Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

TAG: life

What’s your superpower?

What’s that one skill or characteristic that makes you different and/or better?

What thing do you do so well that makes you stand out from the crowd?

If you can identify it, awesome.

If not, you’re not alone.

My guess is that most people don’t even think about what their superpower is. And for those who do, many can’t come up with one, or just haven’t figured it out yet.

Some people may discover what they’re good at when they’re very young.

There are stories where 8-year olds learn how to code and become badass software developers for life. Or a 10-year old opens up a lemonade stand and learns how to sell at a young age, then she leverages that skill to achieve a successful career and life. Or a cute kid gets casted for a commercial and becomes a movie star when he grows up (if he can avoid the drugs and mental issues along the way).

I’m not one of those people. I have a couple of hypotheses on what my superpower is, but I can’t quite pinpoint it just yet. And that’s OK.

I believe most people need to subject themselves to a wide array of experiences to truly discover what their superpower is. They need the proper motivation and mentorship to push themselves to find this unique skill or characteristic, and they need to find the right situation and circumstances to flourish.

A better way might be to ask other people what they think your superpower is.

You may think that you’re good at something, and that might be true. But others will have a more objective point of view of your skills and personality and may be able to better identify your superpower.

However you go about it, I think it’s very important to eventually discover your superpower so you can leverage it to the best of your ability in everything you do. If that one skill or trait is truly your superpower, it can take you a long way in your career and life.

So I ask you, have you discovered your superpower yet? If so, what is it, and how did you identify it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

This is day 29 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days. I’m almost there!

Looking back to 2013 and forward to 2014

Happy New Year! Though I believe we should continuously think about where we are and where we’re going, the new year is always a good time to summarize it all. So here goes!

Recap of 2013

Mike Vicky Vows

This past year was really eventful on a personal level. I attended seven (!) weddings in 2013: two were mine (the Best Wedding Ever in Mexico and an awesome family reception in Queens), my sister got married in September in NYC, and four other friends got married in New Jersey, California, and Florida. Combine those weddings with traveling to New York and New Jersey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s pretty clear that Vicky and I have been a couple of weary road warriors. But it was a year full of great celebrations.

Cute

One of the tougher parts of the year was when our dog, Sweet Dee, was paralyzed in her hind legs by a compressed spine. We had to cut our vacation short to take her to the neurologist, get an MRI, and have her undergo surgery. The aftermath was really difficult, as we had to frequently express her bladder (she didn’t have much control of anything in the back half of her body) and retrain her on how to walk. Regardless, she’s a tough cookie and made a full recovery! She probably has no idea that she was even paralyzed. Silly dog.

Regarding my 2013 New Year’s resolutions, I pretty much shat the bed. While I accomplished not drinking for two weeks, I failed to run at least two Tough Mudders (I only ran one) and didn’t make much progress on launching a startup. While 1 out of 3 makes for a good batting average in baseball, it really sucks for New Year’s resolutions. On the career note, some positives included taking a more active role in Startup Weekend DC (I became an official co-organizer), and blogging for the CEA, which has been fun and has increased my visibility.

Onward to 2014

While 2013 was an amazing year, I’m really looking forward to 2014. There will definitely be fewer weddings, so I’ll travel a bit less this year. This should keep me fresher to accomplish my resolutions, which are:

1) Seriously get my startup going

While I didn’t make much progress launching a startup in 2013, my co-founder and I did narrow our list down to three ideas to potentially pursue. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to run some experiments to figure out which may be the most viable idea and work towards it. I’m excited!

I stress out everyday about the lack of movement on my startup, but making a little bit of progress everyday will help, and that’s what I intend to do.

2) Drop five pounds

I’m blessed with the high metabolism that many Asians have, so I haven’t had to worry too much about my weight. I work out a good amount but I think being more disciplined with my diet, which I’m pretty horrible at, will help me stay healthier and keep my energy up. Dropping five pounds will be the result of this discipline.

3) Avoid alcohol for two weeks every quarter

While it was tough (for me) to not drink for 14 days straight, I’m going to do it 4 times this year. This should also help me achieve resolution #2.

4) Start a family

Whoa! This is a big one that may have a detrimental impact on all of the above resolutions, but it will be totally worth it. I should let Vicky know about this one. 🙂

If all goes well, 2014 will be an unbelievable year in both my personal and professional lives, and I can’t wait.

How did your 2013 go, and what are your resolutions for 2014? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

If you found this interesting, please connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Best Wedding Ever!

I got married to Vicky Huang twelve days ago, on May 11, 2013. And I might be biased, but I think it was the BEST WEDDING EVER!

