Quantum Time

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$129 DIY Star Wars X-wing bed

There’s only one good reason to make a Star Wars X-wing bed - because your child wants one.

There’s only one bad reason to make one - because you wanted one as a child.

Luckily I never saw Star Wars until I was an adult. But my son absolutely loves the intergalactic planetary saga and thinks of himself as a little Luke Skywalker. So we built an X-wing bed together!

Like any good Geek Dad, I started with a Google search to see how others had done it before. Sadly the googs came up short on results, showing us an over-sized (and overdone) Y-wing bed instead. Now that bed looked like it was built for the Dad, and my wife set a strict deadline of Jan 31st, which only gave us two weekends to conspire and construct.

The first weekend was spent sketching out plans and procuring materials. To make things easier, we decide to start with an IKEA bed as our blank canvas. The Malm bed is reasonably priced ($89 + $20 for slats), and the right color.

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The rest of the stuff consists of items to make the wings, an R2-D2, laser cannons, and markings of a proper Red-Squadron starfighter. Having just moved, we had a choice selection of Styrofoam pieces to work with. (Pro Tip: big screen TV’s are your friend)

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We used some white spray paint ($2) to make two plant liners ($1) into the jet engines. We used the rest of the paint on the R2-D2 as well, but it’ll need some more finishing work (hand-painted blue sections) before we add it on.

The rest of the build was pretty straightforward, so take a look at the pictures.

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Red Squadron! (using $4 red electrical tape - one roll will do)

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Frickin lasers man! ($3 of metal hardware from IKEA)

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Here’s the finished product. Quick, easy and relatively inexpensive. Add your own twist and use whatever “starfighter parts” you can find for your build. Our R2-D2 head was from a broken floor lamp! We’re adding that next, along with a canopy and some proper flight controls.

My son loves building stuff with me, and he’s sleeping with the biggest smile on his face. I know he’s taking down TIE fighters and destroying the Death Star in his dreams. This is one of the best parts of being a Dad!

Cheers,

Hong

Dec 4

Making the Quantum Leap

It’s been a fun run, but a bittersweet end to Quantum Startups. I’m happy to announce that I’ll be joining Leap Motion as their new Director of Recruiting. I’ve always thought of Quantum Startups as my most successful startup - we had real revenues! - but like any Founder deciding to shut down, I’d like to share a few thoughts on why I’ve “taken the leap” to join a bigger and better startup. Well, besides not being able to resist a great (or terrible) pun of a headline.

No Founder is an island.

Working alone has been hard. The demand for startup recruiting is certainly there, but I’ve been reluctant to sign up more startups because I wanted to continue my personal level of service. The irony is that I couldn’t find another recruiter to grow the business. By PG’s definition, that’s not a startup. It’s a pretty awesome lifestyle business though. But you can only do so much alone, so I’m looking forward to being part of a larger team, and having an office, and working with some really great folks towards a hugely audacious goal.

100% of nothing.

I talk with a lot of Founders, and one reason we commonly give for starting up, or not working for someone else is that you have control and ownership of your startup. That’s all fine and well until you decide to raise money. Most startups die. I’d guess 95% die before they raise a real round (not just FFF money). So you may think you’re worth a few million, but in reality 100% of zero is still zero. The caveat is that most companies that have raised a Series A are (still!) only giving less than 1% of equity. The simple approach that I took is to only consider companies that will be worth > $1B. That list came down to just a couple startups, and it makes the search a lot easier. You can also join a seed funded startup, hoping to get more than a few points of equity, with the potential outcome of a much smaller exit.

Go big - No… Bigger!

The other benefit (or downfall) of running Quantum Startups was that I had the time and flexibility to work on a handful of side projects. Some went well enough that I put recruiting on hold and launched products. Nothing ever took off but I made some really great lifelong friends. And thankfully we never raised any money. I certainly don’t envy the Founders who have to have that conversation with their investors. I’ve worked at startups that have raised a ton of money (>$250M). I missed opportunities to work at billion dollar startups before (“What the hell is a YouTube?” - me in May 2006). But beyond the numbers, I believe Leap Motion is going to fundamentally change the world. So many claim this that it’s cliché  but very few products have the potential and promise of the Leap. At least in my opinion, and in the opinion of a few other very smart and talented people that I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Leap is backed by arguably the number one VC firm in the last few years. Not everyone agrees with their methods, but damn, you can’t argue with the results (thus far).

