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On 17, Apr 2014 | No Comments | In Technology | By Daniel Kao

LAHacks was both a terrible and amazing experience.

Let’s start with the terrible. 36 straight hours of sitting in front of a computer or trying to sleep in the overly lit Pauley Pavilion, consuming food produced for quantity over quality, and trying to evade the crowd of people constantly storming the bathroom. I don’t think I will ever be able to sleep so little again (or at least until my next hackathon).

For those of you unfamiliar with LAHacks or hackathons in general, hackathons are a place where developers come together to code products and applications in a very short amount of time. LAHacks was a 36 hour hackathon sponsored by a large number of companies, with Quixey being the head sponsor.

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Beyond the hogepodge smorgasbord of people and computers everywhere, LAHacks was an opportunity for me to dive into a little bit more code, but more importantly survey the landscape of where the tech industry is headed by meeting up-and-coming companies and rockstar developers.

Perhaps what was most interesting to me was the whole culture and environment of the hackathon. Events like LAHacks would not have been possible even ten years ago, or even five years ago. Events like LAHacks are possible because of internet platforms that have freely accessible APIs for any developer to use. The ease of adapting such APIs and libraries makes building the next photo sharing app almost trivial. In other words, the barrier of entry to creating another mobile or web application has become extremely low.

The number of simple applications extending an existing platform built at LAHacks was incredible. There were countless android, iphone, music, and photo apps, all of which were built upon various platforms that already exist.

The challenge to budding entrepreneurs is no longer about making an app that works or looks cool, but the real challenge now is making an app that matters. Anyone can extend libraries and APIs to put something together, but the real question is learning to put something together in a way that really changes the world because it matters to people.

LAHacks didn’t teach me just about writing code, but writing history. There’s a difference.

Thanks again to everyone who made this event possible!

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BrightEyes 2014

April 4th, 2014 found me on the edge of my seat listening to Randy Komisar, a serial entrepreneur and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. He talked about entrepreneurship, venture capital, and other current trends and aspects in the market.

Over the past couple decades, Sand Hill Road has built the foundation for the Silicon Valley we know today, providing the financial footing for companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook to change the world and making millionaires appear all over the silicon valley. Growing up not twenty minutes away from where all of this history took place, BrightEyes 2014 provided me not only with an opportunity to learn more about the venture capital and technology space, but also my own hometown.

“There is no straight line from idea to success.” – Randy Komisar (tweet that)

Listening to Randy was surreal. Every word he spoke was a piece of candy, inspiring and exciting the kid inside of me. Never would I have expected to be sitting in a historical venture capital firm at the age of 19, personally asking questions and interacting with a venture capitalist.


BrightEyes 2014 is a study tour that gives students an opportunity to learn about the tech and VC space in a very practical way by flying students out to the heart of the industry to meet and interact with the very people at the forefront of these industries. Run by Tiffany Stone, a 2012 UCSD grad, this study tour provided a huge supplement and a great deal of inspiration for my own education.

BrightEyes gave me the opportunity to interact with the people behind companies such as Boost VC, Nexgate, Lyft, Bitpay, AirBnB, Quixey, Andreessen Horowitz, Yahoo, Kleiner Perkins, Nest, Facebook, Sierra Ventures, Dorm Room Fund, and Amazon.

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The first day started with a meeting with Adam Draper and Brayton Williams, the leaders behind Boost VC. We walked into a building with a gutted Tesla Model S turned into a desk, and walked down the stairs into a small conference room where we plopped down on beanbags.

We talked about many things, but among them included conversations about Bitcoin, where it currently is and where it’s headed. The conversation offered a pretty good case for the future of bitcoin, and made me reconsider cryptocurrencies as a whole. Maybe it’s onto something.

