Monday, May 15, 2017

normativity

We’re all normal, because none of us are normal, and therefore that makes us all normal. It could be easy to deduce that normality no longer exists, but a more refined and correct statement would be that perfectionism no longer exists.


We all have problems. Let’s say that somebody bites their nails. Although this would be considered a problem and therefore make this person not normal, they’re indeed actually extremely normal. Not only do a large amount of people also bite their nails, but even those who don’t likely have an equally or even worse problem of their own.


When one does choose to embrace their personal normativity, they are then living a more honest life with themselves and those around them. This will reduce stress and anxiety, build deeper relationships, and teach the valuable lesson of normativity to people around them.


People are afraid to embrace their personal normativity because society as a whole shifts as one single unit, those on the outskirts are either too far ahead or too far behind. Outliers of this spectrum are rarely welcomed and are therefore often left behind. Society only welcomes another cog in its machine, not outliers.


A perfect example of society shifting as a unit would be the recent hipster epidemic in the United States. Now, more than ever before in the history of the United States, do more people identify as hipster. At this current rate, the amount of hipsters will soon surpass the amount of mainstreamers. In a way it’s funny, because mainstreamers are now becoming the hipsters and vice versa. This specific example of a unitary societal shift could also be identified as a classic role reversal.


Role reversals often happen on a cyclical basis. This is due to minority groups winning an abnormally high amount in comparison to the total pool of players. Just a few short years ago, the average age of my alma mater’s college graduating class was 22, as expected. Nowadays it’s up to 26 because of nontraditional students, the minority. However, what we will see over the next few years is that once nontraditional students move from the minority to the majority, they will then become traditional students, and the formerly labeled traditional students will become nontraditional students and will begin to drive the average age back down to 22 years old again. Role reversals almost always eventually find an equilibrium.  


Note: Minority in this article is not used with any connotation about race or ethnicity, only a less populated group than the majority.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

the keys to happiness

I recently applied to be the convocation speaker for my college's graduating class. The following is a copy of the speech I applied with. Ultimately I wasn't chosen, but I'm not surprised.

Hi, I’m Michael. I’m nobody special. I’m just one of you guys.

This isn’t going to be a normal graduation speech, but I guess that’s what they all say, so it’s already a normal graduation speech. I promise I’ll keep it short.

We’re really not all that special. Sure, some of us may have traveled abroad for spring break or got straight As, but so did hundreds of other people in this room.

The sooner you realize that you’re not a super star and that you’re just another “basic” person, the better off in life you will be. People will be attracted to your nonchalant attitude and will be surprised when they find out all the stuff you weren’t busy boasting about.

A very close role model of mine once told me, “Michael, always take the road that goes up hill.”  I never followed that advice and I’m so glad I didn’t.

Efficiency, not adversity, is where people are able to learn the most from life. With the newly found time from liberating yourself of your burdens, you will be astonished at what new things you can accomplish. I always took the easiest classes I could get into. The end result, I was able to pursue my passions and learn about things that truly meant something to me.

Passion is the only important thing in life. Whatever it is, chase it. Without passion, there’s no reason to live.

Boldness comes in a close second place. Once you’ve established what your passion is, which is half the battle, you need to pursue it with a never-ending supply of boldness. Being bold takes guts, but like a fine medieval set of armor, it can be crafted with enough time through hard work.

Lastly, I challenge all of you instead of striving to obtain more stuff or more “friends”, to simply give away as much stuff as you possibly can whether it’s clothing, money, food, jewelry, tech products, or even friendships, whatever it may be. There’ll always be somebody more in need than yourself, and I promise it won’t kill you to give a little. With less stuff, there’ll be more room for you to focus on your passions, and more time to spend being bold pursuing them.

These are the keys to happiness, and happiness, is all that matters. Not college degrees, material goods, a fat bank account, or fancy job titles, just happiness.

That is all. Thank you.

Pretty much the point I am trying to get across can be simplified into the following bullet list.
  1. Searching - Find your passion
  2. Focusing - Remove everything that's irrelevant respective to your passion
  3. Action - Be bold and take risks pursuing your passion  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

the principles of firsts

I finally turned 21 this past week, and therefore used my I.D. for the first time ever to buy alcohol. I was completely ecstatic. Not because I was buying alcohol, but because I was doing something for the first time in my life, and it had been a long time since I had done something for the first time. I was venturing out into the unexplored.

There’s something interesting about doing something for the first time, it’s called the unknown. We might be overcome with joy, or we might cripple in fear. Whatever the outcome may be, we’re seldom able to know exactly how things will turn out ahead of time.  

However, no matter how scary or fun a first time experience might be, it sure is exciting. It certainly is true that life begins (to be more exciting) once we get outside our comfort zones, (and therefore beginning to do more first time experiences).

First time experiences don’t have to be complex. It could be as simple as going down a street you haven’t gone down before.

On this street you’ll see many things, some of which you expected, and some of which you did not, and that’s the fun of it, the unknown.

First time experiences also allow us to stray from our regularly dull linear lifestyles by spicing things up through the unknown.

Try you’re best not to plan your first encounters, but to let them occur naturally. Planning only takes away from the event itself.

The more you’re able to embrace the unknown, the easier it will become to have more first time experiences, and therefore have more fun in general. Any encountered adversity along the way will only act as a learning milestone.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

fine line argument theory

One of the “rules of life” that I try to live by as much as possible is to walk with open ears and an open mind. In other words, no matter where I find myself, I always try to learn from the people around me, whether it be literally in my vicinity or from a book. Also, that what appears on the outside, may not always be what lays on the inside.

