Here are 5 books that I read in one sitting because they are that hard to put down.
1. The Fault in Our StarsI don’t usually read fiction, let alone young adult novels, but this book was something else. It’s a timeless book for anyone of any age. It was appropriately named Time’s #1 fiction book of 2012.
The Fault in Our Stars shares the beautiful story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year-old with cancer, and her crush, Augustus Walters. It’s a love story that makes you laugh, cry, cheer, and everything in between. You follow the unveiling of Hazel and Augustus’ relationship from the first time they meet in the basement of a church to their adventure in Amsterdam. They approach their situation of being sick with such honesty and heartbreaking acceptance. For anyone who has had anyone close die from cancer, this is a story that will certainly be relatable and cathartic.
2. How to Sweet-Talk a Shark
Milken Institute hosted an intimate event of about 100 people to attend a fireside chat with Governor Bill Richardson that I attended back in October. I didn’t know that a big part of the event was Governor Richardson talking about his new book. Out of guilt of not having a copy of the book, I bought a copy at the event. And it was a good choice.
The book is co-written with Kevin Bleyer, who is an Emmy award-winning writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart so you know the book will be funny. The book covers the tough and entertaining negotiations that Governor Richardson had with Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and North Korea’s Kims. Sure, the book is a bit self-promoting, but it’s interesting to hear for example about how Richardson upset Hussein because the former had the bottom of his shoe’s sole turned towards Hussein when he was sitting down. I also enjoyed the story about how Governor Richardson’s relationship with former President Bill Clinton became icy after Governor Richardson chose to endorse President Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton. Admittedly, Richardson says that saying, “No,” to Bill Clinton is pretty hard.
3. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
This is the best business book that I have ever read. So much so that I encouraged all my teammates at Enplug to read it and made copies available to everyone.
The author, Ben Horowitz, is best known for being the second part of top-tier venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz. What’s lesser known is that Ben was CEO of Opsware, an enterprise software company sold to HP for $1.6 billion in 2007. The entertaining and advice-filled book details Horowitz’s struggle building Opsware. He shares how he was able to keep his teammates at his company through times of long and strenuous struggles, where there was no clear financial exit in sight. Unlike the glorious stories of overnight successes into billion-dollar company, The Hard Thing About Hard Thing is a much more grounded and honest narative of the ups and downs of building a tech company. It’s a book that anyone that is part of a team that is building a startup will find useful. Ben reminds us that building a successful company is a marathon, not a sprint.
The author, Sophia Amoruso, is the CEO of Nasty Gal, a $100 million+ revenue e-commerce female clothing company based in Los Angeles. From being part of the LA startup ecosystem, I had heard her name countless times. Finally, I got to learn about her story from #GirlBoss.
Sophia has the most unexpected story to tell: she went from community college drop-out who was caught shoplifting to successful CEO all before she was 30. From her stories about hitchhiking from truck drivers to sitting with the CEO of Michael Kors and remembering how she used to steal Michael Kors products, Sophia tells the story with complete and refreshing bluntness. This is a women who grew selling clothes on eBay to a top e-commerce clothing company and shares her journey in intimate detail. I love her if-you-want-it-then-go-get-off-your-ass-and-do-it attitude. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to pursue entrepreneurship, but are holding back for whatever reason.
5. A Thousand Splendid Suns
From the author of Kite Runner, A Thousand Slendid Suns is one emotionally draining book, in a good way. The part of the book that talks about the two main female protagonists plotting against their abusive husband got my heart of pounding so hard that I had to put the book down for a second and catch my breath.
The story follows two Afghan women from their birth, one in 1959 and one in 1978, and how their very different upbringings somehow led them to eventually live under the same roof and share a husband. Laila is raised in an intellectual, middle class family. Mariam is raised by a single-mother who had her out of wedlock, a disgrace that would come to define Mariam’s future. After the Taliban rises to power in Afghanistan, we learn about how women’s rights are virtually eliminated: women cannot walk unaccompanied by a male relative; they cannot go to school; they cannot work outside the home; whipping and other punishment of women in public for disobeying any rules. We share Laila’s disbelief when she realizes that she went from a girl that all her friends said would become someone great to having all her dreams taken away because of the misogynist rules.
