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Articles about entrepreneurship, traveling, business and life from Alvin Tai

Embrace the young entrepreneur in you

05/01/2017
by Alvin
1 Comment

Before You Start a Company in Your Early 20s

This blog post is for 18-21 year-olds who are just graduating from college and want to start their own company. I’m going to put a disclaimer for this post to absolve me from any detrimental harm that I may impose on your careers. Do what you feel is right, not what others say is right.

I am more than 10 years out of college and have been a part of 2 companies that I’ve helped start. They both failed in non-spectacular fashions. But I’ve learned a lot. There are obviously many ways to start a company and there isn’t a silver bullet or a secret recipe for success. However, I’ve always wondered if I took a more strategic approach to entrepreneurship, whether results would have been different.

Before you go down this path, know that, very quickly, the path splits into two. You’ll have to choose what skill set fits you best. Sales vs. Technical/Operations. The killer combination of skill sets between two founders is a sales-oriented founder and a technical operations founder. So choose wisely what you want to focus on because you have to go “all in” on this skill set.

Step One: Find Your Soulmate.

Find your counterpart soulmate

Whichever path you choose, find your counterpart. This person should be someone you trust and willing to go the distance with you. If you’re technical, find someone who is willing to get their hands dirty with cold calls and can handle rejection. Lots of rejection. If you’re in sales look for someone who is technical and operationally efficient. These days, computer science is a heavy favorite when it comes to technical co-founders, but honestly, depending on what type of company you’d like to start, engineering, biology, chemistry or even other non-technology industries like culinary or film are all equally beneficial backgrounds. For example, starting a pharmaceutical company might require a Molecular Cell Biology background.

Step Two: Spend 1-2 Years Working.

Get your hands dirty and start working

This is counter-intuitive. You’re probably thinking, “Why should I spend time working for someone when I want to start a company?” The answer to that question is because you need to hone your skill set. The only way to hone your skill set is repetition and the best way to get those repetitions is to join a company that will give you those opportunities.

For the Sales Co-Founder: If you can, find any sales position in an industry you’re interested in. It doesn’t matter what it pays, just get it. For software sales, you might start out to be a Sales Development Rep or an Inside Sales Rep. For medical sales, it might be an Associate Sales Trainee. Spend time learning how to do good sales and what a successful sales cycle “feels like”. Spend these years sharpening your sales sense. Get really good at knowing what the customer wants and how to address those wants.

For the Technical/Operations Co-Founder: Find a true R&D position where you get the opportunity to learn how to do real product development. A lot of technical people rush to get a job as a Product Manager or some sort of Marketing role, but there will be lots of time to get those jobs in the future. For these initial two years, learn what it takes to create design requirements, manufacture with new technologies and utilize product development tools.

Step Three: Test Ideas.

Test your ideas before starting a company

During those two years, don’t just work at a company. Continuously brainstorm and test ideas with each other outside of your job. Read blogs and books, listen to podcasts to learn how to test out ideas. Work with your co-founder to run campaigns and create project plans where you test out a different idea every 3 months.

Don’t build anything until you absolutely need to! Building products take a long time and until you have 10-50 prospects asking you to see something, it may not be worth your time. Get as far as you can with mockups, Photoshop, renderings, pictures, etc.

Step Four: Start a Company.

Take the leap of faith

Hopefully by this time, in addition to having a couple ideas to move forward on, you’ll also have a skill set you feel comfortable with. Now go out there and find customers! If you have 1-5 paying customers, try applying to the numerous startup accelerators/incubators out there to get a small boost in the right direction.

Epilogue

I make this sound easier than it really is. When you’re in your early 20s, life isn’t so stable and it’s often difficult to commit to a multi-year plan with another person. Your priorities may shift and unexpected life events can occur that will divert your plans. Regardless of what may happen, you have to make sure this makes you happy or else it isn’t worth it. Life is too short to do something just for some uncertain financial reward. Expect to be satisfied by the journey alone, not by the outcome.

