What We Can Learn from Travellers

Travel is a habit changer, and a mind changer. From time to time, I acknowledge the benefit of travel, and its positive impact on me.

Break the Boundary of Time

Travelers may have different sense of time than the residence. I waked up and wandered around the Bund at 5:30 am today, and saw many travelers – who else wake up so early to get to a tourism location? When I was in the valley, because we are running out of the daily schedule, 9:00 am is not that a sharp dividing line between pre-work to work. Sunday and Saturday are not that different, than work days.

Break the Boundary of Location

During travel, “far” places are much further than local people. A typical trip to China means Beijing/Shanghai/Xi’an/Guangzhou and maybe Chengdu for most foreigners, and for others, Tibet and Xinjiang are must visit for many American, which is still a dream for many people, including myself.

When you travel, since you have setup the orientation system for yourself, you may wake up and drive to places considered far-away. Driving down to Los Angelas does not sound too crazy to me, and driving across US is also attractive. In the area, a meeting in the City (San Francisco) can be arranged adjacent to a meeting in San Jose. That is just like arranging a meeting in Shanghai and Suzhou, and maybe another in Hangzhou. Totally crazy but I don’t feel anything wrong about it when I travel.

If you apply that to Shanghai, meeting in any of the district should sounds close, and you should do it.

Break the Reasons You Don’t See People

When I travel, I may just shoot an email to an old friend and tell him/her that I am in town and how about catch up? The only reason to catchup is because we haven’t seen each other for at least half year (my travel schedule). Visiting a place every half a week or a year is good interval since it is not too long that you barely accumulate any friend, or too short that you become a resident. The other party enjoy the same thing.

In Shanghai? That sounds a little bit awkward. You don’t see people just for the sake of seeing people (It IS a great reason), so people may stay away from each other without face to face time for many years. Sometimes I feel people in the city is further than people in the city.

Break the Balance Between Thinking and Doing

This is actually not just travel, it is vacation vs working time. In working time, most of the time, we are doing things. Doing is an important part of a company or person, but lack of thinking for too long can be a problem.

Travel is dedicated thinking time. Even people who swipe the street gets to think when they are travel. You talk with people – think! You see the street view – think! You check-in hotels – think! You are forced to think and react to the more unfamiliar world, and you think more.

This is one thing we definitely need to learn from the travelers.


Surely there are many other aspects of travel itself – the culture immersion, the new skills you learn, but at the end of the day, you are still yourself, and the impact in how you behave is more important than the real knowledge.


Large Wave of Factory Bankrupt in China

When I open newspaper, especially on Weibo, bad news are coming one after another. There are a large wave of factory bankrupt and shutdown starting from this year. The wave spread out from Pearl Delta, to Yangtze Delta, and quickly spread out to the whole China.

Labor Cost as the Last Straw

Most of the news attributed the bankrupt to a lot of factors, including the decline of export orders, and increase of material cost. But seldom can they ignore the fact that the labor cost has increased like crazy.

A report mentioned a typical first line worker’s salary was about 1000 RMB/month in 2006, and that number has raised to 5000-8000. Other industry shows the same trends with 3x increase in the last three years. The percentage of labor cost increased from 10% to about 40% for many factories.

Worker Shortage

Along with the sharp increase of salary was the worker shortage. Many factories have orders, and machines, but not enough workers. The worker shortage started to be a hot topic. Meanwhile, it is harder for the workers to find a job. The problem? Pretty simple, the salary issue.

There is no such a thing called worker shortage. If the factory wants to increase the salary by 10x, many developers and office workers will join the factories, but the salary was constrained by the revenue. The actual problem is, the labor cost of yesterday does not attract workers of today, and the labor cost of today is not supported by the orders from overseas.

In this case, there seems only one way – lay off all the workers and shutdown the factories. Thus the problem of worker shortage becomes more troublesome when there is less demand.

Why when the demand goes down, the worker salary still stay up? Because the worker salary is not just determined by demand, there is a hard support – the living cost. With CPI increasing 10% every year, the workers can no longer justify leaving their own hometown (where they don’t need to pay housing, and little on food), and move to big cities, where factories are.

Automatic Assembly Line

I wrote an article about a factories in Zhejiang that was just shutdown. The writer said they had the opportunity to buy automatic assembly line to replace the manually work in 2006, but they missed the opportunity, because the labor cost is so low that to spend money on automatic assembly line does not make sense.

