Everything is bigger here

During my first one and half days days in the US, or more specifically, Redwood City in SF bay area, it seems that I’m not having any resonance with the local people’s esthetical  tastes: I maybe wrong, but I think their surroundings basically suggest “the bigger the better”.

Before coming t0 the US, my daily supervisor said his impression of the Silicon Vally is just very big highways. Indeed as I went out the airport, it’s difficult to ignore the wide 8 or 10 lane motorway (or freeway as shown on traffic signs). But it’s not just the highway that’s bigger than that in China or Europe: cars are bigger, traffic signs are bigger, parking space is bigger, yards are bigger, hotel rooms are bigger, beds are bigger and higher, chairs are bigger, drawers are bigger, even AC and TC remotes and their buttons are bigger, wild grass are higher… Maybe I’m prejudiced, these bigger objects are not necessarily beautiful, instead they look weird to my eyes. Delicacy seems to be from another world. Wider highway does not seem to make the traffic flow better, roads are wide but not flatly paved, pedestrian ways are wide but are sometimes only available on one side…

Looks like I’m not appreciating the locals’ tastes…

Another Mid-Autumn Festival

Five years ago I wrote “Lonely as the moon” in my blog during my last year of master’s study, feeling lonely, confused and frustrated due to the study, insufficient hope of finding a job, and most importantly, not having someone by my side whom I can talk with and listen to. I prayed to the moon in hope of finding a girlfriend, and magically it worked within a few months. Now that this girlfriend has become my wife, the emptiness still rises from deep inside.

I’ve never foreseen this coming. I thought distance wouldn’t matter to loving hearts. Maybe not much, but little by little things can go from bad to worse. Today I really felt threatened. It made me horrified to just think about the one I love could leave me, and that not living together opens harmful uncertainties. I wish I had communicated more and made her happier. I wish I had continued my job in Finland so that she didn’t have to go back to China. I wish I had appreciated her love earlier so that she doesn’t think I’m still as stubborn as I used to be. I wish I had given her everything. I wish I had focused on solving currently problems and hadn’t thought about our future plans too pessimistically.

Now I have a more clear goal: just to keep her happy and feel being loved by me. I’m going to fixed what I’ve screwed up. I’ll talk equally without judgements and listen with appreciation. Offer to help but not mandate. Become more attractive, supportive, romantic, confident and cheerful. Make more money or at least explain the plans and follow them up. Care about her and let her know to make her secure. Love her. Create a family atmosphere for us.

She is my wife and I’m her man.

Today the moon is as bright as it was five years ago. I’m sure it has heard me well.

Almost hit by an asshole driver

Here’s the complaint to the police. The time should be around 14h30 on Sunday, 7th June 2015. Fuck you, asshole!

Dear Sir or Madam,

I was almost hit by a car on the zebra line yesterday.

At around 2h30 on Sunday, 7th June 2015, I was crossing Rue Edward Steichen next to Rue Joseph Hackin in Kirchberg towards Kirchberg Hospital. When I was in the middle of the zebra line, a white car came from west to east towards me. It didn’t slow down. I had to jump back two steps to avoid it and it missed me by just a few centimeters. The driver looked at me with a “cool” look from the window and then speeded up and drove away. The car didn’t even stop. The driver said nothing to me, leaving me terrified, astonished and speechless in the road.

The car is a white Audi, not very new. The Luxembourgish plate number could be KA7805 but I’m not totally sure. The drive is a white man around 30 years old.

Hope you’re able to find out the driver warn him about his extremely aggressive driving style.

Thank you.

With great expectations come great disappointment

Yesterday it was SnT Partnership Day and almost everyone in SnT was present at the event. We had to, because it was meant to be SnT’s “major” event for publicity. Besides SnT staff, current and potential partners, investors and government officials were also there. The program looked good on paper: keynote speaker from Fraunhofer, student demos and posters, round-table discussions on innovation and tech-transfer, and so on. I also expected the event to be great, only to find myself disappointed after the event.

The event was not well organized. Schedule was not well followed. After the morning coffee break people remained “networking” outside the conference room while speakers on stage talked with low volume. Students were told to leave the table for guests but there are not enough table for neither guests or students. I guess only “important” people eat sitting.

