Best way to learn is to imitate (and how it should apply to startups in emerging markets)

Recently there were interesting articles beng circulated and discussed in the valley. One is Black Swan Farming by Paul Graham and the other one is Screw the Black Swans by Dave McClure. Interestingly enough, the fireside chat with Vinod Khosla at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 was a timely interview and speaks to the different viewpoints.

I suspected, but was surprised to learn that out of all YC companies, Airbnb and Dropbox account for three quarters (3/4) in terms of about $10 Billion valuation. Paul was saying how difficult it is to pick a game changer winner. What makes it more difficult is how great ideas seem like bad ideas in the beginning. If an idea looks good, then everyone including large companies will work on it, and startups will have even less chance of succeeding. It’s when an idea seems bad and thus hard time getting funded, but at the end succeeds, it’s a game changer (homerun).

Vinod Khosla said pretty much the same. His fund looks for companies that will make tremendous impact when successful. It doesn’t matter when they fail. Founders will move on to a new project. But they don’t want to invest in companies that will make a little to no impact when successful. Again, Vinod is looking for a game changer (homerun) company.

Dave on the other hand is saying that 500 startups focus on Ichiro’s of the world (consistent hitting) rather than Barry Bond’s of the world (homerun king). He goes further into discussing the differences between YC and 500 startups (like hackers vs. hustlers), but my main takeaway was what kind of companies they were looking to fund.

These discussions made me think about how startups in emerging markets (including Korea) could do better. When babies are born, they learn mostly by imitating people around them. There is also an old saying, “Imitation is the best form of flattery”. Many amateur athletes also learn by imitating professional players (watching and learning). Korea is the only country I know best outside the US, and I always noticed the lack of virtuous seed funding cycle in Korea – successful founders seed investing in other startups. Once startup is up and running, and shows notable tractions, they can raise money from VCs and the process and valuation will be much better. However, startups often fail even before they could show traction because either they make multiple mistakes or run out of money before they can pivot. Without proper seed funding (and mentoring), they will have really hard time reaching the traction point.

At any rate, I think the best way for startups in Korea (or in emerging markets) to produce good enough winners to start the virtuous cycle is to imitate successful US startups in Korea (or in emerging markets), and after having a few successful exits, the founders can help other founders by investing and mentoring them. Furthermore, after successful exits, those founders would be in much better position to take bigger risk and attempt to make big impacts. In baseball analogy, it would be something along the line of having a few good seasons of hitting consistently, then you can swing for homeruns. No doubt those good seasons would be a confidence builder as well.

I keep hearing how there are many incubators and accelerators popping up in Korea. Someone recently expressed a concern that it’s like a startup bubble and a few failures will have devastating effect on the whole startup movements. I think this type of imitation strategy will be good at least in the beginning. After there are good number of successful and experienced founders, they would be better equipped to make sounding decisions and also to help other up-and-coming founders. It would truly strengthen startup community in Korea (or in emerging markets).

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How to install Ubuntu on Chomebook (CR-48) and put parental control

I have had a couple of first-generation Chromebook (CR-48) for a while. I thought these would be pretty good portable computing devices to give to my kids. However, I wasn’t ready to do so unless there was some sort of parental control. As someone who spends a lot of time online, it’s too rough place for kids to roam around. I have known about their support for dev mode, and I decided to figure out which linux flavor would support CR-48.

First search attempt turned out Ubuntu, and since Ubuntu is known for better UI, I decided to give it a try. I also found out there is an excellent parental control guide on Ubuntu as well.

Install Ubuntu on Chromebook (CR-48)

There is no need to re-invent the wheel. Follow instruction here to put Ubuntu 11.04 on Chromebook (CR-48). It worked out like a charm.

Parental Control on Ubuntu

There is a great guide here, and I couldn’t get the Web Content Control to work. However, timekpr is pretty good. You should at least install that.

For filtering content, ProCon Latte Content Filter Firefox Add-on has been working pretty well.

