Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day 19

The final day of meetings.  We got to meet with Capsule and Fullscreen.  Both fun and innovative companies, Fullscreen is off and ground and flying, two or three years strong, while Capsule is still gaining some momentum.

To start off with Capsule, they are a company that works with photo taking from specifically smart phones.  The founder had a vision of a central place where all photos a group took during an event would be uploaded to.  They have since changed their idea to first start with weddings, so they can focus their marketing campaign.  So basically you download their app, and then ever photo you take while in that app, is automatically uploaded into one large album, that everyone registered with that event can see and download.  There are a few problems that I can see initially with the product, such as getting blurry shots or even how much data would be used from phone planes when they have to upload all the photos they take, but the founder that we talked to seemed pretty confident in solving those problems.

One of the interesting things we got to talk about with him was the fact that while he had a great vision for this product, and that it could be used for any big event, they had to scale it back, and focus it in on weddings because they just couldn’t get the product to critical mass, which would be the tipping point for the product to go viral.  They had a product that I can for sure see the practicality of, and I myself would probably use it for at least one or two group activities, including this trip.  But, I’d honestly never heard of it before this week.

Anyway, moving on to Fullscreen!  Fullscreen is definitely a cool company, and I think it’s moved into my top 5 of companies we’ve visited this trip.  Just to give you some background, Fullscreen works very closely with Youtube, and they make their money off ads that run on Youtube and Youtube channels.  What they do is they recruit a network of successful people/channels on Youtube.  Then they provide a number of services to those channels, including growing of channel’s subscribers and viewers.  In return for this, they get part of the revenue that those channels would get from Youtube’s advertising.  Anyway, in the past 3 years, this company has built up from a team of 5, (3 of which were Luther alumni) to a team of over 100.  Their office is a bit cramped, but they’ve used their space extremely well, maintaining what I think is a good amount of privacy, but at the same time allowing for the collaboration that so many tech companies out here are using.  (And from what has been shared by my cousin Emily, the open office style is spreading quite rapidly even outside the tech coast.)

I’m not positive what makes this company standout, maybe it was the setup of the office, but I think it was closer related to the work they were doing with developing their sites and advertisements.  It was a really great atmosphere for working that I could see myself getting behind.  With so many Luther alumni working there, I might be to pull of an internship there if luck is on my side.

Dinner was fairly easy tonight.  My wonderfully handsome cousin Mark took me out to see the good parts of L.A.  We ended up going a place called the Warehouse.  Nice place, good food, only down side was we had to pay for valet parking.  There were literally 3 spots within 15 feet of the door, but we had to drop off the car, pay $4, and watch them park it.  So that was a little annoying, but nice heated outdoor seating and the view off the docks was worth it.

Well, I hope I get a chance to update my blog one more time from my weekend adventures, but if I don’t, thanks for keeping with me so far.  This has truly been a life changing month!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Day 18

Today’s meeting was short and sweet.  We met with Avesta, who is a co-founder of a place called CoLoft.  Basically it is a place that provides space for startups to work in. (Desks, chairs, internet, and other members.)  These typically aren’t up and running startups, these are normally just the founders that need space away from home to do their work.  Avesta told us that the normal group/member that comes to CoLoft is normally only there for 4-6 months. 

Now, enough about CoLoft, because it really isn’t a place I’d like to work for, nor anyone on this trip for that matter.  But what Avesta was able to offer us was a unique insight into all the members that have come through his space. And what a perspective it was.  This guy had a very different view on how a startup should be “started” and brought up.  He seemed to be against gathering investers, as he argued you really only need the internet to find your buyers and what your buyers want.  He agreed that an idea is worth very little, hundreds of people have the same ideas, and it’s all about execution of said ideas.  As we had just talked with Ann Winblad, a venture capitalist not too long ago, it was initially difficult to believe what this guy was saying.  But he had one start-up that failed, has started CoLoft and has been pretty successful so far, and now he is the CEO of a new company dealing with cyber security for enterprises.  So even though he has a very young, go-get-em attitude, he truly does have the experience, and he really caused me to think.

If it is possible to have two polar opposite ideas, and be successful with both approaches, what does that mean?  Does it mean there is some other idea that underlies both of them, but just isn’t visible?  Or does it simply mean different approaches work for different people and situations?  I’ve been sitting here for a while trying to figure out which one was more plausible, but I’ve decided its most likely both.  There is some sort of common entrepreneur idea between people like Avesta and people like Ann, but both have uniquely different ways of going about things.  That unique way is probably what makes them so successful in their business.  They are different from others, and sometimes the market needs something different and new.