I was especially disappointed at the round-table discussion. For the first half-hour the host slowly introduced the guests, making jokes that are not funny at all. And for the remaining half-hour six guests were asked one or two questions and there didn’t seem to be any insightful or in-depth discussions. I could have done better than that.

And for the posters, it worked as I had expected: we wasted time preparing for it and few people actually cared about it. And in fact I didn’t care either. Posters are certainly not my favourite dish.

This makes me sad. Whenever I expect something great, it will almost certainly disappoint me. I suppose I’m not good at expectation management at all. The solution to this issue is, of course, “I don’t care (about the results)”. However, this is also dangerous. Not caring about certain things is fine, but one cannot care about nothing. There is always something one lives up for.

It’s funny how expectations work on us. If we have low or no expectations, we don’t care what might happen and we don’t feel motivated about things better. In this case things won’t get better because no efforts are made. On the other hand, when we expects too much, the results often fail us. We feel more pressed and more nervous. And then we doubt ourselves and feel depressed.

It’s difficult to manage our own expectations, yet more so when it comes to managing others’ expectations on you. Expectations are not static and constant. They grow when you meet others’ expectations and they’re lowered when you don’t. Neither is good for you. When expectations grow, there will definitely be a day when you’re not able to fulfil them, despite how hard you try and how much pressure you receive. When expectations are lowered on you, this means people are already getting disappointed and you’re going to lose opportunities. From a longterm perspective, it might be good to only slightly meet or fail the expectations, so that they don’t grow exponentially but instead together with your capability. Sustainability is the key.

Having said that, it might even worthwhile trying failing expectations every now and then, so that you’re able to get a hold of other’s expectations, instead of the other way round. It will be painful, but that’s the only way I’m aware of.

To sum up, the key really is about living your true self. What others expect from you should only have minimum impact on you. Let them manage their own expectations on you and why should you worry about it?

The plethora of opportunities

For most of us, we live in a society with abundant resources: delicious food to taste, delicate clothes to put on, various activities to attend to, wonderful places to visit and numerous things to do. Yet, all these abundance are not necessarily good for us: we’re getting distracted to the extend that we don’t know what exactly we’re chasing for.

Some people say we are getting superficial — that we are trying endlessly from one thing to another and shortly getting tired of each of them. But this superficialness doesn’t come from nothing. We’re superficial not because there exist many temptations, instead, we’re not able to resist these temptations that trick us into thinking about illusions and trajectories of ourselves. We try to find life meanings by doing things but often end up in vain, maybe the right way to go is not finding meanings: maybe it’s the other way round. How we do things and live our lives is simply the meaning.

The meaning of a nomad’s life is traveling and not settling anywhere. The life meaning of a adventurer is adventure. A person focusing constantly on something becomes an expert.

Opportunities are always there, but we are not. It’s not an opportunity without the capability of taking advantage of it, be it the accumulation of prior experiences or fast learning and adapting abilities.

Indeed there are too many opportunities, however, one does not need thousands of opportunities to succeed. One is enough. Prepare for it, focus on it, reach for it before it comes to you and let it work for you.

Luxembourg at first glance

Now it’s been two weeks since I arrived at Luxembourg. In general the experience has been positive, except that it’s been raining for a consecutive of ten days and snowing for the rest days. It’s a bit humid,but not to the extend that I should complain. At least the air is free of smoke and particles.

It’s quite where I live, although it’s just fifteen minutes walk to the old town as well as the railway station. Almost everything is in walking distance, supermarkets, banks, hospitals, schools, government offices,Asian markets. There’s also a police school just 200 meters away. I suppose it’s a safe neighborhood.

Work is also nice, though one has to be selfmotivated. Coworkers are extremely nice, but many of them prefer speaking French, which I believe is good for me since I’d like to pick up the language. I already applied for a university language course. There’s also opportunities to meet great minds. This morning there was a distinguished lecture, where one professor talked about privacy in internet using big data.

The startup business is going slowly but according to the plan. Office isn’t too far away and fits our purpose. Orders for office computers are placed this evening and we can start the real work shortly. It’s good to have someone supporting the business, with both funding and experience.