If not to walk into the shoes of a woman living in a very different society, this book serves as a powerful reminder of how there is still so much progress that needs to be made in our world.
I had an incredible time hosting LA’s Women in Tech Night out! From the CEO of LA Film School to the Senior Partner of Ogilvy & Mathers, we had amazing women in attendance. The event was completely sold out and an absolute success. Here’s more on the event: http://www.begreat.co/events/37/la-women-in-tech-night-out-by-nanxi-liu
I’m very thankful to be included in LA Business Journal’s 20 in their 20s for 2014. My answers were summarized in the article, so I’ve included the uncensored version in this blog post :)
What led you to start your own company? A combination of rebellion, curiosity, and boredom led me to do startups. I started building things throughout my time in college. My friend introduced me to my now co-founder, David. I met David for about an hour to just chat and share ideas. I make decisions really quickly so afterwards, I did what I thought was the most logical next step: pack a U-Haul with all my stuff and move to Los Angeles to start Enplug with David.
Where did you get the startup money? My co-founders and I first funded everything from guilt-free and interest-free funds called our bank account and personal savings. After we built a prototype display running Enplug software and got customers to sign up, we went to entrepreneurs that we admired and asked them to give us money. They gave us $2.5 million.
What was the biggest challenge? Determining whether to build our internal applications for our teammates on iOS or android. We have very passionate developers on both sides so it ended with a compromise. We made everything web-based.
What was the most important lesson you learned? Work with people smarter than myself. In past companies that I’ve started, I worried when things broke because I knew I would have to fix it. With Enplug, I don’t worry when things break because there’s 34 other people there to fix it.
How many hours a day do you put in? 24 hours. I dream in Enplug. On days when I don’t dream about Enplug, I work about 17 hours. I’m single and don’t have kids so I think this is acceptable for now. My co-founders are in the same position so it’s easy to get really into work.
Does your youth lead to awkward situations, such as when you supervise older workers? The Enplug teammates that I work with who are older than me are always smarter and more experienced than me so I don’t need to supervise them.
Will you start another company? Absolutely. My co-founding team at Enplug work so well that we’ve already made a pact to work on our next companies together. We’re thinking wireless energy transferring, unless pCell does it first, or an alternative high school focused on entrepreneurship.
Could you ever work for someone else? I work for my teammates, clients, and investors every day. I love getting them results.
What do you do to relax? Work….out, but mostly just work. I play the piano and enjoy composing music. Netflix is also really good-I’m a big fan of Archer and Family Guy. A lot of us ride motorcycles so we’ll go racing down PCH.
It’s been almost two years since I took a U-HAUL and moved my life from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I was going to start my next company with 4 people I had never met. One was a professional poker player; another built two top 10 apps as a college sophomore; another was a self-taught programmer who built a commodities trading management platform; and another was a tech guru who ran hacker sites. Today, David, Zach, Alex, and Navdeep are my co-founders, housemates, and best friends. We’ve grown to 35 teammates just in our LA headquarters. We now have teams in San Francisco, London, and Slovakia. Maybe we’ll get Enplug software up into space in the next two years.
Our design team made a lovely 60-second video (we’re the short attention span generation) about Enplug and our team. Enjoy!
TechCrunch, AOL, and 4A teamed up to host Startup Showdown in the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s auditorium. There were 15 ad-tech startups selected from around the country. I was impressed by the caliber of the startups and had a great time meeting their CEOs. I think Enplug was one of the youngest companies there so I didn’t expect to win.
The format was a pitch and then Q&A from the four judges. Then, the top three startups were selected to do one more pitch against each other. The three finalists along with us were Brander and Paedae. Both have compelling products. The audience then voted for their favorite and Enplug came in the lead :)
Here were some of the fellow companies that I enjoyed learning about:
- Stipple: Founded in 2010. Raised $14.4 million. Stipple’s image-based marketing technology stack detects, recognizes, and identifies the content inside images at scale and enables Advertisers and Publishers to apply interactive curated content, accurate native advertising solutions, and connects organically to commerce.