 

What makes a great conference booth?

02/27/2017
by Alvin
0 comments

4 Conference Preparation Tips for Sales and Marketing Teams

I recently went to a conference where we had a booth on the exhibit floor and I’ve realized that a lot of things have to come together to assure that conference visitors receive a great experience at your booth. Both sales and marketing teams have to collaborate closely to coordinate a targeted message and an exciting vision.

know your audience

Before the conference, learn about the people attending

1) Understand Your Conference Audience

Before going to the conference, a lot has to happen. Get as much information about who will be attending. Are these CEOs? Engineers? Marketers? Technical teams? Non-technical teams? This will determine how you want to coordinate the right message and experience. For example, if you’re going to a conference for software developers, create marketing material and a booth experience that is highly technical. Use industry terms, common acronyms and reference inside-jokes. Along the same vein, if you’re going to a conference with mostly CEOs or CFOs, keep messaging high-level and financially relevant. Technical jargon will only lead them into the weeds and they’ll become disinterested.

no pitching allowed!

No pitching allowed!

2) Education. Not pitching.

No one visiting your booth is ready to buy. Invite people into your booth with the intent to educate. Don’t waste valuable time trying to qualify each visitor with BANT questions! The average length of my conversations during the conference was less than 3 minutes. They want to know what you do, why it’s relevant to them and get your information. That’s it. They have other things they want to do at the conference. It’s better to build rapport with each visitor and feed their curiosity if it’s there. Bonus points if you can share a laugh together during the short time you are in front of each other. There should not be any pressure to buy anything and save the qualifying questions for another meeting.

Be different and interesting

Be different and interesting

3) Be Interesting

It’s a given that your marketing material has to be catchy, informative and easy to digest, but you should also have interesting stories to tell. Don’t just tell visitors what you do, have several stories in your back pocket to show people why you’re relevant right now. These stories should be interesting and less than 20 seconds long. The more unique or eye-catching your booth is, the better. For example, one of my coworkers brought her ukelele because she wanted to practice during the occasional downtime. While a ukelele is usually out of place at a conference, after several attendees heard her playing, they came by the booth to talk about it! It turned out to be quite the conversation starter and earned us extra attention. It was a small action to help us stand out.

Can you afford to give away a Vespa?

Why not raffle off a

4) Have Great Conference Giveaways

To be honest, I used to think that conference giveaways were trivial. And that’s likely because my giveaways were terrible. Forget pens, mugs and stress balls. Just like my advice to “be interesting”, your giveaways need to be interesting also. It should draw out the curiosity of the visitor. If possible, give away something relevant to your business and technology. We gave away webcam covers and had a raffle drawing for a very expensive drone. The webcam covers were a tribute to our core business as a web security company and got people questioning “Why do I need a webcam cover?”. Similarly, the drone was something the average person wouldn’t typically buy for themselves. It’s essentially an expensive toy for adults. People really wanted to win something cool and that brought them to our booth. A neighboring exhibitor even gave away a Vespa Scooter.

Every sales and marketing team likely understands these points, but to execute properly is difficult. At a conference where you’re literally vying for limited attention in an ocean of other exhibitors, it becomes increasingly important to hone these qualities. You only get a couple minutes (if not seconds!) with some visitors, and your job is to make those minutes count!

There's no glory in taking risk

11/24/2016
by Alvin
0 comments

There’s No Glory In Taking Risk

skydivingYou aren’t rewarded for taking risk. You’re only rewarded for taking risk and succeeding.

If you take risk and fail, you get nothing. You don’t get an “A” for effort, you don’t collect $200 for passing Go. You get nothing. The sacrifices you’ve made mean nothing. No one cares what you’ve been through.

Ben Horowitz’s blog post (also in his book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”) about The Struggle (http://www.bhorowitz.com/the_struggle) is heartbreaking.

