, a "geek" is someone who's obsessively passionate about a non-mainstream topic. The "non-mainstream" part is key, because this means that you can't truly be a geek if whats you're obsessed with is sports, good food, working hard at a prestigious company, exotic vacations, etc. because those are all "normal" mainstream activities which are almost universally seen in a positive light.

To truly be a geek, you have to be obsessed with something that's sufficiently atypical and/or not cool enough so that you'll be seen as "weird" and "odd" by most people you meet.

What's so great about geeks and the "Rise of the Geek" that we've been seeing in society nowadays, is that there's a goodness and a pureness to them that you don't often find in people nowadays. Too many people in this world try to be someone they're not, in an attempt to be "cool" or "respectable." Think of all the fashions and hobbies you used to have as a kid which you stopped doing many years ago because you were afraid of what people would think of you. If you think about it, this is such a sad phenomena - You changed yourself in order to please others. Any psychology expert could tell you that that's a guaranteed recipe for disappointment, regret, and lack of fulfillment later in life.

But geeks are different - They *know* that what they love is seen by others as the domain of losers. And yet, they persist and soldier on. They know how uncool they are and yet they don't care. There's something really beautiful and childlike about that kind of moral fortitude. (Not child-ISH, but child-LIKE. The former is an insult but the latter I consider a compliment.) When everyone else was "selling out" to be cool, geeks are the only ones who stayed true to themselves and refused to let society change them into something they're not.

And in large part due to the huge and ever-growing influence of technology in today's world, we're starting to see a macro trend in society in which A) geeks have never been cooler and B) they are slowly taking over the world. It started with Bill Gates in the 1980s, continued with Mark Zuckerberg in the early 2000s, and has only continued to gain steam since. (I love Steve Jobs, but he was way too hipster to be considered a true geek.)

For example, last week I got to stay at Evernote headquarters where I met Phil Libin, the founder and CEO of Evernote and himself an unabashed geek. I found out that he is a huge Lord of the Rings fan and keeps a large set of LOTR figurines on top of his desk at all times. Evernote's head PR guy is a renowned tech journalist who wrote and published a book on Star Trek trivia as a young man. And the head of international operations for the Asia-Pacific region is an American guy who is fluent in Korean and started learning the language even before the Korean wave made learning Korean cool. You can't make this stuff up, it really doesn't get any geekier than that, and I absolutely love it.

In fact, what I love most of all about this "geek culture" is that "geek" and "asshole" are basically two mutually exclusive concepts. Think about it - Think of the geekiest guy or girl you know, and then ask yourself how much of an asshole they are. The answer is probably "not at all" or "anything but." You see, I used to work in Finance, and for whatever reason there is a major "asshole culture" in Finance. To be fair, there are plenty of good people in Finance, the best example being someone like Warren Buffett, but for some reason Finance attracts a hugely disproportionate amount of assholes, probably because in recent decades it attracted greedy people who like making money for the sake of making money and the social status it brings. In many Finance companies, you're totally excused for being a huge asshole and a terrible human being, as long as you make money for the company. Too many times I've seen people in Finance who openly disrespect their coworkers, are emotionally abusive, curse loudly in the office, cheat on their wives and have broken families, etc. And yet all is forgiven, because they make money for the company. What kind of message is that sending? Seriously!

Because my first job after graduating college was in Finance, I was brainwashed into thinking that this was "normal" and reasonable. But then I started working on various technology and innovation-related projects at work, and I slowly came to find out about this whole new world of technology and entrepreneurship, a world where geeks not unlike myself form new companies in the hopes of changing the world for the better and large groups of rich people will fund them to do so, a place where character is seen as a prerequisite and not an after-thought to hiring, and where assholes are simply not tolerated. In fact, the CEO of Evernote actually instituted a "No Asshole Rule" when he started the company decreeing that no asshole will ever be allowed to work at Evernote, and I saw for myself this past week that there really were none. Everyone I met there was so friendly, passionate, and chill. Where else in the world besides Silicon Valley would something like that be possible?

CULTURE - "There must be something in the water..."

Another unique thing that Silicon Valley has is an amazing, pervasive culture of openness, optimism, and positive energy that you just can't find anywhere else in the world, not even in places like Boston and New York which have their own sizable startup ecosystems but which are still dwarfed and put to shame by Silicon Valley in those regards.