Then 2012 came. When they cannot afford to hire workers, they are also lack of money to buy the automatic assembly line. So they went out of business.

That is the point I am going to talk about in this article.

Massive Shutdown of Labor Intensive Factories May Not Be Completely Bad

Why? Think of the Zhejiang factory story I just mentioned. In a society automatic assembly is not justified because of cheap labor, why people worry about technical innovation? Why use machines to increase the efficiency? Why doing scientific research? Why….?

In the current world, with the biggest challenge to China raises the biggest hope: Technical Innovation!

When hiring people are no longer the by default choice, people have to spend time to automatic stuff and increase efficiency. Having millions of people working in shoe factories does not make sense in the global landscape. It does not justify itself in USA, and now does not justify itself in China.

I would envision a China with a lot of technical innovation. The cost of building machines, and automatic systems are not lowered, but the alternative is much more expensive, just like eco-energy is more useful when oil price keep going up. I would see innovative technical companies emerging in China. People complain about lack of innovation from China for years. Now, we have a much stronger driver and reason to do so, besides weak criticism on newspapers.

I do see the hope out of the disaster.


Have You Been to Shanghai? Think Twice!

I have been in Shanghai for 17 years (I cannot believe it), but I suddenly realized that I haven’t really been to Shanghai. A visit to the Bund and Nanjing Road shocked me. I haven’t ever been there! Never!

Suffered (or enjoyed) from my jet lag pattern from the States, I waked up early in a very comfortable way (not tired, and not sleepy, and just waked up) at 4:00 AM. After writing some blog post, I packed my bag and grabbed a taxi and threw myself to the beginning of the Bund.

Maybe because of the nice weather/blue sky, which is rare, and definitely because I came here earlier in the morning (too early, at 5:00 AM), and I saw the city in a completely different perspective.

Shanghai without PEOPLE!

The key characteristic of Shanghai is people! It is crowded, noisy, and sometimes chaotic, but not so in the early morning, especially in summer when it gets sunshine very early. Just FYI, the sun raised at 5:06 AM today.

When the taxi runs on the roads in Pudong, flying across the Nanpu bridge, and dived into the alleys of Puxi, there are nice buildings, many trees, but there was no PEOPLE! That created a magic view of the city, and reminds of the days in Silicon Valley (well, it was just yesterday). Imagine, if you put the density of people in the China Town of San Francisco into silicon valley, it would be completely different.

Shanghai that is CLEARER

One of the problems to have a lot of people is being dirty, especially in a city that throwing garbage along the way and spitting are national sports. In the morning, the streets are newly swiped, and the street cleaning cars just passed the alleys and streets. It is much beautiful to have blue sky and no garbage on the road.

Shanghai that is a GYM

There are at least three stages of morning in Shanghai. The first stage is empty stage with literally no one on the street. Before business people and office workers and tourists rush into the city, there is a unique stage: the exercise stage, when older people play all kinds of sports activities in the street, even on the famous Nanjing East Road.

Here are some of the photos I took randomly on the street. Below: dancing.

Below: Taichi.

Below: Fan dancing.

Below: Chi Gong.

Shanghai as a SMALL TOWN

Shanghai is a big city, but in the morning, Shanghai seems to be a small neighborhood. Look this photo and tell me where it is. It is the busiest part of Nanjing East Road, the world famous shopping street. There are phenix trees and there are wide pedestrian, and it is just nice.

Finally, I wrapped my short trip of about 2 hours from the Bund to the People’s Square. The Tomorrow Square (JW Marriott) is the stop sign for the trip. I updated the photos in a Starbucks – free WIFI, and re-think about the image of Shanghai.

Maybe, this is the impression for many tourist, because they get up early, and that is very different from my daily perspective. No one, even the person who lives here for their whole life, can claim that they really know a city. So always challenge ourselves, to see more and in a more different way.



Startups should be in Bad Areas – SOMA

I had some quick discussion with Matt during a meeting.

I realized that SOMA (South of Market) has been the new hot place for startups. There are many of the well-know startups there: Wired, Twitter, Dropbox, Justin.tv, BT, Yelp, Zynga, Rapleaf. Previously, Six Apart, and Rojo were there.

