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What it Means to be an Entrepreneur

On 06, Mar 2014 | No Comments | In Entrepreneurship | By Daniel Kao

We’ve all heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20. While looking back is definitely clearer than looking forward, but are our perceptions of the past always completely accurate?

I often study the work of famous entrepreneurs, hoping to learn whatever I can from their failures and successes, but one very common thread among most entrepreneurs is that none of them completely knew what they were doing moving forward. Many entrepreneurs have an initial vision, but have to pivot and reposition their business and approach countless of times before they hit the ball out of the park.

No one can predict the future with much precision and accuracy. That’s why venture capital firms struggle to turn a profit, why weathermen are always wrong, and investing in the stock market is a giant guessing game.

Life and entrepreneurship especially is riddled with unknowns. By definition, being an entrepreneur means that you are doing something that no one has done before, creating and shifting markets in completely new ways.

But yet, for some people, we feel like we need to have all the dots connected moving forward.

When I first started studying entrepreneurs, I used to think that I needed to figure everything out before starting my first company, driving me to read as many blogs and books as I possibly could. I would try to learn as much as I could about what works and what doesn’t in order to build a strategy that won’t fail.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to ignore the advice and lessons from entrepreneurs, because mentorship and guidance is invaluable. I’m simply saying that you don’t need to have everything figured out.

Sometimes the best place to be is knowing you have no idea what you’re doing and go for it anyways (tweet that). That’s the only way to figure out definitely whether something works or not. Don’t be afraid that you are too uninformed, too under-qualified, or inadequate of making a significant change in the world, whether it be starting a company, running a nonprofit, or anything else along those lines.

An entrepreneur, at it’s very core, is simply someone who makes things happen by taking risks.

photo credit: Abode of Chaos via photopin cc

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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

Success Begins with Building Habits

On 20, Feb 2014 | 2 Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

How many times have you heard someone tell you that they wish they could do something without having a plan to accomplish it?

Most people want to master certain skills and become world-class at something, but lack the definiteness and discipline to achieve it. Most people settle on hoping that they’ll get lucky. People hope they will be discovered much like they hope they will win the lottery.

However, people who understand how to systematically and intentionally establish change in their life understand how to make the most of what they have access to, and are therefore able to turn what seems like nothing into something more and more significant. Successful people are specific about the work they do, knowing that there is no way around hard work. (tweet that)

Too many people set goals that seem more like wishes, because they don’t have the plan or discipline to follow through. This can be easily fixed, given that the individual has the desire and will to change it.

Habits are the building blocks of accomplishment, and by understanding how to build and break habits, a person can achieve anything.

In the video below, I describe the habit building process. I’ve written about habits before, as well as reviewed a book on habits, but I figured I would make a video as well.

Many people overlook the daily things because it doesn’t feel glamorous or incredibly sexy. People see the success of an entrepreneur without seeing journey and difficulty the entrepreneur went through to get there. But by embracing and building the little habits to propel you toward your goal, that is how people become unstoppable.

photo credit: oschene via photopin cc

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Creativity is Not Quantifiable, Unless you are Creative

On 30, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Creativity is not a quantifiable attribute.

The very definition of creativity is that it transcends quantity, making it a very real yet also mystical attribute.

We live in a world where metrics is becoming more and more prevalent. Everything is measurable. In fact, metrics are invading the personal space of our lives. “Quantified self” is a movement that does exactly that. According to Wikipedia,

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging. Other names for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning are “self-tracking”, “auto-analytics”, “body hacking” and “self-quantifying”.

Do metrics in our daily lives help us become better people or are we turning into robots?

In his state of the union address, Obama talked about statistics of the United States, bringing up numbers to illustrate the large scale impact while using anecdotes to bring human connection and emotion into the picture.

The amount of statistics that we have access to today is far more vast than anything we have ever seen before.

But as we’ve seen, basing things off of statistics can greatly limit creativity. Basing education off of standardized tests have caused the quality of education, specifically the ability for students to be creative, to tank.

I’ve always been an advocate for productivity, generating results, and making a significant difference, but I’ve also written extensively about creativity. I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive.

Being able to innovate a creative solution is only half the battle. The other half lies in the execution. The two are very different lines of thinking, but they go hand in hand in order to bring something off the ground.

Don’t let statistics get in the way of your creativity, but don’t be afraid of using statistics to improve your game.