- TripleLift: Founded in 2012. Raised $4 million. TripleLift’s templating technology uses high-throughput, low-latency to serve ads and relies on computer vision technologies to ensure each brand’s advertising content looks great on each different publisher’s look and feel.
- Paedae. Founded in 2012. Raised $12 million. Paedae allows publishers to give game players physical and virtual rewards for reaching certain milestones, and for brands to present their ads as part of the rewards.
- Blippar. Founded in 2010. Raised from Qualcomm Ventures. Blippar’s technology is bringing “lightning-fast image recognition and augmented reality to mobile advertising.”
I’m looking forward to seeing the successes of these fellow startups!
It’s been a while since I last competed in piano back in high school, but it’s fun to get into “competition mode” again. This is my first time competing in a composition competition. Hal Leonard is the largest music publisher and if I have a chance at getting published with them, then it’s certainly worth trying!
My composition is titled “Hurricane.” Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waniOKXZXgk&feature=youtu.be
Whether you’re trying to find a co-founder for a startup or organization, the process is more of a science than an art. To start, the most effective way to find co-founders is if you’ve already established yourself as someone who is a top talent and proven yourself as a great partner in past activities.
GETTING THE CO-FOUNDER THAT YOU WANT
To increase your likelihood of getting a great hustler co-founder, I’ve felt these actions make a positive difference:
- Quickly make your decision to work with them or not: If you take too long to decide whether you want to work with someone or not, that person will leave for another opportunity. For all the companies that I’ve co-founded, most were with co-founders that I decided to work with within 24 hours of meeting them.
- Chase: The co-founders that I worked with were regularly approached by others to start companies. To convince them that I’m a good partner, I had to chase them down for multiple coffee sessions.
- Sell, sell, sell: Getting a superstar to work with you is just like a sales process. You pitch, you convince, you come back later if they say no the first/second/third time, and then you close the deal.
PLACES TO FIND THEM
Here are some non-traditional places that I or my co-founders have found co-founders:
1. Word of Mouth
I heard about my co-founder for Enplug, David Zhu, through a colleague when I was at Goldman Sachs. One day at the office, my colleague was talking about this insanely smart MIT-dropout turned professional poker player. This guy sounded like someone I wanted to meet. A few months later, when I was looking for partners to start my next company with, I asked my former colleague to connect me with David. David and I talked on Skype for an hour and he flew up from LA to SF a week or so after. I met with David in person for an hour and told him, “I’ll take a U-Haul and move myself to LA. See you next week.”
My co-founders Zach and Alex found each other on Craigslist. They were both UCLA students who had built successful tech products and companies while in school. Zach had a room open in his apartment and was particularly interested in having a fellow techie engineer live with him. Alex saw the Craigslist post and before you know it, they were living together and building apps together.
My co-founders Zach and David met while sitting next to each other on a Southwest flight. Zach accidentally tripped on David’s bag as Zach was boarding his flight. As a result, he apologized and decided to sit next to David. The conversation basically went like this (if shortened in a few sentences):
David: Hi, I’ve built security software and am starting another company. I also made millions of dollars before I was 18 playing online poker professionally.
Zach: Nice. I built 2 Top 10 Downloaded Education Apps in the Mac App Store last year while I was in college.
David: Let’s work together.
Zach: Sounds good. I’ll drop-out of UCLA today and join you.
A week later, we all moved into one apartment to work together.
Except for a few companies, I found most of my co-founders in schools I attended. For example, for one of the products I was building in college, I reached out to a guy named Ryan who I hadn’t talked to since freshman year. He was known as the ultimate computer science nerd (that’s a compliment) living on our dorm room floor. I sent him a Facebook message that was basically, “Hey, I haven’t talked to you in a few years, but I remember that you were super smart. I’m building something and I want you to built it with me. Want to meet up for coffee?” We met up the next day and started building the product.