So far, I have been happy with Ubuntu on CR-48. It’s slow and keypad doesn’t work too well, but I think kids are just happy to have their own laptops. :)

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How to install KidsRuby on Mac OS X and Ubuntu

I have two kids, and I have been wanting to find ways to introduce my kids to programming. Especially for my son, who has asperger syndrome. I thought programming would be a good way to use his interests in logic and mathematics to good use.

I was so much in joy when I found KidsRuby. It’s an awesome project. I think Ruby is a great first language because of its elegance and object-oriented nature to the core.

Previously I had a hard time installing KidsRuby my Mac OS X, due to qt installation error. I was able to at least get it going by cloning their git repository. I had filed a bug for the qt installation error, and the author responded some time ago, but I hadn’t had time to verify it.

I finally had time to verify it, and it worked like a charm.

I also had converted two first-generation Google Chromebooks to use Ubuntu to give to my kids. And while I was familiar with Fedora, this was my first time using Ubuntu, and as new user, I had to search around the net to install Ruby and to install KidsRuby. I am close to finishing it, and I will describe it here.

Mac OS X

This one is pretty easy. Just download the installer dmg file from here, and follow the instruction. It will take a while, but it would be well worth it. You can find the KidsRuby folder in Application folder.

Ubuntu

Now, this one took a while. If you have Ruby installed already, you are good to go. If not, follow the direction below.

If Ruby isn’t installed

You can simply follow the direction from Ryan Bigg to install Ruby 1.9.3.

If Ruby is already installed

I am not sure which version of Ruby is supported, but this applies to Ruby 1.9.3.

The biggest problem I faced was the problem with ffi gem. I kept getting the following error.

Installing ffi (1.0.10) with native extensions
Gem::Installer::ExtensionBuildError: ERROR: Failed to build gem native extension.
 
        /usr/bin/ruby1.9.1 extconf.rb
:29:in `require': no such file to load -- mkmf (LoadError)
	from :29:in `require'
	from extconf.rb:4:in `'
 
Gem files will remain installed in /usr/share/kidsruby/ffi/ruby/1.9.1/gems/ffi-1.0.10 for inspection.
Results logged to /usr/share/kidsruby/ffi/ruby/1.9.1/gems/ffi-1.0.10/ext/ffi_c/gem_make.out
An error occured while installing ffi (1.0.10), and Bundler cannot continue.
Make sure that `gem install ffi -v '1.0.10'` succeeds before bundling.

After searching the net for a while, I realized that I needed to install “-dev” package as well. Since I am using 1.9.3, I had to install ruby1.9.1-dev.

sudo apt-get install ruby1.9.1-dev

After that you can clone the git repository and install necessary packages.

git clone https://github.com/hybridgroup/kidsruby.git
 
cd kidsruby
 
sudo apt-get install libqt4-dev
sudo apt-get install cmake
gem install qtbindings
bundle install

The bundle install part will take a while.

For the lesson part, I had a surprising result – my son totally lost interest very quickly, but my daughter was more into it. :)

KidsRuby on Ubuntu

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Never never give up on your life

When I first read TechCrunch’s article on Diaspora co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy’s death, I didn’t think much of it except that it didn’t mention anything about the cause of the death. It usually means only thing, and my suspicion was confirmed by hacker news thread.

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3231531

What I particularly noticed about the thread was discussion of failure and stress of founding a startup and other suicides by very smart folks. It also reminded me of earlier tragic passing of a co-founder of a Y-Combinator-funded company and the article I read on WIRED magazine about two AI scientists committing suicides almost in identical ways.

I would never know why these guys did what they did. But for me, I have one thing that would prevent me from thinking about it. It’s my kids and my family to an extent. It’s a double-edged sword. On one side, it’s the reason for not being able to take huge risk, but on the other side, it’s the reason for my sanity no matter how shitty my life is at any given moment (and my life right now isn’t all that spectacular).

Also, we should also keep things in perspective. In grand scheme of this universe, we are just small part of green/blue spec called Earth. You shouldn’t care about and be afraid of failures/rejections. Who cares? People will forget and move on. I think it’s courageous and commendable to just try. Regardless of outcome, having tried something sets you ahead of many others.