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

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On Habits

On 21, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Human behavior is oftentimes nothing more than a collection of habits.

Whether it be everyday routines or reactions in emergencies, the pattern of habit can ultimately explain most physical, emotional, and spiritual behaviors.

Waking up in the morning and brushing your teeth is a habit (maybe it isn’t for some people), so is your response when your roommate jumps on you to wake you up in the morning.

Habits can be formed or broken consciously or unconsciously. Habits form because the brain is always looking for ways to take shortcuts and save time and energy.

Gretchen Rubin explains it extremely well in this presentation at 99u.

The short answer is that everyone has different tendencies to build or break habits, and understanding yourself is an extremely powerful way to understanding where you belong.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’m giving away a copy of The Power of Habit this month!

photo credit: ルーク.チャン.チャン via photopin cc

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Making Decisions: Knowing When to Move On

On 06, Sep 2013 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

Recently, a friend messaged me on Facebook, asking a question about pursuing his dream. It went something like this:


Friend: What would you consider more noble, right, and helpful for the future: working toward a passion and balancing work or sacrificing a lot of time for an excellent opportunity that will help you in the future (but it may interfere with your passion and work/life balance)? And briefly why?

Me: what do you define as an “excellent opportunity” and what do you define as “helping you”?

Friend: “Helping you” as in stable job and income flow, and “Excellent opportunity” as a competitive internship.

Me: haha as I thought. I mean it’s ultimately your choice.

Friend: I just rejected a competitive internship so I can pursue my research interest in cryptography and systems research, so I am not sure what I did was right.


This is a struggle familiar among all persons of the human race. Everyone struggles at some point with whether they should pursue what they love or pursue what is practical. At the very core, it is a struggle between security and risk.

And the thing is, people are constantly faced with such decisions nearly every day. Almost every decision has an option that appears to be more secure, and an option that appears to be riskier.

To my friend, it seems foolish to reject a competitive internship that is very practical and desired by many, and he is justified in thinking that way. If an internship looks good on your resume, will help you find employment in the future, and perhaps can provide you some money, it almost doesn’t make sense to not accept it. However, the part of being competent and wise person is knowing when to reject good looking opportunities in order to pursue prospects that are more appropriate for them.


My Old Model Airplane Hobby

Yesterday, I rummaged through my closet, pulling out my collection of airplanes that I had built in middle school.

2013-09-05 10.48.58

In middle school, I used to build and fly wooden airplanes. It was a hobby that consumed hours of my day, and kept me from having a social life and perfect grades. Building and flying airplanes gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that appealed to me, and almost completely consumed me. I loved the feeling of completing a plane, winding up the rubber band, and letting it take off into the air, watching it circle around the gym.

However, by the time I reached high school, I stopped building and flying. It wasn’t because I got bored with the craft, nor was it because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped because I realized that there were bigger and better things for me, and that I had to let go of how much time I was spending on it.

It was a conscious and intentional step for me to say no to something that was extremely attractive to me in order to move on in my process. I don’t regret any of the time, money, or energy I spent on building and flying these airplanes, and I would love to have the chance to once again fly them with someone.


Being Competent and Rejecting Opportunities

Not all opportunities that present themselves to you are ones that you should take. Being able to decisively and confidently reject an opportunity shows that a person truly understands what they want, what their goal is, and how they are going to get there.

In order to navigate the decisions that you have to make and opportunities that are made available to you, there are three main elements to consider.

  1. Definite of Purpose – I need to know who I am.
  2. Knowledge of What One Wants and How One Wants to Get There – I need to know what I want.
  3. A Burning Desire to Possess it – I need to declare that I will get it.

The person who doesn’t know who they are, doesn’t know what they want, and doesn’t really want it is the person that will accept any random opportunity that comes their way, hoping that somewhere somehow, it will lead them to a better place.

But without the intentional drive and passion to get what you want, it’s easy to get lost and confused in the midst of all the tempting, shiny opportunities.

“The words you hear are what you start to think about. The words you start to think about in your mind will form your goals, beliefs, and ideas. These will move from your mind to your heart. These become an outward habit. These define your character.” – Anthony Arnold

Knowing who you are and what you want helps you to filter and process the things that you listen to and the things that you think about. And as these thoughts eventually determine your character, they also determine the way you carry yourself and how you relate to and impact the people around you.

That’s why you can’t just take every opportunity or thought that presents itself, you have to learn to filter and process what actually matters.

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