posts moving to

January 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Heads up: I’m moving all my posts to

I’ll keep blogging along similar lines, but just wanted to give all of you a quick heads up.

Thanks for all the support 🙂

Categories: Uncategorized

Contract Negotiation: Case Study in Contingent Thinking, Behavioral Economics

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Whether in sales or strategic partnerships, a deal closes once a contract has been agreed upon. As expected, both sides are going to haggle over the nuances surrounding some of the greater business terms. At this point in time, negotiators are brought in to hammer out the final terms. Many would argue that agreeing on the final decisions is an art itself–this is indeed the opinion of many a “closer,” those always-in-high-demand negotiators who are able to harangue the best terms all while tying off the sales cycle quickly. Just as it is very difficult to quantify the distinction between mediocre and great salespeople, it is very difficult to pinpoint a great closer. Most people will say the distinction is intuitive–you just know when you see one.

From experience, I can say that the secret to negotiations is simple (but difficult to practice). The secret sauce of successful contract negotiation lies in understanding your opposing negotiator’s opposing point of view. In other words, the person who most completely understands their equivalent’s point of view–or to paraphrase Jerry Weissman, their WIIFY (what’s in it for you) – will best be able to broker acceptable compromise. Understanding one’s opponents’ WIIFY is difficult to do, but not impossible. What “closers” call intuitive is simply an organized plan of attack in haggling over terms.  In fact, a systematic framework for contract negotiation can be established by understanding the opposite negotiator’s key business goals; once one has understood the other side’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement, one can be in a better position to ink favorable business terms that seems acceptable to the other side.

The framework one applies in optimizing the best terms resulting from contract negotiation can be exemplified in a light case study of behavioral game theory, especially one that draws from the realm of contingent thinking. According to the main tenets of behavioral economics, people’s actions under certain time constrains can be categorized. Behavioral game theory details what people do when playing games (i.e. puzzles, prisoner’s dilemma scenarios, etc.). Normative analysis postulates what people should do (i.e. what people should do to maximize positive externalities). In contrast, positive analysis predicts what people actually do. So in scenarios where two parties are faced with two alternative decisions (in the trite prisoner’s dilemma scenario, “rat on partner” or “stay silent”), the best decision to take can usually be summed up by the Nash Equilibrium. In this situation, the negotiator, having fully understood his choices and those of his opposing party, has no incentive to deviate from the decision he ultimately chooses.  Nash Equilibriums are possible in certain situations, but they are rare, especially if the game is not zero-sum.  For instance, it may be difficult to pinpoint Nash Equilibrium if one plays the game over multiple rounds; in this new case, one’s choice can instead turn into a strategy.  As a matter of fact, a dominant strategy is dominant if it is the best response to any feasible strategy that others might play. In mathematical terms, displaying the utility function of dominant strategy is as follows:

If si = dominant strategy, then Ui(si*, s-i) > ui(si’, s-i) for all s-i, si’ si*

In a game where you can do multiple iterations, your choice of action providing the best result can be difficult to pinpoint unless one keeps in mind what one’s opponent decides. This is contingent thinking in its full form: one has to make a decision based on what one thinks one’s opponent will do. This is exactly what contract negotiation is: one has to hedge one’s bets by understanding what is valuable to the person one is in negotiation with, consequently choosing what to give in to and what to fight over.

The p-beauty game repeatedly tried in behavioral economic case studies best exemplifies the applications of contingent thinking to contract negotiation.  In the p-beauty game (Moulin 1986), all participants are asked to simultaneously pick a number between 0 and 100. The winner of the contest is the person(s) whose number is closest to 2/3 (an arbitrary p value usually picked by the mediator that falls between 0 and 1*) times the average of all numbers submitted. How do you win this game? By choosing a number contingent of what one thinks other people will choose. In this case, one knows that the highest possible mean is 100, so choosing below (2/3)* 100 is a dominated strategy (best strategy one can take considering what you think other people will do). One can do better by choosing as low as (2/3)* (2/3)* 100–in this case one assumes that everybody else had the same reasoning as you and picked (2/3)*100 as the average, so one has to pick (2/3) * (2/3) * 100 to win the game. The same logic applies when one considers if other people think of the aforementioned strategy a step further (as you just did), so one decides to take one’s iterated decision a step further and choose between (2/3)*(2/3)*(2/3)*100 and (2/3)*(2/3)*100. Extending this process N steps results in the following conclusion: the highest possible valuation of the mean is 100*(2/3)^N, so one can do better by choosing at least as low as 100*(2/3)^(N+1). If everyone practices this sort of contingent thinking, then the best possible number to choose is 0. However, we know in the real world, not everybody will be practicing this sort of contingent thinking (I sure didn’t when I played this game for the first time). So one has to take that in consideration, and hedge one’s bets by choosing a number a little more than 0 rather than exactly 0. That gives one the highest realistic probability that one’s chosen number will win.