The Struggle has no mercy….The Struggle is the land of broken promises and crushed dreams. The Struggle is a cold sweat. The Struggle is where your guts boil so much that you feel like you are going to spit blood.

To be honest, I don’t even think I’ve reached the pinnacle of “The Struggle” yet. I suspect that The Struggle becomes unbearable when you have lots of customers, employees and investors looking to you for answers. It sounds like being in a grip-vice, slowly squeezed from all directions. I can see how the pressure to build a successful company can drive a person insane. I’ve just had a taste of it. And it sure as hell doesn’t taste like gum drops and rainbows.

The real insanity is when you can’t stop. When it becomes a masochistic endeavor. You’ve spent too long struggling that you can’t give up. You’ve invested too much money, time and emotion into it that giving up would be like throwing away your life’s work. What if Leonardo da Vinci had stopped painting the Mona Lisa half way through? How would he have known that it would eventually become one of the most famous paintings in the world? What if you were so close to building something great and you stopped right before it could be realized? That’s how sick and twisted an entrepreneur’s mind works. It sabotages you into thinking that the answers to your problems could be just around the corner.

I think that being an entrepreneur must feel like an extreme sport athlete (ie. sky divers, cliff jumpers, etc.). You risk so much just to feel alive. You’ve never felt more alive than the excitement you get from jumping out of a plane. Entrepreneurs feel most alive when they prove the world wrong or when they get a big contract signed or when they get a term sheet from a VC. And similarly, when those sky divers are on the ground, all they’re thinking about is the next time they can jump out of that plane.

In the end, there’s no glory in it. If it’s glory and respect you want, don’t come looking for it in a startup. You’ll find none of it here. You’ll grind at it until your fingers bleed and your hair falls out, and after everything is said and done, there won’t be any groupies waiting for you when you exit and there won’t be any journalist dying to write your story. No one is coming back for your body.

But fuck all of that. It was never about them anyway.

Help Me, Help You - Jerry Maguire - Sales Automation Tools

09/20/2016
by Alvin
0 comments

8 Useful Sales Automation Tools for Startups

If you’re a startup founder or the first sales hire at a startup, you know just how harsh the market is. Customers think your product is too immature, your brand has no reputation, your company is too young and your team is too unprofessional. The leverage you have in any deal is so minuscule, it’s almost laughable.

Ideally, you could build out a solid team of Sales Development Reps, Sales Engineers and Account Executives to get leads into the pipeline, qualify them and move each potential customer through the sales cycle. But since you’re the only sales person in the company, you’re doing everything. You need to get resourceful in order to get your foot in the door.

Here are the most useful sales automation tools for startups:

  1. Clearbit: Clearbit is one of those solutions that really surprise you when you try it. It’s a little difficult to really see the value of their product just by looking at their website, but when you try it out, your eyebrows will perk up and you will silently mouth the word, “whoa!” While you can build very powerful internal tools with their APIs, I’ve mostly used the Google Sheets Integration and Clearbit Connect (Gmail Add-On), and they are incredible. Their Google Sheets Integration helps you populate companies and contacts, while ClearBit Connect is a must-have Gmail Add-On that helps you find email addresses and gives you insight into who you’re reaching out to.clearbit
  2. Rapportive: Though Rapportive has been around for awhile, it’s still one of the best ways to (1) verify email addresses and (2) get quick LinkedIn information about the contact. It’s another Gmail Add-On that takes up space on the right side of your inbox and whenever you start an email or hover over an address, information about the person immediately pops up on the sidebar. It sometimes clashes with other sidebar Add-Ons (Clearbit Connect, Hubspot, etc.), but it’s still my favorite one to have in that location.
  3. Yesware: Yesware used to have a free plan, but earlier this year, they switched to a paid-only model. But at $12/month, it’s not a huge cost. Out of all the “email tracking” apps out there (ie. Sidekick, Tout, BananaTag, etc.), I find Yesware to be the easiest and simplest one to use. It’s fast and has a no-frills attitude towards email automation.

