The Truth about my Cliff

My dad (and probably a cousin or two) is going to hate me for telling this story, but here’s the truth about my history that led me to a serious brain disease and disability now:

Back in my 20’s, I worked 10-12 hours a day on my part-time MBA and full-time career for 3.5 years. Then, did a startup, Shopseen (which was backed by 500 Startups), where I was working a ton…14-16 hour days for a year. Life was going great! 28-29 years old; Co-Founder of a venture-backed company, newly minted millionaire, just completed my MBA, and first-time homeowner in SF. Really enjoying all of it including working my ass off! Something cropped up at the tail end of the startup though.

My dad got diagnosed with Interstitial Lung Disease (i.e. ILD) a month after his retirement (that slowly suffocates people to death within 2-5 years and has no cure) back in 2/2014. Then, I, honestly, stopped working on the startup because I felt overly depressed. My other founder, logically, booted me out because I wasn’t really working for a few months thereafter, runway was very short, and I hadn’t told him what was going on with me personally. On that last month, my dad’s oldest sister passed away from the same disease…I distinctly remember crying that night about her (she was really a really joyful and awesome aunt) and thinking I was an idiot for going the entrepreneurial route rather than spending more time with my parents.

From what I remember, that feeling continued for months including in the middle of interviews. It took ~2.5 months to find work. Through that process, I went back to reset: volunteered as a tutor to underprivileged kids, reconnected with friends to seek advice, ended up meeting my first girlfriend, and getting a good PM job at a good company on 6/2014. Life was pretty on track.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The company, Granicus, decided to move to Denver about 3-4 months into me being there. So, I had to make a decision to leave my dying dad (from what I thought at the time), my girlfriend, and my close friends in Silicon Valley for Denver to keep the job. Instead, I decided to move back closer to home and find work around there at Ooyala.

Work at Ooyala was promising early on just like at Granicus, but I really needed a break, have something stable, and to slow down. I didn’t get that due to the ability that I showed at work (was doing very well early on and getting a ton of opportunity). I didn’t understand it at the time, but I should have been seeing a therapist. While my health got worse, I also started getting weird allergic reactions to tofu which I hadn’t been allergic to previously for years (told my family at the time)…and then a whole host of other symptoms…that led to a serious brain disease. It’s a sad story.

In hindsight, a mix of un-forced life factors, stress, a predisposition, and lack of early treatment for Depression really messed up my promising life for a number of years and, probably, going forward. It caused a lot of grief and uncertainty to people that care and love me as well. On the other hand, my dad’s doing well and daily breathing exercises help him, my mom, and me a ton ever since I’ve been at home. Mindfulness really works! Also, so does medication, therapy, good diet, exercise, and talking to people through it. I’m out of my first episode and its well-managed as well as perfectly livable now.

…this is the real story. It’s the honest one with a clear mind after so many years. Time to move forward; with better living and no allergies.

The Mango Story

Won’t go into it too much, but food and farming runs in the family on my Mom’s side…especially Mangoes. I’ve kinda talked to death about my allergies, but this story has stuck with me.

Indian Mango

Born with just a ton of allergies, the mango was the weirdest. I was eating it every day in my first 2 years of life (who wouldn’t, but especially with my family). Every day, I was getting sick. On one day while I was ~2 years old, my dad got fed up and locked himself in a library for a weekend reading up about allergies. He read through everything he could find and was about to give up (mind you, this was pre-Internet) until he thought about looking up tree nuts.

Glancing through the book, he found out that the Mango…is a cousin of the Cashew. That revelation meant that they were feeding their kid something, everyday in his early life, that was causing him to get sick…and wasn’t getting healthier. Lots of it too because it was so delicious.

That story carried with me when they told me about it. My parents + sis have been protective my entire life. How do you care for a sick child for an illness you don’t understand, isn’t hereditary, and that medical science doesn’t understand (back in the 80’s)? You protect.

If you don’t know, I was in a bunch of hospitals or asthmatic and severe allergic reactions early on before the age of 5 that became rather formative and caused a lot of sadness. We always had to be careful. Bring a month’s worth of safe foods to India, if we go. Don’t eat anything or interact with anyone eating Indian food (e.g. family and cultural events). Eat safe food like McDonald’s and Taco Bell not as a luxury, but as a necessity. Etc.

Wanted to share, but to me, this current serious sickness is just another one that I traded for, IMO.

Thoughts on Mental Health Tech

I recently read this article on a potential California system to identify and push along services to the mentally ill in order to better support and service their journey to healthy. Frankly, I don’t think people realize how useful it can be (as long as the service is very much opt-in).

The most important priority in any person with a mental illness and/or serious mental illness is to get healthy. The disease they have affects behavior based on internal mechanisms of something that’s, right now, unnoticeable. Generally, what that leads to is a lack of understanding and help for the individual to go anywhere in life until they’ve shown and proven to be healthy and productive to any new person. So, the question arises: how do you know someone’s healthy with a mental health condition? What are the factors to look at? Are they a “danger” to themselves or anybody else?

Doctors, as always, can give an approval that someone is healthy enough to contribute back to society (though that’s a tough situation to be in to give approval about someone’s human rights to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness). Also, some peer and support network can give the a-ok that they’re ready to go (in the best case scenario). Though, no one really has a standardized plan for these efforts, as of yet, on any real scale. Also, unfortunately, medical science just can’t pick up on real-time internal mechanisms for behavior right now (at least I haven’t seen anything great and useful).