I grew up in the New Jersey / New York area, and initially I too had my doubts about Silicon Valley's awesomeness. After all, I know several friends in the NJ/NY area who are entrepreneurs and I know that there are lots of places and resources in the city to help a person get started. Really, how different could it possibly be from Silicon Valley? I used to think that everything I heard about Silicon Valley was mostly hype, but over time I've slowly and begrudgingly come to acknowledge that the hype is indeed real. Here are just three (of many) things that make Silicon Valley's culture so unique:

Openness and "paying it forward"

In my previous working experience, anytime I asked people for help it would be met with a "Sorry I'm too busy," and anytime someone suggested something creative and out-of-the-box, it would be met with a chorus of "That would never work" from his or her team.

But during my one week stay in Silicon Valley, I met countless people - friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers in the tech community - and what they all had in common was that they were willing to take time out of their busy schedules to meet with me, hear my story, offer feedback, and try to think of ways they could help. Even though there was NOTHING in it for them besides just being a good person. They just wanted to help.

One of the highlights of my trip was when my team and I visited another early stage startup called Freshplum. Several months back a friend from my previous employer (Standard Chartered Bank) had introduced me to her friend Jonathan from business school who had moved to San Francisco to live the American Startup Dream, and had gotten a job at Freshplum. He and the founder of Freshplum graciously invited us to visit their company's office (which doubles as their home) while we were in town, and we gratefully accepted their offer and ended up staying for more than an hour and having a great conversation with their team about our respective stories and what we're making. The founder of Fresplum is a former Facebook employee and a successful entrepreneur several times over now trying to start his third new company, so he had no real incentive to want to meet a bunch of nobodies like us. And yet he did, and he even offered to put in a good word for us when we apply for Y Combinator, the most prestigious startup accelerator program in the world. Just amazing and beyond my expectations.

Optimism in spades

This article says it best:
"It's easy to dismiss wild, big vision ideas that just don't make sense to you. However, in the Valley, that's not an obstacle. Everyone is encouraged to start a company and no one is doubted because they lack a clear revenue model or doesn't pass someone's analytical test. As one Boston transplant put it, 'the Boston brain in me thought the idea of 'Pandora for Shoes' was dumb, but the more I thought about it, I realized it just might work.' Beyond how people view others' ideas, there's an overwhelming sense of hope there; it's difficult to explain, but you get hit by a wave of it when you're there that makes you think anything is possible and that you’re surrounded by greatness."
It's like believing in Santa Claus all over again.

Meanwhile, in Korea and places like Europe, a failed business means that you are incompetent and a failure as a person. You receive a scarlet letter that you have to carry around for the rest of your career. But in Silicon Valley, starting a company which ends up failing isn't seen as a failure, it's seen as "gaining experience" and a badge of honor, because people there believe that if you are driven enough to keep trying, you'll probably succeed sooner or later. Failed vs. Experienced. Two totally different ways of looking at the same situation. That's Silicon Valley for ya.

Entrepreneurship is all around you

Quoting from the same article above:
"There's a serious cool factor to walking or driving by a building and seeing the logo of a company you recognize. It's also fun seeing startups on billboards. While on the 101 (the main highway running through the Valley) I saw signs for Box.net, Salesforce, Huddle, and Zynga. As a startup geek, I find this as cool as others do when they see a celebrity on the street. This omnipresence of startups goes a long way to thinking about a place being the home of great startups."
Literally as soon as I got off my plane in San Francisco International airport, I overheard a group of guys next to me talking about front-end development for some app they were building. When I was buying some coffee at a Starbucks inside a Target, I heard a bunch of guys next to me talking about their own startup. Literally everywhere I went, be it cafes or stores or restaurants, I could overhear a conversation about startups. And all the largest office buildings in San Francisco and Silicon Valley are occupied by technology companies. It's insane and I've never experienced anything like it.

Earlier in this post I referred to Silicon Valley as a Mecca for technology and entrepreneurship, a "Field of Dreams" if you will, and I feel very strongly about that.

In my previous job at a bank, even though I got to work for a great boss and some really nice people, I was just not happy, for a variety of reasons. Most of my coworkers were jaded and uninspired, many senior managers were assholes and borderline sociopaths, and most importantly, as a superhero I just couldn't see how a bank makes the world a better place. Sure it serves the very important function of safeguarding people's money, but because that by itself is never profitable enough, when push comes to shove banks always end up getting greedy and trying to sell people loans that they don't need, especially when revenues are down. That is how the subprime mortgage crisis started, after all. Just a terrible and morally suspect business model.

But in the Silicon Valley it's the complete opposite - Filled with geeks and investors hoping to change the world, everyone trying to help each other out, very few assholes, and where you're encouraged to create something amazing and if you fail, then try and try again.