So while I’ll miss the coffee meetings and working with Founders as they go through the early stages of growth, I’m really looking forward to the challenge of building out a complete team, from Engineering to Marketing to Customer Service. Who knows where Leap will be in 5 years, but I plan to stick around and play a part in that growth. 

I want to thank all my startups for letting me be a part of their story. I’m still here to help as much as I can. It’s been a fun few years and I’m sure the next decade will be a blast!

Cheers,

Hong

Nov 8

Leaving for Las Vegas

"We should go to Vegas!"

That’s probably how most crazy weekends in Las Vegas start. These five words have launched plenty of adventures and binders full of… stories, some of which may be best left untold. But what happens in Vegas Tech will hopefully not just stay in Vegas. Last week my friend Bowei and I spent a wild 48 hours in what’s commonly known as Sin City, but which lots of people are working hard to remake into the new Las Vegas Downtown Project.

Huge Idea

Founders are crazy, we come up with some ridiculous stuff and 99% of the time it’s just stupid, insane, pie-in-the-sky stuff that will never work and no one’s ready for - or worse, no one needs. If you were going to go big, what would you build? A mobile app? A 5-person startup? A 50 person company? How about a whole city? Lots of adjectives were thrown around to describe what’s going on with Downtown Project, and the one I kept coming back to was audacious. Not awesome, which it is, or insane (also applies) but simply audacious. Why *not* try to build a whole new downtown? Why not revitalize a whole neighborhood, in one of the hardest hit areas of the United States? And why not make it a tech hub for startups while you’re at it?

Huge Investment

We were fortunate to get tours of Zappos and Downtown Project on the Thursday we landed. If you’ve heard anything about Zappos and their zany culture, the tour will be what you’d expect. The surprising part for me was that it was real. People were really that happy. And I couldn’t believe they could keep it up all day, every day. But that’s just a result of the well-defined and strictly enforced hiring process and letting the right kinds of people self-select to join the company. Similarly, the Downtown Project is going to attract a certain type of personality and the success or failure of the project will depend on those people who join. It will also strongly depend on the type of people who don’t move to Downtown. Everyone knows that Tony has put $350 million of his own money into this idea. They’ve split it up into 5 areas of investment: 

$100M for residential development since existing infrastructure is quite old and not suitable for high-density housing. 

$100M for real estate acquisitions - much of the land around the main strips are casinos and small businesses, and empty parking lots. 

$50M for tech startups - with investments made via the Vegas Tech Fund. About 10 startups have already been funded with many more evaluated each week.

$50M for education - building charter schools and attracting teachers for the children of Zappos employees and future startup folks and their families.

$50M for small business - creating and supporting the local services and community for the new residents to coming to Downtown.

Huge Uncertainty

I’m still highly skeptical of all these different parts coming together, especially with their aggressive 5 year timeline. Logically it would take 10 or 20 years to make the sort of changes and improvements these folks are trying to do. But it’s a startup, so move fast (no, faster) and make mistakes. Then keep pushing forward. These are still the early days, and there’s lots to be figured out. I can list a dozen things that would never work, and a dozen more things that would need to be done to make it work. Same can be said of any startup. And just like every startup and founder I talk to, I hope they pull it off!

So is Vegas for you? Should you consider moving your startup to the Downtown Project? As a recruiter I look at it the same way as if one of my candidates is considering joining a particular startup. If you believe in the Founder’s vision, you like the people you’ll be working with, and you can make significant contributions - then go for it. Like any other startup, the earliest people will reap the largest rewards since they are taking the biggest risk, personally, professionally, etc. 

The only way to make that decision is to go for a visit yourself. The people are super friendly, the “crash pads” at the Ogden are a misnomer because it was like staying in a luxury hotel, and you’re bound to run into some interesting people. It was strange to spend two days in Las Vegas and not step foot on The Strip. Everyone thinks they know Las Vegas, but we got to see a whole other side to the City of Sin. It might very well be the new Land of Opportunity for those intrepid enough to take the trip.

