Joseph Hsieh’s answer to What is it like to be an Asian B student?

You Should Be StudyingThis sounds like a personal problem, so I thought I’d share.

I’m a B average student in college. I went to USC which is decent but not an Ivy-League school that my parents hoped that I would attend.  I also grew up in a highly competitive high school where there was a high percentage of Asian minorities. In college, though I barely passed my Physics class and upper math courses, I spent my time doing code competitions and business case challenges (do they still have those?).  To my chagrin, I never took my GE courses seriously and often scored a B average for not doing homework assignments or missing classes for participation points – somehow, my computer projects were more interesting or important to me.

I think at some point in your life, you realize that the grades are not indicative of your future success.  Fortunately, I had pretty lenient parents; they’ve either given up on me or resigned to the fact that they are happy that I’m not doing drugs or binge drinking on the weekends.

In spite of that, you certainly wear a chip on your shoulder.  Especially during family times around holidays and social parties with your parents’ friends or associates where they are talking about how their son or daughter came home from MIT, Harvard, or Stanford or got some distinction award from the President  (of the United States).  I’ve also been “confronted” by my parents why I’m not working as hard as “so and so” who got the 1600 SAT or why I spent so much time “playing games on the computer.” It does make you feel either humbled and a little sheepish around some friends, or more rebellious and “don’t give an F” attitude.

When you’re not #1, you learn to keep trying and focusing on the things that you are good at – since you have to hang onto the things that you have a shot at being good.  For me, that was doing things outside of the classroom and I think I’m better for it today.

I’m still thankful for my parents for continually pushing me forward and focusing on my work ethics. Yes, I’m even grateful for them for forcing me for the ninth year to play the piano when I’d rather play baseball.  I can now appreciate music at a theory level and enjoy the experience much deeper.  I love my parents and understood their intent now that I’m much older – I’m probably going to be the same way to my offsprings in the future.

To this day, I’m still amazed and now appreciate those top 10% of people who can read a book and set the curve on test or crank out some coding algorithm with the calculus or economics gaussian theory that I have now forgotten.  Or, the folks who can apply themselves for four years and get the different color tassel at the graduation ceremony.

To those people, please email me – I’m hiring.

What is it like to be an Asian B student?

Quant Marketers

The latest book I’ve been reading is called “The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It” – it chronicles the amazing run that the math-inclined number crunching wizards mastered Wall Street in the late 80’s and 90’s that became the pre-cursor to modern-day Wall Street’s high speed flash trading.

I wondered as I read this that if we’re on another horizon of “Quant Marketers” as the buying and monetization of internet traffic is becoming similar to the commodities, equities and derivatives of Wall Street. If entrepreneurs today are creating the products and services to monetize users, then the users (traffic) is the commodity that needs to be bucketed, profiled, packaged and bought and sold.

It seems conceivable that one day there will be an efficient market where we can order a tranche of 10,000 customers at $1.00 per user that will return me $1.25 per user (a return of 25% on ad spend) – this philosophy is already commonplace in CPA networks; but the mechanics and fleshy middleman processes make these transaction full of friction. You have to signup to a network which represents a pool of publishers, identify your targets within the networks parameters, maybe call someone to wire in money or charge it to your credit card, then initiate the campaign. You then have to group this channel into a cohort and study how effective these users are to your ROI. Multiple this process a dozen times across all various ad networks and channels – you’re suddenly caught in the process of buying media, manually optimizing, and moving knobs around in an iterative and somewhat slow fashion. In the stock market, I can simply fire up E*Trade or some other discount broker, buy 500 shares of IBM and follow my position as it rises (or falls) – it should be that easy and uniform for online ads too.

Having said all this, it’s hard to ignore that some of these things are already changing, the nature of bidding on “keywords” on Google (and other search engines) has dramatically reduced the friction of bucketing users around keywords. Same thing is happening with display-ads on RTB exchange ad networks where you can buy across demographically targeted users. Time will tell when one day online-marketing is dominated by number crunching math wizards, but it seems it’s becoming progressively so – and they will be the keepers of the internet and the 1% just like the Quant traders on Wall Street do too.

Kickstarter is an MVP!