Not only did my whole team get to experience Silicon Valley, we also gained a lot of confidence as a startup.  When it comes to startup ecosystems, Korea is basically the lowest level of the minor leagues. I think the team of 5 that my CEO has put together is as solid as they come, but in the small pond that is Korea, it's hard to tell how we really measure up and whether we'd ever be able to hang in the major leagues aka Silicon Valley. During our trip though, we got to meet with many talented founders, developers, designers, executives, etc. and the overwhelming feedback that we got was that yes, we have what it takes to hang with the big boys. And though after our trip we had to head back to our minor league system in Korea, make no mistake - We'll be back.

In conclusion, in this touching scene near the end of "Field of Dreams", one of the dead baseball players asks Ray if this baseball field is heaven, to which Ray responds:

(0:22) John : Can I ask you something? Is this heaven?

(0:34) Ray : It's Iowa.

(0:38) John : Iowa? I could have sworn it was heaven...

(0-54) Ray : Is there a heaven?

(1:00) John : Oh, yeah. It's the place where dreams come true.

(1:26) Ray : Maybe this is heaven.

Maybe Silicon Valley is the place I always dreamed of living and working in. Maybe Silicon Valley was built precisely for people like me, people in dead-end jobs looking for a second chance to (finally) do what they love - "If you build it, he will come." In which case, I better get my ass over there as soon as I can, to the Field of Geeks. The place where dreams come true.

If you want to read up more on this topic, check out this essay by Paul Graham, the renowned entrepreneur, investor, and startup mentor.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Getting Started

It's been a little over 3 months since I quit my job, and some of you might be wondering what I've been up to during that time.

I was able to chill my heart out for the first month or so because I was still getting a paycheck. My last full paycheck was on October 21st and I got my last paycheck on November 21st (half a month's worth). So you could say that, for a while there, I was looking kinda like this:

But at the same time, I didn't wanna go broke like MC Hammer or become a leech and/or bum, so part of my time was spent trying to find a part-time tutoring gig(s) so that I can maintain some form of regular income to fund my various other intellectual pursuits, and thanks to a clutch referral from a friend, I was able to secure a very low-maintenance tutoring gig that pays me just a hair under $1000 a month, enough to keep my head above water. The best part is that I only have to work 6 hours a week to make that $1000, freeing up a whole lot of time to do what I actually want to do. This was one of the reasons I quit my job in the first place, so that I'd have more freedom and control over how much of my time is spent "making money" and how much is spent working towards what I'm really interested in.

And what I actually wanted to do, and one of the main reasons I quit my job, was to learn how to code, specifically web programming i.e. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery (Mobile), AJAX, etc. That might sound like complete gibberish to many people (it did to me too until fairly recently), but those are the building blocks of what we know as "the internet" aka the Web, whether it's checking your email, using Google Maps, viewing your favorite app or website, etc.

We've all seen how the internet and smartphones have changed the way we live, including the way we communicate with others, find information, make purchases, discover new and interesting content, etc. I love watching the world change so much and so quickly right before my eyes, but at a certain point I got sick of just watching all the time, and I wanted to start DOING. (I could make a perverted analogy here, but I will refrain from doing so). I used to be just a regular "user" of the internet just like everyone else I knew, but one day something changed within me and I suddenly wanted to become more than just a user - I wanted to help build and develop the Web, to be a part of its evolution and perhaps be someone who changes it for the better, making life easier for everyone who uses it.

And so I came up with a plan for myself, which went something like this - I would spend about 6 months or so becoming proficient in web programming while in Korea (where rent and overall cost of living are much cheaper), move back to the States with about $15,000 in personal savings sometime in early 2013, and keep honing my coding skills by day while networking by night with other aspiring and current entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers, journalists, etc. Anything that could help me get a foot in the door of this new world.

That was the plan, but as the Joker once said, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. (Just kidding, the Joker didn't actually say that)

Through some fortuitous networking, I was unexpectedly presented with a chance to play a major role at an early stage startup that is based in Korea but has very global ambitions. It looked something like this -

(No, I am not joining the League of Shadows)
I'm happy to say that I accepted the offer and I will be working there (as Employee #6) starting this Monday December 10th.

I'll be in charge of marketing, PR, and developing the business globally (specifically in the US and UK), which entails securing venture capital funding and finding the right customers for their core product, which is basically a mobile social networking app for amateur sports athletes.

This is a very different "start" from what I originally planned, and so you might be wondering, is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing?

In order to effectively answer this question, it's important to first ask WHY I had made those plans.