Just remember the following quotes.

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

Also, especially this one.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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(org.mongodb.mogod) Exited with exit code: 100

For some reason, I couldn’t run mongo shell and the console was overrun by the same error message like the following.

8/1/11 6:49:15 PM com.apple.launchd[1] (org.mongodb.mongod) Throttling respawn: Will start in 10 seconds
8/1/11 6:49:25 PM com.apple.launchd[1] (org.mongodb.mongod[394]) Exited with exit code: 100
8/1/11 6:49:15 PM com.apple.launchd[1] (org.mongodb.mongod) Throttling respawn: Will start in 10 seconds
8/1/11 6:49:25 PM com.apple.launchd[1] (org.mongodb.mongod[394]) Exited with exit code: 100

And searching on Google didn’t turn up any interesting results.

IT PAYS TO LOOK AT YOUR LOG FILE! Well, this shouldn’t be new, but it somehow skipped my mind until I saw the config file.

In the log file was the following helpful error message.

**************
old lock file: /usr/local/mongodb_data/mongod.lock.  probably means unclean shutdown
recommend removing file and running --repair
see: http://dochub.mongodb.org/core/repair for more information
*************

Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 [initandlisten] exception in initAndListen std::exception: old lock file, terminatingMon Aug  1 18:49:35 dbexit:
Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 [initandlisten] shutdown: going to close listening sockets...
Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 [initandlisten] shutdown: going to flush diaglog...
Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 [initandlisten] shutdown: going to close sockets...
Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 [initandlisten] shutdown: waiting for fs preallocator...
Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 [initandlisten] shutdown: closing all files...
Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 closeAllFiles() finished
Mon Aug  1 18:49:35 dbexit: really exiting now
Well, after deleting the lock file, everything was back to normal.

When in doubt, always look in your log file!

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Relevance in current Internet

I just finished reading TechCrunch article, How Facebook Can Put Google Out of Business. This also reminded me of Paul Adam’s articles, The Real Life Social Network and How Your Customers’ Social Circles Influence What They Buy, What They Do and Where They Go. And also this good analogy of Facebook, Google and other hot startups.

I was also asked a lot of questions about problem of current social media and how I could make it better as part of interview questions. One common answer I provide is the relevance. How important are these news, status updates, tweets, etc. to me? I agree that the biggest difference between Facebook and Google is the core of each company – people (social) or links (web pages).

Many companies are trying to figure out who you are as a person. For example, another favorite startup of mine, Hunch, is trying to figure out who you are and what you would like based on what you already like. Netflix tries to figure out what movies you might like based on your ratings of movies. Amazon has been doing it for a while with features like “you might also like…” Facebook is obviously in good position because of the social interaction data they have – what you shared, who you have interacted with, what you liked, etc. in addition to social graph. Twitter can also certainly figure out by analyzing followers, tweets and especially retweets, but right now I feel that noise-to-signal ratio on Twitter is too high. You control tweet relevance by carefully choosing who you follow.

We are bound to create more data. The amount of data we generate will never decrease. In the sea of data, it would be harder and harder to find information that is relevant to you, but to others. In this sense, Facebook is definitely sitting on a gold mine. It’s kind of creepy, but the more interactions you have on Facebook, the more Facebook knows you, and it provides good targeting data to advertisers. Can Google build significant social product? Nothing is impossible, but I think it would be very hard. Facebook is just too big, and I just don’t see why I would use similar feature on another platform. Once you have your social network established on one platform, it is extremely hard to create the similar network on a different platform. In social network, the winner takes all, unless the winner screws up big time. It could happen (as has happened a couple of times already with Friendster and MySpace).

We are living in an interesting time, indeed.

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Silicon Valley Bubble

I went back home to the East Coast, Washington DC suburb, this past holiday season. I also went up to see my friends and cousins in NJ and NY. Having the first meaningful conversation with my friends and relatives in about two years made me realize one thing about Silicon Valley.