Either way, all the talk about upcoming disruptive ideas really struck a chord in me. It made me wonder not only about what the future is going to look like, but how I would take place in the whole orchestration of these evolving industries. AirBnB showed us the evolution of the hospitality industry, Lyft showed us the evolution of the transportation industry, Facebook showed us the evolution of social industries, etc etc.

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For those of you who have known me or read my blog for a while, you’ll know that education is a big thing on my mind, and that I’m always thinking about ways to build a better system of learning that empowers people to truly reach their potential. Meeting all of these entrepreneurs has helped me reignite my passion for learning and education, but has also given me ideas on how to practically make a difference in the world that we live in. Just because the education space has historically been a very difficult market to bring change to doesn’t mean that I’m not going to give it everything that I’ve got.

The entire trip, from dawn to dusk, was full of conversations about building companies, developing teams, and changing the world. We had the privilege of staying at a home listed on AirBnB called Village Looky run by a very hospitable and smart entrepreneur Heigo Paartalu. Everywhere from meetings with companies to in between transportation time to meals to our stay at Villa Looky, the conversations were all nothing short of eye opening and inspiring.

One common thread that came up repeatedly when talking about the characteristics of a successful entrepreneurs and companies, was idea of “scrappiness”. Scrappiness is essentially the grit, tenacity, and endurance an individual gives to the work that they do. Scrappy people take big risks because they know exactly what they care about and exactly what they believe in.

While driving on the way to a meeting at Stanford on a perfect California day, Tiffany said “I want you to know yourself”, speaking it as if it was the secret that would make me successful.

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Suddenly, it all made sense. The most powerful thing I would get out of all the interactions on this trip wasn’t answers to specific industry problems or forecasts, but a chance to build my personal network and get to know and understand myself. It was a chance to have conversations to understand my passions, my strengths, and my weaknesses. It was a chance to learn how to communicate different aspects of who I am in different situations.

And in a strange but practical way, BrightEyes was the missing piece that I had been longing for in my educational experience. It was a study tour that helped give much more context behind the things that I am learning in school, and more vision for my education. Every student should be given the chance to interact and network with people in industries.

The most powerful thing I would get out of all the interactions on this trip wasn’t answers to specific industry problems or forecasts, but a chance to build my personal network and get to know and understand myself.


Thanks BrightEyes for the amazing life-changing experience!

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Talk Isn’t Necessarily Communication

On 24, Feb 2014 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

Words can be confused with communication.

Words are a vehicle for communication, but it is not communication in itself.

Communication is simply sharing my thoughts so that someone else understands my thoughts and where I’m coming from; it’s translating the thoughts from my head into someone else’s head.

People that talk the most aren’t necessarily the best communicators. Talk isn’t necessarily communication.

The best communicators are ones who are able to understand the person they are speaking to. They are able to pick up on their audience’s culture, or frame of reference they are using when processing what they are saying. They are able to address the varying concerns of different audiences depending on who they talk to. Thus, the best communicators are open and understand the backgrounds and cultures of other people. Top communicators understand and transcend culture. (tweet that)

That’s why most of us find it easier to communicate and interact with people who are from similar backgrounds or cultures, because people these people already think and act similarly, saving the need to communicate as much context.

Therefore, the most quick and dirty way to foster effective communication within a team or organization isn’t to talk more, but to focus on creating a unique culture. This phenomenon is seen in practically all the fun and hip companies such as Google, Pinterest, IDEO, Facebook, etc.

The power of building a unique culture is to foster more effective communication, but the danger happens when people in a culture become elitist and closed to becoming a communicator that is effective across cultures.

Building a culture is great, but understanding culture is legendary.

photo credit: Un ragazzo chiamato Bi via photopin cc

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Authority is Earned, not Expected

On 18, Nov 2013 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

People are unpredictable. That’s why leadership is so difficult; there’s no set formula for organizing people and starting a movement.

The best leader is one who earns their authority, not one who expects a position of authority. Great leaders understand that respect is earned from your followers, not merely given. Leadership is stronger when given from below, not above.