In the p-beauty game, one has to make a realistic decision by contingently thinking of what one’s opponent(s) may decide to do.  This happens every day when one negotiates contracts. As Roger Fisher and William Ury explain in their book Getting to Yes, arriving at the best business terms comes from negotiating on merits rather than on positions. They argued that negotiators need to focus on the issues and not the people, generate a variety of creative possibilities that can be mutually agreed to, and insist that final decisions be made on a rational basis rather than arbitrary or emotional ones. Ultimately, when one understands the opposing side’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement–BATNA as Fisher and Ury write–then one can avoid negotiating from a bottom line, allowing for flexibility in negotiated terms that are favorable to both sides. Just as in the p-beauty game where one has to make decisions based on what other people will decide, the contract negotiator has to ask for terms that they think can be agreed to by both sides.

Ultimately a contract is a formal approval for a relationship to progress between two sides. The one lesson that I’ve taken away from my own experiences is the following: sometimes it’s worth losing some battles for the sake of preserving the relationship with your business partner. Especially if you are inking the beginning of a partnership, whether distribution or channel, the potential upsell will be more expedient if the relationship begins on good terms. One must  understand what your partner’s BATNA is for the contract negotiation to be fruitful.

Sadly, sometimes each side’s BATNAs is more attractive than any compromise, and one side walks. Sometimes preserving the relationships means discounting the potential utility from future endeavors in hope that the future discounted utility is greater than the present BATNA’s. The relationship is the most important factor to keep in consideration when contracts are being negotiation–sometimes not having that relationship in place is an unacceptable BATNA. This is a card that needs to be played close to the chest when dealing in hostile conversations.

The truly skillful negotiator will prepare for his séances with the other side by meticulously researching what the partner’s BATNA is, and strategize his thinking so that the resulting compromises is better than his own BATNA. Indeed, planning one step ahead–or multiple steps, as exemplified by the p-beauty game–separates the best “closers” from the mediocre.

[*if p=1 then there are many possible Nash equilibria, as there are multiple dominant strategies. ]

App Discovery: Can, and Should We, Open Up the Walled Gardens?

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

In the last couple of years, we have transformed the way we consume software by placing the app at the center of the user experience. Whether we use mobile apps, add a browser plug-in, or download web platform extensions, we are essentially utilizing pieces of technology that can be accessed on multiple devices, on multiple platforms, and at any time.  Indeed, we have had an incredible amount of success in simplifying our personal and work lives by enabling interaction with apps that perform what we want to do. But with great change comes a slew of problems–the millions of pieces of software we call apps have created a headache on a functional and discovery level.

The functional problem now lies with the structure of the app ecosystem. We access apps through many different stores, platforms, and devices. For instance, the mobile app that you download exists in different versions depending on the OS. Currently, developers want to cater to the user experience–focusing on scaling their apps to the experience contingent on the platform strategically makes sense in the short run. Platforms are even trying to accommodate this: BB10’s new App Store accommodates developers building apps in whichever language they choose. From a portal’s perspective, this makes sense: allow developers to build in the language they feel most comfortable with will attract more users to build apps that can be found within their store.