Recently, the government is putting a lot of effort there to turn it into a better place.

I said: Startup should always live in bad areas. Because by definition, startups should run very cheaply. Where is the cheapest place to rent? Bad areas.

Matt mentioned that bad in San Francisco area means a peson pointing a gun to your head when you leave office at night. I said: Yes. That is exactly bad area – some area that is so unattractive to others so startups come. If the area becomes too good that even established companies want to move in, it is no longer the place for startups.

The M50 is exactly the same story. The 50 Moganshan Road was traditionally an art district in Shanghai. The artist poor enough to even survive in Shanghai found the bad warehouses attractive so they can work on their art and sleep there. That is very cheap. I spent about 1500 RMB to rent the whole warehouse to hold my Personal Photograph Exhibition there. Now? Impossible. It has became the hotest site for visitors, and expensive bars are rushing in and pushing artist away.

Startups are really a different type of animal and that explains why most government sponsored tech park does not work.

Different View on New Technology Adoption

In Silicon Valley, obviously there are a lot different views on technology. Although generally they are on the same direction, the minor difference are huge enough. I had conversation with three different people, and their view comes from aggressive, neutral and conservative. Here is the story (without revealing the name, while sorry for not giving the credit).

New Technology! Always! As Fast As You Can!

I visited a startup, and they are not officially launching their product yet. They are using the latest technology. Here are some:

  • Meteor.com
  • Underscore.js
  • Backbone.js
  • MongoDB
  • Node.js
  • Python & Ruby

Although some of them are not that new, they claim PHP is dead many years ago, and don’t tell interviewer that you are using PHP. MySQL is dead…

They claim that most silicon valley startsup are not afraid of leveraging the latest technology. And they even doing their best to keep up with the latest builds of the technology. They update the servers every several days to patch it and upgrade it to the latest version, with the risk of something broken. If it does, fix it. They found out that consistent integration is easier to do than holding for a long time.

With the new technology, every is fast. Most of the frameworks claim to do what people are doing at fraction of the time. They does!

Technology is the Layer in the Stack that does not Matter That Mach

I had another conversation with a technical CEO who just sold out his company at great valuation. He mentioned that 5-10 years ago, the core of a technical startup is technology. There is a clear line about what can be done, and what can’t. For example, the variety of drivers of Microsoft Windows system, and the file system Google built. They have to build their own servers, their own storage, and their own almost everything to handle the challenges of the huge volume of traffic and data. The 5 mil-second counts.

Currently, however, shift to a new model. The technology on Internet has developed that storage, and coding is not the hard part. Technology is more hybrided with art. Just as Apple demonstrated, a lot of new startup CEOs are not technical background but can control the messaging, the vision, the valuation proposition so well. Instagram and Foursquare are those type of company.

Technical company is so strong in technical and they can build everything so fast, and they don’t need to think that carefully before what to built. The not-so-technical company has the constrain that they have to think more carefully and decide what to give their users. This value is higher in the value stack than technical value, just like the lightness of an electronic bulb is not that important to the massive audience as the Addison time.

Be Careful of Engineers who uses New Technology

Another senior technology guy suggested this. He said that most of the startups failed because of leveraging new technology to quickly, the most recent example being Digg, by jumping into Cassandra too quickly to kill the company.

He claimed that every framework is promising to look at surface, but it needs a lot time to validate the feasibility. There are HIVE, and PIG camp before, and Facebook and Yahoo! were at the back. Now, PIG is gone, and a whole batch of companies, and engineers were left there with a lot of codes that does not work.

Their philosophy is to choose a technology that is at least used by a bigger company for at least one year to adapt to it. There is a consistent technology framework in the company that everyone use, and not many. Any new technology adapted at production server needs to be reviewed by himself.


I believe it is completely another Horse Crossing River problem. The three point of view are all valid. They are just the pro and con of new technologies. I would say, the companies in China needs more mentality in the first bucket, not the third at the current stage. After technology is over-used, we need to remind us for the third one.


How Many Times I Visited the Bay Area

I am asking myself the question:

How many times I visited the bay area?

I asked because I was asked, many times.

The first clue come from the United Airlines frequent flyer program. Although I don’t always fly United, it is a good place to get started. Then the blog posting is another very powerful way to trace back. Finally, combined with the US customer stamps on my passport, I basically have some idea.