One thing brothers me is that the washing machine is broken and it’s talking forever to fix it. The agent promises anything but I’ve now learned to be wiser and not to believe her words.

Life is much easier when you have someone helping you out. For that I’m extremely grateful for the help I received from my friend.

And I miss my girlfriend. It’s a journey we’ve chosen together, and there has to be temporary sacrifices for a better tomorrow. So for now just follow what we’ve planned. I believe we’re heading for the better.

MBTI Personality Test

ISTJ: April 2011

ISTJ: April 2011

ISTJ: December 2012

ISTJ: December 2012

INTJ: July 2014

INTJ: July 2014

It turns out that personality does change. I’ve become more introvert and intuitive over the past three years. Contrary to my impression that I’ve become more extrovert, I’m become otherwise. This happens probably because I’m more confident than before when networking with people, but deep in my heart I still feel more comfortable being left alone and quiet. Good thing is that my career path matches my personality. In ENFJ’s language, I’m doing what I want to do. 🙂

Fear makes one only weaker

Yesterday morning I received a call from one business partner complaining about two german students not satisfied with the internship position at another business partner in Changzhou. So we decided to drive to Changzhou in order to get a subjective grasp over the issue. And the issue was more serious than we have expected: neither of the two interns are satisfied with the placement, and one was in a very bad physical situation. Plus, he had lymphoma — a type of cancer — a few years ago and is still recovering from the treatment.

Strange thing was that he felt quite in Germany, but since he was pale and didn’t feel very well, we took him to the hospital for a check. We we arrived at the hospital, he couldn’t even stand up and we had to use a wheel chair to escort hime to the emergency treatment department, where the doctor checked his heart rate, body temperature, oxygen level, and a comprehensive blood test.

We looked very serious about his situation, but the doctor said everything was OK with him. She smiled and said to us in Chinese, “I believe he has hysteria”. I’ve heard about hysteria before but never really met someone with such symptoms. So I observed him carefully as the doctor give him a saline. One of my colleagues sat next to him and chatted with him. He seems extremely normal to me when he is not discussing about his illness or cancer. They constantly bursted into laughters when they talked about funny experiences, which is a bit weird since patients next to him are really seriously ill.

After confirming with the doctor again and again, we decided to go for dinner before the saline was finished and he seemed much better. We went to a german restaurant and had a really nice dinner. Over the dinner no one mentioned about his illness nor cancer. And he seemed totally fine.

This is really the first time I see how one’s mind may affect his physical state — in such a drastic way. That’s why when one is afraid of bad things, bad things always happen. Because fear of something makes one weaker, so that one does not have enough energy to defend oneself. This is another ‘scarcity’ problem: when you focus too much on something, you’re using too much bandwidth and leaving too little bandwidth for other things. And you’re trapped deeper and deeper until you are completed depleted of bandwidth or energy — that’s when you collapse.

The best way to fight this problem is to lose some focus on the fears. Then you’ll have more bandwidth to cope with other more important stuff. Just step back, ignore the fears for some time, and find out the long-term plans or goals. After all, not all in life are important, at least some are not any important as we’ve thought.

The lean method

I knew there was something wrong with the management and how we do things at Yabroad, but it was difficult for me to convince other people what we were doing and how we do things are not the best way to run a startup business. When I talk about pragmatism, people talk about visions and having a long-term goal; when I talk about experiments, people talk about previous experience; when I talk about planning and specific goals, people talk about execution. After reading “The lean startup” and “Running lean”, I’m more convinced about how a business should really operate.

The lean method is really about how to get things done efficiently, be it running a small project, or managing a international corporation. It’s about down-to-earth planning and taking advantage of resources efficiently. It’s a call for doing things that really matters. When proposing a new project, ask not if we think it’s cool, ask how we’re going to satisfy the end users. And the first step to go is really getting to know the actual users, what are the problems they find painful and how other products are approaching the problems, and why our proposal is better than the existing solutions.

