Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

The Importance of Empathy

In The Business of Happiness, Ted Leonsis wrote about how empathy for others had such a positive impact on his life and led to many meaningful relationships and activities that helped him achieve more happiness and success. I couldn’t agree more, and I find myself recognizing many situations where empathy has been and will be important.

Empathy at Work

Empathy is really important at work, no matter what your job is. Unless you’re trapped in a chemistry lab by yourself (I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad), you’ll always interact with teammates and colleagues to some extent and will need to understand how they feel, how they do their jobs, and what they need to be successful, even if you don’t agree with everything they say or do. Empathy is especially important for jobs that interface with customers, such as sales, service, and marketing.

When I worked for the Capitals, I was kind of the go-to revenue marketer, primarily because I led our database and email marketing efforts. Email was the most effective channel to drive revenue, and boy, did we send a lot of emails. This is a fine line that every email marketer walks – because email is so effective in driving revenue, when sales are slow, the Sales department always wants to send more email. But the marketer empathetic to the needs and wants of his or her customers understands that they dread when their inboxes are clogged with sales emails. So there were many instances when I refused to send more email, even when ticket sales levels for certain games were subpar; consequently, the Sales department and I had some rifts.

Looking back, I could have been more empathetic to the Sales department and approached the situation differently. If I had put myself in their shoes, I would have understood that they had a ticket sales goal to reach for those particular games and they would look bad if they didn’t hit that number. Many times I did suggest alternate channels to reach customers, such as social media and text messaging, but not before we got into arguing matches. A higher level of empathy on my part could have made these situations go much more smoothly.

You can also read my past blog post about the role that empathy played in my Startup Weekend NEXT experience.

Empathy in Personal Relationships

Having a high level of empathy for your friends, family, and significant other allows your relationships to be that much stronger.

I must admit that throughout the time that my fiancee and I have been together, I haven’t always been empathetic of her, and a few times that almost cost us our relationship. There were instances right after Vicky moved to Washington, DC, where I was a really selfish jerk and didn’t understand how some of the things that I did or didn’t do made her feel. I’ll spare you the gory details but I do think that I’ve become much better at understanding her situation and how she sees things. Obviously this has worked, because she still keeps me around!

Trust me, the saying “A happy wife (or fiancee or girlfriend) is a happy life” is totally true!

Empathy for Those Less Fortunate

I think many times when people see others who are less fortunate, sympathy (recognizing people’s hardships and providing comfort) is confused with empathy. In my mind, when empathy is the key driver of giving, that charity is much more impactful.

I don’t do enough charity work right now, but when I lived in Atlanta a while ago, I was really active with Hands On Atlanta and helped clean up local playgrounds and schools. The desire to help came from my upbringing as a child. By no means were we struggling, but when I was growing up in Queens and Brooklyn as a kid, my family didn’t have that much money (though they did achieve a higher level of income later in my childhood). Thus I attended public schools in New York, frequently hung out at dirty playgrounds, and played sports in the streets. Because I went through the same things as those children in Atlanta, I dedicated a lot of my time and energy to providing better playgrounds and schoolyards for them. I believe my empathy for their situation made me work harder, devote more time, and show more passion for that cause.

As you can see, empathy is really important in all aspects of life. I believe it has helped my life and career, and if it helped one of the most successful businessmen of our time become happier and more successful, think about what increasing your level of empathy can do for you.

Guest Blog Post on ThornTech.com – The Ongoing Battle of Native Apps vs. HTML5 Web Apps

I just posted an article on ThornTech.com about the ongoing battle between native and HTML5 apps and the questions you should ask to make the right decision for your business.

Developing a mobile app is hard and as a business, you need to make the right strategic decisions out of the gate. This article goes over the questions you should ask yourself before building your mobile app.

I hope you find this article interesting!

 

New Consulting Engagement – Block Six Analytics

Block Six Analytics Logo

It’s always been a dream of mine to work for an intern that I hired in the past…and now that dream has come true! I’m happy to announce that I’ll be helping out Block Six Analytics (B6A), a startup founded by fellow NYU Stern alum and ex-Marketing Intern of the Washington Capitals Adam Grossman, as a Sales Consultant. You can read the B6A blog post announcing our partnership here.