Many thanks to Andy from Vegas Tech Fund and Tony and the Zappos family for hosting us and showing us an awesome time in Vegas (but not in that way).

Cheers,

Hong

Go fetch and stop working like a dog.

I just got back from vacation in NYC last week and it was the longest I went without turning on my laptop, or replying to email in years. Sure, I came back to a ton of emails, and it’s taken about a week to catch up. But I had a few days to think about bigger picture stuff (cofounders, startups, family, balance, results, success) and I made one big change earlier this week.

Changing my mobile mail client from Push to Fetch.

Simple right? Well, now I can get more work done, in longer stretches without the constant ‘ding’ and interruption that is my inbox, or rather, inboxes - I have 6 active email accounts I use daily. Now I only get new emails when I’m done with my task before I move on to the next item on my list. I’m not yet sure if I’m more productive, but I am certainly less anxious and don’t feel as rushed. Email used to be a (terrible) game of super-responsiveness, and replies were not always sent with as much thought and care as I would have liked.

I know what you’re thinking, “There’s no way that would work for me!

Because you’re busy. And important. You’re a Founder damnit! You’ve got responsibilities! You’ve got customers to take care of, investors to report to, lots of work work work to do. Which reminds me of a quote I had on my wall in college:

Unless it’s fatal, it’s no big deal.

I was pre-med and this was a bit of medical humor. We were just studying to be doctors and it was helpful to remember that we didn’t have patients lives in our hands (yet) and even then, nothing is really that critical unless it’s life or death. And rarely is any email that important.

It’s easy to get caught up in the busy work of startup life. But sometimes you’ve gotta stop and remember why you’re doing this in the first place. I’m still trying to figure it out, but I hope a quieter phone is one way to a quieter mind.

Cheers,

Hong

Jul 9
Well this is one way to get in TechCrunch.

Well this is one way to get in TechCrunch.

Last year we saw each other for the last time. Sure I think about her now and then, she was my baby after all…

It’s amazing to think we signed the papers and packed up the truck one year ago. Prong Motors was a passion project, which doesn’t always make for great businesses. I still joke that we’re the only profitable automotive startup in Silicon Valley. It’s possible that Fisker and Tesla will be profitable one day, but both show the kind of money and scale you need to bring when playing in this space. I’m still super-proud of the Prong Motors team and what we were able to accomplish in such a short time, despite the size of our “exit”.
Maybe one day I’ll be foolish enough to try again.
Cheers,
Hong

Last year we saw each other for the last time. Sure I think about her now and then, she was my baby after all…

It’s amazing to think we signed the papers and packed up the truck one year ago. Prong Motors was a passion project, which doesn’t always make for great businesses. I still joke that we’re the only profitable automotive startup in Silicon Valley. It’s possible that Fisker and Tesla will be profitable one day, but both show the kind of money and scale you need to bring when playing in this space. I’m still super-proud of the Prong Motors team and what we were able to accomplish in such a short time, despite the size of our “exit”.

Maybe one day I’ll be foolish enough to try again.

Cheers,

Hong

When someone accepts a job offer, our team is like

runningastartup:

I’m always dancing. 

"Has anyone in this startup even seen a chicken?”

Cheers,

Hong

On Time and Money.

I’m not some enlightened philosopher or ‘visionary thought-leader’. I’m just a guy who likes to think about things, simply. I think a lot about why people work. Mostly about why I work. But it’s my job, I’m a Recruiter. I waste a lot of time on Twitter, something I justify as ‘doing my job’ - but my wife doesn’t believe me. I saw this tweet from Hunter Walk and I had to chime in. He said:

"Many people value their money more than their time when it should be the reverse."

I replied with something like, “It’s not that simple.” and “Usually people with money can say that.” I wasn’t trying to be a jerk but having seen it from both sides, it’s really a tough problem. Rich people buy time with money, and poor people spend their time to make money. If you have a job, you’re giving your time for someone else’s money. So basically we have two types of people, and yes, one person can move back and forth between both categories depending on the amount of time or money in question.

1) More money than time.

