Michelle Sun San Francisco

// 2012 in review//

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2012 has been a huge year in terms of personal and professional growth.  On the professional front, I progressed significantly in pursuing my passion in products, from defining and building a product from scratch and selling it to real customers, to getting hands on with code.  On the personal front, I moved from my hometown Hong Kong to the Bay Area in Jun and have been meeting many amazing people.  

As the year draws to a close, I can’t be more thankful for a fruitful year that was made possible only by amazing people that surround me, in all parts of my life and in different parts of the world.  

Startup 

Spotick was a company that I cofounded with two other partners.  It uses receipts as a platform to promote marketing messages of merchants.  Due to lack of funding and full time commitment from more than one founder, I left the company after spending a year of work on the project.  It was an extremely fun and enriching experience wearing many hats especially customer development, sales, lean product development and front end coding.  Everything from dealing with customers, learning both software and hardware development technologies, to managing team expectations, exposed me to a myriad of situations that resulted in great personal growth.  

One thing I learned from my first entrepreneurial experience, would be to spend more time cultivating relationships.  While I was actively making sales contacts for the project, I would place more emphasis in connecting with the startup community.  One of the best takeaways from my startup experience was the people I’ve met, including the inspiring Buffer team. 

Hackbright

It was not easy to leave my own baby, but out goes the old, in comes the new.  Hackbright was a pivotal episode of my professional life that happened in the least expected moment; when I was checking my Twitter stream one morning in late May, a tweet by Women2 came up about a program that teaches women to code.  It just clicked.   

I have always been passionate about building products, and having been in a startup and built my own, I have always felt half-blind when it comes to the technical side.  I became even more curious when Spotick’s product touches upon hardware development as well.  During my time at Spotick which I had been doing some front-end coding, I picked up Ruby on Rails on the weekends, by reading Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial and Peter Cooper’s Beginning Ruby.  After getting my first Twitter clone working, I was hooked.  

Hackbright helped jumpstart me from a hobbyist to a web developer.  The program teaches python, django, javascript etc, but most importantly, it teaches me how to fish; I love the ability to create something I conceive of, knowing if I don’t know something yet I will be perfectly capable to figure it out.  It is a very empowering feeling.

Aside from learning loads, I also appreciated the founders Christian and David, my fellow Hackbright classmates, who are amazing and smart individuals that made the summer a fun, challenging one.  From pair programming, to hackathons, to coding challenges, the 11 ladies and the founders have created the best environment to learn and explore.  I couldn’t be prouder to be part of the inaugural class of this amazing program. 

Bump Technologies

Since graduating from Hackbright, I have been working on data at Bump Technologies.  With over 100million downloads, it is an ideal playground for a data enthusiast.  I spend most of the work days using Python, and libraries like numpy, pandas come in handy everyday.  There are also wonderful tools like d3Gephi that makes data visualization delightfully easy and elegant.  

Having worked with data my whole career so far, it is an amazing feeling to use data to learn more about a product that I care about.  That is definitely a combination of passion and skills, and I feel very blessed to be able to do so.

As I spend more time on exploring data, I also became more interested and involved in the user experience and strategy aspect of a product.  A big part of data mining / data science relies on asking the right questions, and asking the right questions requires understanding the core values of the product.  For example, when looking at retention, the value proposition of the product plays a significant role in deciding a goal to pursue.  A social product may focus more on retention, as the network effect is sustained not only by user acquisition but also by active users, a utility application (like a Flash light app) may focus more on acquiring new users. 

Goals for 2013

Blog: In the new year, I look forward to sharing more often on this blog.  In particular, I focus on growth and product strategy.  

Coding: I’d like to pick up a functional language, to stretch my programming muscles after an intense year of ramping up with python and ruby on rails. 

I also want to invest more time on data visualization and user interface design. 

Startups: A few friends have approached me to advise on their startups, and given my transition from Spotick to Hackbright and moving to California, I have put those on hold.  I want to get involved in a project or two in the coming year. 

Project: I plan to create a software product in the new year that produces an income stream. 

A personal note

One really special gift to myself this year as I turned 25 is to find the time to get certified as a yoga instructor.  The 200-hour, 4-week teacher training was an intensive challenge and worthwhile pursuit.  While I do not intend to teach professionally full time in the near future, the training has launched my fitness level, and my awareness of such, to a new high.  That has definitely had a positive spillover effect on other aspects of my life.  

Yoga has allowed me to fill my days with energy and mindfulness.  I hope to take every opportunity in the new year to deepen my practice, on and off the mat.  

What did you learn in 2012?  What are your goals in 2013?  I’d love to hear about you in the comments.

When we are presented with moments of crisis, large decisions or new opportunities often we find ourselves crippled by the lack of knowledge. We justify inaction with our insecurities in not knowing the right way to move forward. Or we trap ourselves in an endless search for knowledge to attempt to reassure our actions.