In my mind, I have a "Five-Year Plan" for how I want to build my new career. Originally, in "Year 1" I wanted to go back to the States early next year and network aggressively in the entrepreneurial community, then somewhere in Years 1~2 I would find work at a early-stage startup where I'd learn how to run a super-early-stage company, and then in Years 3~5 I would start my own company and depending on how successful or unsuccessful I was, at the 5-year mark I would make a decision on what to do for the next 5 years.

In this "Year 1" of my post-Finance entrepreneurial career, the three things I'm seeking are 1) Knowledge, 2) Experience, and 3) Networking. "Knowledge" as in a better knowledge of IT and building/managing a software product, how to work daily with tech people (which is a first for me), and how to get a new company started and off the ground. "Experience" as in seeing firsthand how difficult and unpredictable working at an early-stage startup can be, being there for the highs and lows, building a quality product and then trying to find the right audience for it, etc. And "Networking" as in meeting lots and lots of people in the industry who might one day become my co-founder(s), my employees, my investor(s), my lawyer, adviser, etc.

Notice that "Money" was not on my list. To be honest, at this stage in my new career, gaining knowledge, experience and a strong entrepreneurial network are more valuable than anything else, even money, and I would literally be willing to work for free to obtain those things, and figure out some other way to make money on the side. Fortunately though, I will be getting paid enough by this startup to live comfortably (though not lavishly by any means), and given how good an opportunity this could be, any money I do get paid is pure gravy.

So how does this new position fulfill these three criteria that I mentioned above?


First off, the reason I wanted to learn coding in my free time is NOT because I plan on becoming a professional, full-time software engineer one day. That was probably the most common and annoying misconception people had whenever I told them I was learning how to code. People would often ask me "Why do you need to learn how to code? Can't you just outsource that to someone? Even if you start learning now, you'll never get as good as people who have been doing that their whole life." And that's partially true but at the same time also very shortsighted, in my humble opinion.

The real reason I want to learn how to code is because I believe that in the very very near future, knowledge of software and the internet will go from being a "nice-to-know" to an absolute prerequisite in almost every industry. Marc Andreessen is one of the most respected innovators and venture capitalists in the world today, and he probably expressed it better than I ever could when he said a year ago that "...we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy."
"More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not."
We've all heard the maxim that "Knowledge is Power," but I believe that over the next 10~20 years, it will be the knowledge of technology and the Web that offers the greatest power. People have been talking about how the Internet will transform the world and create a "new economy" for a long time, ever since the Internet became a thing, and the dot-com boom in the late 1990's definitely put a damper on those expectations. But I believe that time has finally come, thanks in large part to the widespread, everyday use of smartphones (essentially hand-held computers), which in turn can be attributed to Apple turning the smartphone into a cool, easy-to-use, and "must-have" consumer product. The Internet used to be a Wild, Wild West that was ventured into only by the most daring of people and businesses, but it's now become an established and secure territory full of possibilities that is essentially another "world" or "dimension" we live in which complements our physical world, and it is software engineers who will become the unquestioned masters and architects of this new world.

People from "business" often think it's good enough to be "the business guy" or "the idea guy" who tells developers what to do and what to make. But the longstanding gap between the "business guy who knows nothing about tech" and the "tech guy who knows nothing about business" is quickly closing, and overwhelmingly in favor of the tech guys.

Why is that? It's because while everyone in the world is exposed to business and business concepts on an everyday basis, computer science and engineering is a "hard/technical" science and is not something you just randomly come across in your daily life. It's something you have to take time to study and practice for years, even decades, to get really good at. I read somewhere that it generally takes about 2~3 years for a smart tech guy who knows nothing about business to become business-savvy, but it can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years for a smart business guy to become truly tech-savvy. I belong to the latter category, and so the reason I am learning how to code is so that I can start my 5 to 10 years of learning now, so that I won't be left behind in the dust when I'm in my 30s and 40s. It's funny, when I was in high school and college, everyone was saying that we should learn Mandarin Chinese because it was the language of the future, but in fact the real language that we all should've been learning was an altogether different type of language (but a language nonetheless) - computer programming languages.

So that is why I am learning to code. So that whether I am a startup founder or a senior manager at a large company in the future, even if I never write a single line of code, I will be able to communicate effectively with the technology guys and girls whom I work with, and I will be able to attract highly talented engineers and/or co-founders who respect me for my willingness to learn and understand their craft, despite being a "business guy."

The one downside to working full-time at this startup is that I won't have nearly as much time to teach myself how to code as I did before. But on the flip side, I'll be working alongside some very talented engineers, and will be able to ask them lots of questions and learn about the technical side of a startup better than I ever could through a Google search.