That’s why much of what people are writing about leadership nowadays talk about the leader being a servant. In fact, that’s why Jesus taught this principle when he was on earth.

The leader that expects authority simply because they are in a position with a title of authority will struggle to find a formula to organize people who are inherently unpredictable.

The leader that spends the time serving and earning the respect of people will have a positive reputation that precedes him.

Putting someone in a place of influence is always a choice by the people they are leading.

photo credit: theqspeaks via photopin cc

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Being Friendly Versus Being a Friend

On 17, Oct 2013 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

Humans are social creatures, hardwired for relationship. It’s hard to imagine a day completely empty of social interaction. Even if you were to spend an entire day in solitude, you are still spending the day relating to and conversing with yourself.

Being the first three weeks of school at UCSD, many of the freshmen are exploring different campus organizations, trying to find communities where they belong. While talking to them about their new experiences and relationships, I hear phrases such as “they’re really friendly” or “I feel welcome”.

When it comes to college groups, first impressions and reputation spread by word of mouth make a huge difference in the first couple of weeks. Newcomers have only a couple of interactions to judge an organization with, and it often boils down to how they are treated and how they feel.

However, people don’t crave friendly interactions; they crave friendships. They interact with friendly people in hopes that they can build a friendship.

It’s really sad how it seems that college students are generally worse at making friends than kindergarteners are. It’s because kindergarteners aren’t trying to be friendly, they’re just trying to be a friend, where as college students worry about things like image, impression, social norms, etc.

Being friendly and being a friend are two seemingly related virtues, but the two do not always come in the same package. The person who is as friendly as Barney the dinosaur isn’t someone who I would necessarily want to be friends with.

Friendliness is usually associated with a warm smile, perfect conversation, genuine attitude, etc. But a true friend is someone who will say it as it is, not hide things from you, and be completely honest and real.

The irony is that friendships aren’t based upon being friendly, they are based on a connection that is much deeper. In all my experience, I’ve been able to boil down friendships to two main components: interacting with each other, and having a genuine desire to share multiple aspects of life with each other.

Friendships are some of the most powerful things you could ever invest your time in, so don’t reduce it down to merely “being friendly”.

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

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Social Limits: Centralization to Decentralization

On 10, Oct 2013 | No Comments | In Entrepreneurship | By Daniel Kao

Dunbar’s number is proposed to be the limit to the number of stable and active social relationships that a human being can maintain. The number, roughly estimated to be about 150, has a couple deep implications.

For one, it reveals that a person’s influence can not be increased simply by increasing the quantity of relationships. This poses a fundamental challenge to traditional leadership, where the goal is for one group of individuals to unite and organize a large group of people. I’ve noticed this phenomenon personally, as many of the groups that try to maintain solid leadership and growth have difficulty remaining personal somewhere north of the 100 people mark.

In the past, centralized leadership worked under smaller groups of people, because the ease of connection and communication was nowhere near as quick or easy as it is today. Centralized leadership generally makes people feel safer, because they have someone on top that they can choose to trust to lead and guide them. However, as the world becomes more connected, it becomes more and more difficult for a single leader to keep up with what is going on with each person individually.

Instead of having a centralized leadership, we can use a decentralized system to take advantage of Dunbar’s number. Instead of having one person be the head for hundreds or thousands of people, decentralization levels the playing field and removes the “head”.

Decentralized systems gather around a principle or ideal rather than people. Instead of having people in leadership, they have core values. Thus, within a decentralized system, individuals are free to build and maintain connections among each other, creating a more connected and integrated community that can easily adapt and grow.

Decentralized systems embrace community, while a centralized system pushes conformity. And just like how we are realizing that we need to move from industrialization to personalization, we must also choose to move from centralized systems to decentralized systems.

Read The Starfish and the Spider if you want a better picture of what I’m talking about.

photo credit: macca via photopin cc

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