    Yesware Email Tracking

    Yesware Email Tracking

  4. Hubspot: If you don’t want to shell out money for Yesware, Hubspot Sales Tools (previously called SideKick), is the next best thing. It’s free and gives you most of the functionality that Yesware provides (email tracking, templates, etc.). However, as a caveat, you’ll also have to deal with all the other Hubspot marketing tools that you may not need or want. It’s a bit cluttered, but it’s still a good alternative to Yesware.
  5. PersistIQ: This is a relatively new company that provides a simple cold email and follow-up email solution. When you connect it with your email account, you give it permission to start sending emails on your behalf. You can set 4 or 5 follow up emails that will automatically send over the course of a few days if you don’t get a response. Very handy if you’re cold emailing hundreds of people a day.

    PersistIQ Cold Email Solution

    PersistIQ Cold Email Solution

  6. Mail Tester: You wouldn’t be the first one to laugh at the sight of this webpage, but I still use it for basic email verification when all other methods fail. It’s not a guarantee as it seems like more and more companies are figuring out ways to thwart this simple email check, but sometimes, it’s all you need to get the job done.
  7. LinkedIn Premium: LinkedIn has become the de facto source for a person’s job title and employment history. It’s essentially an online resume for almost every professional out there. Over the last couple years, LinkedIn has been slowly limiting “commercial usage” by reducing the number of profiles you can view during a search and is very restrictive when it comes to building in-house scraper tools to generate lead lists. For better or for worse, the LinkedIn Premium plan has becomes a necessity for sales and recruiting teams alike. You have access to unlimited profiles and additional “InMail” messages.
  8. Email Hunter: Use the Email Hunter LinkedIn plugin tool and you get an “Email Hunter” button that shows up on every LinkedIn profile view. Click it and it tries to “guess” the email address of the contact. It’s not totally accurate (I’d say maybe 60% of the time), but it saves you quite a bit of time if it works.

    EmailHunter LinkedIn Add-On

    EmailHunter LinkedIn Add-On

In a startup, you have to search for and use all resources you can find to help you compete against larger sales teams. There are a lot of tools out there, but not all of them are right for startups. This is the setup that I’ve used and is proven to work.

09/17/2016
by Alvin
1 Comment

Free Complaint Handling Procedure Template for a Quality Management System

Due to increasing demand, I’m releasing a Complaint Handling Procedure template for medical device companies looking to jumpstart their Quality Management System. As I mentioned in my Design Control Procedure Template post,I believe that companies should have easy access to these templates because they help teams stay compliant and develop safer products.

Note: If you see any typos or think that something in the template should be edited, please let me know in the comments! Thanks!

Download Link (Microsoft Word .docx file) :
Complaint Handling Procedure (SOP) Template

 

If you like these templates, consider donating to help me pay for server costs and keep me motivated to continue putting these free templates out. Have a good day!





Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Review

09/15/2016
by Alvin
0 comments

Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad Video Review

I recently purchased the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad because I wanted to try out a pad that didn’t rely on a foam core as cushion. The MSRP cost for this pad is $159.99, however I purchased it at an awesome discount from CampSaver.com for $115.16! It was a deal I couldn’t pass up.

In this video review, I compared it to my current sleeping pad, the Therm-a-Rest ProLite:

Big Agnes Q-Core SLX, Regular Length Specifications
Size: 20″ x 72″
Weight: 16 Oz.
MSRP Price: $159.99
Material: Durable superlight nylon rip-stop fabric
Features:
One-way inflation valve with micro air pressure adjust button
High side rails to prevent rolling off of it

Conclusions:
The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad is a great pad that gives excellent lift off of the ground. One of my main complaints with my Therm-a-Rest pad is that it’s bulky and leaves my body too close to the ground. If you’re a side-sleeper, you should definitely consider the Q-Core SLX pad as there is more cushion for your hips. While I am concerned that a hole in the pad could render it useless, I’d recommend it over the foam pads. It’s lighter in weight, more compact and gives you maximum comfort.