We made a mistake at Yabroad that we think people are willing to come to China if we don’t charge them much. While our competitors are charging thousands of euros per application, we charge only a few hundred. But we didn’t see an exponential growth, the increase of applications was only negligible. We talked too much about disruptive innovation and thought lowering the price will piss out all our competitors and help us gain a portion of the market share rapidly. We were wrong.

The decision was made without much evidence to prove our assumption. Price is indeed an important factor when people want to visit a different country, but it’s not the deciding factor. Given the opportunity to visit North Korea or Iran, does it still matter if you want to pay thousands of euros or hundreds of euros? Our customers want security and reliability, lowering the price simply does not help, and let’s hope it doesn’t jeopardize customers’ trust in us.

We were not utilizing validated learning. In fact few of our decisions were made based on solid facts and validated results. Arrogant people often think they are the best in this world and they usually piss of everyone else and complain about “why everyone is against me?” Arrogant companies don’t get customers. What they do is not to satisfy customers, they just want to prove themselves correct.

The build-measure-learn loop should be continuous and iterate in fast pace. Build a minimum viable product and measure how successful it is and learn where it could be improved and improve the MVP and enter the next build-measure-learn loop. Validate minimal concepts at a time. Get the whole project running and receiving income before burning out what you have.

It’s true that starting up is really management — if you know where to put resources and man power, and keep track of the direction the business is running towards, you won’t be too wrong.

What’s important for a start-up

A friend of mine is considering to set up a startup company , here are the things I think are important for startup. Usually when people think of a startup they think of new ideas. However I don’t think good ideas are so important. It’s not difficult to come across a good idea, but it is extremely difficult to get one idea realized. People usually don’t buy ideas, they pay for products and services. Besides, ideas can be easily copied, while its more difficult to copy the implementation of the idea. Furthermore, one can easily judge if one idea is novel or not, by comparing with current solutions; while it’s not so straight to claim one idea to be better than others. Ideas  solve problems and good ideas solve problems in a better way. However, before a problem is actually solved (that is when an idea is realized), ideas are nothing but plain wishful thinking.

I think the most valuable and important  thing for a startup company is the team. The team decides where the company is going towards, what the company is going to do, how they are going to do it and whom they are going to do business with and sell the product to. The team determines how fast company will move and turn and act. Since the only advantage of a startup company has over a large corporation is its fast decision making process and execution, the team is the deciding factor of a startup’s survival or death.

It doesn’t matter really if you have a good idea or not, as long as you have a good team and given some time, you definitely will come up with a fantastic idea. An ideal team for me would be something like this: everyone has his/her domain of expertise and others can completely rely on his/her capability of getting things done in his/her domain. Members in the team has slightly intersecting capabilities and as a team form the whole capability map. Someone brings everyone else together and keep everyone motivated and moving; someone is a technical guru and has the insight of solving problems efficiently; someone knows customers and is able to sell them everything he/she has in hand; someone is keen to budget control and at the same time knows where exactly to spend money; someone has extremely good relationships with the rest of the world. Members in the team does not have to agree with each other and they should be able to discuss or argue and reach a decision in a timely manner. They should have the insight into problems and the analytic skills to identify and prioritize tasks.

And still among the team the founders are even more important. They are really what the startup is. They give the startup a life if done correctly; or else the bad genes will follow the company forever. They are the startup’s creators, parents and baby-sitters. They should have the courage to risk everything they already possess for a glimmer hope of success. They believe and love what they are doing not because they don’t have other choices, but rather choose to not to have a choice. They believe they are doing the right thing and are willing to take responsibilities for what they are doing.

When people think of startups, people immediately think the ultimate goal for a company is to go public and get listed in major exchanges. That’s not startups’ goal. Companies need to make money. And founders need to consider this task from day one, if not day zero. Making money is not the same as getting funded by angel investors or venture capitalists. Getting funded is one way out of many to get the ideas recognized but not the ultimate goal. People fund startups because they think the companies are going to make a huge amount of profit. Making profits is about proving to the world that what the startup does is meaningful. What’s the point of keeping burning cash anyway?

When big companies like Google and Facebook purchase small or startup companies, what they’re really buying is the customers, the technologies, and the talents. And among these three, talents are the most important to me, since without the talents the customers and technologies will be found nowhere. In short, you’re destined to success or failure the day you choose the team members for your startup.