5. At the bar
After a random hacking session with my old high school friends, Marcus and Alex, we went to a bar to relax. While drinking a Blue Moon, I noticed an attractive, tall guy standing on the other side of the room. I pointed him out to Alex, who them told me that Mr. Tall Guy was a biochemical genius that already had quite a number of successes under his belt as a twenty-something year old. It so happened that Alex worked in the same lab as Mr. Tall Guy. Alex jokingly said, “I’m totally going to tell him you have the hots for him.” Since I have no shame, “I said, go for it.” Mr. Tall Guy comes over and we start talking. The next day, we meet up and started a biotech company together that would eventually win Intel’s Top Social Innovation Award.
I found co-founders by always keeping an eye out. When I found someone I liked, I would aggressively sell them on working together. I’ve never found co-founders on a co-founder dating site or co-founder networking event. I feel like the top talents don’t need to go to those places to find great partners. If they’re so good, they’re being poached left and right by people or they’re already working on something cool. You just need to convince them that what you’re doing is cooler.
I definitely think I’m getting old(er) when time flies by so quickly and suddenly, I’m in my mid-twenties (23 now!!). 2013 is going to be one of those years I look back on and say, “that was certainly a year to remember.” The best parts of 2013 were the new friendships I made and the stronger connections I built with old friends. Life is made beautiful by sharing it with people you care about. In addition, here were some of my other highlights:
1. Enplug: My tech startup in LA grew to 30 full time people a year after starting the company. We moved from working and living out of a house to leasing an entire floor of an office building. Our social billboards, AURA, expanded from LA to 30 more cities. Our team had an exciting time doing photoshoots and interviews with Fox News, Wall Street Journal, Inc., Fast Co., LA Business Journal.
2. Nanoly Bioscience: My biotech company in Boulder, Colorado, also added additional teammates on board who in a few short months, generated some awesome results. In September, we won a grant from the Colorado Technology Association.
3. Europe for the first time: I was invited to speak at Monaco’s first major tech conference and had the pleasure of having dinner at the Prime Minister’s house and meeting Prince Albert. I spent a few days in Monaco and then went to Nice, France for another few days.
4. Europe for the 2nd and 3rd time: In June, I was selected as 1 of 100 entrepreneurs/innovators to be part of British Airways’ UnGrounded 11-hour flight event from San Francisco to London. On the flight, teams of 4-6 entrepreneurs competed against each other to come up with ideas to get more young people involved with technology and science. Our team, InIt, was 1 of 3 winners. When we landed in London, we got to attend the G8 Innovation Summit where our team’s proposal was presented to the United Nations. At the summit, we got to meet Prime Minister David Cameron and Sir. Richard Branson. In October, I was a speaker at the Milken Institute London Summit. It was my first time being involved with the Milken Institute and I have to say that it was one of the best experiences that I was fortunate enough to have in 2013. Michael Milken has done an excellent job in establishing Milken Institute as a premier think tank. Following London, I was invited by the CEO of Relativity Media, who is someone I really look up to, to travel with his team to Geneva, Switzerland, and then Cannes, France. It was my first time in both cities!
5. Japan for the first time: From Tokyo to Osaka, I am so thankful for being able to explore Japan for a week. One of the most interesting things was getting to see sumo wrestling practice at a temple.
6. Singapore for the first time: I had the honor of being a speaker at the World Entrepreneurship Forum in Singapore. It was fantastic meeting entrepreneurs from around the world and getting to see some of my entrepreneur friends from the US there too. Singapore is such a stunning city: I visited their Botanical Gardens, went to the top of Marina Bay Hotel to hang out by the huge infinity pool, explored/stayed at 4 different hotels, visited old family friends, and went to Universal Studios.
7. Viva Las Vegas: I went to Las Vegas in what felt like every other month. Whether it was for industry forums or CES, it was great to see a thriving new tech city. I went on the very fun Zappos HQ tour and of course, (legally) gambled for the first time. One of the cool experiences in Las Vegas is also trying lots of different hotels. I’ve stayed at Circus Circus, Stratosphere, Mandarin Oriental, Rio, Wynn, Palms, and Cosmopolitan.
8. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation: Being on the Youth Advisory Board for the Born This Way Foundation allowed me the opportunity to work with at-risk youth. One of my favorite activities we organizing donations for the LA Youth Network, which gives housing and support to homeless youth.