In terms of gaining valuable experience, I think this is as good an opportunity as I could have hoped for, whether in Korea or the US. We hear a lot about super-successful startups in the news, but the harsh reality is that the vast majority (more than 90%) of startups go nowhere, often due to inexperience and/or a dysfunctional team. Fortunately though, this startup that I'm about to join does not seem to have either of those problems and seems to have as good a chance as you could hope for in a startup.

The Founder/CEO is a guy in his mid-30s who previously led an IT company through a successful IPO and grew it from a few dozen employees to over 200 during his tenure. Despite being Korean, he has a very Western working style and style of leadership which is great news for me, the American. And while most startups outside Silicon Valley struggle to find and hire talented full-time engineers, the CTO (Chief Technology Officer), iOS/Android developers, and lead designer at this startup are as talented as you can find, and they are all forgoing much more "lucrative" career options for the opportunity to make something new and great that could possibly change the world.

My hope and expectation is that by working with these people, I will learn far more than I ever could have on my own or from books and online. There are some great resources online but at the end of the day, learning in person from an expert is always the fastest and best way to learn anything. Sometimes there just aren't enough experts to go around for everyone, but I am one of the lucky few who gets that chance.


Personally, I was really looking forward to moving back to the NYC area. Silicon Valley is the mecca of innovation and dwarfs every other entrepreneurial community in the world, and Boston is also pretty strong in its own right, but I wanted to go to NYC because A) it has a still-small but very fast-growing entrepreneurial community and B) that is where I grew up, where my personal network is strongest, and where many of my friends are living and working.

That's the only real downside to this new position. Although I will have opportunities to go on business trips to Silicon Valley, network with influential "movers and shakers" there, and help set up the US arm of the company, it's hard to predict how much of my time I'll be spending in the US.

To be totally honest, I really do miss the US and I have been itching to leave Korea after four and a half years here. Korea is a great country in many respects - It's amazingly safe, clean, and convenient, and has possibly the world's best technological infrastructure. However, when it comes to anything creativity-related, Korea can be a very disappointing place, to say the least. Part of the reason Korea is such an efficient and well-educated society is because its education system is built around rote memorization and standardized exams. This is great for producing productive employees who can efficiently perform complicated but well-defined tasks, but it's not very good for fostering entrepreneurship.

The reason Silicon Valley is such an amazing ecosystem for entrepreneurship is not because they have a lot of talented engineers or because a lot of tech companies are headquartered there. Korea has lots of engineers and is home to Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, but is still a terribly ecosystem for entrepreneurship because the culture is very risk-averse, image-conscious, and pragmatic. A healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem encourages irrationally optimistic and idealistic young people to take big, bold risks to try to change the world and encourage them to try again even if they fail. But in Korea, a failed venture can essentially brand you with a scarlet letter that follows you around for your entire career. Korea has a long way to go before it can become a true center for entrepreneurship. Although I will be working at a Korean startup, I'm working there under the assumption that I will be working and networking a lot with investors and entrepreneurs in the US. If it turns out that I am working too much out of Korea or if the product fails to get adopted in the US, then I will have to re-evaluate my options at that time.

In conclusion, I am very (cautiously) optimistic about this new opportunity. Founding a startup is essentially gambling and "going all-in" with your life and your career. It's a risk that you might never be able to recover from, so what I'm most grateful for is that for the next several months, I will be able to learn on someone else's dime BEFORE I myself go all-in. I am coming from an industry (Banking & Finance) that could not be more different than entrepreneurship, and I am basically starting from scratch. I still have a lot to learn before I'm ready to start my own company, but I hope that this startup can offer me a clear path toward that goal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Peter Begins

As many of you may already know, this September 21st I will (finally) be quitting my job at Standard Chartered Bank Korea, where I've been working for the last 4 years and 3 months. It marks the end of what has been a very formative time for me, and the beginning of a new chapter in my life story, a story which will no doubt become a New York Times #1 Best Seller one day, since I am "the greatest" and all.

This was my first full-time job since graduating college in 2008, and so naturally it's my first time quitting a full-time gig as well. Some of you may be thinking, "Hey Peter, what does it feel like to quit your job?" and even if you were not wondering that, I am going to tell you anyways because this is my blog and I do what I want.

To answer your question, it's an interesting feeling, this whole quitting thing. I've been reflecting a lot on my time here and everything that's happened while I've been living in Korea and working at this company for the past 4+ years.