Whether this strategy is valid in the long run is still subject to discussion, but the ramifications in the short term are clear. For now, app stores will cater to the current fractured ecosystem by maintaining the structure of the market place for apps. Aside from Facebook, which is the only global distribution channel, a universal app store that captures the whole ecosystem of apps, providing a catalogue of software that can live on all platforms, will not come to existence any time soon. As a direct result of the duopoly between iOS and Android, app discovery continues to be a problem .From the perspective of the end user, finding the right app is a nightmare–try scrolling through Apple or Google’s top ten lists and categories where only the top apps within each set is ever listed. This only captures the tip of the iceberg: there are hundred of thousands of apps that don’t make it into those top lists, and as a direct result, never get found. We have made it difficult for everyone to distribute and find apps.

Indeed, both consumers and developers suffer in this model. From the consumer side, we do not get enough options. It’s great that Pandora is the most popular app to listen to streaming music, but is there an other apps that performs a similar function, but can do it even better? It is in the eye of the beholder to decide that, and having the freedom to choose the app that best fits the way you envision broadens your horizons and your experience as a user. From the developer’s standpoint, getting discovered is difficult if not impossible: imagine building an app, but unable to market it because the channels are so congested. On top of that, passive browsing as it enabled now makes it difficult for a developer’s app to be found; they have to put in much effort to appear in one of the categories that only show of twenty top apps in a vertical where thousands exist. The bottleneck effect has dire effects on both consumers and developers.

The issue of discoverability, in conjunction with the fragmentation of the app ecosystem, reiterates that our access to functionality will continue to be reduced to the type of device and the sort of OS we have been given access to. Our app stores are in essence walled gardens: inwards looking, taking in consideration only its plot of land (the OS), controlled by an oligarchy of gatekeepers (Google, Apple, Microsoft, RIM).

From afar, the solution appears quite simple: in a world where people want to be able to do anything, from anywhere, at any time, breaking down the walls of the garden will restructure the broken app ecosystem and return power to users everywhere. Splintering the oligarchy of the gatekeepers and allowing for other major players to create their own portals will democratize the access of apps. The arrival of HTML5 will derail the current structure of the mobile world by allowing web apps to be a new standard (even though this may take a while, I’m optimistic). Ultimately, it could open up the ecosystem and enable other players to innovate. Just as a monopoly sees itself forced to lower prices and return surplus to users when competition enters the market, opening up the playing field to allow other players such as carriers, search engines, web platforms, handset manufacturers to create new paradigms for finding apps will balance an inefficient market place.

But this is easier said then done: how exactly do you break down the walls? By creating more app stores? That experience is already fragmented as it is, and adding another one convolutes the ecosystem further.  Even carriers, who are desperate to innovate at any level, seem to moving away from creating white-labeled app stores. We could argue that users need to be reeducated–they need to learn that there are other ways to discover apps. Dissenters would counter that providing an alternative experience is fruitless, as the app stores are here to stay. Regardless of the system’s architecture, they would say that users are comfortable with the current discovery experience even though it is flawed.

In the long run, innovation can dynamically change the user experience; change can happen either within the stronghold app stores, or outside of them. Improving the browsing experience, whether by ameliorating passive search or institutionalizing an active process, should be the end goal. Creating a new architecture to a system that finds apps (a toolbar? a pre-installed app? A widget?) is also another direction which could and probably should be investigated. In the end, we should not deprecate users. Within the last years we educated ourselves on how to access apps, so if app distributors tweak that experience by placing a tool within our field of vision (i.e. the real estate on a phone) that draws and captures our eye, we can be persuaded to hop onto another discovery model. Users will try out this new access tool as long as it is compelling and can easily be found.

Making it compelling enough is now up to us.

Categories: Uncategorized

Why Harvard Did Not Get Schooled: Defense Against BetaBeat’s article, and Ramifications

July 14, 2012 Leave a comment

On July 10th, Kelly Faircloth wrote an article entitled “Harvard Gets Schooled: As Techies Flock to Stanford, MIT, Even Penn, Crimson Goes Green With Envy.” She argues that Harvard does not prepare its students to spearhead any sort of entrepreneurial venture. Faircloth continues that your typical Harvard student–who, according to Kelly, has never had to live a “disruptive” life–is ill-prepared for the vicissitudes of start-up life.

