My 2018 in review – what’s had an impact on me

I’ll never forget the hike up Mt. Batur, an active volcano, in Bali: the most stars I’ve ever seen in the sky, and a stunning sunrise. Credit Travelledpaths.com.

As 2018 comes to an end, I wanted to reflect and write down some of the things that have impacted me this year, and into the future. I made these thoughts brief, as I want to be concise and prioritize what had the most impact. Hopefully readers find my thoughts useful in a practical or thought provoking way. I’m happy to talk more about any of these topics, just reach out or comment!

The following thoughts are roughly categorized, and not in any particular order. Disclaimer: this page does not contain medical advice, every individual’s body and mind is different.

🏋️‍♂️ Health

  • Stretching (before and after every workout) and continual rehab/strengthening (after every workout) has completely eliminated the re-emergence of weight training related injuries *knocks on wood*. As well as avoiding certain exercises that naturally aggravate old injuries. Stretching and softening muscles is one of Tom Brady’s secrets to his longevity. And LeBron’s too: “play hard, have fun, and stretch”.
  • Some of my favorite stretches and rehab/warmup exercises this year:
  • Zinc supplements have staved off oncoming colds several times for me this year. This is my go-to immune health supplement, which I “superdose” (i.e. 3-5 tablets a day) when I feel a cold coming.
  • A cup of coffee (caffeine) works wonders for me. I never realized how much more energy and alertness it gave me before this year, when I started drinking it more often because it’s free and tasty at work. I can only have one cup though, and earlier in the morning, or else I stay up all night. I’ve been using it together with L-theanine. I like to save this combo for special situations (also so that I don’t develop caffeine dependence and withdrawal).

🧠 Mental

  • Floating has helped me relax and stay centered. It’s also given me some thought provoking experiences. I like Lift in Brooklyn. Sign up for their mailing list, they have deals/coupons a few times every year.
  • I’ve really enjoyed Sam Harris’s Waking Up App. His meditations and lessons are educational and thought provoking, in addition to being very relaxing of course.
  • Speaking of Sam, I found his recent podcast with the TV mentalist and hypnotist Derren Brown fascinating; hypnosis can be powerful. I’m exploring self-hypnosis, as well as acupuncture, after hearing of a friend of a friend having allergies “cured” from it. I expect the placebo effect—namely the power of expectation and belief—to play a huge role in why these things “work”. Even if that’s true though, it means these practices can still be beneficial.
  • The mind and body are so connected that all of this might as well be under Health.

🕴 Career

  • I continue to love building digital products that people use. Some of the things I created in 2018:
    • Snowglobe: a more helpful salary database
    • [in progress] ShiftReader: a better speed reading training tool than what Spreed was. The link is just a landing page with fake pricing (I’m doing price testing), so click “Sign Up” and enter your email if you’re interested in email updates.
    • [sorta dead] CryptoMint: was previously a paid subscription newsletter for crypto news with automated sentiment analysis on scraped articles, which actually had a good amount of subscribes. After deciding I did not want to be in the business of selling “predictions”, esp. in a market like crypto, I turned it into a free crypto newsletter (where the articles are still being scraped) that I only sometimes send out. I have about 430 people on the mailing list.
    • [dead] CryptoSaver: a web app that automated dollar cost averaging into crypto. I killed it after realizing that users were still terrified of some web app placing crypto buy orders automatically through Coinbase, even though it was via oauth, each buy order had to be manually approved, and that the app wouldn’t have any permissions to do anything else on the account like sell or transfer.  I didn’t invest much before talking to users about this idea (and I try not to with most of my ideas): I only put up a legit looking landing page and did some light Python work to understand how the Coinbase API worked.
    • Data Science Salary Predictor: a web app version of the data science salary model described in O’Reilly’s 2017 Data Science Salary Survey
    • I’m really happy to have found “solo entrepreneurship” communities this year, like the Indie Hackers community and Microconf, and specific people in that community I can talk to, like Christian
  • I’ve been working at Squarespace as a Data Scientist for a little over a year and a half now, working closely to support Product. The thoughts below are primarily about that kind of Data Science, vs. machine learning engineering type roles, or Data Scientists that support other stakeholders like Marketing or Sales. I’ve gotten a good chance to learn and think about:
    • How Data Scientists and PMs should work together: more of a partnership and less of a conduit for data access. Like any good relationship, it takes time and effort to develop that partnership.
    • Event data standardization, event tracking “grammars” that are intuitive and self documenting, and the importance of data governance in a truly data-driven organization. And by data-driven orgs I mean orgs that use data (and Data Science) in a meaningful way to drive product-level and even company strategy-level decisions, not an org that only looks at if metrics are going up. 📈 Like all things in life, a balance of both is necessary.
    • The power of quantitative + qualitative research in understanding users i.e. what Data Scientists (can) do + what User Researchers do. Data shows what users do. User interviews get at why users do what they do, or what they couldn’t do (which you can’t observe with data). Together, they are the voice of the user.
    • I’m very bullish on Segment, and the massive and growing value they provide for Product orgs that want to be data driven (which is also a growing number). For example, I love what they’ve created with Protocols and Typewriter. Now that they’re the centralized data hub for companies, they can build powerful analytical products like Personas too.

