Monday, August 31, 2009

August Interview: Erik Klein, Lucky 13 at PayPal and YouTube

This month, Jelly Theory sat down with Erik Klein. Currently the CTO of SofaLabs, Erik was employee #13 at both PayPal and YouTube, hence Lucky 13.

Erik, how did it all begin?
I was a tech geek in high school. I went to the same high school as the co-founder and former CTO of PayPal, Max Levchin. He moved from Ukraine during our sophomore/junior year. We were in the same band and part of the same BBS communities. Back then, there was no concept of an Internet identity.

How did you stumble upon PayPal?
In 1999, it was the height of the boom before the first Internet bubble burst. Companies such as Webvan and Pets.com were getting huge. It was hard to find programmers. If you knew good programmers, you grabbed them. PayPal was becoming real. Max asked me to join the PayPal team. Rather than work a corporate job in Chicago, I flew out to Silicon Valley. In the beginning, I slept on Max’s floor as I worked 16 hours a day and searched for an apartment.

What was your role at PayPal and later at YouTube?
I worked at PayPal for 6.5 years. While I was there, I wrote customer service software and was responsible for the CS team, making sure sure that software development was going in the right direction. At YouTube, I wrote ad software and worked on Google AdSense integration.

Having left PayPal for some time now, what's your view on the online payment space? How is it innovating, and who are new players to watch for?
PayPal facilitates two kinds of commerce: merchant sales and person-to-person transactions. Buying from a merchant is less risky because the merchant is liable for payment. New platforms such as Facebook have potential to take up the peer-to-peer market. However, the biggest problem that most people don’t realize about online payments is massive fraud. Thirty percent of PayPal’s efforts involve fighting fraud.

PayPal is no longer the small startup it used to be when you first joined. From your perspective, how has the company evolved?
PayPal started out as a startup with core beliefs that were set up by its founders: hard work, rapid innovation, a high standard of security, and engineering-driven processes. PayPal was a tech company above a business-oriented company. Over the course of my six years there, I saw the company grow. The initial culture diluted, beliefs thinned out, and the company made compromises. There wasn’t anything right or wrong about PayPal’s evolution, but a natural course that many startups take as they make it and become larger.

So, what brought you to YouTube?
In December 2005, I took a month off from PayPal and realized I wanted to work at a smaller company again. I didn’t enjoy the slower pace of a large company in terms of moving a product forward. At a startup, you build features and make every decision along the way to push them out in good time. I joined YouTube because I knew the engineers from PayPal and enjoyed working with them - I liked the people. I was also excited about using Python as a language.


What was it like at YouTube after Google acquired it?
YouTube is the second largest search engine on the Internet, so Google owns the #1 and #2 engines. Using Google Search was a big win for us. After Google acquired us, Google was good about leaving us alone and allowing us to develop as a company as before. Google realized that we were a winner in the online video space and told us that its team wouldn’t come to us, but if we needed anything, to let them know. Unlike PayPal, YouTube was a company for only a year before it was bought out. PayPal was 4.5 years old and relatively mature. YouTube was small, and Google gave us freedom to do things the way small companies do.

What is it about Silicon Valley that makes it so conducive to entrepreneurship? Do you think such an ecosystem can be replicated elsewhere?
Going back, Silicon Valley started with the combination of Stanford, semiconductor companies, and older industrial technical companies such as IBM, National Semiconductor, HP, and Apple. These companies made up the first generation of the Valley, and its employees went about in buttoned-up shirts and Heroes glasses. Then came the next generation of hackers. Now we're in the platform generation. If you’re building a site now, it would be silly to build it yourself because there’s so much to leverage. In 1999, sites took a long time to build because it was all about PHP and Python; engineers built everything from scratch. Now you can make a site happen in weeks. This generation can be described as a Lego generation: you piece things together and fail fast. You don’t have to build a user base by yourself with features such as Facebook Connect.

You've been in Silicon Valley for ten years now. Any lessons to share?
Spend the majority of your efforts on the stuff you have to do and don't worry about your teammates’ work. At a startup, your team is your family: you talk over dinner and share opinions, but there has to be a baseline of trust. You need to worry about your stuff and get your stuff done. Respect your teammates and treat them fairly. Don’t let petty issues get in the way of your relationships.

What has been a memorable moment of your career here?
The PayPal IPO party: It was the only party I attended on Friday and was still sore on Monday.

Many entrepreneurs work as life. Thoughts?
When I was 24 and working long hours at PayPal, the head of DBA, Paul Tuckfield, was working long hours, but he also had a family and even managed to perform music every Friday. He was someone to look up to. I don’t believe in your work destroying personal life: you can work hard and have a personal life. It comes down to working smarter and understanding that if you put in a full day at work everyday, your work will get done.

And finally, please define entrepreneur:
An entrepreneur is someone who feels responsibility for everything he/she works on.

Thanks Erik! We're rooting for your next venture...

Friday, July 31, 2009

July Interview: Sustainable Stationery with GREEN|FINGERPRINT Co-founder Catherine Saunders

Introducing...



...GREEN|FINGERPRINT. GREEN|FINGERPRINT is an eco-friendly stationery business started by two sisters Catherine Saunders and Jacqueline Richelieu two years ago. As a child, I fell in love with stationery and pens, so it was a personal pleasure meeting with Catherine over breakfast and finding out more about the idea and execution behind this young venture.

Catherine, where did your love of stationery come from?
Jacqueline and I grew up in Southern California. Only 16 months apart, we grew up as twin siblings and best friends. Our passion for stationery started when we were seven to nine years old: we set up a stationery stand on our front lawn. Using rubber stamps and other items around the house, we made thank you notes and greeting cards for our neighbors. Now at GREEN|FINGERPRINT, the two of us work on every facet - accounting, branding, design, printing, etc.

And how about the eco-friendly part? How did you decide that your stationery business would be built around a principle of environmental sustainability?
Two years ago, Jacqueline and I were eating lunch with our mom in Pasadena and decided we would create this company and write a business plan. We visited a stationery store and asked the clerk what percent of paper was 100 percent post-consumer recycled. He said none, and we saw a business and social opportunity in that. A lot of stationery businesses are going eco-friendly. For example, Cranes's letterpress products are printed on tree-free cotton rag paper. But we're not just offering an eco-friendly option - we're based on a completely eco-friendly business model.