Faircloth argues that Harvard will continue to lag behind MIT, Penn, and Stanford in preparing students for start-up life. She concedes Harvard will not be ousted as a beacon of excellence any time of soon. Indeed, the exit opportunities for the graduating class of 2012 reflects that the Crimson keeps sending its graduates to the top consulting and I-banking institutions; many more enroll in top PhD programs and law schools. Yet Faircloth argues that Harvard students aren’t suited for start-ups. So to speak, they’ve been taught to color within the lines, not outside of them. The creativity and willingness to break the established norms of technology and society are traits common to start-up visionaries. These qualities are not usually associated with the over-achieving, type-A, extra-credit-on-homework-seeking Harvard students. Certainly, the institution has redeeming qualities, but Faircloth wonders whether a cultural shift  in the university’ framework can foster entrepeneurial spirits that seem to have sprouted more easily at Stanford. But while Faircloth mentions that computer science is becoming more popular in the College, and that working for start-ups post graduation is becoming sexier, her tone remains skeptical. Can Harvard really keep up with Stanford, MIT, and Penn in the quest to prepare students to become the next entrepreneurial visionaries?

While this argument is trivial, almost inconsequential in the larger scheme of themes (scroll down to my second last paragraph if you don’t want to hear about another trivial Ivy League vs Stanford argument), it still merits discussion for the sake of argument.Having joined a start-up immediately post graduation, and knowing a fair number of other grads who have done so, and others who have started their own companies, I believe that Faircloth’s argument needs to be qualified and refined.

I disagree first and foremost with her implication that Harvard kids are not ready for start-up life. Harvard teaches you how to compete with some of the hungriest, most ambitious young adults. You have to adapt quickly, and work in groups to improve your chances to score better on that problem set or exam. In the end the material you learn may not be the most useful–my focus field was intellectual history, and I built a background in microeconomics and game theory–but the methods by which you learn impact you later during your career. Four years at school taught me how to be resourceful and scrappy. This means that I have no problems doing anything and everything. And I am not the only one who has this mentality–conversations with some of my graduating friends agree that to succeed you have to do anything (within moral guidelines of course). This mentality, or this desire to do everything you can to put yourself in a position of success, transfers directly to start-up life. If you’re on the technical side, you will be willing to code all day, every day. If you’re on the business side, you will help your director of bd and do your own competitive research to locate potential partners, or you’ll hit the pavement and source your own deals. In either case, Harvard grads will be creative enough to adapt their analytical skills to the grind of start-up life. In essence, Harvard kids are ready for start-up life because they already have this inner motivation that drives them to go the extra mile.

Faircloth also argued that Harvard does not have the same types of connections to Silicon Valley that are available to Stanford students; therefore, in a couple of years it will be difficult to locate Harvard grads in the up and coming companies of the Valley. I believe Faircloth’s comment should be qualified. From my experience, it was a bit more difficult to connect with entrepreneurs on the west coast; I had to use my own network to find out which start-ups were hiring. As someone with a background in business, not engineering, it was even more difficult to find smaller companies looking to expand their bd or strategic partnerships departments. Harvard’s network is a great resource, do not get me wrong. When you’re in Silicon Valley competing against Stanford and Berkeley kids, you can raise an eyebrow or two with Harvard written on your resume. Nonetheless, drawing from my experience, I would agree with Faircloth’s argument that Stanford is at an advantage because it is so close proximity to Silicon Valley’s human capital–that tight-nit community is hard to come by unless you are within at the epicenter of it all. Harvard just doesn’t have that.

Let’s address one of Faircloth’s more salient points–can Harvard adequately prepare their students to understand technical concepts and prepare them to build software products? Certainly, MIT and Stanford are consistently ranked higher than Harvard in engineering school rankings. However, Harvard still has all the resources in place to train the new generation of engineers and product managers. There is no question about that. I want to qualify Faircloth’s argument because from my inside perspective, I realized that Harvard does a great job training generalists. The beauty at Harvard lies in the way a student can major in a liberal art and get a secondary field in a technical field, thus balancing a broad analytical skill set with a technical know-how. The counter-argument might edict that any of Havard’s rivals could do the same. To a certain extent, yes, but I think that this concentration-secondary field combination is more popular at Harvard than at the other schools. Product managers in particular need to have a fine business acumen all while being versed in a technical training–the dual study that Harvard enables is a formidable preparation for that. (again this train of thought comes from my own personal experience…if you have any statistics saying differently I’d love to see them).