The MVP, or minimal viable product, is a new approach of how people think about starting companies.  How can you strip away all the excess of a company and distill your idea into something to give you some confirmation that your idea could work?  This new approach is to simply build an MVP, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a “Phase 1″ of the product after months of development or after you’ve quit your day job.  You can start and scratch any idea by simply starting!

Some MVP extremists advocate people to start advertising (a product that doesn’t exist) to see if people will respond to the ad – why not? After all, anyone with a laptop and and $10 can buy any of the self-serve advertising options available (Google Adwords, Facebook Social Ads, Ad Networks, etc) and start seeing if people resonate with the idea to get your early validation on the idea.

Of course in addition to just advertising an MVP, there are many other ways to do this; but one of the most compelling ways I’ve discovered is Kickstarter.  Kickstarter, to me, encapsulates the whole ethos of MVP into a nice little step by step program – they even walk you through it with their online school on how to start a Kickstarter.

The premise is simple, come up with a product or idea you are passionate about, build some semblance of a prototype and complete the Kickstarter process to create a “landing page” that effectively communicates the product, and start promoting it to on Kickstarter to see if people will support (and buy) the product.  Each Kickstarter project needs to meet a funding goal, which means it has to convince enough people who are willing to shell out enough money for the Kickstarter creator before any money is transferred.  If your idea works, then you can hit your goals and launch your product!

I’ve been fascinated at watching other Kickstarters that succeed (and some fail) at this.  It was even more fun when my younger brother decided to launch his own Kickstarter on a project he’s been thinking about for a while (shameless plug, the Casellet is an iPhone 4/S case that combines a wallet and an iphone into one).  I would argue that for the Kickstarters that failed, it still provided valuable feedback on what people like or didn’t like about their idea and if they have the determination, they would continue to try again – Kickstarter doesn’t take any fees until a project meets its funding goals.

There you have it, if your product or idea is good, then Kickstarter not only helps you validate that idea but also potentially give you access to your very first customers.  People on Kickstarter are passionate about supporting creators and by definition early adopters.  There’s no better distribution platform that lets you access this tier of early adopters who can propel your product to a more mainstream crowd.  I’ll be watching out on Kickstarter for new and interesting projects – and if you are reading this and have an iPhone 4/S, go support my brother on Kickstarter with his Casellet project!

 

Where can I get a custom box for a enterprise appliance?

If you want it really customized, you should look at "custom enclosure" vendors such as Protocase: http://www.protocase.com/

For server appliances, take a look at the following two vendors who specialize in server appliances:

Sometimes you only need the bezel or front-panel to make it look "custom." Consider this one too:

Where can I get a custom box for a enterprise appliance?

How can I start a niche ad network?

With the assumption that your vertical is large enough to warrant it's own vertical-specific ad network, building a good ad network is fundamentally about your salesmanship to both the publishers and advertisers.

As with any "network" or "exchange" – you have the classic chicken and egg problem between people who will advertise on your network (advertisers) and people who will host your advertisers' ads (publishers).

Start with looking on which side of the equation makes more sense in your vertical. In some vertical, one side may have more leverage then the other or one may be easier to build.

On top of that, you'll need some kind of platform or technology solution to manage your sets of publishers and advertisers and to manage the traffic, costs, and inventory.

There are many providers who let you create an "ad network" as a software solution, if your vertical is niche then this is your best approach. Attempting to build the software from scratch is a monumental task, so unless your vertical can not be served with any of the following solutions, it's probably not a good approach since you'll probably need a lot of capital to do this.

This list is not comprehensive, and I'll add to it (or please suggest edits).

How can I start a niche ad network?

What are examples of startups that used white labeled (not proprietary) technology yet had successful exits?

Mint.com based a lot of their banking and integration infrastructure on Yodlee prior to their acquisition. (http://www.yodlee.com)

Here's an article that discusses Yodlee + Mint.com breakup after acquisition:
http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/02/…
What are examples of startups that used white labeled (not proprietary) technology yet had successful exits?

What are the best all in one SEO tool set options available for startups?

Personally, you lose some advantage with the "all-in-one" approach because they don't always do each component or provide all the detail insight.

But the convenience of it all in one place may make you more aware of your SEO progress and give you better insight on what's going on.

A few companies that do this well are:

What are the best all in one SEO tool set options available for startups?