Actually, the first two years of my time in Korea and at Standard Chartered Bank were pretty unremarkable. Not only was it a constant, stress-filled struggle for me as I tried to learn Korean as quickly as humanly possible while also adjusting to Korean culture and Korean work culture, but I was also pretty damn jaded after two years because I just had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and none of the work I had done up to that point was very interesting, nor was it something I could see myself doing for any long period of time.

Like Bruce Wayne in this opening scene from "Batman Begins" (2005), I had come to Korea to experience life in a new land and learn more about myself while gaining some quality work experience, but after two years' time, I had become truly lost.

However, the next 2+ years were a significant improvement. By that time I had become reasonably adjusted to the language and culture, and I had started work on a new project dealing with innovation in online and mobile banking. Even though I'd never done anything technology-related like that before in my life, I soon fell in love with it (technology, web development, everything) and it's the reason why I'm now leaving the bank.

But perhaps most importantly, it was at that pivotal 2-year mark that I was able to find and work for a boss whom I could really respect, someone who I actually wanted to work for and who was willing to mentor me and teach me many valuable skills that I'd been sorely lacking up until that point.

Here is an excerpt from one of my business school essays, which describes how I initially ended up working with my boss and the kind of esteem I held her in:
However, none of this would have been possible had I not met my current boss, who I've been working under since September 2010. They called her “Dr. An” and her reputation preceded her – She graduated from the top undergraduate engineering program in Korea, got her engineering Ph.D. in the USA, was a standout consultant at McKinsey, and had already established herself as a superstar within a few short months at Standard Chartered Bank. She was strong, confident, and ruthlessly efficient, but also meticulous about providing honest, accurate, and constructive feedback to each and every one of her direct reports to help them learn and grow. I learned in August 2010 that she was leading a new project that overlapped a great deal with my own and, believing that she could be the transformational mentor I’d been looking for, I did whatever it took to “join forces” with her and a few weeks later I was working for her full-time on the “Multi-Channel Task Force.”
For anyone who's seen the movie "Batman Begins" (2005), if I am Bruce Wayne then I would consider her my Ra's al Ghul. Not in a bad way, because in the movie Ra's al Ghul and Bruce Wayne ended up becoming mortal enemies later on haha (-_-). Rather, I mean in the sense that, like Ra's al Ghul did for Bruce, so my boss similarly mentored me, continuously challenged me, and helped shape me into the sharp and focused individual that I am today.

Through her, I learned many new skills and techniques that I will no doubt be using for the rest of my life. Drawing from her background as an engineer and consultant, she taught me how to think logically and analytically, how to approach problems and discussions in a structured way, and how to effectively manage a large team despite her youth as a senior manager and despite her relative lack of banking experience (relative to many of her older male peers).

Here is a great scene from the movie that should give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

I learned a great deal from her and will always be grateful that I was able to work with her.

Actually, my boss and I have very different personalities, but I think that may be a big reason why she was such an ideal mentor for me at the time - She is noted for her exceptional analytical skills, super-logical way of thinking, and great attention to detail, which were all areas that I was previously weak in. On the other hand, I have always been and always will be a humanities person through and through, with a knack for thinking outside the box and finding connections in seemingly disparate phenomena, coupled with a deep understanding of human nature and what makes people tick.

As a junior employee, this seeming clash in personalities was actually great for me, because my boss only put me in roles which matched my unique strengths, and so I was able to continue honing those strengths in my day-to-day work while gradually shoring up my weaknesses, as I continuously received often-harsh but always-useful feedback from my boss and then worked relentlessly to implement those lessons in the next go-around.

Similarly, in Batman Begins, Ra's al Ghul's view of justice was very different from that of Bruce Wayne. Ra's al Ghul believed that there are criminals in this world without decency, who must be fought without hesitation and without pity. On the other hand, Bruce Wayne believed that this kind of compassion is not a weakness, but rather is the only thing preventing heroes from becoming villains themselves, which is why later on Batman had a strict code of conduct in which he swore never to use guns and never to intentionally kill an adversary. The latter rule was the one Joker tried to repeatedly get Batman to break in "The Dark Knight" (2009).

That's why, even though I was able to learn so much from my boss, it was this same clash of personalities that made me realize that our mentor-mentee relationship would inevitably have to end, in this case because I would end up leaving the company, not unlike how Bruce Wayne ended up leaving Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows so that he could fight injustice in the way he saw fit.

Interestingly enough, my boss seemed to know from the start that I was not meant to continue working in a traditional corporate environment, and she let me know early on, even though I myself did not quite realize it yet. Sometime in late 2010, I was having a conversation with her over coffee about what I might want to do over the next 5 to 10 years. Even though I wasn't exactly sure at the time, I told her that I might want to go into consulting, because I could learn a great deal while I was figuring out what I really wanted to do, while gaining valuable experience across many different industries.