In food related news, tonight was “SteakNight”.  As with many of the food stories this trip, I may surprise you again on this one.  I was planning on just going with the flow, and eating the steak that the grill master cooked up for me.  But what ended up happening was somehow the first two steaks were definitely well done.  Now I don’t know what it was, perhaps the voice of my dad and brother chimed in sometime, but I basically said, “That’s not how you cook a steak,” and I somehow ended up as head grill master.  Now, I’ve never grilled a steak before, and to make matters more difficult, these steaks were wrapped in bacon.  Not sure if it was luck or if I had somehow absorbed skills from my family in the art of cooking, but I produced 3 medium rare steaks wrapped in crispy bacon.  (And one other that was… possibly a little raw, but we put that one back on and it was fine after that.)

So I guess even though I’ve always avoided foods around the family, I’ve somehow gathered the skills to cook good food. Or maybe the steaks were just really good and too hard to mess up…

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Day 17

Train day, yay… again.  This train ride is only 12 hours, so hopefully it will be much more enjoyable than our last train ride.  And so far it has been much better.  We are going through the middle of California, on our way from San Jose to Los Angeles.  This is the view I was expecting from the first train ride.  I’ll need to show you guys the pictures when I get a chance.  This time we actually did ride right along the ocean.  With the sun setting behind it, it truly was a spectacular view.  This added with the fact that we shouldn’t have to attempt to sleep on this train should make for a great trip.

Anyway, today has been pretty uneventful.  I’ve watched a lot of Psych the TV show (which we should actually be passing Santa Barbara, where it’s filmed, shortly.)  And I’ve also caught up on my blogging. 

Okay, the train stop of Santa Barbara did not look like the Santa Barbara in the TV show.  I wonder if It’s actually filmed there.  The rest of the train ride was pretty uneventful.  I think quite a few of us spent the majority of our time in the lounge car.  A table and bench rather than just a chair gives you a lot more room to stretch out.  Plus the lounge car is what has the great big windows to give the spectacular view.

I wish there was more to talk about on this day, but today was really just a travel day.

Day 16

Awake and refreshed after the three day weekend, I was ready to go again.  After some brief troubles with transportation, we were on our way to SportVision.  SportVision is a company that is best known for their “First and 10” markers on almost every football game, college and pro.  They are also known to baseball fans for their strike box they impose over home plate.  It’s a good company and they seem to be using a bunch of cool technologies to provide their service, which made for a great tour when we went into their “lab” space and saw their cameras and computers.  Unfortunately we did not spend quite enough time at SportVision to really learn the technology and software used to get those lines and boxes to show up, while at the same time allow people to pass over top of them.  (Although I assume it is similar to a green screen effect.) 

But, even given the interesting technology, I don’t think SportVision is the company for me.  You would have to have some sort of passion for watching sports to work there, which I don’t think I have.  Sure I like to watch the occasional game, but it is definitely a different culture there.  So on to our next company, Fenwick and West, a law firm that specializes in patent litigation.  If you didn’t already know, when I was younger, one of the careers I imagined for myself was to become a lawyer.  The bad news about this meeting is that I had just eating lunch, was running on absolutely zero caffeine, and these were patent litigators… which basically meant they did a lot of careful reading on inventions and their patents.  So, needless to say, it was a little difficult to give them my full attention.

The parts I did absorb were interesting.  “Patent trolls” were probably the most interesting thing we learned about.  Earlier in our trip, (at Amazon and Percognate,) we talked about patent trolls, but Fenwick and West was able to paint a clearer picture.  These trolls basically sue large companies over basically nothing in hopes that the large companies will simply settle in 5 or 6 figure amounts instead of going to court and spending 7 figures.  These trolls are hard to get rid of because of the need for the system to be in place for people that aren’t suing over nothing.  Complicated for me to fully explain in a paragraph, but mildly interesting.  This of course is not the kind of law I would ever want to get involved in, even though it does involve technology that I am already involved in.  The most these lawyers seem to argue is the true definition of a word.  (At least that’s what I gathered from my time there.)
Moving on to my final adventure in the Palo Alto area: dinner.  Our destination: Sultana, a restaurant that specializes in Turkish cuisine.  Now, I would have been perfectly fine in ordering my lamb and beef kabob, but as this was our group meal, we had to get appetizers.  Now, I’ve had hummus before, and feta rolls are basically cheese sticks, but I made the mistake of mentioning that I’ve never had falafel.  So of course it was immediately put on my plate and I was told to try it.  It may have been my initial reaction or my tone of voice, but it’s like my classmates and professor could sense my hesitation and suddenly all eyes were on me.  Now normally I enjoy attention from time to time, but not attention about food, I think the pressure gets to me. So let the battle begin, for everyone refuses to drop the conversation and continuing to tell me I should just try it as it is not that bad at all!