Printing is inherently not an eco-friendly process, and we're thinking about ways to innovate in the eco-friendly stationery space. This means staying on top of new methods as they come out into the market. From our inception, we've been eco-friendly at our center. Our goal is to be totally carbon neutral at the end of this year. In printing, there's still water involved. Energy is used when we mail things, and we want to think about our entire carbon footprint as a business - so we're looking into purchasing carbon offsets, for example, planting trees. This would cut into our profit, but consumers wouldn't bear the burden of this cost.

What products do you currently offer?
Wedding invitations, personal stationery, baby announcements, event invites, corporate identity jobs (from designing logos and letterheads to business cards), greeting cards, etc.

What's special about the paper you use?
A tree-free cotton rag paper that is made from scraps of cotton that are a byproduct of the textile milling process: it's soft and well-suited for our letterpress products; 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, which comes in two colors (white and off-white) and two weights (130 pound and 100 pound, which we use for digital printing).

What were your first steps in launching this business?
We wrote a business plan and got things off the ground as a limited liability company. Our initial investment included buying computers and software, and we went on a search for 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. To start off, we designed eight thank you notes and printed 500 of each. We bought the Adobe Creative Suite. The school I taught at at the time had a multimedia classroom, and the graphic designer there helped me out with my initial designs. Last summer, I started learning the programs at a deeper level. With Jacqueline's photography skills and my art background, it wasn't about learning color or design, it was more the technology piece that was missing. We had also done a lot of design work for our own weddings and bridal showers. Right now we don't have a storefront, but have plans to have one in the future.

What were you up to before GREEN|FINGERPRINT?
I taught high school for six years in West Philadelphia and San Diego and then taught law in Fresno at a progressive charter high school. Jacqueline works in private wealth.

What is competition like in the stationery business? Competition or coopetition?
Within the stationery and creative arts community, there is such a sense of community. We try to offer a personal experience. When a client calls, s/he talks directly to us and can do pretty much whatever s/he wants in terms of customizing colors, fonts, etc. Each design house has its own identity, and our's is modern and sleek. We haven’t found another company that marries modern style with an eco-friendly mission. Many eco-friendly stationery products have a more organic, seed/flower look.

Who is in your target market?
Women in their twenties and thirties who are planning weddings and of course people who appreciate design and the look and feel of high quality eco-friendly stationery. We want to be the choice for brides, moms to be, friends purchasing stationery for friends. For example, a woman from Texas called about 300 plus invitations for a Bar Mitzvah. We're currently getting much of our business from New York, California, and Texas.

Are you open to wholesale down the line?
We eventually want to get our stationery into the the stores of independent stationers and like-minded shop owners. We would begin with our thank you notes and get our binders of wedding invitations into stores. We'll also attend trade shows, where stationers large and small get their products out there. We're also thinking about stores like Papyrus and Paper Source.

Crowdsourced companies such as Threadless have been a hit. Why haven't we seen similar successes in the stationery business?
For stationers, design is a critical element. In large part, there may be some resistance to associating someone else's style of design with your brand. We don't want to be seen as a FedEx or Kinkos.

Metrics. How do you track the social return on investment for your customers?
There are various calculators out there to help us determine the trees, water, carbon emissions, etc. that we've saved in our processes. Part of our packaging tells consumers what they've saved in purchasing our products on personalized cards that we fill in (e.g., x gallons of water saved). We want them to know that our products don't come out of factories and that they've done something positive.

What's your vision for GREEN|FINGERPRINT?
We strive to produce and create stationery and invitations that are printed exclusively on tree-free and 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and designed in modern and sophisticated styles. Our stationery is intended to excite you and even tug at your heart strings. In this digital age, there's still a need for written communication and for sitting down and writing a physical note to say thank you or assembling wedding invitations.

A mentor of mine says that entrepreneurs must learn how to sell their dreams. Thoughts?
When you're dreaming about a business, you're not dreaming about the challenges of distribution, production, accounting, etc. Who's providing us with paper and ink? What kind of ink do we want to use? What kind of company do we want to incorporate as? It's not so easy to translate a dream into a business and especially in design, a traditionally anti-business field.

And finally, please define entrepreneur.
An entrepreneur is someone who is passionate about what s/he wants to do, whether that's a product or service and is willing to make sacrifices to make it happen, which include emotional, financial, and physical sacrifices. The big payout is down the road, however you define big. As a women entrepreneur, there's the additional element of thinking about down the road. Do we want families? Can we have it all, our careers and our personal lives? I think we can.

Thank you Catherine. Jelly Theory is rooting for GREEN|FINGERPRINT and wishing you success in Martha Stewart's Dreamers Into Doers contest.

You can fan GREEN|FINGERPRINT's Facebook Page and following them on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Interview: Howard Cohen on Fighting Cancer with Mothers' Milk

This is not an interview on secrets, but I want to start with the observation that at any given moment, you don't really know what the people around you - even some of your closest friends and perhaps family - have gone through. Sometimes you find out by accident or if the person who holds the secret is willing to share, and I find this phenomenon particularly true in the case of one's health.

It's not surprising, really. For ages, social stigmas have been created around certain diseases - leprosy, STDs, schizophrenia to name a few. That's why I find it incredibly respectable when people who have gone through life-threatening and often life-changing experiences are willing to tell their stories. This month, Jelly Theory features Dr. Howard Cohen, a biotech entrepreneur who was diagnosed with prostate cancer about ten years ago and fought it with an alternative form of treatment - mothers' milk.

As Howard reminded me after our interview, his story may feel far removed for those of us in our 20s and 30s. Prostate cancer affects older men, and the advantages of breastfeeding are too early to think about now, but "the world is filled with new things." Oh, and by the way, there's no second "r" in the world "prostate" - a commonly made mistake.

Howard, how did you find out you had cancer, and if you don't mind sharing: what was going through your head?

I had always been very healthy and never had any health issues in my life. Ten years ago, I went in for a routine physical and requested a PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) blood test because a friend of mine had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The results showed that my PSA level was high and the rate of increase in my PSA level was high too - a sign that the cancer could be rapidly growing. I setup a biopsy, and after a couple ambiguous results, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Just like anyone who is diagnosed with cancer, I felt like a deer in the headlights: you don't hear anything else and go through this existential fear, wondering what you're going to do. The news was image shattering. I had planned to live a long healthy life.