The Last Battle: Long-term vs. Short-term Gains

During yesterday’s meeting the boss mentioned that our unpaid salary and bonus will be paid, when we have enough money, maybe in April when we receive the other half of high interest loan. Personally I don’t think paying the money will do any good to the company, and eventually it may harm ourselves, since if the company can not move on, everyone, including me, will be disappointed. However, as I’m involved in this, I’m not willing to give up the money I’m supposed to receive. And asking for the money will make me look like as if I don’t care about the company and everyone else’s future, especially when I’m the one speaking out for a few of us. So now I’m caught in a dilemma: I’m not willing to give up the potential short term benefits, which in turn may jeopardize my long term gains.

And the reason for this is that I’m different from others; I care about short-term gains while others can afford not to. And that’s why I feel helpless. I can not expect anyone to help me get things done; I’m on my own. And even if I stand up for myself and gain some short-term benefits for others, they will accept them without appreciating my efforts.

I’m completely trapped, by myself, with my colleagues’ help of standing away from me — neither stopping nor encouraging me and neither refusing nor appreciating my favor — and I didn’t even know how I entered the trap in the first place.

The Last Battle: My Fear

The day we reach an agreement to cut off employees was not a difficult day for me, as I always knew there would be a day like that coming; I was prepared. In the evening when I was talking with Xin, he said he feared not being able to reach the goal when planned during the day, which I fear not. What I fear was returning to the old pattern again, the patten that make the boss keep trying to find funding for us without actually focusing on how to achieve our established goals. I was afraid that he keeps borrowing money to pay off previous debts, while we struggle to reach our goals. I was worried that the boss prioritize fund raising over proving our values.

Yesterday came a challenge: the local government finally seemed to approve one of our projects: letting us operating a part of one restaurant building inside our community, which means we can again get loans from banks with relatively low interest rate. The boss hesitated. According to Xin, the boss wondered if it’s still necessary to lay off people.

Now it looks like the boss has overcome his reluctancy. He finally sent out an email telling everyone about our plan. What remains to be seen, though, is how the restaurant operates in the future and whether it could bring us profit. And even if it does, does it help us?

The boss has one thing I could learn from: he sure knows how to connect with people and never gives up unless he reaches his goals. As for the many things that I contempt about, there’re many.

He never listens to anyone. He is so dedicated to his own thoughts that nobody seems to be able to change his mind. Talking with him is of no use; he likes reading from elsewhere. Yesterday I was irritated by him when he shared something he read about and it was about things we already mentioned to him earlier for several times. A man who trust his eyes more than his ears, I’d say.

He is over-confident about almost everything. He always overcommit. I don’t know a single occasion when he reach his goals or fulfilled his commitments.

He has many things I couldn’t bear with, but what the heck I’m doing with him?

The Last Battle: Our Problems

After yesterday’s 6-hour meeting we finally made a decision: focus on programs that may immediately make money and make sure we survive in the following six month; and cut off more than half of our employees — which makes me think what a pity it is for those being laid off, because it’s mainly the executives’ fault. Or to be specific, it’s the boss’s problem that lead to the current situation.

So what he is doing wrong? Not focusing on the business. Since day zero he is always looking for fundings to support our business, which he fails to define; but he always fails to find enough funding to support the company. Each borrowing was used to pay previous debts, which leads to a situation defined in the book “Scarcity”: the poor gets poorer, the busy gets busier. We are always solving problems that are urgent but not necessarily important — we tunnel and we pay for doing this.

But what’s important anyway, for a startup? Finding out what’s unique about your company and proving that this uniqueness has its value. It sounds easy but think about this: is there a startup that isn’t unique. Every startup claims to be unique; so what’s left is about proving the value of the uniqueness, which is your core business activity and which is what tells you apart from others. If you fails doing so, what you’re doing must be wrong or inappropriate at best. For us, we claim that our business model is superior than those traditional agencies and facilitates young people to travel beyond boards. The results? For one and half years we spent roughly 5 million CNY and attracted around ten customers, which by the way, is less than the number of our employees. So if you keep telling me you’re unique, go and slap yourself until you realize you’re just wasting money.