We (those of us living in the SF Bay Area) are living in a bubble. I am not talking about startup/options/hype kind of bubble, but a tech bubble. I was the one most knowledgeable about up-to-date information of facebook and its eco-system with apps and social games, twitter, google, etc. None of my friends and relatives seem to know nor even care about such information.

It’s just amazing and unbelievable when you think about such high concentration of technical knowledge, talent and money in one geographical area.

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Korea will be left behind

It’s okay to be patriotic. You should love your country, but it should not keep you from being objective.

In one way, Koreans are kind of Xenophobic. It’s not exactly it because they don’t hate foreigners, but because they think they are better than others. It was very clear when I lived in Korea for two years. It’s media’s fault, which is pretty much propaganda machine for everything to do with Korea. Come to think of it, this kind of blind loyalty is rampant in Korea.

When you are in the middle of it, it’s really hard to tell others about different things. But it becomes crystal clear when you are outside Korea. Whatever Koreans think they are best at, people in other parts of world simply don’t care.

Now, you may ask, “why do you care?” I shouldn’t. What Korea does or doesn’t do doesn’t affect me. So, why? I used to ask that myself, and I found an answer. Because I am a Korean, too (well, 1/2 of me is. Not that I am mixed, but I just happened to live 1/2 of my life in the US). I didn’t want to care, but I can’t help it.

Anyhow, I think Korea is in big trouble. They will be completely left behind in 10 years or so. Because they don’t invest in important technologies. But, you might say, “C’mon. Korea has the highest rate of Broadband penetration! Their mobile technology is way ahead of the Continue reading

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Bloglation – Translate, Save, and Share!

Last Thursday, I released private alpha version of Bloglation, which lets a user translate any web page, save and share. It’s supposed to be private, but I need to get some good feedback from real users. If you are bi-lingual (or not) and interested in translating cool ideas, concepts and/or knowledge, please go ahead. And don’t forget to send me any comments/feedback you have.

I also wanted to maintain a separate blog just for bloglation. You can find it here.

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Infinite possibilities and power of parents

Paul Graham, a successful serial entrepreneur and my biggest idol, just published another thought-provoking essay – After Credentials.

Interestingly, he was referring to a New York Times article on Korean education system. Having grown up in Korea till 16, I had experienced it myself and am in complete agreement with him. I was an odd kid in Korea. I didn’t like following those customary rules just because they had been practiced for many hundreds of years. I hated cramming and being judged by test scores. And it’s so true that a college degree plays a large role in one’s career and life in Korea. Since graduating from college is pretty much guaranteed, once you get in, you are set. Therefore, there is a lot of emphasis in GETTING in to a college, no matter what you major in. So, it’s safe to say that most kids do not major in what they wanted.
Korea is a country RULED by large companies: Samsung, Hyundai, etc. They employ 100′s of thousands of people and venture into all kinds of business, from cars to hospital, theme park, and consumer electronics. Working there means job security, so many college graduates want to work there. Thus, just like what Paul said, credential and pedigree matter A LOT. Also personal connections. It’s sickening. 
It’s one of the reasons why I like the US and the Silicon Valley. Like I mentioned about Obama, it’s the land of infinite possibilities. I’ve worked at many start-ups, and I know that all of them were filled with people from all different backgrounds, and that included educational background. Once you leave your first job, you are judged on your skills, not where you went to school. It’s so true for engineers and also sales folks. Even in the Silicon Valley, the larger a company is – like Intel and Cisco – the more your credential and pedigree matter. 
Raising two kids, I think about what values I bestow upon them. As an Asian, and perhaps the way I was raised, I highly value education and have been sending them to a private school. But as I also grow older, I wonder if it’s so necessary. Of course education is important, but I am not sure if sending them to a private school is necessary. Because, there is so much more important than just learning – creativity, positive attitude, ingenuity, etc. I really want my kids to understand that there are a lot more things valuable than good grades. I want to encourage my kids to be entrepreneurial, try new things, and not be afraid of failures. Do your best and don’t worry. I hope my parents could have taught me something different. I don’t blame my parents at all, but I can’t help but to imagine how things would have been different if I were taught different values. 

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