PSA level over time (taken from Howard's site)


Thanks for sharing that process with us. How did you transition from your initial shock to fighting the cancer?
I gave myself a week to wallow in my emotions and then started researching the disease, what my options were, and how quickly I had to move. I started looking at the Web, read books that offered different viewpoints and could provide me with a basis to understand my medical options. Meanwhile, my wife was pursuing her own intuition. She had nursed all of our children, and it's a well-known fact that children who are nursed with mothers' milk are less susceptible to childhood and adult cancers, infections, and allergies, as well as build a better immune system. In the early 1990s, a research team in Sweden led by Catharina Svanborg at Lund University discovered that when mothers' milk was added to cell cultures of cancer cells, the cancer cells died, but left healthy cells unharmed. The team added mothers' milk extracts to all 40 lines of cancer cells that they had access to and found that the cancer cells were committing suicide, or in scientific terms, going through apoptosis or programmed cell death. In 1999, the American Cancer Society started funding their research and continues to do so.

That sounds too good to be true! What's going on biochemically?
When mothers' milk gets in an acid environment, such as one's stomach, the alpha-lactalbumin molecules react with the acid and unfold. They then combine with oleic acid, more common in human breast milk than other mammals, and take on a new shape. This new conformation, called HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumors), causes cancer cells to go through programmed cell death, while not affecting normal healthy cells. To this day, it's still not understood why this new shape does this. There are fundamental questions left unanswered: If you drink mothers' milk, how much of it is converted to HAMLET? How much is absorbed by cancer cells? How is it transported through the body? Where does it end up? How is it that it selectively targets cancer cells? What's the appropriate dosage? None of these answers are known.

HAMLET (click image for photo source)

What convinced you to try mothers' milk as an alternative form of treatment and mostly importantly how did you purchase it since it's not available on the market yet?
I thought, What the hell? While I was figuring out my surgery and radiation options and improving my diet and exercise, mothers' milk was an interesting prospect that I began to seriously consider. My wife called the milk bank in San Jose and was told by the director that the milk was only available for premature babies, which was frustrating. Later, at a BBQ, we met a woman who was a cancer survivor and nursing a six-month old baby and agreed to pump extra milk for me. She would freeze the milk for me, and I'd pick it up once a week and incorporate two ounces a day into my diet.

How did you monitor results?
Two months after my biopsy, I went in for another PSA test and my PSA level was in the middle of the normal range. At this point, I had only taken mothers' milk for about a month and thought it may have been a fluke, but I continued to do blood work on a monthly basis, as opposed to every three to four months, which the doctors recommended, so that I could get enough data to pull signal out of noise. I was totally blown away and amazed. Though I had previously decided on surgery and found the best surgeon in the Bay Area, I decided to postpone the procedure and see what would happen. The surgeon told me that I would be back to see him. It's been 10 years, and I haven't been back to him to schedule surgery.

That's truly good news to hear. Have you continued the treatment?
A year passed. My donor weaned her baby, and I didn't have a supply of mothers' milk anymore, so I tried to concoct my own version, and my PSA level went up. My wife called the milk bank again, and it agreed to sell us mothers' milk if I got a prescription from the doctor. One urologist that I approached wouldn't put his reputation on the line, but three other doctors agreed to do it. A week later, my PSA level was back down and that experience further convinced me that mothers' milk was really effective, since nothing else I was doing had changed. I continued taking it on a regular basis - two 3.5 ounce bottles a week - and the cancer eventually became undetectable. About a month after seeing these good results, I gave a talk at a support group about my initial results and what I had discovered about mothers' milk. People started requesting copies of my talk, and so in March 2000, I began creating my website, SOME GOOD NEWS - Improvements Without Knives or Rays, which documents my story. I hope to turn it into a book someday.

What other stories can you share with us on cancer patients who have also tried mothers' milk treatment?

In November 2007, I was contacted by a woman whose husband had stage four colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver. She was nursing an infant and started supplying her husband with her milk. In June 2008, I heard from the couple again. The man had gone into surgery, and his doctors told him that the tumors, which had metastasized to his liver, were dead and that the chemotherapy must have been really good. A colonoscopy found no tumors in his rectum or colon. This man's story is much more amazing than mine. He was probably six months away from his deathbed.

There was also an interesting bladder cancer study done in Sweden. To quote the abstract of the study, "Nine bladder cancer patients received 5 daily instillations of HAMLET during the week before surgery. HAMLET stimulated a rapid increase in the shedding of tumor cells into the urine, daily. Most of the shed cells were dead and 6 of 9 patients showed an apoptotic response. At surgery 8 of 9 patients showed a reduction in tumor size or change of tumor character. Adjacent healthy tissue showed no negative changes."

But it's been almost 20 years since the discovery of mothers' milk. Why has research innovation been so slow?
Research in pharmaceutical companies is motivated by money, and you can't patent a natural substance. There's also a difference between academic researchers who are trying to get papers out and researchers who are trying to bring something into the clinic and save lives. In my humble opinion, this research is Nobel Prize worthy once its full implications are discovered and implemented.

What does mothers' milk taste like?
Each batch tastes a bit different because the composition changes with the mothers' diet and health, and her baby's needs. It's often more watery than cow's milk and has an oily taste because of the oleic acid. I usually drink it in smoothies - mixing it in with other foods makes it more palatable. People can take it however they want.

What is the screening process that milk banks have to undergo?
A woman who wants to be a donor has to go through some blood work to make sure she doesn't have any STDs, Tuberculosis, AIDS, etc. Every batch that comes in is screened, mixed together, pasteurized, frozen, and then shipped out. With the pasteurization process, the heat treatment denatures some of the the alpha-lactalbumin, so it may not be as effective. Banks will keep a supply of mothers' milk in raw form that's low in bacteria count for patients like myself who request it.

What are the social implications associated with mothers' milk treatment?
There are lots of positive things to be said for mothers who breastfeed their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive feeding on breastmilk for the first six months of a child's life, then continued breast feeding at least for the first year and longer if possible. These infants grow up to be healthier children, which has enormous implications for public health and medical expenditures. In addition, nursing children helps women recover from childbirth and leads to greater mother-child bonding. It's an emotional investment that's almost chemical and helps build healthier families. The child has a stronger sense of belonging and feels more wanted, so s/he is likely to achieve greater success in life.

What my wife and I are pressing for now is that, like in Europe, women get subsidized by the state to stay home for a year to nurse their children; the quid-pro-quo would be that they pump and supply additional milk for premature children and people with poor immune systems and cancer. This would decrease the cost of oncology treatments and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. We wrote a letter to the president, as well as key senators and representatives in Congress. This is long-term and potentially short-term cost effective.