The short answer is, 16 times in the silicon valley, plus few other trips to Seattle, Chicago, and New York. That is a lot in the last few years.

Nov 11, 2002

Dec 06, 2004

Apr 18 2005

Dec 05, 2005

Jun 05, 2006

Nov 09 2006

Dec 03 2006

Sept 06 2007

Sep 13, 2008

Jul 02, 2009

Feb 20, 2010

Jul 05, 2010

Oct 13, 2010

  • Timber Cove, Sonoma October 20, 2010
    Why I barely wrote anything during this trip? It is because it is a very simple trip just to attend one meeting (YLF). From airport to meeting to airport type of trip.

Feb 08, 2011

Jun 25, 2011

Sep 27, 2011

Jan 13, 2012

Jul 14, 2012

Wrapping up My Trip to Silicon Valley

Just as the starting and end of every trip to my favorite travel destination, say, Sanya, I am always telling myself that I should come here more often at the first day of landing, and at the last day. Silicon Valley is exactly giving me that feeling and even stronger.

I am sitting at my desk at Days Inn of Palo Alto, and thinking about packing up for flight UA857 back to Shanghai. Looking back, it was a great trip again. Here is a brief summary of it.

Trip Summary

The main propose of the trip is another board meeting that I am coming here every other quarter. Thanks for my insightful and smart investors, every meeting was always the highlight of the trip.

The theme of this trip is “Real Startups”. By real, I mean smaller startups around 20 people. Facebook is no longer considered a startup after visiting their campus for more than 10 times.

I visited NextDoor.com, the local community for neighbors, and met its inspiring CEO, Nirav Tolia. I learnt a lot about community building, and management. Spool’s founder Avichal is just amazing. We met four days after their company was acquired by Facebook. I also visited Zhou Ding, from Klout.com and Zhang Meng from Tango. All has very different perspective about how a technical company should run, and how technology can empower business. Dongyi from YourMechanic really helped me to understand the pace of new technology adoption and the culture behind is.

I am also adventurous  enough to participated in a HAAAACKNIIIGHT on Node.js by looking at directory of meetup.com, and dropped by two unique co-work places that host one to few person startups, Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, and Sandbox Suites in San Francisco. Those started to inspire me to think about a technical capital built in our office for technical guys in Shanghai.

The ending big bang was the 15 people gather organized by my well-connected friend Amy at Stanford Graduate Community Center. It was great to catch up with bright people from many different companies, and Stanford. That reinforced my view that Silicon Valley is really a Florence in Action. The core is about ideas sharing, combined with practical building.

Besides that, I routinely visited Facebook to meet with my friend, wandering around at Stanford (including climbing up to Hoover Tower), and stroll in San Francisco area between two meetings.

Yes. I should bring more people to the valley.


Silicon Valley is the Florence in Action

I was born too late – 450 years late, and I don’t know what it looks like in Florence at Renaissance. I heard at that time, in every coffee shop, and in every room, there are people talking about painting, sculpture, music, etc, and there are some greatest artist, like Michael-angel, emerging in those days in Florence.

But I am born at the right time, and be able to visit Silicon Valley often. I would dare to claim that Silicon Valley is the Florence of today. Look around. You see every coffee shop, University Cafe, Coupa Cafe, or anyone, you name it, there are conversation about startups, technology, and funding of the ideas. In the thousands of office buildings in the area, in every single room, and before every whiteboard, there are people dreaming, talking, writing, and sharing, and building something. There are some of the greatest companies like Apple, Google, Facebook of all ages, and there are some greatest entrepreneurs emerging in this area, one after the other. The technology, especially in software, and Internet, was advanced in amazing speed, and that impact the whole world. Think about it. It is just amazing.
Imagine after 450 years. I am sure Silicon Valley will change, and the center will move to other places. Silicon Valley will become another Florence of today – there are still buildings, and churches, and some of the drawings or sculptures, but the people are all gone. People are naot passionate about art, and the only people who are related with art are either the museum keepers who don’t draw at all, or some street vendors who draw portrait of tourists, and the drawing is no better than those in Zhouzhuang. Thinking about 450 years later, we will understand how we appreciate the current activities going on in the valley.
I am born 450 late to miss Florence, but I am born at the right time to witness Silicon Valley.

