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!
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.
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.
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.
Our team was so thrilled when we saw that we were featured on the front of the Fast Company‘s website. Fast is one of my favorite magazines so it was truly an honor to be written about on their site. Thank you to Lisa Nicole Bell and Fast Tech Co-Editor Chris Dannen for the great article! Check it out here: www.fastcompany.com/3005041/startup-slumber-party-how-living-your-cofounders-can-save-your-company
Thanks Haas for featuring an article about Nanoly’s prize at the Intel Global Challenge!
GOOD is one of my favorite magazines! I can’t believe Nanoly’s featured on their site! Our team is so thrilled! Here’s the link to the full article: http://www.good.is/post/nanotech-jackets-to-keep-vaccines-from-spoiling-off-grid/
One of the most incredible 3-weeks of my life, the Summer Social Innovation Lab brought together 19 social innovation entrepreneurs from 16 different countries. The lab was completely paid-for and sponsored by the Transformative Action Institute and Dell. We lived in a gorgeous, beach-front mansion in Boston, Massachusetts (we were so spoiled!!). With a camera crew that documented every step of our journey, I look forward to sharing the videos of our experience in a future post!
In these 3 weeks, I was so inspired by the work that the fellow lab fellows have already accomplished and are in the course to accomplish. From a South African who is developing a work-training program for low-income women to a Rhodes Scholar who built the largest student-run non-profit consulting group to a Nicaraguan building affordable housing, living with these leaders was fun-filled and exciting. The most important part of this summer lab was that I formed friendships that I know will last for the rest of my life.
We never had a day where we did the same thing…but, here are some typical things we did and some things I really loved:
- Waking up at 8am to prepare breakfast for one another
- Pitching to investors
- Attending workshops hosted by successful entrepreneurs, professors, and industry-leaders
- Playing on a Steinway Grand Piano
- Watching the Olympics
- Hosting and attending networking mixers in our house
- Playing air hockey and pool in the game rooms
- Lounging on the beach
- Traveling to New York
- Dance parties in the basement
- Learning design-thinking
- Having the time of our lives!
My biotech startup, Nanoly Bioscience, is a Top 10 finalist for NASA’s $110K Award for businesses creating new technology that will benefit space. It’s been more than exciting that a project I started with my friend last year has been recognized by NASA!
It has been an incredible journey with the Nanoly team. I don’t think any of us realized, when we first started theorizing our technology solution, that it could be so transformative-let alone something that NASA might use. Hopefully, this demonstrates how important it is to always Think Big!
A collaboration between NASA and The Space Frontier, The NASA New Space Frontier Competition recognizes entrepreneurs developing supporting, problem-solving, and game-changing technologies for the space industry.
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