I imagine you've been met with some resistance over the years?
Americans are weird about the human body, sexuality, and nutrition. I've gotten reactions from complete disgust to the wink, wink, nod, nod dirty old man approach, so there are definitely cultural barriers that need to be crossed in order for the treatment to become more acceptable to the general public. That said, this was more true in British press coverage than in U.S. newspapers.

What advice would you offer people who, like yourself many years ago, have recently been diagnosed with cancer?
Don't let anyone bully you into doing something that's irreversible. Some cancers move quickly, so understand your time constraints. Go through the emotions and find a support group of people who you can connect with, who have been through what you are starting to cope with, and whose collective experience you can learn from. Educate yourself, and don't completely believe in doctors. Treat them as consultants who are people you're hiring to help you come to the best decision. Get help from your family and friends. It's your life, and no one is as big of an advocate as you are.

Please define what an entrepreneur means to you.
An entrepreneur is a person who can take an idea and turn it into a going economic enterprise, can motivate and coordinate people around him/her, and combine creativity, people and business skills. In this Valley, s/he usually has technical skills as well. Success often requires luck and timing, as well as passion and hard work.

Thank you very much, Howard, for telling your story on Jelly Theory. Here's to the future of medical discovery and living life well.


(click image for photo credit)

Friday, May 29, 2009

May Interview: Making a Living and a Life with Artist Rochelle Ford

One thing that I love to do in the springtime is go on walks. Waverley Street is an especially beautiful walk because as you head toward downtown Palo Alto, the road begins to wind and curve - I am told that this is where the name Waverley comes from. On one such walk, I stopped everything I was doing and thinking because I saw this:


It's a bright, energetic, artistic house smack in the middle of Palo Alto's conservative professorville. Should I mind my own business or knock on the door and meet the creative owners of this house? I couldn't resist and chose the latter ... And, I met Rochelle Ford and her husband. Rochelle is a 70-something artist who makes remarkable metal sculptures out of recycled and discarded metal - or in other words, junk. Her story (and her husband's) inspired me to see the difference between making a living versus making a life.

Jelly Theory: Good morning, Rochelle. Thanks for your time and opening up your beautiful home for us to talk. You devoted yourself to a career in art later in life. What was the thought process?
Rochelle Ford: I’ve always been interested in art and have had a creative side to me. In my professional career, I ran an international nonprofit. The founder was dying of cancer at a young age and told me: Don’t die wondering, get to it. Four and a half years later, at 58 years of age, I left the organization and became an artist. I taught myself to become a welder. During the first two years, I held shows in New York. By the third year, I replicated my salary as Executive Director of the NGO, and surpassed it in my fourth year. I wanted to be a successful artist, not a starving one – and to make a living and a life as an artist. I had been in business all my life and was raised in a family in business. Art is 85 percent business.


How does your very unique home and garden fit into your artwork
?
Well, after I decided to give up business and become an artist, I came home and made art. I put price tags on my work, but the question became: How do you get people to come inside and take a look? The first thing my husband and I did was paint the house. This area of downtown Palo Alto is in an historic part of town where everything is neutral – white, beige, and gray – and so we began by painting the inside of the house and worked our way to the outside. Everyone was attracted to the house, both negatively and positively. The colors drew attention to our abode and signaled that something was going on in here that was different. As people were drawn to the exterior of the house, they gradually started coming inside and realized that I made small $20 dollar pieces to three-story high sculptures that were thousands of dollars. They would buy something modest and then many would call back about the sculpture upstairs or bringing a friend from out of town to visit. It was a snowball effect. I would say yes to opportunities even though I didn’t have previous experience in them. For example, 3COM asked me to design and build a chair for Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.


That’s genius! I noticed that the outside of your house has three main colors. How did you pick them?
Martha Stewart had just started a paint line of floral colors. The colors are Martha Stuart flower colors because in a naïve way I thought that would makes the appearance of the house more socially acceptable. I was already set on the first two colors and was deciding between olive green or purple for the third color. My neighbors were going to have to live with the colors too, so I put it up to a vote. They picked purple because this was 15 years ago when many families were affected by war, and the green reminded them of the military.


Does that mea
n that your home is essentially an open gallery?
Yes, after going through many galleries and shows, I decided my house and yard would be my gallery, and I wouldn’t put my work in the hands of galleries. People can enjoy house and yard like a living gallery. There’s more art in it than any gallery would ever have. People come, and I make myself available to anyone who wants to visit and bring their guests. It really does work. Visitors find art they like or commission me to do a piece for a special part of their homes. I enjoy people and welcome them. There’s no pressure whatsoever. If they find something they like, I’m thrilled; and if not, we still get to visit over a cup of tea.


Your work is famous for being created from recycled and discarded metal. How does this aspect infuse meaning into your work?
We live in a throw away society. People throw a lot of things away that you can take and turn into something desirable. I used to find my starting materials in junkyards, but now people will randomly leave me items like a wrecked car fender hoping that I can use them.

This model runs in the family. My mother owned a second-hand clothing story. We lived in an upscale small community where people would wear something to a fancy party and never wear it again. My mom brought these worn once outfits to people who couldn’t afford clothes, and this made her happy. My father was a new and used car dealer. The new car business was cut and dry, so my dad loved the old car business more because he could take an old car and make it run perfectly for someone who couldn’t afford a new car: again, taking something no one else wanted anymore and turning it into something desirable.


So what are example parts that you can use in your art pieces?

Steel mill splatters in Pennsylvania
Melted aluminum windows from Berkeley fires
Sardine and tuna cans
Mirrors covered in copper from the roof of the oldest house in Saratoga
Inserts from hot water heater
Copper piping from an old fridge
Car muffler pipes
The outside of hot water heaters
Old metal trash cans


Wow. How did you go about finding and getting these kinds of parts?
When I was first getting started, I visited the local dump to see what I might find. This one time, I needed a spring from the hood of a car, so I went out, lifted the hood, and used a torch to spring it out. Six guys were standing by the dump clapping, and I ended up becoming good friends with the workers at the dump. They told me anytime I need a part, they would help me get it. I was given carte blanche to go to the dump, but I don’t go very often anymore. I already have a lifetime of garbage to work with.


Fifteen years ago at 58, you began your life and career in art. It’s inspiring and remarkable for those who may be thinking about life transitions. Haha, this is a comment, not a question, but feel free to respond.