07/27/2016
by Alvin
0 comments

Startup Sales Advice For Technical Founders

Sales advice from Glengarry Glen Ross

Sales advice from Glengarry Glen Ross

Sales, sometimes, gets a bad rap. Many of the quintessential sales-oriented movies often showcase a misleading representation of what it’s like to sell something. Movies like Boiler Room and Glengarry Glen Ross show pushy sales reps who will stop at nothing to make the sale. They’ll ignore customer objections and continuously push their own agenda. It’s often accepted that being a smooth talker will land you that sale. But sales is more about being a smooth listener than a smooth talker. I wanted to share a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way that I wish I could have taught my younger self:

Stop Assuming and Start Listening

Sales techniques are sometimes misrepresented as brute-force persistence. The constant phone calls, email follow-ups, up-selling, aggressive pricing methods create a sense of bullying to sell something. But to me, a sales rep is like a detective trying to understand exactly how his solution fits into the picture. Don’t make any assumptions about what the customer needs, you should be looking for just the facts. Without being disrespectful, you need to find the answers to questions like:

  1. Why are you looking for a solution?
  2. Do you have a budget for a solution?
  3. Do you have authority to purchase a solution?
  4. When do you need a solution?

The best thing a sales rep can do to make a deal happen is to listen. Listen to your customers when they complain, listen to them when they ask questions, listen to them when they give praise. Even if customers don’t directly tell you what they need, if you read between the lines, you’ll find everything you need to know. There’s no need to guess what your customers want, they’ll tell you, if you’re willing to listen.

Timing is Everything

Timing is critical for parties on both sides of the table. For customers, they want to play the field and line up solutions from different competitors. For sales reps, too much information at once leads to unfocused deal discussions while, on the flip side, too little information results in customer disinterest. Knowing the right time to discuss certain topics is more art than science, but there are a few rules to loosely follow:

  1. First, identify and fully understand customer need
  2. Then, find the decision makers
  3. Then, demonstrate value of your solution to decision makers
  4. Finally, negotiate price point

There is a time and place for each of these steps and if you skip around, you’ll likely find yourself wasting a lot of time going backwards and re-doing parts of the sales cycle. I once made the mistake of pitching to a room that was missing a key decision-maker and I, ultimately, had to schedule another meeting with him just to do the exact same pitch. It was a waste of my time and delayed the entire sales process.

Know The Value Of Your Solution

For younger companies that don’t yet have an established pricing model, it’s too common to see them giving away a solution for much lower than its worth. Try to quantify the ROI for your customers and price your solution accordingly. Discounts should be a last resort and, even then, if that’s the only way you can compete with other solutions, you need to rethink your strategy. If you are a startup and your price is your only competitive advantage, that is a clear sign that your product is not differentiated enough from already existing products. And as a startup with severely limited resources, you will always lose this situation. If your product is 10x better than existing solutions, you should be able to charge 10x more. Discounts are a non-issue when your product is that much better.


I’ve made a lot of mistakes learning these lessons and I hope people new at sales can learn from them. Just like everything else, sales requires lots of practice and eventually, you’ll be able to manage every step of the sales cycle like a pro.

Despite being critical about sales movies, to be fair, there are movies that I think have good sales lessons in them:

Jerry Maguire – Even if you only have one client, do whatever it takes to make him happy. Customer Service will always be #1.

Lord of War – Not an uplifting story by any means, but Yuri Orlov is one hell of a sales guy. He develops strong relationships, delivers on promises and let’s his products speak for themselves. Ultimately, he sells something that people desperately need.

Underwater Mp3 music player

06/10/2016
by Alvin
1 Comment

The Best Music Players for Swimmers – Reviews

I am a moderately active recreational swimmer and I like to exercise by swimming laps. Unfortunately, swimming laps can get tedious and boring, so I started to look into underwater music players. It took me awhile to eventually invest in some, but I wanted to share my results with the two major players in this market.