Over the course of my career and journey as an entrepreneur, I have learned that success and fulfillment is found when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. There is tremendous value in having knowledge ahead of time—I am now CPR certified—but simply taking action is often what it takes.

You don’t have to do it right. You just have to do something.

// Applause//

3 weeks ago I packed up my belongings and moved to san francisco.  I got rid of my 4 year old apartment with the first set of own designed bed and sofa, packed up 6 boxes to move back to parents’ and 2 suitcases to board a direct flight to SFO.

Since I landed, I started working the next day.  My life has just been turned around 180 degrees.  I started a new routine (more on that next week), and also began to work and live in a new city.

One thing I have gained in my new life is a lot of walking.  From train station to the office, it is usually a good 20 minutes walk.  That has significantly differed from my previous routine in a dense city where no commute is more than 30 minutes from point to point.  Daunting at first, not only of the potential of ‘wasted time’ but also of the fear ‘what would I do with the long chunks of offline time’, I have really started to enjoy these unplugged moments.

During my walk to work, I began to pay more attention to the surroundings, the nuanced change in season, the cute vintage cars, a lively neighborhood and also the life I am experiencing recently.  At times, I pause to admire the beauty of the life around me, feeling the tremendous gratitude to what that has been bestowed to me.  

I really like the quote that Leo Babauta of Zen Habits says ‘The only response that life deserves: overjoyed applause”.

Whenever life gets ‘too much’, I remind myself to go for a walk, pause a bit and look up - applaud for what life has given me.  Applaud for the hard work I have done.  And most importantly, applaud for the gift of experience that has been bestowed upon me today, now. 

pith:

How did you get this idea in the first place?
The ubiquity of phone booths is interesting because they are completely obsolete, unevenly distributed in outlying neighborhoods and they carry a strong sense of nostalgia with me. They’ve already evolved from their original function as person-to-person communication technology into their second iteration as pedestrian-scaled billboards. I wanted to see if there is a third option in that, yes, they get our eyes for advertising dollars, but they can also give value back to a neighborhood. I was most interested in turning what is perceived as an urban liability into an opportunity.
And what more can you say about books? They’re the greatest things ever, and everyone should have more.
How New York Pay Phones Became Guerrilla Libraries

Awesome idea! 
I can imagine other fun uses like city-wide scavenger hunts.  How will your city use the obsolete spaces all around? 

pith:

How did you get this idea in the first place?

The ubiquity of phone booths is interesting because they are completely obsolete, unevenly distributed in outlying neighborhoods and they carry a strong sense of nostalgia with me. They’ve already evolved from their original function as person-to-person communication technology into their second iteration as pedestrian-scaled billboards. I wanted to see if there is a third option in that, yes, they get our eyes for advertising dollars, but they can also give value back to a neighborhood. I was most interested in turning what is perceived as an urban liability into an opportunity.

And what more can you say about books? They’re the greatest things ever, and everyone should have more.

How New York Pay Phones Became Guerrilla Libraries

Awesome idea! 

I can imagine other fun uses like city-wide scavenger hunts.  How will your city use the obsolete spaces all around? 

Herb and Lace - lifestyle blog featuring 15 women's journeys across the globes

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// Be a producer, not just a consumer//

Start your first free moments of the day with thoughts of what you really want to do; those long-term things you’re working on, or even the basic stuff you need to do today, like cooking, getting ready for exercise, etc.

What are the small lifestyle changes you’ve made that have had big impacts for you?

Useful reminder not only for fitness but also life in general. 

Glad I’m starting to do this already - feeling awesome after 8AM circuit training workout at TaiKooShing!

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.
Apple Becomes World's Biggest Maker of Computers, Thanks to iPad

tedr:

parislemon:

Cue dozens of people screaming bloody murder: “THE IPAD IS NOT A PC!!!!!!!”

Cue millions of the rest of us laughing at those people.

Just as with the move from desktops to laptops, the transition to tablets (or “pads” as Canalys humorously refers to them) is underway.

“But, but, but… it doesn’t have a keyboard!” Yes it does.

“But, but, but… it doesn’t have a physical keyboard!” How’s that argument working out for RIM?

“But, but, but… it doesn’t run PC software!” Who gives a shit? Clearly not the people buying millions of the devices each quarter.

All you need to know about the “is the iPad a PC?” argument: are people buying them instead of traditional PCs? Sure looks like it. 

tedr: Word. People have to stop thinking of their phones, tablets, and console games as those things. They are all computers … very very powerful computers that can be hacked to do almost anything.

definitely a computer! one of my 2012 goals is to get my parents and grandpa an iPad!

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I work at Buffer on metrics/growth. Here I share about startups, personal improvement and wellness.
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