The truth is that our home is a phenomenon to people, and I hope it says that you can get started in life late. I remind my customers of their mothers, grandmothers, and even themselves, and I encourage them to think that at even at 73 years old, your life isn’t over. I’ve given presentations at senior centers and retirement places. I tell the people there that life isn’t over and that they can use their creativity to express their interests. They shouldn’t miss the opportunity to do so.

Can you share a couple memorable stories about your interactions with visitors to your home?
Teachers will bring their students here to show them that we’re not always a throw away society. One time, a second grade class came over, and the kids were exploring the house. One little boy didn’t say a word the whole time, but would examine the price tags. At the end, the teacher asked if anyone had anything to say. All of a sudden, the boy raises his hand and says, “Lady, you charge a lot of money for junk.” I replied, “When you can turn junk into art, you can charge a lot of money.” And I could just see his brain working away. Another time a man came, stepped into our home, and bought the first sculpture he saw. I asked him what prompted him to buy this particular sculpture without looking at the rest, and he said it reminded him of the hat his mother used to wear to church.

I love that child’s honesty, and he definitely raises a good point. How do you price art that’s made from … junk?
A lot of people who buy my art say it’s reasonably priced. I used to think: Oh my goodness, this is a wrecked car part that someone threw away and has no value; and here I am, making it into a piece of art and charging for it! A lot of art is buying raw materials, making a piece of art, and then selling it. For me, I have to unmake raw materials first and then make them into something, so this justifies why I can take junk and sell it. Personally, I tend to be very conscience of how I spend my money, so I think: What would I be willing to pay? Other factors include time, equipment, gases, glaze, paint, size, materials, how good I feel about myself, etc. There’s no science to it. If visitors see something out of their budgets, I’d rather them have it if it makes them happy. That’s going to outlive me.

What inspires all of these pieces in your home, and do you have a few favorites?
The material motivates me. If you look around the room, you may notice the sculptures that are made out of nails. At one point I was given $300 dollars of rusty nails, and I made $5000 dollars worth of sculptures from that. I thought: I’ll take the nails and make at least $300 and then some. I then took the rest to the recycling center because I knew I’d never live long enough to use them up.

My favorite piece is always the last one I made. When I complete a project, I’m satisfied, forget about it, and move onto the next one. I value the process, not the end product. Every piece is one of a kind. I never reproduce my art.


With your home as your gallery, and your gallery as your home, do you find it hard to balance work and life?

I once made a sculpture of a woman, and she ended up with seven breasts, which was fitting because it captures a prevailing theme for women: they’re the wife, mother, neighbor, friend, etc. When I’m in the studio, it’s the only place where I’ve ever been able to concentrate on me and what it is that makes me whole – not that I don’t love these other roles. But when I’m in my studio, that’s my world, and I don’t think about another thing except creating what makes me happy and the whole artistic process.


This last question is a tradition for all Jelly Theory interviews. In your life’s work, how would you define entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur makes a living and has a life at the same time: she makes a living and a life.

Thank you, Rochelle. You're an incredible woman who is putting positive energy into the world.

At the end of our interview, Rochelle gave me this magnet: On the road of life, be a driver, not a passenger:

And here are other fun pictures for your viewing pleasure:







Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An Announcement

Please find me here. If you're curious why, it's because I'll be experimenting over the next few months with Tumblr. My Tumblr site will be updated more frequently and have a more personal touch to it. My monthly interview series will continue to be posted here and linked on my Tumblog.

So, what do you think? Are you raising your eyebrows at all (at left)? Let's go!

jessicalee.tumblr.com


Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Interview: Social Dating with Eve Peters

No, I didn't forget about the monthly interview series I promised you back in February. I hope you've enjoyed the first two so far as much as I've had great fun with them. This month did take a bit longer than before because I anxiously waited for a topic that fits in with all of the love (and pollen) in the air this new Spring season ... and I found one rather serendipitously.

I'm very pleased to present Eve Peters, Founder and CEO of MIXTT, a social dating website. I met Eve last weekend at a Stanford Women in Business conference as we were both asking the panelists questions after a session - until I realized that her story was far more interesting, and so I turned to her and asked,
Social dating? How's that different from plain old dating?
Before moving on, what would your guess be? Now, hold that thought.

Eve, what does social dating even mean, and what's the idea behind your company MIXTT?
MIXTT is a fresh spin on the old online dating model. Traditional one-on-one dating sites often produce pressure-filled and awkward situations - not exactly what people are looking for. If you look at the behavior of Generation Y, you see a lot of group hangouts happening instead of formal dates. MIXTT lets people set up small social gatherings with their friends and others - plans that may or may not have romantic undertones. For example, a guy and his friends can meet up with a girl and her friends.

What and when was your "ah hah!" moment for MIXTT?
I was inspired through my experiences using Match.com and JDate.com. I used each one for six months and came out of both feeling they were:
  1. inefficient (It's inefficient to meet only one person in one night. Why not meet several?)
  2. an interruption to my regular social life (missed out on Friday pizza nights with friends)
  3. uncomfortable and anxiety ridden (felt like interviews)
  4. not that fun (again, only one person)
For all of these reasons, I thought a group dating/hanging out scenario would be better. We began working on the site in November 2007, and it launched publicly in September 2008 at TechCrunch 50.



Congratulations on making the cut for TechCrunch 50!

I noticed that your website isn't explicitly positioned as a social dating site. Is this intentional?

It is intentional with our current version. The problem is that there's no true name for what we're doing. We're promoting an activity that doesn't have its own online category yet. We don't want to say "dating" because there are high pressure and romantic expectations associated with that term, when what we’re trying to do is to help people meet casually and comfortably. In Version 2, we plan to use more explicit messaging through demos, videos, and commercials. The key message is that this is a fun, fresh way to meet people.

What other improvements will you bring to Version 2?
After launching the site, we realized that the notion of forming and operating specific groups doesn't do the best job of emulating social patterns in real life. People socialize in more dynamic ways: having a “posse” is very high school-ish; in reality, you have many different social circles. Version 2 will allow for more dynamic grouping so that an individual functions as a free agent. Version 2 may also leverage Facebook via Facebook Connect.

What are your thoughts on revenue generation?
In Version 1, we planned to use an ad-based model with affiliate programs and premium services. We’re still working out the details for Version 2, but I can say we’re most likely going to veer away from ads as a primary source of revenue generation.