9. UNICEF’s Chinese Children’s Initiative: As a Board Member for UNICEF CCI, we organized our first annual fundraiser, which raised over $60,000 in a single night! We are using the funds to build safe housing for children.
10. Infobitt: I’m proud to be an advisory of Infobitt, a crowd-sourced news site founded by Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia). The site had a very successful beta launch and I know 2014 will bring continued growth to the innovative internet company.
11. Reading: I enjoyed a number of entertaining and thoughtful books in 2013. I hope to continue going through my long reading list in 2014.
- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Read it!
- Blink: I was hoping it would be better.
- Bossypants: I really wanted this book to be funny, but I fell short.
- 50 Shades of Grey: It makes for a fun, light reading.
- Lean In: I highly recommend this book to all women.
- The Fault in Our Stars: I don’t usually read fiction, but I heard so many good reviews of it that I gave it a shot. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, especially for those who had someone close fight cancer.
- How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Written by former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, this was so surprisingly funny and informative. Two thumbs up.
12. Music: My friend Ben and I finally reunited again and produced our 2nd song together. This time, it was a fun classical music + electronic music mix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCSEspQhmN0
Can’t tell anyone yet! But I hope to share with you soon :)
Our team is so excited to be featured in the Wall Street Journal! It was interesting to see how articles are published in the WSJ. We interviewed with the journalist a few weeks ago and had a followup call this weekend. The photographer came to our house yesterday to take photos (and enjoyed a nice BBQ dinner with us!). We’re looking forward to making a team trip to the newsstand to buy every issue of Wednesday, July 31st’s Wall Street Journal! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324170004578638002403132048.html
I’ve read some of the comments of people saying that it’s a horrible idea etc…, but we’ve been living together for over a year now and I think it’s one of the best decisions we could have possibly made as a small and growing company. If you come by our house, it’s not like a frat party with footballs being thrown around and a keg in the corner. The house is very quiet throughout the day with people working hard at their desks. People are professional with each other and treat each other with respect. We’re a company building a great product, but we think of ourselves as a family first.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherby Amy Chua is probably the most entertaining book I’ve read this year. I give this book a A+. It’s a very fast and easy read (I read it in one sitting). Perhaps it’s because I can empathize with both Chua and her older daughter. There were certainly a huge amount of criticism for her book when you took quotes out of context:
“… I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have ‘The Little White Donkey’ perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, ‘I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?’ I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”
The fact is, anyone who reads the book will realize the book is a self-deprecating memoir. Much of the time, Chua is making fun of herself and I’m laughing along with her. Many of the Chinese mother traits and habits she addressed were spot on:
- The immigrant mentality: My parents, like Chua’s, came here as immigrants. It was hammered into my head from a young age that my parents came to the US so I could have a better future. Aka, I better not let them down after their years of hard work. For the better part of my childhood, my parents and I lived in a tiny apartment, surviving off of their $1,000/month income. I loved the smell of stale Chinese food because around 10pm every night, my mom would come home after waitressing at a local Chinese restaurant and give me a kiss goodnight. Caught on her outfit would be a hint of hot-and-sour soup. My mom had a master’s degree in systems engineering, but when she came to the US, she had to start over. From the age of 6, my parents constantly reminded me that they placed the stepping stones and now I had to make use of it to get to pot of gold.
- The “you owe me” mentality: I completely agree with Chua’s statement about how Chinese parents feel like their kids owe them everything. It was absolutely expected from me from a young age that I would work hard so that I could one day provide for my parents. My parents laughed at the thought of allowances when I suggested it to them because my friends from school received them from their parents for doing chores. “We make you food, put a roof over your head, and provide you with clothing. You should be paying us!”
- The daily comparisons: Almost every day, my mom would show me an article from a Chinese newspaper talking about an 10-year old piano prodigy. “She’s already playing Beethoven Concertos! Why aren’t you playing that yet?” Like Chua notes, Chinese mothers don’t say this to make their child feel incompetent. Rather, they say this because they believe their kids can be the best. Of course, as a 10 year old, I was furious and sometimes would even cry when my parents compared me to someone who seemed more talented. I look back and I’m actually thankful my parents would tell me about kids my age that were doing incredible things. It expanded my idea of what was possible. I learned to play a Beethoven Concerto two years later at 12.
