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The Evolution of Entrepreneurship

On 05, Jun 2014 | No Comments | In Entrepreneurship | By Daniel Kao

Consider the recent surge of startup companies taking the world by force. It seems that in our modern, hyperconnected, exponential innovation culture, everyone is trying to do some sort of startup. But let’s face it, how many entrepreneurs are in it simply because of the glamor that is associated with having a successful startup? With individuals such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerburg starting highly lucrative startup companies in the past couple of years, it’s not too much of a surprise that everyone seems to want to do the same.

Is it simply the rags to riches story that captivates the heart of every wantrepreneur out there?

Before we go any further, I’d like to clarify that I believe an entrepreneurial mindset is simply someone who has a vision for something bigger than themselves, and takes steps toward making their dream happen. An entrepreneur isn’t necessarily someone with a company or venture funding, but someone who connects things in ways that have never been connected before. (tweet that)

Now consider the fact that startup companies in the modern sense of the term have only been around for a few decades at most. If you think back to the days before people were able to scale businesses globally via the internet, or even before the industrial revolution, a very different mentality of entrepreneurship emerges.

In fact, it seems almost that ancient civilizations heralded the individuals who built empires such as Alexander the Great, Napolean, or even certain dictators in a similar fashion as we look up to Elon Musk today. Even though it’s debatable whether you would consider someone like Alexander the Great an entrepreneur, but it’s nevertheless interesting to see the way that having an impact on the world has evolved from building great empires to compiling code and arranging setups on computers and digital devices.

And looking at all the history in between reveals more about the evolution of what it means to be an entrepreneur. There were philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle who changed the way that people thought and perceived life. There were scientists such as Newton and Darwin who have influenced modern day science in a very major way, and scientists who studied medicine that found cures for epidemics across the world. There were inventors such as Edison, Tesla, Ford, who changed the way that we lived and got around. There were so many other people who influenced the world in so many different ways that I can’t even begin to list.

When you truly look back at all the things and events through history, the current perception of startups and entrepreneurship seems a little limited. What difference does a self destructing photo application make in comparison to the invention of the internal combustion engine?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are plenty of deserving software and mobile companies that are doing things that are truly necessary and remarkable, but with the craze for computer science and software taking over developed countries, I can’t help but wonder if we’re overlooking facets of life that truly need the most change. And as a computer science student myself, I wonder if building something meaningful is about learning how to write a mobile application or optimize a database.

It’s time to expand our horizons as to what is possible, taking lessons from history and applying them to how we approach startups and innovative ideas in the present so that we can create the future.

To me, the true innovations of the future lie in industries such as education, agriculture, energy, and health. And unfortunately, it’s the industries that need the most change that seem like the most unglamorous industries to be starting a company in. Focused on long term, large scale change, these problems and innovations are the ones that we should be putting our top talent to, even if there is no apparent exit plan.

It’s time to expand our horizons as to what is possible, taking lessons from history and applying them to how we approach startups and innovative ideas in the present so that we can create the future. Let’s not get so tunnel visioned in our modern day perception of startups that we forget how to be truly entrepreneurial in solving problems that affect our modern day lives.

When the dust settles a hundred years from now, the innovations that are going to be remembered are the ones that tackled the biggest challenges in the most revolutionary ways, so think twice before you devote your life to working full-time on your next idea.

photo credit: Infusionsoft via photopin cc

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Making a Presence on the Internet

On 22, May 2014 | No Comments | In Technology | By Daniel Kao

I’ve been on the internet as long as I can remember.

Being a millennial growing up alongside the internet age, there are many things that are hard to imagine about life before such interconnectivity existed. My father would tell me about fax machines and other tools that were widely popular in his youth.

But being a millennial who has grown up knowing nothing but the internet, I’ve learned a great deal about internet publicity by watching all the viral fads pass through as well as platforms that have come and go. The internet is always changing, and what works today probably isn’t going to work tomorrow, and what worked yesterday most likely won’t work today. The only constant to the internet is it’s constant change.

The internet is a place of noise. Thousands of petabytes are being flung around everyday from computer to computer, with almost everyone trying to extend their reach or get more followers and likes. Google Analytics and other analytics tools have risen to help meet the demands of content producers wanting to know what works, and A/B testing to scientifically test two different hypotheses.

I started making websites in 2009, and since then have built various websites, portfolios, platforms, and applications that can be accessed through the little window in your computer. If there’s any trend that I’ve seen in the past five years, it is that people are spending more and more time in their browsers visiting websites than in any other application.

What does this mean for the individual trying to make a presence on the internet? How does one rise above the noise to share their message in a way that attracts the right audience?

Be Clean and Be Clear – In terms of design, almost everyone and anyone can recognize a clean design from a mile away. But having a clean design doesn’t matter if what you’re trying to say isn’t clear to your viewer and clear to yourself. I’ve found myself oftentimes scrolling through a website that looks great, but is filled with content that is overwhelming and unclear as to it’s purpose and why it is unique. Express the one sentence that you want your viewers to take away from visiting your website.

Understand Your Audience and Be Specific – Who are you trying to reach out to? If your answer is everyone, you’re going to have a lot of trouble. Figure out which age group, gender, ethnicity, occupation, location, relationship status, etc that you’re trying to speak to. Having fewer people who loyally care about your content and will evangelize for you is more important than a million email subscribers that receive your emails in their spam folder.