How do you view your predecessors in the social dating space?
Social dating has been tried before. When you pitch the idea, people say it's great; but, it's all in the execution, and no one has been able to make it succeed yet. Successful sites all master some transaction: eBay mastered the auction; Amazon mastered online retail; Facebook mastered a few things, including sharing stories and even stalking. Sites that succeed are comfortable and intuitive to use, and are undergoing constant iteration.

How do you ensure the safety of your users?
On our site, users have the option to report inappropriate content, and our staff monitors profiles and can exercise the right to kick threatening people off. The great thing about group dating is that you're not alone, so there's an added benefit of safety. We also encourage users to meet in public spaces. People are getting increasingly savvy about their online-to-offline interactions, too.

And finally, the last question I always ask my guest interviewees is: Define entrepreneur, please.
An entrepreneur is somebody who takes a vision that s/he has created or a vision that s/he has developed by listening to other people, and executes on that vision with fierce determination and persistence.

Thank you, Eve! Best of luck to you and your team.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Staying Amazed

Today, I'll be in Calgary for the day. Weather by the hour, courtesy of The Weather Channel


Meanwhile, back home in Palo Alto:


As you scroll down, the temperature increases up to 25 degrees, seven clouds disappear, and the likelihood of rain drops to 0 percent. Am I missing out?

Everyday we make choices that have associated opportunity costs: costs that can be measured (the cost of investing x dollars), and those that can't (in my case today, the cost of bad weather); the former being measured in units of money, the latter in mood. But I'm still going to Calgary aren't I, so what benefits are outweighing my disutility? There are many, but one that I'd like to share with you is: Reading in the sky! Trying to stay amazed

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Lipstick Index

I was browsing in Sephora, and as I reached for a tube of lipgloss, I hesitated because, well, I remembered the Lipstick Index. It's an "economic indictor" that shows that in times of recession, lipstick sales increase: i.e., in bad times, women tend to treat themselves to smaller luxuries to brighten their spirits. This makes economic sense if you consider lipstick an inferior good (a good for which demand decreases when income rises and increases when income falls). 

I'm curious, do you buy this? 

Some evidence to consider...
  • During the Depression, lipstick sales increased by 25 percent.
  • After 9/11, US lipstick sales increased by 11 percent.
  • But, are the above events merely anecdotal? There seems to be no direct correlation in the graph (from The Economist) below. Notice that lipstick sales are also rising with GDP growth.
  • And, just for fun I'll throw in some Google, Facebook, and Twitter trends that I did - inspired by google.org's Flu Trends. Be careful, those spikes you see in 2008 might have to do with Obama's "lipstick on a pig" comment in Virginia during election season. Not surprisingly, Twitterers are rather quiet on the topic.
Google Trends


Facebook Lexicon


Twist (a Twitter trends site)


And for the record, I bought the lipgloss. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bird Abusing or Dad Amusing?

Yesterday, Slate's "Today's Pictures" featured birds and their owners across different cultures and time periods. My two favorites are images 17 and 20, which I'm displaying below.

"MANAGUA, Nicaragua—A woman takes a break from hand-washing laundry in a sink to cool off her parrot on a blistering summer day, 1984."

I've seen people water their plants like this before, but never bathe their pets in this way! Something to try on my future puppy?

"BEIJING—A man with his pet bird in Ritan Park, 1984."

The caption says 1984, but in Beijing today, you can still see old men walking their caged birds in parks. Sounds silly, but whenever I'm there, this is one of the sights I secretly look forward to because in this quickly modernizing, fast-paced city, it's rare to catch the calm of everyday life. It's so real. The smoking is typical, really. It makes me wonder now: How are pets in smoking households affected by second-hand smoke? FYI, the smoking population in China is greater than the entire US population.

But then, my dad's response to all of this bird talk? In an email from him this morning:
What is wrong with these birds? Bird number 17 is in shower while bird number 20 is in smoke. Looks like bird abusing!
Um...or, dad amusing! When the first thing you do in the morning is laugh, it's going to be a fine day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Weekend

Highlights from the weekend, in pictures:

In Daly City, watching sunset on Good Friday.

In Sunnyvale, eating gluten-free Easter brunch with the Browns. The multi-shot feature is courtesy of QuadCamera, an iPhone photography application that I recently discovered and am loving. The app works best when you want to capture moving objects or different angles of still objects. See examples below.

Corners of my room.

Best jumping jacks I've ever seen.

So, here's to...
sunsets
best friends
apps that get it
Easter
Grace
Love

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Watch Me Fly

Albert: have you noticed these fluttering by this week?
me: hm.
no...
Albert: look for 'em
big migration this week
they're called painted lady butterflies
they spend winter in southern california and mexico
migrate up around this time to northern california/oregon/washington?
migrate back down in august
this year has seen a lot more than usual

I'm trying something new here. Leave a comment if...
  1. you've spotted one or spot one in the near future: note the location and time at which the Vanessa cardui graced your presence.
  2. you'd like to share a moment in which you were wowed or even repulsed by nature/the Outdoors.
In each category, I'll randomly draw a winner who will receive a book of his/her choice that s/he has been meaning to read but hasn't because of the busyness that is life.

Happy Spring.

Update on 4/12/09: Congratulations, Monica and Nick! Monica has chosen Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, and Nick, Rapid Viz: A New Method for the Rapid Visualization of Ideas by Kurt Hanks. Enjoy, and watch out for future interactive posts that involve drawings!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Interview: Frozen Yogurt with Yul Kwon

Presenting Yul Kwon, this month's guest interviewee...

After graduating from Stanford with a degree in Symbolic Systems, Yul Kwon continued his studies at Yale Law and went on to work at law firms and other companies, including McKinsey and Google. In 2006, he was the winner of Survivor Cook Islands and went down in the show's history as one of the greatest strategists. Last year, he opened his first Red Mango frozen yogurt shop in downtown Palo Alto. In addition to Red Mango, he spends his time doing nonprofit/charity work and supports issues in the Asian American community, including bone marrow donations and political activism.

Froyo is one of my all-time favorite snacks and one that I partake in with best friends and family, so it was a real treat speaking with Yul Kwon and learning more about the froyo market from him. I found him to be a very genuine and funny individual to talk to. And who would have thought that Yul Kwon is lactose intolerant?!