We had an amazing destination wedding at the all-inclusive Azul Sensatori resort in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, which is about 20 minutes south of Cancun in the Riviera Maya. The resort was beautiful and had everything we imagined – great accommodations, delicious and abundant food and drink (which we took full advantage of), plenty of entertainment options, and excellent customer service. The weather was perfect and the ceremony and reception went off without a hitch. Everyone had a great time, so much so that last night, our friends were still talking about what went down!

Here’s a quick recap of the highlights:

  • A typical day consisted of:
    • Getting breakfast at one of the excellent resort restaurants
    • Swimming, tanning, and drinking by the pool or beach
    • Grabbing lunch at the beach BBQ or another restaurant
    • More swimming, tanning, and drinking by the pool or beach
    • Dinner at one of the restaurants
    • More drinking and hanging out at one of the bars
    • Winding up at the Mojito Lounge for drinking and dancing
  • The ceremony was perfect. Vicky looked stunning. And yes, I cried.

Mike and Vicky at altar

Chan crying

  • The reception was great. The bridesmaids and my best man performed excellent speeches. Vicky’s brother and my sister commemorated our fathers, both who have passed away and couldn’t be there with us. Delicious food was eaten, drinks were drank, shots of tequila were shot, dances were danced, and great times were had. I got thrown in the pool, my groomsmen and others joined me (see our wetness below), and Vicky even jumped in too!

Groomsmen after pool

  • Vicky, my mom, my mom’s friend, my cousin, and I had dinner at an awesome tasting menu restaurant called Le Chique, which Vicky and I agree is second only to Komi on our tasting-menu restaurant rankings. Delicious.
  • Vicky and I swam with dolphins.

RLL_8112

RLL_8282

  • Vicky and I doubled up on our last two meals. Right after we had a romantic dinner on the beach, we went to have tapas. The next morning, after a special couples breakfast in our room, we hit up Spoon for breakfast part dos.

My words can’t fully express how awesome this trip was.

But the best part (besides getting married, of course) was that 75 of our closest family members and friends joined us in celebrating. People traveled from DC, New York, New Jersey, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Philly, Minnesota, Texas, and even Taiwan to be with us on our big day. Better yet, they all made friends and had a great time with each other. Vicky and I are so lucky to have such supportive friends and family.

I wrote a post a year and a half ago about Happiness vs. Satisfaction, and how I was happy but not yet fully satisfied with life. This is one big step towards satisfaction in my personal life and I have my family, friends, and most importantly Vicky to thank for it.

If you’d like to see more pictures, drop me a line and I’ll send you a link to our Box account.

Like this post? Then follow me on Twitter – @mikewchan – for future updates.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Happy Birthday, Dad!

You would have been 65 years old today. If you were still with us, we probably would have had our family and friends over to our house in Old Bridge, NJ, to have a BBQ, like we’ve done so many times. After eating, you would have had a few glasses of Remy Martin XO and played Mahjong into the wee hours of the night. You and Mom were great hosts, so everyone would have had an awesome time.

I’ve already blogged about how you’ve impacted my life and career, but I don’t think you knew how much you influenced and affected our family and friends. You knew how to be successful and enjoy life and always wanted to spread your knowledge about how to do both.

I wear your Rolex every now and then, so I have you on my wrist on some days, if not on my mind everyday.

I speak on behalf of everyone we know when I say Happy Birthday and we miss and love you dearly.

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.

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.

Move Fast, Move Slow

I think there are situations in work and life where you should move fast and others where you should take it slow (or “quickly” and “slowly” if you want to be grammatically correct). My sometimes conflicting thoughts are below.

Things to do fast:

  1. Workout / run – fast, meaning “high intensity” – it’s more effective and you get it over with quickly. Double win!
  2. Things that aren’t imperative to your goal – you should consider outsourcing or not doing these things at all.
  3. Think – Malcolm Gladwell has some things to say about this.
  4. Address a problem – nip it in the bud and move on.
  5. Live life – you only live once (#YOLO!), make it worth it, no regrets.

Things to do slow:

  1. Eat – enjoy your food. I am terrible at this.
  2. Write a note to someone important to you – be thoughtful and check your speling 🙂
  3. Think (when it comes to analysis and numbers) – you can get lost quickly, and a decimal point in the wrong spot can be disastrous!
  4. Hire – my shortcomings on this here. Take it slow and make sure the fit is right.
  5. Find your soulmate – again, take it slow and make sure the fit is right. Don’t settle. It took me eight (!) years to realize who my soulmate is and I couldn’t be happier.
  6. Live life – it takes time to find happiness and/or satisfaction. Enjoy the ride.

What else can you add to these lists?

The Importance of Disconnecting From Work

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about how sometimes I wish life were simpler and we could more easily disconnect from our gadgets. Lately, there’s been a lot of content out there about how to better disconnect from work, which is something that I and many people have a problem doing.