While I can relate to her daughters in how we were brought up, I also see myself in Chua. I have a 10 year old sister and I treat her like a “tiger mother.” When I visit home in Colorado, my first words are, “Jamie, did you practice piano today? You only practiced 30 minutes?! If you want to get anywhere in piano, you need to practice at least 1 hour. How do you think you’ll pay for college? You need scholarships and if you can’t even get a music scholarship after learning piano all your life, how can you get any other scholarship? Do you know how lucky you are to be playing on the piano you have right now? I learned on an old broken piano and you have a beautiful, new piano. Go practice piano right now.” Yes, in a Chinese family, drilling college plans into a 10 year old is not a moment too soon.
Anyway, Battle Hymn is a delightful read. Even if you don’t believe in the methodology of Chinese parenting, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra ideas on hand for disciplining your kid.
While I was in New York for a quick 2-day trip, I met up with my friend Ben Hedman. He’s a rapper and Harvard Law grad (awesome combo right?). We’ve always enjoyed making snogs together. The last song we made together was years ago-while I was still in high school: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCSEspQhmN0. Finally, met up again this year and decided to make another song. We only had a few hours to hang out so after we went to grab food, we decided to give each other an hour to make a song from scratch. We combined the “oldest” type of music-classical music with dubstep, the “newest” type of sound. Let me know what you think!
In early May, one of Enplug’s investors, Ben Parr, reached out to me and asked if I was interested in a free trip to London. I said, Of course! Ben was asked to nominate people to be part of the inaugural UnGrounded Initiative trip. I am extremely grateful that he nominated me as this was one of the most rewarding “vacations” I have ever been on. During the 11-hour flight, our goal was to propose new global innovations such as new programs to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. After we land, everyone attends the United Nations G8 Innovation Summit together and the winning ideas from the flight are presented.
British Airways sponsored this UnGrounded trip for 100 entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, techies to fly together on one plane for 11 hours from San Francisco to London. They covered our roundtrip flights, 5-star hotel stay in London, food, etc…Thanks BA!
The caliber of people I was with during UnGrounded was phenomenal. I got to hang out and meet everyone from California’s Lieutenant Governor to the founder of Craigslist to Virgin’s founder Richard Branson to the person who created iTunes. Here’s a glimpse of our agenda during these 3 days:
Day 1: Wednesday, June 12. The Flight Adventure
My day started at 5am since I had to fly from LA to SF in time for the 10am. I was quite exhausted since I had just flown in from Japan (was there for a few days) the day before. Registration started at 10am at the shwanky Clift Hotel in San Francisco. British Airways flight attendants were there to greet us at the hotel door and handed us a bag of goodies including an eco-friendly tote bag, snacks, UnGrounded booklet with everyone’s bios, and British mementors (magnets, pens, notebook). Then, we were all shuffled into a banquet room to hear talks from the organizers.
After remarks from the UnGrounded organizers, we also heard a short talk from California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. After about an hour of talks, we all left for a buffet on the other side of the hotel. During lunch, we split up into four groups. Each group works on one specific “challenge”. My group of 25 people was given the challenge of finding way to expand STEM education.
We spent the next hour and half with our group of 25 to brainstorm projects or initiatives that can expand STEM education. Some ideas we came up with include:
- Building a chain of cafes where engineers, entrepreneurs, designers go to hang out
- Starting an online course that combines games to teach STEM to elementary school kids
- A music video to inspire STEM learning
Just when things we getting heated and people were getting defensive about their ideas, it was time for us to board the shuttle to the airport. On the shuttle ride alone, I met amazing people such as a math genius woman who started a design firm, a London Business School professor, and a guy who has started half a dozen successful tech companies. When we arrived at San Francisco International Airport, there were welcome banners and dedicated British Airways flight attendants to greet us.