At the end of the day, this discussion is trivial. Does anyone really care if Harvard is better than Stanford or vice versa? And let’s not forget that they’re not the only schools that send qualified talent to Silicon Valley. Let’s stop pretending that these institutions are the jewels for preparing businessmen and women and engineers to enter the real world. I wanted to qualify Faircloth’s argument. Things are never as black and white as they seem, and Faircloth does a great job in nuancing her points. I’ve tried taking that a step further. But at the end of our discussions, we have to realize–and by we, I mean you, the reader, and me, the writer–that there is more to life than the institution that prepared you. These types of meta arguments are trivial, and make us roll our eyes.

But I hope that this discussion shows us that Silicon Valley highlights that we should look past the brand on the resume, as in the end, it doesn’t matter where you went to school, but whether you can deliver. Whether you’re a startup or an established software company in the valley, you’re only as good as the product or services you deliver. My argument might be inconsequential, but its ramifications are not.

Categories: Harvard, Technology

The Obsession with Mobile

July 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Silicon Valley is abuzz. The rise in seed stage valuations has people wondering whether we are in another bubble. Investors are clamoring about cloud computing, whispering about Google’s Dropbox killer, and wondering if Box is actually worried at all by these turn of events. In the grand scheme of things, all these points of discussion circle around one grand theme. It is an important development, one that has changed consumer behavior unconditionally.

I am talking about none other than the obsession with mobile.

About a year ago I started this blog. Back then, my foray into mobile hinged around payments. I was particularly interested in the rise of NFC, arguing that it was the most exciting development in that field. In my opinion,  I believed that NFC could change payments by making transactions more seamless and convenient. However, I warned that the technology would not gain any traction unless the card networks pushed it forward. I concluded, “As long as  card networks decide to be tenuous in their efforts to make mobile the go-to method for processing payments, and while we wait for NFC to become more wildly adopted, the window of opportunity remains small for companies not already established in the payment space.”

So while I was busy trying to figure out how NFC would take off, I seemed to have naively missed the most important question: does mobile payments even solve a problem?

According to Jordan Crook from TechCrunch, it does not. “Where mobile payments are concerned, there is no problem to be solved.” He makes a convincing argument by discrediting the need to make credit cards transactions even more convenient than they already are. His strongest point, however, has to do with his analysis regarding the future of NFC. Tech journalists and entrepreneurs have insisted that NFC is 5 to 10 years away. Whether that is correct or not cannot be ascertained anytime soon. But Crook says that by the time NFC does gain traction (whether it’s wihtin that time frame or not, it does not matter), another technology will have replaced it and made it irrelevant.

Crook’s piece is clear and optimistic. Clear in the sense that his step by step analysis of NFC’s relevance to mobile payments is easy to follow. Optimistic in the sense that he implies that if mobile payments is to ever solve a problem (that apparently hasn’t arisen yet), there will be a technology more innovative enough to solve it.

I do, however, have to disagree with his belief that mobile payments is irrelevant. I will admit that I have grown more skeptical over the last year of the redeeming characteristics of NFC. That does not mean that mobile payments is simply a fad. At this point I might have to retract some of my thoughts, but now I think that NFC may be trying too eagerly to erase credit cards by incorporating them into mobile devices. Des Moines based start-up Dwolla might be taking the more pragmatic approach by bundling and optimizing credit cards. As Pandodaily reported, “A single Visa-branded Wallaby card will link to all existing cards and dynamically rout transactions based on preferences for things like rewards, miles, interest rate optimization, and savings. Wallaby does not extend its own lines of credit or even checking or debit accounts. The company simply offers a cloud-based digital wallet tied to a single smart payment card.” In other words, if a user has an iphone enabled by a Dwolla mobile app, that person can engage in different transactions without having to worry which credit card is being charged: it’s already taken care of, because Dwolla has made transactions adhere to “each user’s personal preferences and objectives, while being frictionless and simple.”