When I was working at the Caps, I almost never disconnected from work when we were in-season from September to May (too bad not June). That’s nine months non-stop of constantly reading and writing email, strategizing, executing, managing, firefighting, and stressing. I’d take a few days off in February or March each year to go snowboarding out west, but I’d bring my laptop and catch up on some work during downtime and really never stopped thinking about it. I otherwise rarely took vacation in-season. This is a recipe for burning out, which I admittedly did towards the end of every season.

Now that I’m on my own working on Dokkit and consulting, it’s gotten even worse. And I’ve been doing this for only two weeks!

That’s why I love these articles and posts about how small business owners and startup CEOs are approaching vacations and completely disconnecting from work, whether it’s for themselves or their employees.

This NY Times article shows how you can prepare yourself and your company for when you take a real, disconnected vacation.

This post from a startup called Full Contact talks about their Paid Paid Vacation policy – not only do they pay your salary when you are on vacation, they actually pay for your vacation, too! Awesome!

This Inc post talks about how Red Frog gives their employees unlimited vacation time and how that really helps them be more productive.

It’s tough but I think we can gain a lot from being truly disconnected from work every now and then. What do you think?

Don’t Be Afraid to Take That Big Step

Fortune Big StepFortune SaltThat’s what the piece of paper from a fortune cookie told me. It also told me how to say”salt” in Mandarin.

I held on to that fortune and now I’m following its wisdom (not the learning Chinese part).

Today was my last day at the Washington Capitals / Monumental Sports and Entertainment and I’m leaving to work on my tech startup, Dokkit. Check it out, sign up, and let me know what you think!

My time with the Caps and Monumental was amazing. I worked with so many smart people and learned so many things that will no doubt help me in the future. I’m really appreciative of the opportunities and responsibility that I was given here. And I got to watch hockey games for a living! As awesome as this job was, it was time to take a shot at this entrepreneurship thing.

I’m in for the ride of my life. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ll have no income for a while. I’ll never work harder, face more uncertainty, and ride more of an emotional roller coaster than I will now. Fellow entrepreneur Daniel Odio told me that working on a startup is like “getting punched in the face all day, then waking up the next day to do it all over again.” Awesome, can’t wait. I’m nervous, excited, stressed, and scared. Really scared. But I’m doing it anyway. I might fail or I might succeed, who knows. But I have to take a shot.

Go big or go home. Shit or get off the pot. No regrets. Or any other motivating tagline you want to use. So if you’re thinking of making a move, I say, “Just Do It.”

But it all begins by taking that big step.

What if life were simpler, like on TV shows?

Don Draper Drinking

Dedicated to the winners and the losers, Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Dedicated to all Jeeps and Land Cruisers, Can it be that it was all so simple then?
-Wu-Tang Clan, “Can It Be All So Simple”

Some of the best shows that are or were on TV take place in another era. Shows like Game of Thrones, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men portray how times were back in the day in different parts of the (sometimes made-up) world. When I watch these shows and think about how life was so simple, I sometimes ponder whether I would have rather lived in those eras as opposed to now.

Technology has no doubt made us more connected, efficient, and productive. But it has, to some extent, shortened our attention spans, trivialized relationships, and overwhelmed us with content. So, would I trade today’s complex, gadget-based life for a simpler, less cluttered life back then? Let’s compare.

  • Game of Thrones – Days filled with practicing sword fighting or archery, drinking arbor wine and eating salted beef and pigeon pie seem pretty cool, but I’ll pass on riding horses all day, ugly clothes, and not bathing.
  • Deadwood – Pan for gold, sell some tools, drink whiskey, visit a whorehouse and form a government – not a terrible life. But the bumpy dirt roads, uncomfortable boots (I have flat hooves and those boots would hurt) and risk that someone can just come up and shank or shoot me outweighs all the good simple things.
  • Downton Abbey – Life’s pretty good if you’re a Crawley, but even getting waited on all day might get annoying, and so might those accents.
  • Mad Men – Sipping whiskey or vodka at 11am while thinking of clever taglines, followed by a liquid lunch with a client, followed by a nap on the couch in your office, followed by a liquid dinner, all while styling in a sweet suit? Awesome! Transistor radios and black and white TVs don’t compare to iPods and HDTVs but I think we might have something here.

All non-funny jokes aside, I wouldn’t trade today’s life for any of those in the above TV shows. But there are times when I’m overwhelmed with emails, tweets, newsletters, meeting requests, etc. and I just want to sit back, take a swig of vodka and score a nap.

What do you do when you get overwhelmed with a ton of communications and content? How do you disconnect from the clutter that technology brings? Would you trade today’s life for the simple life in one of those shows?