British Airways dedicated one full 747 double decker plane for the 130 people participating in the UnGrounded flight. They split the plane into the four Challenge groups (I was in the Expanding STEM group). Luckily, our group occupied the business first class area of the plane. This meant that I also got to do the priority line during security (I love enjoying the little perks we get in life). We still had a few hours before our plane took off so that of course meant one thing: chilling in the British Airways executive airport lounge. There, they had lots of food and an open bar for us to test our limits. During this mingling session, we met our British Airways flight crew, which we learned were hand picked by the airline as the best crew members to assist us during the 11 hours up in the air. After the flight, my standard for what flight attendants are like will never be achieved again-these flight crew were indeed top of the line.
5pm quickly rolled around and we began boarding this historical flight. I was seated in their business class, where the seat extends into a bed and they give you a nice little toiletry bag with socks, eyemask, lotions, and toothbrush kit. Now, what happens when you put 130 of the most techie people you can find onto a flight together? Well, you certainly don’t expect them to turn off their smartphones, laptops, or iPads. In fact, we were all standing up, walking around talking with one another, when the plane began moving towards the runway. At takeoff, I look to my neighbor who is CEO of a mobile-ad tech company and he is typing away on his laptop. Rules clearly do not apply today.
Maximizing our time on the flight, the UnGrounded organizers immediately had us working on the first challenge on the flight: a tech crossword puzzle/trivia game. We were to form groups of 3 and race against the other 40 teams in completing the crossword puzzle. This geeky crossword included trivia like: 1) The state that you can type on one line of a QWERTY keyboard. Answer: Alaska. 2) ______-pi : desktop : laptop : computer Answer: raspberry. (I was proud to get that one for my team). 3) The most STEM focused country. Answer: South Korea. My team consisted of a partner at Google Ventures and the head of Google Campus. Together, we placed in the top 5 in the crossword challenge. I’m still waiting to receive our prize though :P
Next on the agenda for the flight is the main challenge. We were told to form groups based on ideas. I sat next to my friend Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip. He already had an idea that I thought was great. We formed a team of 6 by just getting the people sitting around us. While everyone else was pitching ideas to each other and trying to finalize the idea to work on, our team got right down to business in drafting a business plan around our idea. I love designing things so I proposed drawing a series of mini-posters and then printing them out (most people on the flight didn’t know that there were printers. We made sure to know all the resources we had and maximized it.).
Our proposal is called INIT (like In It). INIT is a label that reveals the STEM technologies that live in products from clothes to consumer electronics; acts as a “nutritional panel” for what’s inside. By celebrating these less visible aspects of the product, INIT piques curiosity about STEM, teaches about the technology under the hood, and attracts more STEM participation. You can see more about it here: http://ungroundedthinking.com/post/53138240006/overview-init-is-a-label-that-reveals-the-stem
Some additional articles pulished about INIT:
Our slogan was “INIT to Win It.” The prize for the winning team is Gold Status on British Airways, which includes perks like:
- Complimentary spa treatments
- First class lounge access
- Automatic upgrades
- Priority check-in
The crew handed out five red stickers for each person. We get to vote on the ideas. The winning idea from each four category will get Gold Status. Our team was probably the loundest-yelling “Are you INIT?? Cuz we’re INIT!! INIT to Win It!!” Thank you everyone for putting up with our cheesy lines. Everyone walked up and down the aisles to hear the 25 teams pitch their ideas. Even during strong turbulence, we were never asked to sit in our seat and “buckle up.” As I said before, the usual flight rules did not apply.
After an hour or so of harassing people for stickers, it was time for our 2.5 hour nap. The crew lowered the lights and suddenly, the inside of the plane (still splattered with posters, red stickers, and post-it notes), felt like a normal international flight. I was starving for sleep so I knocked out quickly.
We were awaken by the sweet smell of bread. The crew was serving our breakfast. More exciting than the food was the announcement of the four winners. Yup, we got Gold Status :)
Following our landing, we were shuttled to the famous Langham Hotel. It looks like a gorgeous castle. The 5-star hotel was decadently decorated and felt like I was walking in a palace.