To me, Dwolla’s foray into mobile payments tells me that innovation can faciliate credit card transactions. I’m still convinced that there’s a problem to be solved. How it will be done, I do not know, but I am confident that it can.

This last train of thought has led me into another direction. The fact that we are talking about a Dwolla mobile app rather than a desktop app is telling of the shift in consumer behavior. Mobile apps, or simply pieces of software that we can access on our phones, are dominating the way we play games, interact, and organize our lives. As VC Fred Wilson wrote, there seems to be a paradigm shift to “mobile first, web second.” While web services are “flatlining”, mobile services are expanding rapidly. Chris Dixon (co-founder of Hunch) went further and said that the saying should be “offline first, mobile enabled.” In other words, the first exciting trend surrounding apps has to do with the move from the desktop to the mobile device. The next trend, the one that Dixon believes to be even more exciting, has to do with mobile app’s potential to improve our day-to-day lives. He concluded, “The really massive opportunity is dreaming up new ways that the little computers loaded with sensors that we carry around with us everywhere can improve our real-world experiences.”

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? There are millions of apps, but how many actually make a meaningful difference in our lives? And even if there were apps that have already been coded and are functional, how do we access them–how do we find them? (see Apple’s acquisition of Chomp, Facebook’s release of a new app store, Appsfire…more on that later)

I think mobile is exciting right now simply because the mega trends within the space have–for a lack of a better word– mega implications. SaaS is increasingly focusing on mobile as the centerpiece of their strategy moving forward. Mobile security is the new hot spot for security companies such as McAfee and Symantec. As workers increasingly bring their own devices to work, how can companies secure their employees’ data all while complying with compliance standards AND not infringing on their privacy? This is called the ‘bring your own device’ dilemma, and it has internet security companies scrambling around building proprietary technology and/or buying up smaller start-ups.

And if we are going to expand from the minute details to the larger macro vision, let’s look at the global implications of mobile apps. Think of the possibilities in Third World. Countries in Africa and India are going to leapfrog technological milestones that developed countries waddled through simply by nature of their rapid growth. Again, I can see moves being made in mobile payments there (even though when I talked to a principal at visa’s corporate strategy office in sf he said they were going to try to continue their business model in developing countries, which could mean my hypothesis is a load of bs). Mobile health services are going to be an asset–think of how much more convenient it will be for low- and middle- class citizens in the Third World to contact doctors, get diagnosed, and get prescriptions. Mobile apps are easily accesible pieces of software, so imagine for instance if NGOs can leverage these to their benefit…Again these are lofty expectations, theoretically minded questions. Nonetheless this explains why people are so obsessed with the possibilities of mobile.

Web 2.0 is all about mobile. I’m sure that’s been said before, but following my train of thought as I segwayed from mobile payments to mobile applications has made me realize what all the fuss has been about.
Categories: Mobile, Payments

Impending Mayhem in Asia, and Starting Work for Quixey

June 5, 2012 1 comment

The last couple of weeks have been surreal. After four years, I graduated from Harvard University. I was able to share this unbelievable experience with my grandparents, who flew all the way from Southern France to Cambridge for the week. And the future couldn’t be more exciting: in June I will be traveling around Asia (Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai) with three close buddies. In July, I will be joining Quixey, a start-up that has built a functional search engine for apps. I couldn’t be more excited to be moving back to San Francisco and working with a team composed of brilliant engineers, driven and effective BD guys, and type A senior leadership. I’ll be reporting to David Hytha, CSO, for a bit as I learn (hopefully quickly) my way around the company before being transferred to either the business development or product team.

This entry is more of a stream of consciousness-esque post. The last semester has been an incredible ride, full of late nights–some spent out with friends, and others burning the midnight oil in Widener finishing up my thesis, and others yet spent in my corner in Currier House bugging my roommate. Now that I’ve finally had some time to internalize everything, I’d like to share some of the thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head.