From my research, the two best underwater music players are the (a) Waterproofed iPod Shuffle + Underwater Audio Swimbuds Combo (as recommended by WireCutter) and the (b) Finis Duo. Here are my experiences with these two devices:

Waterproofed iPod Shuffle + Underwater Audio SwimBuds

Waterproof iPod Shuffle + Underwater Audio SwimBuds

Waterproof iPod Shuffle + Underwater Audio SwimBuds

The SwimBuds come with 9 different earbud styles and it took me awhile to figure out which one suited me best. I found the blue/flexible ones to work the best for me. They have a hook-like structure that helps keep it in my ear. All the other ones fell out of my ears soon after entering the water. The sound quality compared to any other non-aquatic headphone is subpar, but when you’re in the water, you couldn’t care less about it.

When everything works, it is phenomenal. It was awesome to listen to music while I swam my laps. However, it is very fickle. Even with the ear “hook”, it would occasionally fall out when I pushed off the wall. And even if it doesn’t fully come out of the ear cavity, any water that enters your ear causes a muffled sound. I probably had to adjust the earbuds once every 4-5 laps. It was less than desirable.

Probably the best part about this combo is that the iPod, clipped to my goggles, was so light that I didn’t even notice it when I swam. It was very easy to adjust the volume, switch songs, etc.

Finis Duo

Finis Duo mp3 player

Finis Duo – Bone-Conducting Technology

I can’t tell you how excited I was about trying this out. It uses some crazy “bone-conducting” technology to deliver music to your eardrum without putting anything directly into your ear. It is a much simpler device than the iPod + headphones and only utilizes a single wire to connect the two “bone-conducting” modules together.

When I first entered the water, the sound was incredible. I couldn’t believe my ears. I don’t even know how to describe it, but the music amplifies when everything is submerged underwater. However, I soon discovered two problems with it. First, the two modules need to go under your goggle strap and this caused a lot of problems for me. I use Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 goggles and I’ve never had a problem with them before, however with the Duo, it caused a lot of leakage while swimming. I had to constantly adjust it and tighten my strap before they worked reasonably well. Even then, any slight re-adjustment would cause the leaking to occur again.

Secondly, despite the sound being incredible when you’re underwater, actually swimming is a whole different story. Because your ears are completely open, the background water noises overwhelm the Duo’s bone-conducting technology. The result is a muffled/faint music sound while swimming. The splashes from swimming are too loud for you to have music blasting in your ears.

A minor problem I had with the Duo occurred while trying to change the volume of the music. It’s not just a button press, it requires you to hold down a button for 3 seconds. If you don’t hold it down for long enough it changes the song. Not a deal breaker, but just a little annoying.

Conclusion

While the Finis Duo is innovative as hell, it just doesn’t work as well as the iPod Shuffle + SwimBuds combo. Unfortunately, there still isn’t a perfect solution for music while swimming, but if I had to choose a technology to improve on, I would design better earbuds that miraculously fit all ear shapes.

Mark Zuckerberg announces Facebook Messenger Bots at F8

05/31/2016
by Alvin
0 comments

3 Features That Facebook Messenger’s Bot Platform Desperately Needs

After spending too many hours on Facebook Messenger Bots, it is clear that the use-cases for FB bots are limited. However, let’s first talk about the best way to utilize bots right now:

Viral Marketing Campaign – One of the few successes for Facebook Messenger Bots was for the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare marketing campaign where Facebook users could chat with in-game character, Lt. Reyes. The bot guided users through questions and answers to decipher a secret access code which can then be used to obtain early information about the game before it released to the general public. It exchanged 6M+ messages in just the first week it was launched. It even spawned a very active subreddit to solve the access code.