I hired Adam as a Marketing Intern in the summer of 2009 (how the tables have turned). One of the projects he worked on was valuation of the Capitals’ sponsorship assets, and B6A was founded shortly after that on the same premise. B6A’s software helps sports organizations clearly communicate the value of sponsorships by using a valuation model that demonstrates how targeted impressions generate new revenue for their partners. I’ll leverage my network to help Adam market and sell this software, among other software and services, to sports teams.

I’m looking forward to working with Adam again and helping him build his company!

2012 was great, but 2013 is gonna be better

2012 was a really great, eventful year. I got engaged and legally married (thanks for the insurance, Vicky!) 🙂 ; saw my friends get married in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic; quit my dream job in sports; started and folded a startup; and garnered consulting engagements with innovative companies.

I fully expect 2013 to be bigger and better.

In 2013, I’m getting ceremonially married in Mexico and will have wedding events in NYC and Taiwan, too. I have a few close friends and a sister who will tie the knot this year (not with each other). My entrepreneurial career is going to grow. I’m sure I’m leaving other great things out but that’s all I can think of right now.

And I have some resolutions that I’ll work really hard to keep this year:

  1. I’ll achieve more focus in my entrepreneurial endeavors. After I stopped working on Dokkit in September, I lacked a lot of focus because I didn’t have that one flagship project to work on. I was working on three consulting projects and vetting a multitude of startup ideas. Having so many things on my plate spread me really thin and made me lack a sense of direction. Though some of the consulting gigs will still be there, I really want to focus more of my time on one really interesting, high-potential project with a great team.
  2. At some point this year, I’m going to not have an alcoholic beverage for 14 days. It’s kinda sad that I’ve never gone two weeks without an alcoholic beverage. Actually, I don’t think I’ve gone more than 5 days without one.  It’s not that I’m getting blasted all the time; I just like to have a beer here and a drink there. This should be interesting.
  3. I’m going to run at least two Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, or other similar races. I had a great time at the Tough Mudder I did this past year; my buddies and I pushed each other and worked together to finish an awesome challenge. I’d love to do more of these races this year.

What are some of the things you’ll achieve in 2013? I’d love to hear them. And Happy New Year to all!

Lessons Learned from Startup Weekend NEXT

This past Saturday, I completed Startup Weekend NEXT, which is an in-person class that teaches Steve Blank’s process of Customer Development. Twenty-three other entrepreneurs and I met with our teacher, Eric Koester of Zaarly, and other organizers, advisors, and mentors every Wednesday and Saturday over the last three weeks to learn how to “get out of the building” and talk to potential customers before starting to build a product.

This was an amazing but grueling experience which is awesomely summed up by Eric in this blog post. Over the last three weeks, my partner Wight and I spoke to over 60 potential customers and learned a lot about the process and ourselves. In addition to the lessons learned that Eric wrote about, I’ll add a couple more:

  1. You need a lot of empathy during this process. First, I had to understand how my partner worked and what his thought process was. Then I needed to put myself in my interviewees’ shoes to understand how they would comprehend the questions that I asked, to ensure I’ll get valuable feedback without leading them. Finally, I had to empathize with my fellow students to understand their points of view to provide feedback about their projects. I can think of a couple of times when I wasn’t quite empathetic enough during the process and therefore didn’t perform optimally.
  2. Passion is an absolute must in the startup game.  Because starting and building a company is such a grind, you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. Part of the reason I took this class was to test the passion that I had for the idea I was working on. I found that I didn’t share the high level of passion that my partner had, so we decided to part ways. If you don’t have a passion for the startup you’re working on, there’s little chance for success.
  3. Change is good. People learned a lot about how they should change their potential businesses, but I think the most impressive part of this class was seeing people actually change themselves. There were people who were initially timid and afraid of talking to customers who blossomed into outgoing, customer-development junkies. There were also people, like me, confident in their people skills who became really humbled by how difficult this process can be. Everyone had something to learn and it was amazing to see such an immense amount of change over only three weeks.
  4. Eric Koester has really cool socks! If you know Eric, you know what I mean. And I’m gonna get me some cool socks, too.