The technology that is available, like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, are trying to get there alongside other apps that track your CNS, but it’s really not accurate enough. Plus, they’re all new, unproven tech that is going through growth and needs to be researched and proven in clinical trials, IMO. Most monitors right now, like the fMRI scan and blood tests, are static.

I’ll disclose: Personally, as a person with a 10+ year tech career and a good understanding of how some of this stuff works…as well as with a serious mental illness myself (yes, very much stabilized now), I want to prove I’m capable of leading a very productive life to anyone new I meet. That’s where, I think, Mindstrong has a potentially fully realizable dream. It’s where the 20% of the population suffering from a mental illness can fully say, “yes, I’m either unhealthy or healthy enough to contribute to society on any level and to any person or group of people”. Incredibly important and a hugely untapped market.

I don’t give one crap about the privacy concerns, as long as I opt-in, because I’d gladly give that up, in my situation, in order to live a great and productive life again (the same or better one than I had before – which is saying a lot). That’s the state I and many others are in from what I’ve seen. Not a good situation to be in life. Further, a lot of this tech would help drastically improve scientific understanding of a very unknown set of illnesses. That’s worth it for any set of privacy concerns to get and gain stability.

Starlink and Us

After a day thinking about it, here are my expanded thoughts on Starlink and it’s initial 60-satellite launch 2 days ago.

I don’t think people understand how important this SpaceX Starlink constellation is yet. Namely, we’re living in the future now and even sooner than we think.

The 4B people (mostly developing countries) that aren’t on the worldwide internet are going to have cheap access in 2-3 years because of this (or nearly instantaneously when it turns on). That’s amazing – we’re talking about revenues of increased to $30B-$50B for SpaceX in just a single day/week/month too (to further space exploration and colonizing the Moon and Mars). We’re talking about a social media app like Facebook going from 2B users to 6B users, potentially, in a single day/week/month (obviously not accurate, but just explaining the potential situation). Other possibilities:

  1. We’ll be able to live anywhere, practically, with access to the Internet and all services.
  2. Developing countries will suddenly have access to all apps, info, and data that’s accessible to us in Silicon Valley in just one day, cheaply.
  3. We’ll be able to have all your devices, individually, connected to the Internet from practically anywhere.
  4. Companies will be able to improve logistics and fleet routes to decrease, significantly, travel time for shipped goods.
  5. Tons and tons of data collection across all devices (e.g. clean tech and electricity consumption and weather devices) at high throughput.

Lots of implications when you start really delving into what this constellation means, I think.

Lean Analytics: Learning Data-Driven Fundamentals

tl;dr…

If you’re interested in building products for the web, Lean Analytics by Alistair Crolll and Benjamin Yoskovitz is an invaluable source & reference material.

A little more….

This is hands-down the best reference material I’ve found on the basic fundamentals of user-focused, data-driven product development on the web. It does a wonderful job advising prospective builders to form solid growth habits that have a habit of sticking around for the long-term, IMO.

On a personal level, its helped me form better data-driven habits. I’m a 1-2 year old product manager; still learning to be great. After reading the book, its pushed me up a level in terms of knowing what to look for and having a solid approach to product-level conversations. My answers are better focused, I receive praise for my insights far more often, my responses are much more analytical and data-driven, and I just feel confident in my responses.

So, how does the book help form good habits? Well, it takes the theory of Lean Startup and applies it into pertinent case studies (e.g. Media/Ad, UGC, SaaS, E-Commerce, Mobile Apps, and Two-Sided Marketplaces sites). From there, Croll and Yoskovitz append those studies with examples from the industry. There’s some good guidelines overlayed throughout the book too. Can’t ask for much more.

Now, I don’t think anyone should completely take Lean Startup & Lean Analytics to be the end-all, be-all to product development on the web. Its an experiment-focused product development process that works well with small, dedicated teams with little to no dependencies. I recommend having your own opinion on what works for you and your team and applying what you learn in the book to your own process. You’ll see a measurable difference in the quality and speed of your team’s work in building product.

Thoughts on Tesla and its growing community of advocates

If you haven’t had a chance to read through the Tesla forums recently, there’s a very interesting thread by current owners detailing issues with going back to driving internal combustion engine cars. The Model S has had phenomenal success. It’s won awards, turned a good majority of their customers into advocates (no easy feat) and recently started validating their product is something people want.

What’s the best part about all of this? The comments are mostly about their electric drive-train. It gives me a lot of hope on a number of levels:

  • A good number of their customers are advocates and are truly engaged into the success of the company.
  • The Model S isn’t just a mix-shift product, but actually an incremental product evolution. It’s generating the power needed to successfully push forward the entire electric motor industry.
  • The ICE car competitors are starting to notice and either partnering (e.g. Toyota and Daimler) or beginning to build their own competitive products.
  • Altruistically, this is saving the planet and the lives of the generations that come after us.

This type of community building doesn’t happen often. I’ve seen it at Mozilla and its extremely powerful. It’s an incredible opportunity to further push their agenda and further the cause. I sure hope the folks at Tesla understand what they’ve found and are building methods empower and foster the growth of their community. The industry and the world sure would be better for it.