Usually if you make more than a certain amount, say $75k a year (which is barely middle class in Silicon Valley), it makes sense for you to pay for certain services like house cleaning, or car washes. Even buying lunch is a small luxury since it’s almost always cheaper to pack a sandwich and brown bag it. But at some threshold or break point, your time is worth more than your money, so you’ll gladly pay other people to do your dirty work. Like cutting the grass or cleaning your toilets. This is why startups like TaskRabbit, Zaarly and Exec exist. Rich people are willing to pay pretty well (like $25/hr which is equivalent to a salary of ~$50k a year at 40/hrs week) to have people do tasks and run errands for them.

2) More time than money.

On the other side of the transaction are the Execs, Rabbits or runners who are willing to do the grunt work for $15 to $20/hr - after the startups take their cut of course - and go pick up your dry cleaning, walk your dog or do other menial tasks that the Rich can’t be bothered with. The logic goes, why send a Programmer to do a Costco run when they’re being paid $150k a year! Obvious right? (btw, Costco delivers) And everyone’s happy right?

Well not so fast. This class-dynamic has always been around and will likely last well into the future. People get paid to do a job. The more valuable the work output, the more you get paid. The startups creating these marketplaces are saying they’re creating jobs for the unemployed, under-employed and stay-at-home Moms. But are people really doing these tasks as their first choice job? Not likely. This Great Recession has created an environment where people are taking on additional work - or even any kind of work - to make ends meet, pay rent or even be able to afford to eat.

Why do I think this? Let’s go back to 2002. The first dotcom boom had gone bust the prior year. I was paying ridiculous San Francisco rents and a $500 car payment and burning through my savings at a frightening pace. As a “business guy” in the startup world, I wasn’t worth anything and there were no jobs to be found. So when my friend called about a job opening, I took it. Working at the mall. Not one of those fancy floor jobs like the good-looking folks get, I was in the back, opening boxes. As a stock-boy, I was paid $15/hr and I was glad to have the job so I didn’t have to a) starve b) default on my loans and c) leave the Bay Area like everyone else. This was less than I made at my first job, with my fancy Ivy League degree (with a minor in box-cutting).

Now, 10 years later I charge ten times as much, though essentially I’m still the same person. The economy’s changed some, but startup recruiting is in high demand amidst this second talent war. And so I find myself on the other side, where I barely have time to sleep, I’m working as much as humanly possible and finding that my mid-thirties are not as productive as my mid-twenties. Now I need 6 hours of sleep a night when I use to work fine on four. ;)

But I don’t use TaskRabbit or Exec. I still wash my own clothes and do my own yard work. My job title when I’m home is Garbage Man and Dishwasher (most nights, sorry Honey!). I grew up in a poor immigrant family on welfare in Brooklyn in the 80’s, so maybe I have a different perspective. I still believe in an honest day’s work, and sometimes that means having a little ache in your back, a little soreness in your arms and a good night’s sleep from a job well done.

So why don’t ‘those people’ just do more valuable work you ask? That’s not so simple, and beyond my powers of explanation. How one’s time is valued by society, i.e. how much you make in your job, affects your views on time and money. It’s a very practical and logical mindset. Some call it the Poverty Mindset, and those get-rich-quick guys will tell you that’s what’s holding back your Inner Millionaire! There’s also the concept of Decision Fatigue, which may affect the poor more than their well-off brethren. When you’re worried about putting food on the table for your children, you don’t have the luxury of valuing your time more than your money. You’ve gotta use your time to make money, to keep the things that are most important, alive.

Cheers,
Hong

Bonus: Sometimes when you have more time than money, you get wonderful creations like this.

Apr 7

Startups pay less than bigger companies. So founding or joining one involves some financial loss. These losses are generally thought to be high. In reality, they aren’t that high.

-

Peter Thiel’s CS183 lecture at Stanford.

Notes from the class.

Apr 6

Yo! (person)’s #RapNameIs (Their Rap Name)

Here’s a little fun for your Friday. The game’s real simple, and the rules are few. It goes like this…

Yo! @twittername’s #RapNameIs (give ‘em a rap name)!

Got it? Okay, but a few ground rules of Rap Names.

1) You can’t give yourself a Rap Name, that’s just foolish!

2) You gotta give your homies Rap Names that are real. Please don’t start dissing people.

3) If someone gives you a Rap Name, you gotta give three more people Rap Names.

Now go have some fun!

Cheers,

Da @Quan