This class was an amazing journey and I’ll definitely use what I’ve learned in my future endeavors. I’d like to thank Eric, Mack, Denis, Barbara, all of the mentors and advisors, and most notably all of my fellow students for a great experience.

Now let’s get out of the building and do something great.

New Partnership – Thorn Technologies

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 5.44.21 PMGreat news! I just entered into an agreement to work with a software development shop called Thorn Technologies, one of Baltimore Business Journal’s top ten fastest growing private companies!

Our engagement is really broad and will include strategy work for Thorn Tech clients, sales of current products, building of the Thorn Tech brand through content creation and social media, and potential collaboration on startup projects. This will be much more than just a consulting gig; it will be a true partnership.

Thorn Tech has extensive experience building consumer-facing mobile and web applications, but they also excel at building back-end enterprise software, which allows them to provide unique, end-to-end solutions for its clients. Thorn Tech’s expertise fits really well with my experience designing and developing mobile apps and working with enterprise apps like CRM and marketing automation software.

I first worked with Thorn Tech President Jeff Thorn while I was at the Washington Capitals. He was a subcontractor for Acuity Mobile (acquired by Navteq), whose SMS platform we used to deliver text messages to our fans. Jeff also built the Caps Fantasy Challenge, which was a fantasy game delivered over SMS, online, and mobile web. Jeff is a really smart guy and he’s also a fellow Lehigh University alum!

I’m really looking forward to a long, mutually beneficial relationship with Jeff and his team. And if anyone needs software development work, please let me know!

Lessons Learned From My Late Dad

Today is the seven-year anniversary of the passing away of my Dad, Yew Khen Chan. He battled naso-pharyngeal (nose/throat) cancer for nearly six years, going into remission twice, before succumbing to the disease on December 9, 2005. Through his actions, my father taught me so many lessons about hard work and perseverance, and my life has been positively impacted as a result. Here is what I’ve learned from this great man.

Take Risks

My Dad immigrated to the US from Malaysia with my mother in 1976. While in Malaysia, he had a lot of success as a salesman for huge companies, but he and my mother decided to move to the US so my then-one-year-old sister and I (unborn at the time) could have a better education and brighter future. He and my mother sacrificed a comfortable life and took on a lot of risk in an unknown world so their children can have a better life.

I definitely got my risk tolerance from my Dad and he’s a huge reason why I’m an entrepreneur today.

Be Resourceful

My parents didn’t have college educations, which obviously makes finding jobs in a foreign land even more difficult than it already is. But that never stopped my Dad from achieving success. He used his work ethic and people skills to own and operate four restaurants over his career, and actually served lunch to Russell Simmons many times! After his restaurant career was over, he was able to apply his management and sales skills to other businesses in the self storage and software industries. He wasn’t the most classically educated man, but he used his street smarts and ability to learn to be successful.

Correct Failure and Reward Success

Because my Dad wanted my sister and me to always do the right thing, he was quick to punish us when we didn’t. But he would always follow up by thoroughly explaining why we were wrong and how we could improve. I remember the time when I left a waffle cooking in our broken toaster; the toaster didn’t pop up and this set our kitchen cabinet on fire. My Dad was absolutely livid for days but then when things calmed down, he sat me down and told me everything that I did wrong (some of which wasn’t totally obvious at the time). Then he grounded me for a long time. I got the point.

But when we exceeded expectations and did really well, he was quick to reward. Many times, my Dad would make me a deal – if I got straight A’s, he would buy me the shiny new toy I wanted. I didn’t always get that toy, but God knows I tried hard every time.

I apply how my Dad treated me as a son to how I treat the people who I manage – correct issues as soon as they arise and reward excellent work.