After winning Survivor, why and how did you enter frozen yogurt industry?
It was completely serendipitous. After Survivor, I stopped eating well. I wanted to find something healthy to eat because I gained 40 pounds. When I went to LA, someone introduced me to frozen yogurt, and it helped me get back into shape. I met Dan Kim, the CEO of Red Mango, through a mutual friend, and he asked me if I was willing to help him expand in the Bay Area. I had never owned a small business before, never done franchising. Having worked in the corporate world, I never had the desire to work in retail food, but I thought it'd be an interesting experience. I love the product and the guaranteed supply of yogurt!

What is your specific role at Red Mango?
I'm a franchisee, a small business owner, of Red Mango. I'm the public face in the Bay Area, the deal maker kind of. I spend a lot of time on overall strategy and organizational fit and building relationships with landlords, brokers, and Red Mango corporate. I spend some time in the stores, too.

Is frozen yogurt a fad or here to stay?
I believe it's a sustainable trend. First, if you look at the frozen desserts market, frozen yogurt occupies only a small share, so there's room for growth, especially if you look at other parts of the world where yogurt consumption is much higher. Second, the product is healthy, and there's been a long-term trend and desire for healthier products in all categories of food. Consumers are choosing food options based on health investments. Frozen yogurt is a low-calorie food with a lot of health benefits. Red Mango was the first frozen yogurt brand to be certified by the National Yogurt Association.

Since Survivor, you've been getting a lot of media attention, including negative coverage on Red Mango being denied entry into San Francisco's North Beach community. How do you cooperate with the press and what did you walk away from North Beach with?
Engage the press and get to know reporters too, so that they can understand your perspective.
Be proactive and develop a relationship with the media. When North Beach happened, the press wasn't positive because Red Mango seemed to be bringing a large chain into a local community.

San Francisco is a crazy place to open a business. There are lots of local politics, different political factions and local stakeholder gro
ups. It's hard to navigate unless you're an insider. You need connections. For us, the problem was that there were written rules and unwritten rules. We didn't reach out to the right groups and politicians. We walked into a longstanding political issue (preserving the identity of the local North Beach community and preventing large chains from commercializing the neighborhood) that we weren't familiar with. That's an important and valuable goal.

So you now have two locations, one on University Ave in Palo Alto, and another in Valley Fair mall in San Jose. How would you compare the two?
Our Palo Alto store is an outdoor location, it's more of a neighborhood, whereas the one in Valley Fair is in a large mall, so there are different patterns in terms of the traffic you get and at what times. In Palo Alto, people go to Red Mango specifically because they want Red Mango. In a mall, it's a different proposition: people are shopping for other things and making spontaneous buying decisions along the way. There's less seasonality in a mall location; in Palo Alto, we've become weathermen.

Red Mango on University Ave:


What do you get at Red Mango?
It changes, but I guess my favorite right now is pomegranate with blueberries, Ghirardelli dark chocolate, and mango.

Who are your target customers at Red Mango?
The majority of our customers are women, ages 18 to 44, interested in health. Young kids like sweeter things, but once they get used to it, they like it a lot. We're trying to get men right now. They follow the women.

Haha. How do you stay competitive with popular brands in the area like Pinkberry and Fraiche?
There are relatively low barriers to entry in the frozen yogurt space, thus the proliferation of different frozen yogurt brands. The process of education is important, as are other factors such as the product, ambiance, location, and brand. I picked which yogurt I wanted to be involved with based on taste and quality. It's tart, but not so tart that it's off-putting. I'm actually lactose intolerant, so there are very few dairy products that don't give me digestive problems, but for some reason I'm able to eat Red Mango.

Fraiche recently opened a store on Stanford campus this year. Is this a missed opportunity for Red Mango?
It's a missed opportunity because Stanford is my alma mater, and it would've been personally meaningful for me. I wasn't involved in the negotiation, but there was some misunderstanding/miscommunication. I was pretty bumped and upset, but it is what it is.

What is your favorite non-Red Mango frozen dessert?
Quickly. It's made with Dreyer's.

The reason why you participated in Survivor was to break stereotypes of Asian men in the media. How do you continue to challenge stereotypes as a small business owner?
Premium frozen yogurt is an Asian concept that's been able to cross over. In general, though, there's a perception of Asian products being shoddy/inferior. As a Korean American, I like the fact that Red Mango is a Korean product, but is seen and accepted by a broader community that includes many racial and generational lines. In an indirect way, the Red Mango brand serves the larger purpose of trying to demystify Asian images and products.

Frozen yogurt can get pricey. How do you set prices?
The franchiser makes recommendations, but the franchisee determines prices. It's a difficult issue because on the one hand you don't want to price too high, and on the other you don't want to feel your margins, so it's a complex problem you have to solve. It's a combination of margin-based pricing, how price sensitive your customers are, your competition, and what kind of image/brand you're trying to cultivate. Even now we debate our prices.

Red Mango is a premium frozen yogurt brand. How is the economy impacting your sales?
The whole recession threw a big curve into everyone's business model. Every food retailer has been hit by the recession and is hurting, there's no question about it. We haven't lowered our prices, but are monitoring and discussing prices depending on how things change. Before, with so many frozen yogurt operators trying to open stores, our strategy was to compete and win market share. Now, our focus is on lean operations.

Share a memorable customer interaction, please.
You know, I've had all kinds of interactions. A lot of times, fans of Survivor get excited when they see me. I remember this one time I was working behind the counter and shook a customer's hand. Later, I read on a Yelp review that I had a "meek" handshake.


Define entrepreneur.
Someone who doesn't know better, a risk taker who wants to take a big gamble in terms of trying something new and controlling one's direction and destiny.

Thank you, Yul Kwon!


And in case anyone from Red Mango is reading, a couple questions from my readers:
  • Can you get more flavors of the mochi topping at Red Mango like grape, strawberry, green tea?
  • Will there be a Red Mango in San Francisco soon?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Part 3: Follow Your Passion?

This post is the final part of a three-part series on Tina Seelig's talk, "What I Wish I Knew When I was 20," at the Women Making It Work conference.



When people tell you to "follow your passion," they are either 1) simplifying the problem (the problem being, What should I be when I grow up?), or 2) assuming that your passion inevitably aligns with your talents and market demand.