📖 Books

And saving the best for last

I got engaged to the love of my life!

  • May we all have another year full of learning and exploration.

List of thought experiments for making hard life decisions

Ruth Chang – How to Make Hard Choices TED Talk

We all know how hard making decisions about own own lives can be sometimes, such as decisions about your career, or your relationships.

Here’s a list of several thought experiments I’ve come across over the years that have personally given me more perspective, making hard decision making a little bit easier sometimes. Though they’re all slightly different, they seem to operate similarly, cutting out fear and external influences to drill into what our deepest personal values are.

  1. Jeff Bezos’s regret minimization framework.
  2. David Brooks’s suggestion to ask “what do I admire?”, not “what do I desire?”.
  3. Ruth Chang’s idea that every hard choice is an opportunity to “become the authors of our own lives”. Watch her full TED Talk (15 minutes), it’s amazing.

I’m not sure if any of these will always give the “right” answer, and I also think that these thought experiments are just part of the puzzle to improve decision making about one’s own life. As Kahneman, Mauboussin, and Munger suggest, we should use a rational decision making framework or even a checklist* because humans are very prone to cognitive biases and shortcuts that can lead to bad decisions. Even as just a piece of the puzzle, these thought experiments have allowed me to think about decisions from different perspectives, which is always valuable.

Please add any other relevant thought experiments, and/or thoughts about decision making!

*I personally use a checklist similar to WRAP, which is simple to remember and covers a majority of the most common cognitive traps we can fall into. The Heath brothers describe WRAP more in Decisive. Using their terminology, the above thought experiments could belong to the “A” step of WRAP, or “attaining distance/perspective”.

Amazon’s secret sauce: the flywheel model

Amazon’s flywheel of growth. From Andreessen Horowitz’s blog post http://a16z.com/2014/09/05/why-amazon-has-no-profits-and-why-it-works/

After finishing The Everything Store recently, I wanted to share an interesting framework that Bezos used when founding Amazon. The book, by the way, is a phenomenal read and gives great insight into Bezos’s character and how he has led an innovative Amazon. Ambition, persistence, spontaneity, and being neurotic/obsessive are some of the most common traits of the successful people I’ve read about so far, and he certainly embodies all of them.

Bezos thought about Amazon’s business model as a “flywheel” in the early days, and claimed that this was their secret sauce. Without going into what an actual flywheel is, this was another way of saying that the business model possessed a positive reinforcement loop that grew stronger if you fed any part of it. To quote the book:

… Bezos and his lieutenants sketched their own virtuous cycle, which they believed powered their business. It went something like this: lower prices led to more customer visits. More customers increased the volume of sales and attracted more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers and the servers needed to run the website. This greater efficiency then enabled it to lower prices further. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.

Starting up the flywheel can be difficult, but once results accumulate, momentum builds and business accelerates. In the flywheel model, all incentives are aligned in the same direction. Some strategic and managerial conclusions:

  1. Design for success: the flywheel model is just another example of how leaders can design for the successful operation of their company before any real rubber hits the road. All planning and no action is bad, but having some sort of goal and a plan before doing any serious execution, in principle, works a lot more efficiently than trying things haphazardly and seeing what works.
  2. Design for alignment: a business model is least impeded when the result of anyone’s actions promote everyone’s desires and best interests, especially when that cycle is self-reinforcing.
  3. Do everything to start, protect, and build that initial momentum

Fun fact: during the 1999 holiday season, a lost box of stuffed Jigglypuffs wreaked havoc on a few Amazon distribution centers (they weren’t called fulfillment centers back then). Bezos ordered staff to pull all-nighters looking for the bundle of Pokemon–customers always came first.