That night, we visited the House of Lords and met British politicians. I just wanted to sleep. But no, I can’t. This is my first time in London. Must-Make-The-Most-Out-Of-It.
I met up with a friend working in London and we went out for dinner, drinks, and sight-seeing in the middle of the night. The Langham is in City Center so we were walking distance from many famous streets. I was impressed by how many people were walking around at night. The streets were as lively as ever.
Arriving back at my hotel at 2am-ish, I had about 5 hours to crash. No time to waste! Finally, the 1st day was over. Technically, it was 2 days because sometime on the plane, we crossed over to Thursday, but it all merged into one day.
Day 2: Friday, June 14. The G8 Innovation Summit. Prime Minister David Cameron. Partying.
Today was filled with networking, attending the G8 Innovation Summit where the winning ideas of the flight would be presented, and meeting tech celebrities. The hotel room came with free breakfast so of course I was going to take full advantage of free food at this luxurious hotel. The elite dining room had a buffet style breakfast and the server gave me options to have basically anything I wanted to be cooked to order. Well, in that case, I ordered: two eggs sunny-side up, bacon, more bacon, sausage, toast, and some more bacon.
Embarrassingly, I missed the shuttle to the main event. I asked the concierge if they knew where the conference was being held. The response: No, sorry Madam. The agenda we were given also didn’t say where the conference was being held. A search online didn’t reveal the location either-probably because they didn’t want people to crash it. Well, what to do? I vaguely remembered that British Airways gave us a magazine during the trip and one of the articles talked about the G8 Innovation Summit. I dashed up to my room, dug through my suitcase, and flipped through the magazine until I found the article. Aha! It said the event was held at “The Crystal.” I immediately Googled “The Crystal London.” Apparently, there are a lot of crystals in London. There was one that stood out: it was a beautiful center by Siemens. It looks like this:
I suppose if they’re going to host the G8 Innovation Summit, they’d find the most beautiful and modern venue. This certainly fit the bill, but who knows if it was THE Crystal. I took the chance and called a cab. He said it would be a 40-minute long trip. That means it would probably cost 50 or so pounds = $75. To lessen the disappointment that I might be spending $75 and not get to the right place, I reasoned with myself that if this wasn’t the right place, I would be taking a nice little tour of London.
When I arrived, there were a lot of security. Score! This must be the right place. And so the conference begins. The architecture and design of The Crystal is just as distinct as from the outside. I’d like my future house to look like this…
The coolest thing about this conference is that it was tiny. There were maybe 200 people there-all distinguished folks that I would die to meet. All of whom were now sitting next to me. I got to meet so many inspiration people.
After meeting everyone from Olympic gold medalists to Nobel Prize winners, we went to hang out some more at the Royal Academy of Arts. There, we met many members of the UK Trade and Investment Department. After less than an hour, people were a little networked-out, including myself. I left for the hotel to head to dinner and for another night out!
Myself and about half a dozen other conference attendees went to find a place to eat. We walked through the “Red light district” and hung out a very cool restaurant/bar called Sketch. It was extremely interesting. The entire restaurant is like an artshow. When you first enter, there are the red sniper dots moving around every where (thus the name, Sketch, I think). The bathrooms are probably the coolest stalls I have ever seen. Each individual stall is a big egg and you have to walk in the egg for the toilet. Inside, there is an electronic voice that talks to you.
Next on the lineup is eating. Many restaurants were closed and we didn’t want any bar food so we ate at the first place we found a thai restaurant called Tum Tum in the SoHo district. It’ actually quite well known in the area. The food was great and very affordable (average entree was about $8). I met up with some more of my friends later. We went to a few bars before ending the night dancing at a club called Verve. 3am return to the hotel. Day 2 complete.
Day 3: Saturday, June 15. Being a homebody.
I literally spent the entire day being a homebody: emails, work, reading. In the evening, my friend from South Africa, who is working in London, hosted a dinner for me. I got to meet 5 other awesome South Africans who he went to school with. They were extremely kind and a lot of fun to eat with. It was certainly a wonderful way to conclude my trip in London: in the company of good food and great friends.