Passion alone, region α, puts you in the fan/enthusiast category. Passion and what you're good at , β, lead to a hobby. The intersection of what you're good at and the market, δ, is your job (as most will tell you). Where all three meet, that's the sweet spot. Find it, and be there.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Part 2: Lemonade Networking

This post is part of a three-part series on Tina Seelig's talk, "What I Wish I Knew When I was 20," at the Women Making It Work conference last week.
Tina Seelig walks into a supermarket. As she browses, a gentleman comes up to her with instant lemonade in hand and asks her how to make it. Seelig goes over the instructions with him, and as they talk, she finds out that he's visiting the Bay Area from Chile for a start-up related event. She gives him her card and offers to connect him with helpful individuals in her network...A few years later, Seelig travels to Chile for work and sends this man an email to see how he's doing. The man responds and asks that she meet him at the lobby of some building and bring her colleagues and friends along, too. When they arrive, they are met with a helicopter that takes them on a breathtaking ride over the country.
Seelig's message here isn't about making lemonade, duh, it's about making your own luck by, in this case, engaging with seemingly strange people (a man with lemonade powder) in unlikely environments (the grocery store). The key word here is seemingly.

"Lemonade networking," as I'll call it, is about building relationships, not networks; giving to give, not to get...and the surprise is waiting for you in the end.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Part 1: Unframe the Problem

Tina Seelig, Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, is coming out with a new book. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 will be released on April 14, 2009.

On Friday, at the Women Making It Work conference, Seelig gave a sneak preview of the lessons in career building and entrepreneurship that she discusses in her book. As I scanned the audience, I found that I was one of the few people in the room who was in her 20s and could technically heed her advice in time. Through stories and YouTube videos, Seelig shared 7 pieces of advice - three of them particularly struck me, and I'll summarize them over the next few days:

1. Unframe the problem.
2. Turn lemonade into a helicopter ride.
3. "Follow your passion" is cop-out advice.

In a class Seelig taught, she gave her students the following assignment:
  • Each team receives an envelope with five dollars.
  • In two hours, what's the greatest return you can make?
  • Each team delivers a three-minute presentation on results to the rest of the class.
The average amount of money made turned out to be around $200. Teams set up bike tire pumping services, even scalped restaurant reservations! However, the team that saw the greatest return ($650) did not use the $5. The students in this team realized that the $5 they were given had framed the problem when in reality they were given a much more valuable asset: the three-minute presentation. They sold those three minutes to a company that wanted to recruit students in the class. $216.67 per minute...not bad.

The point is, think about all the assets you own.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Standing Ovations

I counted: President Obama received around 40 standing ovations during his State of the Union on Tuesday, which started me on a thought process around the tradition of standing ovations. A large part of their value, I feel, is that they are given out sparingly, to extraordinary individuals at rare points in time - so that when one is given, it's a signal, a message of sorts, of what resonates with the audience. But when you have 40 in a time period of less than an hour, averaging about 0.75 standing ovations per minute, each successive standing ovation decreases in value, and one is left wondering what the audience really cared about. I think this is especially true in the field of politics. I re-watched Obama's speech to track some simple trends on how he earned his standing ovations. Here's what I came up with:


Obama's statements on recovery from the banking crisis (through renewed lending) and reform (energy, health care, education) won the greatest percentage of standing ovations, but even so, when you have a relatively even distribution of consensus from an audience, what does a speaker leave the stage with? The audience has a message, too.


When you break down the reform slice of the pie, the results are a tad bit more compelling. Health care and education reforms lead those of energy/climate change.

From a more personal point of view, I've always been one to find standing ovations awkward. If you think about it, it only takes maybe 15 to 20 percent of a large audience to find something standing-ovation worthy, and then that does it, the remaining majority is forced to follow. The next time you feel pressured to do so, just remember: being stingy with your standing ovations is not a bad way to go.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Make It Happen

Stanford Entrepreneurship Week has been going on. Notes from a workshop I attended on bringing products to life:


idea/prototype
<--- entrepreneur's gap ---> the market
  • Intellectual Property (IP) theft: People think that their ideas will be stolen/subverted (and sometimes they are!), but it's important to treat competitors with respect. Trust, but verify.
From a country's standpoint:
copying ideas (weak IP enforcement) --------> generating ideas (time to change IP rules)
  • Quickly resolving problems in the design of your idea depends on understanding your environment and resources.
  • A sustainable idea adds economic value and/or enhances the quality of life. Think of a sustainable world as a space of innovation, as opposed to a place where you cannot do certain things.
  • Definition of "team": people with complementary skills, with a common goal and approach

With Stanford EWeek 2009 about to end, that means it's been over a year since we (my close friends, classmates, and I) started a project called CAIR. CAIR didn't make it past the entrepreneur's gap, but it was my first theoretical exercise in entrepreneurship.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

0% Probability

Something cool happened, and the likelihood of it happening was close to zero percent.

On Thursday I attended a Facebook Developer Garage in Palo Alto, which is an event that Facebook puts on to bring its application developer community together. The subject of this particular dev garage was Feeds and Social Distribution, and members of the Facebook Platform team gave developers a sneak preview of where Facebook is headed with the News Feed, and advice on how to create more user-engaging Feed stories. I blogged on the event for Inside Facebook - You can read it here.

Being a Facebook-sponsored event, there was of course a Facebook Event created for the dev garage. I RSVPed "Attending" about a week before the event. A day later, I received a Facebook message from Mike, who was a complete stranger to me at the time.
He wrote: "hi, mind if i ask u a question? have you been to one of these events before? just wondering what it's like and if i should make the trip from SF to go! :)"

I wrote back: "This is my first garage too, so I can't say. Sorry I can't be more helpful!"
That was that.

On the day of the dev garage, doors opened at 6:30 pm, but I got there at 6:00 pm, to find that there was already a long line. The rather unlikely situation was that by a random stroke of luck/timing/coincidence, I was standing in line right behind Mike. According to my rudimentary calculation, the probability of this occurring was:

P = P(Mike messaging Jessica) x P(M & J standing next to each other in line)

There were 622 confirmed guests. Suppose Mike browsed only the first page of results for confirmed guests. There are 10 results per page, and assuming he messaged only one person, P(M messaging J) = 1/10. Say on the day of the actual event, only 50 percent of the confirmed guests show up - 311, then P(M & J standing next to each other in line) = 2/311. That equals:

P = (1/10)(2/311) = 1/1555 = 0.000643

Improbable, huh? Thanks Mike for being my buddy during the event; for explaining some of the more technical concepts to me; and for giving me iPhone tips for beginners. Consider OpenTable (where Mike works) before making your next online restaurant reservation!