However, an important tidbit that must be taken into consideration is that not everybody who calls themself an expert, is indeed an expert. When walking with such great level of openness, you must still not let your perceptions falter you.

One thing that I’ve recently stumbled upon during my walks of openness is what I’ve come to call fine line argument theory. In essence, it is when somebody draws a line in the sand between two polarized methods of action and states that to perform well at a given task, the line must be walked exactly straight, neither straining to one side or the other. Establishing fine line arguments is a great way to declare yourself an expert, yet not truly be an expert. This is because in reality, straight lines don’t exist and as humans we naturally follow an organic line swaying back and forth across the line. Even though walking the line exactly straight may be most optimal, optimality in itself is inorganic.

To truly become an expert, one must not look to hard work, but to smart work. There’s reason to the old fable of the two lumberjacks. It is said they both had five hours to cut down their respective tree. One lumberjack spent five hours chopping down his tree and eventually it tumbled over. The other lumberjack however, spent one hour sharpening his axe and three hours chopping down his respective tree. This is called efficiency, not hard work.

Machines were never taught the concept of hard work. They were only taught the concept of efficient work. Like machines, humans can become more efficient by eliminating wasteful practices from their lives and focusing on key performance indicators.  Efficiencies may also be found in specializations, as specializing is a form of removing what’s not as important, and focusing on what is.

Monday, February 27, 2017

why my startup failed

The original idea for Echelon Exchange originated when I was 16, when I built an extremely rough and barely functioning prototype. Due to paranoia that somebody could steal my “genius” idea, and simple lack of knowledge, I shelved the idea until the summer of 2016 when I started to think about my life post college graduation. I really wanted to be an entrepreneur, to be my own boss. From the summer of 2016 to december of 2016, I was in startup zombie mode, just lingering in the dead zone, neither progressing or regressing. In January of 2017, I joined an incubator. Here I learned a lot of stuff, including how to stop drinking my own kool aid, stop playing startup, and actually build a business. Fast forward to present day (february 2017) and my startup is dead.


In no particular order, here’s why:


  1. I lacked the passion behind my idea. Don’t get me wrong, I liked working on Echelon Exchange, but I was never truly in love with it, I never obsessed about it. This taught me that passion plays a huge role in startups, and in life in general. I am now currently doing some soul searching to find out what I’m passionate about in life and what I would like to do next. I’m now a strong believer that almost anything is possible, as long as you have enough passion in it and are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.


  1. Another key proponent which I lacked was a thoroughly developed SWOT analysis. I don’t like to read manuals when I buy new stuff, so I usually just jump right in and start putting stuff together. This really bit me in the butt this time. Honestly, the sheer thought of having to use a payment processor never even crossed my mind until I needed to find one, and I was building an online exchange of transactions! In total, I contacted between 15 and 20 different payment processing companies, and all cited different reasons for being unable to work with my startup including responses such as "too high risk" and "out of our scope of business." Had I developed a thorough SWOT analysis at the beginning, I would’ve saved myself money, time, and opportunity cost of not pursuing other projects.


  1. One of the main value propositions behind Echelon Exchange was that it was revolutionary. Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that simply being revolutionarily does not equate to value. Something completely new can be created, but if it doesn’t solve a problem or a pain point, then there’s no value created. Most of the key features for Echelon Exchange, weren’t even as revolutionary as I thought them out to be in the first place. They were mostly just twisted and turned models of pre-existing platforms in disguise using fancy words and a simplified UX.


  1. I overdosed on complexity. For having a mission statement saying “Investing should be simple enough for everybody,” I had made an overly complicated system. It’s ironic because simplicity was another one of the main value propositions. Very few people who I talked to about Echelon Exchange truly understood exactly what it was. A huge amount of trust is required in the financial services / fintech industry, and without first understanding, there cannot be trust.


  1. Regulatory issues were a true nightmare and made me never want to work in fintech again. Some nights I’d go to bed wondering if I had broken any laws and if I did, how long my incarceration would be. I looked to competitors to see how they navigated the system, and it turns out they were even much worse than I was. One startup was using a 3rd party payment processor that stricly prohibited the use of processing investment vehicles, yet somehow they still managed to operate, and rather successfully. However, someday their whole structure might come crashing down on them, and when it does, their entire exchange will be ruined and their customers’ trust will be lost.


There were some pretty good things though as well:


  1. I succeeded in keeping startup costs remarkably low. Throughout the whole project, I only spent $267.62. This amount includes registering as an L.L.C., paying for a domain with 1 year of hosting, purchasing a dedicated IP address for the SSL certificate and paying $50 in late fees for taxes which I never received a letter about until it was too late. Originally, my developer quoted me $2,000 to develop the MVP, and I counteroffered 10% equity in the company. Many of my peers scolded me for offering so much equity but I think it was the sweet spot. I didn’t have $2,000 to pay him, I wanted him to be motivated, and he was doing a lot of work, especially considering it was a SaaS platform.


  1. Another thing that rocked was the level of communication with my developer. We both worked together remotely and operated efficiently. We usually had 1 week development cycles, meaning each week we’d implement a new feature. Sometimes he was a day or two late but nothing detrimental, I never minded. He was a few time zones ahead of me, so when I would wake up in the morning most of the work he did that day would already be live, it was great.

I learned a lot from this failure. I’m definitely now a firm believer that the path to success is through failure. In a way, this startup wasn’t a failure at all. It was simply a valuable lesson for the future. As for my next project, I am still unsure what it will be (my idea list currently has 71 items). Whatever it may be, it will be something that I am truly passionate about.