Graduation: Commencement of a New Chapter

Harvard is often treated as the pinnacle of success. I was one of two people in my high school graduating class to be accepted into Harvard. In my hometown, people’s perception instantly changed: I was no longer the class clown who sat in the back of class, the joke who participated the in the sophomoric stand-up comedy club, or the water polo jock who always smelled of chlorine from morning practice. I was now a Harvard undergrad, one expected to succeed at everything, to change the world.

Arrogantly, I welcomed the change–I was a cocky high school senior who strutted around, confident that I could waltz into Harvard and have everything fall into my lap. Four years later, I can only laugh at how naive I was. I remember my high school European history teacher, Mr. Florio, telling me that I never worked that hard in his classes. I balked, telling him that I had actually spent a lot of time preparing for APs, SATs, and the rest of that alphabetized soup of tests. He told me that I would have to step it up in college if I ever were to succeed.

I’m glad I went to college at Harvard, because I slowly and painfully learned to rise to the next level, all while getting a taste of failure. In four years, I was challenged academically. I learned how to learn. I taught myself how to be meticulous in learning class material rather than simply cram; how to prepare for tests by anticipating hypotheticals; and how to understand ideas frontwards and backwards. In four years, I lost many times. I lost big, and I lost often. Freshman year I received the worst grades I had ever received in my life. I lost more water polo games in one year than I did in four years in high school. My freshmen and sophomore year I played in as many water polo games as I did as a freshman starter on the JV team at Menlo Atherton High. My senior year I flew around the country–NYC, D.C, SF, LA–interviewing for consulting and corporate strategy firms, all to be rejected time and time again. To say my ego was bruised is to say the French were a little bit embarrassed by their national team debacle in the 2010 World Cup. I’m glad I went to Harvard because things I took for granted–success being one of them–no longer came on a silver plate.

In the grand scheme of things, my failures were not a big deal. In fact, they were infantile, pitiful compared to greater pitfalls that I have personally seen plague other people. I had the privilege of traveling in Beijing with a close family friend who was born and raised there, and who showed me how poverty really affects the average citizens. I’ve seen family members in France deal with kids dropping out of school and erasing their potential simply because they had not pursued their education. Trying to support your family, trying to get from one day to the other–those are real struggles. The common trivialities that I faced at Harvard were in the grand scheme of things miniscule and insignificant, and I cringe at the thought that I blew them out of proportion while at school. I should’ve have looked on the positive side, seen what I had going for myself (or as they say in French, I should’ve realized ce que j’avais dans le creux de ma main, or what I had in the small of my hand), and not complain.

Harvard kids are often seen as molded and motivated by the successes that seem to follow them around. But it’s the failures, albeit as small as they may be, that shape us the most. You learn more from when you make a mistake because you want to be damned sure you don’t repeat it.

But you also learn how to take joy from small things. When I was walking around in Beijing with my family friend in the areas tourists are made to avoid, I talked to a retired Chinese colonel. He proudly showed me his little apartment, where he proudly showed his one heirloom: the sword that he had been in his ownership since the first day he had become an officer. He looked on the positive side of his life, and drew happiness from that in a place where happiness was tough to come by. That lesson wouldn’t fully dawn on me until last week.

Real World: “Passion Rules Obligation”

One of the more memorable undergrad speeches delivered during senior week discussed the value of enthusiasm. People fall into the depths of cynicism and pessimism and lose sight of the innocence and happiness often accompanying youthfulness. We should not lose sight of that enthusiasm, because it is contagious and fulfilling–it allows for one to fully enjoy what one is doing.

My good friend, Jason Kwok, explains this point the best in his blog. In an article called “Passion Rules Obligation,” Jason reflected on his experiences interning at JPMorgan and Google while at UCLA (he graduated in three and a half years #legend). For me, his most introspective point is as follows:

“At this time of my life, I need to grow. I need to push myself to become faster, smarter, and more efficient. I don’t know if obligation will accomplish this. I know that passion will. Passion Rules Obligation.”

I couldn’t agree more. At this point in my life, I also figure I should also take a risk and pursue my passion. (check out the rest of the post at

I’ve always wanted to build something of value, and get a product in the hands of many. Maybe it’s because I was raised in the Bay Area, but I always felt that tech companies did an incredible job of solving people’s problems in creative ways. The problems start-ups tackle every day are intellectually challenging and rewarding. I love sitting down with engineers and bd guys in order to understand how a product works, and then thinking of different ways to get it in the hands of people.

