New Year Eve 2014

I spent my New Year Eve of 2014 in Manila. I have always been fascinated by fire and charmed by fireworks. It was around October of 2013 when I first read about the World Pyro Olympics held in Manila. On further research, I discovered that it was an international competition held annually in the Philippines, due to the country’s extremely lax fireworks legislation. Every New Year’s Eve celebration, hundreds of people in Manila are injured by the fireworks launched wildly into the air above the densely populated areas. 2013 was a challenging year for me, and so I wanted to spend time in a special place to usher in a brand new year and beginning. So the Philippines, and more specifically Manila, became a natural choice.

What did I see? A good representation of the atmosphere I was in then:

3 Favorite Quotes from The Alchemist

I was first introduced to Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” book in middle school by my English teacher. I recently had the opportunity to re-read the book. I remembered when I first read it, it had quite an impact on me. It helped me to accept that there are certain things in life for which there are no rational explanations for the time being, and it gave me unexplained optimism in life every time I read it.

Here’re 3 of my favorite quotes and my interpretations of them:

1. When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

At first glance, this quote in The Alchemist is extremely inspiring but after reading it a few more times, you may find that this may not make much apparent sense because if it doesn’t really account for the fact that many people fail to get what they want.

What this quote means is that if you want to achieve something, there are resources out there that will help you reach your goal. But the underlying assumption of this statement is that you should be proactive to get what you want, and if you do so you will find the right avenues and help that will eventually get you what you want.

2. If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.

Don’t worry what others think of you. Haters are going to hate. They don’t have a better clue about you than you yourself. Just lead your life the way you deem fit.

3. Everything tells me that I am about to make a wrong decision, but making mistakes is just part of life. What does the world want of me? Does it want me to take no risks, to go back to where I came from because I didn’t have the courage to say “yes” to life?

I think what this quote is saying that there’s no guarantee of success in life but there’s no guarantee of failure as well. So we should just pursue our dreams early and fail early!

Paulo Coelho is a big fan of open source books. So you can download and read his book for free here.

My best classes at MIT

In Spring 2012, I was admitted to MIT and I impulsively asked Amherst College for an educational leave. It turns out that Joseph E. Stiglitz also took educational leave from Amherst to enroll at MIT, so I figured this might not be a bad idea. (although this is not necessarily a good thing, as I encountered administrative issues previously unimaginable to me.) At MIT, I planned to develop my technology and entrepreneurial interests, which I had made certain of through founding and running my own web company, along with my analytical skills and knowledge. Therefore, my best classes at MIT were primarily related to business, economics, computer science and statistics, some of which were really special:

  • 15.390 New Enterprises

This is the business plan course at MIT. I started class pitching my web business idea to attract team members, while other classmates pitched theirs. The “best ideas” survived. I worked with 2 other masters students on my web business idea and wrote a full blown 80-page business plan by the end of the semester. I learnt about the nitty-gritty details of the business plan, from assessing the total addressable market size to calculating the lifetime value of customers and cost of customer acquisition.

The fun parts of the course were not only learning how to write a business plan but also listening to guest speakers, who are experienced business people and entrepreneurs, talk in depth about the various operations of a business.

  • 15.S16 Entrepreneurial Product Development and Marketing

Students had to apply to get into this course, as funding was given to each team accepted to market and develop their product. Moreover, this course was co-taught by Brian Halligan, MIT Sloan alumnus and CEO of HubSpot, who I suspect sponsored the class.

From the course, I learnt about the ways and value of “inbound marketing” as well as the clearly identifying your key customer’s persona. I also conducted a product study and interviewed potential customers for my own company. Occasionally, Brian also went through business cases, including one about Hubspot, and highlighted the importance of ROI and churn rate to venture capitalists and companies.

  • 6.S078 Entrepreneurship Project

This was a new class started by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) and EECS department in 2013. Again, students needed to apply to get into the course, which grants academic credits to all those working on a entrepreneurial projects, and access to faculty, venture capital advisers, and outside commercial mentors. Basically, this course helped people like me to focus and work on our company during the semester without having to worry about academics, because our company became part of school work.

  • 6.470 IAP Programming

This class has always been taught over winter break in January by MIT course 6 (computer science) students. (Yeah, MIT students teach courses which other fellow students can get credits for.) I paired up with another student and developed a website for people to design their college social experience through finding people in your school who shares your interests.

I took on the role of web developer while my class partner was web designer. Thanks to the class, I picked up PHP and MySql in a month’s time. This class is definitely for people who are interested in building dynamic websites.

Classes I wished I had taken but could not fit into my schedule:

  • 6.070J Electronics Project Laboratory

According to the course catalog: Intuition-based introduction to electronics, electronic components and test equipment such as oscilloscopes, meters (voltage, resistance inductance, capacitance, etc.), and signal generators. Emphasizes individual instruction and development of skills, such as soldering, assembly, and troubleshooting. Students design, build, and keep a small electronics project, such as a simple robot, to put their new knowledge into practice.