However, she replied by telling me outright that I am not fit to be a consultant, and that working in a "more creative" field would be much more appropriate. At first this caught me off guard, and I remember feeling quite insulted because I thought she was trying to tell me that I wasn't "good enough" to work at a top consulting firm.

But it's very interesting looking back now and realizing that she was totally right, because nowadays I couldn't even imagine myself as a consultant, given how set I've become on becoming an entrepreneur and trying to create something radical and new that could change the world. This is something that's simply not possible within a finance or consulting context.

In a way, I think the nature of almost all mentor-mentee relationships is that they must eventually come to an end. Once the mentee has learned enough from the mentor, then it's time to move on and make your own path. This was the case with Bruce Wayne & Ra's al Ghul, as well as with Mark Zuckerberg & Sean Parker, Warren Buffett & Benjamin Graham, etc.

As detailed in the movie "The Social Network" and in other media, Sean Parker was instrumental in the early expansion of Facebook, but eventually Mark Zuckerberg learned enough and gained enough confidence to take over the reins at Facebook and come into his own as a CEO.

And as demonstrated in this video clip from Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne eventually had to part ways with Ra's al Ghul when he realized that his philosophy regarding justice and crime-fighting was simply too much at odds with that of the League of Shadows.

So starting on September 22nd I will be starting down that new path, one that is sure to be very stressful and full of uncertainty but more rewarding and fulfilling than anything I've ever done before.

I am leaving behind the corporate world and the world of finance and banking, and I am starting from complete scratch to try and become an entrepreneur, i.e. someone who changes the way people live and the way the world works, for the better.

It's funny, I always talk about how I'm Batman, but in fact if I were to measure my own life against Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, I am not even at the halfway point of the first film, Batman Begins. Which means I'm barely 1/6 of the way through my superhero journey.

There's still a long ways to go, but I can't wait to find out what the remaining 5/6 holds in store for me :)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Batman Was An Entrepreneur

Many of you reading this have probably already seen the highly anticipated movie "The Dark Knight Rises," which is the third and final chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

I assure you I won't be spoiling anything in this entry, but I will be talking about Batman and why his thought process and journey to becoming "The Bat" are no different from that of any aspiring entrepreneur.

A lot of people I know seem to misunderstand exactly what an "entrepreneur" is.

"Entrepreneur" is not synonymous with "business founder" or "small-business owner." Opening your own restaurant means you own your own business but it does not make you an "entrepreneur" per se.

There is no single, universally agreed-upon definition for the term "entrepreneur," but in my mind a true "entrepreneur" is someone who is extremely dissatisfied with the way things are in the world, has a compelling vision for how that world could be made better, and dedicates his/her life to trying to make that vision a reality, while taking on huge risk and making many personal sacrifices in the process.

And that is what Bruce Wayne did.

In "Batman Begins," Gotham City, the city that Bruce Wayne had grown up in and called home, had been completely overrun by corruption and injustice. Criminals were running the city, and the very people who were supposed to be fighting these criminals (cops, lawyers, etc.) were accepting handsome bribes from them to stay quiet so that the criminals could stay in power.

Bruce Wayne became Batman because he hated what Gotham City had become, and he hated the fact that no one was willing to do anything about it. No one was willing to take a stand, and everyone was too scared of what might become of them if they did so.

By becoming Batman and becoming a symbol of strength and defiance against injustice, Batman was able to bring hope to Gotham City - hope that there was indeed light at the end of the tunnel and that the darkness that had enshrouded the city for so long may one day eventually pass.

And by being the one person bold enough to openly fight injustice, he was also able to inspire others to be like him, and inspire others like him to join him in the fight against criminals and the corrupt. He showed the people of Gotham that by joining together and fighting together, that a better world was indeed possible and that they (and not some "future generation") could be a part of it.

That is a big reason why I want to become an entrepreneur, and why I want to continuously document my journey via this blog.

This is how *I* see the world -

I see a world where too many young people around me choose to ignore their passions and neglect their god-given talents in favor of a steadier, more well-paying life. This, despite every research study on happiness consistently showing that prioritizing money in one's career is a one-way street to dissatisfaction and regret later in life.

I believe young people aren't meant to pursue stability and money while they are young. That is for when you are in your 40s and 50s and you have a spouse and kids that you need to provide for. Your 20s and 30s should be a time of adventure and discovery and taking crazy risks, but I see so many young people around me skipping over this stage of life and going straight to a middle-age mindset.