Live to Eat, Don’t Eat to Live

My Dad loved to eat, and this apple didn’t fall far from the tree, as anyone who knows me knows I love food. He always told me that you should be alive to eat and enjoy your food, and not eat just to stay alive. But his philosophy didn’t apply just to food. Basically, his mindset was that if you wanted something, work hard and reward yourself, because you only live once. My Dad wasn’t a superficial man, but he liked and wanted nice things. So he worked really hard and treated himself to delicious food, a Rolex, a big beautiful house, and his prize possession, a Lexus LS400.

Persevere

My Dad’s battle with cancer is where I learned the most about the perseverance of my parents. He was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and as you would expect, this absolutely rocked my family’s world.

Before my Dad went through chemotherapy and radiation, my Mom researched everything she could do keep my Dad as healthy as possible throughout the process. She bought a ton of vitamins and supplements and adamantly fed them to him, regardless of how much he complained about how many massive pills he had to take. End result – my Dad made it through the treatment without losing another hair on his head (he was already balding, though) and his cancer went into remission.

Four years later, the cancer inevitably returned. This time, the situation would be much more trying. My Dad had to go through chemo, radiation, and surgery. He lost a bunch of hair and a lot of weight and was frequently irritable and stubborn. A lot of arguments occurred; the family dynamic really changed. Regardless, the cancer went into remission for the second time, which is basically unheard of.

Unfortunately, the cancer again returned in 2005. At this point, my Dad was six years older than when he first contracted the disease and his body had taken a lot of punishment. Treatment really left a mark on him and the cancer just wasn’t going away. The writing was on the wall; he was moved out of the hospital back home and we employed hospice care to make him as comfortable as possible during his remaining time. I was set to visit my family one weekend, when my sister told me early in the week that Dad didn’t have much time left. So I rushed home the next day to see him and he wound up passing away that night; basically, he stayed alive until I got home so he could see me one last time.

Every time I think that I can’t achieve something, I remember how my Dad persevered to beat cancer twice, and held on to life to say goodbye to me in person.

It’s clear that my Dad has been with me and my family in spirit even if he’s not with us physically. His lessons impact my life every day and I hope that he’s reading this from above. We all miss and love you, Dad.

My Thoughts on MBA Rankings

BusinessWeek recently released their 2012 business school rankings. Rather than go into the mechanics of the rankings and bitch about how my alma mater NYU Stern is only ranked 16th (just kidding, I don’t care), I’m just going to spew my thoughts about how rankings fit into the overall b-school experience.

Like I mentioned, I don’t really care for business school rankings, but I understand why they’re important:

  1. They ignite change. B-school administration will say they don’t care about rankings either. But when their rank goes up, they publish glowing press releases that highlight all the improvements they made. When their rank plummets, they denounce the survey’s methodology, carefully craft answers to potential candidates’ questions about why their rank dropped, and commit time and money to improve on the metrics that gave them a lower ranking. Yup, seems like they don’t care at all.
  2. For the most part, prospective MBA students choose a business school on two primary characteristics – rank and location.

Regarding #2, I don’t think these are wrong factors to take into account – just incomplete. These two factors are where applicants should start their application process, not end. There’s nothing wrong with a top-tier applicant narrowing down his or her initial list of schools to the top-10 ranked programs in major metropolitan areas, for instance. But many times that’s all applicants think about.

I believe that smart applicants will go further; they’ll really understand what they want to get out of business school (e.g. switch to the finance industry?) and the type of environment in which they want to spend their next two years (e.g. competitive or collaborative?), and any other factors that might be important, then really dig in to the fine details of each school that may fit his or her needs. B-schools aren’t just MBA factories; they’re living, breathing entities that will impact you for not only the next two years, but the rest of your life.

Another important factor is brand. No matter how many times Chicago’s Booth School of Business sits atop BusinessWeek’s rankings, that brand just isn’t going to be as powerful as Harvard Business School, Stanford, or Wharton. Brand is a powerful thing that should be taken into account, but like rank and location, it probably shouldn’t be the primary factor.

I understand that many of these factors aren’t mutually exclusive, but the message that I’m trying to convey is that there’s much, much more to b-school selection than rank. At least there should be.

For those of you who have MBAs, I’d love to hear some of the factors that you used, outside of rank and location, that helped you select the school you attended and how it worked out for you.