Provide Value – What makes you unique? What makes what you have stand out above the petabytes of noise? How are you better than the next person to the specific group of people that you have deemed your audience? Stick to that and provide the best value that you possibly can. Don’t add to the noise if you have nothing of value to share.

Let Your Community Build Itself – Don’t constantly be the one broadcasting your message. Make it easy for other people to help share your content in an authentic way. Don’t manipulate people to buy into what you have to offer. Let the organic word of mouth help you to get more people in your target demographic to view your content. Pay attention to other people that you can build relationships with to help you out.

Work Your Hardest and Be Patient – Be extremely diligent with your commitments, being consistent with the quality and frequency of content that you share, and don’t expect to be featured in Forbes overnight.

The internet is going to be around for a while, I think it’s about time people learn how to use it.

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

The Difference Between What You Do and Who You Are

On 01, May 2014 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a pastor.

Of course, I had no idea why or how, but the younger version of me saw my future as a leader of a church, helping to see people be encouraged in their faith. I was inspired by the pastors around me, who invested in a little kid that couldn’t sit still. I was inspired to be a pastor because that was the only experience I had of my life being changed.

But now, nearly a decade later, my eyes are set upon entrepreneurship, education, and technology.

The thing is, I was never interested in becoming a pastor for a love of theology or apologetics, similar to the way that I’m not interested in business for a love of money. The dream of being a pastor hasn’t disappeared from me, but it’s pivoted over the last few years to look different, keeping the same core passion that existed in me as a kid; to make a difference in people’s lives. And the more I’ve thought about things, the more I see business and entrepreneurship as my way to make that difference.

As Randy Komisar puts it in The Monk and the Riddle,

“Business is one of the last remaining social institutions to help us manage and cope with change. The Church is in decline in the developed world, ceding leadership to a materialism of unprecedented proportions. City Hall is subservient to the economic interest of its constituencies. That leaves business. Business, however, has a tendency to become tainted with the greed and aggressiveness that at its best it channels into productivity. Left to its single-minded pseudo-Darwinian devises, it may never deliver the social benefits that the other fading institutions once promised. But, rather than give up on business, I look to it as a way, indirectly, of improving things for many, not just a lucky few. I accept its limitations and look for opportunities to use it positively. In the US, the rules of business are like the laws of physics, neither inherently good nor evil, to be applied as you may. You decide whether your business is constructive or destructive. I help people understand this and express themselves in what they do, trying to make a difference in the world through business.” – Randy Komisar

The core of what I want to do is to make a difference in the way that people see and believe in themselves. When I think of what I do and what I am going to do, I think of a variety of different things. But I do these things with a common driving factor that is close to who I am.

Don’t confuse what you do with your purpose (tweet that). Like the difference between your job, career, and calling, your purpose is deeper than what you do.

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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.

2014-04-12 07.16.22

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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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Adapting, Pivoting, and Flexibility

On 24, Mar 2014 | 2 Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

When things are the same year after year, being successful means sticking to a very rigid way of working in order to systematically achieve your goals.

But in many industries today, the only constant is constant change.

Moore’s law states that computational power doubles for the same price point every 18 months. This means that every year and a half, the power of our computers double. Computing power is growing at an exponential rate, enabling technologies and solutions to our world’s problems at an extremely fast pace. Pretty soon driverless cars, smart watches, and other smart technologies will be implemented into everyday life.

When nothing is constant and everything is changing, being too rigid can get in the way of keeping up with surroundings. One of the greatest assets of a person in today’s economy is the ability to think on their feet and learn quickly.

I had the privilege of visiting IDEO in San Francisco today, to learn a little bit about the culture of innovating, prototyping, and product designing. IDEO deeply embodies the culture of innovating by creating, researching, and testing.

“It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

Be quick to recognize and solve problems, and quick to learn and adapt.

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Creating Products – How Tesla did it

On 06, Feb 2014 | No Comments | In Technology | By Daniel Kao

If there’s any company that defied all odds in the last five years, it would be Tesla Motors.

Tesla broke all the stereotypes of electric cars. To this day, Tesla has been the only car company to create a practical, attractive, and fast electric car.

Tesla disproved the economic difficulties forecasted by experts, ignored everything that people have been saying about American car companies, all while shattering all safety records.

Tesla has pretty much single handedly ignored every single notion of what is possible within our modern day economy.

Like any successful entrepreneurial venture, the way that Tesla positioned themselves in the market and to their audience is nothing short of brilliant, and is probably why they have been as successful as they have.

They understood their customer. I’m sure that Musk knew that people thought electric cars were impractical and low range. Tesla proved that they could build a quality car that would compete with high end luxury cars in the same price range. They understood that their customers were in the luxury / tech / geek world, so they created a flagship car that appealed to Silicon Valley professionals.

They understood the market. They took time to design a car that doesn’t only sell because it is electric, but they took the time to understand what potential car buyers are looking for. By incorporating a frunk, they understood that sometimes people have a lot of things to transport.

They understood timing. The fact that they came out with the roadster in limited quantity before they came out with the Model S shows that they understood that they had to earn credibility before people would simply buy their cars.

They understood automation. Just a quick tour through their factory (watch the video) show that they are using modern day technology to streamline their process of production.

They understood their customer’s concerns. The fact that you can go to any Tesla supercharger and charge your Tesla absolutely free of charge is a brilliant move on Tesla’s part. Not only do they create an infrastructure to support their new technology, but they make it easy for people to make long trips.

I’m sure there’s a ton more that I’m overlooking, but definitely keep a look out for the future of this company.

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