I see a world where many people want to pursue their dreams and want to try something new and exciting that could make an impact on the world, but find themselves unable to take the necessary risks and make the necessary sacrifices to do so.

I believe that entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit is an amazing force which is the lifeblood of a healthy society, and I believe that the more entrepreneurs there are in the world (especially compared to now), the better off our society will be.

But the problem is that becoming an entrepreneur is one of the riskiest and most difficult things you could ever do. It's a known fact that more than 95% of all entrepreneurs ultimately end up failing and are forced to dissolve their venture, or sell it for pennies on the dollar if they are so "lucky."

And it's also a known fact that entrepreneurship and successful tech companies are dominated by engineers and computer science majors, to the point that people like me who come from a humanities background and have zero technical background are told from the get-go that we have basically have no chance of ever making it in "their world."

But I want to show that it is possible.

I want to show others like me, others who have always wanted to make an impact on the world but lack the requisite skills and/or feel like it's "too late" and they're "too old" now to give it a shot, that it is indeed possible and it's never too late to do what you love. To do what you were MEANT to do.

If I could rewind my life, I would have taken more computer science courses as a kid and learned to appreciate earlier on the amazing work that goes into creating all the amazing devices and software that have become so ubiquitous in every facet of our lives. I WISH now that I had become a computer geek who knew how to build my own applications and my own websites from scratch, and who could drop out of college to start my own company in my early 20s.

But the fact is that that's not the case. Instead, I am nearing 30 years of age, I come from a humanities background, I've been working in an industry (banking) for the past 4+ years that I see no future for myself in, and I have ZERO prior knowledge of computers and how technology really works.

But I've fallen in love with technology (particularly the web) and its amazing potential to change the world for the better.

And I want to give this entrepreneurship thing a try, even if there's a greater-than 99% chance that I'm going to fail.

So I'm going to train myself. I'm going to learn coding and programming from scratch and study this stuff like my life depends on it, until it becomes all I can ever think about.

And I'm going to move back to the US and live poor and unglamourously for the next several years of my life, as I work to make ends meet during the day and then in my free time network tirelessly with other aspiring entrepreneurs as I slowly but surely work towards building my own tech product that could possibly change the world.

It's not going to be easy. In fact, it's probably going to be the hardest and most hopeless thing I've ever attempted to do in my life.

But I want to give it a shot.

Because even if I don't make it, even if I fail, even if I never end up making the type of impact on society that I had hoped...

...maybe I'll be able to inspire someone else out there, someone like me and who had the same thoughts and concerns as me. Maybe my example could be the "push" that that person needed to take the plunge and follow their dreams, and maybe that guy or girl will be the one who ends up changing the world.

Even if I couldn't...

Thanks for reading, and I hope you can join me on my journey :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tell me your "Second Language Story"

Hello friends, here is my latest language "survey" which I've also posted via Facebook.

Would love to hear some of your stories ^_^

I'd love to hear about what (second) language you've always wanted to learn (English? Spanish? Chinese? Japanese? Russian?), and hear your own personal story about WHY and HOW you came to want to learn that language i.e. what was the original motivating factor for you?

For example, was it a specific person(s) you wanted to be able to communicate with? A movie or book or music you wanted to be able to enjoy in the original language? etc.

Your story can be normal and straightforward, or it can be surprising and/or funny, but more than anything I'd love to hear from as many people as possible and get a broad spectrum of stories on WHY people chose to study the languages that they do.

I understand that sharing this kind of story can be a pretty private thing, so if you would like to help me out, please share your story via private message via my Facebook or my email (see below).


With that said, it's only fair that I start things off by sharing my own silly but all-too-true story haha.

I started learning Spanish since middle school (7th grade) not because I really wanted to but because everyone was required to take a second language back then, and between the two choices of French or Spanish, I chose Spanish because I figured it would be more useful since more people speak it.

But then sometime in high school, I found out about this woman named Adriana Lima (see picture below), a Brazilian supermodel, and I was in love at first sight. I had a large-size poster of this exact same image on my wall all throughout college.

I wanted to get really good at Spanish so that when I met her, I could really communicate with her and impress her with my mad skillz.

I would soon find out though, to my horror, that they don't speak Spanish in Brazil.


But fortunately for me, not too long after, I did some Google research and was relieved to learn that Adriana Lima actually is fluent in Spanish as well (WHEW THAT WAS CLOSE). Thus, my quest to learn Spanish was not all for naught, as I had initially feared.

Again, if you have your own language story you'd like to share, please let me know via private Facebook message or via email.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/petershin45

Email: pshin45@gmail.com

Thanks so much, it would mean the world to me! :)