To prove your value you need the right team. There has to be salesmen that are able to get customers, product developers that make sure the product or service is attractive, and managers to setup goals and coordinate the team members. For us, we are incomplete and incompetent. Basically everyone of us is from an engineering background and knows nothing about marketing and sales; yet this is the most important aspect for our company. When everyone is expecting others to generate revenue, no one will. It also strikes me that, when you feel your efforts will not significantly contribute to your company’s cash flow, you’re in the wrong place. Switch to another position or another company. I don’t think there’re more choices for you.

Make sure you have control over your career path; do not focus too much on pressing tasks; step out of the tunnel and also see the big picture. Keep this in mind.

Online Shopping in China

For those who have been to China but have not tried online shopping, they haven’t really been to China. Online shopping is probably the fastest growing industry in China. Here are some numbers to testify that:

  • In 2012, online sales counts for 5.5% of all domestic retail trade in China; whereas in the U.S. the figure is 5.1%. Chinese love online shopping more than Americans!
  • On Nov. 11, 2012, the sales on Taobao & Tmall (both belongs to Alibaba) reached 19.1 Billion CNY ($3.12 billion), dwarfing American’s Cyber Monday sales, which totaled $1.5 billion. And that $3.12 billion went to just one company in on day!
  • In 2012, online sales totaled $212.4 billion, playing a catching up with the U.S., where online sales totaled $228.7 in 2012.
  • The industry was growing by 75.3%, 66.3% and 48.5% in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively.

If the above figures do not impress you, consider this scenario: on Monday morning you go to work and one of your colleagues recommends you a lipstick that she finds excellent. You go to your favorite online shopping website and added the lipstick to your shopping cart and check out without really paying for it, choosing to pay when the lipstick is delivered to you. Then you continue working and have lunch. After lunch the delivery guy showed up and your lipstick is here. You pay for it and you just bought a lipstick and are already trying it!

That was not exaggerating at all, especially if you live in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. If you happens to live in smaller cities like I do, I still get most of my purchases within 10-24 hours. I usually buy books at night and the next morning they’re delivered to me. That’s probably I bought a lot of books! When I was living in Finland, the delivery often takes days, if not weeks. You will definitely feel the difference the first time you try online shopping in China.

But the fast delivery is not the only reason why online shopping is popular in China, most people buy stuff online because it’s convenient and you can compare things. And often you have many choices. Online stores ofter many different models for the same product. Different stores sell different things. And you can literally find everything you need online. Clothes, shoes, books, tickets? Of course! Meat, vegetables, eggs? Why not? Gold, investments, Cars, apartments, helicopters? No problem, how many do you want? OK, you made your point. How about boyfriends and girlfriends? Hell yeah, pay now and you’ll have one tomorrow!

Besides, things are cheap online, even if you count in delivery fees. Clothes are sold from a few dollars to a few hundred. Most are of good quality. And if you are not satisfied, you can most likely ask for a refund. Most stuff sold online are warranted. What? Chinese only make cheap crappy stuff? Jesus, from whom do you hear that from? Your grandma? Well, we may have different standards for “crappy stuff”, but I do believe most things are more than worthy of the money you paid for.

I’m not here to persuade anyone to try online shopping in China, but I assure you if you do, you’ll be amazed. I was amazed when I first come back from a few years of stay in the Nordics. If you ask me for advice, there just one: check your credit card regularly so that you do not shop too much!

Anyway, bellow are the top online stores in China. They are mostly in Chinese and you should ask your Chinese friends for help.

http://www.taobao.com/ and http://www.tmall.com/, they are the largest online shopping store in China, both belonging to Alibaba. Taobao is mainly C2C and Tmall is mainly B2C. Often stuff on Tmall are also available on Taobao, but Tmall stuff usually are of better quality.

http://www.jd.com/, the second largest online store, mainly B2C. Best known for its fast delivery.

http://www.yihaodian.com/, online supermarket. Meat, vegetables, seasoning stuff, imported food, etc.

Happy shopping!