Now, the best course of action would have been to try it immediately, but that option was already out the door.  And I will still attest that I would have tried it eventually when the eyes of the world were off me again, but before I knew it, a fine bottle of wine was order for the table to convince me to try it.  At this point I kind of just went with it, and got a nice glass of wine in exchange for trying the falafel.  It was cold, and tasted like beans… not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t worth all the hype.  With less build up behind it, I also tried bulgar (?) I believe it was called, a type of grain that reminds me of rice.  Spicy, but better than the falafel if I had to choose.  Next, to avoid more confrontation, I decided to try the vegetables on my plate.  Potatoes, no problem, had those.  The green vegetable, sure.  …Turns out that was eggplant, tasted just like butter though, for better or for worse.  Oh, the lamb and beef was pretty good.

Anyway, I hope this gets me off the hook for future trying of elaborate foods, but I am guessing it will just lead to people asking me to try more things.  Wonderful…

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day 13, 14 and 15

Woo! Three day weekend and the weather has been wonderful!  70 degrees and the clearest skies you could imagine.  I was lucky enough to stop into the Google Employee Shop and buy a couple of wonderful Google and Chrome Ultimate discs, so Saturday we hit the park, I strapped on the GoPro camera, and I got to get un-rusty from two weeks of no disc throwing.  Hopefully I’ll be able be able to share the video when I have more than a needle’s eye width of bandwidth.

Sunday we visited Stanford’s campus.  Did you know that Luther is actually an older college than Stanford?  I did not, so that was a bit of a shock to see their campus.  But I guess many of their buildings, including the church, are older than Luther’s buildings, but simply because we’ve updated our, and they have not.  (Or maybe they have and I just know nothing of architecture.) We went up the observation tower to get a better view.  The view from 20 stories straight up is pretty cool, especially on a clear day.  (There something else Luther should invest in.) Sunday night was pretty quiet and tame.

Now Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. day got us back on our feet and moving a bit.  There were no businesses to visit, as most companies were closed for the holiday.  But the aquarium in Monterey was open!  It has been awhile since I’ve been to an aquarium, let alone one of the size of Monterey’s.  They had sea otters, penguins, sharks, jellyfish, and … well, fish. First off, I’d like to say sea otters are quite large… I was totally expecting like a normal otter size, which this was not.  These sea otters are at least the size of a large dog.  Anyway, the slightly more exciting part of the day was dinner.  It might be hard for some of you to fathom, but I have never had Chinese food.  Since there is a nice Chinese restaurant right across the street, it was only a matter of time until the group wanted to go there.  I was told to order sweet and sour chicken, a classic dish.  And my verdict?  Tastes like a chicken nugget.  The sauce was definitely more sweet than sour though, although I assume that’s how it’s supposed to be.  Soy sauce on the other hand is very, very strong.  Good in tiny amounts and mixed well, not too good in large amounts.

Anyway, tomorrow I will be trying Turkish cuisine, so get ready for that.  (I know I’m trying to mentally prepare for it.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day 12

Google!  I’m sure many of you have heard about Google and their outstanding campus and I can now attest to how awesome it actually is.  One of the first things you notice on Google’s campus are the cars on Google’s campus.  Teslas, Nissan Leafs, Ford Fusions, and Toyota Priuses.  Their cars are all sitting in parking spots, shaded by solar panels, and plugged into their chargers.  It seems futuristic, it honestly does.  And in some respects, it is futuristic.  Google is on the front end of a lot of cool technologies.

One of the technologies that stands out the most has to be the self-driving cars.  Now, for those that haven’t heard anything about Google’s cool new cars, I’ll try and give a quick rundown.  Google most recently has outfitted a Lexus RX450h with at complex set of cameras, LADAR and controlling mechanisms to allow a computer to control a car in real time as it drives.  The LADAR on top of the car basically builds a map of everything around the car and the computer navigates through this map that is built.  There’s a bunch more complicated software and other things that go into this car, but I’m sure I would bore myself with all the details, so I can only imagine what some of you would think.

So these Google Cars are so amazing because they open so many doors.  What happens once we no longer need human drivers?  Well, most likely less crashes, maybe even no car crashes.  Sped up traffic, no more traffic jams, kids can get a ride to school without a parent.  One of the Googlers even imagined a world where no one owned a car, you simply just called for one off the grid and it came to pick you up.  Never a car more than 5 minutes away.  Now this approach may be farfetched, especially for freedom fighting America, but it’s still possible to envision such a world, and that’s pretty neat.