COD

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Facebook Messenger Bot

FAQ-type Customer Service – The most obvious usage for Facebook Messenger Bots right now is to provide general customer service. Things like, “what are your store hours?” or “how do I return my last purchase?” are good examples of customer service requests that bots can help answer. This saves time for the customer and helps them avoid getting too deep into the trenches of self-help libraries.


You should message a business just the way you would message a friend


 

As much as I believe that Mark Zuckerberg’s words ring true and that “you should message a business just the way you would message a friend”, it is still too early to develop truly revolutionary and powerful bots. Bots can be better! There are three things that developers desperately need from Facebook Messenger Bots right now.

  1. Payments for Businesses – Right now, there is no way a Facebook user can transfer money to a business through a Facebook Messenger Bot. Even “Spring” one of the first businesses to offer a shopping bot on the Facebook platform takes you to a separate page for the actual transaction. For Facebook to provide such a great user interaction with shopping bots, it’s a bit jarring when the user is taken away from Messenger and dumped into a website to do the transaction. The experience isn’t seamless.

    Payments through Facebook Messenger Bots

    Facebook policy about transferring money through Facebook Messenger

  2. Adding Bots to a Group Chat – Facebook bots are currently only a one-to-one interaction. What that means is a Facebook user can only chat with a bot and no one else. Forget any social experience that you might get when you combine a bot with a group chat with your friends. Some of the best bots on Telegram, right now, are gaming bots that allow you to play games with your friends in the same chatroom.

    Werewolf game on Telegram

    Werewolf game on Telegram

  3. A Way to Reach a Specific Business Location – Finally, one of my biggest gripes with Facebook Messenger is that it’s difficult to message a business that has multiple locations. For example, if I needed to know whether the McDonald’s near me is open during Memorial Day Weekend, how would I find this McDonald’s? The McDonald’s Facebook page is for every single location in the United States, which isn’t very useful for me.

Facebook, I’m sure you’re working on these elements for your Messenger platform, but we need these features! There is so much potential for what these bots can do, but developers are limited by the platform’s current offerings.

giving back to society

02/21/2016
by Alvin
0 comments

Taking and Giving

As I got older, I slowly realized that I was just a “taker” in this world. When I was younger, I took food, money and love from my family. I went to college and received a first-class education. Even after I graduated, I was still just a taker. I purchased clothes, technology and food. I paid for rent, cable and utilities. I used applications like Facebook, Gmail and LinkedIn.

But then things change. You find a partner. You have kids. Your parents get older. That’s when people start giving back. You plan activities that will make your partner happy and your goals involve giving your kids the best life possible. And ultimately, you want your parents to understand just how much you appreciate them.

Now, you might think about all that work you’ve put into your job. That’s literally time you’ve given in return for a paycheck. My only problem with that analogy is that you’re not actually “giving” to a person or a community. You’re giving time to a business entity. The difference between those is that a business entity doesn’t appreciate, love and react emotionally to your actions. I know that’s a strange detail and you could argue that a business is made up of people that you’ve impacted. But even then, I think you’ll find that being a “giver” to your coworkers is different than giving time to your company.

I didn’t realize just how much of a taker I was until I started a company. Though it may sound contradictory, when you start a company, you are desperately trying to give value to someone. Because when you give value to someone, you receive money in, hopefully, a fair exchange. With that money, you can expand your company and provide value to even more people. And it goes beyond that basic concept. The company that you start could potentially give people jobs and jumpstart a community.

I’ve also realized just how hard it is to be an instinctual giver. Just like anything in life, it requires a lot of practice. Whenever you meet someone new, are you thinking about how this person can help you? Or are you thinking about how you can help this person. If you consistently think about the latter, you’re a natural giver. I have to admit that I have to consciously flip my brain for this. But I’m getting better at it.

If I had a chance to go back in time and talk to my 21 year old self. I would tell him that once you have your own life in order, consciously look for ways to help others, understand their pains and give back to them. Connect people who can help each other out. It may sound like a noble cause, and while it can be, I’ve found that in the long-run, it’s more valuable to give back.