CEO’s Responsibility Framework

I meat with a great CEO in his office. Very impressive. He summarized the duty of a CEO and that is very true. The framework is strategy, priority, and people.

Strategy is where to go, and how to get there. It has to be very clear. To get rid of ambiguity is the key. People may or may not agree with the strategy, and we can talk, but at any given moment, and you ask people: “What is the most important thing for the company”, and they should all tell you growth, and if you ask “how you make money”, and the answer should be the same – not now, but these are the options. He believes in meritocratic, not democratic. Being in the company does not entitle everyone to be weighted the same. You have to work hard to gain that credit.
Priority: Are we working on the right thing? Clearly define what is more important. There are limited resources, and you have to balance.
People: Has everyone reached his/her fully potential. To remove barrier to that potential is the job of CEO. “You look tired, and you need to take a vacation”. That type of personnel questions.

The Art of Elimination of Decisions

I had great time with AG yesterday (I let not to disclose the name before checking) at Red Rock in Mountain View. It was such an inspiring talk. Among them, there is a story about decision making.

He said once, a successful entrepreneur Ben told him about how he made a decision. At that time, he was running a company and are going to raise another round of financing. They turned out to raise 40 million USD at 160 million valuation. Actually, based on the 5 people team, they would have only need to raise 5 million. Why so much!? The answer was quite wise and insightful:
<blockquote>I know psychology. I know down the road, there is a possibility that Google or others may give me an offer to acquire the company for 50 million USD. I would come to a point to make a decision whether to sell it and get 25M USD and do whatever I want to do, or keep doing what I am doing. I know it will be a hard decision, and I believe it is possible to sell when the check is on the table. To say “build it no matter how big the temptation is” is easy, but I know I won’t be able to resist. So my solution is to get rid of the possibility to make that decision. With 40M raise, there is no way to sell it at 50M.</blockquote>
That is the founding principle. Many times, it is easy to say something that sounds correct, but when the decision is there, it is hard to balance. But to make sure there is no such a chance to make the decision is one clever way to enforce basic value system.
In the US constitution, there are some strong worded principles. They cannot foresee the future, but they already eliminate the decision whether black and the white should be equal or not. That is another example to get rid of the gray area at the very beginning.
I went to sleep at 2:30 AM last night, and wake up at 6:00 AM. “Eliminate the decision making point” was the first sentence come to me. I want to wake up but I know myself than anyone else, and I know if I defer the decision to 5 minutes later, my decision will be sleep for another one hour. So I used what I learnt. I get off bed immediately, and had a bath. After that, the decision to wake up or not after 5 minutes is gone. Well. That is the reason I am so sleepy now.
What is your way to eliminate the future decision?

Will Bay Area Become Firenze

I am in the silicon valley. There is no big monuments, no churches, and not even something big enough to see. The whole valley is about interaction between people. When that fade out, Silicon Valley may be another Firenze (Florence, Italy). I visited Firenze few weeks ago, and realized that the city where everyone is painting, sculpturing, and talking is gone. I went there 450 years late. Will Silicon Valley become another Firenze after 400 years, with just the buildings, and the legendary stories of the information revolution?

I am in Bay Area Again

I am at T2 of Shanghai Pudong Airport, and ready to get on board UA858 to San Francisco. I will be in the bay area from July 14 to July 19, 2012. Besides some pre-arranged meetings, I’d like to visit more startups during this trip. I visited Google, Facebook, eBay for too many times, and even Apple, and Yahoo!. This time, I am looking forward to meeting more friends from startups – companies with 5 to 20 people and understand the subtle difference between a pure startup and a mid-sized company, and how to push the company psychological age down.

Interestingly, I found I hand around San Francisco area more than bay area this time.

Back from France-Italy Trip

It has been a while. I was on road – Cannes, Nice, France, and varies cities in Italy. Here is a brief schedule of what happened in the last 10 days. Just FYI if you plan the same trip. I will share more photos later.

6/20 Fly from Shanghai to Dubai to Nice, France
Stay in MMV Resort
Registration of Cannes International Creative Festival
Have coffee with the delegation
Attend the Cannes Lion Award ceremony
Have dinner at restaurant near the Dame

6/21 Google Lecture on Social and Mobile
Tour in SandBox
Lunch at Geston restaurant near the bay
Tour in the afternoon in Cannes
Long dinner at basement of a small restaurant in the old town.