Now as we’ve talked about Google amongst ourselves, many have said parts of Google struck them as… off.  It seemed like Google was kind of “culty”, as one of my classmates said it best.  And he is right, there is kind of a feel that Google has its own way of doing things, and while we were there, we were persuaded to join their side.  There were a couple signs posted around that just said, “Be Googlely.”  I asked Charles Banta, our Luther alum and guide for that day what it meant.  The best answer I could gather is that it means be “Friendly”, “nice”, “not evil”, “environmentally friendly”, and an assortment of other adjectives. 

Some of my classmates are put off by this different way of doing things, and I was a little bit, but not nearly as much as some of them have led me to believe they are.  I’ll admit, I think I would personally be a better fit at a company like Microsoft.  Some place that’s a bit more straight forward and by the book.  But for those of you that know me best, I LOVE to play devil’s advocate.  So of course, as others were put off by Google, I became more intrigued.  If I were to work at Google, I’d be pushed.  Each day I would not only be learning new things as our guides told us, but I personally would be learning how to be a Googler.  The recruiters at Google said they look for people that are going to fit in to their team.  As I stand, I am pretty sure I would not fit in.  But at the same time, I believe I could learn to fit it.  I like to think I adapted pretty quickly, and if Google is ready to place a bet on me, I’m willing to place a bet on them.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Day 11

Back to two meetings again today.  To start the day, we met with Ann Winblad.  She is a venture capitalist and she had some great insight on the other side of the start-up business that we have yet to see.  Ann was also one of the venture capitalists that invested in our Professor, Brad Miller, when he started his company Net Perceptions.  She was impressed with some of the companies we visited already, but to my surprise, she is not a big fan of Microsoft.  Ann and her business partner focus their investing on cutting edge technology, anything that’s ahead of the curve.  Thus far, they appear to have been guessing correctly.  But Microsoft, according to Ann, has fallen behind that curve, and is struggling to really compete in the market.  And I guess I can see that point, not many people look to Microsoft for the cutting edge software or phone, but at the moment and in my opinion, they control so much of the market with the Windows operating system, that they almost have to be part of the future share of the market.

But, that’s just my opinion versus a venture capitalist who’s been successful in the technology field for over twenty years. Pick who you’d trust.  Anyway, later in the day we left San Francisco and made our way to Berkeley for a meeting with an ex-NASA employee/entrepreneur.  Phillip was a very interesting guy, with a number of stories that seemed almost unbelievable.  He truly has experienced quite a bit, and he seemed like a guy that I would want to back any business ideas I had.  So of course I pitched him a quick little one that I’ve been bouncing off the other guys during the past few days of the trip.  (It’s an idea for an all in one website, mostly for fun, but the more we talk about, the more I think it could actually be an idea worth a bit of money.)  Anyway, Phillip didn’t hate it; in fact, I’m pretty sure he liked the concept of it.  The only problem is that it involves a lot of high level programming, and so I’m most likely going to start with a real rough prototype.  (If I even get to that phase.)

 Now on to a part some of you might enjoy, food.  We actually met Phillip at a Thai Food restaurant.  Now… those of you who know me well know already that this could get interesting.  Looking at the menu, both in English and some other character language, I was already mentally prepping my tongue for something that it might not enjoy.  I thought I had found a nice meat only dish, that might not be too spicy, and in retrospect I should probably have picked that, but Phillip told us that if this was our first time with Thai food we had to go with the Pad Thai Noodles.  Not wanting to order something I had no idea about, I decided to go with the suggestion.  Pad Thai Noodles with Pork, mild spice level.  For those of you who’ve had Thai before, I guess you know that peanuts and their peanut paste is a big thing.  I was not ready for it.

My meal arrives, the better portion covered in peanuts and weird, white stalk things. (Oh, and a lime, which I was told to squeeze over my food for some reason…)  The white stalk things, which I was originally thought were the noodles, turned out to be bean sprouts.  They tasted like water, but left a weird after taste.  On to the main dish, it came with chopsticks as my main tool to eat with.  After about 30 seconds of unsuccessfully eating my dish, I dropped the chopsticks and used a fork I had left over from the appetizer.  First thought: chewy weird peanut butter flavored noodles.  It thankfully wasn’t too spicy, but unfortunately that just made it taste more like peanut butter.  Even the pork seemed to be cover in their peanut paste.

So, it was certainly an interesting meal, but I was very happy to get back to my hotel and have a burger later that evening for dinner.  Which I actually got to have with Sara Ellefsen!  She came back to our side of town and picked me up to show me the Yuppie side of San Francisco. The burger place we went to had beef that was 100% grass fed.  As I ate, I imagined cows roaming wide open fields… I hope they were happy with their life, cause they were delicious.  (And that’s even with the restaurants special sauce and onions and lettuce on my burger.  I didn’t want to seem like too much of a picky eater in front of Sara, so I decided to leave a little on my burger.  No, it was not better than a plain burger with ketchup, and nothing ever will be!)