That’s why I’m joining Quixey in July. The start-up is located smack in the middle of everything. In spite of what pundits say about the value of NYC and other tech hubs as the new beacons of technological innovation, I still think that Silicon Valley has the soft qualities that allow companies like Quixey to flourish. And I think Quixey is tackling a complex problem. Search is technologically fascinating, and Quixey is building a functional and platform agnostic search engine that draws on its unique database, one that took two years to put together before launching. The start-up defines apps as more than just the ones found in your iPhone and Android directories, but also as plug-ins and pieces of software associated with websites and APIs such as Flickr and Groupon. In a world where there are millions upon millions of apps, Quixey organizes all that date by gathering and collecting data published on blogs, Twitter feeds, review sites, and media outlets, and draws upon that data in order to allow users to search for the apps using natural language. The implications are indeed astounding.

I’m excited to be part of the team. I really believe in the people working at the company; I’m looking forward to learn about the product and expand my technical skills and business know-how; and ultimately, I’m thrilled to be helping grow a company I believe can make a lasting impact. This is the beauty of working for a start-up: on one hand you can crash and burn, or you can make a company that gets bought up and helps an already established firm improve their business. And if you’re legendary, you build a stand alone and (maybe?) public company. I love to compete, and this seems to be one the biggest competitions I could face. I’m relishing the challenge.

Onwards: Living in the Moment

This last thought–the realization that I have always had the unconditional support of friends and family-has made me reflect carefully for the last couple of weeks (not to say I haven’t thought about this for years, but the thought is particularly poignant now that I’m in the real world and I have to look to those closest for even more advice and support). I’ve made a ton of mistakes over the last four years, and particularily the last couple of months. I’ve taken people for granted. Yet I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who genuinely care about me and who have been patient with me.

To those that have seen me through everything, this post is for you. “Only stupid people don’t change,” Madame Popp has told me on multiple occasions while scolding me for making the same mistake over and over again (I think most of them had to do with me not taking the garbage or leaving the ketchup bottle on the table). Hopefully, if I’ve put enough will power into it, I can change (sorry for the corniness, it must be the French side of me flaring up…)

I have much to learn, and a long way to go. But in the meantime, the last four years have an incredible learning experience, and I am excited for the west/best coast, the nights in San Francisco, the days pursuing a dream, and the uncertainty of it all…stay tuned!

Categories: Harvard, Quixey

Blog posts moving to check it out!

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Lebron James style (except maybe with less pomp and definitely a lot less skill relative to what I do), I’m taking my talents to the Harvard College Tech Review (check us out at They’ve been kind enough to accept me as a blogger and, at the same time, indulge me; I also get to run their business development. Basically it’s up to me to grow their footprint at Harvard, partner with other organization to expand our reader base. Super pumped, as this is actually nitty-gritty, dirty work. Senior spring, am I right? (we’ll be hearing that a lot this semester…)

The team is awesome–check out Jason Black, Alex McLeese, Beau Feeny as the guys who put it all together. Super young organization–everyone here is really passionate about what they do. These guys want to write about everything including tech companies’ business strategies, artificial intelligence, web design, the legal ramifications of landmark Supreme Court cases, the impact of social media on lifestyle and business…the possibilites are endless.

If you want to JOIN up, please do! We’re looking for bloggers, web developers, web designers…if you can code, write long winded articles (or short winded, either one works fine, mine will be probably be short and sweet, like Madame Popp’s lemon cake), or if you want to help me grow the blog, email me at apopp [at] fas [dot] harvard [edu].

Sneak peak of what is to come…Alex is going to write a series on the implications of U.S. v. Jones,  as it relates to the future of GPS tracking. Beau is all over Google+ integration into social search and what that means for you…and I’m going to spearhead a lifestyle article this week, explaining how social media can be leveraged to grow brand recognition. From there, I’ll return to my series on location-based services, and the hope to is end up discussing the major trends in the SaaS industry (can we talk about content management?).

Stay tuned!Image

Categories: Harvard